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Not many people like being photographed from behind, but living with a photographer, I am used to hearing the shutter flutter whenever my backside is facing him.

Sorry, Sir Mixalot, not like that. More like this:

The photos above are all from our 2006 trip to China, when every step I took was the beginning of an adventure into the unknown, whether it be onto an airplane leaving the Tibetan plateau, a wooden pathway through the luscious greenery of Jiuzhaigou Valley, or aboard the dingiest water vessel I have ever set foot on.

Caught in time is one foot in front of the other, a poetic symbol of a journey about to begin. I am not posed, but I am poised.

I wish images like this could be captured each time I walk into a 5Rhythms practice, but then there’d be photo after photo after photo—millions of photos—because sometimes I feel like it’s not just stepping inside the studio that’s the beginning of a journey but each individual step within the 2- or 3-hour class that has me embarking on a new adventure, exploring unfamiliar terrain.

One minute I’m throwing my body across the room in a frenzy of Chaos, and then—just like that—I find my center and twirl around myself like a whirling dervish.
I lean against the wall, roll on the floor.
Slide up next to a woman with a bum knee sitting in a folding chair and engage in a seated version of dancing.
My hands and feet are claws, then feathers.
My face dances as we pair up for a dueling Staccato, one person exclaiming “Yes!” and the other “No!”…
…The sensation of hearing my voice during a dance class is both foreign and exhilarating.
I glissade with a partner as though she and I are ballerinas; when partnered with a male to the same music, we are friendly warriors, all angles with a touch of lightness.
Stillness comes, and I think I don’t want to go on the floor, but without thought I am soon on the floor, curled up like a fetus, expanding like a stretching cat.
I am breathing audibly, entranced by the soft music my lungs have created for me.

So many snapshots, so many destinations in one class. With each step, I have boarded a plane, skipped through a grassy field, balanced myself on railroad tracks, jumped into the ocean, fallen off a cliff. Where will my next step take me?

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
~Lao-tzu

This past week has been a little dizzying, and Bryan and I have been trying to ho-ho-ha-ha-ha our way through a testy George Foreman Grill, a cracked kitchen sink and the installation of a new one (shout-out to my dad, who spent about 2.5 hours squeezed into the bowels of our kitchen cabinetry), and the demise of Bryan’s 10-year-old Hyundai and subsequent purchase of a new (used) car, complete with test-driving vehicles on a windy, rainy Wednesday night in rush-hour traffic.

Whee!

As such, I’ve neglected to pay tribute to the honest-to-gosh things that have recently put a smile on my face. Of note:

Late-Season Tomatoes

As usual, our tomato plants showed promise at the beginning of the season, produced a few good ones (the rest were devoured by squirrels and rabbits), and then withered into nothingness somewhere around late August. We went on vacation in early September, completely neglecting the plants and never once looking back. Yet abandonment makes the vines grow stronger (or perhaps it was the 279 gallons of rain we got this summer), because earlier this month these guys made an appearance on the sagging, droopy plants:

And they were amazing! Firm, red, with very few seeds, and not the least bit watery. Bonus: We got to them before those darn squirrels.

Toddler Time

As I’ve already mentioned, I am in love with my friends Emma and Peter’s daughter, Bella. She is a one-person show, and she is so entertaining that I could see people paying to witness her side-splitting expressions, silly dances, and toddler babble. I recently got to hang out with her all afternoon during her 2nd birthday party, which featured almost zen-like gift unwrapping (surely to turn into monster shreddage-unwrapping by next year), train rides on Thomas the Tank Engine, and the requisite cake time!

(Not pictured: Bella’s grandfather leaning a little too far back in his chair and falling to the garage floor in slow-mo. We all held our breath…and then busted up laughing as he gave the thumbs-up from the ground.) 🙂

Our gift to Bella was Disney related, of course: a baby doll version of Ariel. I brainwashed Bella into acknowledging that it was her most favorite present of the bunch, and it was a success.

Two-year-olds don't quite grasp the concept of "Say Cheese!"

My impression of Bella

She played with the doll all evening, much better than the time as a newborn she broke out into tears when her momma placed the Mickey Mouse plush I purchased in her arms.

She even crafted a seasonally appropriate thank-you card for us:

Indian Summer

The same weekend as Bella’s birthday, Bryan and I went down the shore for the day. The forecast called for temps in the mid-80s at home, so we took the opportunity to experience Ocean City in October. It was surprisingly warm (what ocean breeze?!), so much that Bryan had to buy a pair of shorts on the boardwalk and ditch his jeans.

I was excited to walk on the sand without a beach tag and, since lifeguard season is over, pose contemplatively on the algae-covered jetty.

We intentionally parked several blocks away from the main boardwalk so we could get in plenty of walking time, making us feel a little less guilty for indulging in super-huge slices of pizza and frozen desserts. (It also balanced out all the time we spent sitting in traffic on the drive home, since the rest of the world had the same idea about going to the shore.)

Where one slice is enough!

We played a round of miniature golf and took note of all the migrating monarch butterflies fluttering over the boardwalk wildflowers. I wish I had a picture of the butterflies—they were all over the place!

Ego Boosters

I don’t toot my own horn much, but two personal accomplishments last week really made me beam: (a) I found out that I passed a super-hard exam I took last month that officially makes me an Editor in the Life Sciences (complete with credentials that no one but our little circle of nerdy editors will understand), and (b) a triathlon coach at my gym praised my swimming skills. I told her that I was interested in taking her freestyle swim lessons (intended to improve your technique), and she looked at me and said, “Nah, you don’t need that.” I went on to explain that other than childhood lessons at the Y, I’ve had no other training and was looking to improve my form. Again, she said, “I’ve seen you swim. You’re fine.” Maybe it’s because I feel like my hip slows me down and that it compromises my kick, but few times when I swim do I feel confident about how I’m putting it all (kick, arms, breathing) together. My little pseuo-panic attack back in June wasn’t really boosting my self-esteem either.

But apparently I’m just a smidge above OK when it comes to editing and swimming. It feels awkward, but I guess I’ll give my ego horn a little ::toot toot::

Nature Walks

Every morning during my walks through the park, I see the changing leaves, curious deer, and sometimes even a wild turkey or four. This will be a separate post to come, though. Too much excitement to cover in this already overloaded post!

