Posts Tagged ‘spa’

Watch What You Wish For

December 2, 2010

It’s my birthday week. I’ve been anticipating and planning it for more than six months. My 40th. A true landmark year in terms of birthdays.

For my Sweet Sixteen, my parents planned a beautiful formal affair at a local civic center. My father, a professional photographer, took the pictures of the guys in their 1980s suits and matching Jerricurls. My boyfriend at the time, Jamal, had on a tuxedo with tails. I wore a fuchsia satin floor-length gown made just for me by a family friend – the same seamstress who made my debutante gown and wedding dress years later. I love to celebrate birthdays.

For my 30th birthday, I planned a grown-and-sexy pajama party. The pictures are under lock and key and what happens at an Althea party stays at the party, but I will tell you that the lingerie and silk pajama coed fashion show was something that will be remembered in many people’s minds for various reasons. Uh… well… those that were sober and can recall the events of that night. I love to celebrate birthdays.

I love birthday celebrations so much, I go as far out as I can with my sons’ birthday parties. I was just reminiscing with a cousin last weekend about Lil Maurice’s 1st birthday. He wasn’t even walking when I scheduled the inflatable bouncing machine, the husband-and-wife clown team, and ordered an elaborate Sesame Street cake that was large enough to feed our entire street of neighbors – many of whom came to celebrate the birth of the wild-child’s baby. I love to celebrate birthdays.

Anyway, I’m three days away from the big 4-0 celebration. Six months ago, I was trying to decide between a huge bacchanal adventure on a Caribbean island I hadn’t visited yet, or a month of partying with my friends in various cities where I’d lived. But in August, my close girlfriend and studio manager became very ill, and my mindset and daily life activities were… what’s a good word?… altered.

After two months of daily and weekly hospital visits, teaching multiple fitness classes, handling studio issues I hope to never see again, and still being an attentive mother, wife, daughter, sister and friend, I didn’t want to party. I didn’t even want to talk about my birthday. I just wanted to sleep. In fact, two months turned into three months and then four months. Hard and difficult decisions about life, and my business, and my family had to be made during those four months. Really hard and difficult decisions.

So, a month ago, my husband asked me – for maybe the 10th time – “Althea…” (when he says my full name, this means he’s really serious) “Althea, what do you want to do for your birthday?”

I sighed, and rubbed my eyes and sat back from whatever task I was engaged in. I blinked a few times, as though that would help me find the answer in my crowded mind. After a minute or two, I replied with a weary voice… “I just want to go to the mountains alone and sleep. I want to meditate and think and read and write and plan. I want to get a couple of spa treatments while I’m there and I want to eat good food that I don’t have to cook.” There, I’d said it. I’d made up my mind. And I meant it. No party, no people, no major celebration. Peace and quiet and me-time. No problem, right?

Big Maurice made all the arrangements. A long weekend at Chateau Elan. It wasn’t the mountains, but it was far enough away to be away and close enough to have dinner with hubby, the kids and my brother on my actual birthday. Chateau Elan – known for fantastic amenities and top-notch spa treatments – was my new focus. I just had to make it to the week after Thanksgiving. No problem, right?

I started with getting substitute teachers for my classes at the studio. Then I started wrapping up open items on the studio to-do list. Then I started planning what I would do with 4 quiet days to myself. I’d start on Wednesday with a late wake-up, breakfast with my twin who is also celebrating his 40th on the same day, an acupuncture session and then an afternoon of shopping at the outlets. Then on Thursday, I’d wake up late again, pack my clothing slowly and take a leisurely drive up 85 to the resort. My list of birthday weekend to-dos included things like planning my 2011 creative calendar, reading about chakras and meditation, soaking in a hot tub of scented water and listening to lounge jazz with a warm eye-pillow resting on my face.

What really happened was Big Maurice had a major meeting at his office on Wednesday, so I woke up early to get the kids off to school. I got stuck in traffic trying to get to my birthday-twin breakfast. My twin was in a bad mood the whole morning, so I spent the morning trying to cheer him up. I raced to the office after my acupuncture appointment to handle payroll and still missed getting my younger son from the bus. I sped through the crowded afternoon streets to meet him and do homework, cook dinner and begin laundry. My husband fell asleep on the couch around 9:30pm while I cleaned up the kitchen and yelled at the boys to “GO TO BED NOW! I MEAN IT!”

