Sunday, August 28, 2011

Doing Things that Make Me Nervous

Pablo Margari- Flickr

There are lots of things that make me nervous: indoor rock climbing, uncooked fish, my neighbor two doors down... I have a natural impulse to stay away from them. They are uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. Avoiding them is easy and safe.

I guess it's all of the interesting blogs I have been reading about world travel, gastronomy, and living with purpose, but lately I am dipping my toes in waters that are outside my comfort zone. The Ireland trip was a good start- I went alone, spent two entire days by myself, and then joined a bunch of strangers on a tour. I was a little worried that I wouldn't fit in, or that everyone else would be couples, or that I couldn't keep up with the rest of the hikers. Of course it turned out to be a wonderful experience (that you might be getting sick of hearing about). Eating dinner alone is not as terrible as I thought it might be. If you get too uncomfortable you can study your guidebook or scroll through your photos.

Now I'm gearing up for my next big adventure: a medical mission trip to Haiti. This trip includes four nights of "primitive camping." It also entails quite a bit of hiking to get to the clinics, so I will have to pack in a backpack that I can carry up mountains by myself.  Those of you who know me know that thinking about packing light and not taking showers is pretty much giving me cold sweats and heartburn.

Besides these big (expensive!) adventures, I am also trying to get a little braver in everyday life. Sometimes it's something simple, like showing up for spin class when I know I am going to struggle to keep up for the entire hour.  Doing things alone is another scary prospect: Friday I was planning to go to a beer and cheese tasting downtown, and my friend was unable to make it at the last minute. I considered skipping it, but instead decided to go solo. I ran into some people I knew, had a great time, and was really glad that I went.

What I am finding is that really scary things are not so scary after you try them once. Now that I have tried traveling alone, I am less afraid to try it again. That means that the whole world is open to me, and I am not limited by having to find someone to go with. If I can make it through the whole spin class once, I know that the next one will be a little easier.  And now that I have been to an event alone, and it was not terrible (thanks Amber and Billy!), I know that I don't have to skip things if I can't find someone to go along.

But I tried indoor rock climbing, and that was really scary. I can't get on board with that one.

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and try something that you are a little afraid to do!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Running like a Penguin

Sidereal (Jack Lyons)- Flickr
When I was 23, I ran an ill-advised marathon.

I signed up for Team In Training, the fundraising organization for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, with the intention of doing a half marathon. I was not a runner, but I execised regularly and I was in pretty good shape. At the first meeting, there were a bunch of cheerleader type people who convinced us that "if you can run a half marathon, you can run a whole marathon!" I later found out that this is a BIG, FAT LIE.  A half marathon is probably more than a new runner should try to run as her first race. A marathon is ridiculous.

Nevertheless, I trained hard for five months, met my fundraising goals, and completed the 2004 Disney Marathon.

Then I never ran again. Until now!

I actually tried to run here and there over the past few years. I would get really motivated (and by that I mean shocked by the number on the scale), lace up my sneakers, and go out for a 2-3 mile run. I would finish feeling like my lungs were going to collapse, and my left knee would be swollen and achy for three days.

So I started saying "I can't run."

Lately, I have been frustrated with saying the word "can't" so much. I've also been looking for ways to simplify my workout routine. I was struggling with a lack of motivation, and it seems like I can always find other ways to spend my time than by going to the gym. I don't need to get super thin or super buff or anything, but I want to get enough activity to feel healthy. And, if we're being honest, the scale is pretty shocking lately.

I noticed on Facebook that a lot of my friends are doing Couch-to-5k . I checked out the website, and found that it starts out really simply.  The first week you are basically doing a walk with running intervals. Over time the running intervals get longer and the walks get shorter. The active part of the workouts is only about 20 minutes at the beginning. I thought it was worth trying.

And I did try it! I am in my fourth week (although I repeated week 2 after my week-long Ireland trip hiatus).  I stretch really carefully after I run and put some ice on my knee for about 15 minutes. So far I feel great and I love getting my workouts done so quickly. When you eliminate driving to the gym, parking, stopping to talk to people you know, and waiting in line for the restroom, your 25 minute workout really takes 25 minutes! I also love being outside for a little while, although I am looking forward to the time when I can run after 8 am without dying of heatstroke.

