Beyond 101: Attend the State Fair

Fifteen years ago, my work team decided that a summer outing was in order. After brainstorming a few ideas, our supervisor declared that we would all spend a day at the State Fair. I had never been to the state fair, so I happily agreed with the plan. (Not that I had much choice.) While I never actually voted to go to the fair, I was fine to visit it; after all, I’m usually willing to try a new experience.

My colleagues and I were instructed to arrive at the fairground at 8 am sharp. As soon as we passed through the main gates, we were handed a massive list of various inane tasks to complete (things like “Take your picture with three strangers,” and “Determine who can stuff the most mini donuts into their mouth,” etc. etc. etc.). We were required to complete our list amid massive crowds of people, surrounded by thoroughly oppressive smells (clue: frying oil + animal manure = Stef nausea), under quickly-intensifying summer sun and heat, and were allowed to rest only for lunch (which was a disgusting pulled pork/coleslaw/French fry ‘picnic’). At the end of the day I was sunburned, frustrated, angry, and hungry (I was so repulsed by the smells and total scene that I didn’t eat anything on the premise). In short, I did not have fun at the fair.

Five years after that day of fair perdition, a different work group suggested a summer outing – and again, the collective group decided a day at the state fair would be swell. (What the heck is it with these people and their damn fair?) I bit my tongue, forced a tight smile on my face, and as I told my peers that a day at the fair would certainly be something, I told myself that perhaps my first fair encounter was a fluke. Maybe this new work group would opt for a more leisurely, self-directed fair experience; perhaps the fair could be enjoyable (or at least tolerable).

While my second trip to the fair was slightly better than my first visit, the day was still not a pleasurable one for me. Again the crush of humanity, repugnant smells, nasty food, and summer heat left me feeling depleted, depressed, despondent, and dispirited. At that moment, I vowed that I would not return to the state fair. Not for family, for friends, or for the firm. I had given the fair two chances, and was burned each time (physically, emotionally, and psychologically). As a wise person once said, “Hurt me once, shame on you; hurt me twice, shame on me.” The state fair had abused me twice now; so the state fair and I were through.

Fast forward ten years. A month ago my current work team (whom I genuinely adore) started kicking around the idea of a day of team building away from the office; a chance for us all to spend some time together as people versus professionals. I nodded my head in agreement in the early stages of the conversation – until someone mentioned the word “fair”. As in, State Fair. I quickly chimed in about how I loathe the state fair – and was met with a glance and nod of acknowledgement. The conversation then moved to other topics. I felt heard – and relieved. I had dodged the state fair bullet.

Ha. If that were the case, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post. The very next day, my work group made plans for us all to take an afternoon away from the office so that we could experience the state fair together. As soon as the meeting hit my online calendar I balked, and re-iterated how much I genuinely loathe the state fair. A few of my colleagues lightly chided me (which I took in stride – gentle teasing is how we all show affection for one another [kind of like close siblings]), but then one chimed in with a different approach. She said, “Let’s play a game: Who Can Get Stef To Like The State Fair?”

In that moment, everything shifted. The state fair no longer became the devil’s playground, but instead transformed into a challenge. Could this clan of business colleagues create such a compelling case to cause me to countermand my current convictions about the calamitous carnival known as the state fair? Given how crafty and convincing these folks can be, I became genuinely curious….

Minutes later, I hung a large 2′ x 3′ piece of paper outside of my office, and invited people to write their most compelling reasons for why *I* should embrace the state fair.  (I.e., knowing that I am an introverted vegan, suggestions like “eating cheese curds” and “talking with TV personalities” were not going to woo me.)  Over the next two weeks, my team embraced the challenge fully – and by the day before the state fair, these enthusiastic individuals had generated a massive list!

Look

Look at all of these suggestions!  I gave 1 point to every idea I liked. (If you want to read the details, click on the image to make it larger.)

With my team so committed to me genuinely enjoying the state fair, I decided to go all in on this task and give the fair one more shot – with all of the gusto I could muster.  I took my colleague’s list and documented all of the ideas that looked intriguing, interesting, and/or inspired. I researched the fair ahead of time and wrote down all of the “must try” vegan foods from a local blogger (whose website was located for me by one of my non-vegan colleagues!).  I put on running shoes and stretchy pants, and threw schedules and caution to the wind.  I was going to do/eat/experience whatever looked interesting when I arrived onsite, no matter how silly, crazy, or bizarre it seemed.  I was going to do the fair like a native.  Bring it.

Now of course, not every variable is within my control.  Certainly Ma Nature could easily throw a wrench into the works.  Fortunately, she was a kind woman on Fair Day:

Thanks Ma.

Perfection.  Thanks Ma.

Bus service to the fair started at 8 am.  (Which is actually quite a deal: For $5, riders get direct transport to and from the fair, with buses leaving every 15 minutes.  This option saved me $5 in parking expense, eliminated headaches associated with driving in rush-hour traffic, and helped the environment as well.  Win-win-win.)  I arrived at the passenger pick-up area at 8:10 am; as I walked to the specific State Fair stop, I wondered if many other people would be present at this relatively early hour.  When I turned the corner, I saw this:

Clearly I was not alone.  People here love the fair!

Clearly I was not alone. People here love the fair…

My stomach immediately (and reflexively) tightened.  The crowds are starting already! Oh no!!  However, I immediately caught myself, and forced a deep breath.  “You’re fine, Stef,” I cooed internally.  “Just relax.”

After four minutes of waiting, the next scheduled bus pulled up and opened its doors.  I handed over my fare, climbed up the vehicle’s steps, and found a seat next to a nice woman.  As the bus crossed the city the lady and I made pleasant but limited small talk, and about 20 minutes later the bus doors opened once more, and I found myself outside the fairground’s main gate.

My work colleagues had encouraged me to purchase my admission ticket in advance – and once I arrived onsite, I was grateful for their suggestion:

Buying a ticket in advance was *such* a smart idea - no waiting in this line for me!  Thanks for the tip, team!

Buying a ticket in advance was *such* a smart idea – no waiting in this line for me! Thanks for the tip, team!

After handing my pre-purchased ticket to the gentleman at the gate, I crossed the threshold and saw the ‘official’ State Fair entrance:

It looks so unassuming.  I wonder what this day will hold...

This archway looks so innocent and calm. It gave me hope for the day ahead.

As I walked under the archway, I was at a loss for where to begin.  Fortunately, immediately to my left I saw a place where I could get some assistance:

Information? Yes, please.

Information? Yes, please.

The pleasant woman staffing the information station handed me a map of the fair grounds.  I tried to make some sense of the environment, but as I walked the streets while also trying to reference my place on the paper, I got disoriented.  I decided to stuff the map in my purse, and just start exploring.

The very first things I experienced were:

  • Food booths of every kind (giant pickles, tiny cookies, fried everything, and lots of food on a stick…)
  • Multiple radio stations broadcasting live
  • People eating ice cream and drinking beer (at 9 am).

