Celebrate the Firsts

Earlier this year, my sister reminded me of how refreshing and inspiring it is to "celebrate the firsts."  My mom and my sister both celebrated milestone birthdays in 2017.  When my sister, mom and I were on a 3-way-phone call for my mom's 70th birthday, my sister asked my mom "what are some things you did for the first time this year?" It sparked an enjoyable discussion, and we each took turns sharing our "firsts" from the year.

Firsts, I think, are oftentimes considered the territory of the young. First words, first steps, first birthday, the first day of school...first love...first job...first house. The firsts we tend to celebrate become fewer and farther between as we age. But, it's a nice life philosophy, I think, that no matter how old we are, we can strive to lead a life of never-ending learning, to witness its unfolding with fresh eyes and through a lens of curiosity. The firsts we experience at any age during our brief stay on earth are worthy of celebration.

My Annual List is a way that I try to encourage a personal philosophy that celebrates a lifetime filled with firsts, although it wasn't until the phone call with my mom and sister that I made the connection. And 2017 was filled with some massive, MASSIVE firsts for me.

Here it is, a recap of some (but not all) of my 2017 year of "firsts." (caution - it's a long recap!)

1. Visit a Cat Cafe:  Ann Arbor is the home to Tiny Lions Cat Cafe, and I've been wanting to visit since it opened. Last summer I finally got my chance. I loved it so much that I went twice. The first time, I went with B for coffee and cat time, and the second time, I participated in....CAT YOGA, a magical combination of two of my very favorite things. Worth it!  I've heard buzz that a cat cafe is opening here in the Twin Cities, and when that happens, this kitten will be smitten.

This little cutie was up for adoption at the Cat Cafe.

This little cutie was up for adoption at the Cat Cafe.

naMEOWste. The cat in me honors the cat in you.

naMEOWste. The cat in me honors the cat in you.

4. Diet Coke free for a full year: I wrote about this item earlier this year, and I'm now coming up on 18 months DC free (and all soda, for that matter). This is an all time record for me, and a streak I plan to keep up for at least a little while longer.

12 Start my own business: This is one of my biggest, most impactful and life-changing firsts of 2017. Technically, I branched out on my own about 14 months ago in late '16 when I somewhat stumbled into my first freelance gig. Until that point, I only half-heartedly considered striking out on my own. The first project was successful, so I decided to go for it. I filed the paperwork for my own LLC in January 2017, and I officially opened for business as a part-time consultant. I set some modest financial goals, found an accountant, and grew my business over the course of the year. As 2017 came a close, I surpassed my goal. On my way to that goal, I found strength, stamina, courage, and backbone that I didn't realize I had. It feels good to be at the helm of my career.

14. Take a calligraphy class: My friend RP enjoys calligraphy, and offered to give me a lesson. So, early on in 2017, B and I went to dinner with RP, her husband, and their adorable daughter. After dinner, we cracked open some (more) wine and broke out the calligraphy pens. It was a lot of fun, and something I'd like to do again. Because that's the kind of rock and roll lifestyle I live.

15. Get a logo and header designed for my blog: I am in love with my 20-10-30 blog header, and the artwork on my "about" page that depicts me, Little Cloud (on the right), and the late Timmy (on the left). My talented cousin Hank Ewbank designed it for me. He also designed my business logo. He's a talented graphic designer based in Kalamazoo who just scored a full-time gig, but I think he still side gigs on occasion, and I'd recommend him to anyone.

20. Visit a winery I've never been to before: I checked this list item off during my 3-week residency in Santa Cruz last summer with a trip to Regale Vineyards. B and I somehow managed to score access into the members-only, private access terrace, and it was lovely in every way.

CHEERS from Regale!

CHEERS from Regale!

25. See a comedian perform live who I haven't seen before:  I've included this on my annual list for a few years now, and in 2017, the comedian B and I saw was none other than...Trevor Noah! B and I love watching him on the The Daily Show, and my admiration for him grew, even more, this past summer, once I read his book Born a Crime.  Tix were sold out for the early bird 7p show, but we put on our party pants and hauled our party butts to the 10p show, and laughed to smart comedy for a few hours. Fantastic.

We were a part of the 10 PM crowd. 10 PM! Go Trevor!

We were a part of the 10 PM crowd. 10 PM! Go Trevor!

42. Achieve a yoga headstand: I did it and earlier this year I wrote about it! I'm now working on consistency and moving my headstand away from the safety of the wall.  That's a long-term goal....maybe this year...maybe further out.

48. Go to a Twin Cities Wine Education GastroVINO event: it was a frigid day in early Feb when B and I hit up the "Bubbly and Fries" edition of GastroVINO, a Twin Cities Wine Education event. We've been taking wine classes with Jason of TCWE for years, and this event was just the sparkly warm up we needed.