To help me get started, I picked up a copy of The Courage to Start, by John Bingham.  This guy writes a column for Runners World called "The Penguin Chronicles." The idea is that we are not all slim, speedy, elite runners. Some of us waddle along through an 11 minute mile pace and finish last in our age groups. Bingham's assertion is that running penguin-style doesn't make you any less of an athlete. He encourages us to enjoy running for the sake of running, even if we are slow, chubby, and winded.

What I have learned about myself over the years is that I am really excited by new things. I like to jump in with both feet before I completely know what I'm getting into. This can lead to some pretty wonderful adventures. The problem is that the excitement wears off and then it becomes difficult to maintain the effort. Things eventually fizzle out and get replaced by some other new thing. I feel like I am especially guilty of this when it comes to exercise: I am either working super hard five days a week or barely getting to the gym a few times a month.

Barbara Benagh tells us "a good yoga practice depends on undoing as much as doing." Leo Babatua says smile, breathe, and go slowly. The Penguin says don't increase you time or distance more than 10% per week or you will regret it.  I am trying to keep these words of wisdom in mind right now. I am really excited about the running, and I'm pretty tempted to get ahead of things. A 20 minute run/walk is so short, I keep thinking that I should add a few extra intervals, or try to go a little faster, or get lots of cross training on non-running days...

What's weird is that even though I am going slowly, I am improving quickly. In the first week a 60-second jogging interval was pretty hard toward the end of the run. Now I can run three minutes straight and feel like I could go a little further (but I don't).  I think taking the time to find my stride was key, and now I'm all set to increase my distance, slowly. Best of all, I feel great at the end of the run, so I'm less tempted to skip the next one.

I don't think I want to stop looking before I leap completely, because sometimes jumping right in to something leads to the best adventures (primitive camping for four nights on a mission trip to Haiti, anyone?).  But when it comes to running, I think I will listen to what all of those smart people said and take it slow.

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and waddle on, friends.

Morning run + dewy grass= feeling pretty hard core that my feet look like this!

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Troubles

The Belfast Mona Lisa: the shooter seems to aim at you no matter where you stand

I LOVED Ireland. I loved the food, the people, the scenery, the music, the rivers, and the towns. But there was one thing I didn't love, and was surprised to find: the tension that still exists between Protestant Loyalists and Catholic Republicans in Northern Ireland.

I'm a child of the 80's, and I remember seeing Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland in the news as a child and a teenager. I know that between 1994 and 1998, a bunch of Irish people, plus Bono and President Clinton, worked really hard to create peace between these two groups. I hadn't seen Northern Ireland on CNN much lately, so I assumed that these problems had been resolved.

There is quite a bit of improvement. We crossed the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland with absolutely no fanfare: there was no checkpoint, no showing of passports, just the road signs changed from kilometers and miles. Our tour guide told us that 20 years ago there would have been military and lots of questions.

Likewise, in Belfast, our black cab tour guide told us that before the peace agreement, you could not drive a vehicle into downtown. You had to take a bus and it would be stopped so that police dogs could sniff for explosives. Now downtown is beginning to recover, and there is a big shopping mall, which is significant because "you don't know if the person waiting on you is a Protestant or a Catholic."

But the tension still exists. On our tour of Belfast we saw some of the "peace walls." These were erected starting in the 1960's as temporary barriers between some of the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods.

The barriers still stand, and continued to be built as late as 2008. Those big fences make it more difficult to throw things over the walls (like petrol bombs), and there are cameras at the top. There are gates between some of the areas that close every Saturday evening and re-open Monday morning.

Likewise, Derry (or Londonderry) is a city divided by a river. The west side is about 97% Catholic. It is the site of the 1972 Bloody Sunday, in which British soldiers fired on unarmed civilian protesters.

File:Edward Daly Bloody Sunday.jpg
Father Edward Daly waving a white handkerchief while protesters carry out a wounded man

There is one Protestant neighborhood on the west side of the river:

"Londonderry West Bank Loyalists still Under Siege. No Surrender"

Loyalist Protestant neighborhoods can be identified by a large Union Jack (not pictured here), and curbs painted red and blue.

