Thursday, December 16, 2010

Never Prepared to Lose Your Mom

To deviate from last week's dancing post, I wanted to take a moment tonight to bring things back to home base. Where this all started. I lost my mom as an infant. My dear friend lost her mom tonight as a grown up, a mother to her own child. Some might say when you're older, you're better prepared to cope with such a loss. Some might say I was luckier to not have had to deal with her illness and death.

At the end of the day, I've come to realize a few things. You can never be fully prepared to lose your mom. Those of you who are moms know what it means to carry a baby inside, literally give life to a child and raise it day to day. There is something so unique and so all-encompassing about being a mom that I guess I didn't fully understand what I had lost until I found myself fulfilling that very role. Only then, did I begin to comprehend how great was my loss.

Is it better to be there for the diagnosis, watch someone go through treatment and eventually be taken by their illness or is it better to have a fast, unexpected diagnosis with a shortened time to live? I am sure people have their opinions. But, not everything in life is or has to be a competition. Either way you slice it, losing your mom is not an easy thing and certainly not something one can prepare for. Not physically and not mentally.

So forgive me for taking this space tonight to share these thoughts as a side note to my gallivanting with ballroom dance. I feel sad for my dear friend. For her pain. For her loss. For the irreplaceable bond that cannot be taken away. Makes me want to hug her and let her know she will get through this terrible time somehow. But until then, my heart and my soul goes out to her. It's a club I'd rather her not join, certainly later rather than sooner. But now we too share a bond. Another motherless daughter joins the team as we walk down this path in life together. May your mom's memory be for a blessing.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

One, Two, Cha, Cha Cha

So its December and the dancing shoes are going on. I haven't posted in a two weeks as I have been frantically trying to locate a dance class that works for our schedule. I did find a few dance studios in the area and even an open ballroom that offers drop in group lessons for an hour and then a dance party with a band where you can work on your new steps. Problem is the hours and days haven't worked for our schedule. Either the main dance lessons were on Friday night which doesn't work because of the Jewish holiday of Shabbat or they take place during dinner or the kids bedtime. We do get the occasional sitter but I'm not so fond of having other people give my kids a bath or put them to sleep. Once they are asleep, no problem... as long as it is someone my daughter knows and likes... otherwise, chaos ensues. I guess its sort of a mother's guilt. The older one is in pre-school everyday and the baby already has a nanny three days of week. I sort of feel like I owe it to them to do the bedtime routine and tuck them in at night and also, its my favorite time of day to get them in their pjs and sing them to sleep.

Anyway, so besides that excitement, I also have my husband's schedule to work around. Residency is like a ropes course. You get through one flying trapeze of a week and think you are home free when the next schedule pops up and includes overnight call, long call, short call and 15 days in a row before having a day off. This week was actually a family-friendly schedule and still no classes to be found on a random Monday/Thursday night after bedtime hours.

So, rather than succumbing to the possibility of failure for my fourth month into this year-long challenge, I did what any dedicated dancer hungry for instruction would do.... I went to the library. Yup. That's right. They make intro to ballroom dvd's and we put the kids to bed, moved the living room furniture and started the tape. I got three versions as I didn't know which ones would be scratched, boring or too advanced. We found a beginners version for couples so it shows you how to stand and then goes through the movements for each person.

With one click on the dvd player, we were off. We learned the basic frame, hand and foot placements and counting techniques. Then we selected our first dance, The Cha Cha. I wouldn't say its a hard dance to learn. But with left turns and right turns and side to side steps, we did have to practice quite a bit. The best part of it all was I got to dance with my hubby. Rather than some dance class where I would be forced to dance with random other men, I was able to learn and practice with the same person. We had fun, stepped on each others feet a ton, and worked it out until we had it down. We didn't even have to put on shoes. I'm sure the steps are more precise with fancy shoes and dress up gear, but it was so much fun barefoot and in pajamas dancing the cha cha in my living room. With once dance down and a ton more to go, we are one step closer to fulfilling my childhood dream of becoming a dancer on Solid Gold!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Word Of Thanks

During my previous visit to the florist, the owners mentioned I should come back during the busy holiday season to witness flower making in all its glory. Today was the day. I went in the morning to see the role Thanksgiving plays in the floral industry. These folks were on their feet making arranagements since seven this morning. Most of the orders were friends and families sending centerpieces to their hosts or relatives far away. Beautiful arrangements of orange and red filled the room.

