Get Hooped!

What a year it’s been since I’ve last posted. I. almost. died. Really! I will have to write about that soon. In the meantime, I have been focusing on marketing consulting, not writing so much. I did write this short piece for Alameda Magazine. If you choose to go to the Magazine’s site to read it, scroll down the page a bit. If not, just keep reading here.

Get Hooped

Be careful if you venture into Betty Lucas’ exercise class on Monday nights at Rhythmix Cultural Center. You might get “hooped.”

The hour-long session offers a full-body workout of hip moving and twirling to lively music with the aid of easily recognizable PVC piping in the shape of a circle. But these are not the Wham-O Hula Hoops from the 1950s. This hooping class uses larger, heavier adult hoops, often made by the hoop teacher herself.

Diagnosed with osteoporosis just a few years ago, Lucas was looking for an exercise routine to replace her beloved practice of running when she happened upon a woman hooping at a festival in Oregon.

“It was something I had never seen before,” says Lucas, a former classroom teacher who also taught ballroom dance. “It was so beautiful, combining dance moves with the hoop.”

It was also full-body, weight-bearing and low-impact, three physical attributes she was seeking to replace the pounding of running. Lucas began waist hooping, the more traditional version of the exercise, and soon moved into more complex moves incorporating other body parts, like arms and shoulders. Today, Lucas travels all over the world teaching hooping. Most recently, she completed a video demonstrating “HoopChi,” a method that combines the Chinese martial art tai chi with hooping.

“It’s very addictive,” the self-ascribed “hoop nerd” says. “It’s exercise disguised as fun.”

The exercise has grown significantly in popularity in a short time. Lucas says she has taught multiple generations of hoopers in a single class. The RCW session regularly attracts 10 to 15 people.

“I think it’s successful because for many people while they are taking the class, the joy of youth comes back,” Lucas explains. “Also, with so many people sitting at computers all day and obesity on the rise, people are looking for a creative outlet that gets them moving but is also inexpensive.”
Lucas’ advice for those looking for a new way to move their bodies while still having fun? “Give it a whirl!”

Mom, Mom, Mom #41: Knitting is the New Me

Here’s my latest column for the Alameda Sun, scheduled to run today, January 28, 2010:

On Thanksgiving, a friend handed me two knitting needles and some yarn and showed me the basic knitting stitch and I started. I didn’t tell her that I couldn’t knit, that I had tried to, years ago in Ireland, only to submit in failure. I didn’t even say, “I can’t do this,” which is what I usually tell myself when it comes to being crafty. I just sat next to her on the couch among the group gathered in the living room and started. It was easier than I remembered. And, I enjoyed it, because we were just sitting and talking about how fabulous the meal was and how full we all were, but I was doing something. It was a revelation that I could be productive and accomplish something while seemingly just sitting there, not running around in a frenzy and without the aid of a computer. I took the wool home and made a short scarf. I’m thinking of hanging it somewhere in the house like businesses do with their first dollar bill.

It’s been two months and I’m still knitting. I’ve made a few scarves and I’ve almost completed a pair of fingerless mittens. Okay, so I used the wrong yarn (yarn has weights! Who knew?) and I can’t quite get the thumb right, but I am not afraid to pull it all out and start over, a lesson that is well taken in life as well as knitting.

I’ve been completely swept up by this knitting. It has astounded my family and friends, who know too well my previous crafting exploits. It amuses my Dad because my Mother took up crocheting when I was in college. There are drawers and closets chock full of her creations in my Dad’s house still, years after she’s been gone, doilies and afghans, too many to really use. We kids already have many samples of my Mother’s prolific handiwork and now my Dad doesn’t know what to do with the remainder.

I don’t quite know why knitting has worked for me at this time, but it has given me hope for my future. Maybe there really is a season for everything and I haven’t learned or done all there is to learn or do for me specifically. At 20, I wasn’t ready for knitting, but 30 years later I am. What didn’t make sense then is crystal clear now. Yes, I know, it paints a stereotypical picture of the old lady sitting, knitting. I just need a rocking chair. My mother seemed so old to me when she started crocheting, but I think she was just a few years older than I am now.

There are many differences between my Mother’s crocheting and my knitting. My sisters and I thought it was fine for her to crochet, but we had no interest in learning how to do it. Today, there are many nights when two of my girls pick up needles and knit along with me. With Web sites like Etsy.com (a place to buy and sell handmade items) flourishing and the economy tanking, I think crafting has experienced a resurgence and my kids are more accepting and willing to jump in.

