Archives for posts with tag: pursuits

A few weeks ago, I voluntarily subjected myself to a fitness screening at the university where I recently found employment. I received a campus wide e-mail advertising the screenings, signed up quickly enough to avoid giving myself time to justify avoiding the offer (an attempt to follow through on the whole take-opportunities-for-self-betterment-as-they-come routine) and the next week was in a room with an Exercise Science grad student getting my pulse read.

The assessment was thorough. He took note of my height, weight, measurements (triceps, waist, hips, thighs), fat percentage via 3-caliper method, and resting heart rate. He then instructed me to get on a stationary bike and pedal while he slowly increased the resistance until I reached my pre-calculated optimal beats per minute, then charted how long it took me to recover. The whole assessment took about an hour. One week later, I went back for the results and to receive a personalized workout program based on my stated goals. I have to admit, I wasn’t really surprised by the assessment.

Survey says….

I’m pretty much average.

That’s right. Neither over nor underweight. Normal fat percentage for someone not considered active in the fitness spectrum (humph). Average BMI. Average vo2 max. Average stamina. Average ability. Workout plan intended for someone with average goals. If I were to get a grade, I suppose I would earn a C (sans grade inflation, of course).

Again, no surprise here. I do yoga fairly regularly, as all of you know, recently took up running now and then, kinda monitor my food intake (though the last week has been atrocious). Nothing I do would catapult me in one direction or the other. According to my current lifestyle, I’m looking at a lifetime of average.

And I’m not complaining.

I would say that I don’t mind averageness (yes, I am using a fake word). I have no ambitions for fitness glory or athletic prowess. While I do want to want to run, I have no longing to break the ribbon at a marathon. In fact, the first actual “race” I’m considering running is affectionally dubbed “5K-ish” because, really, it is a fun-mud-run. (I’m particularly looking forward to the prospect of jumping into a pool of mud at the end…) I don’t even know if they time the thing. I also don’t really care about my weight. I only ever vaguely know what a scale might read, and I’m only mildly cognizant of body fat levels and their impact.

I don’t say all this to come across as a braggart or give the impression of having achieved that ever sought self-contentment. I also don’t offer this window-into-me in a search for praise, false or otherwise. I offer all of this because, frankly, I don’t believe myself.

For some reason, I was a little bothered by my assessment results. Even though I had no reason to expect otherwise, I was a little deflated by being told what I already figured I knew. And I can say to your face without blinking that my disappointment didn’t stem from being told this information from someone else. I never have had issues with other people’s opinions, probably to a fault. (Just ask my college roommate turned sister-in-law. She lived through the worst manifestation of this trait. Yet, she still talks to me…Remarkable.) And it’s not that I would call myself a liar. I honestly expected to get the results I got, and honestly expected to be unfazed by said results.

Yet, here I sit, slightly bummed out. But I think this experience revealed something important, something necessary.

I started this year with a desire to find success with several, random goals. And so far I have. I have my official Skipper’s License (Licensed to Sail), am a certified yoga instructor working on my 200 hour RYT, and have recently fished out my Italian instruction stuffs.

But even all of these “successes” reveal a propensity for averageness.

I haven’t sailed since April, haven’t taught yoga since June, and am still wading in the sea of introductions in Italian. Even my pursuits into the whole foods, plant-based lifestyle are lukewarm at best. I watch the documentaries, do the research, get the cookbooks, remain convinced of the effectiveness of this lifestyle, preach plants, but am lucky if I maintain a plant-based program 50% of the time.

I shouldn’t be surprised, really, at all of these results. I still can only “kind of” play the piano despite “committing” to improving my skills since high school, am still limited to “Free Fallin'” on guitar, and have written all of one letter by hand since deciding to increase such correspondence several years ago. I haven’t even finished my degree. I’m still basking in the dimly lit glow of ABD-ness.

This is my pattern.

I don’t find much help in cliches like “find yourself,” but I do believe it is important to be reflective and seek out ways to improve oneself. It’s important to recognize patterns, weaknesses, habits that could be changed. I clearly have a tendency to commit, invest, pursue, then quit after achieving moderate success at best. I have an established pattern of comfortable averageness.