I was hoping I might be able to help out this time around, actually put some flowers together. I know the floral arrangement process requires a lot of knowledge not just of flowers that go together but which vase and fillers go with what. Also, how you cut the flowers and determine which flowers are good enough matters. Some people order arrangements that specify how many roses, daisies, greens while others are just called "Autumn Splendor" and the decoration is left to the discretion of the florist. After watching folks running back and forth fulfilling orders practically bumping into one another and the sight of leftover flower stems piling high on the ground, I realized a better way to help out. I grabbed a broom and began sweeping the broken and discarded greens into large piles away from the design tables and moved them to the trash bins circling the room. People may have been too busy today to teach me how to cut a stem or train me to properly insert it into a vase for fun. So I decided it was time for me to push up my sleeves and offer assistance.

While I was sweeping the floor, I came up with a great idea. You know how they have those "make your own pizza" parties where you pay to bring a group into a restaurant and your group can assist with adding toppings or flipping the dough? They also have "paint your own pottery" parties, "frame your own picture" places and do-it-yourself cooking classes. Why don't they offer floral arrangement classes? Why not open up these closed flower shops on Sunday or one night a week and offer instructions on how to design your own floral arrangements? I am sure art schools and maybe even some local community programs offer flower classes but there is something special about being in the workspace of a florist with coolers of colors, tables and vases all around. Being in that environment makes me feel alive even if I can't design or cut the buds.

Next week I'm invited back for wreath making and even though I have never had a wreath hanging in my house, there is something enticing about learning how to make this central part of the holiday season. With all my cooking of stuffing and pumpkin pie, something was missing this holiday. When I walked into the shop and saw all the beautiful bouquets of people saying thank you to their loved ones, I was warmed and ever more ready to celebrate with my family and be thankful for all I have. I feel lucky to have this year to explore my dreams and overcome my fears. Lucky for a family that supports my project and for a job that is as flexible. I truly am blessed to be in this year of exploration and adventure. And most importantly, I feel lucky that my mother (may her memory be for a blessing) brought me into this wonderful world and inspired me to take on this project.

And with that, I will see you all in December for another monthly project in the making. This time its ballroom dance and its serious. Do you watch "Dancing with the Stars?" Well stay tuned for Dancing with the Resident. Let me end by saying "Gobble Gobble" to us all.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Flower Power

First day volunteering at a flower shop. Actually they call themselves florists so I think flower shop may be outdated. I spent a few hours at a local florist in the Silver Spring area, Creative Floral Designs on Tech Road near the DMV and Kuglers for those who know the area. A family owned place where the owners are surrounded by their children running the business operation and grandkids working in the main office and so many employees making beautiful arrangements and bouquets.

I entered through the shop portion of the store and after a few introductions, was escorted into the main workshop or "design studio" of the place. I would say there were ten to fifteen employees with their hands deep in vases, ribbon, and greens with fresh and silk flowers everywhere. There was a ribbon station. A wall of vases bigger than my Go Ape zip line and coolers of flowers surrounding me. As the orders came in, tags were assigned and distributed amongst the employees to begin fulfilling the orders. Most of the folks I spoke with had worked at this particular flower business ten to thirty years. They own a few places in the area but this is the main headquarters for the arrangement making. To say these folks had experience is an understatement.

There were books of arrangements and signs on the wall telling people how to assemble each order based on the cost of the vase, decorations and flowers. I could quickly see that this was not the type of place you just show up and work. Years of training is required to determine which vase goes with each order. How many flowers to use. Which fillers go with what arrangement. And for flowers... wow. There are colors and species that go together and those that do not. There are glitter sprays and glossy sprays to make leaves look greener or shiny. Greens that look like someone went into the Amazon rain forest to make a bouquet.

It was like a craft store for flower lovers. How anyone actually gets work done in here is beyond me. And this was one of their slow days. Everyone was standing up. Either by a table making arrangements, by the ordering station to process flower requests and tag them or by the balloon and decoration section. There are balloons, teddy bears, lotions, cards, ribbon, you name it.

I saw hardworking people go from one vase to the next. Carefully taping a grid inside each vase with which to fill flowers in all sorts of directions. Hot glue was used for special sponge-like filler used for dried silk arrangements. People were prepping vases and decor for the upcoming holiday season where they get so busy, they literally have no time to sweep the floor which gets piled high with flower scraps not making the cut.