More important for me is that I am starting to believe that there’s more out there that I can try. Maybe something is happening in my brain as I age that’s allowing me to do things I couldn’t before. Maybe I could really learn a language now. If I can figure out a knitting pattern—incredibly convoluted with strange symbols and abbreviations—maybe my brain has shifted enough for me to take on Italian or improve my very weak and rusty French.

I am thinking about some of the physical things I could never accomplish before but might try now. (Another of the differences between my Mother who was housebound and severely physically limited and me.) Oddly, surfing comes to mind and not the kind you do on the Internet. In fact, I’ve started a list of activities that I’ve either tried before, like knitting, or never tried, of things I can say, “I can do this.” Just because I started.

Mom Mom Mom #40: All I want for Christmas is a Miracle

Our Pink Christmas Tree

Yes, our Christmas tree is pink.

Yes, it’s been a long time, but here’s a new one. Let me know if you think it’s too, well, not happy enough.  It’s scheduled to run in the December 24 edition of the Alameda Sun.

All I want for Christmas is a Miracle

I so wanted this to be a Holiday Miracle story. I keep reading them, in magazines and the newspaper, on the Internet. They are everywhere. I religiously watch the same movies every year on TV. (I even watch the silly, corny ones; I just can’t help myself.) These stories are truly amazing, whether they are based on actual events or fabricated. At the last minute, on Christmas Eve, something magical happens—“It’s a Christmas Miracle!”—and you can fill in the ending on your own:  He made it home. They kissed. The present arrived under the tree when there was no money to pay for it. She survived. They lived happily ever after.

I wish I had my own Christmas Miracle story to tell you now, to affect you and change your life. But I come up empty.

The second biggest Christmas Miracle story of them all (after that first One, which seems to get lost in the mayhem somehow) is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Countless renditions of the Scrooge story have been revised and rewritten based on the original cranky old man who gets a new lease on life. The story transcends religious affiliation; anyone can change if they see enough Ghosts of the Past or the gloomy, hooded Future. This story gives me hope for my own redemption, because every year, no matter how much I try to change my attitude or how many shows I watch, I pray for the whole season to pass quickly into January.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe in Christmas and the possibility of its Miracles. I also believe in Heaven, ghosts and fairies. I am the first to clap when I see Peter Pan and they ask for the audience to believe, to clap to keep Tinkerbell alive. And, absolutely, that was your late grandmother who knocked over her photograph to let you know she was in the room. Heaven is whatever you want it to be.

It’s not really my fault, this obsession with Holiday Miracles. The intrinsic need for miracles at this time of the year begins at an early age. It’s not only the miracle birth of a baby in Bethlehem, if you are a Christian, or the miracle of the container of oil, if you’re Jewish, or the miracle of Santa Claus for just about everyone else. (“How does he get around the world to every single house in just one night, Mommy?”) I learned these stories from my parents and I have gladly, happily even, handed them down to my children. It’s easier to create Holiday Miracles when you are dealing with little ones. If he sees you when you’re sleeping, he can make anything happen, right? It was as traumatic for me as it was for my girls when they finally figured out that Santa was just Mom and now we can negotiate about the presents each year. What happens to the magic of Christmas when the children have all grown up?

I guess I’ll continue reading the stories and watching the movies time and again with that tiny seed of hope for my very special Holiday Miracle. In the end, I’m not completely certain that it’s really one big miracle. It’s a specific series of events that create a miracle, just as a specific series of events create a life, which truly is the ultimate miracle. And, in this life, sometimes you just have to let go and go about your business. That Miracle just might happen. And, maybe that’s what the spirit of the season is all about.

May we all experience a miracle to call our own this season. xo

Mom Mom Mom #39: You’ve Got Your Hands Full

Mary Lee Shalvoy 2009

From our garden - Mary Lee Shalvoy 2009

This ran in the September 24, 2009 issue of the Alameda Sun. They edited it a bit, but here’s the original.

You’ve Got Your Hands Full

When my three girls were very young and we were still married and living in northern San Diego County, we lived in a house in a development that sat on a ridge above a golf course. Our street was actually a very long, winding circle that weaved through the entire neighborhood.

On nice days—and let’s face it, most days are nice in San Diego—I would strap the girls into the long triplet stroller, baby in the front, twins each in the second and third seats, and push them the 2.5 miles around the neighborhood. As in most housing developments, the homes were nearly identical. I think there were two models—a tudor style and a non-tudor style. These homes were built in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s and the primary differences were the yards. Each yard had a different shape and landscape.

On these excursions, the girls and I would pass one house on the circle with a particularly gorgeous front garden. The gardener was a master. Throughout the year, she displayed a gorgeous array of seasonal plants. As we passed, I pointed out colors and flowers to my captive audience.

