Being a novice

In June the Asia Yoga Conference was held in Hong Kong. I saw an ad about it and immediately thought I should go. (At the time I was in Hong Kong - so it was close and easy).

Many of the yoga sessions were free and there would be vendors to check out as well.

But there was a problem in my mind. I have taken yoga classes and sometimes practice at home. My practice is irregular and I am not in anyway advanced. The conference, I thought, would be filled with yoga teachers and people with far more time on a mat than me.

I began to think that I wouldn't belong there and that maybe I shouldn't go. I mean, really, I've never even been to a yoga conference or retreat.

I decided to go to one session, which is what I could make time for over the weekend. I went Saturday night and as I got closer to the conference hall I could see all the yoga people with their mats, lithe bodies and yoga clothing. I felt so clunky in my sneakers and regular workout pants and, frankly, my out-of-shape body.

After walking around the vendor area I saw lots of cute and cool gear. A little high-priced for me, considering I'd also have to fit it in luggage. And most of the yoga clothes were too small.

Then, as I stood outside the room where the yoga and dance session was scheduled, one of the conference volunteers asked if I was coming in. I said I didn't have a mat, so I wasn't sure. He said that was fine and I did see folks with no mat.

A few minutes later I found some sort of clearance vendor booth with yoga pants for a mere HK$100 and in a size I could wear. Pants purchased, I changed and went to the session.

It was set up as a yoga session with a DJ, which was why I wanted to do it. As we went through poses I reminded myself to just do what I could and not worry about being out of place. And to have fun.

After a series of poses the instructor had us begin dancing and that's when I really let go of my worry of being a novice among experts. It was so much fun to free dance around the room, even as I was careful about the ankle I sprained late in 2010. There are really so few opportunities for grown ups (okay maybe I should say middle aged folks) to dance and play anyway.

As I left I was tired and figured I'd be sore the next day. And I was so happy I'd gone to the session.

It reminds me that even though it feels like, at 40+, I shouldn't be a beginner, in many areas I am. Instead of avoiding new things because I am a novice, I really need to seek out the beginner experience.

Doing that means I need to become more comfortable with failing, being the old kid in the class and even ready to counter if people think I'm too far along in my career or life to try something new.

It's tempting to decide that at this point in my life, my career, to only do the things that I have done before and do well. And there is such value in using your strengths. I have been limiting myself, though by leaning too much on the sure things and not being willing to fail.

I will probably look foolish sometimes when I dance or try yoga or anything else. But failure and foibles happen anyway, even when I'm avoiding them - I may as well enjoy the experience.


Re-thinking my investments

In the past month I’ve had more time to myself than I’ve had for more than 10 years. I’ve been in Hong Kong without my family for nearly 5 weeks now.

During that time I’ve been thinking about my writing and all the things I already know about why I’m not writing more, completing work and submitting work. The two biggest hurdles are fear and time. (And the time is very much connected with the fear. It is so much easier to focus on other things than the big bad monster of rejection).

I also don’t make the necessary investment in my writing. I don’t put my whole self into it; I am still holding back (fear!) and I don’t act as though I own it.

My commitment is lacking and I can see that in how I decide to spend my time. I’m a working mother and wife and I have a long commute and blah blah blah with my excuses. Everyday I’m choosing the time drains that take energy and time away from writing. Or choosing fear – this idea’s not good enough, you’ll never finish, so-and-so can do it better, blah blah blah.

Then there’s where I put my money. Writing can be done without a big financial investment, but it is important to get help/coaching/editing when you need it and resources, too.

One of the things I’ve wanted for a long time is to settle on one of my many ideas and complete a book proposal for it. I start and stop and switch ideas and am spinning around producing no finished proposal.

I know myself. I love research and sharing information and writing. I also know that I need someone to nudge me (push me). There’s a reason I do well in classroom settings, but struggle with open ended, non-dated, big goals.

So, I am going to start working with a coach on getting a project finished. That’s another thing – I don’t like to ask for help or admit I need help. I have to claim that little step, too.

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time – years. And I’ve been a fan of Deesha Philyaw’s magazine writing and platform-building for more than a minute - starting back when I read her work in Wondertime and Bitch magazine years ago.

She consults with writers to help them write, finish and polish book proposals. I’m going to start working with her soon.

This is what I need to keep moving forward. And I decided to switch my investment strategy to put my money where my dreams are.


Seeing the Tian Tan Buddha

On Saturday I went to see the Tian Tan (or Big) Buddha and the Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island in Hong Kong.