The problem with averageness is that there’s still enough accomplished to claim success, enough done to get by and, sometimes, get praised. Enough to require the energy exertion of a moderately paced walk. Just not enough to sweat. Averageness is like a comfortable, cable-knit sweater. Goes with most anything, can be dressed up or down. Classic enough to survive all seasons, but not conspicuously drab enough to require a makeover.

Moderately Successful Cable-knit Sweater

I’m not sure what to do with this realization or what it really means, but I do know that I have the option of following the fitness plan that grad student gave me two weeks ago (it’s current role is coffee table decoration with the occasional stint as drink coaster) and going back in three months for a follow-up assessment. I’m not sure what my goals are (I couldn’t really think of any in our first meeting), but I do know that I need to increase my self-discipline and force a better approach to, well, betterment. Though fitness may not be the most noble of goals, it is presently the most convenient since I didn’t even have to work out the plan for myself (see what I mean?).

I hesitate to state a firm commitment to meeting the second assessment goals. I know myself too well for that. But I’m throwing the possibility out there. I’d like to retire the sweater, or at least trade it in for something a little nicer, something that maybe only goes with heels.



If I were a cartoon seal, I would look like this: 

Why, you ask?

Because I am an official Skipper, certified to sail up to 27ft vessels in lakes, bays, and protected waters!

While I did not “Ace” my final (I either made an 88 or 91) I definitely passed as I proudly picked up my sailing license and certificate from the Sailing Academy this morning. The license is even laminated.

Folks, let me encourage all of you to follow your pursuits! It is an awesome, incomparable feeling to actually, successfully finish goals, even if those goals are totally for pleasure.

I leave you on this wonderful Wednesday with an inspirational poem about my new frontier, the sea, and the vessels that float on this watery expanse.

“After the Sea_Ship,” Walt Whitman

AFTER the Sea-Ship—after the whistling winds;
After the white-gray sails, taut to their spars and ropes,
Below, a myriad, myriad waves, hastening, lifting up their necks,
Tending in ceaseless flow toward the track of the ship:
Waves of the ocean, bubbling and gurgling, blithely prying,
Waves, undulating waves—liquid, uneven, emulous waves,
Toward that whirling current, laughing and buoyant, with curves,
Where the great Vessel, sailing and tacking, displaced the surface;
Larger and smaller waves, in the spread of the ocean, yearnfully flowing;
The wake of the Sea-Ship, after she passes—flashing and frolicsome, under the sun,
A motley procession, with many a fleck of foam, and many fragments,
Following the stately and rapid Ship—in the wake following.

~Arrivederci and Ship’s Ahoy

In the spirit of encouraging pursuits and the joy of achieving them, I wanted to share this lovely idea re-posted on one of my favorite blogs, the The plan is to make a list of 101 goals to complete in 1001 days and then actually do them (excusez moi?).

Here are the guidelines:

The Mission: Complete 101 preset tasks in a period of 1001 days.

The Criteria: Tasks must be specific (ie. no ambiguity in the wording) with a result that is either measurable or clearly defined. Tasks must also be realistic and stretching (ie. represent some amount of work on my part).

Why 1001 Days? Many people have created lists in the past — frequently simple goals such as new year’s resolutions. The key to beating procrastination is to set a deadline that is realistic. 1001 Days (about 2.75 years) is a better period of time than a year, because it allows you several seasons to complete the tasks, which is better for organizing and timing some tasks such as overseas trips or outdoor activities.

Goal Setting Tips

1. Be decisive. Know exactly what you want, why you want it, and how you plan to achieve it.
2. Stay focussed. Any goal requires sustained focus from beginning to end. Constantly evaluate your progress.
3. Welcome failure. Frequently, very little is learned from a venture that did not experience failure in some form. Failure presents the opportunity to learn and makes the success more worthy.
4. Write down your goals. It clarifies your thinking and reinforces your commitment.
5. Keep your goals in sight. Review them frequently, and ensure that they are always at the forefront of your thinking.