I felt like I was in a very polite and family-friendly version of Las Vegas.  Apparently, anything goes at the State Fair (as well as in Sin City)…

After about 20 minutes of walking around the site, I felt like I had a semi-‘reasonable’ handle on my bearings.  At this point I started to get a little hungry (I had eaten breakfast three hours earlier), so I figured, “When in Rome…” – and at 9:30 am, I consumed my first fair food item:

It was DELICIOUS.

I’m not gonna lie – it was DELICIOUS.

This corn was hot, juicy, slightly salty and slightly sweet – and I found myself smiling as I ate bite after juicy bite.

Already my fair experience was trending in a different direction from years past.  I felt increasingly hopeful about the day ahead…

After I finished my corn (and disposed of the remnants appropriately)

008_corn cobb recycling

I made my way to one end of the fairgrounds.  As I walked, I passed by several scenes that reminded me of local county fairs I attended as a child:

This was one of my favorite rides.  I adore the feeling of flying.

This was one of my favorite rides. I adore the feeling of flying.

I like anything that can provide a unique perspective.

I like anything that can provide a unique perspective.

Love the view.  Perhaps I was a bird in a past life?

Love the view. Perhaps I was a bird in a past life?

Watching old men lovingly care for their tractors made me smile.  I have a big spot in my heart for old, hard-working, gruff-on-the-outside-but-tender-on-the-inside "everyday" folk.

Watching old men lovingly care for their tractors made me smile. I have a big spot in my heart for old, hard-working, gruff-on-the-outside-but-tender-on-the-inside “everyday” folk.

The building at the edge of the fairground focused on pets.  As I walked into the space, I saw what looked to be like a pop-up surgical room off to one side:

test

Looks like a doctor is scrubbing in… A new fair feature?

Indeed, it really was an operating theater.  The man in the green scrubs was a vet who was about to neuter a dog – for all of us to watch.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about this.  The scene felt both informative and exploitive.  Since I felt conflicted, I decided to stay for the first little bit of the procedure and see if/how things shifted within me as the surgery went along.

Before the surgery, a second vet (who was going to explain the various surgical steps as they occurred in front of us) gave us lots of medical and behavioral benefits to spaying and neutering pets.  We also learned that the dog being neutered in the surgery we were about to witness was available for adoption by the Humane Society.  Aww…. I felt a lot better about the ‘exhibition’ after this introductory presentation; my sentiments definitely shifted more towards “informative” and away from “exploitive”.

I sat down on one of the observation seats, fully prepared to watch the surgery.  As we waited for the vet to bring in the pup who was about to be neutered, I saw a video monitor that was showing the surgical steps from a previous operation.  When the vet in the video lifted the dog’s testicles and moved a scalpel towards the animal’s skin, I reflexively jumped out of my chair and walked away.  I think I can pass on this experience, thanks anyway.

I continued to walk around the Pet Barn, and had a chance to interact with a variety of local purebreds who had recently won various awards; all of them were absolutely awesome:

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After walking through the Pet Barn, I made my way outside to a nearby ring where trainers were showcasing their very skilled animals.  These dogs were light-years past the basic “sit/stay/come” commands; below is just one example of the incredibly impressive level of performance the animals mastered:

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While many of the animals at the fair were highly skilled, some people on site were less so.  One example was the Giant Sing Along:

The concept.

The concept.

The playlist.  A nice mix of tunes.

The playlist. A nice mix of tunes.

The big ol' field of microphones.  Each one of these babies was 'live'; unfortunately, the people who stood behind them were less so.

The big ol’ field of microphones, with a huge karaoke-type monitor up front. Each one of these mics was ‘live'; unfortunately, the people who stood behind them were less so.

I really like the concept of a Giant Sing Along; but the citizen involvement in the interactive space left quite a bit to be desired.  However, I imagine the experience would be better later in the day, when more people are present and singing.

After spending a few minutes taking in the sing-along site, I continued my walk amid the fair grounds, where I encountered my second food item:

Fried green tomatoes.

Fried green tomatoes.

The only time I ever had these babies was in Atlanta, GA – and those green tomatoes were delicious!  So I was really excited to see a vendor providing a sizable serving of this tasty (vegan!) food.

Glamour shot.

Glamour shot.

Unfortunately, the fried green tomatoes I experienced here were a poor substitute for the gems I had down south.  I still ate every last one that was in my paper basket, but it just wasn’t the same… :)

As I licked the grease off my fingers and continued my site exploration, I walked past this building:

Oh, the irony.

Oh, the irony.

I went inside, but did not get my weight, blood pressure, or cholesterol levels assessed.  Instead, I strolled past a variety of booths – and paused at this scene:

033_cpr

As soon as I saw these kids pumping on Rescue Annie, the memory of my own CPR experience immediately surfaced in my brain – and without even realizing it, I started humming the tune “Stayin’ Alive”.  I guess the training I completed two years ago really worked!

Leaving the health building, I continued my transition from animals to people, and walked through a space designed to support older adults (and their care givers):

Clever.

Clever seating for this venue.

Interesting how the messages we share with the elderly are strikingly similar to the messages we try and impart in the young.  Circle of life, I guess….

Interesting how the messages we share with the elderly are strikingly similar to the messages we try and impart in the young. Circle of life, I guess….

I then poked my head into the 4H building

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but I didn’t stay there long.  The space was (understandably) overrun with hyper pre-teen adolescents, and I just wasn’t in the mood to try to navigate among them or contend with them.  So I continued on my journey – and quickly found a building that was more in line with my preferences:

Hooray for education!

Hooray for learning!

This building was one of the larger ones at the fair, and was set up as part creative exhibit, part vendor expo.  I casually strolled through the creative section

All of these pieces were created by students in grades K-12 - and the vast majority were incredibly impressive.  (Certainly far better than anything I have ever made!)

All of these pieces were created by students in grades K-12 – and the vast majority were incredibly impressive. (Certainly far better than anything I have ever made!)

These are remote-controlled robots that will engage in "Battle Bot" style competitions.  Cool.

These are remote-controlled robots that will engage in “Battle Bot” style competitions. Cool.

and navigated through the vendor portion at a more brisk pace.

I promised one of my colleagues I would stop at the 'gavel hat' booth.  M, this is for you!

I promised one of my colleagues I would stop at the ‘gavel hat’ booth. M, this is for you!

I had never heard of an "Optimist Club" before.  I love the concept!

I had never heard of an “Optimist Club” before. I love the concept!

(The Optimist Creed.)

(The Optimist Creed.)

Support local theater.

Support local theater.

The exit from the Education Building flowed seamlessly into the entrance for the Creative Activities Building:

I didn't do the walking tour.  I really wanted to, but ran out of time.  Maybe in a future visit?

I didn’t do the walking tour. I really wanted to, but ran out of time. Maybe in a future visit?

As the sign states, this building was full of assorted entries from a wide variety of crafts:

We have quilting,

We have quilting, woodworking, toy making…

…s

…doll making, wood carving, painting, and musical instrument creation.  And this was just the tip of the ice burg.

At this point in the day my work team arrived on site, and we all found some foods we could enjoy.  It was 1 pm, and I was ready for some substantial food – so I dug into this bad boy:

Island noodle and veggie stir fry.  A sizable portion that I polished off with no problem; it was SUPER tasty!

