Archive for July, 2012

July 27, 2012

Sometimes I use big words…

Occasionally, I will use long or obscure words in my blog posts.  It’s not because I’m especially smart.  Or a pompous ass (I’m not sure when it started, but the concept that having and using a broad vocabulary makes one an uppity elitist is a conspiracy instigated by idiots that has begun to catch on with the masses.  Evidence of this can be seen when the otherwise astute and enlightened Greek giggles like a schoolboy when I use funny-sounding, potentially dirty words he doesn’t know, like “coccyx”, or when, during a heated debate, a vacuous silence follows my utterance of, ironically, the word “sycophantic”, and it’s abundantly clear the Greek has no idea what it means but refuses to admit it lest he undermine his entire argument.)

The truth is, in part, that I’m trying to justify the months I spent studying for the GRE.  A prerequisite for pursuing graduate education, never in my life have I known more ways to describe someone as lethargic or something as commonplace.  How quiescent had I become with those quotidian definitions!  At this point I’d also planned to launch into a rant about the relative rarity of some of the words STILL found on the GRE.  “Who still uses the word ‘Lilliputian’ nowadays?” I had inquired, “Who, I ask you, who!?!”  Well, apparently, the answer is this guy, about a day after I began writing this post: a writer from Slate magazine who, following the announcement of the divorce of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, reacts to the public’s perceptions that all miniature men are monocratic megalomaniacs.  I then posted his article to the Facebook wall of my debonair yet somewhat diminutive Greek…because these things amuse me.  The adjective Lilliputian, for the sake of curious parties, is always capitalized because it originally described the inhabitants of Lilliput, the imaginary land in Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”.  You know, the tiny, little guys who tied our protagonist to their beach with long ropes and wooden stakes.  So, quite obviously, Lilliputian means very, very small!

I also enjoy reading classic literature, books written back in the centuries where the people who wrote books were well-spoken and erudite.  (The fact that both Snooki and The Situation have published books makes a compelling albeit ultimately unsound argument for the historically enforced illiteracy of the lower classes.  It’s come to this, “Jersey Shore” cast members: you’ve got me longing for the serfdom of the Middle Ages!  Although I can’t imagine I’m the first person to opt for the Black Death over reading your books.  Incidentally, I wouldn’t be heartbroken if, when they were babies, their parents had read Swift’s other work, the gleefully satirical “A Modest Proposal”, and taken it to heart.  But I digress.)

These authors sought artistic and philosophical pursuits instead of idle time and were able to create such richly beautiful works of art without the resources we have today.  Believe me, you would not want to be subjected to the imbecilic ramblings that this blog would become without my easy access to Google and Wikipedia. Finally, I also read a lot of articles by critics- of food, music, movies, books, you name it.  While slightly less lofty than classical literature, they also often use arcane language, sometimes because they are sophisticated and knowledgeable, sometimes because they are supercilious A-holes eager to legitimize the fact that they are just bad-mouthing another’s work by sounding really, really smart.

Because of these things, it often happens that I’ll encounter a word I don’t know and, being the diligent, perpetual student that I am, I look it up.  Well, when Googling the word “vicissitudes” one recent afternoon, I stumbled upon another of my favorite things: new and surprising discoveries of things I find awesome.

Vicissitudes, meaning a change or variation in the course of something, is also a breathtaking (literally and figuratively) underwater sculpture by English artist, Jason deCaires Taylor, commissioned in 2006 and located in Molinere Bay off the island of Grenada, West Indies. It depicts 26 children holding hands in a circle.  The Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park is composed of four of his works including Vicissitudes and is the first public underwater sculpture garden.

His work is not only stunning, it’s also significant.  Cast from real people, his sculptures are made of marine grade cement, have a neutral pH, and actually encourage the growth of coral reefs. The sculptures are made to become artificial coral reefs and are, consequently, significantly altered over time by the natural environment.  The water itself even alters the appearance of the sculptures given the unique refractive properties of water and the constant variations in water currents and depth of the ocean, making the title of his most acclaimed piece even more à propos.

