Posted on February 25, 2013
My office building has a beautiful view of the Tennessee River. Often I get to watch the rowing team practicing while I should be working. It has always looked fun, so when a buddy suggested I add rowing to my 52 Things list I thought it was a brilliant idea. This week was The Oak Ridge Rowing Association’s annual Learn To Row free weekend, so it was the perfect time to test the waters and give boating a try.
I convinced my friend Kristina to come along with me, promising her it would be a lovely 60-degree day. You see, she is from Jamaica, so anything below 70 might as well be subartic. While a beautiful sunny 60-degree day was in the forecast, when we started at 10AM it was still only 34 degrees. You know, because it is February.
We started with a brief orientation and tour of the boathouse before being put to work on rowing machines to practice the proper stroke technique. We learned that rowing is 80% leg work and 20% arms and back. To me, it felt like 60% lower back, 30% arms, and 10% legs. I must have been doing it wrong.
Once we finished practicing we carried our boat down to the water. This involved lifting it, carrying it on our shoulders (well, everyone else’s shoulders, it was a few inches above my head), and flipping it over to place it in the water. We used a sweep boat, which is one in which the rower has only one 12 foot long oar on one side of the boat. Our boat was an “eight,” meaning it sat 8 rowers plus the coxswain (the person steering and giving the directions). An “eight” boat is 60+ feet long, approximately 250 pounds, and can cost $35,000.
I was in the bow seat (which meant I was in the last seat on the end of the boat closest to the direction of travel) and my oar was on the starboard side (it stuck out to my left). Our seats were on a track, allowing us to roll back and forth as we rowed. This is because you use your legs to begin the stroke, pushing back and then bringing the oar in close to your chest. I now understand why rowing machines are set up the way they are. Our feet were kept in place by shoes attached to the “foot stretcher” . . . these shoes were approximately 5 sizes too big for me. Once we were all situated it was time to row.
The weather was quite lovely. It wasn’t too cold considering it was only 34 degrees; the rowing kept me warm and the sunshine on my face felt amazing. The actual rowing was a lot of fun and the time on the water was relaxing. We spent at least an hour practicing our strokes rowing in unison. It wasn’t as grueling as I expected it to be, but I was absolutely wiped out when we were done. At times, the oar was a little more difficult to control than I expected. Occasionally, the water and movement of the boat would catch it, making it difficult to get it out of the water smoothly. Twice the water caught the oar and threw me sliding back in my seat. For a moment I was worried that I was going to be sent flying out of the boat. But all was well.
While I don’t think I will take up rowing this season (too many other New Things to do), it is something that I am considering doing in the future.
When we were on our way out we noticed a father and son feeding ducks and a nearby food dispenser. The son was feeding the ducks directly out of his hand, something I’d never done before. I figured if he could do it, I could do it. I got a handful of food from the dispenser to feed the birds. As they got closer, I immediately got scared that one would bite me and spastically tossed the food at them instead. Then I realized that a 5-year-old was braver than I was and decided to give it another go. I again held out my hand and let the ducks approach. I can’t really explain what it felt like. There bills were hard but smooth and felt like little soft pinches on the palm of my hand. After feeding them, one of the ducks tried to sell me supplemental insurance, but that is a story for another day.
Posted on February 19, 2013
We’ve reached week 7 of the 52 New Things. This is the first week in which I didn’t have something pre-planned. Whether it was through perusing the local paper, or having a friend call and ask “Hey, want to go try Krav Maga?” the first 6 weeks just sorted themselves out. Realizing I finally had to resort to “the list” (which has now grown to 85 items), I started to worry a little. The thought of having to plan something 42 more times was a little overwhelming. But I sucked it up, closed my eyes, and picked something at random. Not really . . . I just went with the first thing on the list: Acupuncture & Fire Cupping.
Acupuncture is an ancient form of alternative medicine that uses the insertion of needles in key points of the body to influence the flow of qi (pronounced chee). You may already know that, but I felt a need to explain after this conversation:
Friend: SHE PUT NEEDLES IN YOU?!
Me: What do you think acupuncture is?
Friend: Seriously thought an Asian woman stood on your back and jumped and stuff.
I went to Angie’s Acupuncture in Seymour, TN. For my first session, she focused on points that would aid in relaxation and help with my life-long insomnia. She explained how the process would work, showed me the needles she would use, and told me what to expect when she inserted the needles. I laid down on the table and she began.
She started by putting needles into the top of my head. Five needles to be exact. It was so painless that after she stuck the first one in I asked, “was that it!?” I could barely feel it. In fact, I could barely feel most of the needles. There were 16 in total, 5 in the top of my head, one in my forehead, and 2 in my ears, stomach, hands, knees, and feet. For most of them I couldn’t feel a thing when they were inserted. However, the needles in my feet did feel like little bee stings, but any pain was only momentary. While I had the needles in my hands I did feel some pressure and decreased mobility (inability to grasp my phone) but I did, after all, have needles sticking out of them.