One day, as the gardener was gardening, I shouted out a greeting and my envy. How I always wanted to garden and how beautiful it looked. How my grandfather grew up on a farm and how he, too, had a garden that he timed to have something blooming from the dwindling snows of early spring to the first frost of fall.

“Well, thanks, but this takes a lot of time,” she shouted back. “You’ll have time to garden someday, but you have your hands full right now with those little flowers.” The girls waved and the baby woke up and made some noise, letting us know that it was time to go. Now.

“You have your hands full” has been mentioned to me more than a few times since I’ve had my daughters, but the association between raising kids and gardening really hit home this summer.

We planted crops this year in big container buckets in the small backyard of our house here in Alameda. We started from both seed (beans, carrots, cucumber, herbs, zucchini) and plants (tomato). We used a mix of regular soil and Miracle-Gro. We bought a new hose to water, and, damn the drought, we watered every day. It was thrilling to see the young green sprouts; the girls fought over who was going to water each day.

It took some time, but the original gusto and excitement of our urban victory garden lost some of its luster as the summer wore on. Maybe it was when we left for our east coast trip. Maybe it was the cold summer weather when we returned. I do think the neighborhood critters had something to do with it. As soon as any of the fruit, especially the tomatoes, were just ripe enough to pick, they would disappear. One morning, I found a large, juicy, half-eaten tomato on the ground. Now, there’s school and activities that steer us away from the containers in the yard.

What really got in the way, I believe, was the lack of knowledge about how does a garden grow. Why are the leaves brown and shriveled on one plant, but not the other? How do you know when to pick carrots if you can’t see them ripen? Why does only one cucumber grow at a time? My kids have completely lost interest and I am just frustrated.

It takes time to grow and nurture a garden, as it does to raise children. With kids, there are so many unknowns, but as soon as they can talk, they help you out with the process. Tomatoes don’t talk, yet, and there are thousands of variables in the success of their growth. Yes, there are resources, but I realized that the master gardener of our neighborhood in San Diego was right, it takes a lot of time to work a garden. You need to fully invest in the success of each plant for a garden to truly thrive.

The same can be said for kids. My investment right now, as it was 12 years ago in San Diego, is still in the growth of my family. Even though they’re older, they still need me and I am still excited by the sprouting of their minds and lives.

I will have time for a garden some day. Maybe by then, the tomatoes can help me along.

Mom Mom Mom #38: Home Again

A day at the beach in New Jersey.

A day at the beach in New Jersey.

This column runs in the August 27 edition of the Alameda Sun. Comments are always welcome, here or on Twitter!

You can Go Home Again

We made our annual trek to the east coast again this summer, the girls and I. Although it was our third summer vacation east of the Mississippi in a row, this time it was different. This time we spent either every day or part of every day with family. Depending on your perspective (and your relationship with your own family), that kind of trip could be a heavenly experience or a harrowing one. For me, it was a little bit of both.

Usually on these vacations, we spend most of the time with friends and let the family see us coming and going, literally. The real difference this year was that my brothers and sisters and I found our way back home together with our father at the same time. It’s a rare occurrence—the last time we were all together was at my mother’s funeral 11 years ago. A lot has happened since then and I didn’t want my girls or me to miss this opportunity.

We covered a lot of ground during our trip. We caravanned up to Vermont to see my younger sister and got a quick taste of her family’s country living in a beautiful, pastoral setting. With her infinite hospitality, she managed to entertain 18 people throughout a very rainy day. Then we headed back to New Jersey, spending a good chunk of the remaining time driving from the New York to the Pennsylvania borders and down to the shore. In fact, one day, six of us packed into my Dad’s Buick to drive 200 miles, never leaving the fourth-smallest state in the union, to meet my father’s first great-grandchild (a girl, of course!) and then to see more cousins.

It’s amazing the dynamics that happen when you reunite with your family. I guess I should limit that statement to just one person—what happens to me. I return every year thinking that I have changed so much, seen so much, been through so much and I think people, both old friends and family, will see that, notice that I’ve changed and grown up into this fabulous person. What I noticed was that as soon as I land, I turn into an awkward teenage girl all over again, all the benefits of my age and wisdom quickly dropping to the wayside. It took a few days for me to realize this and I had to really shift my awareness. I am not a teenager anymore. This time, when I left the east coast, I left feeling like a grown up.

I wonder if it’s true for families that don’t separate. If I saw my brothers and sisters every day here in Alameda, would I still turn into the awkward teenage girl that I become now when I see them all? Or, if I hadn’t left New Jersey, would I be the same person I am today?

