The Yoga Teacher in the Safety Vest

There he was in perfect Chaturunga form on the sidewalk at the stoplight at Congress and 12th street – a construction worker dressed in his work clothes and an orange vest.  My heart raced with recognition and joy.

I am him, he is me!

Before I continue, I need to come out of the closet. I’m a certified yoga instructor who does not teach because I’m chicken-shit scared to stand in front of the room. I was as surprised as anyone to have my introversion and fear of public speaking bite my big plans in the butt the way they did.

If I could teach with an orange vest I think I could find my way.  It would serve as a reminder to myself and others that I’m very human and cannot readily distinguish between my left and right.  It would call out, caution, I’m not perfect like the teachers in the videos or magazines, but I live yoga and it has saved me physically and mentally.

My vest would say let’s be careful with each other.

I was the most unlikely candidate for enrolling in a yoga teacher training program. Although I had never practiced yoga, it annoyed me. I am a runner. I even stopped running with a group because they talked about yoga too much.  I could not listen to them sharing another blow by blow sequencing of their practice. Yoga was not for me, period.

Then, in my mid-forties, my lower back was in so much pain that I could not stand up straight in the morning.  It came on fast and I thought my running days were over.  It was at a Christmas party when my neighbor convinced me to try yoga for my back. She was older than me, had practiced for over thirty years, and had just finished her teacher training.  She was practical and didn’t talk about yoga with that cult-ish look in her eyes.  For whatever reason I was able to hear her message.

A week later I signed up for a beginner’s series at a nearby yoga studio. I was hooked by the end of my first Savasana. Within three weeks my back pain was gone and I was running and attending class or practicing at home almost everyday. A year later I was sitting in a 200 hour teacher certification program surrounded by a small group of wonderfully life-affirming women. We were all different but not a whiner in the bunch. I loved every minute of it and my practice evolved to be a pillar of my life.

At forty-seven, I was the oldest person in our group to complete the certification. Austin has a thriving yoga community and is bursting with certified teachers. From my vantage point, my peers seem so young and polished. Everyone around me appears to have mastered some kind of happening angle to their teaching style.  I’m not a breathe-bliss-into-the-bottoms-of-your-feet type of practitioner.  Of course there is nothing wrong with breathing bliss, I am just too scientific, and yes, a little jaded.

I’m a biomechanics, no frills, need-to-move-and-breathe-for-my-sanity kind of practitioner.  When I graduated I felt like an old work horse, strong and disciplined, but not the most flexible or cutting-edge.

From the beginning, I was already counting myself out.  Coupling that with my fear of public speaking, I put myself out to pasture.  I decided I would be one of those people who went through teacher training to advance my personal practice.

Fast forward through a couple of years of changes and moves.  I have continued with yoga and am thinking about teaching again.  I started blogging as a way to practice being vulnerable but far enough removed to still feel comfortable.  This is a first step in the process of feeling confident enough to be seen at the front of the room.

I accept that I’m aging and I believe that in that acceptance I will find my path as a teacher.  Rather than striving to keep up with the effervescence of youth, spandex and enlightenment, I’m concentrating on just showing up on my mat.

The rest will come. The yoga teacher in the orange vest taught me that this morning.

About the photo: I took this photograph this morning at the corner of 12th and Congress, across from the capitol building, Austin, TX.

Snow Day, The Sequel

Mindful by Mary Oliver

Everyday

I see or hear

something

that more or less

kills me

with delight,

that leaves me

like a needle

in the haystack

of light.

It was what I was born for —

to look, to listen,

to lose myself

inside this soft world —

to instruct myself

over and over

in joy,

and acclamation.

Nor am I talking

about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,

the very extravagant —

but of the ordinary,

the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.

Oh, good scholar,

I say to myself,

how can you help

but grow wise

with such teachings

as these —

the untrimmable light

of the world,

the ocean’s shine,

the prayers that are made

out of grass?

“Mindful” by Mary Oliver from Why I Wake Early. © Beacon Press, 2005.

Adam and Eve and Their Fifty Chickens

There is a rooster across the street and two houses down who lives with a pair of Barred Plymouth Rock Hens and a Rhode Island Red in a fine backyard compound. This winter, the rooster and I are on the same odd sleeping cycle. I appreciate his company as he crows with precise regularity at 4:30 am for about five minutes and then again at the more customary crowing time of 6:30 am.

Like me, I imagine that he worries about getting up on time. Since he’s up, he thinks through his day’s activities and reassures himself that he can get it all done without forgetting something.  After his mental inventory he settles down, walks about his yard, takes a bit of food, and contently waits for the sun.

The rooster’s early call reminds me to contain my worries – to greet my troubles, real and imagined, and build a fence around them. The fence is made with gratitude, rationalization and acceptance. I have to go about rebuilding every morning, as worries are a mischievous lot and are prone to escape.

The fruits of this mediation and construction are the most productive peaceful couple of hours of the day, before the kids are up for school or weekend practice.

