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Monday, February 28, 2011

Why I Didn't Blog All Weekend

I’ve already broken my vow.  I have not blogged every day.  I did not blog on Saturday.  I did not blog on Sunday.  To put it more delicately than the more common phrase, life happens.  Last week I promised to pick up four dachshund mixes to take to the shelter.  These four young males had been seized from a hoarder in Mission, then wound up at the dog pound in Kerrville, where a dachshund rescue group found them.  The rescue group deals only with purebred “doxies,” and these were mixes.  The shelter/humane society I volunteer for agreed to take them.  On Saturday morning, I met with this kind lady who drove all the way from Kerrville with the four little dogs.  I loaded them up and headed back to the shelter.  It was 10:30 in the morning. 

At the shelter, there was another emergency.  A sick puppy needed to be taken to the vet right away.  I tucked her under my tee shirt to keep her warm and drove her there.  An hour later I was back at the shelter, with instructions to get her body temperature up, start her on antibiotics, and get her some nourishment with bottle feeding.  I covered a heating pad with a towel and wrapped the puppy in it.  Soon another volunteer arrived to take the puppy home and provide round-the-clock care.   

It was a typically busy Saturday, and not my usual day to volunteer.  I arrived home tired and hungry.  Instead of staying home and writing my blog, we went out to eat and to see a movie, The King's Speech.  (This was my second time to see it, and I enjoyed it even more.)  
On Sunday I worked on the spring edition of the humane society newsletter for a couple of hours.  Then I took a break for lunch.  In the freezer, a frozen blackberry cobbler caught my eye.  It had been languishing there since Thanksgiving.  I took it to the kitchen and announced to James, “We need to make this before it goes bad.”  I squinted at the expiration date.  “Yep, it expires in September 2012.  No time to waste.”  So I baked the blackberry cobbler, one of my favorite desserts.  After it cooled a bit, I cut a piece, added a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and was briefly transported to food heaven.  Then I had another piece.  I tried to go back to work on the newsletter, but my eyelids had become heavy.  I ended up in the hammock in a pastry-induced coma for the rest of the afternoon.  

So that is why I find myself here on this bright, sunny Monday morning, writing my blog after an unexcused absence of two days.  In those two days, I didn’t do any belly dance practice, either.  Nor did I go to the gym.  Plus my eating habits were atrocious.  I not only indulged in blackberry cobbler, but I finished off a box of vanilla wafers, ate a heavy meal at a restaurant on Saturday evening, ate pancakes on Saturday morning, and made French toast on Sunday morning. 

I started out this morning intending to make up for the weekend.  But my efforts keep getting derailed with interruptions.  When I turned my cell phone on, there were three voicemails from my daughter.  Her purse had gotten stolen (not for the first time) and she asked me to Fed Ex her extra set of car keys. 

Then I logged on to see where in the hell my mail-order meds are.  My health insurance company changed again--which is getting to be an annual event, heralding higher premiums and lower coverage--so now I have a different prescription-by-mail pharmacy.  The change in pharmacies came with the requisite delays and snafus.  (My doctor’s office insists they faxed the prescriptions; the mail order pharmacy claims they never got any fax).  So I got online to find that the status of my prescriptions is “in process.”  They have been “in process” since February 22.  How freakin’ long does it take, and what does “in process” mean?  And why is it that the choices on the automated phone system never include what you need?  If I could find it on your website, why would I be calling your sorry telephone center?  I decided to put off dealing with the pharmacy situation until this afternoon and started on the blog again.  Then my husband telephoned.  He had to leave his truck at an automotive shop up the road and needed a ride back to his office. 

Finally, I am back at my writing desk.  I don’t do well with interruptions.  When I’m concentrating, I shut out everything else, and it’s hard to get back on track.  Those questionnaires that are designed to determine whether you are an introvert or extrovert always include a question about interruptions.  The question goes something like, “Are you annoyed when you are interrupted in the middle of a task, or do you welcome the interruption?”  I am annoyed.  Very annoyed.


