Saturday, March 23, 2013

Be bold--and don't lose your nerve

Last weekend, I found myself careening downhill on skis -- going too fast and out of control. I lost my nerve and fell on my back. Hard.  

It was a flashback to my first skiing experience 34 years earlier as a teenager. I hadn't skiied again since then.

In 1979, my boyfriend at the time, an experienced skier, dropped me off at the bunny hill and left to ski the big hill. I watched the little kids around me and tried to figure out how to ski. I was at least a decade older than all of them. Later, my boyfriend returned and insisted I was ready for the big hill.

I didn't know how to turn. Or stop. Stopping seemed important. After nearly falling off the chair lift, I kind of fell all the way down the mountain. That one ski run was such a scary experience that I never skied downhill again.

Until last weekend.

In the past year, I've tried dragon boating, stand up paddle board, kayaking, snowshoeing, ziplining, contra dancing and swing dancing. Plus online dating, the scariest of all. Downhill skiing seemed like the next progression on my bucket list of adventures.

I was determined to have a fun experience and to not lose my nerve on the slopes as I had more than three decades earlier.

My first step was getting a private lesson with a professional ski instructor who is calm and ever so patient. I chose Kirby Records, who spends his weekends teaching 3-year-olds and adults to control their skis while having fun on the slopes. He's also my boyfriend. But he's very different from my high school boyfriend.

Before I tackled the bunny hill, Kirby taught me to snowplow slowly down the slightest incline, the pre-bunny hill. He skied backward, right in front of me.

"Just ski toward me," he said. "I'll catch you if you start to fall."

I knew he would. I summoned my courage, eased forward and followed him down the hill. I did it! And I didn't fall!

At the bottom of the hill I got in line to ride the magic carpet lift, a sort of conveyor belt that transports beginning skiers to the top of the tiniest hill. Not only was I the only person over four feet tall riding the magic carpet lift, I also was four or five decades older than all of them. Many likely still drank from sippy cups.

The sippy cup gang on the magic carpet lift.

With Kirby's coaching, I gained confidence and control by skiing the itty bitty hill half a dozen times.

"Ready for the bunny hill?" he asked.

"Yes! Let's go!"

Kirby showed me how to grab the handle tow to ride to the top of the bunny hill. So far, so good. Again, he skied backward in front of me, zigging and zagging down the bunny hill. I followed him all the way to the bottom. And I didn't fall!

Soon I was skiing the bunny hill without Kirby skiing in front of me. He left for his next lesson, and said he'd return later to see if I was ready for the chair lift and a bigger hill. But no pressure.

I continued skiing down the bunny hill. Shortly after he left, I fell. It was a soft fall. I wasn't hurt, but I flailed around in the snow trying to stand up. Finally, I removed a ski, stood up, put my ski back on and continued down the hill.

I fell again. And I got up again.

"You can do this," I repeated the mantra I tell myself when I feel myself losing my nerve.

On several more runs down the bunny hill, I tightened my turns and practiced slowing and stopping. I was gaining confidence. But I was getting tired.

So there I was, careening out of control down the bunny hill. Now, for an experienced skier watching me, I'm sure my speed wouldn't qualify as "careening," but to this novice skier, I was careening. I was almost at the bottom and needed to stop, but instead of calmly doing what Kirby had taught me, I freaked out, lost my nerve and fell. Hard. Right on my back.

Until 30 seconds earlier, I'd had an excellent time skiing. I was exhausted and thought I'd quit while I still thought skiing was fun. So I removed my skis, stood up and walked to the lodge to warm up, read my book and wait for Kirby.

Last weekend, I conquered my three-decade fear of skiing downhill--and I had a great time. True, I took one nasty spill, but that was because I lost my nerve and forgot to be bold. I won't make that mistake again.

Kirby and I are planning many adventures together: hiking, backpacking, kayaking. He's teaching me to swing dance too.

This morning, I paddled a dragon boat with the Mighty Women. Tonight, my paddling teammate Wendy has agreed to join me for my next adventure: belly dancing!

After all, I am a Mighty Woman.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Low-tech yearnings in a high-tech world

My antique Underwood No. 5 typewriter (circa 1900-1920)

 "It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day."

My apologies to children's author Judith Viorst.

Like Alexander, the little boy in Viorst's picture book "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day," I've had a less than stellar day.

It's not that anything terrible or horrible happened. It's just that several little things that could go wrong did. And together, all those little things added up to a hard day.

Mostly, today was about me and technology not seeing eye to eye.

The day started out promising. I read to third-graders at Marshall Elementary this morning as part of "Read Across America Week." I'd brought two gloriously illustrated books about ancient Egypt to share with the class and my teacher-librarian friend, Kay Ellison. We had an excellent discussion about the Egyptians. Kay took some photos of the kids and me. I planned to post the photos on my "schools" Facebook page. And then I'd tweet the Facebook link with the cute photo.

Wrong! No matter what I tried, I could not post today's school photos onto Facebook. I post photos to Facebook often without difficulty. Not today, apparently.

