An Epic Workout

You probably clicked on this link thinking it was an actual fitness article with instructions on how to run a 5K or do one-armed pushups, so I am sorry to disappoint you. But then again, this is a book blog, so if you came here looking for fitness inspiration, then you came to the wrong place and it’s your own fault. 😉 This once, however, I am actually going to focus on exercise. You see, I am reading The Iliad in preparation for my first semester as a student in my college’s honors institute and finding that although it is epic (hahahaha…that was awful. Sorry.) it can be a bit tedious. How does this relate to exercise? Well the characters in this book do tend to be the beefy, shield-bearing warrior type and even the women are pretty swift on their feet, but that isn’t what I’m talking about. To cope with the restlessness I feel when reading The Iliad for extended periods of time, I have devised a workout game to not only help me stay in shape as I read, but to emphasize important aspects of the book. It won’t make you into a “Glorious Hektor” but it’s about as good as it gets for us book nerds. Here you go:

1. Whenever a title is used to describe a character (for example: “Brilliant Odysseus”): 5 jumping jacks

2. Whenever someone dies a particularly gruesome death: 5 sit-ups

3. Each time a sacrifice is made: 10 squats

4. Each time a god or goddess pretends to be a human: 30 second plank (This one is nice because you can read while planking.)

5. Whenever a motivational speech is made: 20 lunges

6. Every time a Homeric/epic simile is employed: 5 push-ups (wall push-ups count, despite what the athletes say)

7. Whenever someone or something is compared to a “blazing fire”: dance around for 30 seconds (I recommend making sure you are alone)

8. Each time someone’s armor is described: 20 crunches

9. Every time the noise of the Trojans is mentioned: 5 single-leg squats

10. Every time the ships of the Achaians are mentioned: 10 high-knees

I should mention that I didn’t actually do any of this…just thought about it. But that counts, right?

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A Europe State of Mind 

It has now been over a month since I returned from the trip of a lifetime: a two-and-a-half week journey through Europe with my family. When I call it the “trip of a lifetime”, I mean it! Sure, I had to punch my snoring relatives in the middle of the night once in a while, my suitcase was a pain to shut as my souvenirs accumulated, and I fear I spent my college fund on macarons and ice cream, but these are the little jests that life throws at adventurers and since every day I find myself thinking about our trip, I figured it was time for a post to summarize the top ten things I learned in Europe: 

    

1. Everything sounds better in an accent…unless it’s German. 

When I first stepped onto our British Airways flight and was called “dearie” and “love” by our oh-so-English flight attendants, I just about died. Seriously, they could have come on the intercom and said, “Sorry everyone, we forgot to fuel the plane and you are all doomed” and I still would have listened happily. Of course, I inevitably found myself slipping into the accents of every country we visited and, equally inevitably, probably offended numerous Europeans. I also discovered that the stereotypes are true: everything sounds proper with a British accent, French is beautiful even when it is spoken by a clearly disgruntled cab  driver, and Italian never falls to make me crave pasta and gelato. German met the stereotype as well… Don’t get me wrong, I love German art songs and find it a lovely language for singing. However, a German-speaker could have been telling me I was the sweetest girl in the world and I still would have been terrified. Sorry Germans. Maybe shorten some of your words. That would help you sound nicer and cut the costs of producing such ginormous road signs. 

 

Much British. Very accent.

       

2. Try not to act so…American. 

I had heard before that some Europeans are typically unkind to tourists, but found that this is completely not the case! Even in the sketchy areas of Prague and Paris, everyone was kind and helpful. Again, the only exception was when a German car rental employee told us after a mix-up, “America cannot help you; you are in Germany now.” (Still, I decided to take the high road and blame Obama.) However, I think this cranky German car guy might have had a point; everywhere we went, we attempted to learn the basics of the customs and languages because we recognized that we were guests. As visitors to another country, many people forget this and, as a result, locals might not treat them very kindly. What we found, though, is that if you make an effort to follow the ways of that country and treat the people as your hosts (whether the cab driver, the hotel bell boy, or the cider vendor) then you will receive equally gracious treatment. 

        

Is taking a selfie in the Louvre too American?

              

3. When in Paris, look up. 

Believe it or not, I nearly missed seeing the Eiffel Tower. I was so focused on the street art and the adorable cafes and the lock bridges (totally not the French boys…not at all…) that I did not notice this iconic structure until I was directly  beneath it. Don’t become so caught up in what is directly around you on the ground level; some of Europe’s most beautiful views are above, for instance, ornate windows, towering cathedrals, misty mountains, and the castles that are ridiculously commonplace. (Seriously, castles in Europe are like Starbucks in America; if you miss one, don’t worry since there is most likely to be another around the corner.)