The most important element of this challenge is a concentration on specificity. I could say with all the wannabe Miss America’s of the world that a goal of mine is “world peace,” but how would I even begin to achieve that goal? Give everyone on this planet a puppy adorned with a collar of wild peonies? Instead, what this particular approach to pragmatic dream-catching offers is guidelines for success in realistically achievable goals, for actually achieving what we we would like to achieve.

So, I am going to offer my own list below. Since I absolutely adore categorizing and organizing copious amounts of information into manageable chunks, I am separating my list into four categories of 25 goals with 1 comprehensive “umbrella” goal as a garnish.

Category 1: Health/Lifestyle Goals

  1. Earn my 200 Hour RYT Yoga certification
  2. Master yoga pose: Ashtanga Jump-through
  3. Master yoga pose: King Pigeon
  4. Master yoga pose: Firefly
  5. Master yoga pose: Bird of Paradise
  6. Master yoga pose: Headstand
  7. Master yoga pose: Balancing Big Toe
  8. Take 15 Hot Yoga classes
  9. Walk my dogs every day
  10. Run a 9-minute mile
  11. Ride my bike for 5 miles 5 times
  12. Eat at least one serving of a green, leafy vegetable daily
  13. Take a B-12 vitamin daily
  14. Eliminate dairy and processed foods from meals at home
  15. Try 1 new vegetable/fruit a month
  16. Try 1 new raw, vegan recipe every 2 weeks
  17. Wear sunscreen every day
  18. Teach a full prenatal yoga class
  19. Teach a full seniors yoga class
  20. Teach a full kids yoga class
  21. Take a salsa dancing class
  22. Sail on a lake
  23. Sail on an ocean
  24. Listen to “I’m On a Boat” while sailing on a boat
  25. Drink a glass of Cliquot champagne whilst sailing

Category 2: Financial/Household Goals

  1. Write down every dollar I spend for 5 days every month
  2. Figure out our net worth once a month
  3. Avoid spending any money at all for 7 weekdays every month
  4. Avoid spending any money at all for 1 weekend every 6 weeks
  5. Earn $100 a month teaching yoga for 15 months
  6. Find one specific way to cut back monthly expenditures every month
  7. Put something in the offering plate every Sunday
  8. Pay off the 4-Runner
  9. Figure out how much my student loan debt equals every month
  10. Pay towards student loans every month (post-graduation)
  11. Review credit card statements to identify unnecessary purchase trends every 2 months
  12. Review credit card rewards every 2 months
  13. Find 1 standard grocery item a month to buy more cheaply/in bulk
  14. Organize 1 storage space every 3 months
  15. Make a home inventory complete with serial numbers and pictures
  16. Update home inventory every 3 months
  17. Organize photographs
  18. Scan all old photos to make digital copies
  19. Grow my own tomatoes
  20. Grow my own basil
  21. Grow my own rosemary
  22. Make my own body lotion 3 times
  23. Make my own candles 3 times
  24. Successfully cancel gym membership by end of current contract
  25. Avoid joining another gym

Category 3: Learning/Academic Goals

  1. Memorize 10 poems
  2. Learn Italian (conversation and translation)
  3. Memorize 2 poems in Italian
  4. Read Dante’s Inferno in Italian
  5. Read War and Peace
  6. Read 5 financial books
  7. Read 5 biographies
  8. Write a short story
  9. Write 2 Jim the Turtle children’s books
  10. Write chapter 2 of my dissertation
  11. Write chapter 4 of my dissertation
  12. Write the conclusion to my dissertation
  13. Defend my dissertation
  14. Take at least one archery class
  15. Take a pottery class
  16. Take/audit an art history course
  17. Make an original piece of pottery by hand
  18. Paint a picture in watercolors or oils
  19. Memorize Psalm 123
  20. Memorize Hebrews 11
  21. Memorize one important 5-10 line passage from 8 Shakespeare plays
  22. Learn to play 5 songs on the guitar
  23. Learn to play 2 songs on the mandolin
  24. Learn to play 2 songs on the violin
  25. Learn to play 5 classical pieces on the piano

