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.

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Free Advice from a Novice Expert

The Secret of Life, According to Penn Jillette’s Dad

I often ask other people for advice. If I suspect you have even a grain of experience related to something I want to know, I will declare you an expert in that field, award you a Ph.D. in Advice, and proceed to blitz you with a storm of one hundred questions so that I can store your wisdom in my brain’s Advice Database for forever. In this way, I have moved from having Absolutely No Idea of what I’m doing into having just Mostly No Idea. My goal is to one day join the society of people with Vague Inklings of what they are doing.

The other day I heard a story told by Penn Jillette about a time he asked his dad for advice. Here it is:

Toward the end of my dad’s life, I really focused and wanted to take him out and get all the wisdom I could get from him.

So we went out to his favorite restaurant, which is a place I think called the Shady Glen, which is a good name for a restaurant: the Shady Glen. It was in Turners [Falls, Massachusetts].

I went out with him and wanted to sit down and talk to him about what life meant, and what he’d learned in his over 80 years on the planet, what I could take away from that.

He ordered a big lobster roll on a toasted hot dog bun, you know, with butter, the way they make lobster rolls in New England.

And he just ate that lobster roll.

I said, “You know, Dad, I just wanted to get any wisdom I can get from you. You’ve lived such a wonderful life, and you’ve been so kind and so good to everyone, and worked so hard.”

And he said, “Just enjoy the lobster roll.”

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Adventures in Arkansas

What You’ll Find in a Glory Hole

Several places in Arkansas have unusual names. Here are some examples:

  • Bald Knob
  • Possum Grape
  • Toad Suck
  • Goobertown

My personal favorite strangely-named attraction is Glory Hole Falls. This glory hole of the gods is a waterfall that goes through a hole and is glorious. If you ever want to visit it, I recommend doing so after it has rained a little, because then the Glory will be magnified tenfold. But beware if you go here after it has rained in the springtime! You may encounter some creatures stranger than the aforementioned names of Arkansas’s hottest destinations.

Last weekend Ben and I decided to do some hiking, so we ventured out to the Glory Hole. To get there, we hiked down a trail that sported the best of early spring’s fern coils, mushrooms, and covered-in-bright-green-exuberance trees.

We saw the Glory Hole and picnicked on top of a boulder and bushwhacked our way to the stream that runs out from the Hole. And everything was bright and warm and wonderful.

Everything was bright and warm and wonderful except that I forgot to mention what we found in the trail puddles.

Like I mentioned earlier, it had rained a few days before, so every now and then along the trail we would come to a water-filled rut. As we walked past one of them, Ben called out, “Hey, what’s that?”

I turned around, looked into the water, and saw a long, coiled telephone cord. “It’s a long, coiled telephone cord,” I replied.

Being environmentally conscious, and not wanting to have some fool from 1997 pollute the lovely Glory Hole Falls trail with his telecommunications technology, Ben got some sticks and set to gently pulling a part of the cord out of the water.

This was roundabout the point where I started what would become an unending exclamation of, “YUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!”

Because that long, coiled cord was not telecommunications technology at all. Instead, we discovered with horror that it was THE SLIMY BIRTH CORD OF TINY ALIEN EGG BABIES.

We were fairly disturbed at that point, but our terror increased when we broadened our focus to inspect the rest of the puddle. All around us, in giant globs of solidarity, were dozens of fist-sized clear balls of Neptune-only-knows-what.

After poking and prodding the globs for a good while longer, we decided that these wee alien babes were most probably planted here to grow in obscurity until a time when their tiny black dot alien brains were big enough for them to FORCIBLY TAKE OVER THE EARTH. We then got the Hades out of there pretty quick and continued on our merry adventure.

Later we found out that these seeming monstrosities were actually just toad and salamander eggs. But if I had had any say in the matter, these puddles would have been the secret breeding ground of tiny extraterrestrials, who any day now would birth themselves out of the primordial sludge and shout out, “Boo! We scared you! We were hiding in the gloop of your Glory Hole the whole time, and you didn’t even notice!”

They just want you to think that these are Mother Nature's best and beautifulest.

These may look like Mother Nature’s best and beautifulest, but we both know the truth.