From time to time, we toy with the notion of raising chickens. We read up on what would be needed and visit the feed store where they sell chicks.  Our hypothetical chickens are named Sunny Side, Scrambled and Over Easy.  It sounds ideal until I think about Big Otis, our English bulldog, versus the chickens.

Besides, I already have a rooster friend, a kindred spirit.

Since last October, I’ve had a chicken conversation replaying in my head that I had with a homeless man I met on the Lamar Bridge. I was taking pictures of Thirst, a temporary art installation in the middle of Lady Bird Lake created to bring about drought awareness.  When I began, the man was at the other end of the bridge feeding pigeons and yelling at a runner.  I’ve seen him before on my runs and knew he was prone to bouts of hollering but was otherwise harmless.

As I continued photographing, the man walked up to me and calmly asked about what I was doing. I put down my camera and talked to him. It was about a half-hour conversation that covered his time in the Florida swamps as a boy, whale sharks, religion, and chickens – in that order.

He told me that Adam and Eve had fifty chickens and that Adam named each of them. He proceeded to list the names: Mr. Chicken, Mrs. Chicken, Henny Penny, Lucky Ducky, Hokey Pokey and so on.  I don’t remember past the first memorable handful of names but about halfway through he slowed down. I politely told him that it was OK if he couldn’t remember the rest. He stopped but promised me that Adam knew each of his chickens by name.

I love to think of Adam and Eve tending to their chickens, all fifty of them.  I can see them in overalls and cleaning chicken coops.  Going about the day, despite their fall from Grace.

Being human.

I return to the scene of Adam naming his chickens every morning when my rooster friend crows and reminds me to enjoy the stillness.

Thirst sponsored by Women and their Work and created by a team of women including lead artist Beili Liu, Emily Little, Norma Yancey and Cassie Bergstrom.


With his permission, I took this picture of the man I spoke with on the bridge.

Heart Rocks

I want heart rocks for my fiftieth birthday. Not the fancy polished kind that you can buy in a store but the ones chiseled by nature found on a deliberate search or by luck when you glance down at the ground.

My first decade spent as an only child afforded me a lot of time outside time by myself.  That is when I began my relationship with rocks. It’s not as strange as it sounds. I was, and still am, drawn to each stone’s color, texture and sense of place. There’s a story, millions of years in the making, to be discovered if you slow down and pay attention.

I spent summers at my grandparents’ house on the coast of Maine. I filled my pockets with the round smoothness of the weathered stones from Timber Island. I knew them by their names: Basalt, Granite, Mica Schist, Sandstone, Feldspar, Quartz, Gneiss. Some were painted with sedimentary and metamorphic bands while others were speckled with geometric igneous patterns forged in volcanic furnaces.

This connection began a lifetime of collecting. Rocks are placed throughout our house; some stand alone while others sit together as evolving altars. When I travel to a new location or want to remember an event I find a stone from that particular spot as someone else might bring home a memento from a gift shop.

Our kids grew up surrounded by my rocks. They don’t share my affinity and yet they appreciate the earth’s artistry. They accommodate, even support, my geologic idiosyncrasies.

Leo gave me my first heart rock when he was three on a day hike at Pedernales Falls, one of our favorite state parks in the Texas Hill Country. I still have it. Throughout his childhood he would find heart rocks and present them to me with much fanfare. Other times he would simply press them into my palm and run off. When he was older he would leave them in obvious places for me to find later. I have kept them all.

The younger three continued the tradition and added round and egg shaped stones to their offerings. I gladly received them, and again have kept each and every stone they presented. My mind’s eye can still see their sweet faces looking up at me, so pleased, as they open their hand to reveal the treasure.

On the trail where I run there is an art installation that at first glance appears to be a simple grey wall topped with azure blue tiles in the design of a river.  It’s lovely but the true gift of the piece is reserved for the more observant passerby who discovers that the plain stucco wall is really a mosaic of hundreds of natural shaped heart rocks of all sizes.

The section of the trail that takes me by the wall has been closed for renovations and re-opened just last week. When I ran by the wall last night I felt a tinge of sadness. I couldn’t remember the last time when one of my kids gave me a heart rock.

I know it’s not deliberate.  The world is pulling their attention upward to the brightness of getting older. There is not as much time to linger and look down, kick at the dirt and search for rocks.

My birthday is on Valentine’s Day. I have always rebelled against the sentimental imagery of hearts, candy and flowers.  I want more out of the fusion of love and a birthday.  As you can imagine, my expectations were burdened with more weight than most partners could ever bear.  It’s come as a relief to my poor husband that I have mellowed over the decades.

This upcoming birthday will also be my fiftieth Valentine’s Day.  I’m blessed to be surrounded by love and have no need for more stuff.  I am still not a candy, nor flowers nor jewelry kind of valentine.  My birthday request is simple – a heart rock would mean the world to me.

End note: The photo is of a mosaic stepping stone I made with some of the rocks that the kids have given me over the years.

An Extraordinary Day


I imagine that Martin Luther King, Jr., never had an ordinary day.  Instead, his sense of mission and capacity to lead and unite made him extraordinary in every way and even when engaged in the banalities of life, he hovered above the ordinary.

