Wednesday, August 3, 2011

30-Before-30 Update: #16 Join a Rowing Team

After two years of talking about it and hmm-ing and haw-ing about how it wouldn’t quite fit my “schedule”, I finally joined a rowing club. My good friend Anna and I often talked about how fun it would be to try, but it required two weeks’ commitment Monday, Wednesday and Friday for 2 hours at either 6am or 6pm to learn the technique. May and June are especially busy months at work for me, but this year I decided that, since I am happiest when I am doing something for me, the added stress of fitting the Learn To Row classes into my busy schedule could possibly be mitigated by the added joy of learning something new.

Can I just say I love it when I am right?!

Rowing is a team sport, and before we begin I have to admit to you that I have never engaged in a team sport—at least not after the age of 8. I played t-ball and coach’s pitch (I should really post those photos... 7-year-old Bobbi knew how to rock a jersey with a side clip and a pony tail!) and I was involved in ice skating and dance until 7th grade or so. But I don’t really have a competitive bone in my body (except when it comes to Scrabble) and I tend to buckle under pressure so once I hit junior high, I quit anything that involved competition or people watching me. In high school, I was the yearbook editor (which, let's be honest, better suited my bossy nature) and I always pulled out the big guns in a friendly game of I’ve Never with my friends, who all played basketball or football: “I’ve never… played a high school sport.” Bam, drink up, suckers.

Anyway, once I got into it, I really fell in love with rowing. It’s an awesome full-body work out (did you know that about 2/3 of the row stroke is actually done with your legs? You only follow through with your arms), but what struck me is how mentally engaged you need to be. I swear, when I am on the boat, I am too busy thinking about where my hands should be, whether I’m keeping up with the pace, or where my oar is to think about anything else. Two hours where I’m not thinking about work, relationships, money, responsibilities, world peace, or the apocalypse? Sign me up, Sally. (I think I just coined a new phrase!)

Many of the things I learned over the two-week course can be applied to life in general. Here’s what rowing taught me:

1. Take Care of Your EquipmentRowing boats cost $20,000 or more. Each oar is over $300. So, I make no exaggerations when I tell you that rowers respect their equipment. One of the first rules they make is you never step over your equipment, you always walk around it. There is an extraordinarily regimented way in which the boats are picked up, hauled and placed in the water.

They do this because it’s expensive, but also because when treated correctly, the equipment does a lot of the work. Without boring you with mechanics, the rowing boat is an awesome piece of machinery. The boat is extremely light-weight and so delicate that there is a small X marked in front of each seat—it’s the only place in the boat you’re allowed to put any weight on when you get in and out, and you’re only supposed to use one foot to do that. Even the oars are impressive: if you let an oar bob in the water, it will go to the perfect depth it needs to in order to be most efficient.

Same goes for the rowing form. Once you learn how to get your body to complete a stroke with good form, you're set. The proper rowing form is efficient, so it's meant to allow to you exert the least amount of energy and apply the most amount of power via the oars. The only trick is actually learning the form and being consistent.

2. Be Flexible (Or Step the Heck Up and Lead)In a rowing boat, there is only one person that sets the pace: the stroke seat. That’s the first seat in the boat from the bow (front), sitting directly in front of the cox, who faces the back of the boat and helps guide the rowers by physically steering them and giving them verbal commands. Everyone else in the boat follows the pace of the person sitting in the stroke seat, and let me tell you, you better keep up. (Or, you better slow down, depending on their preferred pace.) Everyone’s bodies are different and therefore what feels natural to you, timing-wise, is different. For instance, a taller person with longer legs has to take a longer time “recovering” from a stroke in order to stay in sync with someone who has shorter legs.

This is especially frustrating when you’re learning. Like I said, there are so many other things to be concentrating on, so trying to hone each piece of your stroke while you’re trying to fit yourself in someone else’s perfect pace is frustrating. You have to learn to be flexible. You can only work on improving one thing at a time, and you have to realize that it all will come together, but tonight you can only make so much progress.