Naturally, Taylor is also a conservationist, and he has, in my overawed opinion, found a truly ingenious way to send a vital message that is unusually positive (although, also in my opinion, it is quite difficult to be too vocal, negative, or cloying when discussing such a critical situation as the imminently impending extinction of the world’s coral reefs).  An inspiring and welcome addition to the eco-art movement.  And unsurprisingly, the artist has gained international accolades for his ability to seamlessly blend art and conservationism.

Says the artist: “I am trying to portray how human intervention or interaction with nature can be positive and sustainable, an icon of how we can live in a symbiotic relationship with nature. Finally I believe we have to address some of the crucial problems occurring in our oceans at this moment in time and by using human forms I can connect with a wider audience”.

There is also an educational component to his pieces.  Alluvia (a derivation of “alluvial”, pertaining to the soil deposited by a stream), in the River Stour in Canterbury, Kent contains a female figure made entirely of recycled glass positioned alongside her concrete copy.  The pose of her figure responds to the flow of the water and acts as an environmental barometer of water quality based on the amount of algal growth on the figures.  And in 2008, in collaboration with the children’s television program “Smart Art”, he produced the educational art piece The Inverted Solitude at the National Diving and Activity Centre in England.  A male figure is suspended upside down from a floating platform.  When viewed from below, an upright reflection of the figure appears as if standing on the water’s surface.

His most recent work and largest endeavor is the Museo Subaquatico de Arte off the coast of Cancun, Mexico.  It is the world’s largest underwater sculpture garden.  Within it, La Evolución Silenciosa (“The Silent Evolution”, another allusion to change) is the largest underwater collection of art.  Installed in November 2010, it consists of 403 life-size cement people.  Viewed from a distance, the group of statues takes the shape of an eye.  As with his sculptures in Grenada, the aim of this installation is to draw tourists away from the natural reefs and allow them to recuperate and, most basically, to provide new habitats for marine life thus increasing the biomass of local ecosystems.  Taylor and his team take great care to choose locations that optimally attract tourists, avoid strong currents or tidal patterns, and are ideal growing conditions for coral; they also choose the correct times for coral spawning.

The artist’s website can be found here:  Evidently, he is part of an exhibition in New York City right now that ends (Gah!) TOMORROW.  Ah well, it was a fortunate discovery all the same.  The next time I’m in Grenada…

Given my love of marine science, conservation, and beauty, this is an exemplary example of the benefits of constantly seeking knowledge in everyday life.  How I love the occasions when these things just work out!

July 25, 2012

My thoughts on kickboxing, part two

Why do I insist on paying young, fit people large sums of money to physically and emotionally torture me? How much punishment must one inflict on oneself before one is considered a masochist? Evidently, the DSM IV only has a classification for sexual masochism, so unless I intend to make these kickboxing classes a lot more inappropriate, that question will go unanswered. Despite full-body akinesia from my first kickboxing class just 48 hours prior, I, upon the advice of several people more athletic than me (who I now resent), decided to “power through it” and go to my second. The question of whether or not that was a good idea I hope to answer in the proceeding paragraphs.

So, about ten minutes before I had to leave work to make the class, I changed my mind and decided this was lunacy.  The similarities to stories of mentally ill people who jump out of windows, break both legs, and continue trying to run are too great.  But, after numerous self-asseverations that I would not liquefy into a boneless, muscle-less puddle as a result, I conceded to go.  I arrived late. On the way there I went east when I should have gone west; like the pompous, would-be auteur that I am, I was writing in my head the brilliantly cynical and hyperbolic blog post I am now typing and took the wrong exit. I finally arrive, rush in, and jump into my workout clothes à la George Jetson so that by the time I’m ready to go, I’m already out of breath. This does not bode well.

