Three Things, Issue Twenty-One

“I’m losing you to the winter,” a dear friend recently lamented. There is more than a glimmer of truth to that statement. I’m presently headed into hibernation. But first, three things.

SOMETHING I’M LISTENING TO: THE PACK A.D.

It was last Thursday, after teaching three yoga classes, getting an awful, excruciating massage, then taking a quick nap followed by a hot shower that I managed to get myself up and out of the house for The Pack A.D.’s show at the The Sunset Tavern in Ballard.

I’m really glad I did.

Savvy planning and a late set time helped me avoid all manner of rush hour traffic and I cruised into Ballard on a crisp, clear December night in record time. Ballard, you looked marvelous. Bedecked and bedazzled with blocks of trees draped in shimmery white lights, it was a picture-perfect holiday scene. Better yet, free parking right in front of the venue! I could have gone home right then and there, happy as a clam at high tide, but the best was yet to come.

The Pack A.D. is a band you need to know about. I first saw them three years ago at another favorite venue of mine in Seattle, Barboza on Capitol Hill. They blew my face off. Comprised of just two members–Becky Black on lead vocals and guitar and Maya Miller on drums–the wall of sound these two women create is extraordinary. Reminiscent of other two-piece rock and roll bands like the Black Keys and Royal Blood, The Pack A.D. makes you question the need to ever again clutter up the stage with more musicians. Formed in 2006 just across the border in Vancouver, B.C., The Pack A.D. recently released their seventh full-length record, The Dollhouse. Thursday night’s show was full of new songs as well as old, pulling crowd favorites from their impressive music repertoire. They are at once fierce and funny as hell, tight and topical and always manage to deliver a flawless set of absolute, unrelenting energy. The Pack A.D. describe their sound as a “fearless Franken-blend of heavy psychpop/garage-rock”. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I am sure this band stays on my short list of acts to see every single time they tour through Seattle. It should be on your list, too.

I backed out of my beautiful! close! free! parking spot in Ballard and headed home just after midnight. I drove down Market Street, then left on 15th to take me north. Storefronts decorated with Christmas trees, homes decked out in colorful displays, the sky in full-on sparkly-star mode. My heart was happy. More often than not, I arrive home after a day in Seattle feeling sad and wondering where my beautiful city has gone. Not this night. I had an impulse to drive down memory lane and visit every single place I’ve lived and worked in Seattle, but then remembered it was coming up on 1:00 am and thought better of it. I wouldn’t want to be that creepy lady in a Prius, peering in windows late at night. At least not this time.

I fell in love again last Thursday. Oh Seattle, you still have my heart. And dear Pack A.D.–I’m crushing hard on you, too.

SOMETHING I’M COOKING: SWEDISH MEATBALLS

If there was a time in my life when my family didn’t have Swedish meatballs on Christmas, I don’t remember it. Oh, sure, there was that one Christmas Eve when my oldest sister and brother-in-law came down and roasted up some prime rib. But that was also the night I left dinner to go see Star Wars with a few friends and missed out on the whole family vibe. I didn’t like Star Wars then and I still don’t now. I blame that Christmas. Don’t ever leave Christmas Eve dinner. Just don’t.

And maybe my mom rolled a few meatballs in her day, but as far back as I can remember, that task has fallen to my oldest brother. Whether or not his recipe of Swedish meatballs has evolved over the years is secondary to the fact that he has always supplied us with a steady stockpile of Christmas Day meatballs. They are delicious, with a madeira-spiked sour cream gravy that falls like a velvet curtain over a mound of freshly mashed potatoes. It is what Christmas is made of.

It didn’t surprise me, then, that it was early October when my brother sent me fair warning that this year, he and my sister-in-law would be traveling down to Portland to spend Christmas with my niece and nephew-in-law.

WHAT ABOUT THE MEATBALLS?

I got it. I understood. My niece and her husband are both physicians and need to be on-call the day after the holiday. Who wouldn’t choose to stay in Portland rather than travel all the way north to Seattle and beyond and back again? And as a parent, I’m going to be where my kids are, if at all possible.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE MEATBALLS?

Christmas Day at my house is more of a feast than Thanksgiving. We start with sourdough pancakes in the morning, drag out the shrimp and cheeseball for the afternoon, only to finish with a flourish of ham and Swedish meatballs in the evening. And remember the Cookie Room I told you about a few weeks ago? It’s there, too. As news of my brother’s alternate plans trickled through the family grapevine, the reaction was the same:

WHAT ABOUT THE MEATBALLS?

And not to dismiss the fact that my brother and his delightful family are some of the more extroverted, talkative members of our clan. Would we all be relegated to standing silently around my kitchen as I fervently whisked the gravy, praying to all the gods that the sour cream doesn’t curdle and the meatballs don’t toughen up into inedible meat pucks?

So, I got to work. As much as I cook, meatballs just weren’t in my wheelhouse. I consulted the venerable Joy Of Cooking, from where my brother told me he got his recipe. Mostly. Like all good cooks, he has tweaked and twiddled and perfected his Swedish meatballs to a fine result. “I hope you don’t need exact measurements for the gravy, because I just wing it,” his email read. Panic rose in my chest. I couldn’t pass off mediocre meatballs. Not to this group.

