Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thoughts on Gay Marriage and Kim Kardashian

Anyone who has read my blog over the past couple of years knows that I typically stick to every day topics of life, beauty, and joy. Every once in a while I venture into political thoughts or into something that pisses me off. This entry covers both of those things.

In our country, there is a strong, unfounded resistance against gay marriage. In the State of Minnesota, homosexuality is protected class, which means you cannot discriminate in areas of lending, employment, and housing based on a person's status as belonging to that group. Clearly, folks who favor "protecting" marriage as an institution between one man and one woman have little respect for the homosexual population as a protected class and deserving of the same rights and privileges as folks who do not belong to that protected class.

But Civil Rights is not the only reason why everyone should have the freedom to marry within their affectional preference. I personally know several gay couples who have relationships just as committed (if not more) as straight married couples, and as a divorcee myself, I have nothing but respect for the integrity and commitment it takes to maintain a relationship for decades. The ability to grow with another person is astounding and beautiful, and to be able to put up with their crap for a lifetime is nothing short of amazing.

This leads me to the second topic of this blog. I am not a "reality" TV fan, nor have I have ever actually watched whatever show it was that made Kim Kardashian famous. But I do watch news now and again, and shop at grocery stores every once in a while, and in these activities I picked up on this little princess's 72 day stunt. Since there have been famous people, famous people have engaged in stunts to become either more famous, more rich, or both. The act of committing a media stunt is not inherently wrong, and as long as there are consumers who support these endeavors they will continue to happen. What pisses me off is that she chose to make a mockery of marriage. Seventy-two days, really? I know I'm not the first to say so, but that's not even a radar blip on a marital screen. Not only that, but there is a large group of people who belong to a protected class as mentioned above, who are not allowed by our laws to have that right. Ms. Kardashian took a right so many of our population are denied and rubbed in their faces, all so more people will look at her, talk about her, and spend money in ways that are profitable to her.

Perhaps by writing the little rant above I'm just feeding into it and giving Ms. Kardashian what she wants. But I'm sorry, when I have close friends for whom marriage is not even an option, it angers me that someone like her can engage in marriage, then divorce, and feel good about it.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thoughts on Apple Pie and Tai Chi

I grew up eating apple pie made from scratch. Mom always used lard, and often used apples fresh from the backyard trees. So when I fell in love with a man who prefers pie to cake, I decided it was time to see if I inherited any talent in the area of pie-making.

The process took a week and four phone calls. First, I knew I needed Mom's recipe for crust. Phone call number one was that request. A day later, two scanned pages from a 1950s cookbook appeared in my in-box. I had to smile at the dated font and design, knowing that there are many things that used to be built to last and aren't anymore. Pie crust recipes must be one of them. Phone call number two was a lengthy conversation in which I needed clarification on the method. Mom mentioned a pastry cloth and rolling pin sleeve would be helpful (two items I learned were not to be found anywhere in the Rosedale mall area). At this point, she told me much of it is practice, and I was reminded of a saying we use in Tai Chi: "any questions practice can't answer," and completely understood why I should not expect perfection.

Phone call number three took place after my first dead-end try of cutting the lard into the flour. It felt like sugar cookie dough, too easy to handle, and I knew it was wrong. On Mom's suggestion, I cut my losses and started over, this time making sure the lard was good and cold. Another reminder from Tai Chi: sometimes you don't get it right on your first day. Like my first day learning the single-whip posture, or my first time holding a sword, my hands felt clumsy with the pastry dough. I felt assured that, because of my experience with learning Tai Chi, I needed to overcome this critical first try.

Rolling the crust was my next challenge. Luckily, I had used a rolling pin before to make cookies, so the feel of that was not as foreign as that of the pastry blender. It was like going from sword to Tai Chi knife form: both are edge weapons but the purpose and feel of each are entirely different. The crust was more delicate than cookie dough and less agreeable to being picked up and re-shaped. But I managed to get both the bottom crust fit into the pan, poured in the sliced and spiced apples, dabs of butter, then fit atop the top crust. I struggled a bit to get a perfect seal between the top and bottom crusts, but by this point I was ready to be finished and just did my best. I sprinkled it with sugar, slit it open a little, and put it in the oven.