Halfway through and (surprise, surprise) just as before, I’m certain my quadriceps are about to spontaneously inflame, my abdominal wall is about to collapse in on itself like a dying star, and my lungs are about to explode out of my chest and spray innocent bystanders with blood and tissue bits. The woman I’m partnered with this time for sparring is clearly picturing me as some sort of sinister attacker. She has a look of such murderous fury on her face, and she’s punching my gloves so hard that, in combination with my profusely sweating hands, she’s about to punch them off and send them flying across the gym. I’m pretty sure at any moment I’m going to have my ear bitten off. This is possibly what she thinks is happening:

Needless to say, this is a jarring experience for me, for whom tennis is a contact sport.  The instructor today has a personal vendetta against my abdomen. Images of me chained to a large boulder doing crunches while a vulture eats my liver race through my head.  For those keeping score, when you combine Parts One and Two, I have now made three references to Hades.  Not a good sign.  In short, things are going pretty much exactly as I expected them to.

When I get home that evening, I’m actually feeling pretty good.   I’m feeling energetic, not too sore.  This can only mean one thing: yep, by morning, I’m catatonic.  Getting out of bed requires this ludicrous swiveling, sliding technique I haven’t employed since I got a violent stomach illness at the age of 12.  My joints pop and crackle with each step; I am human bubble wrap.

Evidently, this is still not enough of a sign for me.  Clearly dissatisfied with how long it took for paralysis to descend, I then enrolled in my first ever pilates class that weekend, another mere 48 hours after my most recent body-wracking.  I needed a haircut, and my salon is right next door to the studio, where I’ve previously taken yoga.  So, with the promise of a head massage and a glass of wine immediately after, I once more forced myself to go.  It seems my pilates instructor also has an unabashed hatred for my abs.  And she is merciless.  My abdominals and obliques are broken; my innards have free roam.  She’s also cracking jokes and talking about the cheese plates from Wegmans and how good they are with a glass of wine.  I could shank her with a sharpened toothbrush right about now.  If I thought my kickboxing instructor was vengeful, this woman is some unholy amalgamation of Titus AndronicusInigo Montoya, and Lorena Bobbitt.  By the next day, a sneeze is now an agonizing ordeal.

That night, something occurred.  The most apt analogy I can ascribe to the apogee of my workout week is your grandpa and his dusty, old chair.  The upholstery is worn and the wood creaks, but it is still his most cherished companion.   Imagine that, without warning, the beloved chair snaps in half as he’s sitting in it, and your grandpa is lying prostrate across it on the floor.  As I went to bed that evening, I began to lie back as usual and that was when I was reminded that my whole body is broken, the inevitable result of a fortnight of rigorous exercise regimens, which also included my regular yoga classes.  My neck, back, stomach, ass, arms, and legs all give out simultaneously, and I plop violently onto my pillow. It has all happened so suddenly.  We, your Grandpa and I, feel confused and embarrassed and confused that we are embarrassed; we did just fall, but it was under such strange circumstances.  After all, years of uneventfully leaning back had taught us we could reasonably expect for it to happen again without incident.  We feel we should be alarmed or ashamed.  Yet we are just so tired and, hell, we’re already lying down.  So instead, we just go to sleep, snoring lightly in a heaping pile.

And the final verdict:

First of all, everyone is inexcusably cheerful.  It’s almost intolerable.  And I don’t understand it.  When I feel like my body is being ripped in half, I don’t want to see your smiling face.  Or worse yet, have to smile back at you, as was the case in my pilates class.  This isn’t a pre-school dance recital.  I’m a grown woman (who is one more set from curling into a ball and whimpering like a little girl).  Generally, when grown-ups smile for no reason, it’s not a good thing:


Furthermore, I’m not smiling because I’m in pain, and I’m in pain because I’m out of shape although I do thank you for reminding me of that fact.  Overall, it’s a level of jocoseness not in tune with my current level of suffering.