The plan for today was to take the kids to the MLK celebration parade and march from the UT campus to Huston-Tillotson College.  However, at the last minute the ordinary took possession of the morning with a remembered orthodontist appointment.  It would have been the second time I cancelled so our day went in a different direction.

Everywhere I went people were having ordinary days and it got me thinking about the extraordinary and why it seems so elusive.  The world needs more extraordinary.

As I waited for Lila to get her new wires I looked up quotes taken from speeches given by Dr. King.  The more I read, the more he made the ordinary sound extraordinary.

He talked about standing with our neighbors, speaking our truth, love, forgiveness and service.  His words made my life and efforts seem less ordinary. He made me believe that all extraordinary actions rise up from the ordinary.  It’s far more simple and human than we dare to believe.  Justice and Equality begin in our ordinary lives by how we treat ourselves, one another, and our communities.

The rest of our day was filled with a visit from a long-time friend and her young son. Later in the afternoon we worked in the community garden pulling weeds and watering.  We stayed until early evening.  The golden light of the setting winter sun made everything look extraordinary.

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.

“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

End note: I took the photograph in 2008 on the corner of Leona Street and East 12th, Austin, Texas.

 

The Garden

I moved into my community garden plot this past October. I was on the waiting list for about a year and a half before Kay notified me that my name had risen to the top. She said there were a couple of plots available.

I chose a twenty by twenty square that had paths in the shape of a starfish with raised beds between its symmetrical arms. It was the unique geometry that I liked and the dirt looked nurtured and loved. Kay said that the previous gardeners, a young couple in their late twenties, were the only people in the community to use the spoked design.

She asked if I was going to keep it that way. I didn’t answer definitively.

The couple left reluctantly. A move north of the city made the drive too high of a hurdle to continue. The community rules require members to clear their plot before they leave the garden. The couple left a solitary thriving Mexican marigold bush in the corner. It was a welcome gift I’m sure. So was their soil.

I thought about the couple while I tilled the garden in preparation for my winter vegetables. Like an anthropologist going through the dirt, I found evidence of the gardening lives before me – bulbs, roots from past seasons, fennel and herbs.

This afternoon I found volunteer poppies emerging alongside my cabbages and unexpected mint among my beds of kale. I would never think of pulling them up. They were here before me. I like the history.

I redefined the starfish arms with wood chips and arranged a resting place at the center using three cedar stumps I found at Shoal Creek and carried to my car.  After the kids leave for school, if time allows, I go to the garden and sit on the largest stump, drink my coffee and water the vegetables.  It’s my room of my own – the center of the starfish.

Charlotte, the zone coordinator, stopped by today to introduce herself to me and the girls. She told me a little more about the previous gardeners. He was quiet. She was passionate about gardening and health. The garden was more her project but he always worked with her.

I complimented the soil they left behind.  Charlotte nodded in agreement and then told me that they inherited the starfish design. There was a pause as she closed her eyes and tried to conjure up the image of the gardeners before the young couple. She could remember their faces but not their names. She was almost certain that the design was theirs.

She asked me if I was going to keep the same layout for my spring planting.

Yes, definitely.

Letting Go

You don’t know it at the time but when the nurse hands you that tiny, just born person the letting go process has begun.

You miss the first subtle markers of the passage of time because they are overshadowed by the cataclysmic changes that occurred to your former life. The more noticeable letting go moments come in the form of first days – the first day of daycare, pre-school and kindergarten.

The remainder of elementary school feels like a letting go plateau. If anything you feel like you are gaining – new friends, sports, the birthday party circuit and playdates.

When your child begins middle school you realize that you were in denial and there was no plateau.  Overnight your child wants you to leave them alone and you are not ready. Thankfully, middle school is a universally unappealing phase of life and leaving them alone is not really as hard as you imagined.

This stage continues until they are about fifteen or sixteen.  Ever so slight shifts in hormonal levels and frontal cortex functioning allows for the opportunity to reconnect with your teenager – but on different terms. They are older and so are you. This is when the letting go really picks up speed. You become a moon on the edge of your child’s expanding universe. Ironically, your teenager feels tethered when they look out at the horizon and see freedom and adulthood.

College drop off brings the letting go to full circle. You are handing your child back to a world that let you borrow them for eighteen years, surrounded by other parents who also can’t believe that this time has come. We all look old, sad and proud against the backdrop of youth, potential and anticipation.

It’s not a particularly glamorous moment for parents. Our faces are blotchy and our eyes are red. It’s difficult to talk because any attempt to do so will dislodge the lump in our throats that keeps us from crying.

Try to minimize your child’s embarrassment at college drop off. Your child is sad too, but would still rather have hired a stranger to haul all their stuff up to their new room.  Don’t wear a t-shirt with the name of your child’s school. You will look desperate and are automatically branded as a parent. Trust me on this one. Go ahead and buy the shirt but wear it later.

You return home and readjust your life to allow for their absence.  You accept that letting go is natural and your child’s successful launching is a blessing. Unfortunately, every time your child comes home for breaks and leaves you have to repeat the college drop-off stage of letting go over and over again.

