#JT2020Tour in Chicago

On October 23, 2013, I purchased two tickets to the Justin Timberlake show in Chicago. And on February 17, 2014, I sat in the front row of the third tier and hollered and danced for three solid hours to what was by far one of the top three shows I’ve ever been to.

But let me back up. Here’s a run down of the trip. First, I went to visit a friend in the dead of winter in Chicago in one of the worst winters in recent years. There was so. much. snow.

IMG_2760Seriously, in one day, we got over 10 inches–on top of the 1-2 feet that were already on the ground. It was kind of fun and whimsical for a few hours, but after that, well, let’s just say that I could see how the midwest and north are more than a little over the magic of snow this year. For example, this picture was taken about two hours into the eightish-hour snowstorm.

IMG_2758The snowstorm meant we had to spend a bit more time indoors than we would have liked, but we still got to enjoy the city, albeit running from heated establishment to heated establishment.

For example, we walked through the park, during which my chin and lower lip went completely numb. No lie.

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And we thawed in a beautiful (and gloriously humid!) conservatory.

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We ate amazing food, including these fancies from Vanille Patisserie. These were so delicious, we didn’t feel the least bit guilty about ruining our dinner.

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I went to my first Bikram yoga class (perhaps more on that at a later date). Afterward, we hit up Chicago’s Dog House for these (veggie on the left, beef on the right). Pickles are a food group, in my opinion, so I was thrilled.

Side note: I was much more a fan of the Chicago-style hot dog than I was a few years ago when trying Chicago-style pizza. Say it with me: Pizza should not be a casserole!

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Oh, and we went to see Justin Timberlake. You know, no biggie.

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Here’s how it all went down. After a quick dinner, we headed to the United Center just as the snow was letting up and dropped in the bar to grab a drink before finding our seats. They had JT’s tequila in house for the show, so, perhaps against better judgement, we tried that. First tequila shot for me in years, and they didn’t have salt, but I down-the-hatched it, savoring that lime a little longer than any real tequila drinker would. Then we had a beer–much more my normal speed.

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Seats found, and preshow DJ already jamming, we took a few photos and proceeded to enjoy throwback hip-hop tunes while the arena filled up.

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After a bit, we joined the rest of the folks up out of their seats dancing as we waited for the main event. It is fair to say that most of these people were in tiers below ours, but like grown-ass thirty-somethings, we owned it. We also became a little concerned that everyone in our section was sitting with crossed arms (Ahem. People behind us in photo below). After a split second of thinking maybe we should sit down too (say what?!), we decided that we paid good money for this, and as far as we were concerned “this” included the DJ spinning Usher and Jay Z beforehand. So we danced and took silly pictures. At times, the excitement nearly overwhelmed.

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Pretty soon, it was time for the show, and for the next 2-2.5 hours, we sang, danced, and hollered in an arena-large dance party. It was fantastic!

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Eventually the guy and girl to our left joined us for the dancing during the second half of the show (did I mention there was an intermission?). The three women to our right who just sat all judgy in their chairs all night made us sad but definitely didn’t hamper our enthusiasm.

Side note: These tickets weren’t cheap. Why in the world would you buy expensive tickets to a pop show by someone known as much for his dancing as for his songs that make people dance if all you plan to do is sit in your chair? You know you’re gonna dance, right?!

JT closed the show with Mirrors, which isn’t one of my favorites, but I’ll admit that in that packed place, it was a great closer. It was seriously the most fun I’ve had at a show in a long time. A dance party all night long, evidenced by my sore legs and throat the next day.

That tequila shot raring its head late in the night had us briefly trying to sneak backstage, but the moment quickly passed (not to mention that the place had security tighter than the Pentagon), and we headed out to catch a ride home, during which we made snow angels. I think it’s important that, in addition to admiring the snow-angel making, you take note of the amount of snow still on the street behind after thousands of cars and buses had traveled down it for the show. Again, so. much. snow.

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Also, JT thanked us personally. Well, I mean, sort of.

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Two plane rides the next day, and I was back home in Mississippi and back to work and real life. A whirlwind of a trip, a fun visit with a grad-school friend, and an unforgettable show–if only I had the money to go Round 2 with JT.