Similarly and on a side note, giving exercises and implements cute and catchy names like burpee, teaser, and magic circle is so misleading it’s almost criminally deceptive.  A more appropriate name for the burpee might be the barfee, the ralphee, or the evaginatee.  The slang definition of a teaser is an enticement to attract attention; do not satisfy this curiosity or you will end up like this and then the joke’s on you!  (Ba-dum…tsh!)  And ah yes, the Pilates Circle, a device akin to a medieval rack in terms of the pain it can inflict, was a new discovery for me.  My instructor kept ironically referring to it as the “Happy Circle”, which kept making me laugh, thanks to my having more than a few vulgar friends enlighten me as to the actual definition.  Another new discovery: laughing is inadvisable when one is doing The Hundred.  Who knew a small hoop with two padded handles could be such a pernicious little contrivance?

These were my final classes for a bit.  I had to take a break from the relentless exercise to plan my 30th birthday party, arguably the impetus for this newfound activity that I’ve tenderly nurtured into a full-blown obsession.  And party-planning in my home, when you’re with my OCD Adonis of a Greek, means doing a bunch of work on the house and cleaning it from top to bottom, even the parts guests are highly unlikely to be in- anyone else clean their laundry rooms before a soirée?  But I vow to continue the butt-kicking kickboxing because…I think I might love it.  I’m beginning to savor the immense regret I feel about two-thirds of the way through when I’m utterly
convinced that this is the time when I won’t make it, and I even enjoy the debilitating pain afterwards…it means it’s working!  [Maniacal laughter]  But most of all, I like the post-class high.  Following such frenetic exercise, it’s a
completely different sensation to yoga.  But like yoga, it’s a feeling that you’ve done something incredibly healthy for your body and mind that you actually found, dare I say it, kinda fun.  Yes, yes, I just spent the entire post complaining about it, but that’s what the people expect.  Would you prefer I had just talked about how awesome it was and how awesome I am for doing it this whole time?  Oh, and it is, as you can imagine, an equally great albeit less meditative form of stress relief.  As for the bonus pilates class,…meh.  To me, it just feels like unhealthy yoga with a lot (A LOT) of props.  It just doesn’t give me happy-joy-joy feelings at the prospect of going back.

So, it’s decided; my road to physical fitness shall be traveled via the Asian arts.  Or, rather, the Western bastardization of ancient Asian art forms…whatever.

July 13, 2012

My thoughts on kickboxing, part one

I’ve been doing yoga regularly (alright fine, sometimes sporadically) for over a year now, so I actually began to think that I was in pretty good shape. Then, last month, I tried mountain biking for the first time, and all I believed to be true was swiftly strafed out of existence in a single morning, a strenuous, six-hour auto-de-fé of torture and public humiliation. Things I yelled at the instructor tasked with waiting behind with me, the sole straggler: “Please stop! Your words of encouragement are painful to my ears.” “Your abs are mocking me!” “Stop calling it ‘granny gear’!”. Things I contemplated doing in my exhaustion-induced stupor: faking a sprained ankle and demanding to be Medivac-ed off the mountain at once; buying the bike (which was for sale) right then and there so I could abandon it on the trail and walk the rest of the way; just…running away.  This profound lassitude did, however, serve to distract me from the unbridled terror I was simultaneously experiencing.  Things that happened to me during the ride: I received a blister on my heel so bad that it bled through my thick sock; I fell off the bike twice, once from essentially a stopped position (don’t ask) and again on an especially wide stretch of trail when the nature geek in me dared to look out at the bucolic surroundings and I clipped a tree at the edge of the path.  Things that I kept thinking were going to happen to me: falling off the mountain and dying, falling off the mountain and dying, and falling off the mountain and dying.  Mountain biking…never again.


