Winter Sessions II: What’s In the Water?

Plants become dormant in the winter, so why shouldn’t we? Photosynthesis slows and growth stops. But science tells us that this period is critical to a plant’s survival and prepares them for growth in the spring. Taking my cues from nature, I’m watering those deeply planted seeds and preparing for growth.

Here’s what’s in the water:

Taking Risks and Living Fearlessly

Jia Jiang’s presentation on his 100 Days of Rejection, which I included in my last post, stirred something in me and trained my eye to see all the times I avoid risk or rejection in any given day. Most of the time, these are small risks; some might say insignificant ones. But the more I see my aversion to failure, the more significant small opportunities to be brave become.

Here’s just one example:

As soon as I began working on my dad’s painting, I began to dread adding clouds along the horizon of the monument valley. To create depth in a painting, images in the foreground should be crisper than those the painter wants to recede into the background. Conveying this kind of depth is challenging for me and I worried about doing it wrong.

painting

Sure enough, my first attempt at painting those little puffs of clouds along the horizon line, they looked awful and a little voice in my head said, “See? I knew it. You’re not a good enough painter to do this right.” But I told myself not to be afraid, that – worst case – I could paint over the clouds and start again. I quieted the doubt and fear and pressed ahead.

It was a very small victory. But when I add up all the small moments when I don’t quiet the doubt and lose the fight to my fear, they add up. So, I’m trying to live more fearlessly in the big and small moments.

Ready Player One

This past Christmas, my brother and his wife purchased the book “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline for my twelve year-old son. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m following Stephen King’s advice to read and write as much as I can each day. Since audio books allow me to “read” while simultaneously tackling mindless tasks and household chores, I decided to fork up the hefty $26 fee to download the audio version and listen to it on Audible.

Ready Player One

“Ready Player One” tells the exciting story of a teenage orphan competing to win the $250 billion fortune in Orwellian, dystopian 2045. (I will not be surprised if the book becomes Generation Z’s “1984”.) The fortune was left behind the eccentric and brilliant creator of “The Oasis” – a virtual world that has rendered the actual, physical world useless – a man named James Halladay. To win, contestants must pass a series of tests that require an obsession with the 1980’s, epic-level video gaming skills, and ingenious inductive reasoning abilities. At times, it seems far fetched that an eighteen year old kid would have the chops to compete, but the reader is sucked into the adventure, nonetheless.

The story alone is highly-entertaining and, not surprisingly, has spawned all sorts of Uber-Geeky online clubs and websites. But the subplot is filled with cautionary tales on the over-use of technology, the underuse of face-to-face interpersonal communication, and the trappings of living in a world so heavily dependent upon being outside of reality. Your kids will love it, even if they don’t totally understand all of the creepier undercurrents at work. (My son read it in three days. All 400 pages.)

You could, of course, skip the book and just see the movie when it comes out at the end of March, but I can tell you, based on the previews, the movie cuts a lot of corners (doesn’t it always?) I highly recommend investing in the real article. At the very least, you’ll have something fun to discuss with your pre-teen or teen.

Sewing

When my daughter informed me she wanted to make a quilt for her fourth grade mission project, my first thought was, “Awesome! I finally have a good excuse to buy a sewing machine!” I researched machines for beginners and pulled the trigger on a Brother CS6000i.

My grandmother was an avid and skillful seamstress. The little sewing instruction I’ve received, I received from her as a very young girl. She was kind enough to gift me one of her old machines when I was about eight years old; a heavy metal beast of thing that must have weighed fifteen pounds and required a dedicated table. I used it a few times, but my grandmother lived several states away and my mom had no interest in sewing herself, so my interest in sewing faded into the background.

Over the years, however, I’ve sent countless articles of clothing to a seamstress for simple alterations, often wishing I could just do them myself. I also became a fan of “Project Runway” and enjoy watching contestants execute beautiful, interesting designs, always with a little voice in the back of my head whispering, “I think I could make that.”

brother cs60001

My greatest strength, I believe, is resourcefulness. “Jack of all trades. Master of None.” I learn by doing (and often by failing.) What I lack in skill I make up for in naive confidence. Want to learn how to swim? Jump into the deep end of the pool and figure out how to get to the side! Want to learn how to sew? Buy some fabric and start sewing! I decided to make a simple, pleated circle skirt, so I took my resourcefulness and naive confidence to the fabric store to purchase fabric and supplies.