Next, we moved on to fire cupping. Cupping uses heat and suction to circulate blood and relax muscles. Essentially, a cotton ball is lit on fire and momentarily placed within a cupping glass. This burns the oxygen and creates a vacuum inside the glass. The glass is then placed on the body, sucking the skin into the cup. She used 4-5 cups on my back and moved them around working on my tense muscles and working out the knots. They weren’t hot like I expected, but if felt a little bit like I had an octopus hanging out on my back. I was skeptical at first, but I could feel a definite difference after she was done.
It was a very interesting experience, and one I will probably repeat. I actually found it more relaxing and calming than most massages I’ve had. When I got home from my session (and having lunch with a friend) I promptly passed out for approximately 4 hours. So who knows, maybe there is something to it.
Posted on February 11, 2013
For week 6 of my 52 Things adventure, I went indoor rock climbing at the Climbing Center at River Sports. The first Monday of each month is “Women’s Night” (it’s cheaper and there are snacks), so I figured I’d jump on the opportunity to scale some walls. I dragged my good friend Amy along with me.
Upon arrival, we were given a climbing harness and shoes. The harness consists of a waist belt, leg loops, and a belay loop. It looks extremely flattering on you while you are climbing. Not really. The belay is the only thing keeping you from plummeting to your death; it is the rope system that attaches and secures you to the belayer (your climbing partner). The climber is attached to the belay with a carabiner and rope, which is secured with a figure-eight loop, and the belayer is attached with a belay device. The belay device locks the rope in place and prevents the climber from falling a great distance. Hopefully.
We received a quick tutorial from Rick at the climbing center to make sure we wouldn’t kill one another, because, as he explained, we are “precious.” He taught us how to properly secure ourselves and how to run though a pre-climb safety checklist. During the tutorial he told me that I was to do a “test fall” to make sure I was properly secured. Being a lawyer and quite literal, I immediately dropped to the floor. This, of course, was not what he meant. I was supposed to climb to a certain place on the wall and then fall. Apparently, I was the first person to ever do that during the instructions. At least it was worth a good (and well deserved) laugh at my expense.
I should mention at this point that I have a fear of heights. [Insert short joke here.] Unfortunately, I often forget about this fear. I don’t forget that I am afraid of spiders, bears, and the like . . . but somehow I always forget that I am quite terrified of tall places. (For example, my favorite thing to do when I visit a new city is to go to the highest spot–usually the top of a church–to take pictures. I always think this is a wonderful idea until I reach the summit. It isn’t the looking down that bothers me, it is the looking up and realizing just how high I am that gives me vertigo. When I visited Florence and climbed the 463 steps to the top of Il Duomo, I was convinced that there was going to be an earthquake and the top of the 600-year-old structure was going to come crashing to the ground. . . . Nobody said fears had to be reasonable.)
When I started my first climb I was all giggles, just like with each of my other New Things. However, once I realized what I was doing and that I needed to concentrate, I got serious and focused. My short stature did get in the way of my climbing at times, as I progressed towards the top reaching some of the holds proved a little difficult. On the other hand, the upshot to being tiny is that you have really small hands and feet, which made using the smaller holds to pull myself up easier. Occasionally, I managed to reach for a loose rock. Grabbing it for support only to have it spin out from under my grip was a little disconcerting. I would then have to figure out an alternate path up the wall. In all, I did 4 climbs with (what seemed like) varying degrees of difficulty. It might have just been me, but it always seemed that the last two feet were the most difficult to climb . . . nevertheless my stubbornness and determination won out in the end.
When I wasn’t climbing, I was the belayer. This meant I was responsible for making sure my friend didn’t die (she is clearly very trusting). When it was her turn to do a practice fall I was not prepared. I was yanked off of the ground and thrown into the rock wall. It was unexpected and disorienting. Apparently we had a weight imbalance. (I should note that my friend is quite lovely and slender, it’s just that most everyone on the planet is taller than me and therefore weighs more than me). From that moment forward I was anchored to the ground. No harm was done other than a wonky elbow for me on the next climb and perhaps terrifying my friend momentarily.
I had a wonderful time climbing and hope to try it with a real rock wall once the weather warms up. The whole process was a lot easier than I expected, and if I can do it, anyone can.
Posted on February 4, 2013
For week 5 of my 52 Things I took a Krav Maga class at Bullman’s Kickboxing & Krav Maga. Krav Maga (which is not the same as foie gras, as a friend inquired) is a close-contact martial art used by the Israeli Defense Forces. In other words, it is Israeli street fighting … and it is no joke.
