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The 365 day a year challenge

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Tank says it all: Better sore than sorry

As I move forward with my 4 challenges in 40 days, there is a goal I didn’t set for the 40 days. An ongoing goal is my fitness challenge.

I have struggled with my weight and my relationship with food for my entire life. As experienced by many people, food has been an emotional outlet. This continues to be an area with which I struggle but over the years, I’ve gotten control of it. I eat healthy and cook regularly despite my busy schedule. It’s easy to cook two or three meals on the weekend. Often I haven’t had time to go to the grocery store or farmer’s market. Sometimes I forget to get that one ingredient that’s going to make a meal hearty or tasty. In the past few years, my weight has yo-yoed.  Since joining my new gym, I have maintained my weight loss and made gains in muscle tone and strength.  I didn’t always have those specific fitness goals. I always wanted to lose weight and be fit. This is the first time I care about being stronger and being toned, not simply because of Carnaval or other performances but because it’s good for my body.

I have struggled with health issues. Last year was the first year in three that I didn’t have major surgery. The summer before that, I was diagnosed with gallstones and had my gall bladder removed. Before that I had a rare inflammatory condition that affected my breast tissue and required  invasive surgery. I medicate for IGM daily. It was frightening. I continue to be very scared. I’ve lost a lot of family members to cancer and heart disease. Health fears are constantly in the back of my mind. My daughter is the reason I wouldn’t want anything to compromise my health. Being a mom inspired me to become more healthy in my 40s than I was when I was younger.

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Walking lunges with Bulgarian bag.  Photo by M.

In December, I joined a new gym. My samba sisters, specifically those who’ve attended this gym, inspired me. I had often flirted with the idea of taking on a fitness challenge there but I was intimidated. I am not a weight lifter. During my first two years in college, you could find me at the gym lifting weights. When I first started teaching during my 20s, I did weight training with a personal trainer. So it had been decades. It’s not been something I’ve been drawn to do. I like to run. I like to dance. I like cardio. My new workouts have required me to change my way of thinking and to push myself hard. It’s not easy. I struggle. I am smaller and slower and weaker than a lot of people. I gauge myself against myself so that if I can do something I was never able to do before then that is meeting my goal. This week at samba, we did abs and pushups and other muscle work. In the past, I would cringe and groan, “I can’t do this.” It came much more easily. My teacher passed me and said, “Well you train all the time.” One of my samba sisters who inspired me in my fitness journey told me I looked great. She is committed to fitness so her compliment meant so much to me.  It felt good to receive reassurance and validation from those I respect and love.

Fitness is not a 40 day challenge. It is a fun mental and emotional outlet which will extend my life. While I like that my clothes fit more loosely, I love that I am modeling health and wellness for my daughter.  She comes to the gym with me at least once a week and watches me sweat it out. Getting a thumbs-up from her is great motivation. Fitness will continue to be an everyday challenge and a lifelong goal.

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Literally back on the mic

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Though I began writing fiction at 9, I started writing personal reflections in my monthly column in La Voz de Berkeley when I was at Cal. I then created a blog, Mujer Hollering, inspired by that column, and more recently, my blog, Mujer Evolving. While writing fiction is a long-term goal, my #40blogsfor40days challenge is a great opportunity to share my work and honor my voice.

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I have suffered from writer’s block for many years partly due to time management. So am I going to complete this writing during Lent?  I decided to solve the problem this year by beginning my blogs as voice recordings. During my morning commute, I have been recording five minute voice memos to capture my thoughts. There’s plenty of writing material whether it’s personal experiences, music, TV, or themes I have pondered.  The commute has allowed me time to do some uncensored reflecting. When I’m at the computer, I get stifled by the desire to wordsmith or produce a clear and concise piece in a short amount of time.  Drafting differently gives me a chance to voice my ideas.

Then it is time to transcribe. I don’t type it word for word. I do some revision as I go. Sometimes I stop the playback as I tend to speak quickly.  I don’t want to lose any key ideas. Once it’s transcribed, I read it. I start the editing process. I take out repetitious phrases. I rearrange paragraphs. I add topic sentences, details, commentary, and transitions. I was an English teacher for thirteen years so I have those skills to help me produce a polished piece of writing. The verbal rough draft and more intense editing process has allowed me to produce work that is much more coherent. I’m excited that this may be an opportunity to fully commit to writing on a more regular basis.

