Thursday, August 30, 2012

5th New Thing ~ B is for Balance

"Show me your tongue," Shuren says.
"Show me your tongue." His English is rough.

I've been meaning to look into acupuncture for a few years now. But I kept not "getting around to it."

Although I know that medical insurance companies are now compelled to cover more alternative types of treatment and health care options than in years past, I still had a solid block in my head that it was going to be a battle getting it covered. Insurance speed bumps to maneuver, meant to discourage policy holders. I'm an insurance cynic. I just know they're out to get me.

But this long held intent to get acupuncture treatment and the year of 50 New Things came together and acupuncture was one of the first things to hit the early list.

"Show me your tongue," he repeats himself.

We are standing at the sign-in counter in his waiting room. Now, granted, there is no one else in the waiting room at the moment but it feels a bit odd to be starting the initial 'exam' at the front counter.

I stick out my tongue. So far I really like how this is going.
"Looks good," he says. "Why are you here?" he continues. His English is choppy; we maintain strict, concentrated eye contact to make sure that we understand each other. And we talk with our hands.

I explain that I go to the chiropractor periodically for pain in my right shoulder. Sometimes in my neck and right arm. And that my chiropractor also recommended acupuncture. BUT, instead of the shoulder pain, I would rather talk about energy and emotions. He nods his head.

"I think I hold a lot of tension in my body," I say. "And I'd like to get some help releasing that."
He asks how I'm eating. How I'm feeling. How I'm sleeping.
I hesitate a moment, then tell him the truth. Point blank. He nods his head.

He focuses on just one point: "You go to sleep fine but you wake in middle of the night and can't get back to sleep?"
"Yes," I say.
"Means that you are deeply disturbed." We are still standing at the front counter. Apparently that point blank thing goes both ways.

Now I'm sure this is just some sort of cultural translation-related misunderstanding.  What he really meant was deeply charming, right? Deeply enchanting?  Not disturbed. Not like the mad woman in Rochester's attic?

I picture the energy in me as a fluid substance that flows through my body. Life force that moves easily and unrestricted. Ideally speaking. Like the bloodstream, only unseen.

And like blood, the flow can sometimes slow and even stop. Become hindered. Creating trapped, stagnate pools that become toxic.

Maybe the moderate but chronic pain in my shoulder, pain that I've had for years, is about the need to release energy, get the flow moving better. The pain is my body trying to tell me something.

Shuren nods his head. He says we will work on balance overall.  As opposed to addressing the specific pain in my shoulder, which we agree is a symptom of something more fundamental.

He shows me to a small room and tells me to lie on the narrow, paper-covered table. Face up. I slip my shoes off, stash them under a chair and climb up. Adjust my skirt. He places a wedged pillow under my knees. My hands instinctively take a peaceful pose mid-chest.
"Is this your first time acupuncture?"
He goes on to ask me general health questions that I can't specifically remember now but that I think were a diversion. . . as he is busy doing something down at my feet. Feeling my pulse, maybe? I answer his questions as I realize I now have a needle inserted in each foot.
And then a needle in each ankle.
Each shin.
Each hand.
My forehead.
And the crown of my scalp.
Ten needles total.
I can't really feel the needles specifically but my right shins feels a faint, dull ache. Like an old bruise reminding me that it's still there. I wonder what this means.

"Listen to the music," Shuren says as he turns down the lights and leaves the room. My first thought is that he has forgotten to turn on the music. I can't hear it.
I can hear a jet far above the earth.
I can hear traffic from 512, though I'm a couple miles away.
Distant sirens, as we aren't far from a hospital.
I strain listening for music. After a few minutes I think, maybe there is a very, very quiet melody playing somewhere. Hard to tell.

I've never had much success at meditation. The phrase 'empty your mind.......'
What? Aren't thoughts a constant thing?
Daydreams, memories, planning, repetitive thoughts, spacing-out free-flowing thoughts, pre-writing, writing, editing.
Sometimes helpful, sometimes hurtful.
Truth and lies.
For good or for evil, that ceaseless mental chatter?

No thoughts??  Meditation, emptying my mind. How do you do that? When I've tried it in the past, I felt a lot of pressure. Which, I think is kind of the opposite purpose of meditation. I read somewhere that of course it's difficult to free one's mind of constant thought, but as you're meditating (or trying VERY HARD to meditate) when you find your mind wandering off, to acknowledge the wandering, then deliberately steer your thoughts back to an empty, quiet mind. Even with this sage advice, I struggled and then pretty much stopped trying. Years ago.

But laying on the table with my ten needles, it's easier. I wonder why. Shuren didn't tell me to meditate but it seems natural somehow. Meditation. Or something like it. For over an hour. I don't fall asleep, although I've heard it is not uncommon during acupuncture. My mind does drift off in unintended directions but I find it very peaceful to bring myself right back to a quiet, calm place. Repeating soothing words in my head. Watching the dark and light shadows behind my closed lids. Never once scolding myself for not being 'better' at this.

