Burn, baby, burn

I keep my house a cool 65 degrees in the winter. Friends and family know to dress in layers when they come over. Echoes of Jimmy Carter’s “put on a sweater” come from my mouth when the kids complain; we’re all fans of flannel pajamas.

During cooler seasons, on my bed I keep two comforters, one down and one heavy as an x-ray vest. In addition to cozy pajamas, November to March is made for flannel sheets. Oh, and the two cats sleep on my bed, one near my right foot and one near the left. The more layers of warmth, the better.

But for the last two weeks, with temperatures still struggling to find spring, I have been waking up at least three times a night on figurative fire. I’d call this “night sweats” except that I don’t actually sweat; no middle of the night t-shirt change is required. The pattern goes like this: I kick one leg out from under the mass of warmth. It’s not enough to cool me down so I kick the second leg out. I flip from sleeping on my left side to the right. Then I get cold and climb back under one layer, and then another. Repeat at least three times. The cats don’t move.

During these hot flashes, my usually frosty hands and feet burn hot enough to fuel a city. Seriously, if Elon Musk could find a way to transmit and store that heat, I’m sure I could power something and at least then I wouldn’t feel so bad because nothing irritates me more than interrupted sleep.

Is this “the change” inviting itself into my life? I don’t particularly welcome change, and especially with D.C. area temperatures predicted to soar to the 80s by the end of the week. (I will not turn the AC on in April, I will not turn the AC on in April, I will not turn the AC on in April.) I can only hope “fire sleep” is a temporary condition.

 

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let them eat pound cake

All week, my older son kept asking me to make the pound cake I made on New Year’s Eve.

“It’s so good mom. That’s my choice for our Super Bowl food.”

Setting aside that pound cake is NOT football food, I hesitated. I’m not a calorie counter or a dessert rejecter, but I couldn’t get past the pound of butter, half a dozen eggs and other fine ingredients in the recipe.

He persisted. “I’ll do all the work.”

“Fine,” I said, figuring a more fun activity would lure him away from the kitchen. But on Saturday, he set out the four sticks of butter to warm up to room temperature and started measuring ingredients. We didn’t have enough milk, so I begrudgingly drove to 7-11 to pick up a quart, only to return home and find we were also nearly out of sugar. Back to 7-11. Grumble, grumble.

He requested my presence in the kitchen a few times, mostly to ask “does this look right.” The batter looked perfect and tasted delicious. For an hour and fifty minutes that cake baked while I napped/read/napped on the couch. He pulled it out of the oven a little early (I didn’t adequately explain the toothpick trick to determining doneness) but an overly moist cake is better than a dry cake, right?

Once his masterpiece was cool, he immediately sliced right in. “Want a piece, mom?”

And more so than the Patriots’s loss, this is the moment of the weekend I’m flabbergasted by. I almost said no to my son’s homemade pound cake. Why? Because of the butter. The sugar. The eggs. The flour. All wonderful ingredients. And social pressure to say no to dessert because it’s fattening,

I quickly shook off the voices in my head and cut a piece.

Why do we do this to ourselves? I’d just spent Christmas watching my mom—programmed her entire life (probably by her mother) to say she wasn’t hungry or just wanted a little—forget these food shaming lessons to eat and indulge. It was the most I’d seen my mom put on her plate in my entire life; watching her take seconds, thirds and eat dessert filled me with joy. And it got me thinking…

Growing up, on the regular my super skinny mom would say at dinner, “I’m not eating. I’m so fat.” She never told me I was fat. Never pointed out the curves I cursed. Never gave my plate the evil eye as I helped myself to buttery vegetables and creamy pastas. But when you hear a message daily, reinforced by watching your 110-pound mom eat iceberg lettuce and cucumber salads, clearly unhealthy ideals and patterns take root.

I thought I’d rejected society’s obsession with body, size and weight. I love to tell the story about the scale registering 17 pounds less after I spent three months in the wheelchair than it had before my accident as an example of how weight doesn’t matter. I wasn’t healthier. I wasn’t stronger. My muscles grew weak with inactivity. I’m still regaining strength and flexibility, two years later. And maybe that’s the problem. I’m slowly but surely resuming a fitness regime that minutely resembles the one I used to have, so of course I can’t mess up progress by eating rich, dense pound cake, right?

Think again.

I’m glad I caught my hesitation before Jack noticed. I’m glad I ate not one but two pieces of his cake. (We barely had any left for the Super Bowl.) I don’t want to be that person who looks in the mirror and only sees the flaws. And I won’t let some crazy, latent hangups hamstring me now.

What to bake next?

two years later

On this day two years ago, in a flurry of both impatience and tears, I signed my own discharge papers as George Washington University Hospital deemed me ready to go home, where I would spend the next three months confined to a wheelchair and living solely on the first floor of my house.

I remember crying in the ambulance—not because my ankle or shoulder hurt (I was on meds for physical pain) but because I was scared. Scared to navigate my life with one functioning side of the body and from a bedded or seated position. Scared to ask for help. Scared I’d klutz into another debilitating injury.