It’s exhausting.

We drove Leo to the airport this morning as he heads into his spring semester. I waited until we got back to put on my orange and blue college t-shirt and write this post in my office, aka Leo’s bedroom when he is home.

My face is blotchy and my eyes are red.

The Turquoise Gate

 

January has been more of a door than a window – a locked door.  A beast of a door, almost alive, made of ancient wood and forged steel.

On Monday Lila pointed out a whimsical entrance into nowhere.  She spotted it on the drive to school as I watched the clock on the dashboard.  We have never seen it before.  What had been hidden by two seasons of vegetation is now winter’s revelation.

I’m going to envision my January becoming a fanciful turquoise gate.  Yes, I see its chain and lock. I plan to jump over the wall.

End Note: I took the photo on Monday morning.  A gift for Lila.

Polka-dotted Birkenstocks

At the beginning of the semester I had to drop off Eli’s PE waiver at the last minute before the deadline. I texted him that I would be at his school during lunch so he could sign the form and get it to where it needed to go.

He agreed and told me to meet him in the front of the school. I understood the front as inside the entry way. I waited and he never came.  I texted and called but it went directly to voicemail.

The bell rang and the halls swarmed with teenagers like someone just took a bat to a beehive. The students gave me confused furtive glances as they passed. You are a parent. You are old. Why are you standing there? After a few minutes I decided to leave but then ran into Eli walking in from outside.

“What are you doing in the school?”  His face said panic.

If he had a net, a bag or a blanket, he would have covered me with it and pushed me into the custodian’s closet. He then would have instructed me to quietly push the paperwork under the door and remain in the closet until everyone was in class and the hallways were clear.

Apparently, I was supposed to meet him outside in the courtyard to minimize his exposure to my parental toxicity.

I have not been back until this morning.  Eli had a late start so I drove him to school as a kind gesture.  As we neared campus, Eli asked me if I was planning to come in, and if I was, he would prefer that I not.

“I wasn’t planning on it but am I that embarrassing to you?”

“No, not really.  But you are wearing clown sandals (translation polka-dotted birkenstocks) and the running clothes.  Mom, no one wants their parents at school.”

He got out of the car and tossed me one of his charismatic smiles.  It made me forget my disgusting parental status.

On the drive home I thought about bringing my circus freakshow self to my daughter’s elementary school. There I could expect to be greeted by a big smile, a hug and maybe even a compliment.

“I love your sandals mom, are they new?”

Dead Dogs and Birth Certificates

When we moved two years ago the files containing all our passports, birth certificates, social security cards and such went missing.  The urns containing the ashes of our three dogs, including the original pair that set Matthew and I on our path together, also could not be found.

It’s a chronic itch on the back of my brain that mostly goes unnoticed until I come across a box from the move and then it flares.

Yes, I went through a crazed period in the beginning when I tore through our storage unit, the shed and each room in the house. Moving is discombobulating enough and I became obsessed.  These were not just lost things, they were our identities and beloved pets. The losses made me feel even more ungrounded.

Time passed and we settled into our home. I built the stability that I craved. I used the time to downsize and I delighted in getting rid of the psychological weight of too much stuff.  I gave away furniture, clothes, anything that was no longer useful or had no meaning for us. I’m not sentimental about things – never have been – but the documents and the dogs really bothered me.

I was not letting go.

When one of the kids needed an immunization record or a copy of their birth certificate, it would ignite a frustration that had me wasting hours going through boxes I had already searched.  Surely, this time I would uncover the whereabouts of my files and save myself the hassle of all the paperwork to re-create what I had lost.  It irked me that it was probably my fault. I managed to shepherd each and every one of those little plastic corn on the cob holders through the move but not our identities and the dogs.

Two years have passed and I have filled out copious amounts of paperwork to redocument our lives.  I even enjoyed talking to the woman who works at city hall in the little town in Maine where I was born.  When I received the copy of my birth certificate it was different than the one I had before.  On the microfiche replacement I could see my parents’ signatures from fifty years ago.  It made me smile.

Oh, and the dogs.

Matthew is even less nostalgic than me except for when it comes to our pets.  He found our dogs’ ashes in the back of our pantry in our old house. I had twin two year olds, a four year old and a ten year old at the time, and it seemed like a good place to me. From then on he kept our former pets in his home office on a shelf. This past weekend he asked if I ever found the dogs.

No, but I am looking.

Yesterday I began reorganizing Matthew’s downtown office.  I was standing in the front room to plan out the project. The back corner of the office serves as storage. There was a column of boxes labelled with the words office supplies in big black letters. The box on the top of the stack was open and I could see paper, tape, a three-hole punch and some computer cords. I closed it and placed the box on the dolly. Before I stacked the next box I dragged my car key down the middle to cut the tape and opened it to see if there were supplies we needed at home.

I was face to face with my files, exactly as they were placed in the box two years ago. It hit me broadside and I couldn’t catch a breath. I felt my face getting hot and tears surging from the back of my eyes.