Soon I realize that I really can hear music. In fact, it was all I can hear. No traffic. Has it been here the whole time?

Shuren comes in a couple times to quietly ask how I'm doing.
"Are you cold?"
He touches my skin.
"Do you want heat?"
"No, I'm good."
He doesn't seem to believe me.

The fourth time he comes in, he asks me if I'm ready to be done. Yes, okay. He pulls each needle as he wipes each spot with a cool alcohol pad. The needles did not hurt going in and don't hurt coming out. I ask him what I can expect to feel after a treatment. He says I will see for myself. He then says, "Get up slowly," and leaves the room, closing the door behind him.

I put my shoes back on and head out to the front counter. Not knowing what's next...paperwork? Schedule another appointment? Debrief?

"Is there anything else?" I ask.
"Don't drink cold water."
"No cold water?"
He nods.
"Warm water?" I ask.
"Yes, warm water. No cold water."
Yikes. Could he tell this about me? That I drink, not just cold, but ice water all the time.  Every day. Partially frozen water bottles. Cups of ice water at my desk.
Okay. I'll give this a try. No cold water.
"Do I need to come back?"
"Yes, probably a couple more times."

And that was my first appointment.

I don't know what I expected from acupuncture. Or maybe I did. I may have thought I'd feel something 'significant.' Like I'd spontaneously weep from all the releasing and flowing of energy. Or something. A more emotionally moving experience. That I'd feel overwhelmed. But instead it was very subtle and peaceful. I would never have thought of being pierced by needles as subtle or peaceful.

Through the rest of the day, I 'watched' for any differences in how I felt. Physically. Emotionally. The only thing I noticed was that I kept feeling warm and then chilled. Swinging between the two extremes all day. More chilled than not. Like my body was having a hard time maintaining an even temperature.

I return to Shuren's office three days later.
"How do you feel?" he asks me, as he leads me back to the same room as last time.
"I felt oddly hot and cold that first day. But otherwise, I feel about same."

As I'm slipping off my shoes and climbing up onto the table, he plugs in a heat lamp.
"This time we'll try heat too."
Seems that temperature is significant to this energy balance process.
I mention that I am drinking less cold water. Feeling kind of proud of myself. That I warm up mugs of water in the microwave and drink those.
"No microwave," he says.
"What?" I wilt inside.
"Microwave changes the molecules. Heat water on the stove."

No cold water? No microwaved water? Dehydration looms ahead. Okay. Really messing with my 'ways,' Shuren.

I'm up to my fourth appointment. And so far it turns out the needles are not at all the difficult part of this new experience. And temperature is way more important than I'd imagined.

I am not drinking cold water at all. Well, mostly. Drinking much more warm water.
Microwaved only about half the time now. Working on this. It's a process. Change might be good but it can also be difficult.

When Shuren left the room at my first appointment, I realized I would have no pictures of this new thing. There are all kinds of pictures on the Internet of acupuncture needles piercing flesh but I wouldn't have any of my experience. This felt a bit sad for a moment but it was easy to let go, as it was simply the nature of the first appointment.

At my second appointment, Shuren and I talked about the spiritual nature of acupuncture. I asked him if it would be disrespectful to take a picture of the needles in my skin. No, he says. Not at all. And even offered to take a shot himself as I needed to stay laying flat.

There are four needles in this shot. Take my word for it. The only one you can even kind of see is in my left upper shin.

The needle in my left hand.

And the one in my forehead. Lights down.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

4th New Thing ~ I Scream

You should never let yourself run out of staples: bread, milk, butter, eggs, ice cream.

Ice cream.

I eat ice cream every night. Just before bed. Some nights with a brownie or chocolate cake or berry crumble or tart cherry pie. But always ice cream.

For me, ice cream is a staple. And it's easy enough to pick up on the way home. But it's better when it's homemade.

I never really thought about it until I started my list but ....I've never made homemade ice cream.

When I was a little girl, I'd help my grandma fill the wooden bucket of their ice cream maker with layers of ice chunks and rock salt. Waiting for what was 'forever' in Little Girl Land. Seriously, it seemed like days before that ice cream was done. But when it was done, I watched as she popped the lid and pulled the paddle out, covered in beautiful, soft, creamy, dreamy ice cream. I'd swipe a big finger full of ice cream off that paddle if I could get away with it. It was the best ice cream. I was really good at eating it but I've never made it.  We had it every summer when I was a kid in Yakima. Hot Yakima. Even so, it was a treat. Homemade ice cream. A luxury.

Until just recently, (Ciara made me Lavender Honey Ice Cream for my birthday) I haven't had homemade ice cream in years. In fact, strangely enough, the last memory I can pin down is from August 1977, staying in Davis, California, with my aunt & uncle. Kay made peach ice cream. It was incredible. Lounging by the pool, homemade peach ice cream and what is that I hear??.....Barry Manilow's "Looks Like We Made It" piped through the stereo speakers?
I think it is! Good times.