The fourth and final call to Mom happened at this point. She cautioned me against leaving it in the oven too long, but was happy to hear I didn't have any further woes. She told me that once she really had a feel for making the crust, she found she would make silly mistakes because she would stop focusing on the process and think of something else. Similarly, once you learn the Tai Chi solo form, it's easy to let your mind wander and lose your balance or worse, your place in the form. The key is to stay focused on the present moment and take each individual piece as it comes. I realized Mom is a pie master in the sense that she understands the zen of the journey from flour and lard to golden crust. It amazed me that speaking with her about baking a pie led to lessons on mindfulness, just like how conversations about Tai Chi and martial arts are also lessons on mindfulness. Two seemingly very different activities yielding the same insight.

The pie is still cooling, and no, it doesn't look like the perfect pictures in cookbooks, or even as nice as a store-bought crust would look. And despite having a bit of frustration, I still enjoyed the process and feel proud that I made a pie from scratch. Just as my solo form lacks the smoothness of the masters, I still experience joy every time I practice, savoring every empty step of the journey.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Thoughts on Closing the Circle of Life

About six weeks ago, I had to make a decision to euthanize my oldest cat, Roscoe. Roscoe had been plagued with a large, benign bony growth in his mouth for nearly a year. His personality hardly changed at all, in fact, he was the only cat to even come close to getting along with the dog and seemed to have gotten more lovable. But one warm evening last August, I noticed how difficult it was for him to eat. While his eyes were still bright, his demeanor still vocal, and he craved cuddles more than ever, it was obvious his quality of life was diminishing quickly.

The next day, I had to go to my car to make the appointment to bring him to the vet. On one hand, my feeling was to not assume anything about what the vet might say and to remain optimistic. On the other, my gut was screaming loud and clear about what was going to happen. I knew that evening would be my last with Roscoe.

At the vet, he was spry as ever. He leaped from the carrier and explored the entire examination room. The vet said he was "bright eyed" but after examining the growth in his mouth, the conversation about putting him down dominated. The vet seemed almost impressed with how happy Roscoe was, but he made sure I understood how quickly his quality of life would decline. So I made the decision to save him from weeks or possibly months of misery and signed the paperwork.

I stayed with him the whole time. I didn't watch the actual injection but I petted him and kept contact with him through his last breath. I felt that it would be easier for Roscoe to leave the earth with his "mommy" there, and hopefully my love for him was what he took with him to whatever afterlife a kitty cat might have. It was not easy for me, but at that point, what was easy for me was not a factor. It was about making his last moment as comfortable as possible.

Throughout the whole time, I managed to hold it together. But the second I was out the door, Roscoe's collar in one hand and a crinkled receipt in the other, I lost it. For the first time in my life (aside from squashing a bug or fishing), I was a primary player in closing the circle of life for another creature. While I know without my decision, Roscoe would have starved to death, it was still a very riveting moment in my own growth as a person to be a part of ending a life. I still can't find the words to describe what exactly this means, but in retrospect, I feel good that I made the right decision and did what was best for Roscoe.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Thoughts on Being Together, Finally

Many people do not know I have been "in a relationship" for two and a half years. For nearly two of those years, this relationship was not declared, necessarily public, or committed. But for me, it was always hopeful.

The circumstance of meeting him was almost more than being in the right place at the right time. The path of an ended relationship led me to the then-acquantainces (now friends) who introduced us via picture-by-phone. At the moment where I allowed myself to be photographed and sent, I remember thinking, "wouldn't it be totally crazy if...?" Where the ...? stands for actually meeting, liking, and possibly loving, marrying, bearing the children of this attractive gentleman. Because at the time, that's all it was. A single, thirty-something woman being attracted to nothing more than the photograph of a handsome, single, thirty-something man. And quite honestly, once you are a thirty-something single, you tend to view such circustances with small hopes. The mere idea of a solid relationship being built out of a moment of attraction to someone's photograph on a cell phone is nearly ludicris, let alone realistic...especially considering we lived hundreds of miles apart.