This is a part of my personality I’m working on in my everyday life as well. Young adulthood is hard for me, because I don’t like to be new at something. I especially don’t like to bad at something. I don’t like when my front yard looks like a complete mess because I’ve spent all my time and money making other improvements to my house. I don’t like feeling like a bad friend because I forgot to ask about a special event or let too much time go by in between lunches. I don’t like that there are still 5 pages on my organization’s website that still, after months and months, say “Under construction…” because it's grant season and deadlines abound. I constantly remind myself (pretty much every time I pull into my ghetto driveway, open my work calendar, or look at my checking account balance) that all things come together in time. You can only make so much progress at a time.

The other part of this, when it comes to rowing, is realizing that if you want to set the pace, you have to step up and lead. You have to volunteer to sit stroke, which means that when you make mistakes, everyone knows and it affects the whole boat. And it also means that at any given point, one of your seven fellow rowers is going to be cursing your pace.

I run into this a lot in my work setting. I hate when people sit around and complain—I can’t tell you how many times I heard “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” while I was growing up and it’s ingrained into my work ethic. I often bring up problems at work (and offer ideas or join groups that come up with solutions) and I’ve learned that being a leader sometimes comes with a risk. Not everyone is happy with change, and not everyone likes your ideas or even the fact that you’re brave enough to offer them. But, while that criticism comes with the territory of being a leader, it also includes the benefit of having a say in the pace. So, you step up and lead or you become flexible and shut up. :)

3. Don’t Grip the Oar Too TightlyDuring the Learn To Row course, the coach is often in a small motorboat (lovingly dubbed ‘Crabcakes’ by club members—can’t wait to learn the story behind that!) and she will circle the boat offering tips and constructive criticism about each rower’s form. She often told me I was gripping my oar too tight (which can cause blisters and just messes up your form in general).

I couldn’t help but see the symbolism: My 30th goal in my 30 Before 30 list might as well be Don’t Grip the Oar Too Tightly. I want to be free of negative thoughts about ‘time running out’ or ‘where I should be vs. where I am’ before I hit the big 3-0. I want to loosen my grip on life, so to speak, which, I’ve learned from rowing, is guaranteed to better your form.

4. Perfection is Impossible; Strive for Excellence
Like I’ve said, so many small things (placement of the oar, timing, body position) affect the way you row. External factors are sometimes at play as well: waves (“rollers”) from a passing speed boat or wind can work against you, no matter how on point you are. Then there’s the inconvenient reality of 7 other bodies with their own techniques, timing, worries and challenges. Perfection in a row boat is hardly attainable for the pros, let alone a group of novices.

(I don’t think you need an illustration of how I, as a 27-year-old type A personality, am smacked in the face by this lesson day after day in my everyday life.)

5. In the Scheme of Things, the Bad Days Don’t MatterRowing is friggin’ frustrating at times. Sometimes, the person in front of you is having a bad day and it throws you off. Sometimes, you’re having a bad day and while you’re flailing and in a seemingly constant state of self-correction you have that overwhelming guilty feeling of throwing someone else off. Sometimes, the people with oars on the opposite side of yours are neglectful and let the boat tilt to one side and instead of being ‘set’, it leans to one side, making it impossible to get your oar out of the water between strokes. Sometimes, you want to tell the stroke seat to ‘slow the *%!# down!’ or tell the cox to shut up so you can hear your own thoughts. Sometimes there are waves that grab your oar and make it do the exact opposite of what you want it to do.

I’m not going to lie to you, friends: There were a few times during the Learn to Row classes that I got out of the boat at the end of the night and thought to myself, holy crap, get me out of here before I hurt someone. It crossed my mind that maybe this wasn’t as awesome as I thought. Or worse, maybe it was not a stress-reliever but instead something that had the potential to wind me up even further.

I will admit to you that there was a time during our final class when the coach was watching us closely so she could offer some final advice and the boat was NOT set. The people who were supposed to be keeping the boat nice and even were… not. I couldn’t get my oar out of the water, so I kept missing a stroke here or there. I literally could not get a rhythm going. It just kept catching and catching, no matter how hard I tried.

“Can we set the freaking boat?!” I blurted out, and immediately hoped that no one would be able to tell which person said such a hasty comment in such a nasty, impatient tone.

Luckily, the coach and the cox burst out laughing and my fellow rowers immediately set the boat. The rest of the night was great. We had all 8 rowing, the pace was great and the water was really smooth. That moment of pure frustration, along with my little outburst, was quickly forgotten.

