The Best Ten Minutes

My daughter keeps telling me that ten minutes of jumprope is equivalent to running for 30 minutes. Do it, Mom! You’ll love it! 

I read a fitness blogger’s summary of the research reports that say that ten minutes of jumping rope has the same cardiovascular benefits as:

  • 30 minutes of jogging
  • 2 sets of tennis singles
  • 30 minutes of racquet and handball playing
  • 720 yards of swimming
  • 18 holes of golf
How encouraging! But can I do it? Yes, I can! It’s hard. Very hard. We set a timer and jump rope in the kitchen since it’s 9 degrees outside. Jumping rope indoors offers me a way to exercise when it’s too cold to walk! Yahoo! 
We jump and jump and jump. We play Motown music in the background. (I love Motown music in the background of anything I’m doing lately.) 
I’ll report back on my jumprope progress. For now, it’s something so fun to do with children indoors. Just don’t do it if there’s a fan and light above your head (lesson learned). And watch out for cats. 

Take Yourself Out to Lunch

I just took myself out to lunch. I asked myself questions I wanted and needed to answer. I took notes on myself in my journal. I gave myself undivided attention. I didn’t interrupt.

My date spot with myself was a tiny little Thai place where servers brought delicious things to my table. My date, unfortunately, lasted less than an hour, but it was a wonderful time.

For an extroverted girl who loves lunches out with friends, it was refreshing and joyful to be a friend to myself and take myself out for a treat.

I want to be a good friend to myself. I forget this.


Stamina for Work

I’ve been thinking about stamina today because in the world of writing and grading, one needs a certain ability to keep at it for long periods of time.

Imagine grading a stack of 50 five-page essays, for example (and some faculty I know teach twice my load and have 100 five-page essays) that you want to return to students by the end of the week. Imagine working on a 40,000 word manuscript that’s due in a month. Imagine your own work project that you’re currently tackling that requires a long mental commitment for a long period of time. 

What helps grow stamina? I’m not an expert, but here are some tricks I’ve learned from myself and from professional friends for an 8-hour work day. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Every hour, take a 15 minute break to do something else that doesn’t involve the same kind of mental work. 
  • Every three hours, walk away from the project for 30 minutes to relax completely (bath, walk, reading, television, lunch with friends, etc). 
  • Have delicious snacks to munch that don’t involve sugar, or you will crash later. 
  • Only drink two cups of coffee, or you will crash later. Drink water after that. 
  • Put a reward system in place during your most mentally fatigued time. Perhaps if you complete an hour of work, you can reward yourself with some kind of prize. In other words, motivate yourself somehow and prepare your environment for a mental boost with prizes or treats like new music and novel snacks.
  • At your half-way point of the day, stop and do jumping jacks or dance. Anything to move for a few minutes. Sedentary work, I’m learning, isn’t good for energy levels. 
  • After you’ve put in your work hours, totally walk away and disengage from it. Don’t go back to the computer at all. 
  • Eat a great dinner and get 8 hours of sleep, begin the next day with prayer and exercise, and then start the whole process over again. 

What would you add to the list?


“Teaspoons, Not Buckets.”

I read the NYT interview with Eddie Redmayne and Emma Stone, and I loved Stone’s memory of her first acting coach in LA telling her “teaspoons, not buckets.” Redmayne agrees and says, “People can see closer than you think.”

Teaspoons, not buckets! It doesn’t have to be so big all the time.

You know me: I’m theatrical and over-the-top with just about everything. It’s all swooping hand gestures, loud talking, and dramatic expressions. But last night, I thought more carefully about the wisdom literature of Proverbs that suggests the power and wisdom of restraint. Subtlety contains its own beauty and rewards the audience more. They already know by the small evidence; they don’t need big and theatrical all the time.

I turn to my one daughter who inherited most of the Italian exuberance. “Teaspoons, not buckets. You don’t need to give all of yourself away with every conversation. Subtlety, dear child.”

My other daughter says, “Mom, you are all buckets all the time!”

“Really,” I say calmly. “This is me holding back. This is teaspoons.”

I suppose my teaspoons are buckets, comparatively, but the point still stands: the quiet, simple, subtle thing often reveals the most beauty and invites others in. And in life, too, the teaspoon here showcases as much wonder and joy as the glamorous buckets.

I think about teaspoons today when I want to burst out with all my opinions and drama. Teaspoons. I think about teaspoons when I want the buckets of prosperity or attention or adventure. Teaspoons. I can see closer than you think. There’s beauty and meaning here in the teaspoon. Teaspoons. 


I Love Awkward

My daughters and I love to talk about being ourselves and not changing who we are to fit in. Besides, we know that every community contains folks who love our particular awkwardness. We just have to find them. 

