I Had a Dream, Molly's Miscellany

Faster and Farther

This past weekend I ran my 500th mile of the year. In honor of this occasion, I’d like to share with you a dream I had recently.

In this dream, I was housesitting for my sister, who was out of town. I had just walked into her apartment when I realized with horror that the apartment had been broken into. Even scarier, I soon figured out that the burglars were still there. Instead of getting the hobnob out of there, I did what any respectable dream-self would do: I walked right up to the burglars.

“What are you doing in here?” I boldly queried them. They turned towards me, contemplating my mean mug, and then silently but deliberately approached me. Since these bad guys seemed unwilling to engage in an honest conversation about why in Beelzebub’s name they were in the apartment, and since I had nothing else to say at this point, I decided it was an excellent time to get on out of there. So I started running.

Here is the part of the traditional chase dream narrative where the protagonist feels stuck in mud, like time has slowed down, or as if her sluggish muscles are no longer willing to cooperate with her desperate brain. I’ve had several dreams over the years that are exactly like that: something is chasing me, but I cannot for the life of me move faster than a frog stuck in an especially slimy bog.

This dream was nothing like that. I spun away from those bad guys and headed for the hills, running as fast as I like to imagine I would run if I were competing in a middle-distance Olympic race. Outside the dream-apartment was a winding corridor, and I high-tailed it through that hallway.

I ran and ran, then looked over my shoulder to see how the chase was coming along. The bad guys were running after me, but they weren’t gaining any ground.

At that point, my dream-brain thought to itself, “I can run faster and farther than these bad guys.” And that’s exactly what I did. I ran until the bad guys got tired and stopped chasing me.

I have no idea what happened to my sister’s dream-belongings. While I ran my dream-heart out, the bad guys almost certainly went straight back to her apartment and finished their ransacking. Sorry about that, Meredith. My dream-self is a great runner, but a terrible housesitter.

Molly's Miscellany

Pep Talk

When I was in the seventh grade, two of my friends and I decided to sign up for the junior high talent show. It was held in our school’s cafetorium, and we were going to be stars.

After some brainstorming, we decided our best bet was to perform Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash” as singing chin people. You know, the googly-eyed chin heads that have upside down mouths and performed alongside Stick Stickly on Nickelodeon in the 90s. Chin people. Of course. We would tie bandanas around the tops of our heads (the bottoms of the chin people’s heads), lay upside down on a table, and perform behind a purple bathtub cardboard cut-out. Our plan was flawless.

We had a minor setback after searching high and low for a recording of “Splish Splash.” This was in the days before iTunes and YouTube, and all our local entertainment centers were fresh out of the latest CD copies of Bobby Darin’s greatest hits. It was okay, though, we told ourselves. We would would simply sing it loud and proud and a capella. Fine.

The big day drew closer, and we collected all our keys to success: bandanas, googly eyes, and, of course, the centerpiece of our performance: the purple bathtub. It was a magnificent feat of seventh grade artistic engineering. Purpler than an iris in May thanks to a can of metallic purple spray paint, it stood three feet tall on two-dimensional claw feet that had been meticulously cut out with a box-cutter. We had gone all out.

On the day of the performance, we gathered backstage and waited our turn. We were sandwiched between an 8th grader singing “Kryptonite” and two 7th graders performing a juggling routine. As the 8th grader watched the world float to the dark side of the moon, the drama teacher came up to us. She had some bad news: the tech crew couldn’t get the microphone stands to lower down to the level we would need them for our chin people to sing into, so they weren’t going to put them out at all. We were going to have to go without vocal amplification.

At this point, my two fellow splish-splashers were in full-fledged panic mode. “I don’t think we should do this, Molly. This is going to be terrible. We are going to be terrible.” One of them had started to cry a little bit.

I realized right then what the best thing to do was: I needed to give everyone a pep talk.

“Y’all. We are going to be fine. We have worked so hard to get to this point, and we are going to do great. We are going to go out there and sing our song, and people are going to love it.”

That did the trick. The Kryptonite crooner finished his song and exited stage right. We shuffled into the stage left corridor, watching as the production crew set up our two folding tables on the stage.