Happy October!

Jack-o-lantern heralding Halloween, Kripalu, Oct 2006

As if on cue, the first full month of fall has started on a cool and crisp note; after days of humid, muggy weather, today it’s breezy and only going up to 65. And thus begins the season of pumpkin spice lattes and me actually having to put on a jacket after swimming at the gym, rather than just throwing some shorts over my bathing suit and driving home in a wet Speedo.

September was a busy month, between going to Disney World, taking a fancy editing test for work, struggling with my health issues before getting a hypothyroidism diagnosis, and two other big events–

The Phillies:

and So You Think You Can Dance live!

The Phillies game was a make-up from a rained-out game we were supposed to attend back in August. It was re-scheduled for a Tuesday afternoon, so I actually had to take off from work to go to a baseball game. Once again, it rained consistently all morning but luckily cleared out right before game time. Citizens Bank Park, normally sold out and jammed packed, was pretty empty. It was weird to see so many blue seats rather than the usual red sea of Phillies t-shirts.

It was only my second time at Citizens Bank Park, and all I wanted was for someone to get a home run so I could see the Liberty Bell swing and gong. The previous game I attended last season (against the Nationals) was awful, and I left without my Liberty Bell wish being fulfilled. The Phillies ended up losing this game (coincidentally, also against the Nats), but Raul (“Ra-oooooollll!”) Ibanez did get a home run, and thus the Liberty Bell rang gloriously throughout the stadium.

Still shot of the bell; I was too excited and in the moment to photograph the bell during its actual ringing.

Some people find baseball too long and boring, but I find it kind of meditative. Those few moments of holding your breath as the ball flies toward the hitter or after the crack of the bat keep me in suspense and on the edge of my seat. Of course, I’m speaking as someone whose home team has had quite the victorious record these past couple of seasons; I don’t know if I’d be so into it if my team was at the bottom of the barrel.

To close September, last night Bryan and I went to Atlantic City for the So You Think You Can Dance tour. I’m a huge fan of the show and watched it diligently all summer long; seeing winner Melanie so close up gave me the goosebumps. I didn’t take any photos during the show because I just wanted to watch the dancers and not worry about getting the right shot. I’ve watched the routines on television and on YouTube, but seeing them live with the pulsing music, flashing lights, and being able to see the dancers’ expressions so close up is so much fun! I felt my body moving along with theirs; during the finale, the dancers encouraged everyone to stand up and move. It was like being in a giant night club, and everyone had a little bounce to their step as we filtered out of the arena.

The evening didn’t start so wonderfully, though. Due to heavy flooding and random road closures, we got stuck in awful traffic on the way there. We sat in 30 minutes of bumper-to-bumper traffic just a few minutes from our house and–once we thought we reached the end of it–the road was closed, and everyone was basically forced to make a circle and go back the way we.just.came. There may have been tears and cursing. Had Bryan not taken a “risky ninja” move and cut through some back roads, we would have been nearly 45 minutes late to the show. Instead, we arrived only about 10-15 minutes late. I nearly lost it again when when one of the event staff members pulled a prank on us during intermission. I guess my hand wasn’t stamped properly when I left the arena, so when I came back in, she couldn’t find it on my skin. “Can’t let you in,” she said. I pulled out my tickets for proof, and she still shook her head. “Sorry, you can’t go back in.” I must’ve looked like I was going to burst into tears, and Bryan must have looked ready to punch someone, so she finally broke into laughter and said, “I’m just messing with y’all. We need to have some fun, too!”

I normally like the glitz, glamor, and gaudiness of Atlantic City, but I was not having any of it last night. The awful drive there, the intermission scare, and then not being able to eat dinner until 10 p.m. amidst a smoky casino…I was so ready to go home. And we did…in the pouring rain. My friends, I was not very yogic last night, and it’s times like those I feel like a fraud. I may be able to do 10 minutes of alternate nostril breathing in the morning, but stick me in traffic with the threat of being very late to an expensive event that I was really looking forward to… goodbye, any notion of yoga.

So let’s say goodbye to September and, on this first of October, wish a happy birthday to my two favorite things:

My husband!

and Walt Disney World!

WDW, opened October 1, 1971

As a kid, I never liked having a summer birthday (no exclusive classroom celebration, and everyone was away on vacation when we tried to schedule a party), but as an adult I love the fact that my birthday is at the end of July. That way, when I take the day off work, I can spend my time down the shore! Being by the ocean is like escaping to another world for the day, and there’s no greater birthday gift than being surrounded by blue skies, sand, the roaring ocean, and the bustling summertime boardwalk. So that’s where Bryan and I headed this past Friday!

View of the Atlantic from atop the Wildwood ferris wheel

Although it’s a bit of a longer drive than some other beaches, Wildwood (also known as The Wildwoods, a collection of communities) is quickly becoming one of my favorite destinations. As I mentioned in my previous post, it’s where my parents, little sister, and I used to go every summer in my youth, and part of my love for the boardwalk is due to nostalgia. But get this! The Wildwood boardwalk was named one of National Geographic’s Top 10 National Boardwalks, along with Atlantic City. New Jersey pride!

Wildwood's famous tram car

True to its doo-wop theming, even the Wildwood Wawa fits right in.

Due to my sensitive skin and high burn risk, I generally don’t like to lounge on the beach, so Bryan and I spent our time walking the boards and taking in the sights.

Stay classy, Jersey.

We love the 'Wa!

The shore is supposed to be cooler than the mainland, but that was not happening on Friday. It was hot, humid, and 100% disgusting. My skin was so slimy that putting on sunscreen felt like rubbing oil onto wet skin. We tried to cool off by catching a breeze on spinning rides:

Felt nice and breezy atop the giant ferris wheel!

Camera face off!

Gliding around the pier on a flying pirate ship

Trying to make it like “the good ol’ days,” I encouraged Bryan to go on some thrill rides with me. I used to ride the Condor all the time as kid; you sit in a hanging cage, it spins, and then–while boomerang spinning at the same time–the cars ascend a beam high into the air. “It’s like the Teacups in the sky!” I exclaimed.