But, in my ongoing efforts to receive unwanted pity from ripped twenty-somethings, I bought a Groupon for ten kickboxing classes from the American Academy of Martial Arts in Columbia, MD.  I took my first class this past Tuesday.  Upon arriving there, I encountered a young man behind the desk.  I hand in my Groupon, and he signs me in.  “Are there changing rooms?” I inquired, “because obviously I can’t work out like this” I say to him, gesturing at my work clothes.  “After all,” I smirked, “this is ‘Cardio kickboxing’, not ‘Cardigan kickboxing’”.  Silence.  This is not going well.

The class begins.  Techno music is thumping in my ears; already I am not happy.  I find a place beside the floor fan.  The fan sits beside the speakers, which are blaring aforementioned loathed techno; ‘tis the price one pays.  The class is very confusing and intimidating to a newcomer, particularly one whose most recent workout experience involves serene yoga music and the faint smell of incense while a hippie/yogi gently chants in my ear, “There is no judgment and no competition in this class”.  Aaaaahhhhhh……  The best example I can give of my confusion, which caused the Greek to suddenly burst into laughter as we lay in bed that night upon recalling my telling it, was when, facing my bag with my back to the instructor, he ordered us to do a series of shin kicks.  Naturally, I took this to mean kick as if trying to kick someone in the shins and so began toe-kicking the bottom part of my bag (Hey!  I’ll have you know that it’s an actual sports competition in Great Britain!).  Anyways, after noticing the woman beside me absolutely pummeling her bag with high kicks and after thinking the poor fool was never going to kick someone’s shins if she kicks that high, it occurred to me: shin kicks in kickboxing actually mean kicking with YOUR shins.  Live and learn.

About halfway through the class, it seemed strange to me that I should see so many lightning bugs INSIDE a building.  “Holy shit!” I grasped (and gasped), “I’m about to pass out!”  This didn’t end up happening, but at one point later on, a woman in front of me turned to the woman behind her and said, “I’m going to kill him!” in reference to our instructor.  While I am certain she was kidding now, at the time, in my crazed, oxygen-deprived trance, I thought, “How can I make this happen? I need to talk to these ladies. Sure, he’s weakened us with his unending drills, but together we can do this!”.

When the class FINALLY ended, I was pooped (It took me until the second class to find the wall clock, and the gloves don’t permit one to wear a watch.  The class is like the vacuum of space: there is neither time nor oxygen).  My limbs quivered from exertion.  My body was drenched in sweat; so much sweat had poured down my face during the last 40 minutes that my eyes stung.  I may never micturate again.  As I stumbled crookedly across the parking lot towards my car, I called the Greek.  “Lover,” I stammered, “remember when I used to get mad at you when you told me yoga wasn’t exercise?  I just came out of my first kickboxing class and that…THAT was exercise!”.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I am still very much pro yoga; it has built my strength and flexibility tremendously.  But in terms of primitive, ancestral, running-from-a-saber-toothed-tiger, stamina-building, heart-exploding types of exercise, kickboxing takes the proverbial cake!  (Actual cake or indeed any food that requires digestion is, at this point, out of the question)  You might also think that I did not enjoy my first foray into kickboxing.  Not so. On the contrary, during the rare breaks in our workout (The real ones, that is. Good sir, running in place is NOT a break. For the record.), I was overcome with the desire to scream “YEAH! LET’S DO THIS!!!” and smash a beer can with my forehead.  Unfortunately, that sensation dissipates immediately after we start moving again.  It is an exhilarating workout!  And you feel damn good afterward.

Which brings me to the afterward.  Directly after, when the endorphins and epinephrine are rushing through your bloodstream, you feel awesome.  You could not feel awesomer.  Sure, it’s an effort to depress the gas pedal and walk up your front porch steps, but you’re still convinced you’re unstoppable.  Let’s see any heinous hooligan or menacing malefactor try and test me; I’ll punch his guts out.  Then the nirvana-inducing neurotransmitters are no more and you wonder how it is you’ve been transposed into the body of a 90-year old woman.  Climbing a flight of stairs becomes a life-altering decision.  Unscrewing your water bottle cap is impossible.  Your nights are plagued with dreams of some over-roided demi-god screaming at you from a sea of flames: “FASTER!!! HARDER!!! LOWER!!!  HOLD IT…HOLD IT…HOLD IT…”.  And you can’t wait to get back!