So, in the name of a quieter and creamier New Thing, and because of the 90-plus degree weather we'd had recently, I made home-made ice cream for the very first time.

I know this isn't a big huge New Thing, but I was oddly intimidated. Part of me wanted to just open my freezer door and pull out my Tillamook Vanilla Bean and skip the 'work.' I had to make a deliberate decision to look at it as a New Thing kitchen adventure.

First I procured two ice cream makers. (Thank you, Jill and Ciara.) Two completely different kinds of maker. I am not sure what each style is called but I liked them both:

  • The sassy, shiny, 'newfangled' red one that looks like some sort of space shuttle sitting on my counter with a clear lid so you can watch the paddle spin and the liquid cream mixture get thicker and thicker. A modern wonder right out of the Star Wars saga. 
  • The nostalgic, Old School model that allowed my hands to go through those childhood motions of layering ice, then salt, ice and then salt. Watching the metal drum collect frost, eager to see what it looks like inside. I spent a lot of time thinking about my Grandmother. Aluminum lawn chairs. The house I adored out in Cowiche. 

The two recipes I used were from a new book at the library:
Molly Moon's Homemade Ice Cream by Molly Moon Nietzel and Christina Spittler.

There was a wide variety of ice cream flavors to choose from.
Some were quite novel: Maple Bacon Ice Cream, Olive Oil and Toasted Pine Nut Ice Cream. Now I'm sure these are some tasty treats or they wouldn't be in the book, right? But on the surface and without having tried them, it just sounds like a mean thing to do to ice cream.

Which flavor should I try?  I debated: peach, cherry, blackberry? All good. But I really don't eat ice cream in those flavors. My favorite dessert is a Hot Fudge Brownie Sundae.
Brownie (no nuts), Vanilla Bean ice cream and hot fudge.

So the flavors I decided upon were vanilla and chocolate. You saw that one coming, I'm sure.
I chose, of course, the Vanilla Bean Ice Cream recipe (page 104).
And the Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream (page 84).
Although I altered this a bit, thinking I'd be all 'ice-cream-edgy,' right? Right.

Both ice cream makers worked great. Easy and a quick clean-up.

The vanilla was wonderful. With the traditional homemade texture that you can NOT get in store-bought ice cream. How is it that homemade ice cream seems colder than store bought? It may be as good a vanilla ice cream as I've ever had. And I've had my share.
I've done side-by-side store-bought vanilla ice cream taste tests. And this stuff is amazing. Perfect.

The chocolate was less wonderful but worth a shot. I should have stuck with the regular chocolate recipe. This one called for cinnamon. Plus after surfing recipes online, I thought I'd be so smart and modify it with just a pinch of chili pepper. You know, like the hot chocolate scene in the movie Chocolat. I don't know what I was thinking. It was homemade chocolate ice cream, for heaven's sake. Why did I find it necessary to mess with what is already a GREAT thing? The spicy chocolate end-result is fine but I'll not make it again. It's a novelty. I don't need novelty in my ice cream. You're welcome to some. There's a pretty big container in my freezer right now.

So not feeling all that adventurous about my choice of ice cream flavors, I decided to also make homemade hot fudge.  And I don't mean chocolate syrup warmed up. I mean goopy, thick, decadent hot fudge. (Page 98 - 99 Deep, Dark Hot Fudge.)

I'd never thought of making hot fudge at home before. It's so easy to just buy a jar. But, you know what....much better homemade. I've never looked at the list of ingredients on the jars of hot fudge from the store because I was afraid. Afraid that I wouldn't recognize most of the list as actual food products. And then I'd have had to decide if I continued to eat it. You know, sometimes maybe it's better not to know.

But now that I've made my own hot fudge, I know what I've been missing. The recipe made a large amount, it keeps for weeks in the fridge and it's so rich and thick that I don't need to use nearly as much as the store-bought stuff so it will last me a good long time.

One ice cream lesson I learned is quite practical. DO NOT buy vanilla beans without shopping around. Not thinking at all about comparing prices, I stopped for ingredients late at night on the way home. Last minute. The store I went to only had one brand of vanilla bean and to get enough for just one batch of Vanilla Bean Ice Cream cost me $26. It was easily the most expensive vanilla ice cream I've ever eaten. (Good thing it turned out so wonderful.) I later discovered that if I'd have picked up bulk vanilla bean in a different store it would have been only $11 for the same amount. Vanilla Bean Lesson, learned.

Another lesson I learned is "Don't mess with a good thing." Homemade chocolate ice cream is probably the picture you see in the dictionary next to the words "Good Thing." Okay, I know the dictionary doesn't work this way but you get my point. There was absolutely no reason to get screwy and clever with homemade chocolate ice cream.