Island noodle and veggie stir fry. A sizable portion that I polished off with no problem; it was SUPER tasty!

After enjoying our lunches, my colleagues and I visited the Agriculture Building (a must-see for any respectable Midwestern fair).  While I was expecting to see the infamous crop art

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I’ll admit that I was surprised by how classy the main atrium was.

This honestly reminds me of the Bellagio hotel.  (A little bit, anyway.)

This honestly reminds me of the Bellagio hotel. (A little bit, anyway.)

Of course, there were some surprises if one took a bit of time to look a little more closely at some of the details:

050_do you see the monkey?

As my peers and I continued walking through the space, we entered the land of fruit and veg – a vegan delight!  ;)

I enjoy a good apple...

I enjoy a quality local apple…

…but I enjoy an apple cider popsicle even more!  This was super refreshing; I could have eaten these all day long.  (Makes me think that I should make some of these on my own…)

…but I enjoy an apple cider popsicle even more! This frozen treat was super refreshing; I could have eaten these all day long. (Makes me think that I should make some on my own…)

Turning the corner from the apple stand, my work team maneuvered through the heart of the Ag Building: the ribbon-worthy crops.

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Just before leaving the space, we got educated on the dominant local crops:

Corn is fun!

Corn is fun!

Apparently soybeans are boring.  (They don't even get their own kind displayed beneath their sign!  Poor soybeans.  So misunderstood…)

Apparently soybeans are boring. (They don’t even get their own kind displayed beneath their sign! Poor soybeans. So misunderstood…)

As we left the Agriculture Building, we just happened to run across the daily fair parade – what great timing!

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(The parade was a lot larger than what these quick images reflect; if you want to see a [poor-quality] video of this year’s actual parade, check out this link.)

At this point in the day, it was time to head over to the Food Building (yes, there is a structure at the fair solely dedicated to food) and consume more fair goodies.  This was when my team dug into a bucket of cheese curds; I opted for falafel with tahini.

My first food-on-a-stick!  I shared this item with some of my colleagues, and they all agreed it was surprisingly tasty.  (Well, THEY were surprised; I knew it would be awesome all along.)  ;)

My first food-on-a-stick! I shared this item with some of my colleagues, and they all agreed it was surprisingly tasty. (Well, THEY were surprised; I knew it would be awesome all along.) ;)

From here, I made my way to the other side of the fair grounds to explore the “Animal Agriculture” area of the space.  I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to enter this area; I suspected I wouldn’t feel very good seeing all of the animals treated like commodities instead of like living beings.  But I decided that even if I didn’t ‘want’ to visit the space, I probably needed to – so I did.

067_miracle of birth center

I love the irony of a stroller parking lot located immediately outside this animal barn.

068_miracle of birth center decription

As I walked around the “birth center”, I saw lots of children (and their parents) cooing at the various animal babies (some who had been born that very morning).  It gave me hope that maybe the next time these people were in the grocery store buying eggs, they might think about the baby chick whose life was ended so that humans could eat an omelet.

069_chicks

Or that they might appreciate how the steak they were eyeing used to be a caring mama.

071_mama cow

That maybe, people might begin to see animals as living beings that can experience love, joy, pain, and loneliness – just like we humans can.

070_sheep

072_pregnant cow

As the afternoon winded down, I left the animal barn (bye babies) and entered one more exhibit building:

074_DNR

Department of Natural Resources: Providing information on birds, fish, and Smokey the Bear! :)

I will admit that at this point in the day, I was starting to get tired.  I half-heartedly walked past outdoor fish ponds and indoor aquariums, skimmed over information about hawks and loons, and was about to call it quits when I saw this disgusting-yet-interesting display:

075_zebra mussels

Take a minute and read the placard. Ew.

076_zebra mussels close up

A sign on this side of the cart read, “For your own safety, DO NOT TOUCH” – but they didn’t say what would happen if a person came in direct contact with these zebra mussels. Anyone know the answer?

At this point in my state fair adventure, I was quite proud of myself for having given the event a very solid effort.  I was about to leave the site when I remembered one ride that everyone said I needed to go on: the Giant Slide.

One of my colleagues told me a story about a woman he knows who visits the fair every year just to stand in front of the Giant Slide and watch the riders come down.  She described it as "witnessing moments of pure joy."

One of my colleagues told me a story about a woman he knows who visits the fair every year just to stand in front of the Giant Slide and watch the riders come down. She described it as “witnessing moments of pure joy.”

For $2.50, each rider selects a burlap rug, climbs a series of steps to the top of the slide, sits down on their piece of fabric, and enjoys a 15-second ride down the very slick, smooth, and surprisingly speedy slide.  A rider can certainly go alone; but just as many people ride as a couple, a parent-child pair, or as a grandparent-grandchild duo.

Before I paid my money and made my way to the top of the ride, I spent a few minutes simply watching the scene.  My colleague’s friend was spot on: watching people be so happy with such a simple experience absolutely filled my heart with joy.  Observing the scene was almost like watching a moving meditation.

Yup, this is me.

Yup, this is me.

After returning my burlap sack to the appropriate bin, I began walking toward the fairground exit.  As I neared the main gate, I saw this:

080_my happy place

I wouldn’t go THAT far; but the State Fair is no longer “My Personal Hell,” either.

I approached the bus headed for home just before it pulled away from the station.  A lovely ending to an all-around good day.

During the ride home, I reflected on my state fair experience.  Having no schedule and no agenda was a lot of fun, and felt very freeing.  There were quite a few things I didn’t get to experience at the fair that I kind of wanted to, including:

  • Completing the walking tour.
  • Checking out the Eco Experience.
  • Watching demonstrations at the X-Zone.
  • Attending an amateur talent show.
  • Riding the giant swing.
  • Being flung into the sky via the big bungee spring.
  • Tasting the Chickpea Roti, vegan scone, and fresh fruit and veg at the Produce Exchange.

But I also know that if I had stayed on site any longer, my newly-cultivated mostly-positive feelings towards the fair would have eroded rapidly.  So I guess it’s good that I have a list of things I am still interested in exploring.  I don’t know that I need to revisit the state fair any time soon – but should I find myself there again (at the behest of a friend, family member, or professional colleague), I can embrace the invitation instead of resist it.  Talk about a transformation!

Stef

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What’s in a name? Plenty.

Picking up my standard prescription refill at the pharmacy, the new technician asked for my name. I replied, “Last name ‘J-O-N-E-S-hyphen-S-M-I-T-H’, first name ‘S-T-E-F-A-N-I-E’.” The tech clicked the corresponding letters on the keyboard, then paused while the online system retrieved my information. Looking at the monitor, then at me, the tech asked, “Um, do you live on either Zenbrook Lane, or Cucaburrough Court?” I laughed, then answered, “Well, before I was married I lived on Cucaburrough Court, but I’ve been with my husband for about 13 years, so…” my voiced trailed off while my smile persisted. The tech grinned back at me. “No worries,” she said, “I can fix our system. We’ll just get rid of Stefanie Jones. After all, she doesn’t exist any more.”