Stay tuned for Part Two: The Second Class…

July 5, 2012

A day at the nursery

We were all about summer last weekend. At the Greek’s behest, we made a trip to Fehr’s Nursery in Burtonsville on Saturday. As a regular reader of this blog might observe, I write extensively about gardening. But the truth is, I’m actually quite bad at it. After several seasons of declaring our yard too impossibly hot and uncomfortable to garden in, I finally got my hands dirty this year. I’ve managed to plant several pots of herbs and flowers on the deck. Let’s see, I planted basil, parsley, cilantro, rosemary, dill, chive, and marjoram. The result? I have one dill plant, one rosemary plant that, as it continues to grow, I am increasingly certain isn’t rosemary, and lots and lots of cilantro. (First piece of advice I can give as a novice gardener: when someone gives you an herb garden kit as a gift, don’t wait six years before planting the seeds. Second piece of advice: read this blog post for first-time herb gardeners first and don’t plant your herbs from seed; we have entered July, and I have yet to snip a single sprig into my cooking. Seedlings are dirt cheap and have already done quite a bit of growing, so you might actually have an opportunity to use some homegrown herbs before winter rolls around.) As for my flowers (which is what we call them despite the fact that not one has shown any inclination for flowering), the hollyhocks are healthy but still small, the black-eyed Susans are very tall and abundant but still no buds, and the echinacea, oh the echinacea… Four small echinacea plants were given to me by a friend, and all the leaves were promptly eaten off by one of my terrible twosome whose kitty behinds were definitely not supposed to be on the microwave eating strange plants. Following a violent transplant into a pot by first-time gardener and horrifyingly-unskilled-horticulturalist moi, they had finally begun to recover but now seem to have stagnated at about six inches tall. As a flower and an herb, they have failed on both counts. Furthermore, there is a high degree of incestuousness amongst my plants. It would seem to be an unfailingly easy task, even for me: plant these seeds in this pot, plant those seeds in that point. Yet, there are cilantro in my rosemary and hollyhock in my cilantro. And God knows what’s happening with my Black-eyed Susans; there appear to be four different types of plant growing, and none even remotely resemble a Black-eyed Susan. The mystery deepens when you consider that there is also grass growing in almost every pot; I have no idea how grass seeds got into the potted plants of my second story deck as grass won’t even grow in my yard. In fact, the only thing that seems to be thriving is the grass contamination. And so, reluctantly accepting that I’m not naturally predisposed to a green thumb, I dejectedly agreed to accompany the Greek to find some decorative flowers to adorn the deck since my own beauteous bouquets are not to be.

We were like kids in a candy store, hollering at one another from across the greenhouse to look at this fair flower or that pretty plant.  I made many lofty plans for alluring rose gardens and thriving hydrangea bushes in my head while the Greek kept reminding me of our purpose there: to find some ardent annuals that will bloom beautifully and bountifully for the season and will, most importantly, not be dependent on me for their survival.


A dwarf lime tree

Cattail grass

There were plants there that positively looked like they were straight out of a Dr. Seuss tale!

…including a plant called Celosia, which is  is a small genus of edible, ornamental plants in the amaranth family.  The generic name is derived from the Greek word kelos, meaning “burned”, for obvious reasons.

Sea of Celosia!

We ended up with two hanging moss baskets of hybrid petunias. 

When watered, they weigh 40-50lbs each! They are gorgeous, dense, spongy and more perfectly spherical than a plant that isn’t groomed has any right to be. And so, I’m happy to report, the pair wholly accomplish their goal of lessening the shabbiness of our deck.

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