:: WHY WE BE ::

Boo to false, self-imposed limits, we say. These champion oracles want to live enthusiastically. Follow our trip through projects that challenge, frustrate, and/or scare us. In the end (which is really the middle) we want to live like big bright free and authentically awesome people.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

COFFEE Project Post Twelve: Back to Baby Steps (Tawni)

In my last post, I raved about feeling much better physically than I have in a long time, and vowed to write more often, hoping to get my writing schedule back in full swing.

In order to give myself another opportunity to write, I accepted a fellow COFFEE Mate's challenge to take a photo every day. While I failed to stick with it daily, I took goofy photos with my laptop sporadically over the last few weeks, and it did end up prompting me to write personal blogs more often. It was fun. Thank you for sharing the idea, John!

After reading John's blog from yesterday, I also love the idea of a seven day project (check it out here: http://sevendayproject.blogspot.com/), and am going to be thinking about something I might like to try documenting for seven days. (Thank you again, John. You're full of great ideas!)

Lately, I've been trying to drastically cut down on the amount of time I spend on Facebook and blogs. While I enjoy talking to other grown-ups every day this way, I really feel like I spend too much time writing in the form of comments. By the time I get off the internet to work on the novel, I'm often all "written out" for the day.

It can also be psychologically draining to engage in internet discussions, depending on the subject matter, and I want to focus my energy elsewhere. So with the exceptions of this delightful COFFEE Project and The Nervous Breakdown, I will be trying to spend minimal time on the internet.

It's kind of sad to me that less internet tomfoolery must be defined as a personal goal to get myself to knock it off, but that's what this project is all about; losing unwanted habits, replacing them with desired ones, and trying new things, right?

I'm also having trouble managing my writing schedule, which has been my number one personal goal for months now. Focusing on this has definitely helped me write more, but I'm still not at my desired level of output.

I've been trying to figure out why this is proving to be so difficult for me, because I love to write. It gives me the same rush that writing a song used to give me when I played in bands, and is a wonderful creative outlet.

Some thoughts on this, and potential reasons I think I'm having trouble sticking with it:

1. I realized that I am a binge writer. I was recently reading an interview with an author I love, and the question was posed to her, Are you a disciplined or a binge writer? And it occurred to me that I am very much a binge writer. I'm a binge-creative-burst person.

When I played in bands and wrote songs, it was never disciplined. Instead, I would get a weird feeling inside, a psychic itch, if you will, that I jokingly labeled as being "songstipated." I had something I needed to say, something to get out, and until I took the time to do so, the funny feeling wouldn't go away. Writing words feels the same way. For example, my latest piece for the Nervous Breakdown, which I will link at the end of this, was written in an hour. I felt the strange inner itch, sat down, and slammed 1600 words into the computer. And it felt really, really good.

When I used to write a song, I would do the same thing. I would find time alone, sit down with the acoustic guitar, a pen, and my notebook, and the song would find its way out of me.

Figuring this out about myself made me realize that it is going to require more effort than originally planned to transform myself into the disciplined writer I would like to be. Old habits are hard to break, and my muse isn't used to being bossed around like that. She's stubborn. Like me. Which brings me to my second realization:

2. I think I may have set an overzealous daily writing goal. Writing a few hours a day has proven to be unrealistic. When I feel like I'm being manipulated or pushed to hard in a direction, even by myself, or feel like I'm failing, I do a weird rebellious, angry thing... and self-sabotage. Don't tell me what to do, Me! And, If I can't win, I refuse to play the game at all! It's ridiculous and childish, and I'm working on stopping this negative personality pattern, but at least I'm aware of it, which is more than I can say for my twenties and early thirties. It's pretty embarrassing, but I'm trying to be honest because I would really like to fix this.

And yes, I am recovering from a surgery that I'm told will make me feel tired for 3 months afterward as I continue to heal, but I am completely unwilling to allow myself to use that as an excuse for laziness. I have a very easy life.

I thought hard about it, and decided to try a kinder, gentler approach. Baby steps. Maybe if the goal doesn't seem so damned daunting, I will stick with it. And if I can stick with the mini-goal, maybe I can slowly train myself to work up into the larger one? That is my hope anyway.

So for my next attempt at facing fears and changing icky things about myself, I will be setting a goal of writing only one hour a day. One measly hour. I can handle that, right? One teeny tiny little hour of every day, including the weekends. The only restriction is that the hour must be used to work on the novel -or- for a piece for either of the two blogs for which I write, and not for what I call "Dear Diary blogging." I am only going to allow myself to write for my personal blog after I've spent an hour working on more professional pursuits.

In summation: This month I will try to come up with a seven day project to document for my next COFFEE blog, try to limit my internet socializing time to 20 minutes a day, and write on my novel or "serious" pieces for one hour every day. Wish me luck, friends!

If you'd like, you can read my latest post for The Nervous Breakdown here: http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/tfreeland/2011/04/let-them-eat-cake/

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Challenges and Dreams (John)

So in my last post, I had a profound sense of "let's get this show on the road" about life thanks to Dad dying and coming back.  I accepted a challenge from my friend Wendy to take a picture of myself everyday.  So here you go...