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Being a Tourist, Traveling

Gravity is Weirder and Scarier in Kansas City

Kansas City is one of my favorite US cities. Because it’s a fun-filled land, my boyfriend, Ben, and I decided to visit it over the holidays. We stayed there for a week and had a lot of adventures that centered around:

-developing my coffee addiction at coffee shops like Parisi, Quay, and the Roasterie
-sailing the high seas of fine cuisine at restaurants like Cooper’s Hawk, Joe’s Kansas City Barbecue, Thai Place, and Gram & Dun
-getting our smarts on by touring the Boulevard brewery, the National World War I museum, the Nelson-Atkins art museum, and the Science City museum.

As you can see, there are lots of great things to do and see in Kansas City. One important thing you may not realize about this town, though, is that there are some spots where gravity exerts its will on you in strange and terrifying ways. This sounds frightening, but lucky for you, Ben and I have located most of these locations, and I am here now to tell you where they are so you can beware.

IKEA is the first of these places where you should watch out for weird gravity. In IKEA, you will find a world of wonder and magic and inexpensive home goods, but you may also find danger! At first whiff, you might think that the danger lies in the scent of hot cinnamon rolls that fills IKEA and the four-mile circumference around it. They call out to you and say, “Buy me in bulk and put me in your belly and then groan in stuffed misery forevermore!” But, as it turns out, it is possible to resist these siren rolls.

Ben will be the first to say that you will have a much harder time avoiding the real hazards: IKEA’s curbs. These monsters are in cahoots with gravity, and they have combined their evil forces in an attempt to destroy you. If you don’t stay on your guard and keep your hands away from packs of gum, these curbs will trip you up so fast that your body will be horizontal in the air and your face will be one foot away from the concrete sidewalk before you even have time to ponder the physics of free-falling objects accelerating through the air at 9.8 meters per second squared. If you are watching this horizontalization from the sidelines, like I was, you will actually see the person’s life flash before your eyes. Ben, let me tell you that your life is shaped like an apple and filled with billions of bike rides and coffee beans and home brewed beer. It is also narrated by Carl Sagan.

The other place to be mindful of gravity’s tricks is the Science City museum. At first glance, this place seems like your average children’s museum. There are games about DNA, light-up floor tiles, and even LIVE CHAMELEONS. But once you reach the heart of the building, you will realize that you have found a place where gravity will have its mind-bending way with you if you let it.

The center of the museum has an exhibit called Skybike, which is a bike with a 200-pound counterweight underneath it. This counterweighted bike is attached to a one-inch cable twenty feet above the ground. It sounds simple enough, but when you actually strap yourself onto the Skybike and pedal out onto the one-inch cable twenty feet above the ground, you will be reminded of how much you love the good solid terra firma that you just left behind. The whole point of the exhibit is to learn about counterweights, so you are supposed to wibble wobble your way along the cable, letting the counterweight of 200 pounds worth of bricks interact with your own pounds worth of body mass and rock you back and forth.

My problem with the Skybike was that my brain bubbled over with fear, overheated, and shut down the entire time I was out on the cable. This did not put me in a good position to science. Therefore, instead of wibble wobbling, I rode that bike as if I were on a tight wire, keeping my spine, the bike, and its pile-of-bricks counterweight as upright as an airplane seat during takeoff and landing.

After my straight-laced dance with the Skybike’s center of gravity, Ben tried it out too, and told gravity that it wasn’t gonna play cruel tricks on him again, oh no not this time. He rocked and swayed and had a jolly old time, showing me that gravity has a kinder side too if you trust it just the right amount. But all the while that I watched his merry counterweight dance, I knew the truth: gravity felt bad for nearly splatting him into non-existence the day before and wanted to be friends again. What a capricious friend we have in gravity!

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Behold the stately wibble wobble of the counterweight. Trust it as much as you dare.

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Adventures in Arkansas, Free Advice from a Novice Expert, German Living, Traveling

Epiphanies in a Foreign Land

When you live in a foreign country, you have lots of epiphanies. Most of them are focused around realizing how very little you actually know about absolutely anything in the world. Like for one thing, did you know that there are other languages floating around out there, and people actually speak them, and they are not English, nor do they require English to exist alongside them in order to be understood? People just speak these languages to each other and their children and their pets, and everyone seems to understand everyone else just fine without translation dictionaries or friendly roommate interpreters or flailing hand gesticulations.