With the exception of the first couple times we met and spent time together, our usual "date" would last anywhere from a weekend to a week. In between, we text messaged, instant messaged, and spoke on the phone. Perhaps it is because we are both busy, independent individuals who cherish the lifestyle choices that make us individuals, or the fact that we had both established lives for ourselves just fine, but we both have an appreciation for the un-clingy counterpart. I never once wanted his (or anyone's) presence to complete me as a person, but to enhance me as a person. I felt very complete already, and I am confident he felt the same. I believe it is this idea that nurtures the solid respect we have for one another. That, mixed with an uncanny chemistry and mutual enjoyment of similar movies, humor, and things otherwise cool, kept a matchlight of intrigue going; a matchlight which ultimately led to dynamite.

Naturally, we came to a time where we knew that everything felt right enough to be able to tolerate each other under the same roof. And while we had made a decision as to when this co-habitation would come to be, fate insisted we live together sooner than originally planned. Suddenly, I am forced into having faith that this was the right time, and that the Universe had had enough of us pussy-footing around our love for each other.

And it is amazing. Every day, I am amazed by the talent and devotion of this man and with every second I am more and more convinced that he was well worth the wait. We are together, finally, and so far, it's wonderful.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Thoughts on Failure to Launch (not the movie)

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a personal trainer. I studied hard, I took workshops. I passed the exam, earned a certification. I bought liability insurance, took on a client. Gave free advice (lots of free advice). Applied for jobs in big-box gyms and small independent gyms alike, with zero bites. Hit a busy time with my day job and personal life at the same time, and just couldn't keep up with the persistence required to launch a new career.

I still want to be a personal trainer. I'm keeping my certification current and continue to train myself all the time. Sometimes my dream feels like just that: a brief vision from weeks ago, fuzzy which maybe didn't exist at all. Other times, I kick myself for not maintaining the enthusiasm I had when studying for the exam and not going for it full force. I know my style of "full force" can get me anywhere, so the question of why has burdened my mind lately, especially as I once again experience malcontent with sitting at a desk for hours a day.

Fear is definitly playing a role, but it's not fear of success. It's fear of budget uncertainty. The real problem arises when I do a little math and see that to go full force toward this new career would lead to a budget with more holes in it than the great state of Minnesota's. And it's not just my pocketbook that would suffer, as an attempt at two jobs at once (especially one on top of my mentally demanding day job) would leave major holes in my energy and sanity budgets. While energy and sanity are not tangible, they are real. I know from experience when I start messing with those budgets, especially the energy budget, I have to give it all up simply to recover.

I also have a basic philosophical difference with gyms: I'm not into selling memberships. I'm into helping people make wise, healthy decisions with regard to their physical fitness and wellness. I want to help people understand their bodies and how capable they are and how, if one is patient and puts in the work, transformation will happen. That type of change doesn't come from a gym membership, it comes from someplace special inside the heart. It's tempting to "fake it" and pretend like I'm all about showing clients the yellow brick road to fabulous beach bodies via elliptical machine and weight-room dependence, but I just can't do it when I know deep down it doesn't work. What works is the teaching of a variety of methods along with genuine support of each unique journey.

Despite all this self-reflection, it still leaves me in my day job, staring at the skyline between emails, wishing I was leading a client on a challenging run up the River Road instead of answering compliance questions. I've kicked around becoming a group fitness instructor, with the hope of finding one or two slots a week to teach a class just to be in the fitness industry as a professional, or pursuing free-lance fitness writing. I'm reserving hope that my failure to launch is more about right action and right timing than it is about a true failure on my part. They say everything happens for a reason and the Universe opens doors when it's time to walk through them. For now, I'm watching for the open door.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Thoughts on Spring Cleaning

Part of my transition from apartment living to house living is the notion of spring cleaning. When I lived in apartments, either the spaces were small enough or I didn't live there long enough to warrant any project worthy of being called spring cleaning. Now, after about five years in the house, I'm noticing little things, like cobwebs in upper window corners and tribes of dust bunnies under the bed, starting to build up.