 I started on Tartan Day, and wore my clan kilt with pride!  My family are Wallace's on my maternal grandmother's side.  And yes, that's the Wallace of Braveheart fame.  And yes, I do wear my kilt in the traditional way.
 Then I tried to take a serious picture, but ended up smirking instead.
 A self portrait on the third day found me needing a haircut and beard trim.
 Which I did, and documented the next day.
Watching the Sweet Pea watch the Mickey Mouse Club when I realized I needed a shot. Later this evening, my Sweet Pea would develop the hives that broke my heart to see.  But she's a toughie and even while all itchy and miserable still snuggled up to me and giggled sometimes.

In the shop.  I'd like to have more time like this in the future.
And after a good 2 mile run.  The running is getting better, and I fully expect to be able to run the 5K's that finish the sprint triathlons I'm doing this season.  Speaking of which, I got a nice write up as a "featured triathlete" on the Triathanewbie.com website. 

So, challenge completed.  I realize it isn't a huge deal.  But even small accomplishments are something to celebrate.  Never forget that.

On to the dreams.  I filed the above pictures under the name "Seven Days".  I think this led to the dream I had the next night.  I was sitting at a small table in my front yard.  The kiddos were playing in the yard, and I was taking pictures of a sandwich on the table.  That's right.  A sandwich.  I was confused for a bit, as I often am in dreams where random and bizarre events are unfolding.  But then it hit me.  I was taking a picture to finish off a project I was working on.

Instantly I was on my computer, finishing the first of the "Seven Days" projects.  It was called "Seven Sandwiches: Sandwiches to Delight and Inspire."  In this project I had created, photographed and written about a sandwich for each day of the week.  This of course included ingredients and recipes, and how they tasted.  In my dream I recall that every sandwich was delightful and inspiring, hence the title. Very tasty.

When I woke up, I chuckled to myself about how silly such a project would be.  Who needs to know about my favorite PBJ, or how to make grilled cheese.  But the more I woke up, the more I wondered why not do a seven sandwich project?  I also remembered from the dream that this was just the first of the Seven Days Projects.  Soon the dream turned into a challenge.  Another challenge I'll extend to you, dear reader.

I'm going to start a Seven Day Project Challenge.  The first, of course, being Seven Sandwiches to Delight and Inspire.  Here are the rules... It doesn't have to be seven consecutive days. It doesn't have to be every week.  That would burn me out fast.  But for a Seven Days project, choose a project and finish it within a set time.  A month, for example.  Or maybe two or three weeks.  But it has to cover seven days, and include seven "things". You can even do one every couple of months if you want.  Or just commit to doing ONE this year!  

Some of my future projects might include: Seven Days of Birds in My Front Yard - A Photo Essay.  Or Seven Days of Triathlon Workouts for the Couch Potato.  Or maybe Seven Days of Supper - A Week of Tasty Meals for Families.

What suggestions do you have for me to do in the future?  Be creative.  I may just accept YOUR challenge!  Or better yet, come play along with me.  Do a Seven Day Project of your own, and we'll put them all together into a book, publish it, go on Oprah before she retires, and spend the royalties we get on a vacation to find the Worlds Best Sandwiches!  Whaddaya say!?!  Are you up for Seven Days?

Life is Good, folks.  Let's do something with it, shall we?

UPDATE: I started a blog for the Seven Day Project challenge... you can find it here.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

What's Up With All The Sick & Injured Dogs? (Becky)

I’ve officially become one of those people that lays down large chunks of money for their dog child. Charlie and his joints have a long and sorted history over the course of his three short years. Last week he had everything short of a knee replacement. Luckily I haven’t procreated human children so I keep reminding myself this is way cheaper than college and everything that comes before that. He’s worth it. I haven’t decided if he’s worth the left knee yet, though. Just kidding, you know I’ll do it.

Here’s the patient Friday night after he got home from 4 days at the Iowa State University Vet College/Clinic and was reunited with his toy box.

And here he is about 45 seconds later, exhausted after being reunited with his toy box.

So we had a pretty chill weekend convalescing and taking lots of meds (well, Charlie took lots of meds) and icing his knee, and tolerating the cone of shame…

I tell you all this not only because I love my Charlie dog, but because I'm using him as an excuse for why I haven't had anyone over for dinner or made much progress with my photo project. I did manage to pull out the light box that I borrowed from my brother approximately 6 years ago for the purposes of going through my negatives so I could pick ones to digitize. I also found the mailing label for the scanning place I sent money to over a year ago. Hopefully, they're still in business. So I've moved from the "pre-contemplation" stage and am squarely in "contemplation" mode, and even hovering right on the edge of "action." Stay tuned.

Maybe it's Okay (Holly)

Maybe it's Okay.......
........to live unconventionally;
........to take to time to breath; even Jesus went to the desert to meditate.
........to go OFF THE GRID for a Yoga & Meditation Retreat on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala;
........to go on a solo retreat in Durango, Colorado and use the GRID SPARINGLY.

Tulips and Cow Skull...in my courtyard
Maybe it's Okay......
........to live and learn that your roots are in Central Iowa, but your branches thrive and grow by seeing the sun in other places;
........to follow your instincts and ask for matches when you need to light a candle;
........to spend $40 on herbal therapy products just cuz your in Durango and it feels and smells right.

Maybe it's Okay.....
........to walk 14 blocks "home" in the rain cuz you're on vacation;
........to sleep the first 18 of 22 hours of vacation. You must've need it, right?
........to buy and eat a whole bag of "gourmet cheese puffs" because they're made out of cheddar and BLUE CHEESE!!YUMMY!

