Tizzy Alert

I’m all in a tizzy and stuck somewhere between Heaven and Hell. Today was the third installment of my creative nonfiction writing class — the first writing class I’ve ever taken and one that’s taken 3 years to work myself up to — and now that the initial shock’s worn off a bit, I find my brain positively exploding with ideas. I’m feeling alive, creative, vital, motivated. I don’t just think, “I really should write today;” I’m dying to sit down and write. That’s the Heaven part.

I’m also afraid that I won’t be able to capture all my ideas, or that if I attempt it, I’ll get stuck somehow, and then it will feel like I’ve failed, and I will hate myself for it. Or, what if I don’t get stuck at all, but write something truly terrible, and then I’ll feel like I’ve failed, and I will hate myself for it. Or maybe I won’t realize that it’s terrible and present it to the class to widespread horror, and then I’ll feel like I’ve failed, and I will hate myself for it. (Detecting any themes?) Then there’s the tiny detail that we just moved on Saturday, and we’re welcoming 6 house guests 3 (!) days from now. For once, I have real excuses for not practicing my writing, and it’s exactly the time I least want them.

That was the Hell part, in case you missed it.

Of course, as with many things I long to do, even when given the opportunity to write today, I piddled around putting out fires instead of sitting at my desk. Where is that closet organizer? I’d wonder. And that led to a search for the magical sock drawers, which put me in a room with yet another bag of canned food that I’d missed earlier and now desperately needed to be put away. Or, I’d start walking toward my studio and realize that those boxes need to be broken down — stat. Ah, living with myself.

I’m giving myself some credit, though. I’ve come a long, long way over the past couple of years in putting first things first. I wouldn’t have been able to sustain a meditation practice without it. I notice that certain kinds of self-discipline, the constructive, nurturing kind, gets easier with practice. And after all, here I sit at my keyboard, typing all self-nurturing-like. I may not be typing those sparkly ideas swirling about in the little grey cells, not this very instant anyway, but I am writing. And relieving some tension. And maybe, just maybe, I’m having a little fun.


At 8:00 AM this morning, I cowered in the shallow end of Memorial Park’s public pool. I felt ridiculous.

Ridiculous in my HELLO-WORLD orange two-piece, so very unsuited for lap swimming.

I had tried to find a real swimsuit, you know. For 30 minutes yesterday I squeezed and teased and finessed myself into sausage casings, only to behold spare bits of me oozing out in all kinds of undesirable ways — in a suit 3 sizes bigger than my street size. So fun. And after all that trauma, I never did find a suit long enough in the torso, which means I have to order online. Thus, I crouch in the shallow end of the pool, water up to my neck to hide my shame, watching enviously as women clad oh-so-appropriately in Speedos dive in and start crawling.

Ridiculous because — inexplicably — I ripped the foam suction stuff on my brand-new-out-of-the-box goggles on the way to the pool for my first lap session. This means I’ll have to swim one-eyed.

More sadness.

Ridiculous because I’m sure I can’t swim, and whodoIthinkIam showing up like this and pretending I’m going to do something hard like swimming. I mean, I won’t drown; I’ll flounder across the pool, I’m sure. (There was the 1 year stint on swim team at 8 years old.) But I’ll be a laughing stock.

My pride does not appreciate Laughing Stock Status.

At last, my friend/savior/volunteer-swim-coach arrives. I explain to her what I’ve been doing for the last 15 minutes. She takes pity on me, bless her, and starts me off holding onto the wall and practicing breathing. Okay, this is too remedial, so she tells me to try swimming a lap while she watches. My pride has something to say about this.


But I set my jaw, grit my teeth, and push off. Right, left, right left. Wait, how straight are my arms supposed to be? I know my hand is supposed to be angled, but am I doing it right?? Am I splashing too much with my feet? I get to the other side and slowly, oh so slowly, lift my head out of the water and look at her.

She laughs. “Alison! There’s nothing wrong with your swimming! Your entry’s good, your arm position’s good. You have NOTHING to worry about. You’re a great swimmer.”