My smile quickly left my face, and I felt as though the tech had just punched me in the stomach. While she meant no offense by her comment, her words stung me nonetheless. Her two brief sentences implied that my life as a single woman was null and void once I said, “I take you to be my husband”; that the act of professing my love for another meant that I had to kill a part of myself. Accepting the bag of medicine from the pharmacy tech, I felt myself experiencing a minor existential crisis as I stood amid bottles of vitamins and boxes of pregnancy tests.

If a part of me ceased to exist when I changed my marital status, what was to become of me when I changed my living status? Once I drew my last breath, did that mean that every act that preceded it simply vanished forever? With a few simple keystrokes a store employee deleted a part of me; what other simple actions could other complete strangers take to erase the whole of me?

And what about the implication that once I allowed my name to reflect a partnership with another human (in my case, a man – but the same applies to any committed relationship), I became less of a human? While my husband could retain rights to his full past, the first 26 years of my life had to be set aside in order to accommodate the most recent 13? When I applied for our marriage license over a decade ago, I intentionally chose to hyphenate my name, because I couldn’t bear to ignore my childhood and my family of origin for the remainder of my life. Those Jones people had a significant part in helping me become the person that I am; to set them aside in favor of the Smiths felt genuinely painful to me. If my husband wouldn’t agree to co-adopt a brand new name with me (neither Jones nor Smith, but something completely new – like Adams, or Banes, or Carras….[which he told me he was simply not going to do {which was his choice to make, and which I respected <after a brief period of pouting>}]), then I would create a blended name for myself. A coming together of past and present, a continuation of my story as I progressed in my evolution of child to adult. Yet, clearly not everyone saw things this way. For some, the arrival of Jones-Smith meant the departure of Jones alone…but I’m not ready to simply turn my back on that young self that still lives inside of my current being.

Like I said, the experience was one of mini-existential angst. As I walked towards the exit of the store, I tried to shake the uneasiness I still felt in my core. Of course I won’t be forgotten the day after I die. Of course my actions of today will persist in some way into tomorrow. Of course my childhood, college years, and early 20s were valuable times worthy of honor and integration. Of course the letters that comprise my name don’t define the human that I am.

Still, I’m glad that all of my official documents reflect all of my given names, as well as all of my chosen ones. Both are deeply precious to me – even if they are ‘just’ letters on a page.

baby name bracelet

Stef

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Beyond 101: Try logrolling

When I crafted my 101 list, logrolling was nowhere in the realm of activities I thought about trying – but when I unexpectedly discovered a Community Education class offering to teach this very skill, how could I possibly resist? Answer: I couldn’t.

Once I had secured my place in the class, I asked my friends if anyone wanted to join me for an afternoon of attempted logrolling. I fully expected everyone to reply with a quick, “No thanks” – but one of my friends surprised me and said, “Sure, I’d love to!” She registered for the class that same day, and two months later, both of us received instructions intended to prepare us for the adventure that lay ahead:

logrolling invite

That Sunday afternoon, my friend and I met up at a local lake on a stunningly hot and sunny July day. Away from the water, the day would have been exceedingly uncomfortable; but the conditions were absolutely ideal for an afternoon spent in a lake. After checking our names on the class roster, my friend and I waited for the other 16 participants to arrive. We greeted another adventurous woman in her 30s – then watched the remaining 15 class slots fill one-by-one with: children.

After the two instructors (only two for a class of 18?!) provided basic instructions to us all on the mechanics of logrolling, eight boys and seven girls (ages 5-15) eagerly took to the water, while we three adult women looked at the scene a bit less optimistically. The two instructors placed three logs (note: not real wood logs, but garish red-and-yellow plastic things shaped like a log) into the shallow edge of the lake, then looked at one another. It takes two people to ‘staff’ a single log – so how did these two instructors think they would be able to manage three logs between them? Answer: Use all of the class adults (and the sole 15-year-old boy) as their unpaid help.

So let me get this straight: The class organizers thought it would be a good idea to provide a measly three logs for 18 people, and less than a third of the staff necessary to successfully manage those devices? And they expected me not only to work during their class, but to pay them for that “privilege”? What is wrong with this scenario??

So what was supposed to be a fun excursion with my friend turned into me serving as a camp counselor for two hours, with only a handful of breaks in my newly assigned responsibilities to actually attempt the task I signed up to try, i.e., getting on a log and actually trying to walk on it while it rolled!

Grr.

Though I was irked inside, I suppressed my emotions (as best I could) and helped the two instructors manage the enthusiastic hoard of children who all wanted to get on the log RIGHT NOW! Once each child had a turn, I made sure that my friend and I (and the other adult woman and the 15-year-old boy who had been recruited to ‘help’ [read: work]) also slid into the rotation, so that we received as much ‘log time’ as everyone else.

Facing the log for the first time, I found that I was able to stand up on it with relative ease. Staying on it, though, was another matter altogether. As my feet hugged the curved surface, I looked at the far edge of the log (which the instructors said was supposed to help us maintain our balance) and quickly pitter-pattered my feet up-and-down. Only, I made one ‘pitter’ – and before my other foot could ‘patter’, I realized it was struggling in mid-air – and a second later, my entire body was in the water. I had walked exactly half a step before I fell off the log. Hmm… I put both of my feet on the sandy lake bottom, then re-mounted the log. I stood, looked at the far edge of the log, moved my feet pitter-patter – and then wound up in the lake again. During my first round of logrolling, I never completed more than two consecutive steps.

When my next turn to attempt the task at hand arrived (ten minutes later), I didn’t have much more success than I experienced during my first round of logrolling. In fact, by the end of the day, I had only managed to achieve about seven consecutive steps. (I maintain that had this event occurred on real logs [you know, the items made of wood that are encased in natural grippy bark] I likely could have done better; but even then, I suspect my “personal best” would have maxed out around a dozen consecutive steps.) Meanwhile, many of the little kids were doing amazingly well on the logs! (Now, to be fair, some of them went to a camp last summer where one of their daily activities was logrolling – so I didn’t feel too bad about my relative ‘poor performance’ when compared to their minute-long turns on top of the log.)

My friend on the log. She had also done this once before, and gave some of the little kids a run for their money! [Okay, so since the kids probably only have paper-route money, that analogy probably doesn’t carry a ton of weight… but still. You get the idea.] :)

My friend on the log. She had also done this once before, and gave some of the little kids a run for their money! [Okay, so since the kids probably only have paper-route money, that analogy probably doesn’t carry a ton of weight… but still. You get the idea.] :)

Yet despite not having natural proficiency at logrolling, and in spite of effectively being taken advantage of by the class organizers, I still managed to have a decent time at this event. I found myself laughing every time I fell off the log, and eager to pop back up and give it another go. I also thoroughly enjoyed playing in the water at the beach. (While I have visited this park a few different times, I never took the initiative to actually venture into the lake – but now that I have done it once, I will be much more inclined to splash around this site in the future!) All in all, I was glad I tried logrolling. That being said, I don’t think I need to do it again. One afternoon of this activity feels like enough for me. :)

Stef

[To see expert logrollers in action, check out the video below. They make it look so easy!]