The "before" face

What I soon realized as the cars began to climb several stories up is that I am not a kid anymore. As one who gets nervous walking too close to the balcony rail on the upper level at the mall, I should have known better than to willingly fly high into the sky in a suspended metal cage. Halfway up, I had to squeeze my eyes shut and attempt some deep breathing. The spinning was what was doing me in. Ugh.

White-knuckled death grip

I’m a roller coaster enthusiast, so Bryan and I patiently sat outside The Great Nor’Easter, waiting for it to open. The ride is a standard steel suspended looping coaster, the kind where your feet hang.

I love loops and corkscrews and all that jazz, and this is nothing new to me. However, what my body was not prepared for was the intense jostling this ride creates once you soar down the first hill. I wanted the ride to be over as soon as it descended, when it started to feel like I was in a car accident rather than on a roller coaster. My whole body was getting knocked around, and it was nothing like the smooth sailing of Medusa Bizarro over at Six Flags Great Adventure, which is one of the most pleasantly thrilling coasters I’ve ever been on. The only redeeming quality the Nor’Easter had was its spectacular view atop the first hill; at the last clackety-clack, you felt like you’d be dropping straight off into the Atlantic Ocean.

But no, instead you endure about a minute of violent shaking, exit the attraction feeling like your car has just tumbled off a cliff, and you wake up the next morning with bruises on the back of your legs.

Needless to say, traumatized by two childhood rides, I opted to skip the terrifying Dante’s Dungeon (which I never even liked as a kid, because it incorporates live actors who pop out of the shadows). Besides, the exterior is frightening in and of itself.

Me: “I used to ride this stuff all the time as a kid. What the heck happened?”

Bryan: “You realized that you are mortal.”

Me: “Well, there’s a nice birthday sentiment.”

OK, so maybe at 31 I can’t stomach the rides that thrilled me at 10, but one thing that doesn’t change with age is devouring boardwalk pizza for lunch.

In Ocean City, Mack & Manco’s is the #1 pizza purveyor; in Wildwood, it’s simply Macks.

And nothing washes pizza down like some Kohr Bros. custard!

After being out in the sun for so long, Bryan and I beat the heat by escaping under an old pier, enjoying the shade and cool lighting.

We rounded out the day with a game of air hockey (I lost miserably, 7-0), miniature golf (I beat Bryan by one stroke!), and take-out back home from IndeBlue for dinner (because who doesn‘t want hot and spicy Indian food after a 95-degree day at the beach and a broken air conditioner at home?!).

As for my actual birthday yesterday? I woke up feeling more tired than when I went to bed (most likely from being out in the sun all day), answered the ringing doorbell at 8:30 a.m. wearing short shorts stained with tomato sauce and a tank top without a bra (hello, Sears air conditioner repair man!), dilly-dallied around all morning before finally going to the gym for some swimming, and then put myself together for a family birthday dinner at Bertucci’s.

Looking for a party trick to make birthdays better? Have someone take your picture as you do “raspberry” lips. My sister knows how to entertain.

Thursday was my office birthday celebration, which meant my manager brought in the treat of my choice (brownies!) and decorated my cubicle with the “Happy Birthday” confetti.

This time last year I felt anything but happy. I had never associated turning 30 with “getting old,” but then right before my birthday my hip situation worsened and an MRI revealed a torn labrum. At the same time, an x-ray of my leg revealed a mysterious “thing” in my femur, and I went for three agonizing months not knowing for sure what it was. Before I had a specialist deem it a harmless “bone island” (a true medical term, not the next FOX reality show, I swear), I spent my days making orthopedist and bone scan appointments, experimenting with antidepressants (which lasted for a week; I couldn’t stand the side effects), and having to take anxiety medication to go to sleep. The timing was awful, and I felt like my body was a cruel prankster, making everything break down at such a milestone year of my life.

Yet, even with those setbacks, being 30 turned out OK. The hip thing makes my body slightly more fragile, but I have learned to cope with it, taking my time getting in and out of cars, avoiding pigeon and related yoga poses, and always toting around an ice pack to strap on my side after a long day of walking or a cycling session at the gym.

I know I look older; I can no longer mask a night without sleep–the dark circles under my eyes give it away. I have a few more wrinkles on my face, and I am oh-so-crotchety. I am a 30-something, female version of the “Get off my lawn!”-yelling grandpa. Or a cuter version of Larry David. Either would be correct. Just ask my husband.

But, before I go grab a frying pan and yell at the local youth walking across my grass, here’s a look back at the high points of Year 30:

• I celebrated the big 3-0 down the shore with my sis. It was a great lil’ getaway; we went to Wildwood, a shore town we used to frequent annually as kids but then hadn’t been in years. We did some rides, strolled the boards, took goofy pictures, scared ourselves silly riding ducks suspended on an overhead track, took the “back roads”-way home to avoid an accident that left us thinking we accidentally drove into Kansas, and then sat our sandy and sweaty beach butts down at IndeBlue back home for dinner.

I dorked out seeing Morey's Pier after such a prolonged absence.

Even mannequinns get heatstroke.

Heads up!

I've been on countless roller coasters, but returning to the Sea Serpeant fuh-reaked me out! I'm Death-Grip Donna, fourth row from the top.

• 30th birthday celebration II: Surprise Riversharks baseball game with friends. Bryan coordinated the event with a respectable number of guests; any more and I would have cried. I made it very clear to him that I did not want any big birthday surprise parties!

My kind of crowd!

• Birthday celebration III: Another outing with my sis, which included mango mimosas and omelets for brunch, a random African flea market, and a friend’s production of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, during which I was asked to be a part of the cast!

• Birthday celebration IV: A trip to Atlantic City, to redeem Bryan’s birthday gift to me: Tickets to the Season 7 So You Think You Can Dance tour!

Robert and Dominic!

• One of the greatest moments of my 30-year-old life was visiting a Disneyphile’s Mecca: Disneyland! Walt Disney World in Florida is my home base, but our trip to California last September allowed us the opportunity to walk in Walt’s footsteps.