Maybe it's Okay....
.......to set better boundaries when you get home;
.......to be awestruck by handsome dudes in Durango who are not ashamed to do Yoga. Nor are they ashamed to take their shirts of when it gets warm.  All of them.
........to be a woman alone and go out alone on a Saturday night;

The Office-Coolio Lounge in Durango
Maybe it's Okay....
........to ask to sit with an approachable woman in a lounge called "the Office" in Durango, CO;
........to let some beautiful Spanish women set you up with a Gringo named Doug---just cuz they seemed so confident and they're beautiful and they said he was hot....and a lawyer...in Durango;

Maybe it's Okay ......
to spend $485 on a pair of cool cowboy boots. Maybe they'll change your life....just in case Doug fails to.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Eating the bear: a parable in two parts. (Angie)

"Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you."
-Davy Crockett

I am afraid of many things, including the following:

1. Turbulence.
2. Heights. (Specifically, feeling insecure while high off the ground. Possible cause of fear of turbulence.)

As I planned my recent Costa Rican honeymoon, I knew I would have to face down fear #1. I love traveling more than I hate turbulence, so I just soldier on when I have to get on a plane. Plus, I have Xanax.

But somehow, even as I added such activities as "ziplining in the rainforest canopy" to our honeymoon itinerary, I didn't consider that I would also be wrestling with the overarching granddaddy fear.

As with so many things in life (and in the jungle) I won some and I lost some.

Costa Rican Honeymoon Story Wherein Angie Eats the Bear

I am a bit of an obsessive planner. Among friends, I have been called by the nicknames "Planny Plannerson", "Uber Planner" and "The Planning Bitch". It's just how I do.

But I also believe that spontaneity is the gateway to some of life's great experiences, especially when you're exploring the planet, having adventures, building character and all that. Which is why I found myself on the second day of my honeymoon (my honeymoon, for crying out loud!) perched on the edge of a plywood platform, getting ready to let a 120 pound Costa Rican belay me as I rappelled down the face of a 170 foot waterfall.

When we heard about canyoneering the day before, it sounded jungly and romantic. The driver who took us from San Jose to Arenal recommended it and assured me that the rappelling wasn't scary and I would be fine, even with a little fear of heights. I trusted him. (Never trust a Costa Rican who says something isn't scary.)

Standing on the platform, the roar of the waterfall was drowned out by the pounding of my heart. As I watched the person in front of me go over the edge, every instinct in my being screamed at me that this was not a good idea. I opened my suddenly very dry mouth and said "I don't think I can do this."

The 120 pound Costa Rican, the other people on the platform waiting to go over, and my husband (who presumably wants to keep me alive), replied with a chorus of, "Yes, you can!" that rivaled an Obama campaign rally. The guide held out his delicate hand to tie me into the belay rope, looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and whispered, "Just don't look down."

And so, mostly because everyone else was doing it and I didn't want to look like a total pussy, I jumped off the platform and let her rip. I quickly recovered from my panic and terror to find that canyoneering is, it really is, jungly and exhilarating and FUN. It's fun to fly through the air on a rope and bounce off the rocks and swing around and play. And believe you me, I didn't look down. Not once. Not even when my feet hit the ground.

As one of the other 120 pound Costa Rican guides unclipped me from the belay ropes at the bottom, he gave me a big hug. "You did it!" he exclaimed, an infectious grin spreading across his face.

"How high is the next one?" I asked, ready to do it again. Inside my head a room full of people held up Shepard Fairy-style pictures of my face, chanting "Yes, you can!" "Yes, you can!"

Costa Rican Honeymoon Story Wherein The Bear Eats Angie

Still basking in the afterglow of my huge canyoneering success, I approached ziplining in the Monteverde rain forest canopy with a lot of pluck. I felt only the slightest twinge of fear as we geared up, strapped in and prepared for takeoff on the first in a series of 6 practice lines. I launched myself off the first platform and started zipping along, and I hardly noticed as the forest floor dropped steadily off below me, until I was hurtling through the air trying to position myself for landing on the second platform, a rickety metal affair about one foot wide, in a tree roughly 5,000 miles (or at least 200 feet) above the ground.

Once delivered onto this platform, my little bud of fear blossomed into sweaty hands and feet, shallow breath, and a small child's voice crying out inside my brain, "I don't wanna!" It was impossible not to look down, because the metal platform was mesh and you could see right through it. I felt more and more freaked out as five, then seven, then eight people crowded into to the small airborne space to line up for the next zip.

Looking up wasn't good either- the treetops swaying in the breeze made me realize that the platform was rocking back and forth. Looking straight ahead reminded me that only a carabiner and a short length of rope stood between me and certain death. I tried to breathe more deeply. "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone," I reminded myself.

I started to calm down and might have eventually been able to relax and somewhat enjoy the experience, but as it turned out, there was a lunatic in our midst. A woman with a screechy voice and a wild head of hair, who for some unfathomable reason thought that ziplining was an appropriate activity for a person with a full-blown, off-the-charts phobia of heights.

All hell broke loose as soon as she landed on the (extremely crowded) platform. She clawed at the tree branches, the ropes, and the guides, screaming at the top of her lungs "Oh my god, I hate these platforms!" and "The platform is scaring me so bad!" and "The zipping is fine, it's the platform I can't handle!"

She was my dark and horrible phobic doppleganger, loudly broadcasting overblown doomsday versions of my own fears, impossible to ignore. Her meltdown continued as we zipped from tree to tree, platform to unholy platform. "The platforms!" she screamed "Oh, god, the platforms!"

