Thursday, January 31, 2013

Writing Lessons

Typewriter 456As part of my goal to really break down my self-imposed barriers to writing, I'm going completely out of my comfort zone and have signed up for an e-course called Writing in the Digital Age.  I'm not completely sure what the nature of the lessons will be, but I intend to use them to generate creative ideas for a variety of writing projects, including my blog.

One piece of inspiration I came across today is this article from The Glamorous Housewife with lessons she has learned from blogging.  All of her tips resonated with me, but the one that really struck me was the reminder that you can't compare the beginning of your journey with the middle of someone else's.  As she says:
Envy is a double edged sword: it can help motivate you to become stronger, or it can suck every ounce of your creative desire until you are a shell of a person.
While this is a bit tongue-in-cheek, I can identify with the latter sentiment.  I have struggled with envy of successful authors or bloggers, even if those people don't have any other qualities that I particularly like or admire.  Some famous authors aren't even very nice people and my envy is quite misplaced.  At any rate, aspiration is much different from jealousy, and I have too often found myself defeated before I even start by telling myself that I will never be as good as anyone else who has ever written or published anything.

So yes, it is a very timely reminder to not compare my journey to anyone else's.  If I stick with it I will eventually get to where I want to be.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Pilates, Not Perfection

1/29/13 Sunrise
Sunrise over Pleasure Point 1/29/13
I am back to normal today, thank goodness.  Feeling like myself again.  That means I can go to Pilates tonight, which I love!

I started doing Pilates about two years ago when I was applying  myself in earnest to doing regular workouts for health and weight loss.  At the time, I had fallen out of the habit of working out on a schedule, and chalked it up to being too busy at work.  But at the start of 2011 I wanted to find a space for regular yoga practice in my life to improve stress management and physical flexibility, so I decided to make the time and started getting up at 4:30 each morning to do 30 minutes of yoga.

I began following along to videos from the Comcast On Demand "Sports and Fitness" station.  As an aside, this channel still has a great selection of videos ranging from 5 minutes to over an hour in a variety of categories including yoga and Pilates.  This is a great way to try out new workouts if you already have On Demand with your cable TV, since they are included in the subscription and so you can watch a large number of workout videos for "free".  The offerings do rotate on a regular basis, however, so if you do fall in love with a certain routine don't be surprised to see it disappear within a few weeks or months.

Using this free resource, I began alternating yoga and Pilates videos Tues-Fri mornings and eventually in May I went to my first hour-long "mat" class, which is a group Pilates floor class at the gym.  I immediately fell in love with the challenge of Pilates with an instructor right there to push me and keep it new and exciting.  Still, I was way out of my element and could only do a fraction of what the rest of the class could do, despite having been doing 30 minutes a day, twice a week for 5 months.  I became addicted to the feeling of increasing strength and flexibility that comes with regular practice of Pilates, and was amazed to watch my own body change.  Soon, I was doing things I never thought imaginable.  Touching my toes!  Holding a 3 minute plank!  Crazy "teaser" exercises that are like full boat on crack!

Fast forward nearly two years, and I am still in love with Pilates and attend the same class with the same instructor twice a week.  My instructor is amazing, funny, irreverent and kind of a rebel.  She is inspiring, entertaining, and always pushes me to the next level.  I love the atmosphere and camaraderie of a group class.  Much like Zumba, which I will wax poetic on in a future post, Pilates classes have become a cornerstone of my health and fitness routine and are without question a way of life for me.  Whenever I think about lifestyle changes I might make, one of the first questions that pops into my mind is, "will I still be able to attend Pilates and Zumba?"

New, here is a special treat.  My Pilates class is so insane, my instructor actually choreographed an ab routine and we called it the "flash mob ab dance".  You can definitely see me on camera.  I'ma complete ham when it comes to these things.

Woo hoo!  Ab dance!