I don’t believe that people really change that much. Things happen to you—college, marriage, the deaths of loved ones, the birth of children, divorce, illness, careers—but what changes inherently? I often wonder if it’s all of your successes and failures that determine who you are or if it’s who you are that determines your outcome. Maybe it’s a little bit of both.

Thinking back over the journey, I can’t help but think, “Wherever you go, there you are.” The good news is that this time, I have realized what triggers the emergence of that awkward teenage girl and am learning to be the Mary Lee she has grown into. It’s a lesson I want to somehow teach my girls. That you are just you, a combination of all ages of you, and maybe it’s not all that bad.

Mom, Mom, Mom #37: Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll (or Raising Teenagers Today)

This is the latest Mom Mom Mom column scheduled to run in Thursday’s (June 25) Alameda Sun.

Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll

My oldest girls, twins, “advanced” from eighth grade to high school this month. It was a momentous occasion with lots of dressing up and cheering and even a few tears from good old MomMomMom. I say they “advanced” because that’s what Alameda’s Lincoln Middle School called the ceremony—an Advancement, as opposed to a Graduation. Without having any official reason for this, I am assuming that it is because a graduate “receives an academic degree or diploma,” (so say several online dictionaries) whereas my girls just received a handshake and a certificate of advancement into ninth grade. In other words, Girls, you are not finished yet.

Certainly, they are well aware of all the hard work and opportunities the next four years hold for them. Their mother is aware, too, and it’s keeping her awake at nights.

Of course, it’s hard to believe that my babies are teenagers, but, really, it just doesn’t seem that long ago that I was in their shoes, wrapping up grammar school, putting it all behind me and growing deeper into my teenage years. Well, it was a long time ago and many things have “advanced,” let’s just say.

I think we are feeling similarly, my girls and I, about this next stage of our journey together. We are both a little apprehensive and curious. How will they do in high school? Is it really the big, scary place everyone talks about? Are there lots of sex-drugs-and-rock-n-roll and who knows what else? And, most importantly, how do they continue to grow up in a healthy way dealing with all of that? (Okay, so that last question is really mine.)

As I have contemplated these worries, I had an epiphany. I am getting old, but there was a lot of sex, drugs and rock and roll in my time. I had older brothers and sisters; I had some wild friends. Yes, I know the drugs are different, you say, and although today’s society has a far more lenient approach to sex, the chance of pregnancy is always an issue and there are now sexually transmitted diseases that did not exist in the 1970’s.

What gives me both hope and pause is the major difference between today and the 35 years it’s been since I entered high school. Today, my children are far more educated on what’s out there than I ever was. They’ve been in programs that openly discuss drugs and alcohol, and the potential destructive effects of both irresponsible casual usage and deeper addiction on a person’s life. At the same time, their mother actually talks to them about things, like, well, sex, drugs and rock and roll. (I really prefer the music conversations to the other two subjects.)

In my family growing up, we kids did not share much of anything with our parents. I was the most vocal of my siblings, but certainly, neither my mother nor my father knew much of what was happening. We all lived under a “don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of policy. So, even if my parents did know, they faked it, preferring to stay in the dark.

I am not naïve enough to think that my children tell or will tell me everything that’s happening in their lives, but I do believe that I am far more prepared to handle whatever my kids throw at me than my mother ever was—if only because I actually talk to them about these things. I ask the questions that my mother couldn’t even dream of, with her limited knowledge of the world. I’ve also seen more of the world, both good and bad, than my parents did.

Unfortunately, none of this makes me an expert at raising teenagers. And, okay, so I am not really that confident about what lies before me and how equipped I am to handle it. I am actually quite intimidated and overwhelmed by the limitless potential for I don’t know what might happen.

I do know this:  I want high school to be fun for them, not necessarily the best years of their lives, but really good, happy, memorable times. And, maybe let them share some information and have a few conversations to keep their old Mom in the loop.

Whiz Kids – The Class of 2009 Takes the Lead

Here is a link to the cover story I wrote for Alameda Magazine on graduating seniors. Jennifer Hale did a marvelous job on the photography!

Here is the lede:

With seven high schools and about 4,000 high school students, Alameda can be a tough place to stand out and take the lead. This year, 14 graduating seniors have done that, leaving a legacy that might be tough to match. In their busy lives, their accomplishments, as well as their dreams and aspirations, range from ranking No. 1 in their class, receiving National Merit Scholarships and winning football championships to overcoming learning disabilities and becoming a single mom with a dream to be a pediatric nurse specializing in neonatal intensive care.

Recurring themes throughout their stories point to much hard work and determination as the secrets to their success. Please meet Alameda Magazine’s class of 2009—its members could very well eliminate any doubts you might have about the latest up-and-coming generation.

Read the rest here.