Thursday, November 22, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude

Many of my friends on Facebook have been doing daily updates as a part of this trend of expressing thankfulness every day this month, but as I was traveling for Yoga certification this month, I decided to hold off and post one for the whole month.  

Family:  I have been very lucky with my family of origin.  I have been so happy to reconnect with far flung extended family that I am able to grow closer with on Facebook.  And this gratitude goes beyond my family of origin as well--I have incredible inlaws.  How many people get to say that?  My inlaws are brilliant, generous, smart and hilarious people who I enjoy spending time with as much as spending time with my friends.  They have always supported and embraced me and truly given me a second family, even extending into the network of  my husband’s grandparents, aunties, and cousins.  Beyond that, I even get a great set of inlaws through my sister’s husband’s family.  That is luck!

Erica:  I have admired my sister all of my life.  Obvious to anyone who knows her even just a little bit is her poise, grace, and beauty.  She has a depth of love and kindness that continuously overwhelms me with its force and embrace.  She is hilarious and brilliantly smart.  She has the heart of a lion and can withstand anything.  When I was in junior high, she spent hours in unpaid privates with me teaching me dance after class to help me catch up technique wise since I started in dance later in life.  Without her help, I never would have had any success in dance.  Watching her teach taught ME how to teach my own classes for aerobics and be able to articulate things effectively.  Not only was she my dance mentor, she is a mentor to how I teach.  And she is always, always on my team.

Chris:  I am always surprised at my luck in ending up with someone like him.  Beyond his sweet smile and bright blue eyes lies a heart that has a deeply entrenched kindness and generosity.  He has a wicked sense of humor, a sense of justice and work ethic, respect for others, and a capacity for love that I think is truly rare in everyone, but especially men.  And he loves our dogs the way I do.

Dante:  Dante is our first Golden Retriever that we rescued.  He has this aura of imperviousness that I truly envy.  If only we could all walk through life assured that we will be loved, completely comfortable in our own existence.  Whenever I get caught up in my own head or ruminations, all I think of to interrupt it is “Dante”.  I picture him panting and demanding loving and being fully assured in the fact that he deserves the love we lavish on him.  We very nearly lost him due to his massive stroke, but we got a second chance, which so many pet owners never get.  And we cherish every second.

Shelley:  Shelley was our second Golden we rescued.  She has this joie de vivre and wildness at heart that I adore.  She is soooo not feminine or dainty, and I love that about her, cause neither am I.  She always wears a wide smile, and loves nothing more than to play with Dante.  She is, according to two vets, the largest female Golden they’ve ever seen.  She is all legs like a baby fawn.  She gets a drink and winds up wearing more of it all over her face than drinking it.  Then she likes to come share that drink and drip on my laptop or pants.  She belches and farts and is essentially Shrek.  But like an ogre, she has a heart like an onion, with many layers.

Golden Retriever Rescue of Houston:  Chris and I adopted both of our puppies through Golden Retriever of Houston.  As I’ve worked more in volunteering with the group, I thank them not only for the two precious lives they entrusted to us, but for the time and effort an undertaking like dog rescue takes.  There is such an emotional cost to working intimately in dog rescue, as well as a time cost.  But whenever I read the success stories and testimonials from happy homes, I realize--we’re not just rescuing dogs.  We’re rescuing people.

Friends:  Moving to Houston without knowing anyone after college presented a big challenge.  But I have met two of the bravest women I know--you ladies know who you are--and I am happy to count them amongst my friends.

YogaFit Trainings:  Choosing to add to my fitness career with Yoga was not a huge leap, I already had taught everything from Aqua to Bosu to kickboxing.  All I didn’t teach was Yoga.  I knew to stay relevant and progress my career, I had to pursue Yoga certification.  And what I wasn’t expecting was for those trainings to fulfill a spiritual need.  I am a big champion of how YogaFit teaches Yoga--it is an inclusive, anatomically safe, and joyful program that brings Yoga to the people who need it, rather than the people who are just naturally good at it.

