Decisions in an Ever-Changing World

I remember her telling me she had been a ballet dancer for many years. With her Eastern European accent of unknown descent, I used to imagine her as a prima ballerina with the Bolshoi Ballet. Her supple backbends, her steady balance and unwavering focus made it easy to fuel the story in my imagination. Later, I learned that she was a nurse practitioner who specialized in supporting new moms and their babies.

As the news broke of Putin’s invasion into Ukraine, I thought of this woman and several other of my yoga students who were immigrants from that part of the world. When she walked into my class last Wednesday afternoon, I was happy to see her. After class, she came up to me and shared that her sister had just given birth in Kyiv and was currently scrambling to safety with a newborn baby in a war zone. She talked about how Ukraine wasn’t perfect, but it was working towards democracy and trying to do the right thing. How the war was primarily hurting innocent civilians and how, in the commotion of evacuation, her sister had left her passport behind in Kyiv. She told me these stories not with tears in her eyes, but with a resolute calm that I imagined she used when reassuring nervous and overwhelmed mothers.

“I’m hoping to travel to Europe, somewhere, just so I can be closer to my sister in case she is able to escape.”

She thanked me for the class and added, “This class was the first time I’ve been able to fully breathe all week.”

Only hours earlier, I had been having a tense phone conversation with my manager from my other job at a local winery. My job at the winery tasting room had been my escape from my hours working in the weight room at the Y, subjecting myself to unruly teenagers and members who challenged our Covid guidelines daily. The winery gig seemed perfect—just three weekend days a month, fun atmosphere, great wine, good tips. I had friends who worked there, and I quickly grew to enjoy the convivial vibe and the chance to do something entirely new.

The phone call had come about after I had told my manager repeatedly that I was unable to attend a wine training that conflicted with my yoga classes. (A training that had not been required but strongly recommended.) Most of us at the winery held other primary jobs during the week, so this conflict was not unusual. She had called me to issue an ultimatum—find a way to attend this training or else. I dug in my heels, took a deep breath and explained again why I was unable do this. I asked if perhaps we could strike some sort of compromise, a solution that would work for all parties. No, there was no compromise, she told me. Figure out how to make this training work or else I will take you off the floor immediately and indefinitely. Tell your yoga clients that class is cancelled. Her words, punitive and dismissive. Her tone made me feel like a child who had just been scolded by an overbearing parent.

Even when I teach a yoga class, it forces me to be completely present. When I am teaching, there is no room for outside thoughts and worries. The hour I spend teaching is often as grounding and therapeutic for me as I hope it is for my students on their mats. I had no room for worry about that earlier phone call as I guided my class through its sequence.

With my Ukrainian student’s words still resonating in my head, I walked to my car after class and sat with my breath for a few minutes. I closed my eyes and said a prayer for her and her family and all the innocent humans in the crosshairs of war. As I drove back home, I felt no remnants of the stress from that earlier phone call. I talked with The Mister about what had transpired, and he supported my decision. I woke up the next morning and submitted my resignation from the winery, effective immediately.

There is a mantra that I often use when faced with difficult decisions: Go where the love is. I remembered this mantra as I came to my decision to leave the winery. I thought of this mantra as I heard my Ukrainian student’s plan to travel abroad to be as close to her sister as possible. Even amid the ugly uncertainty of war.

I have no illusions about why people come to my yoga classes. I know that plenty come because someone told them it would be good for them. Maybe it would help with their back pain, or anxiety, or tight hamstrings. Some, like I did at first, come to yoga because it’s kind of cool. A few of my students have shared with me things that their yoga practice has helped with—addictions, grief, recovery from childhood abuse, depression—and I am always honored and humbled to hear their stories. Their stories are what keep me committed to holding space for them and anyone who might need it, week after week. Teaching yoga isn’t rocket science and it might not change the world, but it sure as hell is important to me.

My manager at the winery never responded to my resignation email. I worried for a moment that perhaps she hadn’t received it until I noticed that I had been taken off the winery’s scheduling app. I wondered why she had felt a simple acknowledgment of my email was unnecessary.

I do not believe that everything happens for a reason. I believe that awful and horrific things happen to beautiful, innocent beings all the time and that we may never know why. But I do believe in the power of listening to a voice greater than our own. You might call it God or Allah or The Universe. I equate it to our gut instinct, intuition, that place of knowing without knowing. When my student shared that her yoga practice that day had returned her to her breath, it was a message from that still, quiet place within. The place that drowns out the noise of the world, that calms the external forces that pull us hither and yon, that place that brings us a slim sliver of peace.

That place that continually reminds us to go where the love is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surely It Was Shirley

She was a generation older than me—twenty years. Although she was old enough to have been my mother, she was far more of a beloved auntie, a cherished friend, the closest of confidants. I met Shirley at the YMCA in the first yoga class I ever took and then, two years later, she was there in the very first yoga class I taught. When I herniated a disc in my lower vertebrae early in my teaching tenure, Shirley volunteered to be my yoga model. She had a front-row seat to those seminal moments that propelled me towards a sure trajectory into the future.

Shirley died unexpectedly on May 21, 2020. It’s been a staggering loss that I still haven’t fully processed.

If you were lucky enough to be loved by Shirley, you knew it was an honor bestowed to few. Cynical, sarcastic and stubborn as hell, she erected a mighty fortress around her heart. For good reason—like many of us, she had been hurt and betrayed throughout the years. But if you passed the test and she found you trustworthy, you were given her full heartgift. Her heart that shimmered like late afternoon sunlight glinting off a pond. A heart that was yours for life. I believe it’s good and healthy to have those friends who tell you the hard truths–those things that you need to hear but are hard to say. I value those friends. But Shirley was the only friend I’ve ever had whose love was truly unconditional. She was unapologetically biased and loyal, Team Tracie all the way. If I needed a shoulder to bitch on, a sympathetic ear, a soft place to fall, Shirley was there to assure me that my instincts were right and that I was worthy. She always had time for me.

