Tuesday, October 23, 2007

So I Said I Wanted To Write...

I am continually surprised and encouraged by the way that, if I am listening, the Universe is constantly answering my questions, or offering me advice, or just plain looking out for me.

Ah. So I said Universe again. I could have said Universal Love, or God, or God's Love, or the Inimitable Life Force, or Great Spirit. What my heart feels when I use Universe is majestic, magnificent, wide-open and ever-increasing spaciousness. The amazing Consciousness that we all inhabit as Sentient Beings. In other words, all that Is. The Great I AM. But I digress.

Just yesterday, I told a friend that I had signed up for the NaNoWriMo challenge (National Novel Writing Month) of 50,000 words, in the shape of a novel, in 30 days. I told her that I'd had lots of "book ideas" and lots of ideas about what writing is or could be in my life, but that I'd never felt confident enough to really start anything.

Fear monkeys. You know. (Remember this one?)

So this collaborative frenzy of writing takes the pressure off...AND gives you a deadline. You basically just write. Fast and Furious: Imagination Drift, as it were. No pressure. (ha!)

But seriously.

And if you are able to write the 50,000 words, you upload the scrambled file to their servers' counting machine and it pronounces you a winner and you get a certificate! Neato, right?

When all is said and done, you don't even have to let anyone else read it, let alone publish it. And edit the thing? Foggeddaboudit! You don't ever even look at it again if'n ya don't wanna. You just have to let your guard down and allow your creative mind to let loose and write.

So, I also told my friend that I'd heard, here and there, throughout the years, that all you have to do is "write what you know." You see, I've wanted to do science fiction in the past and quit because I thought I had to do all my research first and then write. Well, the serendipitous part of this digressive tale happened today at lunch while I read my Writer's Digest magazine. (This is the magazine I get in the mail without ever having asked for or paid for it, to my knowledge. One day, it just started coming. Go figure!)

The writer of the article, "Falling Down the Rabbit Hole," said that only writing what you know can limit the writer to her "conscious mind...stuck in the straightjacket of [her] conscious perception of reality. This is totally contradictory to creativity, which by definition brings into existence that which hasn't been before. Your experiences can be a jumping-off point for your writing, but the key is to not be a slave to the known."

That was a useful clarification for me, but in addition to another article in the same magazine that discussed the tandem efforts of the left and right brain during the writing process, I felt like the Universe had given me a pep talk and then winked at me. So I listened to much of the advice in this issue with the focus: "Get Creative Now: How To Fuel Your Writing." And I thought, "Yes. I am doing the right (write?) thing by signing up for this novel marathon session."

It's good to feel like your on the true path, right?

So I have this germ of an idea that is a deep, dark and hidden idea. I've thought about it before but the artistic censor in my mind says, "Don't you dare! You write that and you'll be putting a pseudonym on that puppy if, and I mean IF, anyone even wants to publish that rubbish!" (Yeah, my censor is gooooooood at what it does!)

But now, picture me all squinty-eyed, with a set jaw, staring down the censor like it's "Church Lady," a comic character I can almost laugh at, saying, "You dare me? Are you talking to me? Yeah? Well just you watch. Say hello to my little friend, this novel idea, see. I'm gonna make it happen. You watch. You'll see."

So. Am I determined? You bet. Am I scared? You bet. But I'm ready inside in a way I haven't been before. Because it's all for me. You may never read what I write next month, but that's ok. It's the writing that matters most. To me.

I'm ready to write for myself! And that makes me proud. YAY!! It feels great to know you're growing and to know that Universe is right there on your side when you decide to say YES to the desires of your heart. And that's SUCH a good feeling.

(Even though I'll be writing 2,000+ words a day for myself, I'm guessing I'll still have things to say about the process at the very least, so I'll keep you posted!)

In parting, I share this quotation with you to remind myself again of the truth about writing (I used to tell this to my writing students too...it was SO encouraging to me to hear this from a writer I truly admire!) :

All first drafts are shit. You must allow yourself to fail. You only write a first draft in order to have something to revise. ~Ernest Hemingway

© Nicole J. Williams, 2007, all rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What's Behind Those Six-Pack Abs (Literally)?

