Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Long Distance Dedication

All my contemporaries reading here recognized the source of this blog post title right away and were immediately thrown back to their youth. If you are one of them, you were hurtled back to Sunday mornings in the late 70s and early 80s listening to the Top 40 Countdown. This was a time long before there was a Ryan Seacrest. It was reigning era of Casey Kasem.

I listened to the Top 40 Countdown on an AM station, WNOX 990. Transmitting through my clock radio, the Long Distance Dedication undid me every week. Then, teenage angst and unrequited love ruled my heart and mind. The LDD stories of longing and woe boiled down to 30-second homages followed by 3 minutes of early 80s love ballad power chords sent my heart spinning.

The LDDs were generally from the lovelorn to their absent loves. Reasons for the distances varied from military duty to good, old-fashioned,  parental sabotage. Regardless of their reason, the dedicator had a hole in their heart where the dedicatee should be.
While romantic love always got more air time; familial love was represented too from time to time on the LDD.  And not all LDDs were about love lost but of love triumphant too. In those cases, the dedicator had a hole in their heart completely filled by the dedicatee.

I always dreamed of making my own LDD or, even grander, being the target of an LDD. But back then my world was small and there was no long distance to contend with. Everything I knew was within my county lines. Since those days, however, much of who and what are important to me lay miles and miles beyond any local jurisdiciton. I have my close circle around me here but the larger circle expands well past my arms reach.

Long distance being the factor in my life that it is, I feel situated now for my long awaited LDD. Actually if truth be told, my ninety percent of my blog posts could be considered subtle LDDs but this one is outright. It is of the triumphant sort. My niece Anna was diagnosed in August 2011 with AML Leukemia. She has been under treatment and received a stem cell bone marrow transplant in December 2011. Celebrations are in order as Anna is now cancer-free. However, she is now overcoming the side effects of her past treatments and the transplant. It has been a slow and arduous process of struggle and healing throughout which Anna and her parents have remained strong. They are a family of strong faith and have relied solely on that faith when nothing else seemed available to carry them through.

I heard the song, "Faith" by Shawn Mullins this morning. I have heard this song many times before but was never really struck by the lyrics quite like I was this morning. The sentiments of faith and love conjured images of Anna and her parents and their monumental strength these past seven months. My favorite lyrics are these:

Faith, when you're gone
All my demons and my devils
They do me wrong
And Faith, you let your light shine through
Let a ray of hope surround me
Just don't think I can make it without you.

This Long Distance Dedication goes out to Anna and her parents for "keeping their feet on the ground and reaching for the stars".

Monday, March 5, 2012

Commitment to Breathe

Like many do at the start of a new year, I made some commitments to make a few improvements in 2012. One of those commitments, the first one on my list actually, is to "maintain a healthy, balanced fitness regimen." So in the name of accountability, I submit this status update with just a little bit of history.

Since my proclamations in January, I have taken up yoga...again. I say again because yoga has been in and out of my life for the past fifteen years. Yoga was introduced to me all those years ago before kids when my body was young and flexible and there was less of it to get in the way of forward bends and twists. I enjoyed the physical aspects of yoga then but didn't focus on the non-physical benefits of yoga. Once, just because we could, my husband and I had a staycation at home one summer when we took yoga classes everyday. As I said, this was before kids.

When I was pregnant with my first son, I took prenatal yoga classes. I was working full-time during my pregnancy and those classes were luxurious moments designed to rest my back from its arduous full-time job of supporting my big stomach.

Once my son arrived, we did some mommy & me yoga at home and various yoga studios around town. I still recall those blissful moments of lying supine while holding baby above my head, him soaring over me smiling toothless and free. Once he was old enough to walk, our mommy & me yoga moments became cherished memories along with those of his first words and the end of sleep deprivation.