The very first Disney castle!

As an East Coaster my heart will always belong to WDW, but the trip allowed us to see lots of cool things original to Disneyland:

An outdoors "It's A Small World"!

The Matterhorn!

A Monorail that runs through the park!

A Haunted Mansion that switches over to a "Nightmare Before Christmas" theme!

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride (does my shirt scream "Geek"?)!

A whole new Disney park–California Adventure!

Totally awesome evening show: World of Color!

• Being in California also meant seeing some really cool sights in the LA area:

Hollywood from the hills

LA traffic

The Walt Disney Concert Hall

A frozen yogurt junkie's heaven

The beautiful Getty Center

Sepulveda Dam, which I thought was so lame at the time. (I have a new appreciation for it, now that I know it was featured on "24" and "Alias.")

• My 30th New Year’s celebration included some awesome rooftop fireworks over Philly, which we may never see again now that our friends who lived in the high-rise apartment complex have moved.

• After maintaining a fairly private blog since 2003, I started this here Flowtation Devices in March!

• After being without a “yoga home” for more than a year, I find a studio right by my office–and a teacher whose classes I love!

• I took time to polish up my resume, reminding myself that I done good.

• I put on my big-girl shoes and drove to Philly by myself so I could start attending 5Rhythms classes in the city.

• 30 became the year of fanatic plane watching:

• One of the best places to watch planes is Red Bank Battlefield Park, which became a go-to spot for Bryan and I on nice days:

• My dad won tickets to a Phillies game–my first time at Citizens Bank Park, and some SWEET seats, too!

• I finally got to bang on my djembe a little more at some rockin’ drum circles:

Facilitator Jim Donovan and Old-Lady Friend Carrol.

• Bryan and I spend the evening with fellow NPR nerds at a live recording of Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me at the Academy of Music. Things get even better after Christmas, when Bryan gets me a shiny red iPod Nano and I can finally listen to the podcasts!

• I enter my first sporty competition and complete the swimming portion of a team duathlon.

• A railroad crossing near our house that has been closed since the dawn of time OPENS, meaning we can drive from one side of town to the other without having to make a giant u-turn. I consider this 30th Birthday Celebration V; it was a huge victory in our town!

• Bryan gets a new job that allows him to work from home–more husband time! And weeknight dinners together, too–a brand new concept for the wife of a former newspaper photographer!

• I supervise some kick-ass interns at work. It feels good to work with young, intelligent minds…and even help one score a full-time gig!

Round II of physical therapy for my hip includes some odd moments (nothing like having a male PT assistant glue electric nodes to my “underwear” area), but I walk away from the 2-month endeavor feeling better and armed with some incredibly useful hip and back exercises.

• I take blogging to the next level by joining an online community. Ahhh, commitment!

• While delving into all kinds creative movement, I fall head-over-heels in love with Biodanza during an introductory workshop. (It’s returning to Philly in August!)

___________________________

…So there you have it, kiddos. 30 was such an odd year for me, because I do the pee-pee dance when I see Donald Duck dressed as a pumpkin (and break down in tears when he walks away before I get a picture), yet I grumble and scowl like an old lady when kids go splashy-splash in the pool during my lap time at the gym. How one can be so much like Dora the Explorer and Dorothy Zbornak at the same time is a mystery…but–yes, thank you Lady Gaga–dammit, I was born this way!

A real-time photo of me transforming from age 30 into 31.

I had an amazing time last weekend just being a kid again.

Two of my favorite people in the world, Emma and Peter, were in town with their 22-month-old daughter Gabriella. She is the textbook definition of “cute kid,” and I’m pretty sure if encyclopedias still existed (remember those things?), you could look up “ideal toddler,” and her picture would be pasted all over the pages.

It was a hot summer afternoon, and Bryan and I spent most of the day soaking up the cuteness that Gabriella had to offer. Of course we spent time chatting with our adult friends, but baby-watching was so much more entertaining than anything on TV.

It was hard for me to keep up with Gabriella’s endless imagination. Who knew that pouring invisible tea and eating plastic crumpets was so fascinating?

At the same time, watching a child’s mind run wild is so humbling. Remember those days when playing with a pot, a wooden spoon, and an old shoebox could last for hours? During our time with Gabriella, we watched her:
• Cook imaginary pancakes and eggs–and if you tried to eat them before blowing on the spoon, her eyes would widen and she’d wave her hands, crying “HOT!”
• Admire a blade of grass and handle it as delicately as a baby praying mantis.
• Contently dig her wet feet deep in a pile of dirt.
• Splash around in a baby pool, completely unaware of the chill of the hose water.
• Discover countless ways to play with plastic cups: throwing them in the pool, wearing them as shoes, filling them up with water and showering herself, tossing plastic ducks into them, wearing a cup as a hat…
• Stop doing whatever she was doing outside to look up at the sky and shout, “PLANE!”

…Which is a perfect segue into how Bryan and I spent the following day–Plane watching!

Even though I have a mortgage and pay taxes, I still like to think of myself as a kid at heart. Gabriella does the happy dance when an airplane engine roars overhead–and so do I!

Bryan, fully aware of my childlike obsession with big, loud flying things, drove me last Sunday over the bridge to Pennsylvania for some real plane watching. I’ve written here before about watching planes land from Red Bank Battlefield, but that is nothing compared to being right next to the airport.

Our first stop was Fort Mifflin, an historic site from the Revolutionary War era, that just so happens to be located right next to Philadelphia International Airport.

I nearly peed myself when we first drove up to the place. I get so excited when I see planes close up! As we were driving, a jet flew right over our car, and I scrambled like a starstruck fan trying to snap a picture of a celebrity. It reminded me of being in Los Angeles, when Bryan and I were driving in LAX territory and planes zoomed directly over the highway.

We hung around Fort Mifflin for a while, snapping fun photos of plane after plane descending into the airport. We didn’t bother paying admission and actually going inside the Fort; just because we’re adults doesn’t mean we have to pretend to be interested in historical stuff. We were there for the planes!

Flapjacks, the fearless flying lobster.