Moving to a New Town: 10 years ago, I really thought I’d be living in some urban loft walking to bars and bookstores.  Then, well, life happens, you decide you want to have kids, and all the jobs are in Houston.  We chose to move out to Katy since I can work anywhere, my husband works close, and the schools are amongst the best in Texas.  It was hard to trade from The Woodlands (another suburb, but at least with a live music venue and fun nightlife) out to the Westernmost fringes of Houston.  Yet, we lucked out.  My gym and Yoga studio are 10 minutes away.  We have an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, a Chuy’s, a Black Walnut, and Natural Pawz, the natural dog store that exclusively carries the food we feed.  Small things, but helps us feel more at home here.

Career:  I’ve had many jobs, most crappy, since I was 15.  But truly, I can say that as I go out to teach aerobics/cycle/pilates/yoga in the mornings, I never go to “work”.  I go “teach”.  I never have a bad day at work.  I have one of those rare jobs that I can actually say that I help people every day…It’s hard enough to get to the gym, and I would never want my teaching to be the reason someone didn’t come to class.  I strive to make my class experience to where everyone--from the elite marathoner to the brand new participant--feels successful.

Reading/Kindle:  One of my greatest joys is reading.  I was always read to as a child  from a young age (my mother can still recite The Cat in The Hat verbatim) and I was  never, ever prohibited from reading things that may have been age-inappropriate.  (This was in the days before Shades of Gray.)  I may not be able to watch R rated movies, but I could read Stephen King at age 12.  This voracious appetite for reading not only enriches my life and helps me be patient (I never get upset when I have to wait at the airport or doctor’s offices), but it helped me succeed in University.  With being a liberal arts major, the ability to read hundreds of pages a night was a huge running start in succeeding.

Dog Walking at Dawn:  With the ubiquitous heat of Houston, I have to get up before the sun comes up 9 months out of the year to make sure the dogs can safely get their walk in.  Once I also decided to walk the dogs separately, doubling the time it takes to walk them, I was a little bitter in the mornings walking them.  I chose to change my outlook and really celebrate the time I got to spend with the dogs alone.  Walking with the dogs helps remind you how in “the now” they live.  They don’t know how long they live, but how well they live.  Seeing Dante hunt the egrets and spoonbills and demand lovings from the kids at bus stops was heartwarming.  When I would then take Shelley on her walk, seeing her scout and protect me as the sun rose was just amazing.  So instead of being a chore, it seems to be a privilege.

Experience:  I am beyond thankful for the experience of my life and being 30.  You couldn’t pay me to be 24 again.  Or 14.  Especially 14.

Live Concerts and Comics:  As I get older, I’ve become pickier about who I see in concert, but this year we’ve had Radiohead and Louis C.K.  I enjoy the experience and the immersion in the moment, and am so lucky to have friends and a husband to share it with.

The Pitter Patter of little…Paws?:  Nothing makes me happier than starting to wake up in the morning and hearing my older pup Dante stomp up the stairs we installed at the bottom of our bed.  He has aged to the point to where he doesn’t like to sleep in the bed, but adores his orthopedic bed with cooling cushion.  That is…until he figures out one of you is awake and can pet him.  So after either of our’s alarm goes off, you’ll hear him stomp up the stairs and he will install himself dead center in the bed for lovin’s.  This goes back to his impervious nature--why wouldn’t his people worship and pet him at the crack of dawn?  And you hear both of their footfalls clomping up and down the house stairs as they go upstairs to guard the house.  And by guard the house, I mean bark at every leaf and blowing bit of trash and children in the street.  

Education:  I would not be who I am today, nor would I be able to be a critical consumer of news and culture if not for my education here.  Best four years of my life.

Travel Experiences:  My inlaws lived in the Middle East for years, and whenever we’d come visit, they’d help us with long layovers in places such as Amsterdam and Paris.  So not only did we get the extreme privilege of going to Dubai/Abu Dhabi for Christmas--twice--we got to hit up Europe en route home.  We got engaged in Jamaica.  We had a dreamy honeymoon in London, Edinburgh, and a coastal village in Scotland.  Being able to experience that level of travel is truly a gift.

Having Something to Study:  A huge part of obtaining my YogaFit 200 hour level certification requires reading and studying of ancient and contemporary texts.  I had no idea how much I missed studying and learning until I got re-engaged with the process of it.