Tomorrow I will ask SueVo, a journalist friend and techno-goddess, for guidance.

Once home from work, I did manage to complete some tasks that required some degree of technology. For dinner I microwaved the excellent mushroom prosciutto tortellini soup I'd made from scratch yesterday. I washed a load of clothes with no problems whatsoever with my modern washer and dryer instead of resorting to my antique scrub board I display in my laundry room. I made amazing pumpkin spice muffins with dried cranberries and mini chocolate chips--and baked them to perfection in my modern 1970s electric range.

That gave me confidence to try uploading the photo again. I sat down at my laptop and attempted to upload the cute photo of third-graders to Facebook. No deal.

Then I was instant messaging a friend on Facebook, and she asked me to email her the order form for my dragon boat team's spring plant sale fundraiser. I have used my scanner successfully hundreds of times. Tonight, my scanner refused to scan. I'll try again tomorrow.

Even as I've been writing this blog post on my laptop, a message flashed across the screen: Error! Cannot save! For Pete's sake!

Sometimes I feel as if I'd fit in better in the 1920s than I do today. One of my favorite book series features protagonist Maisie Dobbs, intrepid, spunky, gutsy solver of crimes--in 1930s London. My 1940s apartment is filled with antique furniture, appliances, artwork, books, record albums and photos. I even own an antique hat collection.

I do own a laptop computer and a Smart phone, but the only tablet I own is yellow and is lined for writing in cursive. Does anyone out there use cursive anymore?

Thanks to a journalism friend, I also own a vintage Underwood No. 5 standard typewriter, the workhorse used in newsrooms and modern offices from 1900 to 1920. If only I could find a new ribbon for it, I'd be in business.

Unlike Alexander in the children's book, I am not planning on moving to Australia, at least not anytime soon.I'm charging both my laptop and my iPhone as I write this. Tomorrow, I will download those photos. Tomorrow I'll climb back on the horse and will tweet, make Facebook posts, download photos from my phone and even get the darned scanner to work.

For now I've climbed into bed with a mug of hot cocoa, pulled my favorite purple fuzzy socks onto my freezing feet and have reached for a favorite old book--not an e-book on an e-reader--but an actual book.

Perhaps tonight I'll dream I'm Maisie Dobbs in the 1930s, wearing a chic cloche hat and solving a mystery.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Finding your muse in unexpected places

Have you ever found your muse in the most unexpected place?
Two weeks ago, I left newsroom deadlines far behind me as I drove solo the 375 miles to Dad's in Spokane. With my favorite music providing a soundtrack to my journey, I had the luxury of an entire day to myself and my thoughts.

In the flat land about 20-30 miles north of the Tri Cities on Highway 395, a sign to an obscure road caught my eye: Muse Road.

It struck me as ironic because The Columbia Basin landscape of flat, treeless desert stretched onward as far as I could see. And even though I'm a country girl who appreciates the beauty in nature, Muse Road seemed to be in the middle of uninspiring scenery.

Muse Road! Really? How could anyone fine her muse here, in this stark landscape?

I'd considered pulling over to take a photo of the Muse Road sign surrounded by miles of desert, but I didn't want to lose any time.

Later, I commented to my friend, Kirby Records, that the desolate landscape around Connell, Washington seemed an unlikely place to find one's muse. Kirby is a man who chooses to venture off the beaten path to see what adventures might be hidden from view. His response made me realize that as I zipped along 395, I'd missed missed an opportunity to see what was just beyond my peripheral vision.

"Up above Connell along 395 is a deep canyon along the side of the freeway," Kirby started his story. He often starts with a story.

"And all these little draws lead down into it. The freeway has been leveled so people driving on the freeway don't really notice the draws and only get a glimpse of the canyon once in awhile," he said.

"I see wonderful places to explore in these rocky-edged draws," he continued. He went on to tell me stories of finding amazing surprises in the desert: spending the night in a cave, finding a hot springs and a hidden campsite on top of a cliff.

Kirby's words made me think about how I sometimes prevent myself from being open to an experience because I've already made up my mind about something--such as thinking inspiration is incongruous with a desert landscape. And not having the vision to notice a breathtaking canyon just beyond my view.

I also was reminded of the words of Jane Kirkpatrick, my dear friend and an accomplished, published writer. Jane often speaks of being open to allowing ourselves new experiences, rather than to let preconceived ideas determine our response to what we're seeing.

Instead of speeding through the desert landscape and labeling it "boring" and "uninspiring," I should have opened my eyes and noticed the spectrum of colors painted across the sky and the undulating desert floor.

Now I'm wishing I had stopped to take that photo of Muse Road surrounded by desert.The next time I come upon something that on first glance seems uninspired, I will take the time to reconsider my point of view.

Below, courtesy of Kirby, is a photo he took of an inspiring landscape hidden from view of the main road in the Eastern Oregon desert. Now, after hearing his stories, I'm ready to explore desert landscape and see what stories it might inspire me to write.

The following link is another writer's blog post about identifying and caring for your muse.