Things got even better when Bryan told me that if we drove to the other side of the airport, we could see planes taking off. I had no idea the public could get so close to the airport and that a magical access road surrounded the entire place. Him telling me this reminded me of when my parents would say, “Hey, let’s go to Clementon Lake Amusement Park tonight!” REALLY?!?!?!

Turns out we weren’t the only ones parked next to the airport. We saw several other people there for fishing, biking, (illegal) motorbike racing, and some older guy driving his convertible around the loop, over and over again.

I plastered myself against the chain-link fence and watched planes race down the runway. I swear, no matter how technologically advanced our society gets, there is still something jaw-dropping and amazing about metal tubes with wings flying through the sky, transporting 100, 200+ people across the ocean. (As Louis CK says, “You’re sitting in a chair…in the sky.”)

Moments like this remind me that age really is just a number. I may not be able to occupy myself for 20 minutes with invisible eggs and a child-size frying pan, but I can stare up at the sky for hours, pointing at the metal birds above, shouting, “PLANE!”

I don’t know about everyone else, but I always feel like I do a bajillion more things in the summer than I ever do any other time of year. In the winter, my calendar will experience weeks of nothingness; on the contrary, ever since Independence Day, my weekends have been full of here-there-and-everywhere, punctuated by a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

I already wrote about the emotional afternoon I spent saying farewell to my family’s Philly rowhome; well, right before I danced in the living room, I was actually dancing across the city in West Philadelphia, at an afternoon 5Rhythms class.

Dancing the 5 Rhythms right before embarking on an emotionally taxing adventure was a good decision. It got me past the junky layer of my mind to a place of stillness and mindfulness. I really needed that, especially because I had to drive across the city to get to my aunt’s place. I am not the most experienced out-of-state driver and get really nervous when I have to take new and unfamiliar roads. That afternoon I had to take three of my most dreaded highways; it was the great Nervous Driving Trifecta. Thankfully, 2.5 hours of 5Rhythms beforehand stripped away my outer terror, and I made it just fine.

That same evening, I met up with my former coworker Sara for a summer evening dinner of Cuban food at Casona. I was touched when she agreed to order a guacamole appetizer whose cilantro status was uncertain. Sara hates cilantro but loves guac, and she totally put her taste buds on the line. It was such a bold move! Our entrees were both awesome, as was the milky cake dessert (tres leches) we shared afterward.

Sara's just happy the iffy cilantro experience is over.

Vegetable paella, which I managed to split into four separate meals.

We strolled the main drag for a while and ended up having to stop at my parents’ house to use the bathroom. Weird! Then Sara gave me some corn from her family farm because she knows I love corn.

Saluting a corn statue in the Magic Kingdom

As everyone else headed to the beach for the holiday, Bryan and I spent July 3 at our fake shore, Red Bank Battlefield Park, which borders the Delaware River. Not exactly the Atlantic Ocean, but it’s relaxing, peaceful, and a place where shellfish don’t feel threatened.

On Independence Day, Bryan pretended he didn’t know me during joined me for a walk around Cooper River. I was wearing my new weighted vest from Reebok, which pretty much looks like a bulletproof Kevlar vest. It looks silly, but Cooper River Park is home to work-out weirdos. A weighted vest is nothing next to a 200-pound dude walking around on a 90-degree day in one those trashbag-like sweatsuits.

Of course, the evening ended with fireworks. It was a ridiculously long show of nearly 30 minutes, but it was nice to see a fireworks display that didn’t reduce me to tears like Wishes at the Magic Kingdom does.

Post-Wishes "I'm-so-sad-it's-over" face

Speaking of pyrotechnics, one of the games I like to play during the summer is the “Thunder or Fireworks?” game (and actually, with our house being so close to the airport, some nights it’s the “Thunder, Fireworks, or Descending Airplane?” game). Well, this past Friday night, it was definitely THUNDER. I usually like summer t-storms, but Friday’s felt like the apocalypse, and it wreaked havoc on the area. The onslaught of rain closed down my only two routes home from work, and I ended up being stuck at the office until 7:30.

By the time Saturday rolled around, (aside from tree limbs scattered all over the neighborhood) you’d never know there was a problem. I set out on a long and sweaty walk to the farmer’s market and was blasted with sun and humidity. And then I took the long way home, because I get overambitious like that.

That’s why when Bryan and I hit the road to go down to Atlantic City for the night, Starbucks was one of our first stops on the boardwalk. We had tickets for a 9 p.m. comedy show, and there was no way I could stay awake without the help of the green siren.

Caffeine queen!

We don’t gamble or anything, but I love the energetic atmosphere of Atlantic City. I am oddly fascinated with casinos and the people within, everyone from the gray-haired grandmas in velour tracksuits to, well, young adult hipsters in their velour tracksuits. Greasy, grimy, glamorous, glitzy … AC has it all!

Dolled up weirdo in orthopedic walking sandals, because I respect my feet!

Sculpture of couple playing tag on beach that looks like dancers at the right angle

Mr. and Mrs. Shades

After admiring the ocean for a while, we drove over to the marina area of the city. We were seeing Jim Gaffigan (of Hot Pockets fame) at the Borgata. We were hoping he’d resurrect his manatee bit, but his new sea creature to ridicule was the whale. But at least he ended with a Hot Pockets extended remix.

When we set out to go home, I couldn’t help staring with fascination at the sparkling city behind us. I think it’s so cool that the casinos are always “on”! It’s like a whole separate universe just an hour away from home.

Not my picture, but you get the point. Photo credit: NJ.com

Sunday was all about the walking. I walked about a mile to a local coffee shop to meet up with Old Lady Friend Carrol, then walked 4 miles two towns over for an arts and crafts festival, then walked another 2 miles around the actual show. It was in the 90s, and I was hot, but I like when I can combine outdoor activity and exercise. You don’t get to see guys like this at the gym:

Tater the happy pug

At the festival, I was excited to see that the vendor (At-the-Beach America) from whom Bryan and I bought matching lobster t-shirts last year was now selling the same print on tank tops, and in black. When Bryan saw that I had bought a new color, he insisted on getting the black version, too. 🙂

Wearing our original shirts at a Phillies game. The Kanji symbol means "Happiness."