The Old Norse and Middle English etymology of this word awkward reveal a wonderful meaning. Awkward means “turned the wrong way.” 

When we follow God, obey our parents, refuse to gossip, reject materialism, maintain purity, tell the truth, choose empathy, defend the bullied, smother cynicism, preserve innocence, and celebrate learning, we often feel turned the wrong way against a massive cultural current.

Stay wrong. Stay turned. We find, always, that the awkward among us were right all along. 

Some Poems I Loved in College

A friend asked me to share with her some of my favorite poems because she is a scientist who never once took a poetry course.

I went back to college in my mind, to Rita Dove and Lisa Russ Spaar and all the poetry workshops and poets and coffee and meaning.

Where do I begin? Keats, Wordsworth, Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, Dickinson, Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, AR Ammons, Milton, Herbert, Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver, Jane Kenyon, Shakespeare, Barry, Robert Frost, Tennyson, EA Robinson, Louise Bogan. . .

Where do I begin?

I thought of a few for my friend that don’t classically make the list of folks’ favorite poems ever:

Try Seamus Heaney’s “The Oysters” or Theodore Roethke’s “In a Dark Time” to start. Then add in Ammon’s “Loss” immediately. You’ll want to read Hart Crane’s “My Grandmother’s Love Letters” and then probably Frost’s “For Once Then, Something.”

Later, when you want to think about beauty and truth, read all the Keats you can, especially “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” “Ode on Melancholy,” and “Ode to Psyche.” End with Wordsworth’s “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.”

Before you go to bed, read Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Man-Moth” and the entire collected poems of her friend, Marianne Moore (especially “A Grave.” ).

In the morning, begin reading Wallace Stevens. Then take a break and read Robert Lowell’s “After the Surprising Conversions.”

With afternoon tea, read Emily Dickinson. All of Emily Dickinson. Read Whitman the next day, but only if you want to.

That was college. I’m so glad you asked.


Get Up and Go

In winter, I want to hibernate. I find myself turning in on myself. I find myself burrowing into my blankets and closing down. It’s cold. It’s dark.

This morning, nobody wants to go to church. We want to stay in bed and snuggle. We don’t want to shovel the driveway, warm the car, and bundle up. “What should we do?” we mutter to one another in our winter-induced stupor.

“We should go. We should go. We should go.”

By the time we arrive to the warmth of fellowship, coffee, and music, we feel everything inside of us lift and awaken. Connection with our community in the midst of this isolating weather brought so much joy and so much energy.

I have to remember to get up and go when everything in me wants to stay wrapped up in this house. Day after day inside, with the gentle snow falling and the house buttoned up, indeed starts the process of hibernation. But too much burrowing disconnects us and shrivels our joy in community.

Even in winter, living with flair means we get up and go.


A Line I’d Forgotten from Because of Winn-Dixie

I’m watching Because of Winn-Dixie for family movie night because my youngest daughter just finished the book by the same title (by the wonderful Kate DiCamillo!).

I find myself overcome with emotion when a sweet, nearly blind neighbor, Gloria Dump, tells the lonely little girl, Opal, that she can’t see well. She says:

“You know, my eyes ain’t too good at all. I can’t see nothing but the general shape of things, so I got to rely on my heart. Why don’t you go on and tell me everything about yourself, so as I can see you with my heart.”

Why don’t you go on and tell me everything about yourself, so as I can see you with my heart? 

I remember again to see people with my heart and not just my eyes. When you hear the whole story, you stop judging people so much. When you hear the whole story, you see with your heart, and you find that you love that person that you were so critical and misunderstanding of just a day before.

I want to look at the whole world with my heart, just like Gloria Dump.  


“Daily life is always extraordinary when rendered precisely.” –Bonnie Friedman

I love expressions like this one: “Daily life is always extraordinary when rendered precisely.” In other words, when represented precisely–exactly and particularly–we find extraordinary evidence of beauty, mystery, wonder, and joy.

It’s true. I’m encouraged to pay attention, look closely, and see my surroundings like an artist. When I write or communicate, I think about precision. The smallest, most mundane thing might become extraordinary if I let it.


When Your Children Need Something Fun to Do

Guess how we are surviving the long afternoons and evenings indoors during this bitter cold winter?

Salt dough. 

You remember salt dough, right?

Just combine 1 cup flour with 1/2 cup salt, add a few tablespoons of water, and stir until you get a nice ball of dough. Knead it a few times and then distribute it to your children.

Let them make things.

So simple. So peaceful. So fun. Play music in the background. Drink your coffee.

Dry their creations in a 200 degree oven for an hour (or just let them sit on the counter over night).

Then, let them paint their objects using all your old paints or nail polish. We are making things for our doll house, as you can see. Notice our little fruit bowl and teapot.

This afternoon, we’re making animals to paint.

Enjoy your afternoon!