I think my Pilates story is a testament to a few things I have found true in my fitness journey.  First, I had to make initial changes to incorporate fitness into my life which felt like a sacrifice at the time.  Soon, however, fitness became so important that I was willing to rearrange parts of my life to maintain the commitments I'd made to working out.  Second, think you have to start small and work your way up to where you want to be.  In 2011, I couldn't touch my toes.  Now I can reach past them with little effort.  "Progress, not perfection" is the rule.  Finally, I believe you have to LOVE your fitness routine if you are going to make it more than just another chore to cross off the list.  Pilates is part of my lifestyle and is as crucial to my health and well being as food, sleep, and vitamins.  If you don't love your workout, you are much less likely to commit to it at the level necessary for long term fitness and weight maintenance.  It might take a while and you may need to look outside the box at what inspires you to move and be active, but eventually something will click and fitness will become not a chore but an effortless extension of life.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Back to Work

California Buckeye
California Buckeye, UCSC Arboretum, Nov. 2012
Back to work his morning.  While I enjoy a "vacation" as much as the next person, it is really tough to be out of the classroom for two days straight.  Not sure what I will discover upon my return!  Thankfully I have two incredible instructional aides who are my right and left hand ladies.  J. has actually been with me for 3 years so she can pretty much read my mind.  Without the help of my team, administration would almost certainly have to step in to help with discipline.  That is one of the things that makes being an ED (Emotionally Disabled) high school teacher exciting and exhausting at the same time.  You are familiar with a whole range of behaviors that are "baseline" for your students, but are "holy sh*t we'd better call for backup" for pretty much everyone who doesn't work with them on a daily basis.  I mean, when you're doing a mad lib and the class's favorite adjective is the made-up, darkly ironic "feelin' stabby", you know you're in a whole different reality.  Oh, how I love those kids.

Last night we had the crock pot pumpkin chili and it was terrible.  I based it off of this recipe, which actually is not all that bad except for the fact that instead of a bottle of chili sauce I used hot sauce resulting in a vinegary, too-spicy mess.  Oh, well.  Tonight we're having baked sweet potatoes which is not experimental in the least.

Today I feel much better.  It is as though the cold shut off like a faucet.  No more congestion and I feel much more energized.  It lasted exactly from Thursday night to Monday night, which is pretty much the "average duration" for the common cold (3-4 days).  So while my immune system did not prevent me from catching a cold, I think it did limit the duration and intensity.

Today is supposed to by very cold.  Well, cold for central California coast daytime standards... under 60 degrees.  This year, between my weight loss and generally drier, colder weather I have had to buy warmer clothes.  Hooray for boots and fuzzy sweaters!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Monthly Scavenger Hunt January 2013

MSH January 2013

January 2013 Scavenger Hunt

1. And now I think of my life as vintage wine from fine old kegs (mine and everyone's)
2. All that glitters is gold  (mine and everyone's)
3. He looked to me to be the eyes of age (mine and everyone's)
4. She fills my heart with joy, she makes my day (mine and everyone's)
5. The man in the moon`s a blinding light (mine and everyone's)
6. You`re sailing softly through the sun  (mine and everyone's)
7. Dark is the road you wander  (mine and everyone's)
8. Fly, fly through a troubled sky (mine and everyone's)
9. We built these paper mountains (mine and everyone's)
10. If she had wings she would fly away (mine and everyone's)
11. The floors and the boards recalling your step (mine and everyone's)
12. Can you tell a green field From a cold steel rail?  (mine and everyone's)
13. When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame (mine and everyone's)
14. River running free you know how I feel (mine and everyone's)
15. Don`t stop me now I`m having such a good time (mine and everyone's)
16. Drinks another coffee and she finds it hard to stay awake (mine and everyone's)
17. What the hell am I doing here? I don`t belong here. (mine and everyone's)
18. Light up your face with gladness  (mine and everyone's)
19. Living in a fisheye lens, Caught in the camera eye (mine and everyone's)
20. In your arms, I feel so safe and so secure (mine and everyone's)

Sunday, January 27, 2013


This morning Jason and I ventured out to catch the (98%) full moon setting just as the sun was coming up.  We went down to the west jetty of the Santa Cruz Harbor where you can see both the eastern and western horizon at the same time.  I brought along my tripod, which I haven't used in some time and was a bit rusty with it.