6. When It All Comes Together, It’s PricelessThere are occasional moments (and I really do mean occasional, as in every 4 or 5 rows) where things come together—for maybe 10 minutes. (Of course, this is just my experience as a first-year rower who’s gone out a dozen or so times after the Learn to Row course, mostly during rows when other newbie rowers sign up. So I’m sure it happens more often with more experienced groups.) But it’s magic when it all comes together: everyone is following the same pace, the boat is level, the water is calm, the sun is shining and oh-holy-crap-look-at-me-mom!, you’re living in the moment and gliding right along. It’s a unique experience—that extra oomph of speed you get when all 8 rowers are plugging along. That’s a lot of power and the boat is flying.

I find that those moments in life are rare too (see number 1). I’ve spent the past two years getting used to the 9-5. Add in a high-maintenance Labrador, a job with lots of responsibility and a huge house to keep clean, and it’s odd to find a point in time when the dishes are done, the dog is tired, there are no deadlines looming, the laundry is clean, my friends are over and, literally and figuratively, my glass is more than half full. But when that happens, it’s well worth all the time spent actually working for the paycheck that paid for the dog, the house, the dishes, the washing machine, and the vodka that allowed to me have that one blissful moment in time. (Luckily, the friends are free and can often be persuaded with booze!).

The challenge for me is to just enjoy those fleeting moments in life without wasting it by a) worrying about what comes next or b) becoming sad about the very fleeting nature of these moments. Case in point: a recent sob session at my cousin’s wedding, where for 10 minutes I sat and watched my family dance while crying to my dad about how fast life was going before he told me, ever-so-gently in the way that only dads with sensitive daughters can, to get off my mopey butt and start dancing and enjoying it.

I’m working on that. I hope some day to be able to feel what I feel on a rowing boat when everything is going smoothly in life: how very lucky I am to be in this moment and only in this moment.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Thirty before 30

I recently celebrated my 27th birthday. Nothing like a jarring suckerpunch from my old friend reality (what? how has it been 5 years since I graduated college?! and where the crap did these grey hairs come from?), but I'm starting to feel a sense of calm about it.

My parents, brother and I went out for the customary birthday dinner at the Casa tonight (travels and work pushed it back a few weeks). Over a dirty martini, I groaned that I was in my late twenties. My dad took a swig of his Busch Light and said, "Babe, I wish I was in my late twenties." He said it lovingly, shaking his head at his headstrong daughter, the one that has a habit of wishing life away and yet remains the most sentimental girl in any room.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a Daddy's Girl. So it's fitting that a simple comment my dad made would put my mind at ease about something I've been obsessing about. My dad recently retired at the age of 50, not because he wanted to but because that was the hand he was dealt. He hurt his back very badly at work and, long-story-short, has permanent nerve damage in his feet, making it very difficult to be on his feet for very long, or really do any of the things that he loves to do. And it breaks my heart.

But I have time. That's what I came here to say. I have time to do all the things that I love to do. I have time to do all the things that I keep saying I'd love to do. Being 27 just gives me a little bit of wisdom about the things I want and the resources to do them.

So, behold, thirty things I will do before I turn 30:

1. Work for someone with vision. (If this turns out to be myself, then so be it.)
2. Re-learn French.
3. Get microdermabrasion.
4. Take guitar lessons.
5. Learn to sew.
6. Buy a great sofa.
7. Hang old family photos and create a space for new memories in my stairwell.
8. Teach at the college level.
9. Pay off my debt to my parents (and therefore become debt-free, other than mortgage and student loans).
10. Get a tattoo.
11. Teach Henley a new trick.
12. Watch the sun rise and set consecutively with someone special.
13. Plant something in my yard.
14. "Study" photography, get a half-decent camera and learn Photoshop.
15. Go on a backpacking trip.
16. Join a rowing club.
17. Donate my hair to Locks of Love.
18. Sell a piece of refinished furniture.
19. Create a "studio" in my basement.
20. Take a graphic design class.
21. Go vegan for 4 months. Bonus points for completely organic.
22. Run a 5k and not die.
23. Plan an awesome 30th birthday celebration trip.
24. Visit my 6th country outside the U.S.
25. Have 50 lunch dates. That's one every 21 or so days.
26. Shoot a gun.
27. Do something creative with the huge piece of drywall in my living room.
28. Put off dying my hair. Embrace the grey before I start to cover it.
29. Buy a kayak.
30. Be completely at peace with turning 30, well before it actually happens.

