40 before 40: Shakti Naam

I’ve been on the fence about writing about Shakti Naam as a “40 before 40″ topic, mostly because I’m concerned that people are going to think I joined a cult. But it technically meets all the criteria for inclusion: that is, it’s something I’ve never tried before. And since I keep going back to the class week after week, I think it’s time to embrace it. So whatever. Judge me if you wish.

Shakti Naam is a form of yoga that’s not really yoga at all. It’s not practiced much here in the States, and no one I know has ever heard of it before. There are no poses, at least not in the way that most yoga practices have them. There are a series of exercises and some chants and a lot of singing. We prance around the room and punch out our problems over our heads. We hold our breath and pretend we’re chipmunks. We walk in circles and move our arms like choo-choo trains. I am not making up any of this.

If you google it, you’ll see that Shakti Naam has roots in Kabbalah. So, you know, there’s that. But get away from the woo-woo associated with Kabbalah, and this practice just feels good.  At the end of the 75 minute class, I am sore and happy and energized and calm, and that’s why I keep going back.

Namaste, my friends.

40 before 40: befriend a hedgehog!

DSC_0057 This has been an adventure-filled week in the church house!

For starters, we added four legs to our family (temporarily) in the form of Zoey, a two-year-old hedgehog that belongs to my personal trainer. Lucy (Zoey’s mom) was headed south for her spring break and needed a home for her hedgy, and I happily volunteered.

If this were a scratch-and-sniff blog, I would probably be a millionaire for inventing the coolest technology. You’d also understand that I am not exaggerating when I tell you that this little ball of adorableness is possibly the most vile-smelling mammal to roam planet earth. Seriously. Think of the worst thing you have ever inhaled. Now triple it, add a dead fish, let it rot for 3 hours in the hot sun, and then we might be approaching this little creature’s funk.

So we have that going on. We also have frozen poo water in the wall of our downstairs bathroom!

Alright! Who’s planning a trip to come visit us!?

… Hello? Hello!?

It all started about a week ago — actually, the same night we took in Zoey. Scott called me to the downstairs bathroom and asked if the area under his sink looked wet. He poked at the drywall and his finger went straight through it. “I don’t know, I guess it might be a little damp,” I conceded.

I am pretty confident that we are capable of handling almost anything this house throws at us. That said, there are two things that make me supremely nervous. The first is electrical work — I’d just rather not mess with something that could kill me. The second is anything related to plumbing.

I do have a bit of PTSD. In the condo I owned in my previous life, an attempt to install a garbage disposal resulted in the hatching of dormant flea eggs that were apparently just waiting to be activated by a drop of water. Within 2 weeks, the entire place (also my body) was infested. It was horrific. A couple years later, the seal for the bathtub drain failed and water poured onto my neighbor’s ceiling. Scott and I were in Utah, driving to California for our big move, when that phone call came. A year after that, the little 50-cent plastic tube that connects the ice maker to the water line burst — my tenants weren’t home, so water filled the kitchen and living room, causing more than $10,000 in damage. I was in Savannah at a wedding when that phone call came.

So yeah. I’m not a fan of plumbing.

We opened up a hole in the bathroom wall — a task that itself seemed more difficult than it should be, given that the drywall knife kept hitting something solid. A few minutes later, we were able to determine the cause — an entire wall filled with soaking wet, frozen pink insulation (oh, the irony). The frozen insulation was smashed in pockets, surrounded by… concrete. IMG_3552 That’s right — at some point, someone had poured concrete into the wall, encasing the insulation, the plumbing, all the electrical wires… everything. We spent the entirety of the next three days under the sink, using a hammer and a chisel to carefully chip away at the rock solid surface. A smelly rock solid surface — because the leak was actually in the pipe that connected our sink drain to the main sewer line.


When we took breaks, we stuffed the wall with towels to keep the hideous smell from filling our entire home. Inevitably the towels would become soaked and then they would freeze into the wall as well. Winter is so fun!

To help explain to you how bad the situation was, I will tell you a story.

Early on, I had the idea to use my hairdryer to melt some of the ice in the insulation, hoping that it would make it easier for us to wedge the chisel into cracks in the concrete. I fetched the dryer, proud of myself for thinking so creatively. I may have even demanded that Scott tell me how smart I am.