For the next several years, yoga was absent for me. It would have come in handy during those years of early toddlerhood, a move to a new part of the country, and a second baby. But once we were settled and new baby wasn't so new anymore, I took up running instead of yoga. My baby fat told me to and for the next several years, I ran. I ran so much I fancied myself a real runner. That's easy to do when you surround yourself with runners and all you think about is running and what you are going to eat before your run and what you need to wear in the weather for your run and what time you have to be home from your run before you have to get the kids up for school and you even start a blog and name it after running. Clearly, I was really into running both physically and mentally.

And it was good for me, for a while. There is a season for everything and that was my season to run. Then that season ended and I have mourned the loss of it. Now another season has returned, my recurring season of yoga.

Yoga fits my criteria of "healthy and balanced." I am again reaping the physical benefits of yoga. Those benefits show up a bit differently in my body now than they did in my 30-something body. I appreciate them even more. And I am recognizing the mental and emotional aspects of yoga. I'm going to sound like a yogi here, but yoga is more than just a healthy, physical practice. It is life practice. And that for me is where the balance comes into play.

Years ago when I would "come to the mat" as they say, I didn't register with the yogi-speak that yoga practitioners use. They say things like "this is your practice" and that each yoga session is "different and brings out different needs both physical, mental and emotional" and to remember to "connect through your breath." For me all those years ago, it was strictly physical: How flexible could I be? How long could I balance in that pose? How could I avoid using a prop? The only mental aspects I connected with then were my own competitive thoughts and the sense of being somewhat perplexed and annoyed by the excessively audible breathers in the class.

Then through pregnancy and with my new baby, it was all about the physical relief of my body and the physical connection with my child.

Now it is still very much physical but I am also getting the other aspects. I get that coming to the mat presents a different experience every time. I get that I need to leave my expectations outside the studio. I get that my own competitive thoughts muck up my practice. I use props now and I love them for how they actually do help me achieve a pose or not, if my body can't do it on a given day. And guess what? I am what I would have called years ago one of the excessively audible breathers! At least I think I am; you'd have to ask the person on the mat next to me for confirmation. I hear my breathing, I focus on my breathing and I use my breathing. I do connect with my breath and when I don't, it is obvious to me.

Tom Hanks' character in A League of their Own said "there's no crying in baseball." Well, let me say that there is crying in yoga, it's the emotional piece of the practice. I've seen it; I've experienced it and most assuredly will again. I took a three hour yoga class yesterday. As is common in classes, the instructor offered up the notion of dedicating your practice to someone or something dear to you. This dedication is a way to focus your energy and thoughts during practice. My first thought was of my oldest son. He is my mirror and the one that challenges me the most. The yoga practice continues and the next thing I know, after a few repetitions of Surya Namaskar, my eyes are welling with tears and it feels like I have small yoga mat stuck in my throat. Emotional thoughts of my son and our recent and recurring challenges swirl in my head. I recognize them, I release them, I do another chaturanga.

When I came home from the yoga class, I hugged my son. I recognized him and our challenges, I released them and did a mental chaturanga in my life practice. And I breathed.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Orlando's Biggest Attraction

Each winter for the past several years, we have made a trek down to the Orlando area. We do this not because we have a fanatical love of all things Disney ('cuz we do not). We do this because we have family retired in the sunshine state. One set of grandparents and my husband's aunt and uncle all live in Florida. While we hate that they are so far away, we love that they are where they are so we have them as a convenient reason for taking a mid-winter break to escape the dreary cold weather for a short while. Our annual mid-winter days in the sun give us stamina to survive the remaining weeks (which really seem like months) until spring actually arrives in Maryland.

Even though we do not have the fanatical love of all things Disney or the other competing Orlando venues, we usually hit an attraction each time we go. If you have kids and are within a day's drive of Orlando, it is required that you buy tickets and go. In the past,

we've been to The Magic Kingdom

and to Sea World

It may be difficult to tell for those of you who didn't share this day with us, but this picture was definitely taken at Sea World.
This is when Helios did his impression of a sea lion throwing a temper tantrum on the ground next to the stingray touch tank. It is one of our most frequent flashbacks favorite memories of that trip to Sea World.