Category 4: Relationship/Philanthropic Goals

  1. Write a “just because” note by hand to one different person every month
  2. Give 1 article of clothing away every month
  3. Give 1 non-clothing item away a month
  4. Write a real, handwritten letter to 20 different people
  5. Write a letter to the pastor who married Ben and me to tell him thanks
  6. Write a thank-you note to each of my yoga instructors who motivated me to teach
  7. Have coffee with each of my siblings
  8. Have coffee with each of my sisters-in-law
  9. Have lunch with my parents
  10. Take Ethan and new nephew/niece on a day trip
  11. Float the Buffalo River with Ben reenacting our first anniversary
  12. Make a catch-up phone call to one long-distance friend a month
  13. Start a book club with friends
  14. Volunteer 3 times at a pregnancy clinic
  15. Volunteer 3 times at a humane society/animal shelter
  16. Volunteer 3 times at a nursing home
  17. Volunteer 2 times with Heifer International
  18. Volunteer 2 times with a literacy organization
  19. Volunteer 3 times with an English language learner conversation group
  20. Participate in a Walk for the Cure
  21. Offer 15 free yoga classes for homeshool moms
  22. Make 3 micro-loans through Kiva
  23. Give 2 Cups of Joe for a Joe every month
  24. Donate 3 times to CharityWater
  25. Plant a tree

Umbrella Goal 101: Enjoy at least 10 minutes of prayer/meditation every day

And to close, I really do want world peace.


I replied to a comment on my About page by Lisa the other day that made me think about exactly what the transition was between deciding to pursue three specific goals and actually pursuing them. Since part of the purpose of this blog is to excavate this journey in the name of self-awareness, I suppose it would be helpful to consider the transition between thought and action.

How did I get off the sofa and into a sailboat?

This time last year, I was wallowing in a poorly attended pity party for myself. I was unhappy with my lack of progress towards my degree, the field for which I was earning the degree, and the location of this academic endeavor. Of course, the problems lay not with me, as I was the consummate victim in a global scheme to keep me stuck in the mud of discontent. Indeed, how could I not be being productive if I was so incredibly busy? How could I be expected to complete even the bare minimum to keep afloat if my vessel was constantly upturned? Aye, ’twas a harrowing time allowing only ‘fer self-survival. No pleasure to be had on Prospero’s Island.

This negative and unproductive perspective trickled into other contexts until I started to feel very, very old, tired, unaccomplished, and stodgy. The year slipped by with me having very little to show for it. I started 2011 almost at the same spot as I started 2010.

I opened this year, though, with a prayer for a more complete perspective. Tired of feeling tired, I prayed for the ability to see my days differently. I was answered with a very simple reminder:

24 hours is a long time.

Instead of distracting myself with grandiose goals possible only, probably, never, (I am not very close to visiting the Galapagos or inheriting millions from an unknown and random patron saint of randomness), I started considering what I could try in an hour or so a day. Since I can practically quote every episode of Friends and Frasier thanks to last year’s binge brooding, I figured I probably had those hours to spare.

So, ever ready for an opportunity to organize, I mentally categorized my whims and fancies based on availability of resources. I was already taking yoga consistently, so transitioning from student to teacher required only a little research on how that process works. Enter Yogafit, the training plan designed for those of us unable or undesirous of trekking off for a month seeking nirvana in an ashram in India. Since the fact that I’m writing a dissertation results in me being a student at a university that pays for more credit hours than I will get the opportunity to use (unless, of course, I decide to totally change my career path like my husband), a wee perusal of the course offerings and chit-chats with some undergrads led me to a nearby harbor hoisting sails and tying figure-eight knots. Knowing that the best way to learn a language is consistent study of, say, an hour or so a day, required that I simply choose a language. Scelgo te Italiano.

With more focused goals in my arsenal, some research (naturally), and a determination simply to use more hours in my days, I started implementing minor changes to allow for major success.