Finally, 45 minutes and 6 platforms later, the group was required to rappel 150 feet down to the ground and hike to the next ziplining launch.

Once my feet hit the ground, I knew my ziplining adventure was over. The crazy woman had soured the experience for me completely, like when you're sitting on a porch on a beautiful summer evening, and a moth lands in your nice glass of wine. I hiked back to the office and sat waiting for the rest of the group to return, basking in the comforting pull of gravity that embraced me and held me firmly to the earth.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

buckin' like a big moe boe. (amy)

Project One: 5K/Health Challenge.

The bad news: I twisted my knee on the treadmill the other day. When it happened I thought: NOOOO! I have no time for a knee replacement! This is crap! But I think it’s okay, because it seems to be healing (I say this because I can still walk). And so I don’t think it will stop me from doing the April 30 5K I’m committed to.

The good news: I’m back at the gym regularly, after a 3 week break. And (more importantly) Miss Melissa has decided she’s a big fan of the gym daycare now. Possibly because someone donated them a large pink car she can pedal around the toddler area in, possibly because they now let her out of the toddler area to bang on their kid-friendly computers (just don’t give her a pen—she will write all over your computer screen, and did you know? Pen on computer screen does not come off). Either way, this cuts my driving time and gasoline bill in half. And that’s a win for me, AND for planet Earth.

Speaking of planet Earth, I’ve been researching local farms and farmers’ markets. My Netflix queue just sent me Food, Inc. Have you seen this movie? You will never eat again. And also, I now really wish I had a bigger backyard that got sunlight so I could grow my own garden. Since I didn’t know about evil mass food producers back in 2003 when we made the decision to buy a house with a 2 inch backyard that's shaded 24/7 by massive trees, I will have to make do for now by visiting farmers’ markets and doing things like picking my own strawberries.

I am shaking my fist at YOU, Monsanto!

Project Two: Social Butterfly.

I’ve made an executive decision to lay this project aside indefinitely for now, for the following reasons:

1-Free time. By the time I’ve worked a full day, hit the gym, cooked/cleaned up dinner, been coerced to endure my 4,000th watching of the episode in which Dora rescues the baby starfish, done bath and bedtime, caught up on facebook/email/rolled my eyes at the Negative Nellies on the news blog world, it’s 11 PM and I’m brain fried and energy empty.


2-Hormones. (TMI alert! TMI alert!) While I don’t actually have professional proof that I have bizarre and off kilter hormones, and I still can’t figure out if this is just a lingering side effect of pregnancy hormones (note to Wendy and Patresa: you are officially absolved for the next 2 years of all psychotic, weird, and unpredictable behaviors—40 weeks of growing a human + the down time your body needs to right itself from that crazy state...In fact, whenever someone says something like: “Now, if women just ran the world, there’d be world peace,” I always know I’m dealing with someone who’s never been pregnant. Never underestimate the power of progesterone to turn a nice, down-to-earth Dr. Jekyll gal into a foul-mouthed, rabid Mrs. Hyde), or if it’s this Mirena IUD I have (I can always tell when it’s releasing progesterone because I have brief, blinding urges to kill). But seriously. There are whole weeks I am just a terrible, anti-social, angry wart of a human being.

Certainly not someone who should be in charge of any kind of happy hour or thoughtful and sensitive book club.

Summer is coming, and I thought about maybe starting a group then because I’d have more time…but I have a handful of house improvement projects I need to deal with this summer, and I also don’t want to start something I can’t finish (which is making me so: “Ha!” As I type, because I actually do this all the time—start projects, get bored/distracted/disillusioned and then casually forget them). What I may do over the summer is take Wendy’s and Angie’s thoughtful comments from last time and do a “bring a friend!” barbecue/potluck and if it’s a big success and I get some dinner invitations in return, pat myself on the back and call it a day.

Project Three: Writing Rejection-palooza.

Over Spring Break, I wrote half of half a short story. I think that’s actually called a fourth, but I’m bad at math (one reason I now teach others to speak English real good). The End. (Of this project update.)

Here’s a brief and not scary but still important personal project I'd like to work on ‘til next time:

New Project: Kinder and Gentle Roadways.

Yesterday, I was driving Melissa to school. I was running late, and here in Atlanta you do NOT run late. Like, if you leave your house 3 minutes later than your usual time? This can make you late for work by a whole freakish 30 minutes.

For example, I have to be at work no later than 7:55. If I leave my house at 7:15, I can drop M off at daycare, swing by Starbucks, and STILL walk into my classroom with a good 10 minutes to spare. If I leave at 7:18, I’m already half an hour late and I’m tailgating other people, flipping the bird, and generally spending the entire drive saying things like, “Really, Ford Explorer? REALLY??” and “I know you see me right here, blue Toyota truck. Don’t EVEN try to shove your way in—back of the line!” and “Oh! My! God! Are you KIDDING ME!?”

Pre-Melissa, these moments were just one-sided conversations, their only purpose to let off steam so I didn’t become one of those stories you occasionally see on the 5 o’clock news about normally mild-mannered, sweet people who happen to snap in traffic one day and shoot somebody in the head.

Post-Melissa, I try hard to keep this in check. Except in situations someone does something really crazy and on mornings we leave at 7:18. Under duress, I totally forget she’s back there, and what happens usually sounds something like this:

ME: What the hell! Are you insane?! That’s right, License Plate 2MADSKILZ, I’m talking to you!

