Sunday, March 23, 2014

Anything but routine

Friday night we were invited to join some friends for Shabbat dinner, a novel experience for me. I didn't grow up in a religious community, and although my husband is Jewish, we've never observed Shabbat in our home. For anyone not familiar, this is the weekly day of rest (in Hebrew, "Shabbat" means "rest," or "cessation") the observance of which is a remembrance of the day of rest taken after the Biblical creation of the heavens and the earth.

I'd received two other invitations for Friday night, both of which I had declined. I've had an exhausting few weeks, between two important events at work, and major upheaval in my personal life (now nearly two weeks into our displacement due to a major flood in our condo). I'm doing my best to get in a short, head-clearing run every few days, and to spend a little time on the yoga mat on the hotel room floor on a regular basis, so I'm kind of holding it all together, emotionally speaking. But tired is tired.

When our friend extended the invitation to join him, his wife, and their family for an evening of eating, drinking, and resting, however, I didn't hesitate for a moment to say "yes." And I'm so very grateful. The matriarch of this beautiful family had prepared a feast of colorful dishes piled high with fresh and flavorful Persian fare. Drinks were flowing, children were playing, and some members of the family had driven for hours to be there. Just like every Friday night in this home. I was drawn in by the connection and engagement this family clearly feels with one another, and have been thinking about the experience nonstop.
On Shabbat we take a break from our mundane weekly activities. It is a time to regroup and pray, to eat and rejoice, to spend time with family and friends, to study and share - to indulge and pamper our spiritual side. (From
I'm a person with very little structure in my life. I work long and highly irregular hours, travel frequently, and tend to follow my impulses when it comes to how I spend my free time. Even while training for a marathon, I can't seem to keep to a schedule. I don't have a "gym day" or a "long run day," but rather create a schedule each week, fitting in the activities where I can find (or create) the space. This is very much by design, as I've always feared a life of boredom and routine. But I'm beginning to understand the difference between routine and ritual, and to appreciate the need for a little more ritual, a way of pacing my life such that there are built-in periods of conscious rest and reconnection.

I don't know how I'm going to pull this off. Honestly, I can't think of one single waking hour of the day or week when I could commit to doing the same thing on a regular basis, to holding firm and honoring some space that I've created for something or someone that is important to me. But it seems like an important thing to try to figure out. Could I get to a yoga class every Wednesday at noon? Commit to regular Sunday dinners with family and friends? Spend twenty minutes writing every morning? Perhaps I can make it happen and, once and for all, pin myself down and say with confidence, in the face of another opportunity "Sorry, I can't make it. Saturdays are my long run days."

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Take two of these, and call me in the morning

Twenty four hours ago, I was looking desperately for a good hole to crawl into. A cold and gloomy place to curl into the fetal position, and have a good cry. And I didn’t have to look very far to find one.

So far, 2014 is really sticking it to me. Upon recovering from a long bout with pneumonia, I set about trying to regain some strength and begin training for a spring marathon. I knew it wouldn’t be my best or fastest, but was glad to be moving again. A couple of weeks in, I could see that an unusually heavy load at work was going to challenge my training, but was trying to hold the bare minimum of a program together with duct tape, popsicle sticks, and the occasional cross-training session at the gym.

And then this week, all hell broke loose. To be more specific: a plumbing line in my upstairs neighbor’s condo broke loose, and our home was ravaged in a matter of hours, while we were at work. I’ll spare you the details, but it will suffice to say that we have been relocated to a long-term stay hotel while the demolition crews have been pulling up floors, cutting out walls, and gutting rooms. We still have no idea how long it will take for our condo to be put back together, but we do know that we’re in this for a good long haul. I own a particularly clever and destructive dog who cannot be left alone in a strange hotel room while my husband and I go to work every day, so we’re staying in the suburbs (about 45 minutes from my home and office) to be near my gem of a mother-in-law, who is able to keep her for us, as long as we can help out with the many miles of walking daily that are required. (Terriers, you know?) Life for the past several days has been a blur of packing, moving, commuting, meetings with plumbers and insurance adjusters, shuttling the dog back and forth, and – oh yeah – working. No doubt, we’ll settle into a routine eventually, but at the moment, it is pure chaos. It’s sad, disorienting, anxiety-provoking, and exhausting. The spring marathon? It was already questionable at best, and now it’s officially out the window.