My first batch of test meatballs was respectable. I was relieved. The gravy, however, was a hot mess. I know the principles of making a gravy and yet in throes of my insecurity, all common sense went out the window. I wound up with a gravy much thinner than I’d hoped–nothing even remotely close to “velvet”–and I over-salted the whole mess in my hysteria. The Mister and I ate it, though. Decent enough and definitely a learning process, with ample room to grow.

Armed with some experience, last week I tackled the big batch of Christmas meatballs. With three pounds of meat, I wound up with 55 meatballs. Browned in the pan, finished in the oven, cooled on the rack, stashed in the freezer. They were good. Damn good, even. Christmas Day was looking better already.

But we all know the gravy is where it’s at. Sink or swim time. I haven’t yet attempted the Swedish meatball gravy on its own, but it’s coming. This week, maybe next. Time’s running out and god knows stores are already advertising their “last minute shopping deals”.

I’m not panicking. Much.

SOMETHING I’M DOING: ADAPTING TO INJURIES

I actually considered featuring my three current injuries as my Three Things this week, but then remembered how boring it is to hear someone grouse about their health, or lack thereof. So I won’t do that. But I will tell you about fear and getting older.

I’ve gotten used to folks coming up to me at the beginning of a yoga class and introducing themselves as their ailments. “Hi, I’m a fibromyalgia/herniated disc/fused ankle/appendectomy,” they’ll say. I smile and extend a hand and respond, “Okay, and what is your name?”

There’s never been a time in my yoga teaching career when I haven’t had to deal with some type of injury. Very early on, I managed to herniate a few discs in my lower spine, resulting in some numbness in my left foot and several months of unrelenting sciatica. Each time I hobble into my chiropractor’s office with this complaint or that, he cheerfully sends me on my way after an adjustment with a rousing, “Well, you’ve just become that much more of an expert on your body!”

And it’s true. My injuries have also made me a much better yoga teacher.

Injuries are also a bitch.

My injuries will not define me.

Because I teach at a Y, my classes are diverse in age and fitness level. I see folks coming in, afraid to move their body because of this thing or that. “I’ve got a bad back/bum knees/weak core/floppy ankles/torn hamstring from when I played football in high school thirty years ago.” I’ve heard and seen most everything.

I was with a member in the weight room last week when I stepped onto a BOSU ball to demonstrate some core work. A BOSU ball is a piece of equipment that looks like someone took a large exercise ball, sliced it in half and set it on a flat, stable frame. The idea is that you can stand on it and wobble around, trying to get your balance and work all sorts of core muscles while you’re at it. My core is pretty strong from yoga, so I didn’t think twice as I stepped up on the BOSU. I immediately grasped for the bar at the wall to keep from face-planting right there on the gym floor. It was hard. It was humbling. And I felt fear.

I’ve got two wrecked knees and a sad shoulder. Three things.

As I wibbled and wobbled on the BOSU, I began to get my bearings and my balance. But it was hard–far harder than I had imagined. I stepped off and said to my trainer friend who was helping, “For the first time, I was afraid of getting hurt.” She shouted at me, “Tracie! Don’t get old!”

BOOM.

And that’s it. We all age (if we’re lucky) and if we lead an active life, we’ll all get injured at some point. I’m a yoga teacher, so overuse injuries are not uncommon. I’m familiar with getting hurt and recovering and resuming my activity. Sometimes I’ve even gotten stronger as a result–mostly because I learn to train smarter. But this. This was different. What I was seeing in myself is what I’ve witnessed in so many of my yoga peeps over the years. It’s not the injury itself that sets us back so much, but it’s the resulting fear that does us in. If we’re not aware, we begin to define ourselves by our injuries and diagnoses.

Hi, I’m a torn meniscus.

Injury leads to pain, pain leads to inactivity, inactivity leads to weakness, weakness leads to unsteadiness, unsteadiness leads to fear, fear leads to, well–you get the picture. I was well on my way down into that vicious cycle without even recognizing it.

Tracie! Don’t get old! was my wakeup call.

I’m not advocating ignoring the reality of your body because that’s bananas and completely counter to yoga. Sometimes rest is just what the doctor ordered. But I am telling a cautionary tale of the slippery slope of aging we risk sliding down if we’re not careful. I knew that the fear of my one hurt knee led me to completely abandon my strength training program over the summer and my loss of strength very likely contributed to my having three injuries now, instead of just one. Rather than focusing on what I could do–which was still quite a lot–I rested on the laurels of what I could not. Why? Because I was afraid.

You are not your injuries. Notice your level of fear.

I think of my yoga peep who broke her lower leg a couple months ago. She showed up in her boot, asked if she could have a chair by her mat and has continued to practice regularly several times a week ever since. Another student who had rotator cuff surgery came back to class just as soon as her doctor cleared her for yoga. Her practice was modified and looked different from the rest of the class, but she showed up and kept going. Both are crazy-strong and determined and inspirational to me and the rest of the classes who see them persevere.

Tracie! Don’t get old! will be my rallying cry as I make sure I spend as much time lifting, pushing and pulling heavy things in the weight room as I spend on my yoga mat. Once you’ve logged four or five or more decades on this planet, strength training is not an option. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive or time-consuming–it just has to be consistent. You’ll get strong and then you’ll get steady and the wibble-wobble of fear that I experienced begins to fade into the background.

I’m not interested in the fountain of youth. I’m not afraid of growing older. But there is a fine line between growing older and getting old.

Don’t get old.

Instead, go lift some weights and kick that fear to the curb with your badass self.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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