MELISSA: (in a very concerned voice) Mommy, what happened? What happened?

ME: Nothing, honey. Mommy’s just frustrated.

MELISSA: What happened Mommy?

ME: Cars are just crazy, sweetie. They’re just crazy.

MELISSA: (yelling) Cars! It! Not! Your! Turn! It! My! Mommy! Turn! You go cars! Get out! Of here!

ME: That’s right, Melissa! (I say, cringing, because (a) I’ve turned my child into a backseat driver and (b) I’ve turned my child into a backseat driver who’s not yet in possession of a real driver’s license and already suffers from road rage.)

Did I mention sometimes I also drop the F-bomb? The F-dash-dash-dash word. It comes out of my mouth and I'm usually under such stress don’t even know it’s being thrown into the atmosphere. Plus, I usually save this word for important moments, like when I ram my big toe into something or I’m in the car and there are clearly psychotic people driving around me.

Yesterday morning was an F-dash-dash-dash day. I only even knew the word had left my mouth a whole bunch of times when this little voice piped up from the back: “Buckin’ mommy? That car buckin’?”

Yes, honey. Buckin’! That car is totally buckin’. Buckin’ like a moe boe.

It’s only a matter of time before a concerned daycare teacher calls me in for a conference and gives me The Disapproving Teacher Look.

Thusly, my newest project is to curb the road rage. Be a more conscientious and considerate driver navigating around and amongst my fellow roadsters. Smile more, assume the best of others. Control the lingering effects of progesterone, something the FDA really ought do something about.


Until next time: Keep on treadmilling, twisted knee be damned. Continue to shake my fist at mass food producers while picking local-grown, organic, sustainable strawberries. Write another fourth to the fourth of the story I’ve begun. Stop being such a buckin’ moe boe towards my fellow humans.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

COFFEE Post 13: Breathe… (Stephany)

Life is a funny thing. What? It is. (Maybe I’m about to make a mistake by using the term “we,” but it makes me feel better to use it. If I say only “I” then I’m the only freakola, get it? So I’m saying “we” here, and it’s all good.) We spend all our time as kids impatiently growing until we’re (finally!) teenagers. Then as teenagers, we think we know everything and trudge impatiently through teen stuff until we get to be adults. Yeah, “get to be” adults. Why the heck were we so impatient, anyway?

I teach in a high school of about 1300 kids, grades 9-12. With less than 8 weeks left of school, and only 5-ish weeks left for the seniors, there’s an energy in the air. It’s that urgent, something-big’s-coming energy that we as adults don’t experience as much as I think we should. All this energy and all the activity associated with the end of a school year really takes me back and has made me think….

My journalism students are working diligently to wrap up a rocky year, my first as the advisor for the newspaper. It was a learning year, a good but difficult year, where we ALL learned some valuable lessons, skills, and a little more about ourselves and a lot about each other. A lot like a first year of anything new and exciting. We’ve made much progress and have some momentum going into next year. Yes! As we start to put the finishing touches on our final issues, one of which is focused solely on the Class of 2011 (How old does that make YOU feel??? Yeah. Ancient. Blech.), a junior student of mine asked a question that set a whole lot in motion:

“Hey, Pace. If you had the chance to say anything to the seniors about Life after high school, what would it be?”

Um… um… {silence} Um.

Huh. She really kind of stumped me. Yeah, my students were as shocked as you are. Pace, silent. I know.

Then I thought about it. Probably a thousand times since I left high school, I’ve had the thought, “I sure wish someone would have told me about THAT.” Or, “so-and-so told me that. Sure wish I’d listened.” So I told her that. She just looked at me like I was nuts. Ah, to be young and ignorant again. (Didn’t someone once say that ignorance was bliss? I firmly believe there is some truth to that!) So she and I talked some more, and a concept for a really cool addition to the Senior Edition came to life.

She and I sent the following email to every teacher, staff member, administrator, and employee of the school district this morning:

The Webb City High School INSIGHT is seeking your advice for the senior class. What wisdom might you have to impart to these young people getting ready to leave our District? Whether you have been here awhile and know all these kids or just came here this year, these students could benefit from your experience and advice. Please answer any/all of the questions below when you have a few moments. THANK YOU!

1. From where and when did you graduate?

2. What one thing from high school would you do over again if you had the chance? Why?

3. What do you wish someone had told you before you graduated?

4. What specific advice, tips, or information do you have to share with the Class of 2011?

We appreciate your help with this project.

XX, junior, INSIGHT reporter

Stephany Pace, INSIGHT Advisor”

Within half an hour, I received 8 replies, and they are still coming into my inbox as I write. I could share some of those responses, but the funny thing is that many of them are nearly identical to mine: “I wish I’d listened more to what the adults in my life were saying to me. They weren’t complete morons, after all.” Or something along those lines. Most of the responses are wistful and almost sad in tone. The evil “I wish,” and his (no offense, John!) cousins “Coulda,” “Shoulda,” and “Woulda” are evident in many of the responses, and they sure are buggers, aren’t they? It is obvious in what I’m reading from these adults, and because we can’t have what we wish or go back and do what we coulda, shoulda, or woulda done, regret is a common thread for many of us.

