Moving with the Breath

Within the last two months or so I decided to start doing yoga again. I haven’t really been doing much in the way of physical activity (actually, I’ve been disgustingly vegetative) for an embarrassing about of time and I remembered how much I enjoyed practicing yoga years ago in classes offered at a couple of different gyms to which I had memberships. I think what made those practices so enjoyable was the instructor; simply put, she was incredible. She had a way of explaining poses and movement that made you fall in love with the art form of yoga. I looked forward to these classes; I enjoyed seeing how far I could push my body and figuring out how I could contort my body without hurting myself. It was definitely an experiment. A sweaty experiment.

Looking back, some of the aspects of these classes that I enjoyed the most were the way all of the poses were explained and how this gifted instructor would go around the room, gently correcting the tilt of her students’ hips or the placement of hands or feet. The slightest adjustment could make all the difference in the world! This particular instructor would walk around the room patiently going from student to student until we all were exhibiting the correct form.

When I decided that it was time to start my personal practice again, I went directly to the source of all information: the internet.  I found a terrific yoga instructor who is almost as good as my first yoga teacher by searching YouTube and found some fantastic zoning-out music on iTunes. After some (okay, a lot) of study of The YouTube Yoga Guru’s (Esther Ekhart) yoga flows and hour long practices three to five days a week, I almost speak fluent Yoga:  Downward Facing Dog, Upward Facing Dog, Plank, Sleeping Swan, and my personal favorite Oh Hell That Hurt.

In all seriousness, I’m absolutely infatuated with my yoga practice and the different forms of this ancient exercise. The transformation that occurs during my practice almost feels like magic to me; I come home from work Cranky Mean Lex, completely exhausted from being nice to people all day long (sometimes, you just don’t feel like playing nice, ya know?) and after my hour of zoning out with yoga and Native American flute music (yes, I said it: Native American flute music) I emerge from my room as Yoga Blissed-Out Relaxed Lex. Not every pose feels “natural” or easy (in fact, some are downright challenging and make me sweat) but somehow by the time I’m finished, my neck is relaxed, my shoulders are no longer tense, my back doesn’t feel crunchy anymore and I have a goofy smile on my face. I am transformed.

That hour of “being one” with my yoga mat and my breath turns me into a completely new person. During that time, my mind doesn’t wander to what-if’s and memories and worries about what is to come. I don’t even really have to think; it just happens: I breathe and I move with the rhythm of my breath. It’s just the kind of mental break that someone who constantly worries and thinks ahead needs at the end of the day.

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I Knead It…I knead it bad!

I have always had respect for people who could not only make bread that wasn’t as heavy as a brick and hard to swallow, but that was pretty, too.  My oldest friend (who incidentally has a pretty kick ass blog called Nutsville in Norway) is an expert bread maker (among being an expert at making a variety of things, both food and textile wise).

I remember hanging out at her house before she moved a million miles away to be with her super intelligent, cancer researching, biophysicist boyfriend (now husband) and she would occasionally make bread that can be described in one very simple word. Heavenly.  The color was incredible; it was crusty but light and fluffy and not at all dense and cake-like as all of my failed attempts had been.  And best of all, it had flavor. I’d sit and watch her put smelly yeast into hot water and mix in a ton of flour and patiently knead the dough into a lovely, pale wad of bread-to-be. She’d knead and punch and wait, knead and punch and wait. So expertly and with the patience of a saint. Me on the other hand, I’d look at her after she sat down after kneading the pale mass for the second time and say, “What the HELL Jess! When can we EAT it?”

It would eventually get to the point that the dough had rested and risen and been massaged enough to happily be thrown into an oven. And then, we’d both impatiently wait for a loaf to be done and yank it out of the oven. I’d immediately grab the butter from the fridge and a knife from her drawer all the while salivating, only to be stopped by her the moment the knife’s tip hit the deliciously crusty top of the bread with a, “What are you doing?” I’d look at her and say, “What do you mean, ‘What am I doing?'” Lex, she’d patiently explain: we need to wait for it to cool for a little while.   I didn’t want to wait. I wanted to eat, damnit!

Every attempt I’d made at creating an edible bread had been a failure. I was looking through a collection of blogs the other day and ran across a recipe for Amish Country Bread. It looked easy enough, didn’t require countless sessions of kneading and resting. So, I decided to give it another try.

I pulled my hair up into a top knot, threw on my cutest apron (given to me by my aforementioned friend) and rummaged through the pantry until I had all of the ingredients that I needed: yeast, flour, salt, sugar. I measured and dumped, and waited for the yeast to “bubble”. I dumped in a few cups of flour and dove in, fingers first to pinch and rub and massage until the mass of what had been a powdery mess became a pliable, stretchy ball. It was beautiful. I smiled so hard my cheeks hurt.