The class started with a boot camp style warmup which was a type of torture that even Vlad the Impaler could not have come up with. It included something called a bear crawl which was awkwardly running from one side of the room to the other on your hands and feet. This is when my giggle fits began. Even though I was pushing myself physically I found the entire process hilarious. It wasn’t painful at the time, but definitely impeded my ability to walk for a few days.
The instructor started with teaching us the 360 defense. It is called the 360 defense because there are 7 arm positions (on each side) which rotate to guard different areas of the body against attack.
Once we practiced the positions we moved on to knife-blocking drills. We lined up in 3 rows of 5 people each. One person was the attacker while the other 4 circled though practicing blocking the attacks.
This is when my giggle fits worsened. I couldn’t help it. I’m quite small, about 5 feet tall and I’ve never broken 100 pounds in my life. Several of the “attackers” were a foot taller than me and twice my weight. When it was my turn to be the attacker … that’s ok, I’ll wait while you get the mental image of me coming at you with a knife … I could tell that the guys were hesitant to come at me full strength. I kept repeating “come on, you won’t break me” until they finally got the hint and starting hitting me with a decent amount of force. Of course, between the blocking and stabbing I had a fair amount of bruises on my arms for the next few days.
We finished with some foot work drills which they called “the zombie walk.” The person who was “it” was in the center and attacked by the zombies one by one until he or she was “killed.” The zombies were the other class participants coming at the person in the center with their arms extended, walking like a zombie. The zombies’ job was to grab “it’s” neck to kill them, and “it’s” job was to defend themselves by batting the zombies away. You know, to prepare us for the zombie apocalypse. When it was my turn to be “it” my main tactic was to run away as quickly as possible while batting away the zombies. This lead to be being called “squirrelly” which I chose to take as a compliment.
Over all, it was an amazing experience. It felt absolutely empowering and was a ton of fun at the same time. I found that I am slightly better at Krav Maga than I am belly dancing, but that isn’t saying much. I still have no idea what I am doing, but I do feel that I am slightly less likely to die if someone comes at me with a knife in a dark alley. I work out pretty regularly, though I was still unbelievably sore afterwards. It took 3 days, a session of hot yoga, and an epsom salts bath to feel normal again. As one person suggested, I may have intimidated my muscles into submission.
PS: A big welcome to my new readers from Canada, Australia, Thailand, Germany, Japan, India, Ireland, Spain, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom. And a big thank you to my friend JG of the Stuff Jewish Girls Like blog for sending them in my direction.
Posted on January 28, 2013
For this week’s New Thing I decided to try my hand, or in this case my hips, at belly dancing. I took a beginners’ class with Alexia at Knox Dance Worx. The class was small, which meant the students got a lot of individual attention. This worked well for me because I am completely uncoordinated and apparently have no idea how to shake my hips. I fail as a girl.
We each wore belly dancing hip scarves. Mine was black velvet with gold coins that made noise when they shook. Frankly, shaking my hips (or attempting to) and making the coins clank together might have been my favorite part of the evening. It’s hard not to smile when your clothing makes noise.
We also had great vibey music. I believe this is one of the songs we danced to. According to Google, the song is about a woman who is claiming her independence from her guy, telling him that her looks can stop 100 men in their tracks, that he doesn’t appreciate her true worth, and he shouldn’t chase her when she leaves. All I know is that I want her wardrobe. If anyone knows what she is actually saying, please fill me in. After watching the video a few times I’m pretty curious.
The class started with some basic stretches, including a few yoga postures, to limber up. We then tried a few beginner moves which isolated different parts of the body, mainly the hips, chest, and stomach. For me, this involved a lot of awkward undulating. Once we had the basics down, she started to teach us some dance steps. This actually took quite a bit of concentration. Our hands, feet, and hips were all moving in different directions; it was much more difficult than I expected. My favorite moves were shimmying my hips (mainly because it made the hip scarf make a lot of noise) and the hip hits (which simulate closing a car door with your hip). Overall, it was a ton of fun and a great core workout.
This is Alexia teaching me to be a diva (like I needed any help with that):
Even though I was completely terrible at belly dancing, I had an amazing time and couldn’t stop smiling. I definitely plan to go back and try it again soon. Practice makes perfect!
Posted on January 21, 2013
Due to a lovely January snow storm I got to try two new things this week. One planned (making candles) and one unplanned (making snow cream). I’ll still do a new thing for all 52 weeks, I just consider the snow cream a delicious bonus.
This weekend I went to a 3-hour candle making workshop. I know that doesn’t sound very thrilling, but it’s too cold for outdoor fun. I promise more exciting things are coming. The workshop was held at Marble Springs Farmstead, the home of John Sevier. I am not from Tennessee so I don’t know much about its history. From what I’ve learned about our first governor, he was actually born in Virginia (my home state), he is buried at the courthouse next to where I work (it is a bit weird that I didn’t know that), and he almost got into a duel with Andrew Jackson (which doesn’t seem like the smartest thing to do because Andrew Jackson was a crazy person). Moving on.