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Beyond 101: Attend the World Series of Poker

Yesterday my sweetie helped me complete #53 on my 101 list (to see a Las Vegas show). Since we spent the bulk of that day doing things on my agenda, I wanted to give my sweetie the opportunity to direct our activities for our second day in the city. After a few rounds of Mississippi Stud (a poker variant) [where my sweetie took $140 from the house – woot!] and a leisurely lunch at one of his favorite Vegas restaurants, we took a shuttle bus to the Rio to seek out the World Series of Poker.

My sweetie is a big poker fan, and has been playing it for over a decade. But in the past several years he has gotten more ‘serious’ about the game – to the point where he has not only read books about poker strategy, but has successfully applied his knowledge to local cash games. Indeed, he earned enough money from those “friendly games” to fund complete trips to Las Vegas. (Trips, as in plural, as in more than one…) Upon arriving in the Vegas poker rooms, my sweetie discovered that he can hold his own among the various individuals who show up at the table – he’s got some skills. (Of course he does.) :)

Back in his early learning days, part of his training to better understand how professional players approach the game included watching old episodes of the World Series of Poker (WSOP). These days, my sweetie maintains a level of “ongoing education” (to acquire information about more nuanced poker strategy) by continuing to watch old WSOP broadcasts and events.

This visit to Las Vegas happened to coincide with the first few days of the WSOP tournament, so it was a cool opportunity for my sweetie to get to experience something live that he had only seen on TV. And as the WSOP is often present in our living room back home, I have seen many episodes from the series as well. The WSOP casually intrigues me; while I wouldn’t make a special trip to the event and attend as a spectator, I would happily integrate a visit into existing travel plans to see what the experience was all about – so that’s precisely what my sweetie and I did.

Once my sweetie and I (and another couple who came with us on this leg of our Vegas excursion) arrived at the Rio, we had a slightly difficult time finding the WSOP. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I guess in my mind I imagined that the WSOP tables would be right in the middle of the casino. In reality, we had to walk a good 10 minutes away from the casino in order to locate the WSOP. But once we arrived, I understood why the series simply could not take place on the main floor of the casino. The turnout for this event was HUGE.

For some reason, I thought that a few hundred people participated in the WSOP. (After all, the event does carry a $10,000 entrance fee.) Um, no. In reality, thousands of people enter this competition. THOUSANDS. Last year, 6700 people paid the entrance fee and participated in Day 1 tournament play. Holy buckets. No wonder the WSOP games had to occur in a space separate from the casino’s main floor. On the day my sweetie and I arrived on site, the first rounds of tournament play were taking place in a convention hall. An honest-to-God convention hall:

This looks like a huge convention room...

This looks like a huge convention room…

(Right side of the room.)

(Right side of the room.)

(Left side of the room.)  I have no idea how many people were in this room; several hundred?  A thousand?

(Left side of the room.) I have no idea how many people were in this room; several hundred? A thousand?

With this many gamblers in a single room, one might expect the hall to be a cacophony of noise. In reality, the place was very quiet. Talking was minimal; the predominant sound in the hall was a rapid-fire click click click click click click click of a thousand people toying with plastic poker chips. The noise was unlike any other I have heard before – and it was very cool to be immersed in.

While the sound within the room was quite soothing, the energy of the space was intense. With literally ten million dollars on the line (yup – that’s how much the first-place player takes), the “playing” occurring in the room was serious business (in every sense of that term). Ninety-five percent of the men in the room wore incredibly stoic, almost statuesque I-refuse-to-reveal-the-slightest-damn-thing-about-my-situation faces. Around a third of the men in the room wore sunglasses, and several hundred wore hoodies and headphones as well. Looking at a few guys, I almost laughed out loud seeing the way they were ‘decked out’ (exposing basically just their noses and fingers) – but I managed to restrain myself.

A montage of players in sunglasses, hats, and headphones - and a camera man thrown in there as a bonus.  :)

A montage of players in sunglasses, hats, and headphones (with a camera man thrown in there as a bonus). :)

As I walked up and down the paths designated for event spectators, I could assess how good various players were by the intensity around them. Folks who were never going to see Day 2 of action were very casual about the experience, downplaying how much they ‘cared’ about the event. Individuals who had a shot at going further, but who most likely wouldn’t make it to the final rounds of play, were super-intense – like they were clawing their way up a mountain and holding on for dear life. The players who would likely make it to the final tables possessed energy between these two extremes: when their turn to make a move arrived, they became 1000% focused and attentive; but as soon as the action went to the next player, they relaxed a bit (sometimes even chuckling lightly, smiling slightly, or nodding to the audience around them). As a student of psychology, I was fascinated by all of these contrasts and examples occurring within the spectrum of human behavior.

05_second hall

Tables from a second convention room. On the right a guy is getting a drink; on the left another is checking his phone. Some players look “bored”, while others look like they are trying very hard. Some are slouched, others are upright…. it was a very interesting scene to observe.

As my sweetie, the other couple, and I all walked among various halls were WSOP participants engaged in activity, occasionally I would observe my sweetie and his friend nod with reserved excitement towards a man sitting at a nearby table. “There’s Daniel Negreanu,” one of them would ‘casually’ (yet eagerly) indicate for the other to see. “Hey, isn’t that Phil Ivey,” the other might ‘ask’ (tell), with just a hint of delight in their voice. While they would probably never admit it, my perception was that these two grown men were slightly star struck seeing some of their poker idols in person – similar to the way young boys likely feel upon seeing their sports heroes face-to-face at an autograph signing. These moments of male bonding were very sweet exchanges to witness.

After twenty minutes of walking around this “bizarro” business conference, the event organizers announced a 15-minute break for the players – and everyone was ushered (forced) out of the conference hall area, back onto the main casino floor. As I transitioned from the WSOP area to the everyday Rio space, I was saddened to re-enter the noisy, smoky, blingy overwhelm that is traditional Las Vegas. As an observer (i.e., free from the pressure of game play), the WSOP provided a lovely respite from all of the exhausting elements of Vegas. But alas, all things must come to an end. Before we left the casino, I stopped off to use the restroom – where for once, the line for the men’s room stretched far out the door, while the women’s room was completely empty. Yet another unexpected benefit the WSOP provided me. :)

Thank you for coming...

Thank you for coming…

…and thank you for leaving.

…and thank you for leaving.