Here is my favorite shot of the moon setting over westside Santa Cruz:
Setting Moon
Here is the Walton Lighthouse with the sun rising from the opposite direction:
1/27/12 Sunrise

Jason got a sweet shot of the two of us with his phone:

I also took my weekly photo challenge shot for "vanishing point", which I am not that excited by. I had a hard time finding a shot with the appropriate perspective for a good vanishing point. This is the path leading to the lighthouse along the west jetty.  I think the end of the path should be much farther in the distance:
Vanishing Point
I am feeling better today. I did a few chores and took a long nap. I also prepped most of the food for the week.

When I workout in the evening (Mon, Wed, and Thu evenings) we often don't eat until 8pm or so, which is when I'm ready to go to bed. We are trying to eat earlier in the day, so I am experimenting with cooking food in the crock pot on these nights so it is ready right after work. This week I planning to make pumpkin chili, lima beans, and lentils. We will also have baked sweet potatoes one night and probably pasta one night. Tonight we had roasted cauliflower and brussels sprouts with tater tots. I'm still craving comfort foods.

I'd like to go back to work tomorrow, but I'm not planning to unless I feel much better in the morning.  I am still really congested and tired.  My main goal is to avoid getting the flu or avoid getting anyone else sick.  I also think, as a teacher, it is important to model good behavior and not come to school while sick... since that is probably how I got this cold in the first place.  Several kids went home sick last week and the flu is just hitting us in coastal California.

Enjoy the last hours of the weekend and the last days of January!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Under the Weather

I've been feeling crummy since Thursday night.  It has been a while since I was sick with a cold or other minor illness, and I am interested to see if my gluten-free, vegan immune system is as healthy as I imagine it to be.  I started feeling congested Thursday night, and by Friday morning I had a headache as well.  Relatively minor compared to a nasty cold or full-blown flu.  Since I am a public school teacher, I stayed home from work to avoid either contracting a worse virus with my weakened immune system or infecting someone else with my illness.  It is hard for me to miss work because my students all have emotional challenges and things can get quickly out of hand if I am not there to regulate behavior, so I hope I am able to return on Monday.

I spent the last 24 hours in the house on the sofa watching Catfish and Millionaire Matchmaker reruns on TV.  I never sit around watching TV for more than an hour or so at night a few days a week, so I'm not sure if it was the TV or my illness that put me in a comatose state by evening.  I made some GF vegan comfort food: mac & cheese with brown rice macaroni covered in a mix of tomato soup and cashew cream and topped with plenty of nutritional yeast.  I added some peas and kale to cut the richness a bit.  Yum!

This morning I needed some fresh air so I walked down to check out the sunrise.  Jason and I are usually up by 5am (insane, I know, but we go to bed at 8.  We are old people already. By the time we are in our 70's we'll be eating dinner at 3pm and in bed by 5.).

1/26/13 Sunrise

I hope I can dredge up enough energy to do chores this weekend.  My photo theme challenge this week is "vanishing point" which I will probably have to do macro-style unless I am near any train tracks or long straight roads today or tomorrow.  I would like to finish the Monthly Scavenger Hunt photo challenge as well.  And I need to make some progress on my Valentine's Day cards, which I am drawing by hand this year.  I have been getting much more into illustration lately and am considering creating a few pieces for sale on etsy.