Just wanted to share a fitness tidbit with you today.

So I'm in that weight training class that's mostly cardio, right? Well today we went through a practice run of the weight training fitness test. (Thank goodness we did the practice cardio fitness test first...my muscles are on the wimpy side when it comes to these "norms" that are expected of us!)

There are four tests for women: bench press (55lbs.), lat. pull (50lbs.), arm curls (25lbs.), and sit-ups (incline bench). For all of you who read that and thought, "Yeah, and?" I congratulate you on your physical prowess! For the rest of you out there groaning along with me, let me tell ya, I'm groaning the loudest right about now.

I did all but arm curls today. And the repetition "norms" for a woman of my weight (142lbs.) are as follows: bench press (13 reps), lat. pull (23 reps), arm curls (21 reps), and sit-ups (26 reps). For those able to meet the norm, an 80% grade awaits. That's right folks. To get an "A" in this category, one must exceed (and how) the average number. But enough complaining. Really, looking at it now, away from the gym, it doesn't seem quite so bad I suppose. But keep in mind that there is no age adjustment for these norms, only weight. Ok, I think I'm finally finished whining!

So the thing I wanted to share with you specifically related to the sit-ups. I did ten, People, ok? But what I noticed again is that my abs tend to bunch up in a ball when I do sit-ups, and I know that's not good, so I wondered about the physiology of that phenomenon. And then I wondered what effects my "classical" or longitudinal c-section might be having on my AB-ilities.

That sent me off to the library for some online research. I started with the effects of the c-section on the abs and came across a published and lauded professional who suggested that crunches can actually distend the abdominal muscles because they only work the rectus abdominus, or the long muscle extending between the ribs and the pubic bone, aka. the "six-pack" muscle (yes, it's one, big, long muscle). And even working overtime on the obliques (side muscles) isn't enough to offset the pouchy look!

Apparently, there is a much more important group of muscles that lie deeper and are responsible for flattening the abdomen—the transversus abdominus (and less so, the lumbar multifidi). These muscles are often ignored, or at least undertrained. And one thing I have learned in my weight training class is that if you're going to train one set of muscles, you must equally train those muscles which perform the equal and opposite movement.

For example, if you train your hamstrings, you must also be sure to train your quadriceps—the idea being that the muscles work to move the bones at the joint and that the motion goes in both directions. An imbalance in the muscles causes instability in the joint, and instability is the "bad word" when it comes to physical fitness. Now there's no joint in your abdoment, of course, but there is a push-pull relationship between the outer abs and the inner ones.

So not only do these hidden abdominal muscles stabilize the lower abdomen and back, but they also (especially the transversus abdominus) cinch the waistline and pull in the gut. And the basic exercises for this inner group are isometric, meaning that you hold a static, or unmoving, position and then release, so they are somewhat "easier."

Perusing ten or so websites related to exercising these muscles, I saw the repeated recommendation to cease the other ab exercises, like crunches and sit-ups, for 4-6 weeks in order to allow the underdeveloped muscles to catch up, thus creating a much greater strength and stability, and possibly even reducing the waistline in the process (sources say percent body fat in the region contributes to exterior evidence of the effectiveness of these exercises)!!

The really cool thing is that you can do the most basic of the exercises even while driving, and I do an awful lot of driving!

If you're interested in the one easy exercise, click here, or if you'd like a range of exercises with a suggested program, click here. But please remember that old addage: before beginning a new exercise program, do consult with your trusted health practioner. I am only sending you off on your own research starting point by providing these particular links. Always do what's best for you, ok?

I'll keep you updated, so if you'd like to wait and see if it really works, I volunteer to be your guinea pig!

Keep smiling!

© Nicole J. Williams, 2007, all rights reserved.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Food for Thought

Ok, so I know it's a cliche, but it's all I could come up with at the moment that the little box labelled "title" beckoned to be filled. I think we'll survive it.

So for the past few days I've been thinking a lot about what I eat and trying to decide if anyone cared or if there was some larger significance to my thoughts dwelling on what I was ingesting. You'll have to let me know if you care or not, and I will write a while and see if there is, in fact, any larger significance to my recent preponderance of mental energies. (Overly dramatic words are fun sometimes, ya know?)