Stef

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#53: See Cirque du Soleil the Blue Man Group

I first went to Las Vegas when I was 24 years old.  I made the trip to “Sin City” with my parents and sister, a few months after my younger sibling’s 21st birthday.  When I submitted my vacation request to my employer, my colleagues logically asked where I was going.  When I told them, “Las Vegas,” their eyes turned nostalgic.  Many of them had fond memories of spending a 21st birthday, bachelor/bachelorette party, or guys/girls weekend in that town – and felt compelled to share their experiences and advice with me.  My teammates provided unsolicited insights into the best places to stay, restaurants to seek out, and casinos to try (as well as hotels, dining establishments, and locations to avoid).  After they finished sharing their tales with me, my peers then asked what I planned to do during my first visit to “adult Disneyworld”.  I told them I would likely gamble with my dad, go shopping with my mom, and explore the strip with my sister and/or on my own.  Each colleague I spoke with then asked me, “Are you going to see any shows?”  I was unfamiliar with Las Vegas shows; I thought my peers were asking me if I was planning on seeing a musical or play.  I looked at them quizzically, clearly confused.  One peer explained that in addition to table games and slot machines, nearly every casino in Las Vegas produces and presents a show every night.  The colleague then informed me of the nature of the shows: some are individual performers like singers and magicians (Wayne Newton, Celine Dion, David Copperfield…), some are groups or troupes of artists that perform amazing feats and stunning effects (Cirque du Soleil, Blue Man Group…), and some are of a more, ahem, mature nature (topless and/or nude dancers).

Whoa.  At 24 years old, I simply didn’t realize that Las Vegas offered more than gambling – I thought spending (and hopefully winning) money was the primary draw.  Armed with this new knowledge, I did some research on possible shows my family and I might want to see during our visit.  However, I quickly learned that while these shows may be full of stunning visual effects, they were also stunningly expensive.  Being the frugal gal that I am, I quickly set aside the notion of attending a Las Vegas show.

My family and I had a lovely time taking in the free sights of the city, and enjoyed losing and winning conservative amounts of cash.  The four of us walked the length of the strip and made a trip to downtown, seeing everything from the volcano at the Mirage, to the pirate show atTreasure Island, to the overhead light show in downtown Las Vegas.  We watched dancing water (Bellagio) and roller coasters speeding along the top of a building (New York, New York), and every other spectacle that could be viewed without requiring a ticket (including many of the people all around us).  We took in bright sunshine and unexpected surprises (like a few out-of-place statues from Madame Tussauds wax museum), and had a good time being a family on vacation together.

From that first trip until now, I have returned to Las Vegas several times.  Some of the trips were with my family (including my sweetie) for a standard vacation; a few treks were for work (conferences and training experiences); and one special journey was for my sister’s wedding (which took place at the Bellagio, and was beautiful).  Every time I secured vacation time on my calendar, my colleagues asked what I planned to do in Vegas.  When I told them “gambling, shopping, and walking the strip,” they 1) looked stunned that I planned on gambling [apparently my demeanor doesn’t align with one who enjoys betting money on cards], and 2) asked me, “Aren’t you going to see any shows?”  When I replied, “No, I’m not really a show kind of person,” 9 out of 10 people attempted to convince me otherwise.  “Cirque is amazing!” they would exclaim, or “Celine is a fantastic performer,” they would explain.  Each individual tried to get me to see that not taking in a show while I was in Las Vegas was a mistake, and attempted to get me to reconsider my decision.

After years and years of this topic resurfacing, I finally conceded that perhaps I should take in a show.  Just once, just to see what the hype was all about.  So, I put #53 on my 101 list.

Initially, my plan was to simply attend a Cirque du Soleil show when the traveling troupe came to my city – that way I could save money on airfare, hotel, and other expenses associated with a Las Vegas excursion while still seeing if the “Las Vegas show” buzz was founded.  I kept my eyes open for Amaluna, or Dralion, or even Quidam, but every time I became aware of a show in town, the logistics didn’t work out.  Either I was too late in booking tickets and the show was already sold out, or I had a scheduling conflict I couldn’t resolve (i.e., being out of town).  Finally, I recognized that the Universe wanted me to have the full-on Las Vegas show experience – and I realized that I wanted to share it with my sweetie (as he is a huge Las Vegas fan).  So I set aside my hesitation with an expensive vacation (as best I could, anyway), and told my husband to go ahead and book a long weekend in Vegas for the two of us.  I didn’t care where we stayed, what we ate, or how we spent our time, so long as we saw a show at some point during our trip.

My husband came through like a champ.  A semi-serious gambler during his annual trips to Vegas, he had earned enough “points” to secure us a discounted hotel stay.  He researched flights and obtained very reasonable airfares, and even arranged for our trip to coincide with the travels of another couple, so that we could share some of our time with friends.  The only piece of preparations he didn’t complete was purchasing tickets for us to see a show.

Now, to be fair, my husband did try to get us tickets before we left on our trip.  But every show we had even slight interest in seeing (e.g., nothing that involved nudity) was outrageously priced – we’re talking $200+ per ticket.  After my sweetie explained the current state of shows in Vegas, he reminded me of several half-price ticket kiosks along the strip.  Basically, each morning various kiosks open and sell lower-cost tickets to shows that had not yet sold out for performances occurring later that same evening.  While we wouldn’t know in advance what show we would see (or where the show would take place), we were pretty certain that if we purchased “day-of” tickets, we could get access to a ‘decent’ show at a cost well below $200+.

I agreed that taking advantage of a half-price kiosk offer was a very reasonable option; and heck, it could even add to the excitement of our trip to Vegas.  So I set Planner Stef aside, and decided to embrace Seat-Of-Her-Pants Stef on this trip to Sin City.

My sweetie and I arrived in Las Vegas on a Saturday evening – and after getting to the hotel, maneuvering through the check-in process, and finding some dinner, I was exhausted.  (We had spent three hours that morning in the car, driving back from a visit to my in-laws – so by the time we completed Leg 2 of our day-long trip [e.g., the 3 hour flight to Vegas], I was spent.)  At 9 pm local time (11 pm Minnesota time), I wished my husband good luck as he hit the casino floor, then promptly fell into bed.

Sunday morning my sweetie and I made our way to the half-price ticket kiosk 30 minutes before it opened, and confirmed the show we wanted to see.  The kiosk began processing requests at 10 am – and though there were only five other couples in line before us, another full 30 minutes passed before our turn came.

However, once my sweetie and I arrived at the counter, we received service from a very friendly and helpful attendant.  With a few keystrokes at her computer, she produced a voucher for two tickets to the Blue Man Group.  She then offered us a helpful upgrade: For $2 more, my sweetie and I could purchase a voucher that would give us 25% off our dinner if we dined at one of the casino restaurants.  After confirming that yes, the restaurant had a vegan menu, we happily spent the few extra dollars.  A few more keystrokes, a few initials placed stating that we understood our tickets were non-refundable and non-exchangeable, a credit card swiped, and my sweetie and I were on our way.

With dinner and a show lined up, my sweetie and I spent the rest of the day walking the strip.  He showed me all of the things that had changed since I was last in Las Vegas (nearly a decade ago), took me to one of his favorite ‘hidden gems’ for lunch, and the two of us took some money from the house playing blackjack.  (I made $190 – woot!)  We met up with our friends for dinner, then made our way to the Blue Man Theater to watch the Blue Man Group.

(Sorry for the blurry image - the dim light of the casino paired with the vibrant lights surrounding the theater entrance wreaked havoc on my phone camera.)

(Sorry for the blurry image – the dim light of the casino paired with the vibrant lights surrounding the theater entrance wreaked havoc on my phone camera.)