At other times, you have epiphanies about how wonderful the magical foreign land is that you’re living in. I mean, let’s be real here: Germans have recycling (the Pfand!), beer (Augustiner!), chocolate (Ritter Sport!), public transportation (Deutsche Bahn!), and outdoor adventuring (Alps!) figured out. Germany is great.

But sometimes your most significant epiphanies are related to what you value most. Mine personally came to me about seven months ago, when I started thinking about what it is exactly that I care about in my life. I love traveling, going on adventures, and experiencing new things, but I also love all my family and friends. As I considered these many loves, I realized that the first set of loves, all related to adventures and foreign lands, will always be waiting for me, ready and rearin’ to go. My family and American friends, however, are doin’ their thangs and livin’ their lives, and the moments I miss when I’m seven time zones away can’t always be explained over FaceTime or illustrated in a 10-second Snapchat picture.

Because of this epiphany, I decided to come back to America at the end of July.

When I made this decision, my German roommate, the Queen of Culinary Delights, got really sad and threatened to lock me away in her apartment dungeon so that I would never leave her ever. I was also very upset with myself for deciding to put such a great distance between myself and my personal live-in chef and interpreter who made homemade pizzas with me every Sunday night, who welcomed me wholeheartedly into her friend circle and helped me make lots of new friends, and who made me snortlaugh by pointing out my vast ignorance of German, especially when I would buy things like heavy cream with a shelf life so long “that you can take it with you to Mars” (I’m still convinced this was her subtle way of telling me to go back to the planet where I came from).

I was also afraid that when I moved back to America I was going to regret my decision and want to go immediately back to Germany. The second my plane lifted off German soil, I mentally confessed my love to Germany and promised to come back as soon as possible. But now that I am back in America, I feel like I made the right decision. I miss all the delightful adventures and fun of Germany, but I have realized that there are plenty of delightful adventures and fun to be had here in America as well. I also miss all my lovely and wonderful German friends, but I have promised myself that I will go visit them again as soon as possible. Of course, this is only assuming my dear roommate will host another four-hour long brunch in my honor. I am a demanding person when it comes to breakfast feasts, and accept nothing but the best.

So now I am back in America, still singing the praises of Germany and occasionally trying my hand at cooking German cuisine. I’m also still learning new things and going on adventures all the time.

From here on out, this blog will still be all about me learning new things about the world and making a fool of myself along the way, but most of the goings-on will occur in America instead of Germany. I hope you’ll stick around for more fun as I continue my adventures, because I sure do like sharing them with you!

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This is me saying, “Hello America! I am back in the world” to the passport control camera in the airport. Are you supposed to smile for these things? I look like I just got busted for all the chocolate I stuffed into my suitcase and smuggled into the country.

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Free Advice from a Novice Expert, German Living

Arguing with Germans: a Lesson in Futility

Here is my advice to you: never get into an argument with a German.

Germans are rational people, and they usually have reasons for the things they do. For the most part, I agree with their reasons and admire their focused attention to the sense of things.

But sometimes Germans do things that just plain don’t make sense. When a crosswalk light is red, for example, you will not find any decent German human being who will dare to cross that street. It doesn’t matter if there are no cars or trams or anything to be seen anywhere. They are out there somewhere, waiting to run you over at the slightest hint of your dodging out into the seemingly nonexistent traffic. And Germans will also argue that who even knows who is watching your sinful ways when you cross the street on red? Several crosswalks around Munich have the following sign posted next to them: “Nur bei Grün– den Kindern ein Vorbild!” which means “Set an example for the children– only cross on green!” Because heaven forbid having to explain to a child, “No, my cute mouse, that’s just a reckless American sprinting across the street on a red crosswalk light. Ignore her. As you get older, you will learn that Americans do a lot of disturbing things, like riding the train illegally (black riding!), being halfhearted about recycling, and just really butchering the good name of all things sausage.  You must figure out a way to both accept their madness and also completely overlook it.”

When Germans do things like this that don’t make sense, you shouldn’t try to talk sense into them. Instead, you should just accept that you are about to lose an argument.

