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Pocket of Joy: Two-Month Belly Dance Challenges (with results from my 20s vs. my 30s)

This summer, I'm beating the bloat and feeling better about my belly! I participated in two 30-day belly dance challenges online, first Jasirah's Belly Challenge and then a summer challenge by Mahtab of Best Belly Dance Workout . I chose these two because of the kind of challenges they were--not strenuous and sweaty but instead technically difficult. I am at a healthy weight that I want to maintain, and I am recovering from moderate to severe anemia, so I wanted to avoid anything exhausting or high-impact. This summer, I worked on balance, joint flexibility, and the kinds of technical skills that work out the brain and nervous system, and I targeted the "corset" muscles that cinch in the waist, deep beneath the outer ab muscles. I've said thanks and goodbye to the visible abs I had in my slimmer 20s, which are now obscured by an age-appropriate skim of subcutaneous belly fat that I don't want to starve myself or go under the knife to banish.  And besides, af

Pocket of Joy: Going Out

My husband and I have had our shots and started going out in public for fun again! After more than a year of staying home and staying safe, I have put away my sweatpants, pulled out my skirts (it's too hot for pants already), painted my toenails, and broken in my cute slides and high heels! We are grateful for the privilege of being able to go out and have fun safely. We understand that not everyone else enjoys that privilege, including those undergoing chemotherapy or taking certain kinds of lifesaving medications that render Covid-19 vaccinations ineffective. We understand that some people have disabilities or health conditions and a lack of access to accommodations. We know that some people simply lack transportation to get anywhere, or leisure time to go out. And even among the able-bodied and financially free, there are those who have to be careful where they go in public due to threats of social violence--gendered harassment, racism, nationalism, homophobia. We live in a cu

Second Spring Breakdown

It's the second spring of the pandemic, and it's... not all better. Time to break down how bad it is and how good it can be if we can get through this year’s spring fever. Case rates of Covid-19 are far higher this March than they were last March when the big lockdowns happened, and the infection rate is roaring upward because people are losing their minds faster than they are getting vaccinated. Italy is going into its second Easter lockdown, and the United States has made a clear collective decision that the mindless consumption of novelty products and services matters more than human life. As a nation, despite the refreshing progress and signs of hope coming from the new White House, we're done pretending to care about each other. We still haven't agreed that childcare and elementary schools are more important than bars or that real children's childhoods are more important than adults' rights to party like Florida Man. Our culture of overwork and gross consum

Pocket of Joy: Loving The Fall's Complexities

Fall, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love the cool mornings, the storms that mix blue-gray rain with yellow leaves already showering down from my walnut tree, and the afternoons that heat up and draw out that rich, warmed-earth, sun-dried leaf scent. I have always loved the dawns of autumn, the tender turning of the earth, the anticipation of color and movement, the coming fall! The motion of it, the actual falling of the leaves, the accelerating changes that saturate the senses. Later comes the Grimshaw phase of autumn, with its metallic sheens and spidery mists. It isn't just the festive harvest season or the bright middle of the fall that I love but the whole arc of it, the warm and the cold, the light and the dark and the glowing twilights humming with the shades and scents of memory mixing with rebirth. "Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall," F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his exquisitely dissatisfying novel about accelerating, blaz

Pocket of Joy: Real Clean Scents

It's peak lilac season where I live, and on warm days, one of my all-time favorite scents wafts in from every window, along with the scents of apple blossoms, violets, and roses. My daughter enhanced the moment in her bedroom by cutting a bouquet from the back yard. We avoid artificial scent chemicals at our house, so when we want our spaces to smell better, we clean up anything that stinks and add real things that produce aroma, like fresh flowers from the gardens outside and fresh-baked pies and cookies. Real clean scents almost always smell better than fake ones, and they are usually less toxic to release into your precious indoor air . The only way to truly banish a stink from anything that is dirty, deteriorating, or moldy is to remove the stinky material from the premises. Bad smells are your clue that it's time to do some spring cleaning. This spring, my husband and I made a few changes that gave the smell of our walkout basement a total rejuvenation. We already take ca

Pocket of Joy: Heavy Metal Belly Dance

The ability to dance to the beat of your own bum is one of the best perks of being a human person. Sexy or sensual dancing to whatever makes your muscles want to stretch and flow and make space in your spine and hip joints, no matter how weird or dorky or trashy, is a great way to stay strong, healthy, and happy in your own skin during a time of continued social isolation. There are people who make good money posting video tutorials or performances of sensual dance, but it's also freeing and empowering to dance when, truly, no one is watching. You can dance with or for a sexy partner, or you can dance for yourself alone. Doing the tango or learning to salsa dance with your lover can be a great way to spice things up, but your most important and intimate dancing partner is always yourself. When you know that nobody can see you, it can help you loosen up and discover the movements that feel good from the inside, no matter how they look on the outside. One of my favorite ways to work