There was a rose station where a woman was unwrapping roses fresh from Florida, analyzing them for color and shape. Trimming those worthy of use. Discarding anything with wilted leaves. Some are used for petals. Others probably made into mulch.

All I know was, I was in love. Now this place is not a small mom and pop operation. Yes, it is family owned and operated. But, they do use some of the major flower distributors online such as FTD to advertise and locate additional orders. Some orders from regular customers are standing orders that they fill on regular intervals. While others, like births, weddings or funerals, are customized and made to order. The smell of flowers was everywhere and I was walking around just watching the artists decorate. Most of the arrangements are standard themes. They require certain flowers, colors, designs. But others are make your own and buyers can walk in off the street to their shop and buy an arrangement out of the cooler.

Though I was not able to actually make any arrangements today, I did learn a lot about the flower business from talking with the locals and watching them in action. I do hope to go back the week before Thanksgiving to help out during their busy season. And perhaps plan another visit around the December holidays to get a true sense of floral chaos in action. I do have to say though that my dream of working in a flower shop was ever so much richer after my exposure today. Not just the environment but the camaraderie amongst the team of employees. People seemed genuinely happy to come to work and happy to be in a business that makes money by making people smile. I definitely plan to return and get my hands knee deep in the buds soon. This was an eye opening experience.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Found a Flower Shop

After much effort, I have found a flower shop in the area open to teaching me what it takes to be a florist! I called several places and most were against the notion of having a volunteer for a few days this month. Some folks were concerned about the liability issue, I suppose in the event that they give me some large bouquet to put together and I accidentally get cut by a thorn. But I was hopeful that there would be some place out there open to my project and my dream of working as a florist once I retire someday.

So alas, with help from friends, I discovered a place willing to take me on. I begin my new adventure on Tuesday so please check back with thoughts from a floral design studio in Silver Spring! Now, I think I am off to rent "Bed of Roses" or "Little Shop of Horrors" to prepare for my big day on the inside.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Going Bananas

I am afraid of heights. I realize this isn't news to my friends. And not news to my husband and family. I've hiked up mountains, rode on a ski lift (once) and now rock climbed up a wall very high in the air. That being said, nothing prepared me for my experience today.

Have you heard of Go Ape? The new hot ropes course out of the UK with zip lines and rope bridges high in the air? Well they just opened up the first version of this in the USA and its right here in Maryland, just outside DC. Acting like a monkey, you hook in to a harness and jump on a Tarzan rope or climb ladders onto tiny platforms. When I launched this year long "overcome this and that" project, I knew inside a trip to this place was going to top my list. Sure I took Project Adventure in high school. Twice in fact. I somehow convinced the administration to let me out of boring sophomore gym. I loved it. Walking trails in the forest and getting across a mini tight rope. But this took heights to a whole new level. After a safety lesson, I was whisked into the forest to the "stations."

I would say I am a pretty up front person when it comes to talking about my fears. But how do you take those irrational fears and apply a rational approach to overcoming them? How can you control your darkest fears? What happens if they actually came true? Today I physically placed myself in a controlled environment on a ropes course with a mind filled with uncontrolled emotions.

Guess what? I survived. Perhaps this is not a surprise to others out there. But certainly a surprise to me. And I have to be honest and say that I actually kind of liked it. Not all of it. And not while I was doing most of it. Station 3 was the highest and scariest experience of my life. The first step before taking the zip line down through the trees was frightening. But I also have to admit, my favorite part was the moment right after I stepped off the platform. You know why? Because there was nowhere else to go but down and nothing else to do but try and enjoy the view. And I did. Well not the first time. But definitely on the following zip lines. That's right, there was more than one!

Fear is a funny thing. You spend hours, days, years consumed with thoughts of things that scare you. Some of those things can happen, like getting stung by a bee or catching a cold. Others are less likely to happen such as being attacked by a killer shark in the ocean. Especially to those of us who aren't regular deep sea divers or surfers off the coast of Hawaii. Take my fear of heights. How many dreams have I had about accidentally jumping out of a plane or falling off a cliff. Sure I fly often and hike when I can. But we take precautions to protect ourselves. Sometimes, though, in our attempt to protect ourselves, we in turn put up a fence around things that make us feel anxious or fearful. Over time, this fence turns into a wall and often expands the fear into irrational barriers. I learned today that it was time for me to stop putting up barriers in my mind and start, one day at a time, to take down walls that only hold me back from growing into the person I am meant to be.