We plugged in the hairdryer and I smugly pointed it towards the wall, ready to amaze the world with my brilliance. I flipped the dryer to high. It kicked into action, sending hot air blasting into the wall. For 8 seconds. Then its motor squealed, ground to a halt and erupted in a thick grey smoke.

I continued to point the dryer at the wall. My brain couldn’t quite wrap itself around what had just happened: the hair dryer had looked at the task in front of it and literally committed suicide.

We sat in silence for another few seconds. Scott quietly whispered, “I don’t think this is going to work.” We looked at each other and burst into hysterical laughter.

So we did what we do almost every weekend — sometimes two or three times in a weekend. We went to Home Depot and bought a new tool. This time it was a heat gun.

(I do need to stop here and offer thanks to our dads yet again… Scott’s dad for supplying us with nearly every other tool we needed to get the job done, and my dad for providing support and advice via videos I took with my phone and sent to him. We could not own a 200-year-home without those two men in our lives!)IMG_3554 Eventually, we chipped our way through the concrete to the leak. A $3 tub of epoxy putty sealed it back up — it’s not necessarily the long-term fix, but it’ll work until we can get the rest of that stupid concrete out. And more importantly, it stopped that wretched smell from continuing to leak into our house.

And even better news for noses across Danby? Zoey goes home this weekend. DSC_0067 2

Snow more 1970s in our front hallway!

The snow won’t end, and at this point, it’s practically eating our house.  Today (when I took this photo), the wind chill was -29. That’s MINUS 29. That’s the temperature at which you can scrunch up your face and then release and it actually takes about three times longer for it to return to normal. That’s FLESH FREEZING cold, people. Not cool.DSC_0385 3DSC_0378In this next photo, I’m standing on our deck, which is a good 3-4 feet off the ground normally. This photo is overlooking our pond and several flower beds and shrubs. All gone for now.

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If there’s one good thing about this much snow and the arctic windchill, it’s that I have all kinds of time to spend on inside projects.  The past few weeks have been all about our front hallway.

Before… outdated and dirty tulip wallpaper, awful circa-1970 wood paneling:

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It’s a nice feeling to know that when someone comes to our door, I’m not embarrassed to open it now. In many ways, this change has really made me start feeling like this house is ours. And, perhaps even more importantly, yet another giant trash bag of wallpaper is out of our life!

Just about snow-ver and done with winter

Unless you live under a rock, or perhaps in Southern California with no internet access, you’re probably aware that this winter has been a bit snowy for us in the Northeast. That said, we have gotten a mere dusting in comparison to poor Boston, where some people may not find their cars until April.

Our very unscientific methods (a ruler in the ground) have measured more than 34 inches of fresh snow in past month.

It’s been beautiful — there’s no question about that.  This morning I woke up and the entire world looked like a black and white photograph.


Less beautiful is the havoc this weather has wreaked on our daily lives. We had to cancel a trip to visit Scott’s family after sitting on a runway in a whiteout for almost 2 hours. Driving at 10 mph has become normal — and that’s when our road has been plowed and we’re able to get out.  Scott’s gotten his car stuck in our driveway. We had to cancel plans last weekend so that we could stay home and shovel — yes, shovel — our roof. The piles on the sides of our driveway have become so large that new snow has to be picked up and flung over our heads to reach the lawn.  I’m not exaggerating.


I’m not really going to complain about it. For starters, I love winter, and living in a climate with four distinct seasons means that you have to embrace the extremes. Snow means I can cross country ski and snowshoe and sled — all favorite activities of mine. And we have a fantastic house that is cozy and warm and big enough that we don’t get cabin fever.

There have been many years in which huge snowstorms were predicted (Snowpacalypse of 2010! Snowmageddon of 2013!), and then nothing happened. I was starting to get cynical, and sick and tired of all of the snow-verreactions.

OK, Mother Nature, you proved your point!

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our kitchen window!

40 before 40: Learn the Lyra

If you’ve been following my adventures, you know that I’ve become obsessed with circus arts. I tried flying trapeze four years ago, and that was not for me. But a class last spring in aerial silks reignited my interest in flying and tumbling in the air. As a result of that experience, I signed up for a 10-week circus class this past fall. It was grand.

But there was one circus art that I hadn’t yet explored, and that’s lyra.