I guess I recently started thinking about food even more because I had to think up something new to eat for breakfast. You see, I eat eggs just about every day for breakfast, and have for several years (lets say four) because I am pretty much useless if I don't have a significant amount of protein for breakfast.

Now before you start thinking, "But eggs have so much cholesterol!" let me assure you that my cholesterol levels are fine and I have no issues there. Actually, eggs, like avocados, have gotten a bad rap in this country for being "bad for you." Well. The people who say things like that get paid to keep you sick and pumped full of pharmaceuticals, so be careful who you listen to.

But if we weigh all traditional breakfast protein items, eggs, in my book, win every time. Think about it...what do we eat (in America) for breakfast protein? Sausage. Bacon. (This order is based on the Southern pecking order to which I am now completely accustomed.) Oh, and ham or Canadian bacon. Did I miss anything? Compared to pork, fatty pork, or fatty salty pork, eggs come out on top, right?

The other problem with people eating eggs is that most people have trouble eating eggs without cheese (based on my observations). In fact, most people eat their eggs in breakfast sandwiches from fast food restaurants (eggs plus super fatty fake cheese--partially hydrogenated vegetable oil patties is more like it--and gobs of bread) or in huge omelettes busting out with other meats (see above, oh yeah, and add cheeeeese!). I guarantee that if you ate two eggs cooked in virgin olive oil with only spices, fresh herbs, or vegetables in, on, or next to them, you would be fine--assuming you didn't already have cholesterol issues (and I mostly say that because I don't want anyone to die from listening to me).

But I suppose that's only for those folks who are useless without protein for breakfast and not everyone is like that, so this may only be trivia for those type of folks.

But as I was saying, I was tired of two eggs for breakfast, which I most often have with fruit, and so I went on a mental quest to find another source of protein. Well, we eat grown-up chickens A LOT for lunch and dinner, so chicken was definitely out of the question. And beef is rarely on the menu at all, so that wasn't making the list either. What does that leave? You guessed it! FISH!

So my oldest daughter and I (the younger one reports she's one of those people who doesn't need protein for breakfast) experimented with "breakfast fish."

Like I said, I usually eat fruit with my protein and I've tried fish with fruity sauces and toppings before, so that was my logical conclusion: fish with fruit. That week at the grocery store, there just so happened to be the most appealing family-size packages of tilapia sitting in the refrigerated case. I thought, Hmm. Never noticed that before. It must be fate. Back at home, looking through the pantry, I came across the jar of Harry & David Sweet Mango Chutney (they don't make it anymore!) I'd been saving for just such a fortuitous occasion. And so it was settled. Fresh tilapia with mango chutney it was.

I pan-cooked my fish in a large, glass-covered skillet, lightly coated with virgin olive oil, on medium heat. When the fish was halfway cooked, I slathered the thick, sticky chutney on the tops of the fillets and continued cooking until it was white and flaky (in total, about 15-20 minutes). Voila! Breakfast fish. Of course, I could eat this fish at any time of the day, but it goes down nice and easy in the morning with that fruity flavor.

Did I mention that my oldest daughter doesn't care for fish but she will eat this with a smile? Mmm-hmm, it's THAT good. We liked it so much, we ate breakfast fish probably eight out of the last ten school days. And that frees me up to have boiled eggs for lunch!

Well this turned into a long musing on fish, and I still have other food on my mind, but I guess that's good enough for now. And I would have to say then that the larger significance may only be that same message that keeps coming out of me in different forms: start with something you love.

You can't stick to the humdrum routines and find joy in your life. Sometimes you just have to break out and break it down to your own personal basics. You need a diet? Start with the food you love...well, the food you love that you know is good for you anyway, capiche? Who knows what you'll be eating for breakfast when you choose from the list of what you like and what feels good rather than just the "acceptable" list of breakfast foods.

All this talk about food is making me hungry...and I've got two more hours before lunch. Oh yeah, and my lunch is boiled eggs, so you know what that means. I ate breakfast fish today.

Hey, let me know if the subject of food is as interesting to you as it is to me, ok? I love food. Eating is one of my all-time favorite things to do, but it may not be the best thing to write about. I'm willing to accept that.