The weekend wrapped up with a stop at Sprinkles Kiwi, a self-serve frozen yogurt joint. Bryan and I call it “Sprinkles” because that was its original name when it opened, but due to copyright issues it later changed to “Kiwi.” Whatever. For us, it will always and forever be Sprinkles. Our tradition is to take our dessert around the corner and sit on the bench outside Cranky’s handbag boutique. It has become “our” bench, and only a handful of times it has already been taken (which totally throws us off). See those buildings in the reflection? When we first started our Sprinkles visits, those buildings weren’t even there! (And how appropriate that I’m sitting right under the Cranky’s logo? ‘Cause usually that’s what I am before being placated by the sweetness of Sprinkles.)

Bryan's base flavor: cookies 'n' cream; Mine: vanilla & peanut butter. Favorite toppings: Reese's Pieces, mochi (me), sprinkles (duh!)

More to come this summer, including kayaking, more 5Rhythms and yoga, another drum circle of two, and a kundalini workshop!

The other day I finally fulfilled my desire to spend a day down the shore. I get anxious and antsy when summer weather kicks in and I have yet to see the ocean; summer is already so fleeting, and I feel like once Memorial Day hits, a countdown clock to doomsday (cold weather, dark nights) starts ticking. I have do everything NOW!

I feel very fortunate to live in such an area where I can grab a few dollar bills, spare quarters, hop in the car, and in just over an hour be surrounded by surf and sand. I was giddy on the car ride down, my anticipation and excitement doubling once I hit the rest stop on the AC Expressway.

Signage that tickles me pink. The beach beckons!

Going over the causeway...the final gate to Ocean City!

The causeway, which links the shore points to Jersey mainland, is like the rainbow to Oz. Once you cross over the bridge, only good things lie ahead.

I made the mistake of taking off my sandals to walk from the boardwalk to the ocean. I was expecting the sand to be hot but not scorching. It was like walking on burning coals, and I nearly collapsed onto a stranger’s blanket just so I could save my feet. I could feel the heat rising from my soles to my knees to my thighs; it was an awful, awful feeling, and I thought I was going to need medical attention.

Save my feet!

Relieeeeeef. I made it to the ocean just in time.

Bad sand!

One of my most brilliant decisions of the trip was to wear running shorts for the day, the kind with the built-in underwear. It was so stinkin’ hot and humid that day, even down the shore, so I felt pretty relaxed and comfy. 🙂

Smiles all around!

I was by myself that day and didn’t have my photographer husband on hand to snap shots of me by the ocean. So I was so happy when I found a woman lying on the beach who volunteered to be my interim photog. It turns out we live only minutes away from each other! She was so friendly and encouraged me to “work it” for the camera!

In fact, I had a really great time connecting with people that day. I struck up conversations with shopkeepers, a guy playing a djembe on the boardwalk, a teenage boy who didn’t want sprinkles on his custard (“That’s so un-American!” I said), a group of seniors who needed help taking pictures with their cell phone, the owner of a hippie clothes/jewelry store who told me fascinating stories about sweat lodges and a customer from Nepal, a girl who was cheering to a group of friends on the beach:

and a group of teenage girls eating ice cream on the boardwalk:

I loved them so much that I asked to take a front-facing shot of them. They were all giggly and honored.

I took LOTS of people shots over the course of the day. The boardwalk and beach is a smorgasbord of photo-worthy individuals.

Girl on beach gets happy text message.

Looks like it could be a cover of a Baby-Sitters Club: Beach Edition book.

"I like long walks on the beach..."

Half and half.

One fancy beach chair!

Even scruffy guys eat custard.

I was a bit obsessed with taking photos of older couples too. They are cute and romantic, and it made my heart swell for my own husband.

This could totally be me and Bryan in the future. "My aching hips!"

It didn’t help that I had PMS, and I was passing all of these “memorial” benches on the boardwalk. They all seemed to be dedicated to older couples and dead spouses. I got really choked up at times!

The boardwalk really is a perfect “resting” place, though. It’s nice to just sit down and observe the sights, sounds, and smells around you.

That's Atlantic City somewhere behind the haze.

Don't get caught walking in the bicycle lane on a busy day. You'll get run over!

Even the TV stations find the boardwalk worthy of broadcasting:

She flubbed up her lines several times. It was fun to watch her keep re-doing the scene.

The insides of the shops along the boardwalk are also entertaining.

All the jewelry you need, and then some.

Christmas 24/7/365.

Need to hang this in the bathroom at work!

Pseudo shout-out to my blog!

Fudge making!

...at least I HOPE that's fudge...

Finished fudge.

Bizarro cheap clothes and junk shop.

Salt water taffy heaven.

As you can see, one of the BEST parts of being down the shore is the food. Sometimes a trip to the boardwalk really isn’t so much about catching waves or feeling your toes in the sand as it is about deciding what treat to eat next.

My eating adventure began with lunch at the Bashful Banana. It’s tucked off the main drag and is one of the only places on the boardwalk where you can get vegetarian, vegan, and clean, healthy eats.

Veggie burger on multi-grain bun with mushrooms, onions, Swiss, and turkey bacon. Side of fresh fruit.

Relaxing lunch in the shade.

I returned to the Bashful Banana a few hours later for my second treat: their famous “Banana Whip” dessert. It tastes like custard, but it’s only frozen banana + water. No dairy, no binders, nothing but fruit. I ordered a banana + strawberry whip with peanut butter chips, walnuts, and fudge sauce made from fruit.

The bottom was nothing but the peanut butter chips and fudge sauce. Mmmm...

For dinner I hit up Mack & Manco’s. It’s sacrilege to visit Ocean City and NOT get Mack & Manco’s pizza.

My final treat was Kohr Bros. custard. Although I love the vegan options that Bashful Banana serves, I do not follow a vegan diet and do not hesitate to get a classic vanilla custard with chocolate sprinkles/jimmies.

My visit down the shore lasted from noon till about 7:15, when I reluctantly decided to walk back to my car. I passed an older couple on their cell phone, talking to a friend: “It’s a little breezy right now, but the sun is shining. It’s beautiful. It’s just a beautiful day down here.”