I’m so glad I went. To get to the Big Buddha you can take a bus or a cable car. I took a bus roundtrip – not sure yet about getting in a cable car.

About midway through the bus ride I turned to my right and saw the Big Buddha. We were still a ways away, but the statue (not sure if I should call it a statue or structure – it is so big) was easy to see.

I won’t pretend to do a travelogue about it. You can read more about the site here and here.

Actually, I wish I had read more before I went to visit. For instance, I didn’t know about the Heart Sutra on the Wisdom Path – so I stopped before I got there. I want to go back to see that. I’m thankful that I’ll probably have another chance to visit before I leave Hong Kong.

This is the largest Buddha statue in the world. I walked up the more than 200 steps to see it and also go inside the structure beneath the statue. Inside there is a relic from Gautama Buddha’s remains and historic artwork and inscriptions as well as information and history about Buddha and the statue.

I took many photos outside. Photos are prohibited inside the structure beneath the Buddha. It is very interested to be there and see the mix of tourists and Buddhists. Especially seeing people stop in front of various statues, kneeling, and lighting incense. I was continually reminded that this is a religious site and experience for many people and more than another tourist site.

Throughout the area there are signs reminding people that no alcoholic beverages or meat are allowed. So if you go and take a picnic, remember that.

There are two vegetarian restaurants there and a vegetarian snack bar. I really enjoyed the vegetarian lunch I had. The stir fry of vegetables and cashews was so brightly colored – the way fresh vegetables that haven’t been cooked to death are supposed to look. Asparagus, celery, red and yellow bell peppers, mushrooms made for a wonderful lunch. There were also spring rolls, soup, more mushrooms, a green that I don’t know the name of, but was thankful for. I didn’t take pictures of the food because of the no pictures signs in so many places. I wasn’t sure if pictures were allowed there or not.

I almost didn’t go to the Big Buddha on Saturday. It was a little rainy and overcast and I thought it wouldn’t be a good viewing day. Then I decided that if I put off the trip until a good weather day, I might miss it altogether. When I got there it was fine – not rainy and only a little overcast. It would have been fine if it was raining also. I can’t control everything and I don’t want to miss life waiting on the perfect conditions.

The day didn’t go just as planned. And it was wonderful.


Chopsticks: Or not using the fork option

At home when we eat at a restaurant that has chopsticks, I use a fork and knife most of the time. Chopsticks

(Photo by sparktography via Flickr)

I had sushi for the first time on a date with my husband (in the last 2 - 3 years, definitely tardy to the party) and I didn't know what to order or expect and certainly didn't think I could handle chopsticks and sushi. I ate it with a knife and fork.

When I have used chopsticks I've felt very self conscious and clumsy. Actually I was actually clumsy, not just a feeling - it was my reality.

And I was sure that I was doing it wrong and would make a fool of myself.

So I avoided them as much as possible to keep from being foolish/looking foolish.

In the weeks I spent getting ready to come to Hong Kong I never once thought about chopsticks or the fact that I might need to develop the skill to use them.

When I sat down to my first dim sum I was told that there would be some places where a fork would not be available. So even though I probably could have requested a fork in that restaurant, I didn't. I knew I'd have to get used to using chopsticks.

I also was very hungry when we sat down, so I was going to eat whether I looked like a clumsy American tourist or not.

I'm not particularly good at using chopsticks yet (I've been here less than a week). And I may always look like a tourist - even after weeks here. But not giving myself the option to ask for a fork was a little mind trick that made me adapt, try harder and focus enough to have a wonderful meal with chopsticks.

Were there faux pas? Probably. I survived, though.

It's a small internal triumph for me. One of the ways that I know I'm up for this cross cultural adventure - I'm willing to try most things and working on not being so self-conscious that I limit my experience.

A taste of Hong Kong

I'm in Hong Kong for the next three months and in the first 48 hours I've learned that the food is amazing. (I've learned a lot of other things as well, but I can't share everything all at once).

Though I've had only a little time to explore (and am glad to have people guiding me through my first few days), I can already see that the dining choices are almost too plentiful.

Naturally there are Hong Kong and Chinese cuisine options and Japanese and Indian and  tonight we had pizza and pasta. The world's food cultures are represented so well here. I will have to be very careful not to go too far overboard!

In addition to the dinner tonight, I was able to go into the city this afternoon and  walk around the area of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. It was busy of course - we even saw a bride and groom taking pictures as well as plenty of local people and tourists with cameras.