I buttered the inside of a bowl, threw in my masterpiece and covered it with a towel all the while thinking to myself, “Ok…how the hell do I know how long I have to wait for this crap to double in size?” So, I did the wise thing. I opened a bottle of my favorite pear cider, poured myself a flute, sat down and waited, popping up every 15 minutes to monitor my creation’s growth.

I decided after about 40 minutes that it had rested enough, so I punched. I punched and this ball of goo expelled air and deflated. I separated the big ball into two small balls. I put them on a greased cookie sheet (per my now favorite bread recipe), pulled out the sharpest knife I have, made some pretty little slits in the top and again covered with a towel.  I then poured myself another flute of pear cider and waited.  Very impatiently, might I add.  I checked every 15 minutes to see if the two small dough balls had expanded enough to finally be put in the oven.  Old habits die-hard.

It was finally time! I lack a pastry brush, so I used my hands to slather the two pasty colored balls of dough with a simple egg wash and then I sprinkled with sea salt. I pushed them into the oven…and drank another flute of pear cider. And, I waited. But this time, I wasn’t impatient; I was excited and slightly giddy.  The buzzer on the oven sounded and I ran to the yank open the door. They. Were. Incredible.

I’m not too shabby in the kitchen. I can make some pretty mean meals, but I was particularly ecstatic about what I’d created. I’d made two incredibly crusty looking, browned and pretty loaves of bread. I immediately grabbed butter and my sharp knife and sliced one of the loaves. Holy hell, it was a taste explosion! It was warm and crusty on the outside and chewy and heavenly on the inside. It was perfect.  I don’t know that I’ve ever been more proud of something that I’d made.

I’ll definitely be making that recipe again and I intend to share it with friends. I actually conquered my fear of bread making by baking an edible masterpiece.

Hallelujah!

Epiphanies & Self-Realization

Well, it has finally happened. It only took 13 years for it to happen, but it happened.  I’ve had my “AH HA!” moment. You know the moment I’m talking about. It’s the thought that happens out of the blue that makes you realize something huge and life changing.

It all happened because of a date. Not a bad date, but not a knock my socks off date either. Just a date. A date with yet another guy that I met on Match.com. Ah yes, internet dating. I fully intend to delve deep into my (mis)adventures of online dating at another time. I’ll disclose the good, the bad and the worst.

Back to my moment of epiphany. I found myself sitting across from a fellow 11 years older than me. I knew the age difference; my hope was that this one (as opposed to a very long string of guys I’ve been out with in the past three years) would actually have his life together (i.e. good job, steady pay check, and actual interests). It couldn’t have been more than twenty minutes into our first (and last) date that I was sitting across from a man waxing philosophical and romantic and stated (and I swear this is true), “I can’t WAIT to be married again! I can’t WAIT to be in love again. I loved being married.”

That’s when it started. An alarm went off. I’m sure my eyes became as wide as frisbees. I just looked at him and replied, “Really??”    A little light started to glow above my head right then.

While this one claimed to have a good job and while we had okay conversation, “it” simply wasn’t there. I wasn’t feeling it. No chemistry.  After I endured a horrible kiss and hastily accepted another date just to get the guy out of my vehicle, I went home, all the while the little light that started to go off after his remarks at dinner became blazingly bright and my inner voice began screaming. My inner voice repeatedly screeched: “EEEEWWW! I do not want to be married again. I don’t even want to be in love again. And, more importantly, I don’t want any part of a romantic relationship!” I started feeling a sense of panic at the prospect of being lassoed into another’s plans and schedule. I felt constricted and confined. I felt short of breath.

As I was getting ready for bed and I began contemplating the inner voice that loudly went off unexpectedly, I began to smile and my inner voice started again (this time in a much more soothing and less alarmingly loud tone). This time it sounded a little more like this: “Hey you. Yea you, with the face? You are okay. You are actually not only content, but happy with your life as it is. And, you know that ever elusive quest that you have been on since you were 16 for a guy/dude/man so you could “be happy” and “feel fulfilled”? It’s made you self-conscious, neurotic and unhappy. It’s made you unhappy because you are not going to find “happiness” in another person. Nor is another person going to fulfill you. While you were out running around chasing after someone to bring you happiness, you were just taking your path to this moment.” Then, I smiled and I went to sleep.

Now, onto the reason for this blog, or as I will refer to it, My Piece of Cyber Space. This is just part of my quest in further self actualization and self-improvement. I intend to write about things that make me happy: music, books, baking, cooking, wine & cider, gardening, yoga and hiking. I’ll probably misuse punctuation and I’ll finish sentences with prepositions. I hope to improve my writing skills and form a strong writing voice. But, more than anything, I hope to explore my interests, become more informed and record my journey using this space.  I’m so excited to be doing this and I can’t wait to get started!

To anyone who decides to take this journey with me, hang on tight. This is going to be fun.