To be completely honest, I have to keep fighting the urge to defend here in the blog, the making of homemade ice cream as a New Thing. Especially when compared to the ride on the Harley or the afternoon of Autocross. They are such completely different things. I'm hoping that admitting this to you is enough to fend off my need to defend. I want to breathe and honor whatever New Things speak to my heart and feels like the best thing for me. Even if they do not all seem 'impressive' or surprising. But the internal struggle I'm having turns out to be rough. Intellectually I know I want all ends of the spectrum with these New Things, but still feeling the need to explain myself here.
I'll stop now. Show you pictures, instead...

Seriously, doesn't this look like something that would have been sitting on Aunt Beru's counter? You can add ingredients through that star-shaped opening, while the ice cream is still churning near the end of the process...

Rock salt & ice chunk nostalgia, truly missing my grandma...

One of two crazy-expensive vanilla beans....

Me, having my ritual fantasy about finding a Golden Ticket each time I unwrap a chocolate bar...

One scoop Vanilla Bean & one scoop Mexican Chocolate........naked...

...then dressed in glorious Deep Dark Hot Fudge....

Last bite of vanilla and hot fudge that day.....

My 4th New Thing ~ Making Homemade Ice Cream 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Catching My Breath

I feel the need to 'recap'...(okay, yes...'recap' may actually mean 'brag' in this case)...

Three 'New Things' in THREE DAYS!
  • July 27: Harley Ride
  • July 28: Drumming Debut
  • July 29: Autocross Ride-a-long
I love this.

And Two of the Three New Things were 'Helmet Required.' I could have made it three for three and worn a helmet for the drum performance but I decided to take my on the edge.
Or in the spirit of what someone told me just recently "Safety Third!"

I am absolutely thrilled with how things have started. A great kick-off. Things happening faster than I could blog. Who knew?

But enough of that. Time to proceed.

Looking ahead to New Thing #4 and Beyond, it feels important to mention that I know I can't keep up this pace. Not the frequency. Not the adrenaline.

Nor would I want to.

"So Barbie, what's the next crazy thing you're doing?"
"NEW thing!" I correct them soundly. "Not necessarily 'crazy.' New. New thing."
You people are way too eager to risk my life and limbs.

'NEW' is my only criteria. Okay, well not my only criteria. I also need the Thing to 'speak' to me. On one level or another, it needs to be a good match for my heart, my spirit, my energy, my future.

The first three things were all on a similar frequency for me.
Exciting, invigorating, adrenaline-inducing.

And of course, I need New Things that test my courage and imagination, Things considered risky or unusual. But I also need New Things that will potentially nourish my soul. Peaceful, introspective and enlightening Things.

For example:
'Homebody' that I am, traveling to a foreign country would test my courage.
Where as perhaps, learning to knit might nourish my soul. I won't know until I try.

I'm telling you this for two reasons:
  1. Because New Thing #4 is a gentler and sweeter Thing. Risk and courage were not the point. (Details to follow in next post.)
  2. AND because I seek your help. Your thoughts and suggestions. Even volunteers. 
The list of 50 New Things is fluid. I have a good healthy list started but I want to be open to ideas beyond my own.
I also want to, need to, be open to all levels of New Things:
  • Big-ass, scary things (sky diving), 
  • Unusual "Is that a real thing?" things (Trike Flying), 
  • Less Obvious things.

I want all suggestions, but I especially covet your ideas for the Less Obvious.
(My #4 Thing falls into this category.)

For instance....
let's say I'd never learned to use chopsticks or drive a stick shift.
Say I'd never picked up a hitchhiker or bought lunch for the car behind me at the drive up window.
Slurped down a raw oyster or slugged down an Irish Car Bomb.
Now I have done each of these things prior to My 50 New ones, but these are perfect examples of Less Obvious suggestions.

(Thanks to Jackie for the car bomb thing!!)

I've come up with a few...
  • I've never had a Jello shot. (I can't count how many people have volunteered to 'help' me with this one.)
  • I've never 'tagged' a building, a bridge, a fence, Any thing.
  • I've never made homemade ice cream.
  • I've never created a YouTube video.
  • I've never played a round of golf. 
...and these specific New Things may show up in the coming year.....or not. We will see. But I need more of this type of things. They might not be New to you, but may be New for me. We won't know unless you speak up. Please be thinking. In other words.....Help! You can 'Comment' your suggestions here, email me or tell me directly. I need your suggestions from both ends of the universe.

Post Script:
It is my goal to keep this 50 New Things adventure as Rule-free as possible. At the same time, there are two things that I intend to hold myself much as I can.

  • I will try to keep from 'lumping' multiple New things into one event. 
    • For instance, if I play my first round of golf, do a Jello shot at each hole, tag the golf cart with graffiti and put the whole thing on YouTube.....that is NOT 4 New Things. Feels like 'cheating.'   
  • I will also try not to 'create' a New Thing on a technicality. 
    • For instance, say I'd never been to the Museum of Glass but I've been to all kinds of other museums in my lifetime. Going to a different type of museum doesn't really count. It won't feel like I'm really honoring my intent to reach beyond my previous experience or my comfort zone. Now if I travel to Liverpool to visit a Beatles Museum? Totally counts!  