“You have to close the curtain!” I whisper-shouted to the stage manager on the opposite side of the stage. I made exaggerated hand jerks to the front of the stage where the curtain stood gapingly, apathetically open.

“Just go!” The stage manager shouted, no whisper this time, back to me.

Someone must have pushed us from behind, because the next thing I knew, we were on stage, staring out at the entire junior high population staring back at us from the cafeteria side of the cafetorium. The stage lights created hazy halos around the otherwise darkened faces of our peers in the audience.

We climbed onto our tables and realized that the purple bathtub wasn’t in front of us. They had positioned the tables too close to the edge of the stage, and there was no room for it. We laid down on the tables, leaned our heads backwards, and pulled our bandanas over our faces. I counted us off: “One, two, three!”

And off we went. We splished and splashed, knowing everything was not all right, but committing ourselves to the performance. We rolled and strolled, the audience yelled, “What?” and “We can’t hear you!”, and we moved and grooved. Our synchroneity ebbed and flowed, and a few times we got lost in the song. But finally we finished.

I don’t remember if the audience applauded or not. I don’t remember if we took a bow. I don’t even remember climbing off the tables and walking off the stage. I blocked it out of my memory.

I do remember, though, that from that point on, my friends never trusted my little pep talks.

Free Advice from a Novice Expert, Molly's Miscellany

The Year of No Resolutions

My resolution on January 1, 2016 was to not make any resolutions.

If you know me, you may find that resolution surprising. That’s because I’m usually very goal-oriented, and I often find myself setting goals as a way to channel my energy into tangible results, whether those results are as big as saving money for a European adventure or as small as growing a strawberry from a potted plant.

So when I decided in early January not to decide on any specific goals for the year, I initially feared that my life would descend into a slothfulness not seen before on this side of the Mariana Trench.

And at first, it did. January is a cold, dark, and mirthless month, and February is similarly cruel. It is difficult to move about in those winter months, much less wiggle yourself aimlessly here, then briefly there, then back here again, with no goal to wiggle towards.

Last year, the year before the Year of No Resolutions, I’d resolved to donate my hair to the Make a Wig Foundation. Last year I could spend my quieter moments contemplating the concrete specificities of my hair’s slow but deliberate progress towards its acceptable length. Last year I had goals.

This year, staring the the Year of No Resolutions right in its dull, unfocused eyes, I had nothing to do in my idle moments but twiddle my thumbs while contemplating the mystery of why Germans “squeeze their thumbs for you” instead of just crossing their fingers for good luck. (If you are German, by the way, and can somehow rationalize this idiom, please contact me immediately. You have a lot of explaining to do, but I also have a lot of resolution-less time on my hands.)

After a few weeks of pondering thumbs, I got bored, so I decided to modify the Year of No Resolutions into the Year of Generalized Lifestyle Improvements. I convinced myself that this plan was still not a resolution because I had no specific goal in mind, apart from my plan to make myself feel slightly less like a molten Wicked Witch of the Northwest Arkansas Metropolitan Statistical Area. Because let’s face it: my muscles, my brain, and my self were all melting right into the couch.

So off I went, developing Generalized Lifestyle Improvements but avoiding resolutions like the plague. I started with yoga, then soon after added in running. At first, I just ran to run. I knew I wanted to improve my heart’s health, so I followed the American Heart Association’s recommendations of a 75-minutes-per-week regimen of vigorous aerobic activity complemented by a twice-weekly muscle-building activity.

Initially, my only requisite to exercising was to put in the time: I decided to commit to three days of running and two days of yoga per week. And then I started, running Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays; and doing yoga on Mondays and Wednesdays.

I spent the first few weeks just trying to acclimate my body to the routine. As the weeks progressed, though, I began to see running as a refuge. The regularity of the schedule I’d built around it, combined with the “mind-clearing magic of running,” became a haven to me.

In mid-April, after surprising myself with nearly three month’s worth of wholehearted commitment to my running schedule, I decided to add a third project to my Year of Generalized Life Improvements: writing every day. This was also around the same time I first learned about Jerry Seinfeld’s secret to success: start making a consistent chain of activity, then simply “don’t break the chain.”