For example, I shower almost immediately after I get up in the morning, plan my meals as much as possible, and I try to break my day into individual hours and put small, concentrated tasks into each one. This sometimes translates into giving myself from 1:00-2:00 to clean and only clean (which is usually  plenty of time to achieve total tidiness). The hours I have to spend in lecture and on the water for sailing are the only hours I spend even thinking about that particular pursuit (except, of course, whence writing about it). Yoga classes are already just 60 minutes, and the trainings are pre-designed, so sometimes I will give myself an hour to make playlists for sequences I hope to teach. For Italian, from 3:00-4:00 I might work through grammar or listen to dialogue.

The key, for me, is to avoid the allure and delusion of multitasking. (I will bore you with my disdain for the myth of multitasking another day). In each time block, I only attempt one objective. Case in point: right now I am only writing this blog entry. I am not on Twitter, paying bills on another site, practicing Tree pose, folding laundry, or reading for my diss. No. I am only writing this entry.

So far, things are going well.

Since January 1st, I have actually sailed, completed Level 1 Yogafit training, will teach my first yoga class this Sunday at a gym, learned basic Italian grammar and phrases, and my wonderful friend, A.Hab., even wrangled up some calendars and a schedule so that we would actually also finish our dissertations. Thanks to her firm but friendly manner of holding me accountable, I have thus far submitted two full chapters and am already working on a third. I’m also cooking more at home, making meals from scratch, and sleeping deeper and longer.

Not bad for 2,160 hours.


Around 5:00pm yesterday evening I sat in a circle of people at a local YMCA. We took turns telling our individual stories of what brought us to that moment in what was called “Group Share.” Each of us offered a brief narrative, then we moved on to the next person. The stories were incredibly varied.

Two circle-dwellers were stopping in on the road to healthier lifestyles marked by incredible weight loss, 60+ and 30+ pounds respectfully. One woman was coming off of devoting over five years entirely to raising her young kids and wanted to begin something for herself. A beautiful Italian (that’s right, Italian!) woman wanted to learn in order to take the practice back to Italy. There was the soon-to-retire high school teacher seeking a new path to travel, and the Air Force Captain who found this place through a journey of coping with a frequently deployed-to-Afghanistan husband and a three-year-old daughter. The rest us earnestly thanked her for her service to our country, and she responded sincerely that it was her honor. “I love this country,” she said, “And I would do anything to protect it.”

Perhaps the most poignant story came from a very healthy senior who lost her husband in December. She came to enhance what she already did professionally, but left with a whole roomful of new friends and many, many hugs.

What brought all of us with our disparate histories and goals to that circle was a shared pursuit, to become yoga instructors.

And we did.

In 20 hours over two days in a bitterly cold aerobic room in a typical YMCA, we all studied and practiced our way through the first stage in becoming certified yoga instructors. Our Master Teacher was a wonderful, high-energy woman with a gift for teaching and being bouncy, and the assistant was a lithe RYT (200 hour Registered Yoga Trainer) who came to help despite her upcoming wedding this Saturday.

Our instructors broke down poses, walked us through teaching scenarios, offered advice, built class sequences, and even led us through three actual practices complete with battery-operated tea lights for ambience (apparently real fire is a liability issue), and ethereal music. Naturally, I took copious notes both in my yoga-specific journal and in the manual.

By yesterday’s Group Share, we were all exhausted, physically, mentally, and even emotionally. Our legs and shoulders hurt from holding poses for extensive amounts of time, and our brains felt close to explosion from information overload. Some people’s tear ducts even got a workout.

Aside from this training confirming that if one wants to change the shape of one’s legs, one need only hold a warrior pose for a total of about 90 minutes a day, it also confirmed something more lasting (as I do not plan on incorporating 90 minute Warrior II’s into my daily routine):

I love yoga.


(Technically I have to complete eight hours of “community service” yoga instruction before I get my official certificate that confirms that, yes, I have in fact been trained as a yoga instructor. Anyone want to take a class with me? Pro bono?)