The more I read these responses and think about my own, the more I’m challenged. No, I can’t go back and do what I wish I would have done when I had the chance or do what I should’ve and could’ve done then. But I can take those ideals and apply them to my life as it is today. Let’s face it. Every year is a graduation of sorts. We survived another year, and the next year always brings about new challenges and surprises. Maybe this year it’s a new job, a change in marital status, a health crisis, a new baby, a major financial situation, going back to school, loss of a loved one, relocation, or some combination of those… with every challenge, though, comes an opportunity. We get the opportunity to make the most of what’s going on, to choose how to handle it, to live through it without regret and having to say later, “I sure wish…” or “I coulda/shoulda/woulda…”

So, speaking of living without regret, I am so grateful to COFFEE for “forcing” my hand where goal setting and follow through is concerned. To that end, what I have I been doing about my COFFEE goals? Well, here you go:

1. U 2.0 – U 2.0 is. What? It just IS. I do have some regrets where U 2.0 is concerned, but I am trying very hard to live in a way that will hopefully result in less of those. While that might be a tall order, in the end, I want to know that I did the very best I could in this realm and be proud of how I handled it. I’m gonna do my best, I really am.

2. Training for the Half – I hate that I can’t run this weekend. This was to be my first half. My knee has killed that. My goal, then, has become to tackle this month’s physical therapy with gusto and 100% effort. That way, rehab after the surgery in May will go faster and result in my being able to run this same half race next year – or another maybe even before that! Hooah!

3. Pondering studenthood – I am finishing my application now and deciding whether to start this summer or the fall. I’m very excited but nervous about this whole thing, but I’m ready. I think. Guess we’ll see!

4. Co-parenting – See U 2.0. Regrets to this point? Yep. Have them. However, I am committed to handling this whole co-parenting thing as I should have all along., which may be the tallest order of all. Ever. My attitude will determine my success level, so stay tuned!

5. Awareness of Others – My friendships are blossoming because of this, and I’m loving it. Yes.

So maybe before I posted my COFFEE goal progress you were thinking about the answers you’d give if you were asked the questions above. If not, I challenge you to come up with your own answers to those questions. I think you’ll find it interesting. Maybe, also, you were wondering what my responses were. Either way, I thought I’d share them, even if you weren’t curious:

1. Fort Scott (Kan.) HS, 1992

2. I’d spend more time with friends, instead of focusing on a boyfriend or grades so much. I missed out on a lot of fun and some pretty amazing people.

3. Life only speeds up, and the pressure only increases. Finding great people to share Life with and also finding balance in the face of Life’s craziness makes all the difference. It’s not what you get in Life that counts but what you do with it.

4. Enjoy these last days of high school. You’ll never get them back. Say “thank you” (and mean it) to those who’ve helped you somehow. Appreciate your parents and family now more than ever. Slow down whenever you can, but don’t lose your focus. And finally, don’t forget to breathe.…

So, for all of us, I hope you’ll take a little advice from the staff of Webb City Schools, from me, and from yourselves. Spend your days well as you can never get them back, listen, say thank you and mean it, focus, slow down, appreciate those you love, seek balance, and breathe……………..

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Worry worry worry (Wendy)

So yesterday I had a mini-meltdown. It started out as a great day. I had a doctor’s appointment and for the first time, didn’t get my blood drawn with what felt like a knitting needle, and getting weighed wasn’t as traumatic as expected (I surprisingly didn’t weigh quite as much a small elephant). Plus, I got to hear my baby girl’s heartbeat, which is always thrilling.
I drove home with India Arie soundtracking me through sunny downtown Nashville streets with lush spring green all around me. Life was good.

Then, in the middle of a conversation with my husband, it all came crashing down. He said something seemingly innocuous about a friend of his’ pregnancy that really nothing to do with me, but I took as “holy s%&# - THAT can happen??” – and spent the rest of the day combing the internet as proof of my pending doom and cursing my dear sweet husband for inadvertently poisoning me with anxiety (poor guy didn’t even know what hit him).

It was really quite the turnaround, and even at the time, part of me was thinking “where in holy tarnation is this coming from?”

Eventually, I realized that this is something that I do. I simply don’t trust the good.

I reflected back on when we finished our kitchen makeover a couple months ago. I’d been pining for this dreamy new kitchen for years and the end result was even better than I could’ve imagined. Yet, I sensed this anxiousness bubbling inside of me and it was trapping my joy like a rat. I became pretty much obsessed with the fact that SOMETHING was going to break and it would all come crashing down.

I don’t know why I do this. Maybe I don’t think I deserve good things. Maybe I think that drinking in the good will jinx it. Maybe I’m preparing myself for doom because that seems easier than braving inevitable heartbreak. I don’t know, but I realized that I’ve got to face this problem: I am a chronic worrier. Even when I was a kid, my nickname was “Wendy the Worry Wart”. (Who doesn’t like being referred to as a wart?) and my mom famously likes to tell me that as a toddler, I almost never toddled - I was literally too careful to even fall down.

There are aspects of my life that are so filled with analysis and worry that, when I think back on those times, overwhelming anxiety is the first thing I remember. How sad is that??

I don’t want to make it sound like I’ve spent my life balled up in a corner shaking... on the contrary, I’ve taken some considerable risks in my life and I have definitely lived. But the monkey on my back has always tagged along - even this past week, I’ve had so many little worries crowding out my logical brain that I go to bed thinking “What did I even accomplish today?” Worry acts as a big pause button - it renders you immobile. Ineffective. Much like worry itself.
So, in true COFFEE fashion, my personal goal this week is to a.) face my worries and not let them burrow under my skin and wreak havoc on my days and, b.) tell them to fudge off. For reals. They're just not pulling their weight anymore.