Music:  I started at Barnes and Noble at age 16 working in the music department, but my true music education began once I went to college in Austin and started working at a music store in college.  Though it was still a big box corporate store, my coworkers turned me onto DJ Shadow and other fabulous artists.  My parents gave me a huge education in the importance of classic rock that helped me create play lists for my Cycle classes.  My hipster Austin friends turned me onto some of my newest favorites.  Nothing makes walking the dogs before dawn and mowing the lawn less painful than having a fabulous soundtrack.

My Aerobics Participants:  These men and women are why I do what I do.  (Yes, MEN, real MEN take Step, Pilates, Yoga and Cycle!)  My two goals are to make everyone who enters the door of my class feel successful and that they have a safe workout.  Many of my participants have reached out to me for more intense psychological issues and have thanked me for giving them a safe place to workout without judgment.

Co-Op Marriage Enhancing Games:  Not THOSE sort of games.  Chris and I play whatever split screen Co-Op games on Xbox they offer.  He is such a good sport since he lets me have all the ammo (because I am a bad player and need the ammo) and depends on me to revive him when he’s busy killing baddies.  It is a way for us to work together to solve puzzles and spend time together that makes us both happy.  So long as I get all the ammo and the loot I need.

Cold Weather and Fire Pits:  I may have mentioned that it’s disgustingly hot always here in Houston.  So when our nightime lows are in the 40s, I bust out the firepit, red wine, and S’mores.

Old Movies:  Lately, for whatever reasons, I’ve been DVRing and Netflix’ing Vincent Price, Hitchcock, Joan Crawford, and Bette Davis movies. Sure, there’s no nekkidness, cursing, or explosions, just fabulous acting and storytelling.

Fresh Flowers in the Home:  I am too lazy to dust silk flowers.  While it takes more effort to rinse out vases and clean up after fresh flowers, I can’t help but find fun in buying bouquets and installing them around the house as an artistic type endeavor.

The Yamas and Niyamas/The Power of Now:  These are two books that I was required to read as a part of my Yoga training and truly they changed my life.  The former sets out 10 ethical tenets that when practiced, can lead towards a more peaceful existence.  The latter teaches you how to let go of the past and quit controlling the uncontrollable future and celebrate the only part of life that is reality--the now.

Sunday Night Cable:  Chris and I make something special for dinner, turn on the fireplace, and open a bottle of wine, and delve into Sunday night’s TV.  Currently, it’s Homeland, Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, and Walking Dead, and in other seasons, Breaking Bad, Girls, True Blood, and Game of Thrones.  And, since I cannot resist some trash reality TV, the Real Housewives of Somewhere.  Chris is sweet enough that he’ll sometimes watch it with me, if it “has the crazy eyed drunk lady and her slutty old friend” on it.  I think he’s talking specifically about Ramona and Sonia, but there’s two of those on every season.

Rambunctious Puppy Plays:  If you’ve been to my house, you’ve seen the epic play fights that Dante and Shelley engage in.  Growls, snarls, rolling on the back, it’s like Canine UFC.  We call it "Pup-jitsu".  What I find amazing is that as Dante ages, Shelley lets him win more and more and spends her time rolling on her back and letting him nip her feet and neck.  And woe to Dante if he wants to rest and Shelley wants to play--she will sneak up on him and tug on his tail with the tip of her teeth.

Learning New Things:  Having a uniquely flexible job, I get to pursue other activities that I’ve always wanted to but never really had the energy to.  I’ve taught myself how to screenprint and make jewelry (all still at a very amateur level), and enrolled in firearms courses to help my pistol and shotgun skills.  (For the record, I do not and would not hunt anything but the sporting clays).

Wine Flights and Cheese Boards:  It’s a crying shame that one cannot have this for dinner every night.  And lunch.

Heels I Have No Business Wearing:  This is my one fashionable guilty pleasure.  Since I work in runners or barefoot, wearing heels is a treat (for about 5 minutes).  I have a neuroma and tendonitis and really no business running around on stilts, but the higher and the shiner, the better.  The best is when you go to friend’s houses who take off their shoes--you wear fabulous for 3 seconds, then get to take them off.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

To Corporations: In Defense of the Liberal Arts Major

Even twelve years ago, the joke at The University of Texas Freshman Orientation was “Why be a liberal arts major when you’ll just be asking ‘you want fries with that’ in four years?”.  Back then, it was still a joke. Because it was funny--most people with liberal arts degrees (everyone I knew, actually) were able to get corporate or nonprofit jobs upon graduation.  Now, I suspect that no one is laughing at that joke any more.