CHEERS....again!

CHEERS....again!

52. TV free for a week: This is another one I completed in Santa Cruz over the summer, and also wrote up. This one was hard, since I heart TV a lot.

57. Become a certified yoga teacher: This is another first that falls into the LIFE CHANGING category, and that I wrote about in 2017. One of the best ways I have ever cared for myself was to become a yoga teacher. What a gift. A sappy sentiment, sure, but true nonetheless.

66. Make something artistic out of sparkling wine corks and/or cages: This isn't really my accomplishment, but B's. Since we bought a house, he's discovered a handy talent for building things, and it's an artistic gift that also helps him to de-stress and decompress. And, as his partner in life, I get to reap some of the benefits as well. Here's the Dart cork board he designed and built with sparkling and still wine corks.  I will let you know when B's Etsy shop goes live.

Photo cred: B   Handiwork cred: B    No cred: me. maybe next year!

Photo cred: B   Handiwork cred: B    No cred: me. maybe next year!

67. Teach a yoga class: Not only have I taught one yoga class (and wrote about it in 2017), but I've taught a yoga class...times 120! I almost cannot comprehend that I have taught one-hundred-twenty classes since I received my certification at the end of April, 2017.  113 vinyasa classes and 7 chair classes. 107 hour-long classes, 13 classes where I assisted, tandem taught with another teacher, or taught a shortened 30 minute class. I've taught classes outdoors in parks, in back yards, in studios, for free at the library, in health treatment centers, and in a senior living community.  I've taught private classes, small classes of 2-5 people, medium-sized classes of 10-20, and even one class with over 100 students. I've taught classes to friends and to the community for free, and I've taught for pay. I've taught adults age 20s through age 80s. I've stumbled over words, forgotten sequences, given awkward adjustments, felt like a failure, and wished no one would show up to the next class. And, the opposite is also true in every way, where the words came easy and the sequences flowed smoothly,  where I've given caring, well-delivered adjustments, felt completely confident and clear, and felt pure excitement to teach the next class. 

79. Do a cartwheel: It wasn't pretty, but I did it, goofing around in the basement, and I'm thankful that there isn't a scrap of photographic or video evidence. You'll just have to take my word that it happened.

86. Learn how to play darts: This one isn't exactly true...B has explained the rules and the scoring to a couple of different dart games, but it hasn't stuck. I'm more of an observer to bar games than a skilled participant. Unless it's beer pong. I'm pretty good at that one.  And, I've had some shining flip cup victories as well

87. Join a trivia league: This one isn't exactly true either, but last winter on a visit home, B and I joined my cousin's Trivia team, The Rude Ghosts (booooo!) So, that kind of counts, right? We played at the famous Bells, one of my favorite bars in Kzoo, and I think I answered, like, maybe one question. Ah, but how do they live without my talents each week?

Bonus Items

101. "Get Gonged" at a full moon gong bath: I've participated this one twice now, but never wrote about it. I'll sum it up in 3 top of mind words: Strange. Crowded. Vibrations.  And yes, I'll likely take part again some time. Have no idea what I'm talking about? The event takes place each month on the night of the Full Moon at One Yoga, lead by Kundalini instructor Nicole Nardone. You can check out her workshops to learn more.

106. Take an Iyengar Yoga classI checked this one off during my Santa Cruz summer.  Sadly, very few options for Iyengar (or Iyengar inspired) yoga exist here in Minneapolis, otherwise, I'd keep it up.

107. Take a Bunny Yoga Class:  Yep, yoga with bunnies, to benefit the Minnesota Companion Rabbit Society. It was soft, fluffy, friendly, and surprisingly free of bunny turds. Quite naturally, I loved every minute of the practice, lead by my yoga bud, DR. Check out the event photos on Flickr, and see if you can spot the little black bunny, mid yawn (this photo also features my feet)!

Fluffy butts!!!!

Fluffy butts!!!!

108. Visit the Hill House: This is an historic location in St. Paul that I visited with my Dad and B. The place is definitely haunted. Next year, I want to visit around Halloween for their ghost story tour.

Whoa! Do you see the ghost in the 3rd window from the left on the 3rd floor? Just Kidding!  Or....am I?

Whoa! Do you see the ghost in the 3rd window from the left on the 3rd floor? Just Kidding!  Or....am I?