As the month draws to a close, it is a good time to reflect on my Happiness Project resolutions.  I am using Gretchen Rubin's system of making a resolutions chart.  Based on my goal setting and intentions for 2013, I identified 12 areas of my life in which I could make small changes toward a happier existence.  January has been dedicated to "Taking Care of Me".  My resolutions have been to: do 10 minutes of yoga and 5 minutes of meditation each morning, to take all my vitamins daily, and to wash my face and brush my teeth each night.  Those last two may seem like no-brainers, but I hate washing my face at night for some reason and would much prefer to drag myself from the couch to the bed and avoid the process altogether.  I therefore avoid brushing my teeth at night as well.  These are basic self-care tasks that are important to my self-esteem and heath, so I need to start doing them as part of a routine instead of debating each night, "do I wash my face or not?"  Having a concrete resolution like this helps me to shift my interior dialogue to a more helpful script of, "you will wash your face and brush your teeth each night because you are taking care of your health."

The most successful of my January resolutions, however, has been to do yoga each morning.  I now get directly out of bed and unroll my yoga may in the living room.  10 minutes of simple stretches and sun salutations helps me to release the tension of sleep from my body and to focus my mind on the day ahead.  Not to mention that sun salutations are apparently good for toning your arms, even if you only do 5 or 6 vinyasas a day, because I have seen a positive change in my upper body definition and strength in just 25 days.

Another benefit of Rubin's chart system is that it has prevented me from becoming overwhelmed with all of the areas of my life in which I have set goals.  When I feel I need to focus on fitness or housecleaning issues, for example, I can remind myself that this month is focused on one area of my life, and there will be plenty of time in the coming months to work on other areas of growth.  I have planned for next month to be focused on "Relationships" but I may change that to "Home" because the messy house has been getting me down lately and I know both Jason and I could be much better at completing simple chores like washing the dishes each night (see washing face, above, for the reason this does not get completed each day!)

Rubin has a few more interesting and helpful things on her site that have inspired me lately.  I have subscribed to her 21-Day Relationship Challenge with the idea of setting some concrete goals for improving my relationships in February.  She offers some simple, practical tips for changing your own behavior to have a happier relationship.  She also recently posted an updated reflection on the idea of abstainers vs. moderators which I found quite applicable to my own situation.  I am most definitely an abstainer, and am much happier now that I simply don't drink alcohol or eat gluten or animal products.  I really couldn't manage these things in moderation.  I feel that way about sugar as well... at some point I will likely have to give it up altogether because moderation is very draining for me.  It is tough for me to regulate my intake of food.  I constantly have to ask myself where, when, and how much is appropriate to eat of any "restricted" foods because this does not innately occur to me.  So it is much easier just to give these foods up altogether.  Rubin says that research supports this idea and that abstaining appears to be the better solution for most people precisely because of the internal debate involved with moderation.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Week # 3: Weather

Condensation, originally uploaded by sgrace.
Here is the third installment in my "52 in 2013" project. This last week's theme was "Weather".
There hasn't been much weather this week except sunny 60's.  I'm not complaining, but it did was not a very dynamic subject to shoot.  Since we live by the beach in a mid-century house moisture is perpetually an issue and there is always a layer of condensation on our single-pane windows.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Bookin' It

Yesterday I went to my book club meeting up in Ben Lomond.  It was a gorgeous day, nearly 70 degrees which is a change after a week or so in the 40s.  Our hostess prepared an amazing (actully closer to mind-boggling) gluten-free, vegan spread. This round we attempted to read and discuss "The Rise and Fall of Prohibition" by Daniel Okrent.  While interesting and full of detailed facts, reading it reminded me and other members of the club of slogging through research articles in college.  Fascinating, but hardly readable.  No-one could get more than 100 pages through the nearly 500 page tome.  Nonetheless, we still found plenty in the first fifth of the book to inspire hours of conversation.

As a group of women, we tend to be interested in feminism and women's rights issues, so much of our discussion centered on the impact of the Suffrage movement on the Prohibition movement, and parallels between the passing of the Thirteeth Amendment and this most recent Presidential election.  We also spun off into discussions about mental health, gun control, legislating morality and education.