The dogs! They had to be there somewhere too. There was only one remaining box that was sealed and I used my key again to get to the contents and there they were – Maude, Toby and Oscar.

It sounds silly but I sat down on the floor holding my documents and staring at the dogs and sobbed.  It was like the move was finally over.  It’s been a hard two years with a lot of adjustments and the discovery shook me with the time that has passed.

At almost fifty, I’m accepting that we are always leaving, moment to moment. The older I get, change and loss are becoming more visible.

So it feels like a miracle when I get something back.

Meditation on Ruin  by Jay Hopler

It’s not the lost lover that brings us to ruin, or the barroom brawl,

          or the con game gone bad, or the beating

Taken in the alleyway. But the lost car keys,

The broken shoelace,

The overcharge at the gas pump

Which we broach without comment — these are the things that

          eat away at life, these constant vibrations

In the web of the unremarkable.

The death of a father — the death of the mother —

The sudden loss shocks the living flesh alive! But the broken

          pair of glasses,

The tear in the trousers,

These begin an ache behind the eyes.

And it’s this ache to which we will ourselves

Oblivious. We are oblivious. Then, one morning—there’s a

crack in the water glass —we wake to find ourselves undone.

“Meditation on Ruin” by Jay Hopler from Green Squall. © Yale University Press, 2006.

Kangaroos and the Creative Process

Part One: The Kangaroos

I never thought much about kangaroos. Even as a kid, they have never been that appealing to me. A kangaroo looks like the T-rex of the marsupial world with their big hind legs and tail, odd little front arms and tiny head. It doesn’t help that they live in the same neighborhood as the koala.

On a regular basis, my girls summon me over to the computer to look at a video of some fluffy young animal doing something cute or sleeping. They go through phases – pandas were big for awhile but I’ve noticed they’re back to English bulldogs.

It sounds innocuous but that is how I stumbled onto kangaroo sparring. I’m not sure how we made the leap from pandas and puppies to boxing kangaroos but it happened. The girls were horrified and stopped watching. I was fascinated and looked for another video.

It’s the shockingly powerful aggression hybrided with comedic choreography that compels me. When kangaroos fight it looks like a Three Stooges schtick  – Moe bops Curly, Larry kicks Moe, then Curly pokes Larry and Moe in the eyes. There is something so confusing about the kangaroo’s sudden shift from boring marsupial to pocketed stooge.

Most videos begin with a sweeping survey of a mob, the proper name for a group of kangaroos. They are mellow, jumping about or gathering in the grass in groups of three or four.  Suddenly two of the mob erupt into a gangly flailing of little arms with their heads thrown back. In all this limb chaos they stand straight up on their tails and kick.

Oh it’s those kicks.

My favorite video is David Attenborough’s, Kangaroo Boxing, a snippit from the BBC program, Life of Animals. His lovely British accent along with the jaunty orchestra piece playing in the background makes watching kangaroos wrangle seem elegant and sophisticated.

Like most animal fights, it’s an exercise in establishing dominance and rarely results in injury or death, or so says David.

According to my research, the sub-dominant kangaroo can avoid an altercation by acknowledging the dominant kangaroo’s status with a short, deep cough. This works for a human trying to avoid a kangaroo attack too.

A short deep cough.  Brilliant. It’s a variation on taking a deep breath, but just strange enough to throw off the bully in the mob.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiTG6T9pTcM  David Attenborough’s, Kangaroo Boxing, BBC program Life of Animals

Part Two: The Creative Process

Yesterday I crafted an formulaic ending to the Kangaroo Blog that I did not include in the post.  The ending made Leo give me a disappointed, eyebrow-lifting, head-tilting stare. The look said “not more animals and parenting.” He is usually my biggest fan, so when he has an opinion, I listen. Besides, I was feeling the same thing. It was the first blog post I’d written where I felt like my own ghost writer. Exhaustion had turned me on to auto-pilot.

I worked on it, let it rest and returned to it again after the kids went to bed. At 11:30pm last night I vacillated – to post or not to post.

In between Leo and my no-post decision, I took Georgia to the Austin screening of Scott Harris’ documentary, Being Ginger.  Lila was at evening practice so it was just my ginger and me. It’s an achingly human story of vulnerability as we watch Harris on his mission to find women who are attracted to ginger men.

Scott Harris led a Q&A after the film. When asked why he chose this topic he spoke about authenticity and the creative process. He is guided by advice given from a former professor, even though at the time he thought it was trite.  The advice is simple – be true to your voice and create in the present moment. If you can maintain that stride then you will take yourself on unexpected plot twists, in life and in art.

For Harris, what began as a comic look at dating became interwoven with his own healing from childhood bullying.

So there I was at 11:30 pm re-reading the kangaroos post and I just wasn’t invested. What I had written didn’t, and wasn’t ever, going to have any particular meaning. It was just an image. The forced parenting tie-in that I was trying to incorporate didn’t sound like me. I was trying too hard to bring these sparring kangaroos to some illuminating crescendo that wasn’t going to happen.

