Saturday, January 28, 2012

Reunion for a Union

West Coast, East Coast, and Rocky community has traveled from various corners of the States to gather itself here, in Chicago, once again! There's nothing like a wedding to bring people together six months after their volunteer year.

It's surreal seeing everyone in the same room, almost like we didn't spend the last half of 2011 missing each other and wondering when we'd see each other, like we've only been apart for a week. It's also surreal saying "see you tomorrow" and knowing that will actually for real happen.

In a few hours we're headed to Lisle for wedding number one. (Our grand once-a-year-reunion plan: one community member gets married every year. That guarantees us 14 solid years of reunions, right? Well, 13, taking into account current relationships.) I haven't had to dress up for an adult gathering in some time, and we're on the photography list, so I'm glad the models are here in full force to help me out with that situation.

Speaking of which, I promised I would shower today. The things I do for these people.

Testing v Pushing

Thursday night at yoga, the instructor encouraged us to test our limits, but not push them. He said on a scale of one to ten, one being no feeling and ten being pain, he wanted us hovering right at an eight. This week I've definitely done some testing of myself. I've maybe even gotten into pushing the limits territory.

First, let's applaud the fact that I was fully functioning on my 12th of 12 days straight of work. (Yes, I'm bragging about it.) I'm a little surprised I felt as good as I did Friday morning, but I have been adamant about getting sleep at night, even if it means a little less socializing. It's amazing to me how much more I can accomplish in a day when I've slept the night before. Who knew?

Several things at work have also tested me and my home maintenance abilities. First, I had to change a water filtration system, which required shutting off the valves under the sink. Turns out shutting off the only three valves you see is not enough. You must also shut off the tiny valve way back in the dark where you can barely reach. In fact, that's the most important valve to shut off BEFORE taking the filtration system apart to avoid a steady stream of water pouring forth from a place that's NOT the faucet. I figured that out eventually, but not before pleading with dear sweet Jesus to save me from the Great Flood. I think there might have even been a rainbow when I finally got the filters switched and the puddles dried up.

The next day my challenge was to re-light the pilot light for the water heater. Not a daunting task until you read the instructions and all the warnings that go with it, among them the threat of "Explosion or Loss of Life" if instructions are not followed correctly. I guess it should make me feel confident that my boss trusts me enough to perform such a dangerous task. And really, after following the instructions word for word it was pretty simple.

Friday night's test was to squish two reunions in after work. Miraculously, I got to hang out with high school friends (we calculated & we've officially known each other for ten years, whaaaat?) AND nearly my entire community in the span of three or so hours. What's great about both these groups is when we're together, it's like we haven't even been apart. That's justice.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mid-Winter Self Care 101

We're just about to the dead middle of winter (calendar-wise), although I'm not sure if current weather patterns would qualify this season as winter. Last week was chill-to-the-bone cold and Friday saw enough snow to cancel many people's evening activities, but today (Sunday) temperatures are supposed to reach the 40s. If I changed my hair color every time the temperature varied by 30, actually that's a fairly accurate comparison.

I'm also personally at the dead middle of my 12-day work week, having picked up two extra weekend shifts in Mercy. I'm predicting some regret as I get into next week, but if someone's going to make the extra dinero might as well be me, right?

A person doesn't survive winter or crazy work schedules without a heaping dose of self-care, and luckily I have plenty of experience there. Let me break it down for you:

Fine Dining & Libations
Easily the easiest of self-care options. Eat some (comfort) food, drink some (alcoholic) beverages and before you know it, you'll be feeling better. I'm clearly not a doctor or a nutritionist, but I'm sure they would tell you moderation is key. My only advice is Know Thyself. Personally, I can put away far more food than I can drink before experiencing adverse effects, so that's usually what I lean on in times of stress. They don't call me a Blue Ribbon Eater for nothing. (Dear Fairly Quick Metabolism, Please never ever leave me. Love, Rachel)

Physical Activity/Exercise/That Thing Other People Do
It's no secret that I am not a sporty or even physical person. I can barely walk around my apartment without adding to the many mystery bruises on my legs (Seriously, do elves move our furniture when we sleep?), so any activity requiring coordination and balance is out. For a lightning speed minute this fall I was able to run without too much pain (unemployment makes you do CRAZY things), but only if I kept them to three miles at a nearly 10-minute mile pace once or twice a week. Any longer/faster/more frequent and my rib cartilage starts complaining.

The activity I can/will/want to do is yoga, preferably in a heated (95 degree) room. You see, I like stretching. And if the required stretch is a bit much, no one will judge you for adjusting it to your level. (Okay, the super yoga heads might judge you, but they're judging everyone who is not them and ergo not really getting the point of yoga in the first place, now are they?) And the heat? I have no idea why I like that. I've been known to throw temper tantrums just because I'm a little warm, stomping around and throwing off my clothes like a menopausal toddler. For some reason it's different in a yoga studio--I don't know if it really does "cleanse toxins" or if it allows me to stretch a bit further or if it's just a feeling of accomplishment because I actually sweat, but hot yoga works.

Self-Reflection or My Natural State
The biggest sell for yoga is how naturally self-reflection goes with the physical movements. If you know me at all, and I mean this in the loosest way possible, like even the guy I sat across from on the train would get this, you know I am an internal processing monster. I don't always say a lot, especially in large groups, but let me tell you the constant monologue in my head can be engaging enough. I have two journals, this blog, plus all the reflective thoughts running through my mind at any given moment. I know I sometimes wear a blank stare/hover at the point of drooling on myself, but that usually means I'm super deep in a very abstract thought. After a stressful day or if I'm feeling a little crabby (or if I'm told that I am in fact a LOT crabby), journaling, pondering, & spacing out in general all help.