Don't get me wrong: I'm a far cry from "neat freak." I am untidy and disorganized, and sometimes I think my financial survival is pure luck. But yesterday, those windows bothered me. So as I was reaching behind the curtains to clean up the cobwebs, I noticed how dusty the blinds were. After scraping my knuckles and uttering a curse or two, I finally got them down to soak in the tub. Then back to the frames, which are wood. They were dusty and unhappy looking, so I didn't stop with the cobwebs. I gave them a nice treatment of Murphy Oil and washed the inside panes, and when they were decently dry, I re-hung the blinds. This little chore made my living smell so wonderful I found myself kicking back with a beer and relaxing music, just inhaling the combo of Murphy Oil, glass cleaner, and lemons (I use Mrs. Meyers aroma therapy cleaner).

I never imagined I would find joy from an act so simple and so domestic. The work itself wasn't exactly plesant; it was more akin to a labor of love. It's the kind of thing I don't normally get to because I spend more time on maintenance cleaning (litter boxes, dirty dishes, and laundry). Usually once the maintenace cleaning is done, I feel as though I've worked enough and it's time to relax. Yesterday I didn't do any maintenance cleaning, just spring cleaning.

I'm not gunning to start on every crevice of the house. I know I could find a "spring cleaning" project at any time during the year, as I've learned that the rooms I rarely go into still manage to get themselves dirty. Maybe it's what I need to do to create spring in the dead of winter: if I want to "rebirth" my home, I can lift up a piece of furniture and find a new home for the dust bunnies.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Thoughts on Silence

I was raised to be quiet. My father often said "children should be seen and not heard" when things got unruly amongst my brothers and myself. In the car, we played the "quiet game," a contest to see who could go the longest without talking, and mom frequently requested her "peace and quiet." It's not that surprising that as an adult, I can't stand excessive noise. I prefer soft music, won't turn on the television for "background," and I hate it when there's a child demanding the audio attention of everyone with a screaming ear shot.

This past weekend I had a friend over who is mom of three. She commented to me about how it quiet it is here; that she is used to the constant chatter of her boys and rarely hears herself breathe. Until that conversation yesterday, it hadn't occurred to me that I have been taking my silence for granted. I'm used to hearing my breath, the swish sound a tissue makes when you pull it from the box, and now, the sounds of my fingers clicking on the keyboard. I can even hear the dog breathing as he naps at my feet.

The only real noise I have to cope with is that of my own thoughts. My brain is constantly rattling with what I'm doing now or what I'm about to do or what needs to be done (in T'ai Chi, we refer to this as our monkey brains). Sometimes my mind is so loud ideas sneak by with barely an acknowledgement and have no opportunity to see the light of day. On occasion, they get snagged like a lobster in a trap, and become something, like a blog entry or new meal or a flower garden. In dealing with my noisy mind, I have learned to do things (such as T'ai Chi or a long run without thumping music) to clear out the chatter and invite in the ideas. Those activities tend to wipe my mind clean like a black board, giving space for ideas to come forward and grow. It is usually shortly after these activities that I am able to write or begin a project, as my mind is free of the traffic jam of thoughts everyday life insists upon.

My friend's observation of my silence helped me appreciate it and the fact that I am able to control most of the noise in my home environment. The only racket I have to deal with is by my own personal choice, and I feel lucky to have life where that is possible.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Thoughts on Becoming My Mother

Upon visiting my mother last weekend for Mother's Day, myself and my brothers had to razz her a little for never allowing anyone to photograph her. Her only reply was "Just look at Karen!" I had to think, really? In many ways I don't look a thing like her, but in other ways, I look just like her. Admittedly, there have been times when I wake up first thing, see myself in the mirror, and think, "Mom?". And while my mom was a mother to 2.5 children by the time she was my age, there are definitely some major traits I carry of hers, most of them traits anyone would love to have.

For starters, my mom loves to nurture. As any mother does, all through my childhood she put the health and needs of the children well above her own, often wearing the same shoes or jackets for years so the family could keep the growing children clothed. She also made sure we knew that other people and animals have feelings. We were taught never to make others feel bad or put them down, never to hit animals, and always to care for them and treat them as equal members of the family.