I learned this over the summer when I went to a German birthday party. On the way to the party, my roommate asked her boyfriend if he happened to know the exact date of the person’s birthday. He didn’t, and my roommate looked slightly concerned at his response. After finding out that I also didn’t know what day this person was born, she began a hasty internet search to find the mystery birthdate. I asked what the big deal was, and she explained that in Germany you are only allowed to wish someone a happy birthday if it is actually their birthday. I was getting confused: “But the other day when we went to your friend’s birthday, I told her ‘Happy birthday’ and it was the day before her actual birthday.” My roommate’s eyes widened in alarm, and she exclaimed, “Why do you think everyone sang the Happy Birthday song at midnight?!” And I retorted, “Because the [World Cup semi-final] game was over!” “No,” she replied. “It was because it was her actual birthday!”

While she and her boyfriend anxiously texted their way through their list of friends in a desperate attempt to uncover this all-powerful exact birthdate, I asked what would have happened if the party had been after the person’s birthday. “You would have said ‘Happy belated birthday,’ of course.” I was pretty sure I would have still said ‘Happy birthday,’ but I was having a hard time getting them to understand that a birthday should be celebrated whether the celebrating happens early or late.

Since I was quickly getting nowhere in this argument, and especially since I don’t like to lose, I poured all my logic into one emphatic response: “You don’t have to celebrate your birthday only on your actual birthday!”

And then I heard the one German word that silences all opposition: “DOCH!”

Doch translates roughly as “How dare you contradict me when I am clearly right in this rather tiresome dispute?” It starts out sounding like the sound Homer Simpson makes and ends up with the velar fricative “ch” of loch, and if you hear this word, you know you have been defeated in your verbal dispute. It doesn’t matter if you are actually right, because once your opponent has unleashed doch, the rest of the conversation can only continue in strings of “Doch!” battling your armies of “No!” until both sides are exhausted and want nothing more than to sit down together and enjoy a Weisswurst with a side of sweet mustard.

You will also be defeated with “Doch!” if you say, “Football and soccer aren’t the same thing!” Germans will shout at you, “Doch, football is football and American football is weird.”

You could try out, “Germany doesn’t have the best football team in the world!” But even still you will hear: “Doch! Wir sind Weltmeister!” which means “Hahahahahahahahahaha you Americans are hilarious.”

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You: “Molly, you aren’t really German.” Me: “Doch! I have a German flower lei and am therefore the German Kapitän of the World.”

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German Living

Germany and America and the World Cup

For the past ten months, I’ve faithfully chronicled for you the tensions that have been slowly building between the US and Germany. You’ve followed along as German doors have refused to cooperate with me and as German words like Handschuhe have laughed haughtily at me. You’ve also witnessed me grrrowl and snarrrl at Germans with my American accent and occasionally ride the train without paying for a ticket.

On Thursday, y’all, all of this strife is finally going to come to a head. The US is playing against Germany in their third and final first-round match of the World Cup. My roommate has described the situation as a Level “Hamburger vs. Leberkässemmel” Emergency.

This crisis has occurred because both teams are tied with each other and also at the top of their first-round group. The best scenario is a tie, which would take both teams to the next round with no questions asked and no hard feelings felt. If either the US or Germany wins, though, that winning team will shout loudly, beat their chests proudly, and sidle on into the next round.  With the win-lose scenario, the losing team will be immediately released into the Limbo that is the Brazilian rainforest. There they will search their souls and hail their Marys while their total points from the first-round matches are compared against Ghana’s and Portugal’s, the other two teams in this first-round group that are already in World Cup Limbo. The team in Limbo with the highest number of match points will then be released and allowed to foot some balls another day.

I am mentally preparing myself for this epic America-vs.-Germany battle by singing the Star-Spangled Banner nonstop in as many keys as my vocal range will pretend to allow. I have also been waving an American flag as frenetically as a palm tree waves its branches in a hurricane. It’s a given that I will also probably chant USA! USA! throughout the entire match.

All this America juju I’m drumming up should be enough to ensure that the US team wins. At the very least, it will be more than enough good vibrations for everyone in a 300-yard radius around me to know that I am proud to be an American, where at least I know the sport’s called soccer.

US vs. Germany

Let’s all ignore the fact that this American flag is my roommate’s and the German flag is mine.

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