Our hotel room depresses me to no end. I’m out of my element in every sense of the word, in a neighborhood I don’t know, surrounded by fast food and chain restaurants. I’m living out of a suitcase of clothes and a few boxes of personal stuff hastily thrown together late at night. And the wireless sucks. In the first couple of days, I was in a daze, still so busy with long days of work that I didn’t reflect too deeply on what was happening. I mostly just laughed about it, and ate a little more pie than usual. And then last night, with the workweek over, it all hit me like a huge sack of potatoes (did I mention that spring marathon was in Boise, ID?), and I started to get frustrated, whiny, and sad.

Hotel room veggie slaw
I woke up this morning still in a rotten mood, but after partaking in some free continental breakfast, took a walk in the warm sunshine over to my mother-in-law’s to pick up my dog for the day, and gave myself a pep talk. This is a stressful life event to be sure, but this is not a crisis. I’m pissed off about the marathon falling apart, but the fact that training isn’t feasible for me right now isn’t a reason to stop taking care of myself. Lay off the pie, Amy. I can surely squeeze in a few “mental health miles” a few days a week, and hey, I’ve been meaning to check out YogaGlo anyway. No reason I can’t roll out the mat and hold a few poses right here on the colorfully-carpeted floor of the Marriott Residence Inn. We picked up our CSA delivery yesterday, and now our little hotel fridge is packed with fresh local vegetables and fruit. I got “home” from that walk, dug out a cutting board, a knife, and a plastic bowl from the hotel room cupboards, and chopped myself a beautiful slaw of bok choy, cabbage, fennel, radish, carrot, and apple. I felt happier with the first bite. Maybe tomorrow I’ll lace up and go find an access point to the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve, which I think is around here somewhere ... maybe that’s it, right there past the Carl’s Jr.?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Living Largo

Well, the universe has certainly been challenging me to walk my talk so far in 2014. In my first post of the year, I wrote about how we need pain to provide limits and boundaries (this one), and shortly thereafter came down sicker than I have ever been in my life. You "need your pain?" Okay, how about we set your lungs on fire and make every muscle in your body ache for weeks on end? Let's see what you can do with this. Like just about everyone, it seems, I came down with that nasty flu in late December, and after a good long battle with it, was starting to make my way back. Just as I was starting to think "is this little nagging cough ever going to stop?" it all came raging back with a mighty vengeance, and the second time around it was pneumonia.

There's a little part of me that can sort of enjoy the one or two common colds I might get during the course of an average year, because it provides a legitimate excuse to take a day off (really off), read, drink alcohol during the day (it's a hot toddy! it's medicine!), maybe do a little writing. But this was something else altogether, and I was so knocked out that it actually scared me. I couldn't concentrate, couldn't stay awake, and even after I received treatment and some strong drugs, it continued to disrupt my life for weeks.

But here I am. Now it's March, and the world kept pace in my absence. I basically lost the entire month of February, since once I started feeling better there was so much work and life to catch up with that I continued to wander in a post-pneumonia daze for weeks. While I was "gone," I missed being able to run, which is probably fairly obvious. But more than anything, I missed having the energy and clarity just to think coherent thoughts. I lost my creative steam, couldn't connect ideas, and was pretty humorless. Never have I been so keenly aware of the relationship between my physical life and my internal one. As a pretty high-strung and anxious person, when my energetic metronome goes haywire, it's usually going up-tempo. I'm an Allegro kind of a girl, and really struggled with learning to live Largo

Now back at almost full-strength, I'm delighting in the ability to run a few comfortable miles again, thankful to get through a full work day with energy to spare. For a healthy body that can spring back from major illness, and for access to good health care and a comfortable bed in which to recuperate. But more than anything, I appreciate having my old brain back. It's good to be back back among the living. And the running. And the thinking.