I didn't just learn about loving others, but also to care for myself. Many of the healthy habits I have today I learned from Mom, and I still love discussing nutrition and cooking with her. Growing up, my parents grew many of our vegetables, which we ate fresh in the summer and canned in the winter, something I had no idea was a luxury until now. As a very young child, my exposure to processed foods and factory farmed produce was minimal, and looking back I have to partially credit my current health to that.

But it isn't just values I find myself repeating. I am an early riser, I love coffee and I love to read. I love to find joy in small beautiful things, like dandelions on an unmown yard or brown-eyed susans growing in the ditch along the freeway. I love solitude and peace. These are all things I know my mother to love, and grew up watching her love those things, and naturally learning to love them myself.

As I age, I know now that most of the time she was right, and when she wasn't, it was with loving intention. I hope that if I ever have a family of my own, I will succeed in passing along the ability to love and nurture as uncondionally as my mom did and continues to do for myself and my brothers, and my dad. I am proud to say I am like her.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Thoughts on My Canine Companion

I grew up with dogs. Throughout my childhood we had three family dogs, each coming and passing as nature intended, each teaching the family lessons in patience and love. Since living on my own, I have wanted a dog but it took a while to get to a place where it was appropriate for me to bring one into my home (I am already a self-proclaimed crazy cat lady). Seven months ago, I met and fell in love with a white German shepherd named Thor.

At first, I wasn't sure about him. While I had a total crush on the big white puppy, I wasn't sure about the disturbance he would bring to my previously feline dominated home. I was worried about about what I would do with him when I go out of town, the daily walks, and certain furniture and shoe destruction. In fact, for 24 hours after I first met him, I had decided against the adoption. But, my heart won over my head in my desire for a canine running buddy and a guard dog for my home.

Months later, I'm quietly typing this blog while Thor rests on the rug in front of the door (one of his "spots"). We had a nice paced jog after work, and while it has taken months for him to adapt to my pacing, we now run nearly one-handed. If we don't run, we walk, in fact he gets me outdoors nearly every day, regardless of wind, snow, sleet, or rain. Only once has he barked meanly at a stranger, and boy, that stranger was not comfortable and moved right along. Neighbors on all sides of the fence are comfortable petting him, and in my opinion he has become the king of the block.

At the same time, having him around called for serious alterations to my lifestyle. My desire to care for him changed my weeknight schedule and when I leave town it's one more thing to plan around (luckily I have a friend who enjoys having him around for a couple days). But it all pays off when I get the puppy dog eyes, success at tricks and a nice calm Thor Bear after a nice long run. The rewards in nurturing are definitly worth it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Thoughts on Being an Athlete, Not a Jock

Over the past few years I've developed a habit of running, and with that habit came races, and my next race is a half marathon. When my registration check didn't clear within a couple weeks, I went to the race website to check on my status, and there it was. Athlete Name: Karen Magnuson. Athlete. Me?

I have had many identities, but "athlete" has never been one of them. Sister, daughter, friend, student, girlfriend, ex-wife....the list is long. Athlete has never been on it. Athletes have their picutres on Wheaties boxes and endorse Gatorade. Athletes are lean and lithe and break finish line ribbons with their arms held high in victory. Athletes are not the urban middle-class with self-esteem issues. Athletes have coaches, not trainers, and are interviewed on tv sports shows. Athletes don't huff and puff at an embarrassingly sluggish pace and are simply proud to "finish." No. Athletes compete, and compete to win. Or so I thought.

The label forced me to reconsider my definition of "athlete" and determine if I can really put myself in that category. I am certainly active, with exercise of some form happening nearly every day. Over the past ten years and especially the past four, my fitness has increased significantly. Since taking up running, I have participated in several running events and have tracked decent progress at middle distances. I find my weight training routine is designed to support running muscles and have even incorported yoga here and there to keep those muscles limber. I buy special gear, and eat special foods. When I take a true look at my lifestyle, I seem more and more "athletic" although I don't consider myself an "athlete."