As the economy suffers, so does the perceived value of a liberal arts education to employers.  And it breaks my heart to think that there’s so many students in college today up to their eyeballs in loans studying things they really aren’t interested in and might even loathe, just to be able to compete in the marketplace for an ever diminishing pool of open jobs.

I currently pay for my own education and shell out over $300 a month in student loans and will continue to do so for yet another ten years.  I won’t lie, sometimes I’m politically bitter over the cost of education at a state school in this country with few opportunities to win scholarships, but overwhelmingly I believe it was a small price to pay for the best four years of my life.

See, I got to major in something I was absolutely passionate about for four years--psychology.  I chose not to pursue it as a career for several reasons.  I knew I wasn’t cut out for counseling psychology after spending time amongst grad students who had to run out of really good parties to take calls from suicidal patients.  It wasn’t the fact that they were missing the party, but I understood that I needed a job I could completely disconnect from at the end of the day for my own sanity.  After working in a research lab, I also understood that the moral hazards and stress of “publish or perish” was not going to lead to my happiness.

But the liberal arts classes were so fulfilling that it was actually a pleasure to study and perform well in any class I took, no matter how intense.  I made an A for the last three years in college in every course I took.  It was because I had the privilege of taking classes in fascinating subjects taught by brilliant teachers outside of my major such as British Literature, Modern Dance, Sociology, Early American Feminism, Congress, Philosophy, and Mythology.  These classes taught me how to write, think critically, be disciplined, and be a better consumer of culture in general.

The only classes I always dreaded and struggled to crack the book on were my Business minor classes.  With the exception of my Management course, my classes were tedious, painful, and often excruciatingly hard to even conjure up a passing interest.  So much of it seemed like fancy words and flow charts for common sense procedures and ideas.

And as school starts, there are legion of students in lecture halls studying something they loathe because their parents are dictating their majors, or because they’re terrified they won’t be able to pay off their loans upon graduation.  And studying something I bet a lot of them find...overwhelmingly boring.  Why pay thousands to have a miserable experience?

I want to make the case for the value of a liberal arts education, even--especially--in this high-tech, business focused world.  In my first job out of college as a Business Analyst, due to the Advanced Statistics courses I had to take for my psych major, I could do more in Excel than most business majors that were in my new hire class.  Learning database administration seemed common sense and intuitive thanks to the way I was taught to think strategically.  I had taken enough Sociology to know how to work with our offshore team in India compassionately and effectively.  I could be trusted to write to our sensitive clients since I had to take so many writing component courses.  Corporations are loath to spend money on training, but I would hire a liberal arts major whose education is based on critical thinking and an ability to communicate any day.  You can teach anyone to write SQL or SAS if they understand logical thinking.

Even after I wound up leaving corporate America, I apply my degree extensively as I pursue my Yoga certification.  Part of taking so many classes in liberal arts is that you read hundreds of pages a week.  You have to maintain an open mind and a creative spirit when you’re reading things like dry philosophy texts and ancient Greek plays, mining them for deeper meanings to write a paper.  As a part of Yoga certification, I am required to read ancient Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita.   Most of the people in my trainings either do the readings begrudgingly, or approach the texts with abject hostility, fearing that their religion is being questioned.  I devoured the readings, so ecstatic at the opportunity to get to delve into something new, and understand new ideas and bring them to my students.  I was taught in my Contemporary Moral Problems Philosophy course to appreciate any work I was assigned to read by approaching it with an open mind, no matter my personal beliefs.

This love of learning and openness to new ideas was absolutely kindled during my University education.  I consider it an immense privilege to have had 4 years to study things that fascinate me. And that makes me able to sleep at night after I pay $300 monthly  for what many consider to be a “useless” major.  The people who are unable to appreciate the value this sort of education are the ones I pity.