 

“Beau soir indeed…oh hello, Eiffel Tower!”

 
             

4. The best art in Paris might just be sold in bakeries.

When I say “art”, I really mean macarons. Not those cheap little coconut mounds (“macaroons”), but authentic, adorable, delicious French macarons. I fear I might have spent my college funds on these cookies, but I regret nothing. In fact, I made plans to start a macaronery of my own back in the States and, upon ruining batch after batch, realized just how exact of a science it is. Well done, French pastry artists. Well done. (I should add that I did finally figure it out.)

 

The look on my face says it all.

 
               

5. Biking is always the best mode of transportation. 

Traffic is INSANE in most cities. Like, take Los Angeles traffic and multiply it by twenty and then add narrow streets and the chaos of the Battle of Five Armies from The Hobbit and then you might have a vague picture of just how crazy the traffic is  in Europe. It doesn’t help that in the U.K., they drive on the left. (I know now where America gets her rebelliousness.) The better option is to walk, but after averaging ten miles a day, that is rough. The best option is biking. We took five bike tours (Paris, Munich, Salzburg, and two in Prague) and enjoyed them immensely. Not only did we see everything we would have seen on bus tours, we got to see these things closer and have a more individualized experience. Plus, how cute is it to bicycle around Paris on a rainy night? 

         

Paris+Bicycles=Perfection (and also a bit dangerous)

6. It looks like only a quarter, but it is not. 

Euros are so fun to use. Handing over a little coin makes you feel like you’re only spending a nickle and paying a single Euro for an ice cream cone seems like a bargain. Well, plot twist: it isn’t. Euros are definitely worth more than a nickle or even a quarter and if you are not wary, you might find yourself wondering where all of your vacation  money went. After all, you only spent fifty coins and it couldn’t amount to that much, could it? Yes, actually. Yes it could. 

 

Even a commercialized Mozart candy seems like a bargain for only one Euro…

 
                

7. The best gelato is not necessarily in Italy. 

We made it a goal (mostly so we would not feel bad about ourselves) to try ice cream in every country that we visited and, to our surprise, our favorite was in Germany. (I swear that the German word for ice cream, “eis”, is the only short word I heard there. They certainly have their priorities straight.) Rothenburg, the cutest little fairy-tale town in the world, had the most creamy and delectable ice cream cones I have ever tasted. Bolzano, Italy, however, was rather disappointing in the ice cream area. Sorry, Italy! If it makes you feel any better, the worst ice cream I had was in Prague, where apparently mint ice cream literally is ice cream with chunks of mint. Ew. 

 

Do I need to explain this? It is a beautiful picutre.

 
              

8. Everything tastes better in a foreign country. 

This sounds like an overstatement, but it is not. German bread somehow is heartier and tastier than American bread. Black coffee is more flavorful and thick in Austria and Italy. The produce is fresher and I ate fruits I’ve never even seen before in Innsbruck. And, oddest of all, I ate the best hot dog I have ever eaten in Paris: a sausage on a warm baguette covered in cheese. Oh yeah, that is another lesson I learned: EVERYTHING is better covered in cheese. 

 

I ate an American hot dog last week and wanted to cry as I remembered this one…

 
                

9. My family is made up of weirdos. 

You get to know each other really well (my dad might argue too well) when you’re stuck in cars and hotels together for extended periods of time. Sure, we got annoyed with one another, but we also had a ton of fun! For instance, we spent the drive to Italy brainstorming our dream macaron business and laughing at our puns. (“Our macarons will be so good, people might think they are crack-arons.” “We can sell small ones and call them snack-arons.” “If you make another pun, you will be smack-aroned.”)

 

My mom and I unashamedly reinacted “The Sound of Music” in Salzburg. Weirdos.

 
          

10. Inspiration is out there.

From standing in the Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey to seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre to hearing the tale of the eccentric King Ludwig of Bavaria, I met inspiration everwhere I turned! I saw glorious archetecture, played lovely instruments, was swept away by beautiful music, and experienced amazing adventures. I came home – jetlag aside- refreshed and ready to plunge into writing and practicing in the hopes of channeling this inspiration and, one day, returning to Europe. 

 

What could be more inspirational than riding a unicorn in the city of music?

 
         

Sigh…now I am homesick for London. Of course, I am not actually British, but I felt so at home there! Here in Phoenix, I get turned around easily, but I was never lost in London despite its wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey streets. (I could not resist that reference…) Add to that all of the lessons I listed above and I am now thouroughly determined to return. In the meantime, I will do my best to incorporate what I took away from Europe into my daily life, so if you need me, I will be reading French poetry in my best British accent while riding my bike to the store to purchase gelato as I wait for my macarons to finish baking. 😉

         

To answer “How is your writing going?”