I know myself well enough to know that preparing for the next step is going to be a big part of this one. I also know that I have a lot of work to do before I just relax and let life take the wheel. I have a feeling #30 is going to be the hardest to achieve, and yet the biggest achievement on the list. I better get moving...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bathroom Before-and-Afters

Almost anyone who came in contact with me from September to December last year got an earful about how much I hated my latest apartment. And it was awful--to say nothing of the awful storage, complete lack of workable outlets and doors that didn't stay shut, I had gallons upon gallons of water in plastic storage tubs in my bathroom for weeks on end due to a leaky roof. My slumlords (yeah, I said it) apparently didn't think it was a priority to fix, despite my constant, angry middle-of-the-night "my ceiling is now on my floor" play-by-play voicemails.

But once the roof was fixed, I loved that bathroom. The walls were a saturated teal, and it looked so fresh and clean next to the white pedestal sink and subway tile. I took many long baths in the clawfoot tub.

So I knew even before I closed on my house that I wanted to design the bathroom to match the one from Hewitt Street.

Here is the awful Blackberry before:

There was a dried-out, peeling-at-the-edges wallpaper border around the top of the room and also in the middle. The plants were blocking all the natural light that came in from the window. The worst part about the bathroom, though, was the brass sliding shower doors, one of which was just a big mirror. I like mirrors, don't get me wrong, and I especially like big ones in bathrooms, but I don't think there should be huge one when you get out of the shower or are, ahem, on the toilet.

I left the vanity the same, as well as the wood floors, and the whole room got two coats of saturated teal (which is Sherwin Williams' "Lakeshore"). Here is the after:

The mirror is from my parents's bathroom when I was growing up. I asked them to save it for me, so we dug it out of storage and I gave it a quick coat of paint to match the cabinets.

Speaking of the cabinets. They were this odd DIY-looking built-in that had been left unfinished with no handles. They were kind of a bear to prime and paint, but I love the outcome. I had my brother drill some holes and add handles. They provide a ton of storage!

Like I said, they were completely unfinished, so I picked up a quart of green paint that contrasted nicely with the teal and painted the edges of the cabinet and the insides of the doors:

I added some glass shelves to keep essentials on. I bought some glass votives from Michaels for cotton balls, hairties and q-tips. The corner shelf houses my glasses and a flower candle holder that I have had forever.
The cotton shower curtain is from Walmart, and the framed poster is something I had in my bedroom on Rock Street. I love how the silver frame looks with the teal. My dad also added hooks for some towels:

It's been really fun to be able to pull the things I loved best about all my apartments and put them together in a way that is permanent.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Work In Progress

It's been 7 weeks since I closed on the house, and thanks to one rather daunting, albeit self-imposed deadline (a New Year's Eve party), I've made some definite progress! So far I've redecorated the bathroom and dining room, installed a door to close off the entryway, and painted the floor in my spare bedroom/office/closet.

I promise to post some 'before' and 'after' photos this weekend. I borrowed my parents' camera (and, really, let's be honest, they're going to have to ask for it when they want it back!) so I can take some better shots. I lost my camera cord sometime during one of the two times I moved in the past 4 months, so if I wanted to share photos, I had to bring my memory card to Target, wait for them to burn a CD and then load them on the computer. Which might explain why my most recent Facebook avatar is a picture from a wedding from 2009. Yup.

Most of my 'before' shots for the bathroom and dining room are from my blackberry. So I apologize in advance for your having to squint and relax your eyes like it's one of those 3D image books from the 90s. (On a somewhat related note, I just spent way too much time at apparently I do not have the stereogram gene.)

If there's one thing I've learned from this process, it is that while I may be mostly Irish and French, the Finn in me can just run amok. I am stu-bborn. And impulsive. And very impatient. At first I wanted to stone anyone who said any variation of "It'll come in time" or "Let it be a work in progress!" but I am coming around to that idea. Or, rather, I am coming around to the idea that my handymen (dad and brotherbear) are going to go on strike if I don't slow down a tad.

I do have one important photo that I forgot to post -- the outside! Behold:

I still kind of get butterflies when I see that photo. I'm in love, what can I say?