Friday, February 25, 2011

I Took Two Classes in a Row and Survived

Last night I took two belly dance classes in a row.  The first one was easy even for a beginner class.  The students signed up through the community education program last fall and are at a more basic level than the classes I usually take.  It was nice for a change to be the most advanced dancer in the room, even though that isn't saying much.  We take our encouragement where we can.

For you frustrated beginning belly dancers, let me assure you that you will improve with time.  At first I felt completely uncoordinated and awkward.  Even though I've danced a lot in my life, this is different.  You have to train a whole new set of muscles--several sets of muscles--to do things you never asked of them before.  Like anything else, it takes time to do it well. 

So the good news is eventually, you, too, can learn to shimmy!  I am still working on my basic shimmy.  Some people seem to shimmy effortlessly right off the bat, while others (like me), find it very difficult.  I practice my shimmy every chance I get.  When I take the dogs outside to do their business, I will stand there shimmying as I wait.  Lucky for me, our neighbors are far enough away so they can't see me, unless they have a set of binoculars handy. 

The bad news is as soon as you feel you've mastered one set of moves, Miss K. piles on more.  I acquired a newfound respect for belly dance when I realized how many body parts a belly dancer has to keep moving at the same time, often at different rhythms and in different directions.  Like patting your head and rubbing your tummy times 20.  (One of my classmates says she takes belly dance because she is naturally uncoordinated, and it helps her coordination.)  Then comes "layering," when just one body part is doing two things at once, like shimmying while executing a hip circle. 

Back to taking the two classes in a row last night.  As mentioned, the first class was pretty easy, although I was still a sweaty mess by the end.  The second class, the "beginner intermediate," happened to have some more advanced students in attendance last night, so I think Karen cranked up the level of difficulty.  She threw in some moves that I flat out could not do in any recognizable form, and my attempts were laughable.  But I hung in there until the last 5 minutes.  I was so out of breath I had to stop.  Plus a wave of nausea had come over me, probably  because I hadn't eaten anything since lunch.  I'm one of those people who grazes every couple of hours, so going without sustenance for several hours took its toll.  Next time I'll bring a protein bar.   

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Signs of Spring and the Costume Fair

It must be spring.  The leaves are falling.  Yes, around here live oaks drop their leaves in the spring, not the fall.  I don’t know why.  But every year about this time, the leaves come drifting down by the dozens.  They pile up on the lawn, they litter the pond, they blow onto the patio.  They stick to our shoes and clothes and dogs and get tracked into the house.  Which is why first thing this morning I was on the patio, broom in hand, sweeping leaves. 

I don’t mind sweeping.  It’s one of those mindless activities that’s strangely relaxing, but only when done outdoors.  In the house, sweeping is housework.  Outside the house, it is therapy.  If you think about it, sweeping is one of those chores that hasn’t really changed over the years.  Even the broom has not changed much.  You still grab a wooden handle with straws on the end and sweep with it.  Women have been doing this for centuries.  After the coffee or tea and porridge comes the sweeping of the floors.  Like all those women from the past, I was sweeping, thinking, planning my day just as they probably did.  And it's nice to start the day having accomplished one small, useful thing, however humble.   

I mentioned yesterday that Dahlal Internationale, the belly dance costume importer, was in town and showing their wares at the dance studio.  Of course, I went to check it out.  The atmosphere was festive in the tiny studio.  There were costumes, scarves, coin belts, and other stuff spread all over the floor and hanging from the barre.  Middle Eastern music played in the background as the women shopped, tried on, scrutinized themselves in the wall of mirrors, and offered opinions and advice. 

My objective was to get a simple costume; I already have a fancy over-the-top costume (see photos posted yesterday).  But of course everything that caught my eye was gorgeous and expensive.  I couldn’t resist trying on an aqua confection with swooping gold embellishments all over it.  It fit the criteria for a Must-Buy as far as belly dance costumes from Dahlah go:  I liked it and it was my size.  You better buy it when you find it, because you won’t see it again, except maybe on someone else.  Nevertheless, I put it back on the hanger, along with all its accessories (big floaty scarf, gauntlets, head wrap).  I stuck with my plan and left with a simple unadorned skirt and top.  I say unadorned, but the fabric is a sparkly, metallic gold.  Nevertheless, it is practical, and I can mix and match it with other pieces. 