Final side note: The other two shows in my top-three list for best big concerts: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Bon Jovi. You laugh. I hear you laughing, but Bon Jovi put on a fantastic show. Also, now that I think about it, both have something in common with the Timberlake show: Tom Petty was also at the United Center and Bon Jovi was also during a snowstorm (but in Ohio).  

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2014 Resolutions, and a Look Back at 2013

It’s no secret that I take seriously new year’s resolutions, not so much for the tradition but because I like to make a goal and work toward it. So I make new year’s resolutions (e.g., 2010, 2011, and 2012). And I mostly stick to them.

Last year, I wasn’t blogging much, and I failed to write down my resolutions, but my main plan was to read a book a month. And I nailed it.

  • January: Outliers (Gladwell) and Quiet (Cain)
  • February: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (Lahiri Kaling)
  • March: The Blind Assassin (Atwood) and The Bell Jar (Plath)
  • April: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Angelou)
  • May: Barrel Fever (Sedaris)
  • June: A Place of My Own (Pollan), When Women Were Birds (Williams), Farther Away (Franzen)
  • July: The Gathering (Enright)
  • August: Sharp Objects (Flynn), The Whole World Over (Glass)
  • September: The Crying of Lot 49 (Pynchon), Of Mice and Men (Steinbeck)
  • October: An unpublished novel (friend), Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (Winterson)
  • November: Atonement (McEwan), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Capote)
  • December: A Widow for One Year (Irving)

Coming off an abysmally bad year in 2012 (during which I think I read a grand total of three books all year), this was a gloriously successful year of reading. I was supposed to read 12 books, and I read 20. Huzzah.

So I think I’ll do it again in 2014. I read a lot of books that I should have already read, several I had read before but needed to read again, and plenty that just struck my interest. That shouldn’t be a one-year thing.

As for my other plans, I’m going with a mind, body, and soul theme this year.

  • Read a book a month. For all the above reasons. (mind)
  • Lose 15 pounds. Because I need to and it’s just silly that I haven’t. (body)
  • Practice yoga three times a week. Because I’ve gotten lazy in my yoga since conquering the head stand. (mind, body, soul)
  • Meditate once a week. Because it’s real, real good for me. (mind, body, soul)
  • Walk to work once a week. Because I love to walk to work but often drive to save time. And because my Fitbit wants me to move more. (body)
  • Bike to work once a week. Because I like to bike and need to use my somewhat-expensive bike more often. (body)
  • Save $5 a day ($1825 total) for travel. Because I’d like to take a big trip in a few years and am going to start putting some money back for it now. (soul)

There you have it, seven measurable goals (my version of resolutions) for 2014. For most, I hope I do more than the planned number per day/week/month, but as I learned this year, if you set the bar at a reasonable level, you feel like a rock star when you almost double it. Noted, Self. Noted.

What resolutions are you making for next year?

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On Being a Sort-of Vegetarian

“I have often felt that my vegetarianism matters more to such people than it does to me.” — Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals 

“So, you don’t eat meat? Like, ever?”

I get this question a lot. Like, a lot. Usually, I just lie: “Nope, no animals for me,” but I do eat animals. Sometimes. Rarely. But sometimes. Occasionally, I tell the truth, but it gets complicated pretty quickly and is usually a much longer answer than people want.

But it is an important answer, for choosing our food is perhaps the most important decision we make about our individual and collective selves. Not only do we determine our personal health when we eat but the health of our planet and therefore the health of our children, our grandchildren, and the billions of faceless generations to come.

So I will try to answer that question again. Yes, I eat animals. Sometimes.