A day at the shore contains so many stimuli, and driving home proved just to be as engaging. I swerved to avoid a giant turtle crossing the highway, and then I drove from blue skies to what looked like the end of the world. Black clouds–not even gray–loomed in front of me, and every time lightning flashed I could see the sunny sky behind all the doom and gloom. It was wild–and scary! An intense ending to an otherwise peaceful day.

This weekend has been themed a bit around discomfort, but in positive sense (for the most part, aside from my aching back). As in, unease in taking risks, breaking out of “safe” zone, stepping out of your comfortable boundaries. Like in yoga, when we’re chilling in Warrior I and realize we can perhaps bend the front leg a little more and sink further into the stretch. Little baby steps outside of our “I feel jusssst fine” mentality.

For example, on Friday night I went to the gym for my usual 30 minutes of swimming. However, that night I decided on a whim that instead of swimming to the wall, stopping, putting my feet down, turning around, and pushing off again, I was going to try something different and do an open turn every time I hit the wall. An open turn is an easier alternative to the wall flip as a means to keep swimming rather than stop–even for a few seconds–to switch directions. You approach the wall underwater, push off with your hands to give you the force to turn your body around, and then push off the wall with your feet.

After just a few minutes of doing this, I was really feeling it. I was never one to linger at the wall before, but it’s amazing how having your feet on the ground for just a few seconds is a generous mini-break. Take those few moments out of the equation, and my heart was PUMPING. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to go back to my “normal” way of doing it, but there’s was also a part of me that was determined to flow past the initial fear. Sure enough, maybe about 10 minutes into the session, I was still feeling it but I had reached a new level of OK-ness. My brain switched from OMGWTF#(*#*&!!Imgonnadrown! to “Uff, this is a tough workout, but I feel strong!” Even crazier, when I glanced at the clock and saw I had been swimming for 31 minutes, I honestly wanted to keep on going, even though I usually wrap things up at the half-hour mark. So I continued for another 10 minutes. I was utterly exhausted when I finished, but it was such an accomplishment to try something new, kinda scary, and be cool with it in the end.

My other big foray into the New & Scary was the “Introduction to the Spirit World” workshop I attended with a friend on Saturday. To be honest, neither of us had a genuine, heartfelt interest in the subject matter; it was more of a skeptic, eyebrow-raising curiosity that led us to the event. The flier promised techniques to help us raise our vibration, connect with our spirit guides, and communicate with said guides through visualization. The program was also BYOC. That’s bring-your-own-crystal, BTW. Although I am used to meditating and have certainly felt shifts of energy and vibrations, especially after very powerful dancing practices, the rest of this program material was wayyyy out of my comfort zone. My intentions were probably 20% based on curiosity and 80% more of a dubious investigative journalist approach. An embedded blogger, maybe?

I didn’t have any crystals on hand, but my friend’s fiance had an entire dusty box stashed under their bed, and I borrowed an amethyst from the treasure chest. We didn’t spend too much time focusing on crystals, and the most we did with them was hold them in our hands while we tried to connect with our spirits. I can’t say I necessarily felt anything different, but I still gotta give crystals some credit–they do emit higher frequencies of energy. I mean, for my 5th grade science fair project, my dad helped me get a transistor radio to play, powered by nothing but crystals and some metal wires and stuff. The instructor also explained that crystals–in the form of salt–is what makes us feel so cleansed after a day at the beach in the ocean. The salt purifies our bodies, removes negative energy, and makes our bodies more open and receptive to positive energy, to connect with our source. Now, I’m not ready to go out buy a quartz tower and make my husband turn our office into an official “crystal room,” but I don’t see the harm in wearing crystal pendants or earrings. It certainly can’t hurt.

However, the majority of the workshop–the talk about the spirit guides–really made me antsy. Although I kind of understood the statement, “You are a spirit first, having a human experience,” I wasn‘t so sure about the other spirits who are supposedly surrounding me. “You are not permitted to walk alone on this planet,” the instructor said, who paused every now and then while talking, looking a bit distracted, explaining to us that she was listening to her spirit guides and that she didn’t mean to be rude. At one point, as she was gesturing with her hands, she give a little giggle, apologized, and explained that she had just accidentally poked her spirit in the eye. She told happy stories of being guided through difficult situations by her spirit guides and not-so-happy stories, like the time her spirit guide of five years decided to move on and essentially “broke up” with her. We took time to sit in stillness, increase our vibration, and try to connect with our spirit guides. Some people in the room had done this before and described feeling, say, a man on one side and a woman on the other. I experienced what I usually experience during meditation–a feeling of warmth and expansion. My palms and arms were pleasantly warm, and my body felt a bit like it was a balloon being gently filled with air. I felt it in my hands the most; they were resting palm-up on my lap, and during the deepest part of meditation, it felt as though my fingers were growing like wild plants, each digit growing and growing like Freddy Kruger claws but with the appearance of tree roots.

The instructor went around the room, her hands waving in front us like she was washing an invisible window. She praised the “regulars” for their amazing energy and clear chakras. My friend’s energy was deemed questionable. And when the instructor approached me to tune my chakras, she grew very concerned that I could not relax. It was true–we had been sitting in metal folding chairs for more than an hour, and my hip and lower back were killing me. (I hope she knew it was hip bothering me and not my first chakra!) She poked and prodded me, asked how old I was, and urged me to have a session with her. Yikes! I felt like the yoga newcomer who couldn’t even master child’s pose while everyone else in the class is up in handstand. Even the other first-timer at the program, who at first complained about not being able to feel or see or understand anything spiritual or energetic, by the end of class was describing being surrounded by four spirit guides–and was able to name them, nonetheless! My friend didn’t see any spirit guides but she did have a pretty intense emotional release that simply fascinated the other attendees and instructor. I, however, was the “special” student, who had to move to the floor because her legs hurt and who didn’t have any releases or presentations from spiritual sidekicks. But I’m OK with that, because I did have a nice meditative experience, enjoyed that brief feeling of expansion and lightness, and was happy for my friend for being able to get rid of emotional gunk that had been buried in her heart.

