Sunday Picture Show (Keeping Afloat)

I’d typically be calling this my Photography Friday post, but since I’m two days late, we’re trying something new. This week’s Photo Challenge prompt is to share photos that exemplify what “afloat” means to us, and I’ve taken quite a few lately…

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My workouts at Iron Tribe can be a bit intense, but I love every minute of it. Even better than feeling strong and capable is the fact that a hard workout every day keeps me happy and relaxed. These are the blisters on my right hand after a kettlebell workout earlier this week.

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My Isabel. I love my cats – there’s nothing like having a good cuddle after a hard day, though Izzy isn’t prone to being that affectionate unless it’s bedtime. When I was sick and feeling miserable last week, she came and napped with me on the couch.

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One of my favorite things to do is walk around New Orleans and take photos of the things that capture my attention. Street art never fails to captivate and stir my imagination. I take a lot of photos of cool graffiti around town, but this one struck my fancy last week. Let me find out, indeed.

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Small details help keep me grounded (or afloat, whichever turn of phrase you prefer). I love that looking for little things helps keep me mindful and “in the moment”, and while I’m walking around town, I try to capture these moments in photos if possible. This is a shot I took of water droplets collecting on a newly painted front stoop the other day. I loved how the water was pooling, and was pretty satisfied with the colors of the shot in the end. The stoop was a brilliant shade of teal, but the shadows gave a purple sheen.

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The idea that I’ll be leaving for the Camino in six months is definitely keeping me sane and happy. I walk to and from work (about 2 miles) each day, and on the way to work, I cross over Spain Street. Each time that I notice the street sign, I can’t help but be reminded of how lucky I am, and how amazing it’s going to be to finally get my boots on the ground in Spain this October.

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You, you amazing man. I don’t know how I made it this long without you in my life. You’re everything I’ve been looking for for all this time. Thank you for making me so much stronger, and giving me the strength to realize that I didn’t need a man in my life to be complete – but having the right one could make everything that much sweeter. You make me laugh, you make me think, and you’ve helped me make myself whole. Your encouragement and faith have pushed me to new heights as a person, and I only hope that I can return the favor. I love you.

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Photography Friday: Rewards

Today’s photo challenge at the Daily Post is to show what “reward” means to us. It turns out that I’ve taken a few photos over the course of the last few weeks that exemplify the term in various ways. Looking back through them has made me realize how easily I forget the simple pleasures encountered every day. I tend to notice details, and love the little scenes captured on my walks through New Orleans (and elsewhere), but it would be nice to hold on to the feeling of discovering these vignettes in my heart, rather than having to be reminded by looking back over my Instagram page.

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I walk through the French Quarter every day, and often pass a little art gallery full of really cool/creepy art. Every now and then there’s a cat sitting in the window, along with the artwork. Each time I pass, I look for the cat, and when I see her I’m always happy. It feels like a privilege, somehow; she’s so regal.

The other part of the story that makes this an even better reward is that you can’t see it in this photo, but the cat’s other ear is docked at the tip. In New Orleans, when feral cats are part of the catch and release program (where they’re caught, spayed/neutered, then released), they get one ear docked. This tells me that this gorgeous girl was once living on the streets, but has since become the queen of her own art gallery. Pretty sweet rags to riches story.

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I love looking for good new graffiti, no matter what city I’m in. Thus far, my all-time favorite street art has been in Venice, but New Orleans’ scene isn’t too shabby. Our city attracts a lot of outside artists, including WRDSMTH, a Los Angeles-based writer/painter who’s been posting awesome stuff like this typewriter and message around town for awhile. This popped up in my neighborhood, and every time I look at it I end up laughing. So I guess that the reward is two-fold for this photo, as well. First finding it, then getting to laugh over and over.

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This shot was taken on Lundi Gras night (the night before Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday), down by the Mississippi River. I was with friends, just hanging out, and we didn’t know that there were going to be fireworks. This was a great reward for me because I really hadn’t felt like leaving my house that day, despite (or maybe because of) the celebration that was going on. I adore fireworks, so getting to see them was like a little “thank you” from the Universe for just pushing myself to lighten up a bit and go have fun.

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While in Chicago last week, I decided (quite stupidly) to walk from the restaurant where I’d just had dinner, all the way to the nearest movie theater. A distance of about a mile and a half isn’t bad in decent weather, but when it’s 10 degrees out and you’re not at all accustomed to that kind of cold, it’s just a crappy idea to try to do it on foot. But I did, and it all worked out just fine. Still got all of my digits. Bonus: it was beautiful and quiet out, didn’t meet very many people on the way, and every now and then a scene like this would present itself.