The next 40 minutes passed comfortably enough, in between the panting sessions every 50 yards. Swimming is, indeed, hard, very hard, but at least I have the basic skills I need to develop my endurance. Small victory #1.

It is simply amazing how afraid I am of doing something badly — so afraid that sometimes I won’t try it at all, or at least not without big fear and trembling sessions. Perfectionism at its finest. Don’t you want some?

Lesson learned, I’m heading back tomorrow, solo, with my HELLO-WORLD orange bikini. Gulp.


Summer Plans

My summer has just almost begun. This Saturday marks the first day of my 3-month break from Karis Fellowships work and from aggressive efforts to get to the bottom of my back pain. For 90 days, my focus goes elsewhere. Whew. It’s time.

I begin next week with a 4 day, 3 night personal silent retreat at Villa de Matel’s Ruah Center here in Houston. Last fall, I attended a 48 hour silent meditation retreat there led by my meditation instructor. I can’t even describe the deep rest I experienced. This time I’ll be on my own and for a longer time period. I’m looking forward to lots of meditation and prayer, stillness, naps, and no technology. I was going to say “no distractions,” but the truth is that I take myself everywhere  I go, and there is a reason I sought out meditation instruction in the first place. I generate plenty of distractions all by myself.

I look forward to seeing what this experience is like. Who knows? Instead of letting go in the care of God and the nuns, I might be climbing the walls, ready to pull out my hair. I might feel like God is 10 million miles away. I might cry myself to sleep every night. These things are so unpredictable. It’s good for me to remember that. I am going as a way to explore and to seek connection, but I do not know what I will find–in myself, in God, or in the world around me–so it’s important not to get attached to a certain outcome, which is, of course, my specialty. I need these experiences in my life to pry my fingers loose over and over and over. I want to go with gentle curiosity and openness.

After that, I have a few exciting projects to look forward to!

1. The Artist’s Way —  a 12-week creativity program I discovered on the freebie table at J’s family reunion campout last August. A few family members and friends have jumped on board, and we meet for the first time (via Skype) on Saturday morning. I’m doing my homework faithfully so far (of course–have I ever in my entire life not done my homework faithfully?). I’m excited. And scared. I’m not in love with a lot of Julia Cameron’s ideas as presented in the book, but I’m refitting them to suit my own needs. Who says I can’t be creative with my creativity course? I look forward to sharing what I learn here.

2. Spanish! I’m going to work with a tutor in Ecuador via Skype over the summer. I hope to do 10 hours of tutoring per week. It’s only $7.50 an hour. Isn’t that amazing??? I plan to try this company first. If I don’t like them, then I’ll switch to NuLengua. I did one free intro lesson with NuLengua and really liked it, but it’s about $15 per hour, which is still a super deal, but I’d only be able to afford half the lessons in that case. My ultimate goal is to attend language school for 4 to 6 weeks in Antigua, Guatemala next spring (best website I’ve found on the subject so far), then meet up with my husband and various family members in Nicaragua at this fabulous eco-farm.

3. Mythology. My mother-in-law pointed me toward an online college mythology course that one of her Classics professors used to offer. The university discontinued the course, but Dr. Gibbs left all of the course materials–syllabus, writing assignments, and readings–online for public use. What generosity! I had intended to start this project in January, but Karis Fellowships work really took off and became a part-time (pro bono) job.

So, that’s what I’m up to for now. Welcome, dear summer!

Today’s adventures in self-discovery yielded three revelations:

1. I need a Mini Cooper. Oh my gorgeous.

2011 mini cooper convertible review

How have I never realized this before?

Shall I test drive one tomorrow? Just for fun?

2. Brie-proscuitto-basil-honey panini sandwiches will be the death of me.

Especially in lovely patio settings.

It’s the best sandwich I’ve had since France. (Check out Bowl Cafe in Houston if you’re interested.)

3. If I don’t go grocery shopping tomorrow, I will starve.

My refrigerator now offers nothing but 3 eggs, 1/8 carton of grapefruit juice, pinto beans, and condiments. I know. I keep checking.