I haven’t been to a class in a few days because of the vendor in the studio, so tonight I’m taking two classes, one right after the other.  The first is a beginner class, and the second is a beginning intermediate class, more challenging, but not quite intermediate level.  I have fortified myself with a cup of coffee, but still I’m not sure whether I have the stamina to do two classes in a row.  You wouldn’t think so, but belly dancing is quite a workout.  This surprised me when I first started.  I mean, you hardly move from one spot on the floor.  You might walk 3 steps one way and 3 steps back, but that’s it as far as actual traveling.  But by the end of a class, I am panting for air.  So we’ll see how it goes tonight.  I hope I can do it, because I’d like to cut back on my trips into town as well.  Especially since gas prices seem to be creeping up.  It’s a 60-mile round-trip to the studio from our house.  I’m usually driving the Urban Assault Vehicle, which is a 1998 black Suburban with a lift kit, big tires, and over 220,000 miles on it.  It gets maybe 13 miles per gallon.  But we still have it because we probably couldn’t give it away at this point, and it’s still a good car. 

In spite of the distance, I do enjoy going “downtown.”  The studio is in an older but well-maintained residential neighborhood on Mulberry Street.  The houses are frame cottages with front porches.  Two of my great-aunts used to live in one of those houses.  They were spinsters who lived together most of their lives.  My great-aunt Carrie was a schoolteacher, and great-aunt Kate had some kind of mental affliction, so Carrie took care of her.  I think they both lived into their eighties, but they were gone by the time I was born.  I don’t know which house was theirs, so when I drive down Mulberry Street I look at them and wonder.  It’s just as likely that their house was razed when they built Highway 281, which cuts Mulberry in half.  Recently I found an old photo that shows the porch of their house.  I keep forgetting to get it out again and try to match the porch columns in the photo with those of the houses I drive by so often. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Photos of My Belly Dance Costume

Last night I couldn't figure out how to post the photos I promised of my belly dance costume.  Since then, I've done some checking, and I think I know how now.  So here goes.

In case the labels don't work, I'm going to post the whole costume, as I laid it all out on my bed.  Then I've got close-ups of the top, the beading on the back of the skirt, and the gauntlets.  So here goes.
Looks OK according to "Preview," although I don't know what happened to the alignment of photos and size options.  Isn't it beeyootiful, though?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

On Nematodes, Chinese Beer, and Belly Dance Costumes

I am getting a very late start today.  Tuesday is a busy day.  I volunteer at the local humane society on Tuesdays, so I was there most of the morning and into the early afternoon.  Then later James and I had a date to go shopping for beneficial nematodes.  I never heard of them either until recently.  The organic gardener guy on a local radio station has been singing the praises of beneficial nematodes for weeks.  I looked them up, and it turns out they are microscopic parasitic wormy-looking things that live in the soil and gobble up the larvae of harmful insects like grubworms, chinch bugs (whatever they are), fire ants (I know what those are), even fleas and ticks.  And nematodes are perfectly harmless to everything else, like pets, earthworms, and plants.  How did I not hear of them before? 

So I found a plant nursery that carries these nematodes, and we went there and bought some today.  They come in small sponges that you soak in water, then spray the water full of nematodes onto your lawn.  We purchased 2 sponges, each containing 1 million of the little beasts.  (“Did you count them?” is a joke I'm sure the nursery workers are sick of hearing.)  It’s better to apply them in the evening when it’s cooler; otherwise they dehydrate and die right there on the grass blades before they have a chance to go underground.  So we came home bearing our beneficial nematodes.  They are alive somehow in their spongy prisons and must be kept in the fridge until ready to use.  Which we plan to do tomorrow evening.   

So my day was pretty well eaten up.  Which reminds me that on the way home we stopped at a little Chinese place and had dinner.  With dinner we each quaffed a Chinese beer.  It was actually pretty good.  So here I am late in the day (for me, being a morning person), with a drink under my belt, and I’m going to try to write my blog.  Not auspicious.  One drink normally would not impair the average person, but I’m an extremely cheap drunk.  It kinda ticks me off.  After a couple of drinks I start to fade.  I barely get a buzz on, then I’m ready to nod off.  It peeves me no end.  Why bother?  In spite of that, I do like my glass of wine in the evening. 