What can I say? October has come and gone. And now I have photos of me dangling from a rope above the forest floor to prove my success. I challenged myself and I met that challenge in a new way. While I admit that part of me hours later is still shaking a bit inside, I am also in awe of my encounter and reveling in my own courage to take the first leap of faith.

If any of you monkeys out there want to face your fears head on and join the fun, check out the discounted rates on November 14th where proceeds from Go Ape benefit a non-profit organization for at-risk kids.

November is on the horizon and I must be off on my next adventure in a flower shop. Until then, however, I think it may be time to go get something to eat. And for some reason, I am starting to crave a banana. Go figure.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Like a Rock

Do you remember the first time you watched Wizard of Oz and Dorothy went from the black and white world of Kansas into the colorful world of Oz? Like stepping out of an airplane in a new country. Welcome to my experience with rock climbing.

I have goals in life. I like to think of myself as willing to try new things. Definitely not boring but certainly not a risk taker. I used to do unexpected things. I've backpacked through Western Europe, lived in the Middle East, drove cross country and camped out in the Western U.S. for a summer... you know fun, "live like you mean it" activities. But somewhere in between working a full time job and since starting a family, I have become a little dull around the edges. Let me be the first to say that my children and my husband are the most important things in my life. I am proud of who I am, what I do and the choices I have made. That being said, sometimes you get so covered in layers of diaper changes and melt-in-your-mouth teething cereal that you lose sight of your daring side. I have to be practical now and reliable and responsible. No drag car racing or bungee jumping for me... or so I thought.

Today was a whole new day. I entered the world of Earth Treks in Rockville, MD. Now I had no idea what rock climbing was about. No idea what it would look like. I knew it was an indoor gym of some sort with rocks to climb. Boy did I have no idea what I was getting in to. I entered the door, met my good friend Josh, and walked into what looked like the interior of someone's mouth. That's right. I felt like a dentist walking into a life size set of gums. These huge peach walls with their curves and ripples towered above me covered in these multi-colored hand grips and foot rests along the way. Each route taped in a different color and labeled for difficulty at the base. You might think the numbering would start at 1 or even 0 for the beginner level. But rock climbing is an activity that marches to its own beat. Numbering begins at 5 and then levels are added in increments such as 5.1 or 5.2. These would be "easy" climbs whereas a 5.9 or 5.10 would be for the most skilled climber.

After receiving my harness, we walked to the beginner wall, which I might add is 40 feet in the air!!!! I thought rock climbing would be a series of rock hills to climb up with large flags at the top. Sort of like hiking but on rock. While there are grooves within the rock and archways on some paths, most of the climbing goes in one direction.... up.

Despite very sore hands and a few attempts, I made it to the top of one of the beginner problems labelled 5.3. "Problem" is the term used to describe the trail one selects to climb. You have to solve the "problem" by figuring out which hand grips and foot rests to use within that trail to reach the top. Needless to say, I did look down a number of times and scream for my life. I am certainly still afraid of heights after my first exposure. However, I never thought I would make it to the top of anything, relying on someone else supporting me by a string. Call it rope or what you will, its still a string tied to me and someone else through a series of knots, and I was hanging by it. I am in awe of this subculture of rock climbers. Not only is it a physically demanding activity, it is a mentally demanding activity. I have shaken off what has become my comfort zone for some time and entered the world of vertical pegs. A bit tired and a bit shocked but very inspired.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thinking of Mom

I am in the midst of planning my goal to overcome my fear of heights this month. I am looking into a day of rock climbing to grease the wheels and test my ability to master heights I control at my own speed. I am also working on a day of ziplining and rope bridges at this new outdoor wonderland that recently opened up in rural Maryland off of Rock Creek Park. This adventure will be more of a two to three hour extravaganza where you harness yourself in and go through a forest like park. Other than a simple safety talk, you are free to roam and explore. Supposedly trained professionals will be there to assist you if and when you get stuck. While somewhat comforting, this scares me. How will they know when I get stuck? How long will it take someone to reach me? Maybe its best I don't know the answers to those questions.

I am also still working on bike riding. My next lesson should include pedals and the outdoor environment. I think once I can master both my own balance on a bike and riding without falling off and hitting someone else, I may be ready to actually ride a course or take a leisurely stroll through a bike trail at a local park. Stay tuned for this excursion coming soon.