On “Project Runway”, there are a handful of problems that reoccur season after season that immediately derail a contestant’s progress on the show. Not buying enough fabric, sewing crooked seams, and broken zippers are among the most common mistakes. I made them all.

On my first trip to the fabric store, I didn’t buy enough fabric. When I returned to the store for another yard, the fabric was no where to be found. Since I had already cut the fabric, I decided to downsize the first skirt for my daughter and buy two new yards of fabric for my own skirt. This turned out to be a happy accident, since it allowed me to practice on my daughter’s skirt before sewing my own.

But I continued to make mistakes. I sewed a zipper in backwards. The first invisible hem I sewed on my daughter’s skirt was very, very visible. Despite measuring carefully (or so I thought), the waist on my own skirt somehow ended up about four inches wider than planned. And I don’t think a single seam in either skirt is straight. But it’s wearable!

brother cs60001

Sewing is, of course, a refined art. A good seamstress is precise and methodical. She has a plan and she follows it to the letter. Perhaps one day I will embrace this approach to sewing. I’m sure it’s the best way to turn out a well-made garment. But right now, I prefer a scrappier, more intuitive approach; screw it up and figure out how to fix it.

The Vampire Facial

As I’ve mentioned in my post on the top 10-1/2 ways to fight and treat acne, my lifelong relationship with acne has forced me to develop good skincare habits. I’ve taken care of my complexion faithfully for more than twenty five years. And it shows. How do I know this? My neck.

Nora Ephron wrote, “Our faces are lies and our necks are the truth.” The part of my body that I’ve invested precious hours and hard-earned money in (my face) sits right beside another part of my body that has received zero attention (my neck.)

Nora Ephron quote

On the one hand, I’m glad to know my skincare routines work. On the other hand, I’m kicking myself for not applying the same degree of care just a few inches southward. Most of my decisions to neglect my neck were conscious. “Who looks at my neck?” I thought. Why waste money on something no one sees?

But the past is the past and I can’t undo what I’ve done (or didn’t do, in this case.) So, at 41, I’m wondering, “what now?”

I took an interest in the new, improved, FDA-approved thread lifts (also knows as the “lunchtime lift” because patients have little to no downtime). But I consulted the nurse I trust most for all-things-cosmetic and she advised against it. “Those only work well for women who have thick skin or a fair amount of fat under their skin.” My skin, she said, is too thin.

Instead she recommended a series of PRP treatments to tighten up the loose skin under my jaw and plump up the skin on my neck by building collagen. I don’t follow the Kardashians, but if you do, you likely know that the more popular, colloquial name for a PRP treatment is a Vampire Facial. (I didn’t want to disgust you by including a photo, but

The way it works is this: First, the patient donates about two ounces of her own blood. Next, her blood is spun in a separating machine and her blood’s platelets are carefully removed. Then, the patient undergoes a microneedling procedure, except unlike traditional microneedling, her own platelet-rich plasma (PRP) is applied to her skin during the treatment to speed-up the healing process and enhance results.

I’m not yet convinced PRP treatments are worth the money ($500-$800 per session), but I’m intrigued enough to keep researching since platelets have a long history of medical uses that are actually important, which a Vampire Facial is clearly not.

In the meantime, if you want to learn more, the TODAY Show tried it and published their results, which you can see and read about, and here is an article from Allure magazine with more information on the procedure.

Nude Nails

Last summer, I gave up nail polish and opted for nude nails. Going nude is liberating, low-maintenance, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly. What’s not to love?

But a few months ago, my old habit of biting my nails and picking at hangnails came back with a vengeance. Before long, my nails were bit to the quick, my cuticles were red and sore-looking, and my hands looked like the hands of a stressed-out teenager instead of a grown woman.