Then it hit me. It's the label "jock" I'm trying to avoid. And while I'm certainly a far cry from being an elite athlete, there is nothing to stop me from living an athletic lifestyle and reaping all the benefits it has to offer. Bring on the sweaty workouts, lean protein, and copies of Runners World magazines. I'll take it.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Thoughts on Thank Yous

Today as I lapped around Como Lake on my Sunday afternoon jog, I found myself reflecting on a segment I saw on CBS Sunday Morning, the lost art of hand written thank-yous. The journalist interviewed a man who decided to start writing thank you cards to everyone for whom he held appreciations: he thanked his child's piano teacher, his clients for payment, and the barista at Starbucks for remembering his name. His statement was that a simple show of appreciation brings brought more positive energy to his life in general, and the things for which he was thankful began to flourish all around him.

I realized how rare a thought this might be in our society today. We are so focused on what we don't have, or what we can't do, that we so often fail to remember what we do have and what we can do. As is often the case, I immediately thanked the Universe for my body, which rarely refuses to do what I ask of it, and my mother for instilling the values of good health and the tools to make healthy decisions. This thank you was a little ironic today, as I literally had to drag myself out of the house to do the run! I then thanked Mother Nature for the absolutely beautiful day She blessed St. Paul with, and I thanked the City of Saint Paul for maintaining the path around Como Lake so we may enjoy it during the throes of winter.

As I rounded the second lap, I noticed the American flag flying high next to the cafe on the park and immediately was thankful to live in America, where I can come and go from my home freely without danger of looters, go to the grocery store and have a selection of foods inconceivable in some parts of the world, and hold whatever spiritual beliefs I choose and not be persecuted. Flawed as America may be, she is certainly worth the gratitude of all her citizens.

The more I reflected, the longer the list of thanks became. I am grateful for a steady income, a working vehicle, and a home I can call my own. I realized how abundant my life is, and how easily I fall into the trap of whining over what I don't have, or what I don't do well, or what I could do better. Instead, I need to practice focusing my energy on gratitude for what I have and put loving intention into all I do. Clearly this is something to practice, and on some days, it may not be perfect. But I need to try.

Thank you for your time to read this blog. I hope you are now thinking of the things for which you are grateful.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Thoughts on My Lost Writer

Earlier this afternoon, my mother and I were browsing a big box book store. When we came upon the blank books, I made an offhand comment about how I wished I was still writing so I would have an excuse to purchase a new blank book. She looked at me, eyebrows raised, and said, "You mean you don't write anymore?" I told her not really, that I hammer out the occasional blog but haven't put in the effort I once did.

Later on, as I made the drive from Duluth to St. Paul, I came upon the show Talking Volumes on public radio. The interviewee was an author I'd never heard of, but I nonetheless found myself absorbed in her comments about writing fiction. So often, she said, she didn't know who a character would become, and equally as often entire novels began with simply writing about a basic interaction between two or more people she would witness on a walk or during some mundane trip of daily life in public. This made me think of my own writing, of how lines of poetry once marched through my mind for days before I'd write them down, weave a context for them, and sometimes erase them completely around the verses they inspired. I thought of how I have somewhere between ten and twenty notebooks floating around the house, each a garden of writing filled with poetic weeds with the occasional blooming rose bush shining in unlikely pages. How the writer in me has become a lost friend, the kind of friend you might wonder about at the last moments before a deep sleep or upon hearing an old song on the radio. How sometimes I call her up by means of this blog, and we write for a little while but then she disappears again into the mist of my imagination, unseen until something like a public radio show calls her back.

My last journal entry was May 10, 2010, and so much has changed in my life since then. Where has the lost writer been through family turmoil, love, pets, and accomplishments? Should I coax her out? Am I afraid of the statement that I am a writer, therefore, I must write? And if I don't coax her out, will I forever remain wondering "What if?" like a timid boy abandoning his true love out of fear, only to live a life of regret?

It must find its correct place in my life, and if it belongs, it will stay. Maybe the lost writer leaves for so long of a time because she doesn't feel welcome, like my mind is so occupied with other things and activities that I won't allow her to dance, and so she stays still. Either way, she is visiting now. I shall have to ask her.