This is lyra (note that this is NOT me doing lyra, nor are granny panties a requirement):


Basically, it’s a giant metal hula hoop that hangs from the ceiling.

I found myself in New York City for work this week. While I despise almost everything about that city, I have to admit that when it comes to new experiences, there’s very little that one can’t try out there. I found a sweet deal meant for resolutioners — you know, those people who say they will lose 25 pounds, or whatever, in the new year and go gung-ho for about 3 weeks before giving up completely. This deal offered a full 90 minute class, normally $40, for only $20.

I signed up for “Intro to Hoop,” and the class description stated that the group would be limited to six people and was appropriate for people with limited to no experience. Perfect.

Wednesday night, I arrived at the studio twenty minutes early and sat outside the lyra room, waiting for my classmates to join me. Only one other woman was milling around, and as the clock ticked closer to 6:30, I started to think she might be the only other student.

“Are you here for the lyra class?” I asked. She confirmed. “Have you ever done this before?”

“Oh yes,” she said confidently. “This is my second month of class — I actually started on aerial silks and moved to this last year.”

Butterflies started flapping in my belly. What had I gotten myself into?

Well, we had at least one connection.

“I’ve done aerial silks, too!” I said.

“Oh yeah?” she said. “Where do you normally train?”

Train? Come on now. This is INTRO TO HOOP. I know I joke about running away to join a circus, but I’m not training for it. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

I answered by not answering. “I live in upstate NY. I’m here on business.”

Our instructor showed up at that moment, saving me from having to admit that I was not actually an aspiring acrobat. She was a little, tiny, bendy thing who looked like she’d stepped off a Cirque du Soleil stage just moments before. “My, my!” she said, energetically. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had anyone as tall as you in my class!”

Fantastic. Hideously under-prepared AND insanely tall. Oh, and did I mention I was at least 15 years older than both of them?

After a 15-minute warm up, we started playing with the hoops. Mounting and dismounting is the hardest part, I learned — after you get yourself into the hoop, it’s not hard to play around and put yourself into some awesome poses. But getting up there requires serious ab muscles.

And you know what? Being tall actually helped. Tremendously. While my new wannabe gymnast friend struggled to get herself up and into the hoop, I managed to climb into mine on the first try. Granted, it wasn’t the most graceful move, but I did it.

The rest of the class flew by as we learned 3 different methods for mounting and dismounting, and then played with some movement while sitting and standing in the hoop. Since there were only two of us in the class, we got to spend a lot more time working in the hoop than we otherwise would have. I was hooked — it’s a very hard workout, but I barely noticed my quivering muscles until it was time to go. I think I may actually have enjoyed lyra even more than I did aerial silks, and I LOVED aerial silks.

So all in all, #14 on the 40 before 40 list was a hit, and something I hope to have the chance to do again soon.

And you know what? I would even consider buying granny panties for it.

Jennifer and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

I went completely deaf at 3:30am this morning, and awoke from my deep slumber in a panic.

To understand how alarming this moment in time was to me, you need to know that when we moved from the busy Bay Area to a quiet rural road outside Ithaca, NY, I found the extreme quiet to be discombobulating. It was TOO quiet at night, and I would wake up at the slightest sound — a creek of the floor as Scott tip-toed around, the cat munching from his food bowl, a bird flying through the forest outside the window. Anything — everything — woke me up.

I started sleeping with a fan on, which was nice in the summertime and less nice in the dead of winter.

A few birthdays ago, I got a white noise machine, and everything changed. I love that thing. It’s loud, it’s consistent, and it drowns out the quiet. Which sounds ridiculous.

So this morning, when I woke up suddenly and realized the absence of my security blanket of noise, my heart leapt into my throat. My first and only thought was, “Oh great, now I’m deaf.”

Then something miraculous happened. Scott bashed into the wall outside our bedroom door, and I heard it! And then I heard him mutter “damnnnn” under his breath.

I was cured!

“Is everything ok?” I asked.

“The electricity went out and I stepped in cat puke.”

And thus began our Monday morning. It didn’t get better.