  • Wild game killed by a trusted hunter. Once a year, a friend kills a deer for me. He is a good shot, meaning the deer is killed quickly. For most people, this is important because it means the meat tastes better, and while I’m glad for that, it is important to me because the deer doesn’t suffer, or worse, manage to run away and survive injured and become vulnerable prey to another animal. Also, sometimes I eat wild-caught fish if I know the person who caught it and how it was caught (wild-caught at the store is not the same thing). And last year for Christmas, I had doves that were shot by my boss and her family. You see, it’s important to me that the animals live good lives and are killed ethically and not merely for sport. This counts for about 3% of my food a year.
  • Special occasions. Rarely, but sometimes I eat farm-raised animals. For example, I recently had a birthday, and I treated myself to country ham for breakfast and French onion soup for dinner. I hadn’t “broken the rules” in several years, but I did this year on my birthday. Also, some good friends have started a Polyface-type farm nearby, and I ordered a turkey from them this year for Thanksgiving. I haven’t had turkey since 2008 or 2009, but I will this year. A few years ago on my thirtieth birthday I had charcuterie (perhaps my favorite food group in the world). This accounts for less than 1% of my food a year.
  • Travel/World experience. Because I love food, especially trying new, interesting, famous, and/or ethnic foods, I give myself a pass in the name of cultural experience when I travel. For example, when I go to New Orleans, I eat a muffaletta and shrimp étouffée and gumbo. In Chicago, a hot dog. And one day, when I visit Spain, I will eat ham, and when I make it to Maine, I will eat lobster. You get the idea. I don’t use travel as an excuse to eat anything I want, but I will allow myself to try local favorites. I’m not going to eat chicken strips in Memphis, but I may try some pulled-pork barbecue. This accounts for less than 1% of my food a year.
  • Some mollusks, and crawfish from the US. This is sometimes the hardest to explain, but I eat some mollusks (namely, oysters, scallops, mussels, and clams) and crawfish raised in the States. While most farm-raised, animal-based food is fairly horrible to the environment (read: utterly devastating), that isn’t the case for these animals, and the abomination that is modern-day fishing (read: dragging extraordinarily large nets along the ocean floor, which disturbs habitat and results in extraordinary amounts of waste fish, known as by-catch) is not part of raising these animals. In fact, their filtration capabilities even help remediate pollution in some cases. Also, the farming environments for these animals seem to best mimic their preferred habitats. Raising oysters–a species that naturally lives in dense colonies and move very little–in captivity is quite a bit different than raising chickens–a species that naturally roams and flies–in cages. This accounts for less than 1% of my food a year.

So I’m not really a vegetarian, but I eat like one about 95% of the time. Perhaps in a future post I’ll tackle why I choose not to eat farmed meat, and maybe even why I choose not to be a vegetarian 100% of the time. If not, at least I’ve got a place to direct people when they ask if I eat meat. Like, ever?

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Conquering the Head Stand

Hi there. It’s been quite awhile since I last updated this blog, but my commitment to yoga and gardening has not waned. I suppose I got busy writing about other things and then actually doing other things, and I just let this slip away. I’m not confident I will pick it back up altogether, but I am excited to get to write about a new yoga accomplishment and about letting another yoga goal go.

Head Stand

A couple of years ago when I decided to make my year about yoga, I decided to work on sitting in lotus. I did make a little progress, but mostly, my knees started to hurt. No matter what I tried, no matter how much guidance I was given, my knees hurt when working on lotus, so I decided that injuring my knees was not worth whatever satisfaction I might gain from sitting in the pose.

I’m happy to say that my general commitment to yoga over the past few years has resulted in more flexibility in general, so although I cannot sit in lotus, I do have more flexible hips and can sit in a better crosslegged posture for meditation. Overall, I have found greater satisfaction in a balanced yoga practice than in working toward any one goal.

That said, I have been working toward the head stand for about a year — not every day or sometimes not even every week, but regularly. As I practice yoga, I have cycled this inverted pose in with others, including hand stand, elbow stand, and reverse pose, and last week, I stood on my head with legs fully extended for the first time. I was at home by myself just practicing in my den and turned up in head stand before I knew it. The next day, I told my yoga teacher, who had me practice it at class, and I did it again. Then that night, I had Edmond video me, so I could see what I looked like. Vain, much?

I have been able to stand on my head with legs pulled in for about six to eight months, and that was challenge enough for a while, but as I got better at that, I gradually started extending my legs. For several weeks, I toppled over at about the halfway point, but gradually I figured out better ways to balance and center myself, better ways to use my arm and ab strength to hold myself in place.

For your viewing pleasure and my posterity, here is my third head stand.