As I entered the theater space, I was surprised by how small and intimate it was.  I expected a huge venue like an orchestra hall – so I was really pleased when I walked into a more cozy space.  I was also impressed by the sight lines throughout the theater; there really wasn’t a bad seat in the house.

Hopefully this gives you a little perspective on where our seats were.

(Hopefully this gives you a little perspective on where our seats were.)

As my sweetie and I settled into our seats (which were located in the middle of the second row in the second section up from stage left – so basically, in almost the exact middle of the audience), I noticed a large eyeball wearing a red stocking cap floating about the space.  As the eyeball turned, I saw that it had a fish tail on its backside.  Hmm, interesting…..

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The show began at exactly 7 pm – and man, was it a wild ride.  There is simply no way I can begin to articulate the experience via the written word – it really is a show that has to been seen to be understood.  If I had to try and explain the experience to someone, I would summarize it as a hybrid of four different modes of entertainment:

  1. Rhythmic music: The musical focus of the Blue Man Group is drumming – but they do not limit themselves to traditional drums.  Marimbas, tubular bells, tympani, and other melodic percussive instruments are integrated into the show, augmenting the more standard snare and bass drums.  The artists who comprise the Blue Man Group are stellar musicians, and their drumming skills amazed me.  The music they produced was not only technically sound (and complex), but was created with such volume and power that I literally felt the beats reverberate in my chest (which may not sound very fun, but which is actually how I like to experience percussion, believe it or not).  :)
  2. Comedy: When my sweetie and I purchased our tickets to the Blue Man Group, I expected a show that was 90% music. (I wasn’t sure what the remaining 10% of the time would yield, but I thought probably things like set changes and other technical necessities.)  So I was really surprised when a good third of the show turned out to be comedic.  I was even more impressed when the comedy turned out to be genuinely humorous, given the fact that the three men of the Blue Man Group do not say a single word in the entire show.  Not. One. Word.  Physical comedy can easily reside in the land of slapstick (read: predictable and lame) – but the Blue Man Group’s physical comedy was complex and accessible.  It was my kind of humor (for the most part), and I really enjoyed it.
  3. Visual Spectacle:  With a show comprised of three mute main characters, the visual aspect of the performance is amplified – and the Blue Man Group definitely deliver a visually stunning show.  Lights, graphics, movement, smoke, paint, and water all combined to produce amazing visual displays.  While my ears (and chest) were happy with the musical elements of the experience, my eyes were treated to a plethora of delights, too.
  4. Interactivity: The men of the Blue Man Group definitely feed off of the audience, and tailor each show to the people sitting before them.  At various points in the show all of the men left the stage and entered the audience – and did so in rather outlandish ways. (I.e., walking on top of seat backs, taking candy and popcorn from people, removing one woman’s credit card from her purse…)  At two distinct points in the show a “volunteer” (read: semi-reluctant participant) was selected from the crowd and “invited” (read: nudged) to the stage to engage in a semi-complex interaction with the men.  The first volunteer was the woman sitting next to my sweetie (!) – and she did a fantastic job playing along with the Blue Man Group’s antics.  She really contributed to a great show!  The other volunteer was a man sitting on the opposite side of the audience, and his participation was more limited, but still rather intense.  (The woman’s interaction was more interpersonal, while the man’s interaction was more physical.)  [I know, gender stereotypes… I didn’t create the show, I’m just writing about it.]  Interactivity with the audience extended to props, too.  Remember those big beach balls hanging from the ceiling that I showed you a few paragraphs ago?  Near the end of the show they descended on us, while reams of toilet paper streamed from fans strategically placed throughout the theater space. The Blue Man Group played drums frenetically during this segment of the show, and the total scene felt like a crazy frat party (except with little kids and old people in attendance in addition to college kids and 20/30-somethings, and without the yucky come-ons and unwanted sexual attention).  It was pretty crazy.

The entire performance ran 90 minutes, and by the end of it I was exhausted.  It was very fun and entertaining, and I was genuinely impressed with the creativity and novelty that went into creating so many different segments of the show – but by the time 8:30 pm came, I had had enough.  When the theater doors opened, I was ready to leave and get some quiet and fresh air.  (Which don’t actually exist in Las Vegas…)  But as I made my way to the performance exit, I turned to my right and saw one of the “blue men” walking immediately next to me.  I smiled at him, and he looked back at me with those big, curious eyes.  As we both reached the theater lobby, he pulled off to the side and began posing with children who wanted their picture taken with him.  Aww… so kind.

Now that I have experienced a Las Vegas show, I can see why people get ‘hooked’ on these outings.  If I lived in or around Las Vegas, I could see myself venturing into the city a few times a year to check out the entertainment.  But I don’t think I would arrange a cross-country trip to attend these performances.  However, I will now have my eyes open for traveling shows that tour the Midwest – and if one comes through Minneapolis, I will be a lot more interested in checking it out.  Heck, I might even travel to St. Paul.  ;)

Stef

Posted in 101 in 1001, day zero project, postaday, rule of 3, wplongform | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

#100: Participate in a Tricycle online retreat

I began meditating in earnest back in October 2009. I had spent the previous eighteen months working on some personal issues, and had arrived at a point where I was in a better spot, but still in need of self-care. I had heard so many reports regarding the myriad benefits that meditation could provide (everything from curing physical ailments, to easing mental pain, to even providing spiritual enlightenment) that I decided a few minutes of sitting quietly, breathing and focusing each morning would probably be a good activity to begin. So I spent most of the summer of 2009 trying to meditate – and failing miserably. After a minute or two my legs would hurt, or my back would ache, or my mind would be so ridiculously bored that I would abandon the session just minutes after it started. I left each attempt feeling frustrated, annoyed, and/or defeated. Not exactly the end results I was hoping for.

After several months of experiencing growing hostility towards the whole notion of meditation, I learned of a retreat opportunity that basically promised to give people a solid start on the path of meditation. When I researched the center and found out that not only was it just a day’s drive away, but also completely free, I signed up for the next available session (after consulting with my husband – who wanted to make sure that the place wasn’t some sort of cult. It wasn’t.). :) Shortly thereafter, I spent 12 days in a very intensive meditation experience; and while I absolutely hated parts of it (and yes, tears were shed), I also deeply appreciated some moments. Most importantly, though, I left the center with solid instructions on how to meditate – and “proof” that I could do it. I drove away from the center with an established daily mediation practice – which was exactly what I had hoped for.

It’s been almost five years since that retreat, and I am happy to report that I have maintained a daily meditation practice. I rise early and meditate each morning, even when on vacation, traveling, visiting family, taking road trips, etc. – and the practice has served me well. While I haven’t attained pure enlightenment, I absolutely notice a difference in my mental state on the few days each year when I don’t/can’t meditate – and I definitely feel better (and behave better) on the days when I do meditate.

Meditation is a skill – and while daily practice helps to maintain current levels of “proficiency”, more focused experiences assist with deepening and growing the ability. (It’s similar to an athlete engaging in daily practice drills versus a more intensive training camp.) I have been on a few shorter, less intense retreats over the past few years (some lasting a week, others a few days, still others just an afternoon), and have gained positive insights and perspectives at each one.