Lastly, I did something today that I never thought would happen: I willingly decided NOT to attend a 5Rhythms class. The decision was not an easy one, because I have attended every class at this particular location since its inception in November; I am a regular! But it’s an hour drive away, gas prices are getting ghastly, and, um, I actually listened to my body. This whole week my body has felt totally out of whack since I took a 2-mile walk in new (and now returned) sneakers. I’m not just talking about an achy lower back; it has felt like someone tried to twist my entire top half off like a bottle cap. I’ve felt crooked in downdogs, my shoulder felt weird when I swam on Friday, and my hip has been acting up again. So instead of dancing like a wild woman for two hours at 5Rhythms today, I RSVP’d “No” on the group website and texted my massage therapist in a panic: “R U available for an hour today? Please?!?!?!” Luckily she had an open slot, and thank gosh I took it: She took one look at my naked back and said I was totally off kilter. Everything on my left side was completely torqued, from my neck down to my hips.

So, as it turns out, sometimes the comfort zone is a good place to be, and finding the willpower to refrain from plowing ahead is the challenge. I was at my edge this morning and really didn’t want to creep any further off the precipice by delving into a high-intensity dance practice. Saying “no” to 5Rhythms and attending to my body first, asking for comfort, was my “discomfort” zone. And I’m glad I went there.

One thing that always gets me excited is discovering new things right in my own backyard. Being surrounded by Wal-Marts, ShopRites, Wawas, and CVS-versus-Walgreens intersections, it’s easy to feel cramped in South Jersey and get tricked into thinking that suburbia has nothing new to offer. I mean, my daily lunch walk takes place across the street from my office in a housing development for seniors 55+. I make the same loop day after day after day on the glaring white sidewalk, out and back, cul-de-sac to cul-de-sac. The mailboxes are adorned with interchangeable “tattoos”; one dotted with snowflakes and ice skates for the winter, hearts for Valentine’s Day, and now tulips and bunnies for spring and Easter. I cross the busy road to return to my office, dodge the rainwater-filled potholes in the parking lot, and settle back into my swivel chair for another afternoon of editing.

My commute to work is no more exciting, but one day last summer–I guess as the caffeine from my Starbucks tumbler kicked in–I noticed a tiny little sign next to the Wheelabrator Waste Management site (I KNOW, doesn’t my commute rock?!) that said “Wildlife Refuge, open dawn till dusk.” Each day I drove by the site at 50 miles per hour, all I could catch a glimpse of was a long driveway from which giant trash trucks rumbled in and out. A large garbage-processing facility loomed in the distance, and I took the wildlife refuge sign to be some kind of joke.

Eventually my curiosity got the best of me, and I scrambled to Google to figure out the mystery of the refuse/refuge. Well, it turns out the waste management facility operates a legitimate nature trail alongside its plant! The site is actually noted for its bird watching opportunities, but it’s also just a nice wooded route for a long walk. My husband and I spent a few hours there one summer afternoon, walking through a wooded area, emerging onto a long dirt path, and finding little wooden watchtowers erected along the way, perfect for viewing the Delaware River, the Philadelphia skyline, the bridge, and airplanes descending into Philly International. I have lived in South Jersey my whole life, and I still think it’s so cool to stand on a beach in New Jersey and see Philadelphia right across the river. Further along the path, we stumbled on an entire bunch of bananas (?!?!?!) sitting on the beach, still intact yet very green.

 

Yum yum weird beach bananas.

So yeah, new discoveries! That same day, my husband introduced me to Red Bank Battlefield, a sprawling park on the banks of the Delaware and even closer to the airport. I am obsessed with watching airplanes take off and land (I could never drive to NYC; I’d be too distracted going through Newark!), and I was so excited to find a spot just a few minutes from home where I could see things like this over and over:

 

It's a bird! It's a plane! Errr...

This past weekend was really sunny and outdoorsy feeling, so my husband suggested returning to Red Bank for more plane watching. We filled our tote bags with books and magazines, grabbed some snacks, and lugged our beach chairs into the trunk. However, when we arrived at the park, it became painfully obvious that a sunny day in March does not equal sit-on-a-riverbank kind of weather. Despite the sun, it was windy, chilly, and just too uncomfortable to sit still. I tried to tough it out, not wanting to ruin the adventure, but my husband knew I wasn’t happy and suggested a different adventure instead.

A new adventure? Right here in South Jersey?

My husband works not too far from the park and told me of a manatee mailbox along a nearby highway. We are slightly obsessed with manatees (and pugs and lobsters), so this piqued my interest. But how exciting could a manatee mailbox be? Look, I know about the mailbox “tattoos,” and I don’t see how one with a manatee could be anymore exciting than one with a Thanksgiving turkey or Santa Claus.

He promised this would be worth it. It was.

He wasn’t kidding. It’s a freakin’ manatee mailbox. Not just a mailbox with a manatee on it. A manatee on a mailbox. Remember, we live in South Jersey. This may be normal in South Florida, but in New Jersey this is tourist-attraction potential.

The fact that it’s in the shape of one of our favorite animals is also what made the mailbox so awesome. My husband and I have running jokes about manatees; we “adopted” a manatee once; and we could spend hours watching the manatees float idly in the tank at the Living Seas in Epcot. It’s a bit of a “relationship” animal, in that when either one of us sees one, we think about the other.

The funny thing is that I actually pass this mailbox on my commute home every single day. It’s a bit removed from the highway, though, and if you’re not looking for it, you’ll never spot it. But now I know about it, and every time I drive by, I crane my neck and strain my eyes to catch a glimpse of the curvy gray sea cow holding onto a box of catalogs and bills with his sturdy concrete flippers.

It’s just another surprise in my own backyard, a diamond in the rough tucked among oil refineries, industrial parks, and waste management facilities. How can you not smile when you see this every day? 🙂

About the Author

Name: Jennifer

Location: Greater Philadelphia Area

Blog Mission:
SHARE my practice experience in conscious dance and yoga,

EXPAND my network of like-minded individuals,

FULFILL my desire to work with words in a more creative and community-building capacity;

FLOW and GROW with the world around me!

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