Sunday, August 12, 2012

3rd New Thing ~ Dear Life

Sunday, July 29, 2012:

“And I was going to stay home today!!” I must have said it a dozen times.

Riding in a surprisingly fast car (or truck), maneuvering maniacally in and out of the strategically-placed orange cones, then screaming down the (too-short) straightaways of the closed course at Bremerton Raceway, gives the term 'Hang on for dear life!' new meaning for me.

I arrived at the track, not far from my house. Pulled up to the front gate, received a bracelet to wear and signed the required waiver. That waiver should have been my first clue. You know that ‘Hang on!’ part.

My goal, heading to the raceway that day, was to scout out the event. Determine if I might be interested in driving on their closed course. Driving on any closed course is one of the things on my list of 50.

My co-worker, Matt had previously described the Sunday events, but it was a bit difficult to picture so I thought I’d attend and see for myself. Reconnoiter. I had no idea what to expect.

I parked my car and found Matt’s truck.

“You made it out,” he greeted me.
“This is pretty cool,” I said, scanning the grassy areas along the edge of the track. “So, where’s the best place for me to watch?”
“From the passenger seat,” he said.
“Really?” Gulp. “Can I?” Trying to sound less terrified than I was.

Before I knew what was happening, I had a loaner helmet tucked under one arm and was walking the course with some of the drivers. Matt explained, in “Barbie terms,” many of the course elements and skill basics. The ratio of steering to braking to accelerating. (Seriously? Math?) He pointed out what the different cone positions meant. Directional cones. Gate cones. Turns out the cones that I thought had just fallen over, were supposed to be lying down like that. Course indicators, of course. Who didn’t know that??

I relinquished my driver’s license to some official looking guy, as an aid to identify my remains later, I guessed.

Because of Matt’s pure enthusiasm for Autocross, he would not be my only driver that afternoon.

Before I climbed in for my first ride-along, Matt set me up with “Important Safety Tips”:

1. Helmet and safety belt required.

2. Adjust your seat all the way forward so you can brace your feet against the car’s firewall.

3. Keep your hands in the car at all times or the driver will kill you because he’ll be disqualified.

4. Hang onto the handle, if there is one. And if not, hang onto the edges of the seat. (For dear life!)

My internal chant was: Be brave, Barbie! Be brave. Breathe. Breathe.

My first driver was Reuben in his deep blue, classic Datsun 240 Z, with the coolest side mirrors, mounted way up on the front fender. My first ride-along at Autocross was a complete blur. Did we hit any cones? No idea. Did we make every gate? Who knows… ? What was our time crossing the finish line? Time? Who cares?
What. Just. Happened?

When we rolled to a stop after that first ride, I climbed shakily out of the car, wondering if my legs would support me.

Matt looked at me.
“Well?” he grinned.
“I got no spit,” I said. Honestly.
One of the most deliberately terrifying 50-some seconds of my life.
It was true! I couldn’t swallow because I had no spit. For the rest of the amazing day.

The initial tips that Matt gave me were required, not optional. I went through the little check list in my head every time we sat at the start, waiting to launch.

Fortunately, on the first corner of that first ride, I also discovered that if I very deliberately pressed my helmet back into the head rest of the seat as hard as I could, I was jostled and bumped around much less. Plus it increased the intensity of the feeling of being forced back into the cushion of the seat, like taking off in a jet or on a roller coaster. I love that feeling.

My favorite car is a Porsche. It’s not that I’m an expert on their engine sizes, turning radius or other specifications. It’s just that I love them. I think they're beautiful.

Classic 911, especially the early 80’s models.
Although I also love a sleek, red Porsche.
I remember how sexy the new 924 looked when it replaced the 914 in the mid-70’s. The 914 body style was never my favorite but what do I know?
Being my favorite car and never having even sat in one, riding in a Porsche was on my list of 50 New Things.

My second driver was Jordan. In his 1994 Porsche 968. It was a pretty, dark blue car and Jordan was a fun driver. A tall young man, light-hearted and just having a great time.

It was perfect. My first Porsche.

Reuben and Jordan were just the first of a few drivers for me that day. A couple of the drivers were quite nervous. Chatting to me, to themselves, to the Autocross gods. And a couple drivers were quite serious, no extra talk at all. All focus! I was grateful to each person I rode with. But the drivers that were out there having a great time, the ones laughing and smiling were by FAR the most fun. Matt fell into this category. I think he was enjoying himself most, of all my drivers.

I rode with Matt twice. I didn’t once think to look over at the speedometer or at the driver’s face on any of my ride-alongs Just watching straight ahead, sometimes clenching my eyes closed tight when it was too much. But when riding in his 2006 Toyota Tacoma X-Runner, I couldn’t help but notice Matt’s arms steering wildly: all the way one direction, then all the way back the other, steering hard right, then extreme left, then right and left again! It was a workout watching him. Matt’s X-Runner wanted to travel sideways more than any other vehicle for me that day. Every second, I thought we’d spin out of control. It was a terrifying THRILL!