But awaiting me at home were a group of friends armed with cheers, reassurance, ready-to-heat dinners (at least one person dropped off food everyday for two months), and a schedule of care that included who was sleeping over on what night for “Chelsea duty” until my sister arrived from Maine. Chelsea’s Warrior Women (as our google calendar was named) not only cooked meals and checked in daily but also picked up groceries and volunteered to drive me to myriad appointments to see the physical therapist and my two surgeons.

Being friends with me during this period required work. I never took for granted the loving effort that went in to offers to help.

I won’t say I was lucky to shatter my ankle five weeks after having rotator cuff surgery—I still suffer uncomfortable stiffness and random shooting pain and many yoga postures remain elusive—but during recovery (and beyond) bonds deepened. Friendships grew stronger. And eventually, I could laugh at my situation. While walking again was scary, I no longer overthink every step.

Though I did overthink what to say as my son’s theater group took the stage in Atlanta last month. The traditional “break a leg” got me all up in my head. I couldn’t tell my son to break a leg but in drama circles saying good luck is bad luck. Which sentiment would have worse consequences? In the end, I stuck with tradition but clarified to whatever higher power that I meant break a leg in the performance sense, not the physical sense and definitely NOT during the performance either because god that would be awful.

Some scars are visible. Others run deep.

365 days of headstand

A previously little known fact I’m now sharing with the internet: I’m a yoga teacher who is scared of doing a headstand.

Oh, I don’t mind cuing students into sirsasana. I can look at a body moving toward inversion and give pointers on how to get those feet over the head and find steadiness. But when it comes to flipping myself upside down, I freeze like the proverbial deer.

When I was going through yoga teacher training in 2014, this headstand-phobia bothered me. I didn’t think I could possibly be a good yoga teacher if I was scared of a posture, especially one so central to the health of the crown chakra, one I enviously watched others assume with serenity and grace. I confided my angst to one teacher friend, and ion her class she would give me assists. Sometimes her gentle presence behind me worked. Sometimes I didn’t even try, instead opting for child’s pose.

Then in 2015, the torn rotator cuff put me on the sidelines, one I’m just coming off now.

Recently, I’ve been craving inversions. But that old fear got in the way, so much so that I didn’t even want to try. The other night, in a yoga class series I’m taking as part of my goal to get to 100 classes in 2018—experiencing other teachers’s classes helps me grow as a practitioner and instructor—we did partner handstands. And I realized how easy it was to hang out on my hands with the comfort of a spotter.

I came home, positioned myself a few feet from a wall, and got up into headstand. I gave the wall a little tap as I found balance. Then I rejoiced. And quickly fell down. Went up again. The second time was harder. Probably I was thinking too much.

Today is the fourth day in a row that I’ve gone upside down. I’m still keeping the training wheels nearby, but trying to distance myself from that wall a little more each day.

It’s hard to remember in our Type A, over achieving culture that no posture is mastered in a day. Yoga is about patience, time, breath, devotion, body awareness. If I commit to trying a headstand every day for 365 days, I can only imagine the progress I will make. A year from now, I just might be that person chilling out on the top of my head. After all, once upon a time, I never thought I’d write an entire novel, and now I’ve written three. In confronting those things that scare us, we often find they aren’t as insurmountable as they seem.

Namaste.

 

 

my five-day fling with FitBit

Disclaimer: I know millions of Americans, a few whom I dearly love, enthusiastically rely on FitBit to count steps and monitor activity in the spirit of accountability. While [spoiler alert] this method didn’t work for me personally, my intent is not to disparage anyone’s efforts, merely to share my own experience.

As the clock ticked in the new year, I decided to change how I quantify fitness goals. Two years out from a devastating ankle break that still leaves me stiff in the mornings, with shooting pain up the inner leg on cold days or if I happen to step funny, the time feels right to get back into the routine I had before black ice pulled me down. My best friend had just bought a new FitBit and talked me into doing the same.

The piece arrived on January 4th, a day I spent in bed with a killer cold. The 127 steps I took consisted primarily of dragging my body from bed to kitchen to bathroom to bed. But I didn’t fret over failure, filled with confidence I’d move my body more the next day.

And I did.

For the next five days, I wore that FitBit religiously as I set about meeting my real 2018 goals that have nothing to do with steps: 100 yoga, fifty barre, and 40 spin classes. (Note: 2014 Chelsea would have been able to hit the spin goal in a month but 40 classes is 37 more than 2017 Chelsea accomplished.)

At first it was fun to watch the steps add up. Given I work from home, I appreciated the hourly reminder to get up and move. But I got frustrated when steps didn’t sync with the corresponding app I constantly monitored on my phone. One night, I marched in my kitchen at 10pm; earlier in the evening, I’d done a barre-bike double. Seriously, I took an hour-long barre class and a 45-minute indoor cycling class but still felt compelled to walk in place before bed to make an arbitrary step goal.