I decided to start using Mavala Stop, a foul-tasting polish for nail biters who want to quit their dirty little habit. I bought it for my daughter several years ago to help her quit sucking her fingers and it worked like a charm. So I’m using what’s left of it on myself, hoping for an equally successful result. So far, so good.

mavala stop

Having beautiful nails is not important to me. (Of course, my neck wasn’t important to me for the first forty years of my life, either, so my values may change.) But having ugly hands is not very dignified. So for the time being, I’m settling happily into middle ground territory.

Hamstrings

After years of chronic hip pain from running, I’ve incorporated myriad stretches into my workout routine. Sadly, however, the stretches weren’t helping as much as I’d hoped.

So I sought the advice of my friend and experienced pilates instructor, Val. Val quickly narrowed my problem down to one of two possible problems: Weak psoas muscles or weak/injured hamstrings. She prescribed a handful of exercises and sent me on my way.

I began to do the exercises religiously; after every run, between three and five days each week. Sure enough, after a few months, my hip started to improve, and now, it’s almost completely healthy again. Considering I’d almost given up on ever feeling completely pain-free again, I consider this a minor miracle.

Here are the hamstring-strengthening exercises that are curing me:

hamstring exercises

The move that started it all…. The pilates leg pull back is what finally helped me narrow down my possible problems. Six months ago, I could not do this if my left leg was on the ground and my right leg was raised. The back of my left leg was too weak and I had a fair amount of pain at the top of my hamstring while doing it. (The other side was not a problem.) Now, I can!

hamstring exercises

hamstring exercises

Squeezing the ball with my leg engages my hamstrings even more while doing these simple leg-raises.

hamstring exercises

hamstring exercises

hamstring exercises

Simple hip-raises, except I squeeze the ball between my knees while I do it. Raising up on my toes (for reasons I don’t understand) engages my hamstrings, BIG TIME. When I first started doing this, my hamstrings would often lock up and cramp.

hamstring exercises

hamstring exercises

Truthfully, I find this exercise just as effective without the resistance band, since I can do more of them, but it looks better with the band. 🙂

hamstring exercises

Although it’s hard to see, I’m pressing my heels into the physiology ball, engaging my core and lower abs, as well as my hamstrings.

hamstring exercises

These are just like the hip-raises above, except I extend one leg at the top of the hip-raise, forcing my weight onto the opposite leg and engaging that hamstring to remain balanced.

In combination, these are doing wonders for my hip and getting me back in fighting shape.

Atlanta Monster Podcast

“Atlanta Monster” tells the story of a time in Atlanta when a suspected seriel killer kidnapped and murdered nearly 30 young, black boys in the late-seventies, early-eighties.

(The podcast is being produced by the same guys who produce “How Stuff Works”, which is good, and “Up and Vanished”, which I’ve never listened to.)

Atlanta Monster

Much like the popular crime podcasts, “Seriel” and “Dirty John”, “Atlanta Monster” is attempting to solve a crime case that some folks say was already solved and others say remains unsolved.

Some day, Apple will figure out a better way to organize podcasts so that it’s easier to find the really great ones. Until that day comes, podcast listeners – like me and you – have to rely on word of mouth and trial and error.

For this reason, I’m including “Atlanta Monster” in my Winter Sessions, which is another way of saying it’s a very good podcast, but it’s not a great podcast. Not yet, at least. The pacing is just a hair too slow and, so far, the producers don’t appear to be trying to answer some fairly obvious questions. (Was anyone else murdered, for instance, after the person some claimed was responsible for the murders, was imprisoned? I’ve forced myself not to google it.)

These problems aside, “Atlanta Monster” is worth checking out. For one thing, the “unsolved” case is legendary in Atlanta and riddled with enough racial tension and bad memories to be fodder for a surprising number of hip-hop and rap lyrics. And it’s always interesting to hear detectives talk about the difference between hard evidence, circumstantial evidence, and plain old gut instincts.

Winter may be a time of dormancy, but with a little water, it holds the promise of growth in the spring.

Thanks for reading,

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Winter Sessions I: Finding Creative Inspiration in the New Year

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