I was astonished by this recommendation. I had never considered success in such a simple and straightforward way. All I had to do was work a little bit on my chain every single day, and then, over time, those little bits would accumulate into larger bits? It seemed obvious enough, and I had seen how this accumulation process worked from watching strands of hair collect into larger and larger tumblehairs in the corners of my bathroom floor. But I’d never thought of accruing links on an activity “chain” as a way to move towards success.

I decided to try it anyway. And sure enough, my tiny clumps of words that I wrote each day slowly formed into bigger—well, bigger clumps of words. But still; as of today, I have clumped together 23 days’ worth of words. And who knows how much bigger the clump of words will be in 46 days, and in 346 days?

My Year of No Resolutions started out as an amorphous challenge to my goal-oriented self to try simply living in the moment, but it has since evolved into something much more interesting. It has turned into a year of teaching myself how to create sustainable habits. Because I’ve learned that habit is a key foundation of long-term success. If I want to run a marathon, first I have to build the practice of running regularly into my schedule. If I want to write a book, I have to foster a routine of writing every day. Goals can focus my plans, but I also have to have well-developed habits to lead me closer those goals each day.

Squeeze your thumbs for me and my habits and goals. I’ll keep you updated.

Free Advice from a Novice Expert, Molly's Miscellany

Yoga is 90% Mental and the Other Half is Physical

I have a tendency to see myself as an expert at an activity if I have heard it described by a friend, seen it demonstrated on a Youtube video, or attended a lecture about it once on a rainy Tuesday evening of my sophomore year of college.

This bad habit gets me into trouble most of the time. You may remember how well my expert level knowledge of German treated me in Germany. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sautéed myself into a corner after reading a blog recipe that is “so easy even a five-year-old could cook it.” I will probably never be able to stomach ground cloves or lentils after the disaster that was my attempt at this recipe.

The past few years, I have harbored a particularly strong delusion of being naturally skilled at yoga. In my mind, yoga is a relaxing opportunity to do some deep stretches, think calm thoughts, and maybe also wear some comfortable pants. But every time I convince myself to go to a class, thinking it will be a rejuvenating re-centering of my mind and body, I end up leaving with nothing more than an unseemly sweat stain on my center.

Last spring, for example, I convinced myself that it would be reasonable for me to attend the yoga class sponsored by my company’s monthly employee educational program. I had forgotten which day the class was occurring, so when the day arrived, I was wearing my favorite red Fair Isle thick-knit sweater, a pair of sturdy jeans, and some leather boots. I contemplated not going to the yoga class, but then was told that “it would be very basic yoga” and that “other people were wearing their work clothes too” and to “just come on, Molly, and stop being such a stick in the mud.”

My body may have fared better that day had it been a stick in the mud.

After that perspiration-soaked hour of slip-sliding on the inadequately-glued-down carpet squares in the makeshift work yoga room, I swore off all forms of yoga on principle. What good was an exercise if my skill level didn’t soar from novice to virtuoso in the span of ten minutes? If I was looking to break a sweat, I could do that on the running trail, where judgment from others was dealt out in quick, matter-of-fact, “On your left!” bursts as the faster runner blazed past my sluggish body.

I steadfastly maintained my aversion to yoga throughout the rest of 2015 and into the first three days of 2016. But then, in the midst of my pursuit of lazy fitness, the unexpected happened: the public library sent me an email announcing their free weekly classes. Would you believe they dared to place beginner’s yoga at the top of the list of classes? The announcement startled me so completely out of my complacent lethargy that I stumblingly gathered a crew of coworkers and went to the class the very next week.

I expected to leave the class feeling frustrated and still confused about why I found yoga so difficult while everyone else seemed to find it so simple. Instead, it turned out that library yoga was the absolute easiest yoga class in the galaxy, even for the person who had failed the basic hamstring stretch portion of her college health class. I was able to do all the moves without injuring myself physically or psychologically.

I therefore left convinced that it was a trap. There was no way I was good at yoga. Since I had given it two tries in the past and failed, library yoga was clearly just not real yoga.