The kicker came when after an intensive hot yoga class, sweat dripping in my eyes, I checked the FitBit app and realized I didn’t get credit for an activity hour. But driving home in the car, swinging my FitBit wearing arm up and down as I sat in bumper to bumper traffic, I managed to cheat meet that hour’s goal.

Swipe left.

Here’s the thing: FitBit increased my screen time. FitBit messed with my head. For example, I learned that I burn more calories teaching a barre class than taking one. So should I take more classes or teach more classes? But then again, I’m not a calorie counter either and I never will be. And steps? How is marching in my kitchen or swinging my arm better than barre or hot yoga? Who decided 10,000 steps was the gold standard? (This article was particularly illuminating.) FitBit made me competitive in an unhelpful (bordering  on unhealthy) way.

If it works for you, bravo. But I packed mine up and returned to sender. With the Amazon credit back on my birthday gift card, I bought books, which rarely make me feel bad about myself.

 

On New Year’s Day

I sneezed my way through leading a yoga class on intention setting today, while procrastinating committing to my own. First I needed the right markers to set myself up for success. And the elusive perfect journal. After much deliberation, the pens, I ordered. While I remain indecisive on the book to hold 2018, I feel my intentions taking shape.

Writing. I’m going bold: I want a book deal in 2018. In yoga, we put intentions in the present tense to plant the seed, so in other words: I am a published author. To manifest this goal, I have work to do. I can’t meditate my way to publishing, but visualization is an important motivational tool I use each morning. I see the book in print. I feel the weight in my hands. Envision myself at Politics and Prose, reading to a friendly audience of family and friends. In response to the omnipresent D.C. question what do you do I respond, “I’m a novelist.”

Wellness. Time to get back in the fitness saddle. Forty spin classes may not seem like a lot compared to what I used to achieve, but it’s 38 more than I took in 2017. To that tally, I’m adding 100 yoga classes—as student, not teacher. Teach. Take. Absorb. Grow. Sign up for a silent retreat. Namaste.

Wit. Life—or rather, the world around it—feels heavy right now. In 2018, I vow to laugh more, spread the light, and open my heart to possibilities. I resolve to spend more time with friends. Take more outings with the boys. Get outside, no matter the season or the weather. Furthermore, I want to stop gripping onto narratives I create in my head. As I say when I teach: relax the shoulders. Did I mention laugh?

And that’s all she wrote. For now…

This year in writing

In the spirit of retrospection—and also recognizing that without Facebook to update the friendly masses on my writerly aspirations, contributing to my underused blog is the best way to let the world know what I’m up—I feel the urge to share the latest and greatest adventures in writing.

I started off the year working on a new novel (yes, this marks number three for those keeping score) written mostly during November 2016 NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated). In January, I joined a critique group (recently dubbed La Madeleine Writers in honor of the Bethesda cafe where we convene) which meets monthly, inspires daily. I recruited new beta readers and when those readers funneled back dissatisfaction with the novel’s ending, I edited, wrote and rewrote and found new suckers readers to take on a revised version.

Then I edited and wrote and rewrote some more.

As a self-imposed May 31st deadline to have a query-ready manuscript approached (for those who don’t know, I amicably broke up with my previous agent in 2016) I snuck in writing/editing time when I could, mostly at five o’clock in the morning before sun, kids, and cats rise. I started with a light pitch in June, sending the manuscript to a handful of literary agents.

While those queries did not yield a match, one agent provided feedback. Detailed feedback. And engaged in a back and forth exchange where I could ask questions, which she promptly answered. If you aren’t a writer struggling to forge this impossible seeming professional relationship, you don’t understand how glorious and rare unsolicited feedback is in a world of form letter email rejections. (The process isn’t unlike online dating.) Her suggestions made my manuscript stronger, even if we didn’t find happily ever after.

In August, I submitted my novel for #PitchWars, an online contest pairing aspiring authors (aka mentees) with agented/published authors or others in the industry (aka mentors). Mentors help mentees edit their novel/pitch in preparation for an agent showcase round, where matches are made in heaven. I wasn’t selected as a mentee, but made a writer friend out of my dream mentor. Her advice has helped me improve in immeasurable ways, and she always responds immediately to my “what do you think if I xxx” texts.

In November, I hired Hyphen Craft, an editing service recently established by former literary agent Jennifer Johnson-Blalock. She honed my Twitter pitches for #PitMad and reviewed my submission package (i.e. query letter, synopsis and first ten pages) advising on what grabs—and holds—an agent’s attention. In the process of all that fine-tooth comb editing, together we realized my working title didn’t convey the serious aspect of the manuscript. I vowed to spend Christmas batting around ideas when out of the blue, I got an email from her with an inspired (secret, for now) title suggestion. That’s working overtime!

Also over Christmas, I read Stephen King’s memoir On Writing, and while he doesn’t know me—and doubtfully remembers the time I went to a birthday party at his house when I was 12 years old—his words helped propel an aspiring author (and fellow Mainer) forward during a time of despair. So as the new year approaches, I continue to edit, write and rewrite. I have no deadline in mind, but I maintain hope I’ll find my perfect literary match.

Then maybe I’ll try online dating again.