Pocket of Joy: Black Walnuts

The American black walnuts are now raining down like manna from heaven! Heavy, painful, treacherous manna with the power to deal out a concussion or a sprained ankle, so look alive. Here is my back yard walnut tree. This year, Pandemic Year 2, is the year I'm finally going to try processing my own black walnuts. My family is back on near-lockdown until our daughter can be fully vaccinated, and my kitchen renovation is nearly done, so there's never been a better time and might never be again. Of course, I will give the squirrels plenty of chances to fill their own pantries between my human harvests. One of my dearest, oldest friends, who used to work with me at a cookie shop when we were teenagers and who visited during this year's early summer break from high viral spread, gave me the most adorable cookie cutters I've ever seen--shaped like squirrels that can hold a real nut in their arms in the middle of the cookie. I want to use my back yard black walnuts to bake some

Pocket of Joy: Heart Fire

Is anything better than a beach bonfire?   A few days ago, I wrote about taking a playful approach to natural forces while maintaining respect for them . Today, I'm reminded of the bittersweet pleasures of a well-controlled fire. Some of my happiest memories have occurred around a fire, such as this Great Lakes beach bonfire above, with my husband and two dear friends. We haven't done any burning in a long while due to our air quality already being compromised by the tragic wildfires that have overtaken Canada and the Western U.S., but we know that "fun fire" season will return, probably sometime this fall, and that we will be able to enjoy it responsibly. We built indoor and outdoor hearth fires into our home environment when we bought our house. My family dug a fire pit in our back yard by hand and surrounded it with all the rocks we could find in the rubble of a previous owner's landscaping.  We chose a house with a good, solid fireplace in the middle of a walk

Pocket of Joy: Renovating to Love, Not to List

My mom and I have watched Love It or List It for years, and it's no surprise to us that most families choose to stay in their own, customized home rather than move into a new, blank box. The qualities that make a house a home are not the same qualities that make a marketable real estate property. Houses sell better when they are whitewashed into sterile, blank boxes where a new homeowner can come in and add their own personalized color and texture. If you're rich like the people on LIOLI , you can custom build a personalized home from scratch or personalize a market-fresh house in a short time, but even so, it's easier to stay in an already-customized house than to start over.  For regular people who aren't rich, turning a house into a home takes even more creativity, hard work, and time. But working class people certainly can create beloved homes. I've seen dream homes created from the tiniest of tiny houses in the humblest of neighborhoods, in trailer parks, in a

Pocket of Joy: Cooking with Love

Aren't home-cooked dinners the best? They have been one of our trustiest simple pleasures through the pandemic, and now that vaccines are rolling out, we can roll out our quiche crusts with new cooking partners! I love cooking and baking with my husband and my daughter, and I look forward to having my parents and a few of my dearest friends in my new kitchen this summer too. For people who can't cook and eat together, gifts of homemade frozen meals, baked goods, or foods preserved in cans or jars can be a great personal comfort. They're thoughtful, pleasurable, and healthier than sending a box of manufactured candy or a basket of factory-cured meats and overly salty spreads.  If I'm going to overindulge in rich foods, I want company in my gastrointestinal distress! That makes it a party instead of a mistake. Dear heartburn Jesus, I want my chest to hurt for happier reasons this year. I have to say that after a year without seeing the inside of a restaurant, I still

Pocket of Joy: Human Touch

Are you vaxxed, relaxxed, and ready to satiate your touch starvation ? It is time! All human persons need skin-to-skin contact sometimes, even those who value their personal space. It doesn't have to be sexual or intense, but we can't do without it indefinitely. The gentle, electric exchange that occurs between two animal bodies that meet in meatspace boosts our immune systems. It calms the vagus nerve, the heart, experiences of both physical and emotional pain, and the release of the stress hormone cortisol. It stimulates the release of oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. Going without touch for too long can lead to depression, anxiety, and behaviors that exacerbate social isolation. And loneliness can erode bodily health faster than cigarettes. All humans need touch, but it doesn't always have to be human-to-human. Pets can provide beneficial snuggles and wrassles to a person who lives alone. Volunteering at an animal shelter and petting kittens and puppies to socialize th

Pocket of Joy: Close Grandparents

One of the best decisions I ever made in my life was to settle close to my parents before having a child. I even convinced my parents to move right into my neighborhood after they retired, a ten-minute walk from my backyard, and everyone in my family has benefited from the arrangement . Grandparents and grandchildren are great for each other's physical, mental, and emotional health. And the support grandparents can provide in helping to care for and raise a child benefits the child's parents. Over the past year, I think we all realized just how important it is for parents to have reliable and safe childcare, and unfortunately our nation has some work to do to provide for the needs of working class families. Those of us fortunate enough to have parents who are willing and able to help us care for our children are blessed indeed. Close relationships between grandparents and grandchildren create well-being and resilience in every generation of the family. It is wonderful to have