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This is the least exciting photo, but my favorite. I took it last night; it’s the parking garage that sits behind my gym. I had a good workout, then left the gym to see that the parking garage was looking really nice with the contrast of streetlights and night sky. Sometimes I feel like being allowed to notice and appreciate beauty in such mundane things is its own reward. The fact that it showed up after a particularly good night of working out was just that much sweeter.

The Transformation Challenge

I'm so excited - my gym is actually getting special Mardi Gras shirts made. Totally geeking out over this one :-D

I’m so excited – my gym is actually getting special Mardi Gras shirts made. Totally geeking out over this one 😀

It’s 10 days into the Transformation Challenge at my gym, Iron Tribe, and quite unexpectedly, I’m loving it. The challenge is, well, challenging, but also pretty simply laid out, in my opinion. From January 5th to February 13th, participants eat a strict paleo diet and work out up to 5 times a week at the gym. There are two competitions that are running concurrently: a weight loss division, and a performance division. I’m in the weight loss division, obviously.

There’s a point system for determining the winner. It’s a little complicated, so I won’t break it down entirely, but it includes points for working out in certain amounts, points for keeping a detailed food/water/sleep/exercise journal, points for completing a goal setting course, and points for each .2% of fat lost over the course of the challenge. The prizes are HUGE. First place winner gets a $200 gift certificate to Whole Foods (some of you might recognize it as Whole Paycheck), a free month at the gym, a free week of paleo food from Inner Fire Grill (yum), an entire free outfit from Lululemon, and a free 80 minute massage. Second place gets $150 at Whole Foods, $50 at a nearby restaurant, and a free month at the gym. Third gets $100 at Whole Foods and a great supplements package. I’m in it to win it, so I’m visualizing myself in a brand new Lululemon getup 😀

I'm coveting these awesome Lululemon pants.

I’m coveting these awesome Lululemon pants.

The awful thing: I had my body fat measured (by caliper) at the beginning of the challenge, and it came in at 43.1%. Meaning that at 5’7″ and 194.8 lbs, I was/am obese. I don’t look it – I mean, I know I’ve put on a little weight in my butt and thighs, and my boobs are bigger (how can that be a bad thing, you ask) but overall I don’t look like I weigh what I weigh. I’ve only gone up one pants size, even with all the additional weight I’ve put on over the last year or so – but “obese” put the fear of god in me. So I’ve been taking this thing seriously. And it hasn’t been hard. That’s the part that’s blowing my mind.

I’m at the gym daily, lifting weights or doing whatever the WOD is that day. I walk to and from work/the gym from my house, and then anywhere else I have to go, so I’m typically walking between 5 and 9 miles a day. I ran a 5k on Saturday morning, and went to my first yoga class in ages on Monday night. And I’ve been eating clean – all organic, no processed food, sugar, wheat, dairy, legumes, alcohol or sodas. You’d think I’d be losing my shit by now, not having a single slice of pizza or sip of wine, but overall I just feel…good. Just good. Not great. Not more focused. Not suddenly insightful or whatever it is that people always proclaim when they’ve found the diet to end all diets. Maybe that’s because it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle. It’s something that will sustain me for the long term, and the longer I go, the better I’ll feel. I’m pretty certain I’ve still got some thyroid stuff going on, especially with the recent struggle with depression, and that’s definitely going to take some of the “high” out of whatever impact this change is having on me. But overall, “good” is much, much better than what I’d been living with prior to starting this new lifestyle. And it’s easy. For the first time in my life, I’ve found a way to eat that doesn’t have me sad and craving constantly. I think I’ll keep doing it.

It’s having other effects, too. As of today, 10 days in, I’ve lost 7.2 lbs. I’m still too heavy, and I have a LONG way to go to get to my goal weight of 145 lbs, but that’s nothing new. But suddenly I feel like it’s not farfetched to picture myself finally wearing a bikini this summer, or trying out a miniskirt before I get too old to wear one (I’ve been dying to try out a TOS Star Trek uniform – yes, I’m a geek).

That's one nearly non-existent skirt you've got there, Uhura.

That’s one nearly non-existent skirt you’ve got there, Uhura.

I think that maybe part of feeling so relaxed about this is from the work I’ve been doing with that book, Beautiful You. Once I get home tonight, I’ll tackle the next chapter.