Derry has attempted to "bridge the gap" between the Catholic west bank and the Protestant east bank with the creation of a pedestrian Peace Bridge across the river.

Danny McL- Flickr

But ultimately, there is very little mixing between the two factions. Even the children usually attend different schools. The town name, Derry/Londonderry, presents a huge quagmire: if you call it Derry, you get branded as a Catholic. If you call it Londonderry, you are a protestant. Our tour guide,who speaks about this subject more eloquently and with more passion than I could ever muster, says "There is no P or C stamped on my forehead!"

Garvin, our Derry Tour guide. He was so animated it was hard to capture him with the camera. I wish I could describe what it was like to listen to him speak honestly about life in Northern Ireland over the past 50 years.

On the flight home, the lady sitting next to me told me that she and her family rented a car to tour around the country on their own. The rental car agency advised them not to travel to Northern Ireland, because "the troubles" (as they are called in Ireland) are heating up again. I was sad to hear that tourists were told not to come to the north, because look what they missed:


Torr Head

Giant's Causeway

St. Augustine's Church
Someone explained it to me like this: 97% of the people just want to go about their lives. Two percent want to cause trouble. One percent just like to blow things up.

So long, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and pray that people will learn to forgive each other and live side by side.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Torr Head, Northern Ireland

Time for another confession (where better to reveal your secrets than the internet?): I have been developing a mild internet addiction over the past few months. I have always been a pretty frequent Facebooker. Then I got a smart phone. Then I started blogging more. Then I got on Twitter, which I think will eventually link you to every single article, video, and blog on the web if you spend enough time there. My TV broke last April and I haven't replaced it yet, so then there was all the streaming on Netflix. Then I had to go back and check my blog stats. Then I thought that maybe my blog should have it's own Facebook and Twitter pages... Bottom line, this laptop has a lot of miles on it.

When I went to Ireland, I had to put my phone in "airplane mode" to prevent international roaming charges (I am cheap above all). I brought the laptop, but many of the hotels only had WiFi in the lobby. On the tour our days were so busy that all I wanted to do once I got to my room was put on my pj's. I guess the fact that I was unwilling to sit in a hotel lobby in my pj's to update my status shows that I am not completely gone yet.

The weird part was that I really enjoyed being disconnected from the rest of the world for a while. I did check my e-mail and facebook a few times, mainly to make sure the pets were fine. Okay, that's a fib, I just needed to post a status update and see what everyone else was up to. But for the most part it was nice that I didn't have to check for texts and missed calls, respond to e-mails, and see how many hits I had on the blog that day. It gave me lots of time to stare out the bus window and enjoy the views of grass and sheep. What was interesting, and what I remember from the time when I didn't have a phone, and iPod, or a laptop, was that I could just quietly think and daydream in the time I would normally be checking my Twitter feed and texting my friends. What a simpler time the 1990's were!

Like the vacation itself, being disconnected was just a temporary thing- I was back on the laptop and checking my blackberry for missed texts as soon as I got to the Charlotte airport.  Now that I'm back in the real world, I am plugged in to everything just like before. But I can look back fondly on the week I spent without a phone and remember the quiet, idle moments I used to have before there was something to entertain me every minute of the day.

Okay, enough navel gazing, here are some more photos. If you want the rest, they are posted on Flickr

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and try turning your phone off now and then!

St. Augustine's Church, Derry, Northern Ireland

Garden, Glenveigh National Park, County Donegal

Dunluce Castle

O'Connell Street and The Spire, Dublin

Church with red doors, Dublin

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Planning Ahead

image credit: Emilie Ogez, Flickr

Lets talk about...not putting things off until the last possible minute!

I wish I could say I knew a lot about this topic, but sadly, no. In college, I was queen of "finish the paper an hour before class starts." Now, I wait until the day of the deadline party to buy the groceries and clean the house. My worst last minute trait is how long I can put off packing. Often when I am taking a car trip, I actually start packing about 15 minutes before I plan to leave. This means I am always late, and I think it leads to extra luggage because I end up tossing things into the bag willy-nilly rather than taking time to decide what I really need.