The workshop took place in the property’s 18th century style tavern and focused on the lighting techniques of the period.
Of course, 200+ years ago there was no central heating or electricity so it was like hanging out in an icebox for 3 hours. There was a fire, but it was still colder inside than it was outside (around 30 degrees when we got there). I really can’t imagine what it was like to live back then. They experienced a mini ice age in the 1770s, so I’d imagine it was especially cold on the frontier.
The fire wasn’t just to keep us warm, it was used to melt the wax for the candles.
We used beeswax, which was popular during that period and you can get it today at your local crafts store. It smelled a bit like honey before it melted, but in candleform it smells a bit like a crayon. I can’t really explain that. You start the process by cutting your wick and dipping it into the hot wax. Actually, that’s the entire process. Dip. Let cool. Dip. Let cool. Dip. Let cool. And so on and so forth. Eventually, you have a candle.
The workshop was a lot of fun and very informative. It definitely appealed to my inner nerd. For example, we learned about ‘courting candles.’ Courting candles were used as a timer for how long a suitor could spend with a young lady. (It was at this time the gentleman giving the workshop pointed out that I would be considered a spinster because I was over 18 and unmarried. Thanks dude.) The father could adjust the candle’s height based on how much he liked the suitor.
I hoped to take a tour of the grounds while I was there, but after a week of rain and melting snow it was a little too muddy. Marble Springs has tons of other educational activities like soap making and stargazing so I am sure I will be back there soon. But maybe I’ll wait until it is a bit warmer.
Special thanks to my friend Erin for coming and hanging out with me in the cold and helping with pictures.
It snowed this week in Knoxville! The first real snow of the season. We got about 3-4 inches which essentially shut down the city. But, I got a day and a half off from work so I am not complaining. Here is the view of the garden from my bedroom window:
I’d never heard of snow cream before I moved to Tennessee. In fact, I don’t think I’d heard of it before I moved to Knoxville. Instead, we always made snow cones when I was a kid. It’s the same concept, just with Kool-Aid and without the cream.
After lounging and enjoying my snow day at home, I finally made it outside to collect some snow. It has been a while since we had any sort of substantial snowfall (anything more than flurries here is considered substantial), so it was nice to hear the ice crunching beneath my boots again. The recipe is really easy, just milk or cream, sugar, vanilla, and snow. Essentially, what I made two weeks ago to go with the pie, but colder.
Pro tip: If you stop to take a bunch of photos of your creation it will start to melt before you can eat it.
The snow cream was pretty tasty and a fun winter treat. I see why everyone likes it so much. I will note that if you freeze it to eat later and then try to scoop it out of the bowl, there is a good chance the rock solid block of snow cream will end up on the floor. Or, it could just be that I am uniquely talented.
Posted on January 14, 2013
Anyone who knows me knows that I am not the world’s most coordinated person. On more than one occasion I’ve fallen down stairs, tripped in traffic, or even fallen over while simply standing still. Recently, I had incident where the spike of my heel got wedged in someone’s doormat. It resulted in me almost falling through their front door and then having to bend over, take my shoe off, and pry my heel out of the mat. Not one of my most shining moments. Because I’m not particularly graceful, I wasn’t sure what to expect from slapping on a pair of shoes with blades on the bottom and propelling myself across a sheet of ice.
I moved to Knoxville almost 4 1/2 years ago. Each winter I’ve wanted to go ice skating in Market Square but I’ve never made the time to do it. If you don’t live in Knoxville, Market Square is a historic district full of boutiques and local restaurants and it is the perfect place to people watch and listen to live music any night of the week. It has a lot of personality and is quintessentially Knoxville. Every year the city sets up an ice rink right in the center of the square.
When we got there it was about 45 degrees outside, which was absolutely perfect for skating. The crisp cool air added to the fun winter atmosphere and it was cold enough that you could bundle up but not get overheated while on the ice. The rink was decorated for the holidays with Christmas lights and oversized ornaments. Music was playing and everyone was skating and laughing and wearing their winter coats.
We made our way onto the ice and into the herd of people. It took a few laps to get aquatinted with the ice, but once we got our sea legs, or I guess in this case ice legs, it was smooth sailing. The main challenge wasn’t the slick surface, it was avoiding being run over by the kids on the ice. I felt a bit like Tippi Hedren getting dive bombed by seagulls. Skating was both exhilarating and relaxing. It felt wonderful to just let go and have some pointless fun. Despite my innate clumsiness, I managed to stay relatively incident-free and maintain my dignity. There was one moment while getting off the ice that I almost took a spill, but I somehow managed to stay vertical. So I’m not counting it as a fall.
I had an amazing time and I can’t wait to make this a yearly tradition for as long as I call Knoxville home.