On my first ride along with Matt, I was so excited when we screamed across the ‘finish line’ that I slugged him in the shoulder. I have NO idea why. But I want credit for not pummeling him. I needed some outlet for the energy that the rides caused in me. I was absolutely stoked!! I wanted to just pound my fists. I was so excited and I needed some way to release it. Like I was going to burst. Matt was lucky to get away unscathed.

A few of the drivers explained, as we sat waiting for ‘our’ turn, why we might not get a great time on the clock. But frankly, I kept forgetting to even notice the clock. Honestly! In my effort to retrieve my breath each time we crossed the finish, I failed to even look. (I say ‘Our’ because I was technically their co-pilot, right?) One thing I do remember about the time clock is when Matt said if you spin out of control and ‘take out’ the clock, it’s a hundred dollar fine. I didn’t ask how often that happens.

Even if no one had been ‘keeping score’ with times and cones and gates, I was having the time of my life. And was only impressed and grateful for each driver’s complete willingness to share such excitement with a total stranger, just because she showed up with a goofy ‘Holy Crow’ grin on her face.

I noticed that there was no middle ground in the driving that day. Each time, we started off by rocketing forward, then slamming on the brakes to make the first turn. The car screaming from one limit to its opposite. Complete acceleration, full brakes. Steering all the way left, then all the way right. Every extreme. Now, I’m no physics genius but there were times when I looked in front of us, took the speed at which I believed us to be traveling into consideration and thought “NO FRICKIN’ WAY are we going to miss that bank of cones!!”

But every single time, you know what? We didn’t die! Or even spin out of control. A couple times, as we came to a stop back in line, I asked, “Can I just sit here for a second? Don’t think I can walk.”

Just as I was recovered from one ride, Matt would call, “Barbie, over here. I have another ride for you.” After my fifth ride, I lost count.

I had one woman driver. Jill. And her 2006 black Lotus Exige.
As grateful as I am to Matt for the entire day, for sharing his passion, Jill may have been my favorite.
We strapped ourselves in. Her husband wedged a small, square pillow between her lower back and the seat so she could reach the pedals.
She played the precarious balance between throttle and clutch. The car died.

“Oh, that’s embarrassing,” she said.
“Or maybe it’s good luck,” I replied.
She restarted the car and we rolled forward, taking out place at the start.
As we sat waiting for the ‘Ready?’ I told her that I’d just turned 50 and as part of the celebration, I was out there to do something I’d never done before. She looked at me as we waited our turn. “You’re not 50!” she said. “I would have guessed you were in your thirties. Maybe even younger!”
This was the moment she became my favorite driver of the day. Or EVER!
I could have kissed her right on the lips, which would have been another on my list of 50 New Things!

I loved each driver, well as much as you can love someone you just met 61.4 petrifying seconds ago.

Thanks to each one, including but not limited to:
  • Reuben, my first Autocross driver. 
  • Jordan, my first Porsche. 
  • Jill, my first Lotus. (Surprised the hell out of me! Who knew to even put ‘ride in a Lotus’ on my New Things list??) 
  • Steve’s Porsche GT3, probably the most expensive car I rode in that day or ever and quite stunning. 
  • Chris, my first time riding in a car with the steering wheel on the right side. It was like 59 seconds of Autocross in England. 
  • Mark, my first red flag. 
  • And of course Matt, the most fun and the reason I was even at Autocross. Matt, who kept looking over at me with that “You ready? Hang on!” look on his face. 

I was really struck by the sense of community in an environment where every run was timed and held up against the other drivers in their class. There was no sense of ‘every man for himself.’ No grumbling and hard feelings. It was the most friendly competitive event I’ve ever attended. Sharing each other’s triumphs and frustrations. Everyone, in great spirits and good sports.

It's no big secret. I've always wanted to drive fast. Like race-car fast. Not necessarily against another person. But on a closed course. A place I can drive as fast as I want, without risking the lives of fellow drivers and without my auto insurance premium doubling because of the moving violation that would surely ensue. I think I mentioned this at work one day. Before I went out there, having listened to Matt explain that people could go out to this event with their regular street cars to compete, I thought, “That would be no problem,” shrugging my shoulders. “I can go out there and drive on a closed course, against the clock.” No problem, right?

But now that I’ve been out there, what do I think? “There is NO FRICKIN’ WAY! None!” Okay, well maybe. I mean, wouldn’t it be GREAT!?! But probably NO WAY! My car? I don’t think I could do it even if the goal was to go as slow as possible. Every ride that day felt like we were just straddling some fine line between barely in and completely out of control. That any fraction of an inch or a second and we’d spin off the course and into the grass, the fence, the other drivers.

On the other hand, we could just invent a new motor sport.
“Autocross Ride-Alongs” If we could pull that off, I’m your girl. 