The twist for me thus far in my 50 blog project is learning to recognize my voice – when it’s real and when it is not. Sigmund Freud is attributed to famously saying that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”  In this case, my truth is that a kangaroo is just a kangaroo.

http://watch.beingginger.co.uk  Being Ginger trailer

“No work or love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.”   – Allan Watts

Joy

Last night Matthew and I went to see Spike Jonze’s new film,  Her.  Matthew liked the first seventeen minutes and then feel asleep. I loved this film so much that I didn’t even care that Matthew napped on date night.

“We are only here briefly. And while we’re here, I want to allow myself joy.”  -Amy played by Amy Adams in Her.

Sometimes one good quote and an afternoon of day-glow bowling is worth a six hundred word blog post.

Feeding the Bear

“Why are we stopping at Wheatsville, we just went shopping?”

“Blueberries.”

When Leo is home from college it’s just a given that I have to maintain a supply of frozen blueberries. He eats them in a stainless steel mixing bowl like a bear at the zoo.  I’m sure he eats more blueberries than the average bear. Trying to be the good organic mama, I buy him those precious little bags of frozen organic blueberries. I would always look for sales or store brands but it takes a big bite out of our weekly grocery budget. We know when the bear is home and midway through the holiday break I toss out any concern I have about organic and go for the three pound bags at HEB.

I have to lay down the frozen fruit law for the visiting bear. I’m not sure why, but the cost of frozen blueberries has spiked. The new rule is no more than half a bag of blues a day – and he has to switch fruits to cheaper frozen options like raspberries and mango chunks. The bear sulks and eats raspberries and mangos between his allotted servings of blueberries. If the bear goes too many days without his ration I notice changes in his mood.  He is grouchier and won’t give his brother the time of day. I know blackmail when I see it.

He can’t just come clean and state his demands but I know bear behavior. What he doesn’t know is that I use his covert blackmail scheme to my advantage. It’s animal training 101, give rewards intermittently and the desired behavior increases. I time my blueberry purchases strategically.  For example, this morning I needed Leo to get up and get Eli out of the house.

This brings me back to my Wheatsville blueberry run.

Our neighborhood co-op currently has a great deal on three pound bags of frozen blueberries.  A cup of coffee for me and a bag of blueberries for the bear – my unknowing partner in crime. I walk upstairs and find the bear asleep on the couch. I say good morning to Eli and ask him what he has planned for the day.

“I’d like to hang out with Leo if he’s free.”

I shake the bag of berries next to the sleeping bear and his eyes partially open. Like a subliminal message, I know the bear has heard Eli’s request while I continue to shake the bag. In my most sunny, it’s-a-beautiful-day voice I ask if he minds waking up and doing something with Eli. The bear grumbles. I walk downstairs and put the berries in the freezer.

Twenty minutes later the bear comes down. The response time is better than I had predicted. He is moving hours before he is usually up.  Without contact the bear picks up his stainless steel bowl and fills it with frozen blueberries. He eats the berries on the couch next to Big Otis. His lips and teeth are blue and his mood becomes more engaging.

He smiles a big blue-mouthed smile. This signals to Eli that it is safe to sit next to the bear and discuss plans. Eli wants to go to lunch and play basketball. The bear has only eaten enough blueberries to agree to lunch but we all know a second helping will get Eli some basketball time. The bear has to first brush the blue from his teeth, the evidence of his weakness, and then the brothers are out the door. Mission accomplished.

Blueberries really are a super food.

To Marvel

Waking up on time and leaving the house without drama. Marvelous.

Deep breathing.  Marvelous.

The woman at check-in making HIPAA policies so much fun that I had wished there was a sequel. Marvelous.

Georgia answering with Silly Putty when the anesthesiologist asked if she had any allergies. Marvelous.

The anesthesiologist being delighted that it was the first time he wrote Silly Putty in a chart. Marvelous.

Fabulous nurses and doctors showing up for work at Seton Hospital. Marvelous.

“I always wanted to wear a hair net!” Marvelous.

Georgia thanking Matthew and me for being there when she came to as if she had just woken up at a dinner party.  Marvelous.

“I’m glad I didn’t die.” Double Marvelous.

Taking a picture of the chalazion floating in the pathologist’s jar. Marvelous.

“I get to keep the socks!”  Marvelous.

The nurse giving us three cool space-age vomit bags to bring home.  Marvelous.

Snuggling up with the girls watching college gymnastics.  Marvelous.

Everything working out.  Marvelous.

Attachment

Georgia is having minor surgery tomorrow morning to remove two chalzia, plural form of chalazion. Everyone in our family thinks the name sounds like a delicious treat.  It’s not. It’s a stye gone bad. The stye appeared during the first week of her middle school career. Over the next two months it grew to the size of a dime. She tried to cover it with her bangs and concealer but nothing really stopped the questions about the thing on her eye.

We went to experts and tried drops, creams and endless heated compresses made of socks filled with dried peas – anything to avoid surgery. After two months it ruptured – gross – and partially healed. The thing re-grouped, came back more tenacious, and brought a chalazion along with it. Her pediatric ophthalmologist, the smartest, spunkiest, polly-pocket of a woman, decided that surgery was the only option left.