Okay, so Wednesday didn’t work out as planned. No biggie. The real birthday activities weren’t supposed to start until Thursday anyway.

Today – Thursday morning – I woke early again to get the kids ready for school because Big Maurice had to race to the office. My older son walks downstairs and calmly informs me that he forgot to tell us, but the band concert schedule was printed wrong at the beginning of the year and he actually has a band concert tonight at 7:00pm. As I look up from the computer screen of emails waiting to be answered, I gaze around the room at all the stacks of mail, unfolded laundry, shoes and bags everywhere and I remember…

Four months ago, I started asking – repeatedly – for a day with no appointments, classes or meetings. A day to be in my house to clean and declutter. In fact, I wrote two blogs about the clutter in my home and how my life was not allowing me to tackle it. It all came back to me. And I realized, at that very moment, that I’d gotten exactly what I’d wished, prayed and asked for. For my birthday, no less. A full day with no appointments, meetings or classes.

I now have a full day to clean and declutter my house until my younger son comes home from school and needs a snack before homework. I now have a full day to clean and declutter my house until my older son needs to find his band shirt and a clean pair of black pants and needs to be taxied to the school early to prepare for the concert. I now have a full day to clean and declutter before running to Walmart to restock the pantry and cabinets with food and toiletries before I leave for the weekend. And I will do all of this with joy so I can truly relax and enjoy my leisurely drive up 85 with my meditation books and scented eye-pillow.

I love to celebrate birthdays. Especially when I get exactly what I wish for…

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The Spa

October 17, 2010

No Pain, No Gain.

That’s the slogan I expect to see at the gym in the weight room where men with muscular arms and fat stomachs are groaning beneath bars of weight to show off their prowess to other men groaning beneath bars of weight.

However, that same slogan should probably be stuck in big, bold letters on the front door of every spa in America. I know, because I love going to the spa as much as I love the grueling workouts of trail running, Ashtanga Yoga, and kickboxing. There’s something in me that likes the pain of the challenge and the success when I push through it to the end. And the results – firm legs, shapely arms, a flat stomach. It’s worth every drop of sweat in my opinion.

But it’s spa services we’re talking about right now, not fitness routines.

This weekend, I went to the spa to try something I hadn’t tried before – a full facial. Everything started off wonderfully – like they always do. Dim lights, soft new-age music with Native American flutes and the sounds of waves crashing on a beach, the faint but distinct scent of some deliciously perfect essential oil permeating the room. In this particular instance, I was lying naked between soft sheets on a heated massage table with a bolster expertly arranged beneath my knees. Perfect. Heaven on Earth. Exactly what I needed after a week of 12 and 13-hour days of intense work, wifing and whisking my children to this event and that appointment.

As I said, everything was blissful. I should have just paid the people to leave me alone in the room and wake me when an hour was up. But NOOOOO. I wanted to chalk up a new adventure in my spa experience. It was at the point when the aesthetician began to press firmly on my right nostril (she claimed she was removing a white head) and I could no longer breathe, my eyes began twitching with the pain of the blunt instrument pressing down on my skin, and I felt that blood had been drawn, that it all came back to me. Everything. Every “first” spa experience.

There was my very, very first massage – pregnancy massage when I was 28 years old and in the final weeks of my endless pregnancy with my first son. All I have to say is I was carrying a 9.5 lb baby and he was 9 days late. No massage could comfort me – physically, mentally or spiritually.

Ah – my first bikini wax. Before I go into this, I have to share that I endure the pain of a bikini wax EVERY 2-3 months because the results are indescribably sexy and smooth in an area that is not naturally very sexy and smooth if you don’t get a wax.

Anyway, I was presenting workshops at a hotel on Biscayne Drive in Miami Beach. On the last day of the conference, my presentation ended early and I didn’t have plans until later, so I decided to get a pedicure and try a bikini wax since I’d heard so many wonderful things about the results. Strangely, no one had EVER mentioned there would be pain involved.