The most impressive head stand out there? Well, no, but I’m pretty proud. And taping myself was good because now I can see exactly how wobbly I am (not just how wobbly I feel). I can also see how when I fully straighten (i.e., when my legs aren’t slightly angled when straight), I get more wobbly. At those times, I’m not fully trusting my body to hold myself up, not fully centered and balanced.

Now that I’ve managed to get up in head stand several times and hold it for a minute or so, I’m going to work on refining the pose.

  • Be more balanced and less wobbly
  • Be straighter faster and for longer
  • Be more controlled when coming out of head stand

My yoga teacher, Neva, always reminds me that yoga is noncompetitive, that we should listen to our bodies, move at our own paces. In this case, that’s exactly what I did. I listened to my body say no to lotus and gradually worked with it until it said yes to head stand.

Neva says the head stand is the king of the asanas, and I can understand why. You never feel more focused, centered, and powerful than when in head stand — even if it’s just for a minute and twenty seconds.

Note: I am not a yoga instructor. Therefore, I am not giving direction for how you should do a head stand, merely showing you how I do mine.

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It’s Friday, I’m in Love

It’s that time again. Here’s what I’m loving this week. Happy Friday, everyone!

1. Yoga for Flexibility

This two-session practice is included on my Gaiam Yoga for Beginner’s DVD and led by Patricia Walden. This beginner’s practice has one session devoted to back bends and one to forward bends, with each session starting with some warm-up poses. My back-bending capabilities are not so great, but I can tell I’m getting better. I’m much better at forward bends but still have lots of room for improvement. This DVD takes me through 80-90 minutes of slow, deliberate stretching. Along with this DVD, I’ve been enjoying these  back bends posts on one of my favorite yoga blogs, Beginner’s Mind (posts here and here).

2. Peach, Blackberry, and Blueberry salad

Photo credit: Sugar Apple

I recently wrote about this peach salad that is to die for, but I’ve been enjoying peaches many other ways as well. One in particular, another salad: peach, blueberry, and blackberry salad for breakfast. This is so easy I can make it in the morning before leaving for work. Here you go:

  1. Cut up one large or two small peaches into 1-in. chunks.
  2. Grab a large handful (about 1/2 cu.) of blackberries.
  3. Grab a small handful (about 1/4 cu.) of blueberries.
  4. Gently mix and eat.
Sound too simple to be good? Well, it isn’t, and it’s the perfect way to enjoy the best of summer fruits that are ripe right now. Head to your local market tomorrow morning, grab these ingredients, and make a healthy breakfast. If you don’t live near peaches, any stone fruit (plums, nectarines, etc.) would be good in this.

3. Tarragon 

Photo credit: Butterfly Rainforest

What an under-used herb! I grow some in my herb garden, and it smells so fragrant and makes such pretty yellow flowers. Lately, my husband has been adding it to our homemade bread, and it is delicious! And as a perennial, tarragon is in my favorite class of garden residents.

4. The Beach

Photo credit: floridaflorida.org

Edmond and I were invited on a July 4th beach trip with some friends and had The. Best. Time. We don’t get to the beach very often–it can be quite pricey and is nearly 6 hours away–but when we do, it’s worth every minute of that drive. And this time, we were fortunate enough to get invited by friends with a beach house, saving on hotel costs. Score! If you ask me any other time of year, I’ll tell you I’m not a beach person, that I like cities, countryside, mountains, or anything else more, but each time I go to the beach, I’m reminded of how wonderful it is. There is nothing better than having your toes in the sand and being steps away from cooling water when it’s 100 degrees outside. And the blemish-free skin, thanks to the salt, sand, and sun, isn’t too bad either!

5. Netflix Streaming

Image credit: Gaming Bolt

We’ve had this for a while, but I’ve been tearing it up lately watching hilarious movies, thought-provoking documentaries, and entire TV shows. Currently, I’m watching My So-Called Life. I’ve also watched two yoga documentaries (Enliven Up! and Ashtanga, NY) this way and tons of education, religion, and cultural documentaries (Nursery University, The God Who Wasn’t There, and Food, Inc come to mind right now). And I caught Hot Tub Time Machine a few weeks ago–so silly and fun. If you don’t have Netflix Streaming and have the capabilities, you should sign up right away. It’s free if you already have a Netflix account. And I love, love, love, free stuff!

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