My coworkers and I went back to fake library yoga two more times, and it turned out it was neither a trap nor fake yoga. It was way too crowded, though, so we transitioned to Youtube-guided yoga that we now do after work once a week.

The only explanation I can give for what happened in library yoga is that it tricked me. So I guess I’ll take back what I said about it not being a trap and say it was a trap. Library yoga met me at my mediocrity and showed me what yoga could do for me if I gave it a real chance. It reminded me what I knew all along but was too stubborn to admit: yoga, like most things worth doing, is not a simple exercise that can be easily mastered. I can’t go strutting into a yoga class expecting to have a perfect chaturanga the first or four-hundred-and-fifty-fourth time I try.

But I am still assuming that my four-hundred-and-fifty-fifth chaturanga will be gangbusters.

I am far from being a master yogi, but yoga is already showing me how to be more patient with myself, how to accept where I am now, and how to work steadily towards becoming stronger in the future. It is a slow process, but I think it helps that now I leave my boots and red Fair Isle thick-knit sweater at home.

German Living, Molly's Miscellany, Noms

Foster Plantering and Molly’s Great Pepper Recipe Hunt: A Contest!

Greetings, Blogotrons.

When left America, I had to put all of my beloved houseplants (dear jade! lovely Christmas cactus! wonderful aloe vera! I have not forgotten you!) into Houseplant Foster Care. Thankfully the Foster Plant Services placed my plants in two excellent homes: the main office of the University of Arkansas’s English Department and a window sill in my parents’ living room. I have been in contact with the plants, and they all tell me that they are doing well and adapting to their new homes with robust enthusiasm.

Just as I was starting to really miss my American houseplants, I moved into my current apartment, which has 4,000 plants in it. It also has a balcony that is likewise filled to the brim with plants.  When I toured this apartment and saw all the plants, I got really excited about the prospect of taking care of these plants and then blurted out some embarrassing spiel about how much I love plants and oh wow they are so beautiful can I touch them? Then I touched them.

The best part of this new plant situation is that out on the balcony there are 4 million pepper plants. Recently I learned that the German word for pepper is Paprika. And that if you order a Peperoni Pizza in Germany you will get a pizza covered in chili peppers.

My roommate is gone to South America for the next two weeks, and her boyfriend, the primary caretaker for all the plants, said that I could eat all the peppers on the pepper plants if I wanted to. Which I do. But here is the problem: I don’t know how to use peppers to make delicious food.

So I need all of you brilliant Blogotrons out there to unite together under this common goal: find Molly a recipe so that she can use peppers to make delicious food. This task is so important that I have decided to make it into an official contest and give out a grand prize for the best recipe presented to me.

Molly’s Great Pepper Recipe Hunt: A Contest!

Here are the rules for the recipe:

  • It must incorporate at least one of the following types of peppers: tiny yellow peppers, giant dark green peppers, or medium-sized orange, green, and red peppers.
  • It must be delicious.

Bonus points for a Mexican recipe, because I think the word enchilada is what Pavlov used to experiment on his dogs. Bonus points also for a Bavarian recipe, because I live in Bavaria now and it only seems fitting that I should use my Bavarian peppers to make a Bavarian delicacy.

Here are the platforms that you can use to tell me your recipe idea(s):

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • WordPress
  • email
  • carrier pigeon

These peppers aren’t getting any younger, so I will only accept entries postmarked by Wednesday, November 6th, at 11:59 pm Germany-time (which is 7 hours ahead of Central Standard Time, yo).

The winner will receive a special prize mailed to them from me. It will be delightful and will make the winner’s heart sing, just like the winning recipe will hopefully not make my heartburn sing.

So get to it and send me your most delicious pepper recipes!

These are the peppers. Behold big dark green pepper (there are two of these), orange and green and red peppers, and tiny yellow peppers.

These are the peppers. Behold the tiny yellow peppers, the giant dark green peppers (there are two of these), and the medium-sized orange, green, and red peppers. I am not a pepperologist, unfortunately, so your guess is as good as mine as to what specific types of peppers these are.