As tribute to these pests, I leave you with beautiful Ray LaMontagne who clearly seems to understand.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

COFFEE Project Post Eleven: The Happy (Tawni)

I'm full of it.

Full of happiness, that is.

The last time I wrote for the COFFEE Project, I was feeling terrible. I was so nauseated every day that I could barely eat anymore, and spent most days tired and in pain.

The nausea and exhaustion had been gradually increasing over the last few years. After many doctor visits, assorted blood tests and bizarre health problems, one issue finally led to an ultrasound, and we found something that might be to blame for my troubles.

The good news: I wasn't crazy. It wasn't in my head.

The bad news: only surgery could remedy the situation.

As I wrote, I was dreading the surgery that was scheduled in a few days, morbidly wondering if I'd wake up from anesthesia, and pessimistically wondering if the surgery would even help. I'd felt so bad for years that feeling normal had become unimaginable. As I whining-ly wrote in that post, I was really just praying to maybe feel not bad every day. I didn't dare hope for feeling good.

I woke up from the surgery elated to have made it through alive. Warned that I might cry or vomit after anesthesia, I instead felt nothing but relief and joy. It was over, I woke up, and for the first time in longer than I could remember, I didn't feel like throwing up. In fact, I didn't feel sick at all! The loss of my constant nausea was like waking up from a years-long nightmare. The horrible stomach flu feeling that had hung miserably around my neck like a rancid albatross was gone, and I couldn't believe it. Hospital personnel were treating me like I was a bit off for acting so chipper, giving me strange looks, calling me "Sunshine" and commenting on my cheerful attitude during my stay. I was just so appreciative. I still can't believe that I can eat again - that food actually smells good and sounds appealing again. It's a miracle.

On top of the immediate success of the surgery, I have amazed my doctor with a freakishly fast recovery. He warned me it would be a 6-8 week recovery period, most likely 8 weeks, and I blew him away with my progress at my 2 weeks post-surgery check up. I am not quite 4 weeks post-surgery right now, and I'm driving, walking around normally, and nearly back to normal. I'm still having a bit of pain at the site of my 5-inch-long abdominal incision, but it's nothing compared to the pain I was in before the surgery, and the nausea is gone. My perspective is firmly in place and I am doing wonderfully. No complaints at all.

Before the surgery, I convinced my husband to join me in purchasing a juicer, and we bought the easy-to-clean Breville Fountain Elite. I was trying to find ways to make my recovery as fast and easy as possible, and I've wanted to try juicing forever. I decided that I would use the power of fruits, vegetables and vitamins to heal myself and for continued good health into the future. I never want to go under the knife again in this lifetime if I can help it.

We love our juicer, and have used it every single day since we bought it a month ago. My son and I have a special love for apple, carrot, spinach, and orange juice, and my husband really likes his pineapple, grapefruit, orange and kale blend. We have also juiced beets, mangoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, plums, and pears, and I want to try sweet potato juice as well. My goal is to slowly add more kale and spinach to my favorite juice until I am drinking a super green blend every day.

I am also trying to eat more raw fruits and vegetables than ever before. I'm trying to gradually increase them in my diet so I don't detoxify too quickly, because this can cause bad health effects. I already don't eat much dairy, don't really like meat, and eat a green, leafy salad every day, so my diet is pretty healthy. I just want to take it a step further. I never want to take my precious health for granted. It's just so darned awesome to feel good again.

Now that I am putting the health crisis behind me, I'm really excited to start focusing on my original COFFEE goals of writing more often, and working on ignoring my insecure, lazy inner chicken-sloth who whispers things like, "You're not good enough," and, "Let's go watch recorded crap shows on television instead of writing," in my ear during moments of weakness. SHUT IT, insecure, lazy inner chicken-sloth. You are not welcome here!

Next week, I'm going back to my writing schedule of working on blogs or my novel every day, from 11-2. I am going to allow myself a nap if I need it, because my body is still recovering from the removal of multiple organs, and I am still healing. If I feel tired enough to sleep, that's a sign that I need it, and I'm listening to my body. But hopefully I'll get back into the usual swing of things in no time.

Last week, I wrote a piece for The Nervous Breakdown. My goal was to write a piece for that website once a month, and the surgery set that goal back by 2 weeks, but I'm back on track now. You can read it (and comment on it there) if you'd like... here: http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/tfreeland/2011/03/best-actress/

Happy spring, happy health, and happy everything, everybody!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What Are You Waiting For? (John)