“And I was going to stay home today!!”

I have some great battle scars on the knuckles of my left hand. They look like rug burns. From hanging on so tightly. Rubbing against the upholstery. It’s been a week ago and every time I make a fist, they still sting. I’ll be sad when they are gone.

Later that evening, I’d catch a glimpse of the bracelet on my wrist and grin. I refused to take it off. Like a little kid who doesn’t want to cut off her Dizzy Pass bracelet from the fair because every time she looks down at her wrist, she remembers the exhilaration of each ride. Which ones were her favorites. And so all the other kids in class the next day would see the proof of what a great time she’d had. The thrill of hanging on for dear life. I wore that bracelet to work the next day and even though none of the other ‘kids’ noticed, it made me smile all day long.

It was a fantastic day. Sunday July 29th. But I had a dilemma. 
  • I had no plan to do a New Thing that day. Research purposes only. For potentially, eventually, maybe.....driving on a closed course.
  • Then unexpectedly, something from my list of 50 New Things presented itself: Ride in a Porsche.
  • And then even more unexpectedly, something NOT from my list of 50 New things presented itself: Ride-along at an Autocross event. (I had no idea what Autocross was until that day...) 
So, as tightly as I find myself wanting to hang onto the Porsche thing, it was the ride-alongs. 
The 3rd New Thing. Autocross Ride-Alongs!  
Do not get me wrong, the Porsche element was amazing (better than I hoped) but as it turns out, just frosting on the '3rd New Thing' cake. Look at me, adjusting! Adapting! Growing right in front of you. Being reminded of the lessons here....REMAIN OPEN! 

Matt sent me pictures a couple days later. I wasn’t expecting them, I squealed when I saw. I’m in the passenger seat of Matt’s blue Toyota Tacoma. And that’s me with the white helmet in the 2002 Porsche 997 GT3! I KNOW!! 

Like I said, now that I’ve seen it up close…….. I do not know if I can do it. I don't. It's terrifying to think about. But. We’ll see what happens. I gotta run now, need to check Craig’s List for a good, used Subaru Brat!!

Post Script: I met a lot of people that day. It's quite likely I met the photographers responsible for these two pictures. However, much of the day was a blur and I can't remember for sure. Either way, I want to say THANK YOU SO MUCH for taking these shots. I get a silly smile on my face every single time I look at them. And I look at them everyday. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

2nd New Thing ~ Come Together

Saturday, July 28, 2012
A great day. Family birthday event. And, there in? 

The 2nd of My 50 New Things.

The party was well orchestrated and beautifully decorated. The chef fed us well. And we had the perfect mix of well-selected attendees.

There was something for everyone:
  • Face painting
  • Pomegranate Basil Mimosa drinking
  • Bubble blowing
  • Homemade Honey Lavender ice cream eating
  • Tiki torching
  • Balloon melting, when they get too close to the Tiki torches
  • Arts and craftiness, as favors for the Birthday BB to take home with her.

During dinner and conversation, the back ground music blended seamlessly. The Play List, formerly known as A Mixed CD, even more formerly known as The Mixed Tape.

And then, after the plates were cleared, we were treated to …..drum roll please ….Live Music featuring……drum roll again…….
Barbie on the drums!

My premiere public performance since my first drum lesson, last November. 

And the 2nd of my 50 New Things.

The stage was set, literally. Ciara and her roadie crew did a great job. Backdrop and platform. Groovy hippie beads. Amps, sound system with multiple technical parts that I didn’t understand. Twinkle lights. I had a few mimosas but I think there was even a disco ball.

People were encouraged to bring any musical instruments: Brass, woodwind? Keyboard, percussion? All types of guitars? Harmonica, accordion, didgeridoo? Whatever was sitting around their house.  

I can’t remember the entire inventory of instruments but I know there was at least one electric guitar, an acoustic guitar, bass guitars, tambourine, Connor’s red conga drum.
I think 2 year old Colton was trying to play the cat like a bagpipe but Smudge was having none of that.

During my little two song set, we were a trio. You know, just like Rush. Bassist, guitarist & drummer. I really only know one song pretty well: Come Together (Beatles). And, of the limited number of songs that I kind of know, we played No Such Thing (John Mayer).

Two songs. Thank you! Thank you very much.
Although I did add my vocals later, to a little ditty by John Cougar Mellencamp Cougar.

In spite of the fact that we aren’t ready for the studio and we have yet to name our band, it was a blast. I just banged the drums with a death grip on the sticks, hoping the other two of our trio knew what we were doing and played really loud. 

It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. However, we also were not as smooth as I’d hoped we’d be. We were a little muddy and rough.  I’m trying to surrender that perfectionist thing.