Books, Movies, Music, Interesting Tweets, Organizing my Sock Drawer
Pretty much anything that will take my mind off the fact that I work in five hours...damn I really do. Let me finish this quick so I can maybe get three hours of sleep: anything that makes me laugh or cry or is so engrossing I forget about everything else around me and commit fully to the present moment. I'm pretty big on work/home boundaries, aka I love leaving work at work and completely cutting off work thoughts until I'm there again. Sometimes this is difficult, and an escape helps. It can be a book or movie that takes me to another place/time/world or a song that begs to be played loudly so I literally have no room in my head for thoughts. It's tuning out, but also tuning in to something else for a bit. Ideally this escape is intentional, but every now and then trashy TV is just what the self-care guru ordered.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why I Am Currently Turned On By The Lost Generation

"Why not live in Paris, write poetry, paint pictures, fall in love, shoot for the Great American Novel? Why not live fully and aim for an impossible goal? And if the goal wasn't achieved, well, perhaps it had been enough merely to be there, freely spending youth and stockpiling memories.

Harold Stearns, who wasted his youth in Paris as scandalously as anyone, summed it up best: 'It was a useless, silly life,' he wrote many years later, 'and I have missed it every day since.'"

[from Found Meals of the Lost Generation: Recipes and Anecdotes from 1920s Paris by Suzanne Rodriquez-Hunter]

Not that I don't live a silly life now...I have a standing bet with my roommates that the first one of us to slip outside on the snow/ice owes the rest of us ice cream. And I came about ------- that close to falling flat on my butt today. Close but no ice cream.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


After a string of delayed buses, inconsistent bus tracker times, and consistent bogus route placements, I decided to end my five month relationship with the 49/Western bus. I considered breaking things off for some time; walking 1.5 miles and waiting 40 minutes in the freezing snow to find a working bus the other night forced the issue.

We had some good times, but these past few weeks we've only rehashed the same old fight. Nothing gets resolved and nothing changes. I let the 49 know I thought it was time I saw other public transportation routes. My new commute does include a bus transfer, so I'm splitting my time between two routes, but there is far less walking. So far so good.

The night of the break-up, during which I began to tear up until I remembered it was below freezing out, I went to my new yoga class. Yoga classes have a lot of catchphrases (technically I guess they'd be mantras, but if the teacher isn't genuine you can totally tell s/he learned this phrase during training) and in this particular yoga studio, theirs is "There's nowhere to go here. Nowhere to be." They mean it physically--if you're in the class, presumably you have no other obligations or places to go--but there's also a spiritual/emotional side to this mantra. We should be with our bodies where they are at, being present and intentional in the moment instead of letting our minds rush around with rambling thoughts.

I've been thinking about that whenever I go somewhere now. True, if I'm headed to work, there really is somewhere to go, somewhere to be. Other times I'm impatient for the sake of impatience--I'm just antsy, thinking if I keep moving I'm being productive. I need to remember in those times to bring my intentional presence to the spaces I enter. (MercyWorks, Always Has)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Getting Found in the Lost Generation

It doesn't matter that I'm a sophomore of real life (it's my second year out of college, what?!!?), I still read like I'm a sophomore in college (English 305, whattup!). I read one good book and become obsessed with a certain time period/literary style. In Rome it was ancient Roman history, senior year it was the Beat Generation, last year it was Chicago fiction. And now? A recent reading of The Paris Wife by Paula McLain has turned me on to the Lost Generation. (Also just watched Midnight in Paris. A fun movie, mostly because I had just finished The Paris Wife.)

I used to automatically discount Hemingway as an alcoholic womanizer, but couldn't deny enjoying his work. After reading the (fictional) account of his time in Paris with his first wife along with several other (nonfiction) biographies and reader companions, I have far less harsh judgment for him. And I've started a quest to read up on him and his contemporaries.

What is perhaps most interesting about my literary choices are how they coincide with my personal life. Each genre/writing style/choice of topic somehow paralleled whatever was happening in my immediate world. Or I'm just super awesome at reading into things to make it seem like it relates. Either way, it makes for intriguing and many times writing-inspiring reads. Did I just foreshadow more stories/poems? Maybe.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Job Security: Laundry & Dishes are Never-ending

You know the feeling of getting home from work and not wanting to do anymore work? Say you're a chef, after you close up your restaurant, do you want to go home and cook more? I'm going to bet you're tired of chopping and sauteing. Same goes for house management--after a day of laundry, cleaning, and making dinner I rarely want to do the same for myself at home.

Which is probably why it took our apartment about a week to fully recover from our New Year's Eve party. We cleaned a bunch last weekend, but for some reason our dishes stayed, stacked precariously at the edge of the sink. Sure, I'd wash a handful here and there when I needed a plate or bowl to eat dinner, and Brit would later put the clean dishes away in the cupboard, but this entire week we struggled to get all of them washed, dried, and put away in one go.

Until last night. We powered right through those dishes. Or rather, Brit powered through them while I made us a giant pan of veggies and beans and cheese, our ultimate comfort meal.

Besides apartment chores, I've also had several errands to run--library, post office, pharmacy--and I finally got to those today too. Based on my going rate, I could have paid someone about $40 to do all my personal chores for me, but since winter seems to be officially over (50 degrees in January, hello global warming!) I didn't mind the long walk I got this morning.

And now I don't feel so guilty curling up on the couch for a little playoff-watching nap.