We also visited Animal Kingdom one particularly hot day. Souvenir water bottle fans: $45.00.
Helios' chimpanzee impression: priceless.

And we've been to Kennedy Space Center. It was stellar.

And we paid a visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It was brilliant!

All good stuff. But after all these years of attractions, we decided this year to avoid the crowds and spend our entire visit with the relatives. We jumped in Grandpa's pool.

The grandparents treated to the boys to a round of mini-golf. I like to call it putt-putt, do you?

We mined for semiprecious stones.

I keep saying "we" but what I really mean is "they, the boys". This is what my husband and I really did.

And that was plenty of attraction for us.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

No Ordinary Walk on the Beach

Nearly twelve years ago, I met an author. She wasn't an author then but she would be...twelve years later. Missy Fillion and I met as brand new moms, paired together by the all-knowing lactation specialists at the hospital where I delivered my first born. Through an odd postnatal combination of dating service meets Welcome Wagon, we were introduced to each other and our new lives of motherhood.

While mired in dirty diapers and sleep deprivation woes, Missy and I also shared a common love of books and writing. Speaking over our babies coos and cries, we cautiously shared with each other our personal desires to write one day. Those were ambitious words spouted from someone wiping baby spittle from her shirt. Neither of us knew if those spoken dreams really held any promise at the time.

All these years and countless clean shirts later, Missy put her keyboard where her mouth and dreams were and self-published her first novel in January 2012.

Retreat to Folly is a fictional account of Susan, exhausted mother of three young children, who attends a beach retreat in hopes of resurrecting a sliver of her old self again. Instead, Susan gets much much more. A solitary pre-retreat walk on the beach turns into a weekend long series of conversations with Jesus. The end of the conversation and weekend leaves Susan with a greater sense of her place in the world as a mother and wife and child of God.

Haven't we all at one point in our lives wished for a divine audience, a honest to goodness sit down with God to get a few things straight? I know I have wanted that several times. Most of those times have sprung from some mothering adventure. Such is the case with Susan. The drudgery of her mothering life has left her feeling empty and unable to appreciate the beauty and love right there in her own home. She can't see the forest for the diapers and bags of mother's guilt hanging from the trees. And Lord knows, Susan herself is lost in the woods. Her walks on the beach with Jesus bring Susan out of her self-inflicted forest and to a place of peace and appreciation for her roles.

I spoke with Missy about the book. As is common for first novels, she indicated that the book is somewhat autobiographical. Missy will be the first to admit (and I will be behind with a quick second) that mothering is a spiritual journey itself. Missy calls her children "her greatest spiritual teachers" and this book is the processing of the early stages of her spiritual education as a mother. Her characters, Susan and the retreat leader Leonie, represent different points on the spiritual mothering road.

The book is set in Folly Beach, South Carolina close to Charleston from where Missy hails. Several of the scenes, with artistic license adeptly applied, are inspired from actual beach moments in Missy's life on and near Folly.

My favorite part of the book involves Susan's inability to complete the simple retreat activity of collecting shells on the beach. Encumbered by her own ideal of perfection and expectation, she comes up empty handed, unable to see the simple beauty in a shell when thousands of examples lay at her feet. Later in the story, Susan unexpectedly uncovers several perfectly intact sand dollars (her favorite) and is able to gratefully acknowledge their beauty and leave them on the beach for the next beachcomber to enjoy. Susan in an earlier time would have hoarded the fragile examples of perfection for herself, never believing that such goodness would come around again. The new Susan knows that goodness abounds; to see it, you just have to open your eyes and your heart.

Retreat to Folly is available for download from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The paperback edition is currently under production and will be available soon. You can also find out more about the book on Facebook.

Congratulations Missy on your first novel! So happy for you!