As I look back, the satisfaction of playing at the party wasn’t so much about playing to an audience, although that was a blast. But instead the experience of playing with others. That's where the real thrill turned out to be. What I’d like to do more of. That was the part that felt particularly brave on Saturday.
Perhaps the lesson I’ve learned with this 2nd New Thing is that some of the 50 Things will be self-contained, no learning curve needed but just the value of the experience. For other New Things, it will be a one-time event because the activity was great but won’t necessarily click with my spirit. And still other New Things will be the beginning of something. That’s how it is with the drums. I believe fully that this was just the first time I will play with other musicians. Learning to ‘jam’ starts somewhere. For me, the first How-to class was at my birthday party. 

Colin, Eph, Bryan, Ciara, Jax, T and others may not know it yet but I’m already making plans for future sessions. Not waiting for another family occasion but for the music gathering alone. We were quite sloppy and disorganized but every one of us had a great time and lots of laughs.
Next time, we’ll print up the lyrics. "Feet down below his knees..." "Groovin' up slowly..." And Rolling In The Deep by Adele.  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

1st NewThing ~ "Lean Into It"

I can be a bit chatty. Especially when there’s something I’m excited about. 

I’ve been talking about the 50 New Things to those in my immediate vicinity for a couple weeks. The idea and energy was in place but I wanted to wait until I turned 50 to begin.

People had questions. Helpful suggestions.

“Do you know what all 50 things are going to be?”

“Are you going to sky dive?”

“Have you ever gone mountain climbing?”

“Base jumping?”

“You could go to Spain and run with the bulls!”

Apparently these are the ‘friends’ who would like to see me dead.

“I can teach you to knit.” Whew, finally someone who loves me!

I am regularly asked, “What kinds of things are on your list?”

One of my first answers is, “I’ve never been to another country.”

“Not even Canada?”

“Well, once in high school, I drove across the border and came right back, just so I could ‘say’ I’d been to Canada.’ But doesn’t really count, does it.” Rhetorical question.

When Justin agreed to take me for a ride on his bike, I wanted to put him out as little as possible. He was doing a nice thing for this acquaintance at work, just so she could say she’d been on a Harley.

We hadn’t talked about the length of the outing. I envisioned a ten or fifteen minute ride around the blocks surrounding the administrative building. What is this tendency I have to aim so low? I was doing the exact thing I’d done in high school. Crossing the border so I could ‘say’ that I had.

Now here I was......again. A quick bike trip so I could ‘say’ I’d ridden on a Harley Davidson? Fortunately for me, I had stumbled upon someone’s passion. A short lap around a couple blocks? Where’s the fun in that?

With each New Thing, it’s my goal to gather a story, a lesson and a picture.

Friday: July 27, 2012

It had been years since I’d been on a motorcycle. 
“I’m a little nervous. Excited but nervous,” I said while we were strapping on our helmets. 
Justin said he’s always excited before he rides. And he’s been riding since he was a kid. Following his father’s love of bikes. And still it’s a rush for him. Every single time. 

The ride on the 2003 Harley Davidson Sportster Custom was so cool. There’s some poetic description for you. The coolest thing. Riding on the back of that bike, it was impossible for my thoughts to be anywhere but completely in the moment. There was no thinking about items I needed to add to a grocery list. Or that my skirt was flying behind me in the wind. It was intensely sensory.

The world sounds, smells, feels different when you’re moving 50, 60 miles an hour and not insulated by the protection and isolation of a car.

The rumble of the bike itself. There is nothing like the sound of a Harley. Turns my head.

The smell of a freshly mowed lawn, someone’s post season fireworks, the truck load of landscape bark in front of us.

The temperature of the air much cooler on one road than on another. Breathing is a different exercise when wind is hitting your face so hard. There were moments when the experience was so moving that it brought me to tears but the instant they spilled from my eyes they were gone with the rush of the wind.

My face hurt from smiling. It was amazing. It was. And I kept saying it. Yelling, over the rumble.

“This is amazing. Thank you so much.”

“What?” he yelled back over his shoulder.

“This is the coolest thing!!” 

I didn’t ask Justin how many times I failed to lean into the curve of a turn. He was too polite to correct me.

I lost all track of time. I got off the bike and couldn’t even guess how long we’d been out. And frankly I was quite disappointed to find myself walking again. Back on two feet. It was a letdown.

Turns out we’d been riding for over an hour!!  

The token of ‘Thanks!’ I handed Justin at the end was not enough. There’s a scene in Big Bang Theory, I’m reminded of. “Sheldon, what did you do?” “I know, it isn’t enough, is it?” I felt this.

He said I needn’t have given him anything and I believed him. He just loves riding. But I believe in gratitude as a spiritual practice. For me, it’s a sin to keep it inside.

After the ride, I couldn’t start writing about it soon enough. I grabbed the nearest note card, sat in my car in the parking lot making short-hand scribbly marks as fast as I could think. Two of the more important bullet points being: 
Are there leather chaps in my future? And  I didn’t eat a single bug.

I can do more than just ‘say’ I’ve ridden on a Harley. I can tell you all about it. There is a world of difference. This was a great lesson to learn on my first of the 50 New Things.