When I first put this group together in June of 2011, reading books was just one of the intentions.  I really formed it to create a place where women of diverse ages, occupations, and viewpoints could discuss interesting matters of the day and of their lives and develop deeper friendships with other women.  I have always envisioned this group as more Salon than Book Club.  Thankfully, the group has surpassed my wildest expectations and is still growing and evolving.  I think one key to this group's success is my clear intention as to what the group is about, but it is also guided by the influence of its members and that is a great reminder to me that I don't need to control every aspect of every thing that I'm involved in.  In fact, that would be counterproductive to growth and new ideas.

I think forming this group was one of the fundamental steps in my own "Happiness Project".  As Gretchen Rubin suggests, joining a group is an effective way to boost happiness.  Setting the goal of having a group, defining the intentions regarding the purpose of the group, and then calling people to action around a common interest has been very rewarding and given me ample fodder for self-reflection and increased self-awareness, as well as deeper, more satisfying friendships.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

52 in 2013

For the past couple of years I have tried to participate in a group on flickr that takes one picture per week for a year.  I haven't yet been successful for more than a few weeks.  Last year I made it to mid-year before moving house disrupted my life and I never really got back into the flow of the weekly shooting and uploading of pictures.

This year I have joined the 52 in 2013 group.  Each week, the photo assignment has a theme or motif.  Here are my first two weekly entries:

#1: New

#2: My Home Town
Santa Cruz...

This week's theme is Weather and I have to complete the weekly challenge by Sunday night.  I'll post the weekly photo here from now on.  Hopefully I can finish this year.  If I miss a few that's fine, but I'd really like to make it to the end of the challenge.  Here's to 52 in 2013!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Like Your Life Depends On It

Hello blog readers.  If you have been following me over the years, you may know that I have tried several times to launch a blog and stick with it.  I have tried different formats, different content and writing/publishing daily, weekly, or monthly.

I have come to realize that blogging is difficult for me.  Yet, I enjoy it and find it rewarding.

I also have a secret wish.  I guess it is not so secret since I'm about to publish it in the most public domain available.  I want to be a writer.  Like, a published poet-novelist-book-tour kind of writer.  I want to quit my day job and write for a living.  I want to wear a tweed jacket a smoke a pipe.

OK, scratch that last part.  But there is one major impediment that keeps me from actually realizing my life dream: fear.

I am afraid I'm not good enough.  Afraid I will pour my heart into failure.  Afraid that I do not have the skills, connections, or whatever you want to put in that "I don't have it" box in my brain.  At some point in my life, instead of saying, "I can do it if I want to", my interior monologue instead switched to, "You can't because you're not good enough".

Over the past decade, I have been consciously working on my overall happiness, health, and well-being.  This has led to many lifestyle changes, a great deal of which I have documented in this and other blogs.  I am at the point now where I realize that the only thing that has been keeping me from writing the next great American novel is ME.  I am the only one telling myself that I can't do it.  And I am wrong.

So, in an effort to move myself toward that goal of writing and publishing, I have mashed two of my blogs together into this one, my oldest and most established site.  Most people come here for either the review of Morro Strand campground or the review of the novel "Swallowing Stones".  Nonetheless, these visitors comprise an audience toward whom I can direct my writing.  From here on out, this is it.  Santa Cruz Stasi will be my only blog and the place where I direct my writing energy and focus.

To be a writer, you have to write.  A lot.  Like an athlete, you have to have training and discipline.  Good writing does not spring holistically from brilliant minds.  It is a craft that has to be revised, honed and perfected like any other.  Fortunately, I know I have the raw talent.  Now it is time to remove the self-imposed barriers to success, and write like I know I am able.  I am determined to push through the fear and doubt and at least begin to create the kind of writing that I hope to someday publish.  Please, won't you join me for the ride?