109. Complete a Juice Cleanse: A yoga teacher friend of mine talked me into doing a 3-day Juice cleanse with her. It was actually easier than I thought it would be...freeing to not have to spend time thinking about what to eat or hunting down food. Also, I peed a lot. Also, I lost like 6 lbs. Also, Ive since gained most of those lbs back. Also, I'll definitely do it again. It helped me to perceive my relationship with food a bit differently, in that I was able to let go of some of the deep, emotional attachment I have to eating. I also realized how much better I feel when fruits and veggies are more prominent in my diet, and when I am fully hydrated.

96 oz of juice + 96 oz of water each day. 

96 oz of juice + 96 oz of water each day. 

Mission accomplished! Did I mention I peed a lot?

Mission accomplished! Did I mention I peed a lot?

110. Seed a Pomegranate: I found a YouTube video that explains it. (which I now cannot relocate, but there are lots of similar ones). Basically, you cut along the 6 ridges, peel it open and submerge it in water to get the seeds out. It was an oddly satisfying exercise.

Literal fruit of the labor.

Literal fruit of the labor.

111. Vote/Volunteer in a Municipal Election: I admit it, 2017 was the first year I've ever voted in a non-Presidential election. Well, not only did I vote, but I worked all day, from 6a-10p as an Election Judge to help other people vote, too. I'm proud to live in a state where voter turnout is among the highest in the country. 

And...that's a wrap on 2017! I've playing around with my 2018 List, and am taking suggestions, if you have them. And, if you're interested in joining me for any of these firsts, I'd love the company. Let the new year of "firsts" begin!

Wash the Dishes

It took me an hour to clean up the kitchen. It took me an hour, so it must have been some big mess, yeah? No...No. The kitchen was generally tidy to start, and the stack of dishes, short. It *should* have taken me 10 minutes. It took me an hour.

I could not focus on tidying the kitchen. 

I could not focus because lately, I've been depressed and anxious.

One of the many delightful ways that depression and anxiety show up for me is the rapidly explosive fireworks spiral of thoughts-turned-potential-crises that ultimately lead me to land on THIS shiny winner of a thought -- That I am the World's Shittiest Person.

Here's a fun, and fuck it, TMI example train(wreck) of thought that knots its way through my brain when I'm deep in the depression/anxiety loop (note: this is an abridged snippet of the real thing):

Molly. Wash the dishes. And wipe down the counter. Oh, and sort through the mail. And go to the bank, that check from your client finally arrived. Oh -don't forget, you have to renew your LLC filing soon. And on the topic of work, you have those proposals to respond to, don't forget. Don't get overwhelmed, remember you chose this career path. And fold the laundry. And we need milk. And Cloud needs a vet appointment. Don't you care about your cat? You're not acting like it, or it would have been done already. Selfish. And there's that email you never answered, how long has it been now? You're a shitty planner, you should have responded to that note, already. And you need new clothes. Yeah, you need to add shopping to your already busy list because you've gotten so fat and you've gained so much weight, and what a slug you've become and you did this to yourself you know you did.  And Christmas is coming, you better think of thoughtful gifts and buy and send cards because otherwise everyone will hate you and why are you so inconsiderate, Molly, remember all that TV you watched when you could have been productive, you do this to yourself, Molly. Oh, are you frustrated now? Grow up. You gonna whine about it and cry? Molly. Focus. And, you still haven't made that appointment with your doctor to figure out what's wrong and I'll tell you what's wrong its because you're so unhealthy and so fucked up, and it's never going to happen for you can't have a kid or be a good parent or be a good partner or live in peace and be free from anxiety and good things aren't yours to have because as it turns out youareahorriblepersonwhocannotdoanythingrightandohmygodohmygodohmygodyousuckatlife.....

You know, delightful thought trains like that. Yay brain.

Slow Spiral. Picking-up-speed Spiral. Rapid-barrel-headfirst-into-oblivion Spiral.

Epic proportions Catastrophe.

When I feel depressed and anxious, every thought in my brain becomes a priority of urgent measures. And my inability to respond to them all at once somehow leads me straight to the belief that I am a terrible person. And then nothing is a priority. And then I am a puddle on the floor, awash in shame.

As I was cleaning up the kitchen, I began the slow spiral. But. BUT! I did not take it all the way to the end-shame-game. Not this time. After 45 minutes of the slow and strange and draining spin and subsequent wandering away from the kitchen to tackle random other "priorities", I was finally able to rest my mind and my efforts on one simple task.

Wash the dishes.

And, It became like a form of meditation for me, standing in front of the kitchen sink, hands drenched in soapy water.

Wash the dishes.

A brief meditation because, as I said, the dish stack was short. But, it was long enough to ease the tension in the line, to dissipate the spiral.

Wash the dishes. 

Over and over, I was able to steer my mind to just that one thought. 

Wash the dishes.