But getting away (even for a “mini-retreat”) can sometimes pose a challenge with the various responsibilities I have in everyday life. As much as I wonder how my life might have been different if 1) I knew about Buddhism before 2009, and/or 2) I had somehow chosen to be a nun versus a layperson, I know enough to know that such speculation is not only unhelpful, but unhealthy. I am who I am, and I have the life I have. My “job” in this lifetime isn’t to wonder ‘What if?’ (or worse, pine for a different past), but instead to accept what is, and to make the most of what might be ahead of me.

So instead of wishing for things that I can’t have, I choose to research what is possible. One resource I found early in my discovery journey was Tricycle – a non-profit educational organization dedicated to making Buddhist teachings and practices broadly available. Among their many resources are a quarterly magazine, books, blog posts, interviews, films, and online retreats.

I subscribed to their magazine, read a few of their e-books, poked around their website and located several interesting posts and informative interviews – but resisted the idea of participating in one of their online retreats. I’m not exactly sure why… Did I think I lacked the discipline to complete a multi-week commitment? [Hardly. Not only did I completed multiple years of formal education as a younger adult, but over the past 30+ months I have worked through 90% of the 101 tasks I declared I wanted to complete just over 2 years ago… I think my ability to follow through speaks for itself.] Was I skeptical about the benefits I might gain from a virtual versus in-person interaction? [Not really. I have learned volumes through listening to a variety of podcasts, so I know from first-hand experience that digital formats yield just as much opportunity for meaningful knowledge exchange and acquisition as face-to-face sharing.] Did I not want to invest the time required for this pursuit? [Unlikely. I have willingly spent weeks of vacation sitting in silence on a cushion instead of on a sunny beach.] I truly don’t know what my hang-up was; all I know was that each time I considered a virtual retreat, I felt resistance – so I set the idea aside.

So, all of this is how item #100 made it onto my 101 list. I knew if I made a public commitment to complete an online retreat, it would get done. I’m a woman of my word, if nothing else. :)

Last fall I spent several days at a wellness spa. In addition to taking yoga classes, receiving massages, and lounging on a deck chair, I started (and completed) an online retreat.

When I reviewed the various topics available, I had a bit of difficult deciding which one to select – there were so many juicy items to choose from! Should I focus on how to befriend my perpetually thinking mind? How to become more comfortable with death? How to bring more ease and joy into practice? Eventually I decided on a retreat titled “Natural Bravery”. Despite my willingness to try almost anything, and my sincere comfort with looking “silly” (foolish, naïve, etc.), I still live with a lot of fear. I am working hard to not allow fear to prevent me from doing what I want, or to induce incredible anxiety within me (as it has for most of my life) – but this is work. So I thought of all the possible retreat topics to explore, I might benefit most directly from this one.

The retreat was structured as a series of four online videos, each 20-30 minutes long. The teacher gave a talk on one specific facet of the overall retreat topic in each video, then offered items to reflect on, and finally provided a few meditation instructions to follow. The intention was that a retreatant would watch one video each week, and perform the closing “assignments” over the course of the next seven days – so that each retreat would last for a month.

I suspected that if I attempted to follow this suggested outline, I would abandon the retreat around the second or third week. I could just see myself getting busy, losing focus, or most likely tiring of the assignments. (I could already feel the weight of an anticipatory cognitive burden, and it felt gross.) So I opted to complete one video each evening during my five days/four nights at the wellness spa. (Convenient, non?)

So… how did it go? Interestingly, the online retreat experience was rather anti-climactic. The videos were very similar to audio podcasts I have been listening to for the past few years. As I watched the online retreat videos, I was reminded of positive messages, and I received some helpful instructions and engaging topics/questions to reflect on – but these items and experiences weren’t much different from the “interactions” I have had while driving my car and listening to podcast speakers. Could it be that I have been engaging in daily “mini-retreats” for the past several years without even realizing it?

Maybe. (Probably.) While I gained some new perspectives about fear, courage, bravery, and personal power during this video retreat, I also became aware that this overall experience wasn’t really novel for me – that I have already been using 21st century technology to learn from present-day teachers about timeless universal truths that are slowly transforming my current life. That realization buoyed my heart, and brought a smile to my lips.

tiny_green_buddha

Stef

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Never doubt the compassion of strangers

I adore walking outside in the gorgeous summer months.  During my daily outdoor endeavors I often pass runners and cyclists, parents with children, humans with pups.  I smile at each of these beings, and continue on my merry way.

Occasionally, though, I cross paths with a driver who is speeding along too quickly for our  neighborhood streets, or a menacing animal, or some other danger.  Usually the “threat” is short-lived, and only briefly unsettling.  Annoying, certainly, but otherwise uneventful.

However, this afternoon my route intersected with someone who just didn’t fit the surroundings.  The man I encountered had an air about him that my gut instinctively knew wasn’t ‘right’.  While I am a trusting soul, I also know when to listen to my inner inklings and modify my behavior accordingly.  And while I am a smallish woman, I also know how to stand tall and project a powerful sense of courage (and awareness).  I looked the man in the face (acknowledging his presence and letting him know that *I* knew he was nearby), then casually crossed to the other side of the street.

The man followed me.

Fine.  I started walking towards a more heavily traveled street, confident that the consistent stream of traffic along that route would keep me safe.  But three blocks stood between where I currently was and where I felt I needed to be.  While I wasn’t scared, I did feel unsettled.  Uneasy.

Apparently my feelings were not unfounded; as I walked confidently-but-briskly towards the more heavily traveled road, a fellow citizen happened to drive past the man and I.  The driver’s gut must have sent him some sort of indicator as well, because upon seeing the two of us, he slowed his vehicle.  The driver arrived at the intersection that I was aiming for before I did; but even though his path was clear, he stopped his vehicle at the “T” in the road.  Instead of turning right (as his car’s blinker indicated was his intention), he waited until I arrived at that same fork in the road.  When I made my turn onto the busy street, the driver continued watching me and the man who was following me.  The man on foot saw that the driver was now watching him, and decided he had better change his plans.  The man on foot turned 180 degrees, and started walking away me and the driver, heading back in the direction he had originally come.

Once the driver saw that 1) the man on foot changed his course, and 2) I was now among lots of other people, he smiled gently at me, then completed his right turn and drove away.

Now, I can’t say whether anything would have happened had the driver not shown up on the scene when he did.  The area I was walking in is a residential neighborhood with many houses lining the road; I imagine that on the off-chance something had actually occurred, a good scream or two would have called at least a few neighbors outside to investigate.  And I wasn’t actually scared at all during the entire situation – just uneasy.  Still, I’m very grateful that a Good Samaritan chose to acknowledge his sense of something feeling “off”, and decided to take a small-yet-powerful action to help a fellow citizen (instead of rationalizing the scene and turning his back on a stranger).  To the unknown, unnamed commuter who took a few extra minutes at the end of a long work day to help ensure the safety of some random woman on a walk: thank you.

Good-Samaritan

Stef

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