My alarm went off at 6:30, which was pointless because I hadn’t fallen back asleep. The lights were still out. Our normally toasty bedroom was freezing. I pulled two giant quilts over my shoulders and ventured into the hallway. Scott was asleep by the gas fireplace, inside a 6 foot semi-circle of warmth, and the two cats were asleep on top of him. I moved on to the kitchen, where a thermometer told me it was 8 degrees outside. It felt like it was about 9 degrees inside. I fumbled in the dark for a few chocolate covered espresso beans. This would have to be my cup of coffee.

I was already dreading this morning because it would be my first day back to work after almost two weeks of winter break. Re-entry is always hard.

I pawed around my office until I felt the familiar shape of my headlamp. I strapped it on and went to the bathroom. Obviously a shower was not happening. I stuffed a brush, my flatiron and a washcloth in a bag to take to the office, where I would have to clean myself up enough to get through the day.

I pulled back the curtains to try to let in a little natural light so I could dress.

And that’s when I saw that some jerk had trashed our lawn.

There were papers strewn about the yard. The bushes in the front yard had bits of paper stuck to them, and as the wind whipped around, empty cans of soda bounced around at the bottom of our trees.

There was Christmas wrapping paper everywhere, and I let loose a low grrrrrr as I thought about what idiots had done this to us.

Then a big piece of red glittery paper flew across the sky.  Why did that look so familiar?

It took me another few seconds.

Oh my word, that’s OUR ENTIRE RECYCLING BIN.

Actually, it was three recycling bins… that’s how much we had this week, thanks to the holidays and home projects. And now all of it was scattered throughout our yard, in the neighbor’s yard and flying down the road towards the state forest.

I pulled on my sweater, stuck my unwashed, un-straightened hair in a hat and opened the front door to start collecting our trash. A gale force wind slammed against the front door, pulling it out of my hand, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a black shadow scurry across the porch and down to the side yard.

Now a cat was loose.

I chased Leo around the yard for a few minutes, as he hissed at me and tried to take in a few moments of freedom. I finally caught him and returned him to prison home. I walked over to my car to start it so it had time to warm up as I cleaned up the yard. I sat in the driver’s seat, depressed the clutch and turned my key.

Nothing happened.

The battery was dead.

It was 7:45 in the morning.

This was my first day back from winter break.

Did I mention how much re-entry stinks?

2014 was a good year

“What the new year brings to you depends largely on what you bring to the new year.” – Vern McLellin

This quote inspires me because of how true it is. Sure, many things that we have no control over can happen in the course of 12 months. Jobs are lost, loved ones pass away, health deteriorates — the only thing we can control is how we react to challenges, and I believe it’s often attitude and action that dictate a good year from a terrible one.

That said, some years are undoubtedly better than others.

A year ago, we had no intention of buying a house, and certainly not a historic church house. I didn’t know how to tap dance, or weave alpaca rugs, or do circus tricks. My baby brother wasn’t married and I had never made a zombie brain wedding cake.

Now all of those things — and many more — are a part of my life story.

There’s a small voice in my head that tells me not to admit that life feels good right now, because acknowledging that fact guarantees everything will go immediately to hell in a handbasket. In fact, I’ve deleted and rewritten that sentence three times, perhaps fearing that committing it to this blog and to the internet will somehow make it come true, faster.

Who is that voice? How can I convince her that while I admire her attempts to protect me, there’s another voice that wants me to know it’s okay to be happy. We’re quick to talk about all the things that are wrong in our lives; why are we reluctant to talk about the things that are right?

I have an incredible marriage. An awesome house. Two cats who brighten my days. Several creative outlets that guarantee I’m never bored. A stable job. A car that’s paid off. Great friends. The best family.

10 years ago today, I was dreading a new year. My life would get much worse before it got better. I was a wreck: emotionally, physically, spiritually, financially. There were days when I asked myself, “is this it? Is this your life? Seriously?”

Things aren’t perfect now. They’ll never be perfect. But this is my life. This is it. Seriously.

And you know what? Right now, it’s awesome.

So what am I bringing to the new year?

A commitment to that second voice, to the one who acknowledges and celebrates when life is going well.

I bring the knowledge that even when things are at their worst, when days are darkest, happiness is never completely out of reach. But happiness is also not something that just happens. It takes hard work and perseverance. And action.

In true Ithaca-spirit, I hope I can bring to the new year love, laughter and a sense of adventure.

I also have 27 more new things to do before I turn 40… in 19 short months.

So bring it, 2015! Let’s have some fun!


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