I have gotten off my topic: belly dancing.  We are not having our usual classes tomorrow, because a belly dance costume company out of Houston is coming down and taking over the studio for two days.  The barre and floor will be covered with belly dance costumes and accessories.  I know this because I went to their showing last summer.   

I went out of curiosity, just to look and maybe try on something.  But when I put on this fuchsia-and-silver number, encrusted with jewels and covered with detailed beading, and sparkly tassels everywhere, with matching top and gauntlets and a head band thing, I couldn’t say no.  I felt like Cleopatra, except blonde and, OK, a little older.  I felt incredibly exotic, beautiful, and sexy, in this absolutely over-the-top costume.  I also felt a little exposed.  I don’t normally wear outfits that expose my midriff and cleavage.  "It's kinda skimpy," I said, and a classmate replied, “You don’t belly dance in a turtleneck!”  Of course, she was right.  (Let me hasten to add that the typical belly dance costume originated in Hollywood, not the Mediterranean.)  An hour later, I left with a costume that cost close to $500.  I had taken all of two or three classes at the time. 

Now I know:  It’s all about the costume.    

I’ll see if I can attach a photo of my costume, although a photo is a pitiful substitute for seeing it in real life, in all its sparkling, baubly, beaded glory.  I guess it’s OK to mention the name of the company, so you can look at its website if you’re curious.  It is Dahlal Internationale.  Google it, my friend, and feast your eyes. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Random Thoughts - What I Said I Wouldn't Do

Chocolate mint Girl Scout cookies do not make for a good breakfast.  It is not quite 7 am, still dark outside, and I have already scarfed down about a dozen of them.  I asked James as he was leaving for work, "Please get rid of these!" and he replied that I was doing a good job of that myself. 

Two months ago when I answered the door, the little girl standing there looked so innocent.  I cheerfully signed up for 3 boxes of cookies.  Now she has returned to deliver them.  For a couple of days I forgot about them, because I had the sense to put them in the garage fridge, the one that holds beverages like beer and margarita mix.  How do I get rid of those cookies?  Would it be weird to just stand in front of the grocery store and offer them to strangers?  One time I gave a loaf of white bread to a stranger entering the store.  The bread was a freebie I got for buying something else, and I don't eat white bread.  But the cookies have been opened, so people might be suspicious.  Since the Tylenol thing, the world is more suspicious about opened packages, much less strangers handing them out, even though I'm pretty benign looking.  Plus the Girl Scouts have set up shop outside every retail establishment in town, and it wouldn't look good for me to be horning in on their business by giving out free cookies.  What to do?  This is especially disturbing because I have been SO GOOD for the past several months about my eating habits.  I weigh less now than I have for years, probably decades.  And I want to keep it that way.  (BTW, how I lost the weight--about 10-12 pounds--was not that difficult and would work for anybody.  If interested, let me know.)

Last night I was all set to watch the Oscars, then found out they're not until next Sunday.  I think this year I've seen more of the Best Picture nominees than ever before:  Black Swan, The King's Speech, True Grit, Winter's Bone, The Social Network, and Inception.  I wanted to see 127 Hours, too, but James wasn't keen on the idea.  Too gruesome, he thought, but I love survival stories--people lost on mountainsides for days, people stumbling lost through deserts, and my personal favorite, people who crash land in the jungle and survive on roots and bugs and eventually make it out.  The very best book I've read about survival, and you've probably never heard of it, is Back from Tuichi by Yossi Ginsberg, about four young guys who traveled to Bolivia to hike in the Andes and jungles and, well, I won't give it away--check it out!  Maybe that book holds special appeal to me because I lived in Bolivia for eight years, but still it's a great read. 