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The accidental artist date

When I was in college and working as an English tutor and writing workshop leader, my wonderful supervisors introduced me to the practice of artist dates. An artist date is an opportunity for a writer, artist, or any person to go on a solo date and enjoy an activity alone as a way to foster creativity and self-love. It could be a solo visit to an art museum or a long hike or something as simple as blowing bubbles. We were encouraged to make a regular practice of artist dates and to journal about our experiences. I loved the idea; it appealed to the introvert in me.  It was a practice I continued over the years. 
Now as a busy mom, artist dates may happen once a year.  Since my daughter’s school calendar has a different spring break than the district in which I work, I usually indulge in a spring day where I visit my favorite café, volunteer, or maybe catch a movie neither Rambo nor M will enjoy.  I savor those quiet moments as I do my writing time or my morning runs.  I like me time.  It gives me a chance to recharge. 
Recently, as part of ongoing staff development, I took a self-care survey.  My results in the relationships category weren’t surprising but nevertheless disappointing.  It seems I haven’t been giving my friends enough of my time.  In the spirit of reaching out, I asked an old friend to join me for a film festival and dinner. It would give us a chance to reconnect while allowing me to see a rare film by my favorite director.  I bought the tickets, checked the train schedule, and anticipated a happy reunion.
OG Chicas del monton: early Almodovar divas
Due to unexpected circumstances, I ended up on an artist date.  While I felt worried for my friend, I decided to enjoy the film and the time alone.  It felt like a trip back through time: a 1980 film from the incomparable Almodovar in a classic Mission District movie house followed by a cheap slice of pizza in an old school pizza joint.  Since I was alone, I was able to get back to M while the sun was still up. It was a genuine treat.
Being my own best friend took years of practice. My accidental artist date was a great reminder of the lessons that relationship has taught me.  Unforeseen changes don’t have to be inconvenient or uncomfortable.  Alone doesn’t have to feel lonely.

Surreality check

Lynchian: refers to a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s perpetual containment within the latter. David Foster Wallace

It has been a while since I needed to escape reality through television shows.  Usually I watch TV shows that parallel my family life like Blackish or Fresh off the Boat (TV show parallels), serve as bonding time with M as with Top Chef or Chopped Junior, or feed my craving for intelligent horror, The Returned
 Definitely in my Top 5 of Best TV shows EVER
Last week offered the return of my beloved The X-Files

Rambo met me at my parents’ house so we could watch the premiere with my dad.  Due to recent events
(and nope,  not at home), I decided to Netflix and chill with one of my all-time favorites, Twin Peaks. 
You may wonder how a spooky, surreal telenovela (folks who are insulted by the comparison need to check out Cuna de Lobos and El Maleficio; telenovelas aren’t always big hair, big fights, and big weddings) from the 90s could serve as an antidote to reality. 
Bad but badass villain; she’s my secret Patronus
Ernesto Alonso serving in El Maleficio; must find on Netflix stat 
Twin Peaks hasn’t lost its edge over the decades; it is as creepy, funny, and mind-boggling as ever. From its lovely yet nightmarish soundtrack to its iconic images, I felt transported to that small town where not one thing is as it seems.  On a Saturday afternoon following what has been a mentally challenging week at work, it was the right counterpoint. 

I have learned, after years of hard work (and, as I like to joke, thousands of dollars), that my thoughts and emotions are best checked.  In other words, I can’t let my mind wander.  #icant.  So after this week of bizarre and confusing events, I could not sit around and think about them for too long. I seriously compromised my health and my career at one point in my life.  I realized I had to learn how to heal. I committed to change.  I know I thrive through routine, discipline, and spiritual practice.  I train for half-marathons. I train for Carnaval. I pray the rosary daily. When I’m really good, I pray the Liturgy of the Hours. My schedule and calendar, sometimes the cause of controversy with certain family members and friends, is full, mostly with cherished events and activities.  This is on purpose. This is deliberate.  I made a commitment to health that will not waver.  So, when faced with others who haven’t yet learned that important lesson and perhaps never will, I need a break.  Why not be entertained while being comforted? 