So what are you doing lately that makes you proud of yourself, internet friends? I’d love to hear about it. Leave me a comment, or direct me to your latest blog post about your achievements. I’d be more than happy to help you celebrate!

The Fine Art Of Buckling Down

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I’m starting something new tomorrow, and I’m a little scared. After years of repeated (failed) attempts to eat the right foods and exercise on a regular schedule, I’ve decided it’s time to make the changes I’ve known I should make all along. A few days ago, I took the leap and joined up with a chain gym called Iron Tribe. Those of you who know me well will know that the name doesn’t thrill me, and that the thought of being a person connected to a close-knit team of fitness nuts (as the words “iron tribe” suggest to me, anyway) would have, up until now at least, made me want to puke a little. But I’ve got a friend who’s in the program and making incredible progress, and since our personality types are pretty similar – anxious workaholics with a taste for booze and Italian food – I figured I’d give it a shot.

The first month is a 101 program. My class will always be the same group of people, all newbies, all learning how to lift weights and do exercises and follow a Paleo diet plan. We’ll meet three days a week, and I should (hopefully) “graduate” on the day before my birthday. From what I’ve read, it’s realistic to think that I could be around 10 lbs. lighter by then, and from what I’ve seen in my friend who’s in the course, I’ll also be much calmer, which would be lovely.

After the 101 class, I’ll move into a four day a week program with the people I’m calling “gen pop” – everyone who’s passed 101 in the past. It’s a little like the kind of thing that people generally do in crossfit gyms – weight training and endurance exercises – but with a much stronger relationship between the trainers and members, and very small groups, so there’s lots of one-on-one with the trainers. Best of all, they promise results as long as you work out at least three days a week and stick to their recommended diet. If you haven’t shown improvement in a few months, they’ll let you out of your contract and refund your fees.

So. There we are. As of 7:30 in the morning (so damn early!), I’ll be sweating my butt off at the gym. Man, I really hope this sticks. Wish me luck at this, guys. I need it.

My Heart Is A Drum

Anna Singing, by Crista Rock

Singing with my last band.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my passions lately. It’s gradually been dawning on me that I never do any of the things I love most, and I’m trying to figure out why that is. First and foremost on my list is making music, followed closely by writing, with watercolor painting and paper crafting following immediately behind. Dancing and running fall in there somewhere, though I can’t figure out if I like either more or less than origami. The hitch is that I do none of these on a regular basis. Why? My fear of failure, which at this point is appearing to be near-crippling, if I’m forcing myself to look at all of the things I avoid doing just because I don’t think I’ll excel at them.

I’ve taken lessons in piano, guitar, conga and basic percussion, as well as many years of voice. Not much ended up sticking with me; in fact, the only music I still make on a fairly frequent basis is a karaoke night. I love to sing. I want to do it professionally – always have. But I can’t read music (after multiple music theory classes – the terminology has never made enough sense to get stuck in my brain in a way that I can regurgitate it at will) and that makes it almost impossible to create music with other musicians who “get” the terminology required. I only know what sounds good, and can generally learn/remember an entire tune and cadence within a couple of attempts, then move on to harmony, so working in a band has been easy-ish, but not easy enough. I’m also scared of being on stage, so that doesn’t help. It’s not stage fright, exactly – once I’m up there, it’s generally OK. It’s just that I don’t know what to do with myself when all eyes are on me, and if I start thinking about it too much, it’s like when you’re driving and suddenly think about what your feet are doing. If you’ve never done that, try not to – at least once each road trip, I think about which pedal does what and almost kill myself in the process.

The other musical thing I love, and have always wanted to do, is play percussion. I used to have a djembe that I adored, but couldn’t ever find a suitable place to practice without annoying the neighbors. I’ve taken hand drumming lessons, but only one session – just enough to learn to love it but not get good. I’ve always wanted a set of congas, but sometimes I think that I’m getting too old to start something that takes so many years to master. But maybe one day I’ll get rich and have time, and I’ll hire a conga instructor to teach me. I’d also be excited to learn the bodhran (a traditional Irish hand drum), or maybe the tabla (small Indian drums that make this wonderfully deep water-dropping “wub-wub” sound). My favorite instrument, though? The clave, a set of two sticks that you beat together for Latin music in 3/2 or 2/3 time. Simple, yet effective. Plus, I love 3/2 time. It’s what my feet would sing if they could 🙂

It’s time to start trying. I don’t know how just yet, but I do know that I’ve always had a deep interest in making magick when I sing, or with singing. So maybe I’ll tackle this from that angle. I can never be “wrong” if I’m doing it for the right reason – even if it’s just for myself at first (as all things must be, were I to be thinking about this logically). And of course, percussion is central to shamanic tradition, something that has long felt like my natural path. I’m starting to cry, a sure sign that I’m vibrating close to the right frequency right now. I’ve found my answer. Thanks for listening, constant readers. Much love.