The Puerto Rican woman working on me was pleased I spoke Spanish and we exchanged pleasantries in her native language as she swiped alcohol on the inside of my right thigh. I was laughing about something she said when she applied the first layer of burning hot wax on my pelvis. I stopped mid-laugh and sat up abruptly from my supine position. “Uh, wait. What was that? Is it supposed to be that hot? Can it be a little cooler?”

I remember the aesthetician looking at me with these dramatically made-up smoky-eyes and asking me in heavily accented English, “Is this your first wax?” incredulously. Like every woman in the world over the age of 18 gets bikini waxes every other month. Come to think of it, they probably do in Miami Beach. But whatever… “Yes,” I answered cautiously. What did this mean? Should I be prepared for something?

Too late. She had already begun pressing a rectangular cloth to the waxy area on my pelvis and inner thigh, and RRRIIIPPP. The hair was gone and all of the air in my lungs was too. I grabbed the woman’s wrist as tears came to my eyes and I whispered, “wait.” That’s all I could manage. And the technician – dear, sweet woman that she was – just smiled and rubbed the back of my hand like the nurse in the labor and delivery room when I gave birth to that 9.5 lb child a few years before.

A procedure that normally takes about 10-15 minutes, took 30 minutes that day. I cried, I whined, I prayed out loud in two languages. The nice waxing lady held my hand, patted my thighs and pelvis, and cooed at me in calming tones.

I remember the drive from Miami Beach to my mother’s house in Miramar like it was yesterday. I had every window on the car down, the sun roof open and my panties and shorts off. I had my left foot propped out the window and my right knee as far to the right as driving would allow. My seat was reclined as far back as I could go and still see the highway. I didn’t care about the truckers driving next to me and honking their blaring horns. I just needed the breeze to cool the painful fire of the waxed areas and I didn’t want ANYTHING to touch my skin around “there.”

I called my girlfriend, Yvonne, on the cell phone and recounted the horrifying (but beautiful results) story as 18-wheelers honked and SUVs beeped at me like I was a porn star driving on the Las Vegas Strip. She laughed and I could tell she was crying from laughing so hard.

Two months ago, I decided to try something called a “Hip Bath” at JeJu Spa. JeJu is an authentic Korean bath house outside Atlanta. One day I’ll share my first experience going to JeJu and meeting 8 strange women I didn’t know for a birthday party completely butt naked. But that’s another story for another blog.

Anyway, during previous trips to JeJu, I’d seen women sitting under heavy drapes on short stools talking quietly to one another. It seemed like a peaceful experience and one I might enjoy. So, one weekday evening, when the spa was practically empty, I stripped down to nothing but my bikini wax and signed up for the Hip Bath. The animated Korean woman pointed me to a low box with a round hole in the center. I squatted down, got as comfortable as possible on a box with a hole in it and allowed the woman to encircle me in a rubberized drape that sealed at my neck – kind of like at the barber shop or beauty salon. But this drape completely covered me and rested on the floor around the box. A pillow was propped behind me and the woman brought me an ice-cold bottle of water. Cool. This was going to be nice.

The Hip Bath technician parted the front of my drape and began to stir herbs and leaves and what looked like salts into a crock pot beneath the hole in the box. Soon it seemed like a good-smelling stew was brewing beneath my va-jay-jay. The tech stirred the concoction with a big wooden spoon, then resealed the drape and went away to talk with her friend in the body scrubbing room. At first, things were fine. I was getting warm and I could feel beads of perspiration gathering beneath my breasts and running down my torso. Good. Great. I could literally feel the toxins pouring from my body.

Hm. Wait a minute. Things were starting to get a little hot “down there.” I opened my eyes and starting looking around for the technician, but I was completely alone in the room, tied into a floor-length drape, sitting on a box with a crock pot boiling steam up a hole into my cootchie. This was no longer comfortable or feeling good. This was hot and I desperately wanted to drink the water sitting only inches from me on the floor. But I couldn’t get my arm out of the drape. As I looked, longingly, at the beads of condensation rolling off the sides of the bottled water, my mouth literally went bone dry and I thought I was going to pass out from dehydration right there on the Hip Bath box in a Korean bath house on Pleasant Hill Road.