But the main reason I haven't blogged in almost two weeks is that I am actually starting to feel my age. You know how when you turn sixteen and you get your license and you are legally able to go driving without parents present how you feel so invincible? And then you go off to college and realize no one cares what time you come in at night or if you make it to class? And then you get into your twenties and realize you can move anywhere, choose grad school or move abroad and as long as you can support yourself, your family seems to support you? Something to me about hitting thirty and, perhaps, its also about having kids at the age of twenty nine and thirty one has something to do with it, seems to have turned the page on invincibility. When you have others relying on you, and I don't mean for dinner plans or long weekends out of town... but for clothing, shelter, food, toothbrushing, cuddling, pushing a swing, those are some of the most rewarding and parent-like experiences once can experience. At the same time, some of them can be frightening. What if they don't like the songs I sing at night, or my voice? What if I pack her something she hates for lunch (thats good for her) and she wishes she got something else. Despite that fact that this is totally normal and realistic for a toddler AND a teenager, its still pressure.

Also, I guess I started looking around and feeling thirty two. I have always thought of thirty two as this ancient year. A year when I have wrinkles and a life of stories. You know, that grandparent feeling of having lived a full life and having everything figured out.... who you love, where you live, what you will "be" professionally. What I realized was thirty two is a life of possibility and ending at this stage in my life would truly be a life cut short. When I launched this project and this blog, I received so many responses from friends who knew I had lost my mother and their main comment was, "I never realized how young YOU were when you lost your mom." What I started realizing in these last two weeks was how young SHE was when she died. I have always put my mom up on a pedestal. Someone who never smoked a cigarette. Never spoke a bad word. Never raised her voice. Always loved her job as a middle school English teacher and then a stay-at-home mom. And definitely had it all together and all figured out. Now, I have started to realize just how unsettled I am in my life. Sure I have a wonderful family, a loving husband, two sweet and kind children, an interesting job, a great community and the list goes on. But do I have it all figured out? NO! No idea what I will "be" someday. No idea where we will live next and by next I meant in two and a half years when the residency ferris wheel turns into his real job. No idea if I will move abroad. Or open a flower shop someday.

No. Thirty two was a life of opportunities that ended unexpectedly. With conversations never finished. Books half read. A nursery just set up for the first time in five years. Dinner left on the table. A gas tank filled halfway. Piles of laundry waiting for the washing machine. And three very little children waiting for their mom to just come home and tuck them into bed.

So I apologize for not writing sooner. Forgive me for my grieving along the way. Something I am sure that was bound to happen. Something healthy and natural for the child who never had the chance. On and up I will go. I always get up and move on. But for today and perhaps for a little while, feeling thirty two may just make me feel a little heavy in my shoes for a bit. And I guess perhaps it should.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Biker Chick

Tonight I got back on the bike. You know, the one without the pedals. Yep. Not up to pedal speed just yet. But I did make it outside onto the pavement this time. I would call that a step up from the hallway intro to biking of my first lesson.

This was biking 201. We went outside to experience the raw biker experience: traffic, speedbumps and hills. I can say I was a little less scared and a heck of a lot more confident that I wouldn't hit or get hit by a car. The speedbumps surprisingly were not so comfortable but the real wind in my hair---priceless.

I was able to lift my feet off the ground for a time and was told that I was actually advancing. Some might even call it riding a bike. I am hopeful that my next lesson will include both the great outdoors and pedals. Perhaps I will wear a black leather jacket and a studded necklace and become a biker chick. I guess anything is possible.

With my ongoing biking experiment and the month of October approaching, I realized that it is time to start planning ahead for my next adventure. So while the world of the bicycle will continue, its on to my fear of heights for the month of October. I have been scoping out some potential locations for my rise in altitude. I feel ready to conquer this fear as I feel like it places so many limitations on my activities. Ski lifts, roller coasters and snow shoeing are just a few of the high-life activities that interest me. I am a fan of climbing trees and a zip line sounds cool. Who doesn't want to become their own Tarzan or Jane and swing on a vine? I am not talking bungee jumping or sky diving. Sky diving, by the way, is something my husband did to celebrate graduating from medical school. I was five months pregnant with baby number 1 and I took him as a present. A present, might I add, that he had been dreaming of since we met 10 years ago.