 

(The Return of) Photography Friday! Murder Mystery Dinner Edition

It’s been awhile since my last installment of Photography Friday! – sorry about the delay. Since moving to my new neighborhood, I’ve been getting back into taking snapshots of my day, so I’m planning to get back into the habit of sharing my week in photos again on a regular basis.

First up, though, here are some fun snapshots from last night. As I’ve been mentioning here and there (OK, you’ve got me – everywhere) on the blog lately, I’ve gone through some pretty major life shifts in the past few months. One of those shifts involves making new friends. After a few years back in NOLA, feeling generally lonely and rather bored with most of my best girls scattered around the globe, I’m finally starting to get out and live a little. Weirdly enough, it turns out that once you leave your house, you tend to meet new people. Crazy, right? Of course, it doesn’t hurt when the new person in your life happens to have a ton of lovely friends who’re willing to adopt you as part of their pack. 🙂

Last night, accompanied by boyfriend and friends, I got to mark a longstanding goal off of my bucket list: attending a murder mystery dinner! The event was tons of fun, made even more so by the fact that our team ended up schooling everyone, solving two murders, and winning the Detective of the Night award. Not too shabby!

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One of our party, Glenn, was chosen to be a character in the murder mystery game – Sleezy McQueen, talent scout and all-around bad boy from the Bronx.

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Happier than I’ve been in a long time. ❤

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Alex and Fish make a great team when it comes to crime solving…as well as extortion.

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Looks like old Sleezy finally met his match in Angie…

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Brains and beauty…the guys really lucked out.

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Champions! That’s what happens when you get a group of geeks together on a Thursday night 🙂

A big thank you to Angie for letting me use all of her photos for this post, since I was too busy having fun to remember to take snapshots at dinner.

The Badge

We wear our Katrina stories like badges of honor. The rest of the world has moved on, and to the unskilled eye, it probably appears that most of us have, too. But no matter how successful we appear, we’re forever scarred. Fear hovers just below the surface, waiting to rear its ugly head at the least opportune times. Our lives were shattered, pieced back together, then put into this weird holding pattern that sometimes seems like it will never end.

We persist. What more is there? You’ve got to rebuild your house, find new clothes, start paying off bills, find a man, find a woman, find yourself. But at the end of the day, you’re still sitting in your motel room, jaw clenched, tears queuing at the corners of your eyes, watching that wall of water roll over everything you love. Your band will never play again. But how could it, when your heart hurts too much to sing?

Years later, and still we can’t help but wait for the other shoe to drop. Sure, we’ve got jobs, homes, friends. But that lost time just seems to stretch out before us. We’re getting older. We wander. We’ve made new families out of those who hear our stories, our fear reflecting back in their own dilated pupils.

We compensate. We rehash the funny bits of our evacuation stories, check and recheck mental lists of all our long-lost possessions, and cry into our whiskies every now and then, late at night, bathed in shadows at the end of the bar. Somewhere, Aretha still sings “Ain’t No Way” on the Banks Street jukebox. Our souls leak over our shoes. We tell our tales – sometimes stripped down, others embellished – to our drinking buddies over and over again. Talking makes it easier, but it doesn’t make it go away. Drinking only makes our skin thinner, brings the fear bubbling up.

On nights when our hearts beat faster, when the pain needles (or knives), when it seems stupid to keep going, our friends hold us. We tell our stories. We listen to theirs, all the while letting the two versions mingle and overlap. We try not to cry for lost time. We tell ourselves that this time, this is the time that makes all the difference. We vow to keep putting one foot ahead of the other. We stretch out our hands and make a human bridge, then wade into the world, blinded by fear and sorrow, waiting for love to soothe this grand lostness.

Then we laugh it off. We polish off our drinks, then polish up our badges with a wry smile. Wasn’t my story more dramatic than yours? You didn’t even have it that bad – at least you had your family. I have a friend who saw a dead baby floating out there, all alone.

No one bothers to mention that we’re all still floating. We’re all face-down and blue. What’s the use in stating the obvious?