Have a great day and eat something you love that is good for you! You'll be happy that you did.

© Nicole J. Williams, 2007, all rights reserved.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Standing on a Hill of Diamonds, Looking for the Gold Mine

We say "diamonds are forever" and "worth your weight in gold" so it's no wonder that when I first read the line that I have taken and used as my title for today, I just didn't get it.

I thought it was a win-win kind of thing. There you are, standing on all that long-lasting stuff, like building your house upon the rock, setting your sights on the gold—of accomplishment, of experience, and yeah, sure, of value.

Nope. Unh-uh.

What Anne Wilson Shaef, author of the daily devotional Women Who Do Too Much, says is that we don't see the forest for the trees. In other words, we go striving for what we already have, yet fail to recognize. So in this particular case, she suggests that, all things being equal—like diamonds and gold—we tend to go searching for the mere hopes of finding the richness we, in fact, already possess to excess. It's easy to see that a hill of diamonds is a ready resource of measurable proportions, whereas rooting around for a gold mine which would then require extraction efforts, in the face of the guaranteed fortune in front of us, would be a titanic waste of time, energy, and life itself.

It reminded me of what I said the other day about not being consciously aware of the magnitude of the gift of the human body, mind, and spirit. It's a hill of diamonds we stand on quite frequently, looking off into the distance to find those perfect accessories to go with it. Face it, we all do it. We ask ourselves, "What good is it to be trapped in this body if I can't have/do/be that?"

Ok, now I'm not saying that we can't take our human organism out for a drive and see what she can do. No, what I'm seeing as the distinction is that yearning that we beat ourselves up with. The literal, "What good is it?" The idea that what we have right now isn't good enough and what's the point anyway? It's the difference between following the joy and the passion in your heart and being driven by wild desire (or being driven wild by desire) for something that seems unreachable--but that's either because we expect perfection or we want instant gratification, or both!

I'll use myself as an example.

I love to dance. Now, at 37 years of age, I take dancing lessons. (You hear the judgment already, right?) And boy is it ever easy to sit back and watch people who have been dancing for five, ten, or even twenty years or more and think, "Well heck, I kinda suck! Will I ever learn this stuff so I can dance as effortlessly as they seem to?" (Or forget watching...try dancing with an experienced partner and having these thoughts come racing in when you inevitably flub it up!)

But if all I focus on is the end result and I allow myself to be discouraged because I don't have it right at this instant, then I miss out on the joy of dancing now. The fact is, I dance like someone who has been taking lessons for less than a year. And that's the truth...it's just a matter of fact. I have to allow for the journey. Right?

Repeat after me: "Life is the journey, not the destination." (Have we all heard this enough times now that it's about as "out of the box" as that worn out tag line itself?)

And I have to say that I dance much better when I don't think about doing it perfectly but rather let myself feel the dance...to be the dancer, dancing. (And I won't even get started on how my golf swing improves when I just do it!)

But it's so easy to forget the diamonds under the soles of our shoes (I nod to Paul Simon) as we trudge behind the pillar of clouds in the distance that always remain in the distance. The secret to loving the heck out of our lives is to live them right now. To find the perfection in each moment. To just "be" our way along the path.

That's what we're really looking for anyway. The hill of diamonds is there for us whenever we live right from where we are at any given moment. It's not out there in a land far, far away. It's here. And now.

Still not sure what that means? It's taken me a good ten years or so to really understand this idea for myself. Now I'm in the practicing phase. Are you practicing?

On that note, I would like to share a quotation with you from one of my favorite inspirational authors, Mr. Mike Dooley:

Live your dreams now, to any degree that you can. With every purchase. Every decision. Every hello and goodbye. Every assignment. Every conversation. Every meal. Every morning, afternoon and evening. And never, ever, ever look back.


Go on.

Do it now, and have FUN!!! :))

© Nicole J. Williams, 2007, all rights reserved.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

In Awe of the Human Organism

Today I decided that I want to track all kinds of steps I make on my journey. I want this blog to become more of a journal of my emerging life of well-roundedness.

In other words, I'm going to get out of my head every now and again and tell you what I'm doing and not just what I'm thinking!