Speaking of books, I lugged two boxes of books to Half-Price Books this weekend and got a measly $7.25 for them.  I immediately spent it at the store, plus an additional $1.89 that the $7.25 didn't cover.  I got the complete two-CD set of Swan Lake, reduced from $29.98 to $14.98 to $7.48, to $3.75, which is what I paid.  It makes me wonder why it took so long to sell.  Swan Lake is the most beautiful classical music ever written!  I'm playing it right now.  Plus I bought a paperback mystery by Lee Child.  At the checkout counter, they had a display of a book called The History of Farting.  Makes you wonder.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Belly Dance Goal

After I posted my last blog, I thought maybe I should have said something in the blog title about how belly dance miraculously healed my hip.  That’s more important than my history of ballet and cowboy dancing.  It’s certainly more unusual.  I read somewhere that a blog should have relevant, useful, and unusual content.  And the Miraculous Hip Healing is all of that.   
Of course, I didn’t sign up for belly dance classes to fix my hip.  But I'm very aware now that body parts can and do fall apart at any moment without notice.  That's enough motivation for me to keep after it.  I want to learn as much as I can as fast as I can while I still can.  I’ve been granted a reprieve on the hip problem, so I need to take advantage of it. 
Whew.  Words are not coming easily to me today.  Maybe because it’s Sunday and should be a day of rest.  So my mind is rebelling against work of any kind.  In fact, I just spent more than an hour doing one my favorite things:  lying in my hammock reading, listening to the waterfall splash into the pond, and just soaking in the warmth of the sun and the sights and sounds of this beautiful day.  My brain is still operating in hammock-time, I fear.  I think I’m going to have to make this post a short one, so I’ll get to the point.
I want to set a goal for myself in my belly dance endeavors, and I haven't quite figured out how to do that. I started classes last summer, and it will be a year in July 2011.  So my goal at the end of this first year will be to achieve.....what?  I do fervently hope to get through the end-of-the-year performance without embarrassing myself.  But is that goal-worthy?  I could say, "By the end of this year, I'm going to be good enough to take the advanced class." But that's way too ambitious, and most likely impossible.  But besides that, I can't think of anything truly measurable I can strive for.  So instead I'm going to set a practice goal and see how far that takes me by the end of my first year. 

So now it's official.  My Belly Dance Goal is to take four classes a week and to practice at home at least an hour a day. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