Now its my turn to face the fear. I will keep you all updated when I secure a location and someone crazy enough to join with me on my climb. How else am I going to have a photo of my ascent to a high place? Until then however, I suppose it will be life on the ground for the next few weeks while I plan this stage of facing my fear of heights. So lay low and stay tuned.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Day of Atonement

The Jewish high holidays always make me think of the year that has passed and the one that lies ahead. Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the new year. We eat round challah bread and dip apples in honey for a sweet new year. On Yom Kippor, the Day of Atonement, we reflect on all of the mistakes we have made in the past year and ask for forgiveness from those we hurt, from ourselves and from G-d.

This year over the high holidays, I have been thinking very seriously about my new start to my thirty-second year. The goals I have set before me are great. Not just in selecting twelve meaningful projects that I have passed over throughout the years. But also, to listen to the voice inside me and hear what it has been saying. How do I select the tasks that will steer this year in the right direction? How do I choose from amongst all of my goals and fears and decide which ones to tackle?

Should these projects have to do with my mom and accomplishing dreams of hers she never had the chance to tackle? While I have to admit, I find that path very tempting, I know now after all of these years, I have to live for myself, for my family, for my children. I have to answer to all the hopes and dreams within my own self and my own life before I can come to terms with what it means to live for another person. My mom, may she rest in peace, went to college, became a teacher and later a stay at home mom to her three gifts in this world. She was living out her dreams. And somewhere deep down inside, I know she would want me to live for myself, continue to develop my inner voice and challenge myself in a way that brings inner peace to my year of introspection.

So, already, I have cleared the path around my project to require that these projects be about me. To make a list of goals and fears I want to accomplish despite the tempting nature to live out the hopes of other people. This year is about me growing closer to the person I am inside and there is only one way to achieve that outcome---I have to make the path for myself, one stone at a time.

Some ideas such as learning to riding a bike or overcoming my fear of heights came to my mind almost immediately when launching this project. I knew riding a bike was something I needed to master as I began watching my three year old ride her tricycle around our neighborhood. If you can't learn to ride a bike in your thirties, when can you? It's one of those things I feel like I have to accomplish alongside my children.

As an environmentalist and an avid hiker, overcoming my fear of heights seemed inevitable. How could I, the tree-hugger from New England, not learn how to climb a tree or complete a ropes course? I do hike and I do ski but the hiking is very low-grade. No rock climbing or snowshoeing over here. Just a casual walk through national parks or around a waterfall or two. I like cross-country skiing, not just because it includes quiet walks through the forest in the winter, but because it excludes the ski lifts. I have gone a few times up proper mountains, but I certainly would not say I did it with ease.

I mentioned public speaking as it seems like something I have tried to tackle on a number of occasions. Sure who hasn't tried to run for student council in high school or given a presentation during a college class? These required speeches in small settings drove me nuts. The night before a talk, I would be up all night pacing, practicing my words, worried I would trip up the stairs. You know, the typical "night before a speech" mind games. I need something bigger, something more challenging to push me. Perhaps my talk will take place at my synagogue as an end of the year review. I certainly don't expect Oprah or Ellen to call me up to visit their shows. (Please note: If they did, I would bite the bullet and run with it). So talking in front of a large group of people, publicizing my efforts, reflecting on my accomplishments and elevating my mom's spirit... definitely a must on this list.

A few other ideas I have in mind include: working in a flower shop, whitewater rafting and taking ballroom dance classes with my husband. The flower shop has always been a place of happiness for me. Growing up in the suburbs outside of Boston, I loved visiting the plant stores and nurseries around town. I loved shopping for flowers before a big dance at school or planning for the bouquets for my wedding. Something about the arrangements and colors always attracted me to flowers. First I fell in love with peach roses, then calla lilies, then gerbera daisies. Now I am in love with orchids. I had one once but they are so delicate to care for, it didn't survive a trip I took to Denver. I guess a call to a local flower shop is in order to see if they want a volunteer some time this year.

Rafting stems from my love of nature and obsession with water. I love, love, love the rain. John Cusack in Say Anything standing in the rain with the radio blasting "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel is the quintessential romantic moment of all 80's movies, if you ask me. In fact, it poured rain on my wedding day and despite our plan for a calm, outdoor ceremony, I was internally thrilled that it was raining. When other people go inside and shut the blinds during a storm, I put on my raincoat, rain hat, grab an umbrella and take a walk. I like boats and boat houses... and I love the City of Seattle and anything that has to do with it. Sleepless in Seattle is another favorite of mine. At the same time, I am afraid of little boats. Cruise ships don't phase me. But paddle boats, canoes and certainly anything inflated, is on my "fears of all time" list. So rafting makes the grade.