So today was an amazing day for me because I had a physical epiphany that went something like this...

My weight training class includes a cardio fitness test at the end of the semester that could be one of three specific tests: a 3 mile walk, a 10 mile (I think) stationary cycle ride, or a one and a half mile run/walk. Any of these needs to be completed within an acceptable amount of time according to a chart which varies based on age alone. Certain times also fall within certain letter grade levels.

I chose the one and a half mile run for my fitness test, and, of course, I wanted to run it in the "A" range, even though I am not being graded. Competing against averages and my "potential" according to the chart is ok, right? At any rate, I wanted to run, and I wanted to run fast enough for a gold star.

Now I chose the run because I love to run. My abilities before the class began, and my penchant for cigarettes, would have said otherwise, but the spirit of the child within me adores it. When I was a young girl, I ran and ran and ran. In elementary school (4th-6th grades in particular), my friend and I were the fastest runners and we would play "chase" with the fastest boys and routinely outrun them--for a while at least. And, back then, neighborhood tag was the out of school game of choice and we just ran EVERYWHERE! The wind was always in my hair, and cooling off my overly red cheeks (the Irish in me perhaps?). When I was running, I was happy, and when I was happy, I was running. And since then, most of the happy dreams I've had at night while sleeping involved running just for the pure joy of it.

So that's why I chose running. And I also quit smoking and told myself I would run instead. I didn't know how, after all these years, but I just knew I wanted to run again.

The very first week of classes, we went out to the track for our initial practice run...not even the full distance, but just to see where we were. Now, setting aside the fact that on that day there was at least a 100% humidity level in addition to a temperature above 90 degrees, I could not run one time around the quarter mile track. I don't even think I made it halfway. I'd quit smoking less than two weeks before that day and I could feeeeeeeel it. Ouch.

So it's been approximately five weeks since then and we went out today for a full practice run. The weather was fabulous--for us here in tropical Texas anyway. It was just under 90 degrees, and the humidity was more like 50% (aaahhhhh!) and there was even a BREEZE! It was lovely! And I was ready! I'd been practicing on the treadmill ever since that first day of doomed running. Two days ago I had run a mile in less than twelve minutes, and I could feel the power rising up gradually even from just the week before. But I was worried that running outside would slay me because the treadmill felt so much easier.

You must know that good news is coming...you did read the title after all, right? :)

Ok. So I'm totally proud of myself today because I ran the whole mile and a half (no walking) in just under fifteen minutes! YAY!!!! And yes, dear readers, that is in the "A" range! Woohoo!

I was amazed that my body had come so far so fast. I observed a moment of silence, when I could breathe quietly again, apologizing to my body and saying a prayer for having abused myself for so long with cigaretts. And then I thought, "Look what I can do in six weeks' time!"

Now it's not like I'm running marathons or anything, but I would venture to guess that I have not run a mile and a half straight since before puberty. Not even in track that one spring in tenth grade when I tried to be athletic and ended up with shin splints that were so debilitating that I quit. And when I did run, briefly, for the team, I was a sprinter...fast, but not for long. So I feel like I have a whole new body and I'm almost forty!

My next goal is to do a 5K. Unfortunately, I can't make it to the Run for the Cure race this Saturday because I have golf class, but maybe the next one in town. (There's always a 5K in town!)

But truly, this accomplishment, for me, is the kind of thing in life that can change it forever. I mean, I'm just not the same person I was six weeks ago. Taking care of myself from the inside out gives me such a feeling of strength and perseverance. I had the thought afterwards that we just don't realize how fortunate we all are. We could have nothing but the skin on our bones, and yet we would still have so much!

The human organism, not just the body, but the whole package of mind, body, and spirit, is an outrageously fantastic gift that we each possess. And we have complete freedom over how we will utilize that total package. Think about it. Nothing you could buy is as intricately designed, created, or functioning as the body you inhabit for your whole life. Even on a bad day, or with limited functionality and/or resources, we are all just miracles of life itself inhabiting the earth.

So yeah, today I'm just in complete and total awe of the human organism, and I can't wait to see what I can do with myself next!


© Nicole J. Williams, 2007, all rights reserved.