People often ask, “How is your writing going?” or some such question. Well, to answer that…

What I think: 

My novel is sadly forsaken but I think if it all the time and also I need to change the entire perspective so I am rewriting it even though I was 50,000 words in and also I have about forty short story ideas that are rotting in my brain since I have not the time to plant them on paper. Oh, did I mention that I run a blog and do not post regularly? Yeah that’s cool too. HEY NOW I HAVE ANOTHER IDEA! YOU HAVE INSPIRED ME! THANK YOU! Did I just shout that? Whoops. Do you have a pen? I need to write this thought down. By the way, I met my perfect man but I forgot to mention that he is a character in my novel and he is too wonderfully flawed- a real Byronic hero- so I think I might have to kill him off… Where were we? Oh, how is my writing going? I need caffeine. Did you know each espresso shot translates to roughly 4,000 additional words? Anyways, can I make you into a background character? Too late, I already did. Oh snap!!! I missed a comma in chapter 58! Guess it’s not a big deal because I’ll never be published anyway. Wait, yes I will! I have confidence! Plus this is all practice, so I suppose I’m doing pretty well for myself.

What I say aloud:  

“Pretty good, thanks for asking.”

Rest and Laziness: They are Different!

I am a busy person, not necessarily because I have committed to a lot or because my parents expect a lot from me, but because I make everything I am passionate about into a serious commitment and expect a lot of myself. (Started piano lessons? Practice to be accepted as a piano major at a conservatory. Enjoyed macarons on vacation in Paris? Start a macaronery from my kitchen. Did well on one AP exam? Sign up for five and study daily for each.)

I love music and baking and even studying, as well as many other things, but after weeks of straight practicing and studying without breaks, it becomes exhausting and (this has happened numerous times) I suffer the inevitable breakdown. Every time, I try to logic my way out of these slumps, telling myself that I should not be tired since I am getting a solid five and a half hours of sleep each night, that I should be a better performer because I’ve been practicing relentlessly, that I should be relaxed because studying is just reading and reading is fun. I think to myself, “Don’t sit still, Ryanne. Don’t watch another episode on Netflix or read another chapter in your novel. Don’t be lazy.”

Nope.

That is the conclusion I have ultimately had to reach: N.O.P.E. Nope. No matter how hard I try, I cannot and never will be able to logic my way around the human need for rest. As much as I would like to imagine that I am a superhuman whose brainpower can overcome her body’s fatigue, I am not. Rest is vital and that is something that I wish I had come to terms with earlier. And, more importantly to a perfectionist such as myself, resting is NOT the same thing as being lazy.

three-toed-sloth_10965_600x450

I know laziness is not good, but look at his cute little face! Besides, he is only a sloth after all; not much to do.

“Laziness” is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the quality of being unwilling to work or use energy.” It is a choice and, unless found in one of the world’s most adorable animals (in my opinion), the sloth, it is not generally considered an admirable quality. In fact, (sorry, sloths), throughout literature, laziness is presented as among sins. Take the classic tale of “The Little Red Hen”, for example. The only antagonizing force in the story is the laziness of the animals who were unwilling to help. And, for a stronger example, the Bible goes so far as to declare in Proverbs 18:9 that “Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.” Based on this definition, I am justified in trying to avoid laziness.

Because is it really a blog post without a "Keep Calm" meme?

Because is it really a blog post without a “Keep Calm” meme?

In contrast, “rest” is defined as “a ceasing of work in order to relax, refresh oneself, and recover strength.” Wow. I never realized just how unrelated laziness and rest truly are. Rest is not the result of a lack of the will to work, but of having worked and needing to “recover strength.” Rest is always portrayed as deserved, peaceful, and necessary. To continue using the Bible for examples, the Sabbath was a day set aside specifically for rest (“six days you shall labor” -Exodus 20:9), Jesus promised rest to those who follow Him to the end (“Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” -Matthew 11:28), and, perhaps most significantly of all, God Himself is described as resting for a full day after the creation of the world (“God had finished the work…so on the seventh day He rested” -Genesis 2:2). Rest is garnered after hard work and it is necessary and, most of all, it is good.

Rest is good. I only wish that I had learned this sooner. In the constant race for accomplishing more and working harder, it is easy to scorn rest as laziness. However, it is vital that I and others like me who often forget the importance of rest, learn that it is alright, even good, to sometimes watch another episode on Netflix, read another chapter, eat another cookie, meet another friend, or hit the snooze one more time because without this rest, we will find ourselves unable to return full-strength to the work about which we are passionate.

Before I click “publish”, I would like to add something that a friend of my mother’s once said that really impacted me: “Life is like music; without rests, it would not be as musical or as meaningful.”