Last week, before I left for Ireland, somehow the universe aligned correctly and I was 95% packed the day before I left! It was great and it took so much stress out of the process. I had the time to really think about what I was bringing, and how to best get it packed. I still had a fairly inappropriate amount of luggage, but after all this is more of a journey than a destination.

Packing in advance meant that I could meet some friends for a drink the night before. It meant that I could get up at a decent hour in the morning and hit the gym before spending 10 hours strapped into a tiny seat. It meant that I spent the better part of the day feeling calm and not frazzled.

I can't imagine that I will kick the procrastination habit entirely, but this was a really great example of why it's better to do things ahead of time. The next travel challenge will be learning to bring just what I want in a less giant suitcase. We stayed in a different hotel each night on the tour, and a lot stairs were involved- some of the older hotels have expanded into the next building, so to get to the third floor you have to take the elevator to the second, go up a flight of stairs, down another flight, across a hallaway and through two fire doors.  I refuse to make someone else carry my luggage, so needless to say it was a challenging process with a 40-pound suitcase.

You didn't think I would get through an entire post without making you look at some photos, did you? Here are just a few so I don't crash your server!

A swan in St. Stephen's Green, Dublin

Belfast City Hall, with a statue of Queen Victoria

Obligatory Georgian Door shot

Looking down from the cliffs at Torr Head, in Northern Ireland

Our tour guide, Mark, reciting "The Stolen Child" at the grave of WB Yeats

A wee scone at Bewleys on Grafton Street

So long for now, more on Ireland soon! Until next time, KISS (keep it simple, stupid), and try planning ahead now and then.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Falling off the Wagon

The wagon had a lot of baggage on it

I have a confession- the old Clutterella came back for a while.

It's my Ireland trip. What happened is that I kept thinking of things that I HAD to have before I left. And I bought them. All of them.

First, I thought, my current digital camera is kind of mediocre. I don't want to come back with anything less than fantastic photos. I should get a new camera before I go.

Then I said, my suitcase is a little banged up, and also clashes with my huge collection of Vera Bradley weekend luggage (I live in the South, don't judge). A new suitcase is a must-have for my trip.

And on it went- a new cardigan, a Vera Bradley villager- they retired my pattern, I was afraid it would sell out, it's a Southern girl thing, don't judge- a pair of lightweight hiking boots, some incredibly expensive wool-poly blend socks to go under the boots, a new pair of sneakers to wear on non-hiking boots days. I think that's all but I might have forgotten something.

Here's the thing: I have been trying for almost a year to get away from the belief that more stuff will make my life better. That's what was really behind the shopping. I kept thinking that if I had a cuter evening wardrobe I would get out more; if I bought nicer workout clothes I would go to the gym more; if I bought TONS of healthy groceries I would stop eating junk; if I bought the right floor cleaning appliance I would keep the house cleaner (I still struggle with this one)....and so on.

What I have learned is that if I want to get out more, I need to get out more (and not spend my going-out funds on stuff); if I want to go to the gym more often, I need to put on my shoes and go. The eating junk and messy house issues are not completely resolved, but I have given myself permission to focus on my big goals and let some things go.

On the other hand, there is some stuff that does make your life better. Hiking boots were recommended for the trip because it rains a lot and boots keep your feet dry better than "trainers." I have been really disappointed with the performance of the camera I bought 18 months ago. When I returned from the Bahamas last summer, I was sad to see how dull the ocean and sky looked in the pictures, and I spent a lot of time doctoring them on the computer to match my memory of those beautiful colors. And, right or wrong, I am the kind of person who would feel uncomfortable dragging around a ratty suitcase that clashed with my carry on.

So I guess this comes down to the issue of simplicity, rather than minimalism. I am spending a lot of money to go to Ireland, and I don't want the trip to be disappointing because I had wet feet the whole time, or because my photos don't capture what it really felt like to be there, or because I walked around Dublin in sneakers with poor arch support and a too-small tote bag.

You guys in the peanut gallery have been pretty quiet lately. I know you're out there...I was hoping you could tell me about a time when you went overboard getting ready for a trip, and whether you were ultimately glad or sorry that you did it? Or, just keep lurking, whatever.

See you soon, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and check out the Vera Bradley bags before you judge.
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