This is a minor operation but Georgia is still going to be under general anesthesia. The paper work spells out all the what-if’s and then asks for my signature.  A signature that gives permission for others to do their best with my full knowledge that scary things can happen.

Sign.

I circle around at the Buddhist notion of non-attachment.  Parenting is an ultimate practice exercise. Attachment implies there is an attacher and a separate object of attachment, be it a thing, person, or feeling. Non-attachment is not unkind or joyless. The Buddha taught that separation was an illusion, that there was only unity. In this oneness there can be no attachment, the source of all suffering. My grabby mind can understand this concept but it’s a struggle.

My first night of being a parent I had a lucid dream that is the level measurer of my attachments, particularly with my kids. We had just moved to Minneapolis a few months before I gave birth to Leo. We hadn’t made friends yet and family would come later.  There was not one visitor. It was just me, Matthew and Leo and the quiet of the snowfall. We fell asleep together in the same room. In my dream I saw myself floating in a starry peaceful universe, Earth below. My torso was elongated and my arms and legs stretched in opposite directions. I could see the twinkling lights through my body as if it were a window. I remember feeling a continuity – no beginning or end.

At the time I didn’t know to call it non-attachment. I have tried to paint my dream on canvas and write what I felt but my efforts never truly translate. I conjure up the image in my mind’s eye at times I want to clutch to my children with my pride, anger, fear, conditional love. I remember my role. I am portal, a guide. They are not mine, we are one.

Today I sign the papers and pay fees for the facility, doctors and nurses to care for my sweet girl.  My Georgia who giggles and flaps her arms when given laughing gas at the dentist. I worry and wonder about her reaction to the anesthesia. I have an attachment to fear, for sure. When tomorrow morning comes I will sit and try to remember that feeling of floating, of unity – wait and trust.

I took the photo this evening at the Austin Zen Center.

Excuses

It’s a little warmer this morning but Mother Nature has added a drizzily greyness that has me slipping further into dormancy. Training for a marathon that is happening in less than six weeks and hibernation are not compatible.

Yesterday I hit the trail and ran a shuffling four and a half miles, not the ten on my schedule. I never managed to outrun my winter sluggishness and turned at the Congress Avenue Bridge instead of at the dam three miles further down.

Today the excuses continue. Next on my list after hibernation is fatigue. I spent most of the night managing a madness that possessed all three of our animals, compelling them to patrol the backyard as individual sentries in fifteen minute increments.  At one point Big Otis, our English bulldog, was sitting in a lawn chair in the freezing rain refusing to come inside. Matthew had to physically carry him in and place him on his zebra dog-bed.

They have become nocturnal and are definitely not hibernating.

Predictably, the animals are sleeping soundly on the couch this morning in a pile of psychosis hangover. I want to join them. Instead I am folding laundry, excuse number three. This is a significant warning sign of my compromised state to anyone who knows me. In the realm of household chores, I would rather clean toilets and pick up cat throw up than fold laundry. Not today. I’m happily making stacks of clean clothes and listening to RadioLab. I need to see the sun and feel a little warmth, excuse numbers four and five.

This completes my Day 38 blog post, excuse number six.  Back to the laundry, excuse number three.

The Belly of the Whale

This is the first time that I have looked out on the horizon of the calendar year and not seen a couple of goals to travel toward. There are no sparkly adventures or deadlines, no moves nor significant transitions. I’m really not comfortable with what seems to me like standing still. I crave change. I want the fresh start, the blank slate, the do-over.  I want to cut and run, but instead this will be a year in the belly of the whale.

I do not subscribe to any particular religion. If pushed I would align myself with Buddhism but that’s a stretch. I’m one of those spiritual mutts who can find the message in the stories of diverse traditions, although it is hard for me to understand a vengeful God. Jonah and the whale starts out with wrath but resolves with a downright happy ending for the bible.

Jonah spent three days in the belly of the whale, a forced time-out for disobeying God’s request to tell the people of Nineveh to repent.  He just didn’t want to do it – he even purposely boarded a ship going in the opposite direction. God creates a fierce tempest that puts the ship at peril. Jonah realizes he is the cause of God’s anger and asks to be thrown to the sea to save the others. The sailors, being kind in nature, first try to row Jonah to shore but when it becomes too treacherous they ultimately dump him overboard.

Now it looks like the end for Jonah, but God gives him one more chance and sends a whale to swallow him up where he stays for three days.  During this time he prays, meditates and finds his sense of purpose. He is spit back to safety and takes the path that he avoided and saves the people of Nineveh with his warning.

I’m no Jonah but I feel like I’m in the belly of the whale for similar reasons. I have a gnawing sense that there is something I’m supposed to do. I likely even know my path, but push the calling away.  It’s too much trouble, too much disruption, too risky.