One of the amazing things about Hong Kong is the number of malls in the city/region - this afternoon I browsed a bookstore, Page One, at Festival Walk. It was a little overwhelming, but wonderful as always to see books. Many of the books are shrinkwrapped, though there are copies that are open for browsers to flip through. Very interesting to see the shrinkwrapping.

I saw lots of familiar authors and titles in the English section. I didn't even make it to the magazines, but I'm sure I'll go back and spend an entire afternoon there.

I will post some of my photos and what I've been able to see and experience in Hong Kong here. I'm not sure yet whether I'll pick a standard format or, like tonight, just string together a few thoughts.

But I do know that my excitement about Hong Kong is absolutely growing each day as I see more things to do here.


A place for rough drafts

This post is just a draft. The kind of post draft that I compose almost daily in my head and (as you can see) rarely post.

I have an idea, an experience to share or just a question. But it comes while I'm driving to work or running an errand or any of the "supposed tos" in life.

And when I am online, mostly at night or very early in the morning, I can't remember it. Or I remember it, but think it's not worthwhile or no one is reading this blog anyway, so what's the point?

If I make it past those minor hurdles I wonder if I can write it in a way that is useful, meaningful or even interesting.

I decide that I can't. Maybe if I had more time or focus or [fill-in-the-blank quality].

And I post nothing.

I'm too tied to not putting my rough drafts out in the world. Sometimes that means I never float a draft -story, blog post, business idea. Later I try to remember what it was that seemed like such a decent idea when I was thinking about it. But there's not even a rough draft to go back to.

And I'm stuck with nothing.

There's always something missing - something that isn't quite ready in my life. So that's one of my excuses for not doing. A lame excuse.

This post is rough and I don't think I can even close the circle of the idea. It's a rough draft. But I wanted to do something other than nothing tonight.

Walking away from even casual writing and opportunities in general because things aren't perfectly in place is one of my weaknesses [edit: opportunities for growth :)]. Everybody needs  rough drafts. Nothing is finished without a draft, a first attempt.

[Of course Anne Lamott writes about this so well. I need to re-read Bird by Bird.]


Gourmet Saturdays ...

Last week my oldest child said we should start having "Gourmet Saturdays" and pick a gourmet recipe each week and make it on Saturday. He's a true "foodie" and likes to try new foods, make up recipes and just learn about food.

Last night (Saturday night) I remembered pretty late in the day that I'd said we could start having Gourmet Saturdays. Instead of making excuses and putting it off for another night, I decided to find something simple we could make and achieve the goal.

Fortunately we'd been to the public library earlier in the day and I had checked out Rachel Ray's Yum-O! family cookbook.  While the kids played at a local playground, I looked for something easy and quick.

I chose the Farmer's Stack Pancake Dinner. The kids agreed. We still had to make a trip to the store for some ingredients, so it was a late dinner.

I know, pancakes aren't exactly "gourmet", but I knew I wasn't up for anything more complicated or with more exotic ingredients. Plus, I'm confident I can make pancakes. The kids enjoyed the pancakes and fruit / maple sauce, but not the sausage. I enjoyed the whole thing. :)

Hopefully, I'll plan better for next Saturday and we can make something that's closer to gourmet.  I love the idea and I really want to continue to support my son's willingness to try new foods and his interest in food. He's not been a picky eater and he's willing to think about healthful food options. And I'm thankful for that.


Stop and eat the roses

One of my challenges is that I delay even the things I want to choose for myself. Even simple things.

For years, since I first read that it could be done, I've wanted to have crystallized rose petals. The idea of eating sugary flower petals seems so fancy and ethereal.  What would a rose taste like?

Every year before Valentine's Day I think about making those rose petals. And I then let the date pass while I beat back my "silly" idea because:
I'm the only one who's interested.
It's frivolous.
I should wait until I have a grand dinner party.

This year, I beat back the excuses and made them. On a whim. I saw containers of organic rose petals while shopping at Whole Foods (which is my favorite place to shop even though it's expensive, impractical, etc.).

My daughter really wanted roses on stems, so we go those instead. Still organic and edible.

And that night I found this recipe on the NPR site and my son and I made the crystallized rose petals (we also used organic sugar). It was simple and the next day (they have to dry overnight) the petals were wonderful. Very light and like a little taste of beauty.

I didn't make an elaborate cake and use them for garnish or have a fancy Valentine's Day dinner. Just the rose petals. And they were worth it. I will try to remember them and remind myself not to wait for the perfect this or that; and not to diminish the wonder of everyday. Will I remember not to delay and to do even simple things just because I want to? I don't know. The rose petals are one of the things that were on my list of "I wish I had ..." and hopefully I'll take more steps to just do those things.