As a tear began to form in my right eye, the tech came walking into the room. I really thought I could hear angels singing around me. Deliverance had arrived.

“You okay?” she asked me in choppy, heavily-accented English.

“Um,” I croaked through cotton mouth. “It’s hot.” That’s all I could manage to say.

She mumbled something in Korean to herself, parted the drape in the front, and I sighed with relief as fragrant steam billowed out of the front and a rush of cool air enveloped my private areas.

“Water. Please.” I whispered faintly. She unscrewed my water bottle for me and put in my shaky hand  sticking out of the front of the drape. I put it to my lips and sipped gingerly. There are not words to describe the feeling of gratitude that rushed through me in that instant. As I sipped, she stirred more herbs and plants into the crock pot.

“You get hot – you open this,” the tech said as she pointed to the crack in the front of the drape. I won’t bore you with more details of the Hip Bath experience, but I will tell you that I truly enjoyed resting in the cold whirlpool afterwards.

Anyway, you get the point. Some of the things that happen in spas are not always pleasant experiences. But I for one am addicted to them. I get acupuncture, massage, reflexology, and pedicures every month. I love sitting in steam rooms and dry saunas or whirlpools. I even take my sons to the spa. My 8-year old has enjoyed reading next to me in an “igloo sauna” while his older brother swam in the coed lap pool at JeJu. I want them to know that a massage, meditation, or a body scrub is for everyone regardless of sex, age, income, race or religion. Hopefully they will have more gain than pain with their spa experiences.

Business Meeting @ Chuck E. Cheese

February 18, 2010

I recently had a flashback to Fall 2002. I was living in Baltimore and my fitness outsourcing business was just beginning to grow. I had 2 corporate contracts and new companies were calling me to hire teachers for their fitness centers. There was a fantastic Pilates and dance instructor I’d been dying to bring on board, but we could never seem to get our schedules to mesh.

“Can you do 11:30 on Monday?”

“Uh, let me see… nope, my oldest has a playdate. What about 5:30?”

“Nope, soccer practice at the Y. How about Tuesday at noon?”

“Can’t. The 2-year-old has TumbleTina class. Can you do earlier at 9:30?”

“Uh-uh. Sesame Street 9-10.” (sigh)

Finally, we agreed that the only way we would be able to meet was to schedule a business playdate at the local Chuck E. Cheese. I don’t like to use the word “hate”, so I’ll say, I truly dislike attending functions at Chuck E. Cheese.

Anyway, Chuck E. Cheese it was on a weekday around 11:45 am. Our 4-year olds chased each other in the jungle gym, while her 2-year old tossed colored balls into the mesh netting enclosing the ball bath. We each held a child, nursing, to our breast as we wrote quickly into our Franklin Planners and notebooks (yes, I was still doing Franklin Planner in 2002. I’d had a bad experience in 2000 when my Palm Pilot died unexpectedly and I didn’t know when or where I was going and couldn’t find numbers to call anyone to find out. It was 3 years of fear and mourning before I could return to electronic scheduling).

An hour and a half later, our meeting was done, the kids had all been fed, and a playdate had been knocked out all at once. Triumph.

Fast forward to 2010. A contact from the Chamber of Commerce called me and indicated we needed to meet immediately. Both of our schedules were booked solid with meetings, luncheons, and presentations. We both sounded fatigued and stressed as we scanned our Blackberry and Outlook calendars, trying to find any open 2-hour slot in the next few days.

Suddenly an idea came to me. Jeju Spa. The Korean bath house located only minutes from both our homes. Jeju is not your typical American spa. Yes, it has saunas, whirlpools, steam rooms and massage. But it also has wifi, CNN on plasmas, and computer work stations tucked quietly behind gigantic saunas Jeju refers to as “igloos.”

“Can you meet me at Jeju tomorrow morning? I have a window of time between kids leaving for school and my first presentation at 11:45am.”

“Perfect. If we meet at 8:30, I can fit in accupressure and still make my 11:00 meeting at the Chamber.”

When I combine relaxing barefoot on a heated marble floor with closing a business deal as the scent of jasmine and sage float in the air… bliss is the only word that comes to mind. The spa is my golf course, and it’s definitely a step up from Chuck E. Cheese.