Jonah’s time in the whale was intense and a crucible for his spiritual transformation. What I like about Dan Albergotti poem, Things to do in the Belly of the Whale, is how he makes this time sound playful and less fetid and scary.  I’m compiling my list of things to do while I’m residing in the whale. I want to find the fun in this time of introspection and planning – to brood less and evolve more. I want to “Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of (my) heart. Be thankful that (I am) here, swallowed with all hope, where (I) can rest and wait.”

Things to Do in the Belly of a Whale  by Dan Albergotti

Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.

Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires

with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.

Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.

Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way

for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review

each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments

of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you.

Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound

of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.

Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,

where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all

the things you did and could have done. Remember

treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes

pointing again and again down, down into the black depths.

“Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale” by Dan Albergotti from The Boatloads.© BOA Editions, Ltd., 2008.

I took the photo in the atrium of the Children’s Museum in Fort Worth.

Hibernation

Hibernation – To spend the winter in close quarters in a torpor or dormant state, as bears and certain other animals. To withdraw or be in seclusion. Latent but capable of being activated. A state of motor and mental inactivity with partial suspension of sensibility.

I look at my marathon training schedule for this week and then at the temperature reading. It is twenty-six degrees in Austin, Texas at seven in morning. It’s the kids’ last day of holiday break – the perfect opportunity to run up some mileage before everyone is awake and we start the to-do list for the coming school week. The frigid winter weather, unusual for Austin, has me thinking of hibernation instead.

Both sleep and hibernation have similar physiological changes that reduce metabolic, cardiac and respiratory rates. In hibernation those changes are far more dramatic and vital signs differ significantly from a sleeping state. It takes just minutes to move from sleep to wakefulness but it can take days to recover from the physical changes brought on by hibernation.

Sleep is characterized by changes in brain activity when two slower patterns, theta and delta waves, take over.  Hibernating animals have what look more like wakeful brain wave patterns. In fact, when an animal transitions from hibernation it exhibits signs of sleep deprivation and needs to rest.

This dormancy is called hibernation in the winter and estivation when it occurs in the summer. Both are inseparable from temperature and survival. The extreme cold today makes me withdraw and seek the seclusion of close quarters. My body feels heavy and slow and my mind seeks stillness. The Texas summers have the same effect but then I retreat to the shade at Barton Springs or Deep Eddy and not close quarters.

I want to lie down, breathe slowly and drift into a state of motor and mental inactivity with partial suspension of sensibility. I think of hibernation as an extended Savasana, resting or Corpse Pose, that comes at the end of a yoga practice. Often called the most important pose, Savasana is death in life, a short hibernation. It allows time for the mind and body to integrate the internal physical and mental transformation of the practice in preparation to return to daily life.

Our holiday break has been like a joyful and intense seventeen day yoga practice. The extreme cold has reminded me that I need to hibernate a bit to integrate the experience into my normal life.  As a culture we are not good at allowing for integration. It’s on to the next shiny bright thing as we charge into January. Often I am guilty but not today.

The temperatures will pop back up again and I will return to the new beginning that January offers.  Today, though, I want to hibernate like a bear and wake slowly to a different world with warmth and green. For now I will let the winter offer its slow darkness and remind me that it’s OK that I didn’t run today or get much done. Latent but capable of being activated.

End Note: In case you’re wondering about the location, I took the photo in McCall, ID.

Twins

I was ambushed by nostalgia while spending the day with my two-year old twin nieces – the sweetness of a pair of little girls. In reality, those early years are so much work. Fortunately this life-long double effort comes with a super-sized love that fuels the stamina needed to hang in there.

Parenting twins is definitely its own sub-speciality.

During our afternoon at the park, I was surprised when I instinctively went into a long dormant high alert mode. I found myself doing a head count every thirty seconds and evaluating every drop, edge and potential escape route. I had not felt that kind of panic since my twins were my niece’s age – ten years ago – but at the park it felt like yesterday.

“Just humor me and check for two heartbeats.”

My doctor places the monitor on my belly and cruises for contact. It takes a minute to hear the familiar submerged rapid rhythm. He stops, takes note that it’s a strong normal beat, and then trolls for another. Nothing.

“This is your third pregnancy. Your stomach muscles aren’t as strong. You’re going to show earlier than with the first two,” he said with that country doctor smile that made me feel a little stupid.

This was mid-March.

Later that spring, I volunteered for the snack table at my son’s Field Day.  I was paired with another pregnant mom and in between handing out granola bars we discovered that we had the same due date. We were of similar height and weight but my belly was three times as big as hers. I took note.

At my next visit to the doctor I asked again to check for two heartbeats. There was still only one beat calling out through the mini speaker on his monitor. I could tell by the look on his face and the nodding of his head that he thought he had a hysterical twin pregnancy case on his hands.

“You are having your sonogram soon. You will finally get your definitive answer.”

The technician squirted the warmed clear jelly on my stomach. We engaged in small talk as she made notes in my chart and I recounted my hysterical twin pregnancy story. She laughed and said, “You’d be surprised how many women come here worried that I’ll find more than one baby. Let’s see what we have here.”

She turned and peered into the screen and stopped laughing.

Twins.