My last idea, which brings me to number six if you're counting, is ballroom dance. Sure I was in a few musicals and show choir (think Glee) in high school. But ballroom dancing with someone always seemed like a fun but difficult feat. I do like Dancing with the Stars and I admit to watching Dirty Dancing as a child and practicing some of the moves in my living room--- But to dance with my husband, that will be the challenge. To learn the steps, dance to the beat and then have to practice those moves relying on another person to lead, that sounds like a crazy task to me. Let alone the task of trying to plan around my husband's residency schedule which reads like a law review. It is so complicated, I wonder sometimes if he knows when he is supposed to be "on" at the hospital. I think sometimes people in his program must just show up at shift change times just to cover their bases in case they were scheduled. (Don't tell him I said that)!

So there we have it. A holiday weekend behind me and six tasks for the taking. The question arises... will I complete each of these tasks in order? I need to think about how to plan this year. Surely some tasks are seasonal. Bike riding, climbing and rafting are all spring/summer projects. While public speaking, ballroom dancing and flower shop work can be done year-round. So perhaps I will leave these for the winter. I have already declared September as bike riding month so at least I am safe for now. But October is right around the corner.... I guess I better get cracking to line up the next task and do some research for the months ahead to find a flower shop nearby and locate a dance class.

Still six more projects to select and which ones will I choose? Hopefully more dreams will come to me. Maybe once I complete a task, something else will pop up in its place. The truth is, I find that the more people I tell about this project, the more others share their goals and fears with me. People share tasks still incomplete in their lives and dreams they left on the shelf for another day. If I have learned nothing else two weeks into my thirty-second year, it is that one is never too old to learn, just sometimes a little too unwilling to listen to oneself.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My 32nd Year Begins

So here it is at the end of my birthday and already I feel like a different person. Older, yes. Tired, yes. Frightened, ok. But invigorated too. The outpouring of support I have encountered since launching this project has been tremendous. And to all of you who have shared your thoughts, personal stories of struggle and fears of bicycles... thank you for putting your trust and your faith in me.

Ok, enough sappy stuff. Lets talk bikes.

I think that I mentioned before that I am not into bike riding. Not that I'm against it. Its just I haven't exactly had the most positive experience balancing my whole body on two wheels. Why is it that they don't make bikes with training wheels for adults? Because adults are too embarrassed to admit they don't know how to ride? I can't possibly be the only one out there...

So where do you go when you're turning 32 and you still can't ride a bike? You go to my friend Jason. To say he likes bikes is an understatement. He channels bikes in everything he does. Every Facebook post he makes. And certainly, when the Tour de France season comes around, you better watch out because the man is a living spokesperson for the race. Anyone local to the DC area knows exactly who I am talking about. When I approached him with my year long project, he sighed, took one look at me and said, "Ok Jen, I guess I will teach you how to ride a bike!" Wahoo!

So here we are in September with project one: Learning to Ride a Bike

Me being me, I did a little bit of research before my first lesson cause that's what I know how to do: research. Anytime I am preparing for something I know little to nothing about, I try to do a little bit of background research. I guess it makes me feel more in control of situations that make me anxious. Who knew I would find a treasure trove of information with instructions and how-to videos on the Web. Here is one Wiki site that I found with a basic step by step: After reviewing this material, I started to mentally prepare for the big day.

Today was the first day since I was in elementary school that I sat on a non-stationary bicycle. No training wheels and no pedals (we will get to that in a minute) and certainly no pretty basket with flowers. This was a big, adult size bike with two wheels bigger than me. Day one's lesson started with seat and height adjustments to the bike and the addition of the wheels. See, I told you this guy was a serious biker. Next, I learned how to balance myself on said bike without falling over. In fact, we had the lesson indoors on a carpeted hallway to start me off on the right foot. The pedal-less concept is Jason's. He takes the pedals off the bike so you can just focus on balancing without attempting to "ride." I would say it was a scary, yet exhilarating feeling walking myself down the hallway on my two wheeled mobile. I do think the seats could be a whole lot more comfortable though. Who would design a seat so small which you can barely sit on? If I were spending hours riding a bike, I would want the Lazy Boy version of a bike seat. I don't need a recline function but some padding and pillow top would be a nice addition.