Just last night, watching the premier of Sons of Anarchy, my fellow liberal arts major husband pointed out several really cool visual motifs and themes I had missed.  He also graduated at a time where liberal arts majors could get jobs; he is now in risk management in mortgage banking.  I expressed how impressed I was at the things he’d noticed and he just shrugged and said “Being an English major teaches you to look deeper.”  It was just like a feeling I had wandering the Louvre years ago and understanding the symbolism in the works from my Mythology, Dance, and Literature classes on another level than the average tourist and what the audio tour offered.

Sure, all of this artistic knowledge may not feed your stomach in today’s world, but it feeds the soul.  And corporations would do well to invest in the students who appreciate this sentiment and have a burning love for learning, communication, and achievement.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love...My Naturally Curly Hair.

Who decides what is desirable when it comes to hair texture?  

I'll tell you--culture at large--specifically, white male, corporate owned culture.  So that'd be the same culture that has a love affair with the vapid and worthless Kardashians, that Photoshops already beautiful people into artificially impossible physiques, that denigrates women for their size as a normal part of the morning "news", and generally puts incredible pressure on women, down to the texture of their hair.

So...what the hell are we doing listening to them?  Clearly they have suspect taste.  Clearly they're in bed with advertisers, who must make you feel like shit about yourself so that you'll buy their next product.

When I was in high school, I had a ridiculously long process to straighten my hair.  It began with copious amounts of smoothing mousse.  Then, I had to wrap the hair around these HUGE velcro rollers.  Then, the blowdrying of the rollers.  Then, the straightening iron.  My hair was brittle and unhealthy.  If anyone came to the house after about 9PM, you can be sure that I was at some point in this process, leading to me to go into hiding and making my parents send them away.  (Sure, I could have removed the rollers, but that would disrupt the process, see?)

That same process lasted less than a week when I moved into the dorms at UT.  Being confined to my dorm room for 2-3 hours looking like an idiot, frightening my room and suite mates and their friends, just wasn't going to work with my social schedule.  I found some great products that worked with my hair after a lot of trial and error.

I finally embraced what my hair wanted to do.  More importantly...I put HOURS back in my day.

Other people had opinions on my hair liberation.  I was working my way through college in part at a music store in the mall in Austin.  (Remember those things, music stores in malls?)  One day, I happened to straighten my hair and went in for my shift.  A coworker (a bitter old man who liked to tell me that going to University was worthless and everyone would be better off at a trade school) told me how much better my hair looked straight and that I should always do it that way and ditch the curls.

I spent 15 minutes bawling in the breakroom.  I spent the rest of the shift coming up with new, colorful, combinations of curse words for my bitter employee while also fantasizing novel ways to torture him.

And yet, I still knew my hair was right for me.

When Chris Rock came out with his AMAZING documentary Good Hair, I had always thought that my excruciatingly long practice of hair straightening was extreme.  It was amateur hour compared to what women with ethnic hair have to endure--the time, the money, the carcinogenic chemicals.  I researched more about the discrimination that ethnic women who choose to go natural face in the workplace.  How can something like hair be so political?  And how sick, as a culture, are we that we give such a damn?

I was so heartened when Garnier promoted a "Wear Your Hair Curly Day" this past Tuesday.  Yeah yeah, they're just trying to promote their product, but I appreciate the thought.  I have to say that I've been able to ditch 75% of my more expensive Aveda products for their UBER affordable, effective products.

I rub these products in my hair and hop into my car, for the next phase of my hair care routine.  I call it "Hair By Honda".  I direct the AC at my hair, full blast.  (This only becomes problematic in the 2 months out of the year that I have to turn on the car heater since it fogs the windows.)  And I'm done.  High maintenance (at least in regards to my beauty routine) I am not!

One of the last times I had my hair cut, the stylist was so amazed at the softness of my hair that he called his buddy over to the shampoo station.  He said, "Feel this soft hair!  You should see it dry--it's curly!"  He told me, "Don't ever put any blowdryer on this hair of yours and continue not dyeing it for as long as you can get away with--this is what healthy hair is supposed to feel like."

Today out at lunch I saw this toddler with these ridiculously amazing natural curls.  I was envious of a two year old's corkscrew curls.  And I was hoping that as she got older, she didn't fight her natural beauty.

Keep the curl revolution moving...when you Google "embracing natural" you get these auto complete results immediately.  Clearly, there is hope.

“Accepting my curls is Zen: Every day is a new day.”