Reality can be daunting.  Indulging in some fiction that is somewhat stranger than the truth helps me.  As for confronting those strange truths, I am grateful that I now have the mental strength to face them all.  I also  have the experience to know I can’t do much to help those who do not.  (Marsupium crotalus epidemic)

The plague on all our houses

I know your pain.  My hand has been ripped to shreds.  My back hurts from all the puncture wounds.  My hand spins when I think of all the time expended, all the words unheeded, all the energy I could have spent on my family, myself, even household chores.  Most of us have suffered from this condition at one time or another; in fact, many of us will continue to battle it for the rest of our lives. The scientific name is Marsupium crotalus, more commonly known as rattlesnake in pocket. (See also being played, taken for a ride, used and abused, bamboozled, or doormat syndrome.) 
The condition is symptom-free at its onset. After initial contact with the viper, the patient may not notice any negative changes. They may interact with the infected reptile for months, even years, before the bite occurs.  Marsupium crotalus is the result of the slow-acting toxins released from the snakebite.  Marsupium crotalus may include the following symptoms: chest pains, headaches, stiff neck, clenched jaw, back spasms, depression, anxiety, anger, irritable bowel syndrome, and a host of other physical and emotional complications. While treatable through a regimen of self –care, including therapy, it can recur through a person’s lifetime.
You may wonder why anyone would willfully put a rattlesnake in one’s pocket. There are a number of reasons why someone would take such a risk. The person may suffer from empathy, the need to nurture, hope in someone’s untapped potential, or consistently feel the urge to help others. Many people want to “pay it forward” in an effort to give back to the community at large. Occasionally, people who have pre-existing conditions may have compromised immunity to Marsupium crotalus. In any case, it is highly unlikely that the rattlesnake will successfully sublimate its instinctual need to attack. Sooner or later, someone is going to get hurt.
I too have Marsupium crotalus.  My therapist asked me a few months ago how one recognizes a rattlesnake.  I said the rattling tail is the giveaway.  She pointed out that the rattlesnake gives fair warning. I agreed that I don’t have any good reason to pick up the damn thing. The snake, and all the snakes I have known, revealed from day one what it was. The key is learning to head in the other direction when I hear those cascabeles shaking. 

I have previously written about my failings in helping others. (betrayal blues) I have been disappointed and devastated by the negative outcomes of helping relatives, professional colleagues, romantic partners, and friends. I wish I could say I am completely healed from Marsupium crotalus. After all I have experienced, some of which has been chronicled in previous writing, I thought I was cured. The last several months have taught me that I still need to work on being aware, assertive, and self-protective.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a resource to someone who is struggling. I can’t control how the person I help will respond. I can control how far I will go in offering my support. Sometimes the best choice I can make is the one to walk away, to not engage, and to care from a safe distance. 

La leyenda de SuperMama -Or- the blessing of a busy schedule

Recently, I posted a Facebook status update about a typical hectic Saturday which included a multiple-mile training run, a Dance Party appearance, and packing up favor bags for mija’s birthday party.  A friend commented “So it was a slow day?”  I laughed and then probably went back to my multi-tasking. 
There was a time in my life, specifically a decade ago, when, because I was a committed girlfriend (aka pendeja) in a long-distance relationship (aka estupidez to the tenth degree), I did not do much.  My club kid days/phase had ended; there were no more early Wednesday morning (house music at 2am!) trips to San Francisco or any more Sunday afternoon tea-dances followed by Thai dinners.  If my girlfriends were busy, I often spent Friday nights and Saturdays at home, reading or doing housework. Once the relationship fizzled, I spent lots of time blogging. Within five years, my life went from boring to outright loca(there’s a reason I relate to Mariah, Britney, and Demi and it’s not because I’m a pop star diva)and I had to re-evaluate how I lived.  Being busy in a positive, productive way saved my sanity. 
Time is not my great enemy.  My schedule may seem overwhelming to folks.  For me, it is purposeful.  I make time for family, exercise, learning, and dance.  Those are the priorities.  They help me regulate my emotions, tolerate distress, and improve my relationships.  Then there is work and housework.  During all of my activities, I work on mindfulness, on appreciating every moment in all its complexity and simplicity.  I hope that my daughter learns that a strong woman can do and be many things.  I hope she sees that taking care of myself helps me take care of her, her father, and others in my life. 
Let’s get one thing clear.  I cannot do it all. I may do my leisure reading while my daughter enjoys ballet and tap lessons.  Learning a dance routine for a flash mob means the laundry may not be folded for a few days. The freezer may come to the rescue for a meal or two a week (you best believe I store leftovers and bring out family favorites when I’m too busy to cook.) My mom sometimes scolds me for making too much time for fun and not enough time for household chores.  I have been embarrassed when my suegra visits during a particularly busy time and sees a messy house. So I would rather make happy memories than make the bed. I can make a game of putting away laundry or doing the dishes.  The whole familia pitches in when the clutter gets too out of control.
Then there are those events which are not on the schedule.  Bedtime story time.  Family dinner at the kitchen table.  Best of all, we have what our daughter calls happy family, sweet little moments when the three of us share a group bear hug.  These are the times that truly matter.