On Ballet, Cowboys, and Belly Dance

OK, here’s my second blog post.  I’m really excited about this whole blog thing.  My first post was short, but it didn’t start out that way.  No, ma’am.  It went on for pages.  After I cut the fat, not much was left.  Maybe I’m trying too hard and need to just let it flow.  One reason I wanted to start a blog was for the self-discipline.  I’m having trouble making myself do things, even things I really like to do, like write.  If I have an assignment and a deadline, no problem.  But without that, I get lazy and procrastinate.  My hope is that a blog will provide a kind of ready-made, ongoing deadline.  My future readers (I’m being optimistic!) will know if I dropped the ball, so that makes me accountable to someone besides myself. 
I used to not have to worry about making myself do things, because I had a JOB.  But totally out of the blue, I lost my job almost exactly a year ago.  That’s a whole ‘nother story, but I mention it here because it explains why I don’t have deadlines anymore.  I’ve gotten pretty lazy, in fact.  Although I do have a goal of sorts, it is fuzzy.  I want to write.  I have written off and on most of my life.  And in the past year I have dibble dabbled in writing.  For example, I write the newsletter for the local, small town humane society.   When the newsletter deadline looms, I am galvanized into intense writing activity for a week or two before it has to go out.  Otherwise I coast.  With the blog, I’ll have a regular, daily deadline to meet.  My intention is to write at least one post a day.  No, I WILL write at least one post a day.  I figure that if I can keep up a blog once a day, I will go on to write other stuff, too.  So whether anybody reads it or not, it is serving a good purpose. 
More about why I chose belly dance as a topic:
I’ve always loved to dance.  I mean, what little girl doesn’t want to be a ballerina?  By the age of five,  I was enrolled in tap and ballet classes at Billie Lu’s School of Dance in Odessa.  Yes, even in the vast and barren deserts of West Texas, you could find culture.  I still have photos of me in recital costumes and bright red lipstick.  I eventually dropped the tap but kept taking ballet into my teenage years.  In junior high I quit for some reason I don’t recall, and I regret it.  (I quit piano lessons about the same time, and I regret that, too.)  Not that I had a chance to go on to be a professional dancer.  Besides being too tall, I didn’t have enough talent to go that far.  In college I started taking ballet again and continued off and on into my thirties.  But ballet is a demanding discipline, and not many people, even professionals, can keep dancing beyond their twenties or thirties.  It’s like being an athlete.  (Dancers are athletes.)  Only someone really outstanding, like Margot Fonteyn, can keep on after age 40.   
But I still wanted to dance.  In my thirties, when I was a single mom, I started going to country dance halls with my friend Nancy.  Cowboys (mostly the urban variety) would ask us to dance, and we'd spin around the dance floor doing the two step, the waltz, and other C&W standards.  It was a blast, especially if you got a good partner who could lead you into steps you didn’t know you could do.  I started taking lessons so I could do more.  (An aside here.  I would have taken ballroom dance lessons instead of going the country route, but there was no place to dance ballroom except in a studio.  On the other hand, Texas is full of country dance halls.  Even though C&W is considered the poor cousin of ballroom dance – at least to ballroom dancers – it has a definite technique and is just as much fun.  Plus you can do it wearing jeans.)  My future husband and I met at a dance hall.  I practically had him sign a prenup that we would keep dancing after we got married, and that’s what we did, at least once a week. 
Then disaster struck.  My husband’s knees started to go bad.  We had to put up our dancing boots while doctors messed around with his knees.  A couple of years and a partial knee replacement later, things looked good for my husband.  Then my left hip went bad.  How did this happen?  I hurt myself doing lunges at the gym.  (My orthopedic doc has since told me lunges are a terrible idea.  It’s not whether you will get injured, but when.)  For the next few years, my hip was an ongoing problem.  Not only could I not dance, often I couldn’t even walk without limping.  Every once in awhile we ventured out to a dance hall, but my hip just couldn’t hold up for long.
Here’s where belly dance comes in.  After I lost my job last year, I had a lot of newfound time and freedom.  I wanted to find some kind of dance I could still do.  I didn’t know much about belly dance, but I had seen local troupes perform.  It looked like fun, plus it was low impact.  I thought, what the heck, I’ll give it a shot.  At my very first class, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the hip movements, which are a basic component of belly dance, were not painful.  So I kept going.  A couple of months went by.  One day I realized that my hip didn’t hurt anymore.  Gone was the pain.  Gone was the stiffness.  Gone was the limping.  I felt like the cripple who threw away his crutches.  It felt pretty darn close to a miracle.  That alone is a good reason for me to love belly dance.  But there are  many more.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Starting Out

I’ve decided to start a blog: The Belly Dance Diaries.  I’ve never written a blog before.  I’ve been thinking about doing a blog for months, but finally decided to just do it.  Even though I don’t know anything about writing a blog, I’m just going to jump in and start one.  This is completely against my nature.  Usually I research something to death until I lose interest, get distracted with something else, or otherwise move on.  I’m determined this time to get started on a project instead of letting it languish and die.
Why now?  Well, for one thing, I’ve found a Topic.  I don’t want to just blog about random ruminations, although some people do that very well.  I want to have a theme of some kind.  So I asked myself, What am I really excited about now?  The answer:  belly dancing, which I just started a few months ago.  That’s my topic, my clothesline, if you will, to pin my thoughts to.  My plan is to blog about my classes, my progress and problems, and just see where it goes.  Maybe other budding belly dancers out there will be interested, and we can share our struggles and advice. 
And what, you may ask, finally galvanized me into action, into starting a blog and actually posting it?  The answer is a frog.  I heard him last night, the first frog of the year.  He was croaking his heart out in our little pond.  Even though it’s still February, even though this has been the coldest winter in decades and just two weeks ago a hard freeze killed our patio plants, this lone frog is out there singing.  To me this means that Spring has yanked up the curtain and is waiting in the wings.  Outside the world is poised to spring into life, so why not me?  That’s as good a reason as any, don’t you think?