To create some space and quiet around that one thought, to soften the shouts of a thousand other thoughts.

Wash the dishes.

Thinking about that single mundane action was enough to steady my breathing, to gently pull my shoulders away from my ears, to feel my feet on the ground, and to re-enter my full body vs cramming myself tightly into the over-crowded space between my ears. 

I did that. I created my own place for calm, and in those moments I chose not to believe that I am terrible, because I know that's just the depression echo chamber and it's not valid. I'ts not fact. It's not me.

And, I've decided that "wash the dishes" is now going to be the mental bell I ring when I sense I'm heading into a spiral, to serve as a reminder to myself that I am not a terrible nothing, that depression and anxiety do not get the final say in defining me.

It's not profound and it doesn't need to be.  Just...wash the dishes.

Avoid Failure, Avoid Success.

"Failure is part of the process of success. People who avoid failure also avoid success.”
- Robert T. Kiyosaki

It's Day 11 of my 17 days in Nor Cal, and I'm starting to feel pretty settled in. I'm grateful that my sister E was able to join me initially, and I've gotten over the loneliness hump that swept over me after she left. I just wrapped up a chill weekend with my friends W+D who came down from San Francisco to visit me. I, in turn, popped back up to SF to spend a night in the city at their place, and to meet one of my clients in person for dinner. I'm now back here in Santa Cruz for a few days, eagerly anticipating B's upcoming visit. I'm feeling pretty upbeat, and not at all lonely this time around on my own.

I know part of that reason I'm not so lonely is that I broke my TV fast. Tonight I watched last week's Bachelorette episode. Don't judge the swift conclusion of my detox; I lasted a week! And I wasn't sure I'd even hit that milestone, so yeah, GO ME!  I committed and I stuck with it, and I am going to continue to work to cut back my overall viewing. And, I KNOW you're not judging my consumption selection! Bachelorette Rachel and her suitors made for excellent company this evening. AND we're even hanging out again tomorrow night (minus a few suitors) when I catch up on tonight's episode. I do what I want!

It's obvious that I still love TV. And tonight, I appreciated having TV companionship. However, I recognize that, too often, I use it as a way to avoid my 'real life' And, I recognize that when watched in excess, TV makes me feel sluggish and unproductive. Yes, earth shaking revelation, I know.  What did I tell you about not judging? And, in the absence of TV, my brain starts seeking out other time sucking, low productivity activities that may or may not rhyme with browsing mocial sedia . Ugh. Gross.

DAMMIT BRAIN!  

But, brain, I get it too, and now I'm sorry for yelling at you and shaming you for your TV coping mechanism, the one you've been trained to seek out. Because I know it's scary to face the real shit in life, and how overwhelming it can be. I know what it's like to fear failure so much that you seek any distraction to keep from entering into the game at all. We'll work on this together, brain, and we'll forge a new neural pathway.

In related news, this past Thursday, July 13, I hit a very big milestone.

A little backstory: Just over 3 years ago, I wrote about my cold turkey breakup with my favorite caffeinated beverage, the unbeatable sweet, jolty fizz of fireworks in a can, Diet Coke. My goal was to kick the habit for a month, and I ended up abstaining from that sweet nectar of the global corporate branded gods for 240 days. At that time, I consciously chose to lightly step off the wagon, and scamper along behind the wagon for a while. 

And then a year ago, I decided to jump back on the wagon. I've now been diet coke free for a 365 straight days (370 days actually!) and I'm still going strong. In fact, I haven't had any soda pop in the past year. Unless you count the delicious nectar that is San Pellegrino. Which I don't. And I rarely drink anyway. So - diet coke and soda sober for over a year!

So, hey! That's kind of a big deal!

And, along with quitting TV for a week, achieving my 1-year diet coke sobriety milestone is kind of a big confidence booster for me, too. I was beginning to think that I had lost my capability to self-motivate, to set challenging personal goals and commit to the hard work that it takes to achieve them. That I was falling back into my familiar pattern of being so concerned about failure, that I wouldn't even put in the effort. Write a blog entry? Work proactively on building my business? Immerse in becoming a yoga teacher?  Practice Spanish and learn a new language? Well, just one more episode. Procrastinate a little longer.

If you don't play, you can't fail. And...you can't succeed either.

And these goals, giving up TV for a week and cutting diet coke out of my diet, as silly and inconsequential as they may be, have helped me to get back on track, to rejoin the part of myself that desires striving for success, even if it means stumbling and risking failure.

I have a renewed oomph to keep recommitting to myself and what matters to me. To keep my head out of the sand (where it's watching all that dang TV) and live above ground.  Most of the time anyway. Someone's got to watch the Bachelorette, and I think that someone should still be me!