I am taking a brief departure from posting on my three main pursuits, but for a good cause. As my family and friends know, I have been a vegetarian for almost four years and have dabbled in a vegan diet for the last eight months. This weekend, I started easing myself into what will hopefully be a full-blown-hippy-granola-soaking seeds-sippin’ wheat grass vegan lifestyle (at least in terms of food consumption). Eating vegan fare has been a tough goal to achieve thus far, primarily because of my love for strong cheddar, salty feta, and creamy brie…(distraction)…but I am now most determined to reintroduce myself to the foods that manage to exist without being zapped of their nutritional core and pumped with table salt and sugar.

Hello unpackaged vegetables. Buona sera bulk grains.

My inspiration and determination came from reading the first few chapters of Brendan Brazier’s Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life. My academic roots drew me to the colon in this very impressive title, a punctuation mark so very familiar in my “scholarly” reading. Brazier himself is a healthy dose of effective ethos as well. He is a professional tri-athlete and Ironman competitor who began researching and experimenting with a vegan diet at the age of 15 (I, however, think I still climbed trees at 15). Since high school, Brazier has developed a sustainable (in all the possible connotations of the word) culinary vegan lifestyle designed for optimum health without collapsing into a gaunt tree-hugger with a protruding collarbone.

His diet is so effective, in fact, that Hugh Jackman wrote the forward to Brazier’s book after following the program while bulking up to play Wolverine for X-Men Origins. (Incidentally, according to sources, Jackman’s workout regime also consisted of much yoga and pilates. Take note boys.) Putting on another 20 pounds of lean muscle for the film “normally would mean a LOT of animal protein and synthetic protein powders,” Jackman writes, “While this worked in the past, I knew it wasn’t sustainable, that at some point my body (and probably my heart) would rebel. Not to mention that I often felt lethargic from eating so many hard to digest calories. Then there were the ethical considerations of the diet-environmental impact being the largest one.” Clearly, Brazier’s menu consisting of PH-balanced, nutrient-rich foods along with Jackman’s intense workout schedule produced the desired results (see accompanying image).

Wolverine has always been my favorite X-Men character, and kudus to Jackman for his portrayal of this feral biker dude, but my goals are slightly different. I don’t need any more mass, just for the mass I have to change from flabby-fluff to toned and taught. I would also really like to stop craving Cape Cod Salt and Vinegar Chips, white queso dip, and relying on coffee for energy.

So, I invested in this endeavor. I spent an hour in a grocery store called Earth Fare with a page-protected, color-coded list labeled “Week One,” loading my cart with hemp oil, adzuki beans, sesame seeds (hulled and unhulled), ground flaxseed, hemp protein powder (raw form), and green leafy things. I conveniently already had some of the necessary ingredients at home from all of my previous flirtations with a vegan diet, such as amaranth, quinoa, almond milk, and agave nectar. Amazon’s grocery section is supplying the raw cocao nibs and yerba mate.

Yesterday, my husband and I had Almond Flaxseed Burgers with a Sweet Pepper Pesto sauce and mixed greens on the side for dinner. This morning, I fueled up with a Banana Pear Ginger smoothie for breakfast, green salad with Cayenne Dill dressing for lunch, and tonight’s supper will feature an Adzuki Quinoa pizza. All prepared by hand. All raw foods. (One important discovery so far is that my blender is sub-par.) I have soaked and prepared formerly dry beans, sprouted quinoa, and attempted to pop amaranth with mixed results (i.e. I burned some). My kitchen table is resplendent with all of the various parts of the dishes to be concocted, and my oven smells like apples and cinnamon courtesy of the cereal I made this afternoon on a cookie sheet coated in a light film of coconut oil.

Thankfully, this process has not taken as much time as it sounds. Eventually, I anticipate having the foresight and experience to appropriately prep so the meals require no more than marrying several items onto the same plate. My kitchen skills are being tested, and I own foods whose names I am not sure how to pronounce, but I am excited. This, my friends, is the behind-the-scenes pursuit. I hope that changing what I put into my body will translate into being able to do more with this body in my other ventures.


Photo Credit: IMDB