7 p.m. Open door. Nothing to eat. Sigh.

8 p.m. Open door. Still nothing to eat. Grumble.

9 p.m. Open door. Really, there’s nothing to eat. Rebellion.

10 p.m. Open door. Slam door in disgust. The nerve!

I’m officially in the danger zone.

Moral of this story: My husband is out of town.

I did it at last! My online sewing class may be over, but I’m still working my way through the projects.

Isn’t it adorable? I originally bought a different fabric for the apron, but it never felt right, so I went back to Jo-Ann’s and after a little digging, pounced on this cheery, chirpy summery print. I love it!

Can you tell I put the lemon print upside down? Oops. I don’t think it’s very obvious, but I’ve certainly learned my lesson.

I don’t need another apron, though, which is a shame because not only do I love this apron, I’d like to make more. It was time consuming — that is one loooooong piece of fabric to press and hem for the ruffle — but not difficult, and the reward is great. Maybe someone will get married? An apron would make a good shower gift, right? (Alongside something the bride registered for, of course.) Or, I can make a Christmas apron, maybe with little candy canes on the body and a candy cane stripe on the ruffles. SO cute!

Oh, and project #3 was this little drawstring bag, made from an old tablecloth and leftover homemade bias tape from the tool roll-up project.

The bag’s awkward dimensions had me stumped for a while; I couldn’t find a way to use it. If it was only a little shorter and narrower, it would be perfect for a wine bottle. Eventually, I found my bag of velcro hair rollers.

Lumpy, but better than the plastic bag:

I think I’d like to make these as re-usable gift bags for wrapping small presents.



Bird bowls have many uses. When, for instance, one tries to make Egg Foo Yung for the first time and and misreads the instructions and uses a cast iron skillet that is too big and then can’t find a plate big enough to tip the Egg Foo Yung out onto, a bird bowl is your best friend. Sure, your dinner make look a little silly and the sauce and garnishes may pool in the middle and your inner critic may mock you mercilessly, but you still win.

Not only do you discover that Egg Foo Yung is your soul mate (who is that dark-haired stranger sitting across the table? Wasn’t he here last night too?), when you’ve devoured much more than your fair share, you uncover that cheerful, wise little bird. And that is a most excellent way to end the day.

(I know, I’m obsessed. I promise no more posts about the bird bowl. I can’t make any promises about Egg Foo Yung, though. It rocked my world.)

The Bird Bowl

A bird bowl followed me back home from Cozumel.

It is perfect for me in every way. I love it. I play with it almost every day. It’s wide, shallow, gently curving — it cradles everything from salads to Slow Cooker Asian Short Ribs (fabulous recipe, highly recommended!) to Chicken Cutlets with Tomatoes Saute (quick and easy) to charred-to-death poblanos and overcooked steak. Who knew I’ve had a bird-bowl-sized hole in my kitchen equipment all this time?

The bowl came with a lesson too, as all the best bowls do.

I spotted it in a little shop off the main square and loved it right away, but then I started second-guessing myself. Another bowl, a more finely crafted, sophisticated bowl with delicate little brush strokes and no bird, rested on the next shelf down, and I began to think that I should buy the sophisticated bowl. The bird bowl was a little crude, a little silly. It did not say, “My owner is a connoisseur of fine earthenware, and it is an honor to be in her exquisitely curated collection.” I wavered, stalled, walked away.

But a special someone saw through my youthful idiocy, someone who appreciates about me what I often can’t appreciate about myself, and said in the sweetest voice, “But, Alison, the bird looks like you! The way he looks up out of the bowl, it’s like he’s saying, ‘Here I am! And what are you going to do about it?'”

So I bought it, and it became a little gift to myself. Not only is it perfect for looking at and perfect for using, that little bird peeks up at me at our dinner table to remind me that it’s okay to be a little playful at heart, and that I don’t need to cramp who I really am to be whoever it is I think I should be.