Many times there will be gentle reminders of what life is all about.  The smile of a child.  A Springtime thunderstorm after a long winter.  A good meal like Becky makes.  Then there are the days that life just smacks you in the head with a full grown Yellowfin tuna and screams into your brain just how important it is to get up and do whatever it is that you want to do.  Monday the 21st of March was such a day for me, when I got a phone call from my sister saying that my Dad had a heart attack.  I spent the next hour pretty convinced that he had died, as every report I got was bad.  As a paramedic, I know the odds of getting somebody back from where he was.  Pulseless V-fib, we call it.  Full blockage of the Widowmaker artery, the one that supplies blood to most of the heart.  Shocks were administered, eight right on scene before they even loaded him in the ambulance.  Drugs were administered, epinephrine and Amioderone meant to get his heart beating normally again.  Nothing was working. 
Dad was supposed to have been on a road trip with his brothers.  Headed to San Fransisco for some family business and bonding time.  But the business had been called off at literally the last minute, and Dad had gone to his “gym” that day instead.  His gym just happened to be the cardiac rehab gym in a facility that also had Mom’s dialysis and a medical clinic.  Remarkably, that day at the clinic, an ER doc and a cardiac nurse just happened to be filling in.  He ran the code and had made a call to the hospital ER where Dad was headed to give them a report.  He told that doctor not to expect much, as nothing was working.  The medics worked on Dad all the way to the hospital, with a couple more shocks and more meds.  They wheeled him into the ER still doing CPR and gave him another shock and even more meds.  That ER doctor consulted with everybody, and they all agreed that they would give Dad one more shock, his twelfth.  If that didn’t work, they would stop the code because they were just not going to get him back.
Well, that last shock worked.  By some miracle, it worked.  And over the past two weeks Dad went from being intubated, cooled to 91 degrees, balloon angioplasty to squeegee out the crap in the Widowmaker, and doped to the gills with drugs that helped him heal but also caused horrific nightmares, to sitting in his big blue chair in his house, flying my little toy helicopter, talking of nothing and everything, and recovering from his death. 
This of course has done nothing for my “sit around and procrastinate” self.  That’s the guy sitting in my head with several others, including the panicky “HOLY CRAP GET IT DONE NOW WHO CARES ABOUT THE QUALITY IT HAS TO BE FINISHED! GO! GO! GO!” guy.  I try to ignore him.  But there is also the “Time to Chase Those Dreams” guy, and the “Hey, call your friends and family and tell them you love them” guy.  And of course, the “Hey man, life is good” guy.  Lately he has been speaking loudly. 
“Life is Good” he says.  “Beautiful, loving wife.  Amazingly stunning kids that you couldn’t love more. Roof over head, food on table, family and friends that make every day so very sweet.   You’ve got a brain and some talent so go use it and have fun.  Enjoy this time, man.  It is fleeting and wonderful.  Oh, and let the dogs out to run more.”
So I listen to him.  I remember to see the world like my kids see it.  Full of amazing things in simple pleasures.  Dragonflies and seed sprouts and the flutter in my stomach that happens every time I see the beautiful smile of my wife.  And sitting with my father in his living room, flying my little toy helicopter, talking of nothing and everything, and recovering from his death. 
And it is right that we are here.  In the living room.  Living.  And my God how lucky I am to still have my father to spend time with.  To hear his wisdom and his wisecracks.  To hear his voice say “Hey bud.”  When for one hour on that Monday I thought he was gone, and now want nothing more than to spend time enjoying my time with him.
Life is too short to "what if" yourself in a negative way. What if I can't do it?  What if I suck?  What if I fail?  My project for this week is doing a good "What if" every day.  Today I thought to myself "Self... What if you accept that challenge to take a self portrait picture every day and actually do it and post it when you're done?" So I did.  What the heck.  My friend Wendy over at Wendelonia challenged, and life is too short not to accept a good challenge.  And I'm challenging my Dad, too.  And my other friends.  And what the heck, I challenge YOU, too.  Dad got a second chance at life.  I'm not waiting for a second chance anymore, I'm going to use the first chance.
Oh, and I'm going to let the dogs out to run more, too.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Mazoto Homana (Becky)

Several years ago, I think 2006, I had a party for Malagasy Independence Day, which is June 26. I made vary miarka tsaramaso (beans & rice), ravitoto (ground cassava leaves), and ranovola (burnt rice water, trust me, it’s delicious). I found fresh lychees to serve for desert, cranked some salegy music and made people look at my pictures from the two years I spent in Madagascar in the Peace Corps. It was great fun!

I had planned to make it an annual fety (party), but the next year I had a family reunion that weekend, and the two years after that I was in Iowa City in grad school, and last year, I was just lame and not in the party mood, I guess. But this year, I hope the party will return as a powerful force. Saturday night I had a trial run.

One of my friends who attended the first annual and so far only vingt-six party, as it's called in French, is a big fan of ravitoto. It was my favorite loaky (anything served with rice) in Madagascar. Also known as ravibalahazoo, it has a unique smell and flavor, is usually cooked with onions and garlic, beef if you have it, and is delicious! It also turns your poop green, in case you were wondering. I apologize for that, but the color and consistency of our bowels was a hot topic among my fellow Peace Corps volunteers.

Anyway, said friend has been requesting that I make ravitoto for the past 5 years and I have disappointed. This friend is also a master at hosting dinner parties and a fabulous cook. Same with the other two friends I had over Saturday night for a Malagasy feast. I often show up at their houses for yummy meals either empty handed or with spicy peanut dip, which I have brought to practically every social gathering I’ve attended since I stole the recipe from the other Becky and co-opted it as my own.

So my little dinner gathering was a good way to return the favor to these culinary friends, fulfill Sara’s request for ravitoto, fulfill a COFFEE goal of inviting people over for dinner (and a theme dinner at that, as suggested by a COFFEE-mate) and see if I still remember how to make Malagasy food in preparation for my Malagasy Day fety. I think it was a success... not only because the food turned out pretty good (it tastes better than it looks)...

but because I convinced my guests to wear malagasy hats :)