Nevertheless, I am happy to say that I survived my first bike lesson unscathed and even a bit empowered. Perhaps I am not to old after all to learn new tricks. I did realize though that one doesn't simply sit on a bike and ride. I sure have a long way to go before cruising down Sligo Creek on my new set of wheels but I am proud to have taken the first step. Stay tuned for photos from my first lesson and look out for a thirty something on wheels coming soon to a park near you.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Taking the Plunge

I am just a week shy of turning 32 and I am officially having a midlife crisis. This is the birthday that as a child, I grew to fear over the years. I am a mom to an almost three year old girl who is going on her teenage years and a six month old boy who is starting to crawl. My husband is in his second of a four year medical residency that often leaves me feeling like I am inside one of those gerbil wheels going around and around without end. I work part time in environmental policy but have been on maternity leave since my son was born. Part of me wishes to stay home full time, while the other realizes that my salary is paramount to the financial survival of our family these days and I do have a fabulous and flexible job. With my birthday looming over me like a cat pawing at a piece of string, I have been searching for a way to come to terms with my year ahead and hope that I live to tell the tale when I am 33.

I guess I should start off my saying that my mom passed away at the age of 32 when I was only fourteen months old. My wonderful father raised my then eight year old sister, six year old brother and me along with the help of his mother in law, my nana. I never knew what it was like to see my mom, hear her voice, or watch my parents together. All my memories of her are saved in a few photo albums and some sections of my mind where I keep the stories I have been told over the years. I remember what it was like to discover boxes of old super 8 movies when I was snooping around in my dad’s closet as a kid and to finally see those movies burned onto dvd years later. It was the first time I had ever seen my mom move. There are no sounds on these videos so I cannot hear her voice but seeing her move meant everything to me. She died of brain cancer which was discovered shortly after she gave birth to me, despite expressing symptoms throughout the pregnancy. While I never officially mourned for my mom, I think it may be the true source of my postpartum depression that I faced so painfully after my daughter’s birth.

How does one come to the age when their mother passed away and survive? How do they learn to be a good wife or a mother for the first time without that mother figure to guide them? In my mind, I have been saving up all of these thoughts and goals to accomplish when I get older and yet a part of me never believed I would live beyond the age of 32. I guess I sort of saw my mom’s death as a ticking time bomb waiting to happen. When I acknowledged my postpartum depression, I signed myself up for an MRI of my brain to once and for all prove to myself that I did not in fact have an undiscovered brain tumor like my mom. After the doctor gave me the free and clear, I went back to rebuilding my life and reinventing myself as a wife and a new mom.

Thus, the birth of this project. One night a few months ago, I realized that my birthday was just around the corner and that I had two paths to take. I could fall slowly but surely into a year long depression waiting for the bad news to come and mourning once again the loss of my mom. Or, I could turn this year into a project, a year of goals where I seek to accomplish something each month and achieve goals my mother never had the chance to achieve. I guess it is sort of like living through her but in my own way. I decided it was time to stop living in fear of dying and at the same time, stop living in what felt like the shadow of my husband’s career and my children’s nap schedule.

There is no better time for me to pencil myself into my weekly calendar than now. So I have decided to make a list of all the things I have wanted to do, fears to overcome, tasks to accomplish, and select one “project” per month to tackle during my 32nd year. These goals will help me look forward to the year to come and keep reminding myself that I am here for the long haul. I have started compiling a list of fears to overcome such as speaking in front of crowds as well as mundane dreams of mine such as volunteering at a flower shop. Also, I never learned to ride a bike. My brother once tried to teach me but I rode into a parked car at the elementary school behind my house growing up and that was it. If it’s not stationary, I don’t ride it.

I am sure there are many more large scale dreams of mine I would like to achieve such as backpacking in Australia and New Zealand or getting glammed up and attending the Oscars but for a young mom of two with a husband who works over 90 hours a week, I am trying to be realistic and accomplish the little things on my list this year. Perhaps I will overcome my fear of heights through a ropes course or experience a new side of nature while whitewater rafting. Or perhaps this year will be about ME experiencing ME, uncovering MY lost voice and flipping this midlife crisis on its back. This will surely be an adventure of a lifetime. I just hope I am brave enough to come along for the ride.