We spent our early years in coffee shops discussing backbends after yoga class, sipping Baileys around my bear tree at Christmas time, sharing stories about our families and our disillusion with physicians and faith and organized religion. When my mom died and I told Shirley about seeing a butterfly that I was so certain was my mom’s spirit visiting, she nodded knowingly. After all, she had shared with me that her own mother’s spirit would show herself as electrical disruptions—flickering lights, appliances that oddly stopped working and then began again. We laughed about and loved those mysterious signs from the Universe.

I took her for granted, as we often do with friends. When she and her husband moved to Las Vegas four years into our friendship, I was gutted. We had regular phone calls and I’d often suggest that I could fly down to visit her, but she seemed wary, telling me that she wouldn’t be able to visit The Strip or do much fun stuff with me. Her husband was a paraplegic and Shirley was his primary caregiver. As much as I insisted that I only wanted to hang out with her, I never felt like she gave me a green light to book that flight. I wanted to respect her wishes.

As the pandemic hit, I checked in with her, knowing that both she and her husband would be at greater risk. They were doing well, she told me cheerfully, staying home and keeping in touch with the grandkids via FaceTime and Zoom. It was in early spring of 2020 when she excitedly shared the news that she and her husband would be moving to the San Diego area to live with one of her daughters. She waxed on about how beautiful the house was, how it would allow them to have their private space, how it seemed almost like a resort. Her good news gave me a sense of relief. Finally, she would have more support and be able to rest. Over the years, I had noticed a troubling trend in our conversations—a constant fatigue, no impulse to do anything more than what was necessary. The Shirley I had known was vibrant and curious, with energy that defied her age. Her excitement about this fresh start was only dampened by the immensity of the impending move. There’s just so much to do, she’d sigh.

You always remember the moments you receive devastating news. The phone call, that text, the conversation that sharply delineates the time before and the time when nothing will ever be the same again.

Shirley had a heart attack. She didn’t survive emergency surgery. I had just returned home from donating blood when I got the text from her husband. I’m so sorry, he wrote.

She guarded her heart like a fortress, but it was her heart that ultimately betrayed her.

I like to call myself a Grief Ninja, but losing Shirley was a loss that unmoored me. I sobbed and grew angry. I bargained and asked “why”, all while imagining the utter heartbreak her husband, two daughters and seven grandkids must have been feeling. I bought condolence cards for her family but couldn’t find the words to write in them, so they sat, undelivered, on my dining room table.

I wanted to know why I hadn’t felt her around me. Of all people, I thought. After all our conversations. What little faith remained in me was quickly drained.

I joined a writing challenge later that month where we were to write 1000 words a day for two weeks. On the first day of the challenge, I sat at my computer and poured out my grief, my anger, my bitterness over Shirley’s death. I asked her where she was and why she hadn’t visited me. I cried until the screen was blurred by tears, forcing me to take a break. And then I wrote some more. Later that day, having felt purged of so much stagnant grief energy, I picked up the cards and carefully wrote my words to each of her daughters and her husband. After taking them to the post office, I felt a shift. Writing is a cathartic act.

That evening, I had just put the dog to bed and was brushing my teeth upstairs when I heard a piercing sound over the buzz of my electric toothbrush. I stepped outside the bathroom to hear our smoke detectors blaring. The Mister, my daughter and I frantically searched inside and out for any sign of smoke. We pressed the silence button, but to no avail. Finally, after what seemed like forever, the alarm abruptly stopped. Hearts pounding, the three of us breathed a nervous sigh of relief. I looked down from the top of the stairs to The Mister, who had just come inside after checking the exterior of the house. “I know this sounds crazy,” I prefaced, “but I’m pretty sure that was Shirley.” A wry smile crept over his face, and he nodded. Yep.

I swore I could hear Shirley laughing as I climbed into bed that night.

It was months later when our carbon monoxide detector began chirping early on a Saturday morning. I took it downstairs and wrestled the battery from the back to quiet the noise. The calendar on the kitchen wall reminded me of the day—December 12. It was Shirley’s birthday, her first since she had died. It’s easy to explain away, to be sensible, but I chose instead to let it comfort me. Since then, our smoke detector has mysteriously gone off just one other time—on May 29, the one-year anniversary of that evening when my toothbrushing was abruptly interrupted by the alarm. The credits were rolling from a movie The Mister and I had just finished watching when the alarm startled us into action. But there was no smoke, no apparent reason.

Just Shirley.

I’ve had countless conversations with friends and family about what happens after we die. I don’t believe in specific places like heaven and hell, but I want to believe there is something. Humans are energy. Science confirms that energy doesn’t disappear, but instead simply changes shape and form. The butterfly I saw after my mom died seemed so matter-of-factly her. The unmistakable odor of cigarette smoke The Mister and I smelled in our garage and hallway for weeks after my dad passed away. My dad, a lifelong smoker. The electrical disruptions that gave Shirley comfort and belief that her mother was nearby. Comfort in one’s grief is a good thing, so I’m holding on to that. If nothing else, comfort.

I’m writing this on December 12, Shirley’s birthday–her second since her death. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wait all day for a sign from her–a blip on the screen, a chirp of an alarm, a flicker of a lamp to assure me she’s still here. She’d hate to be so predictable, though, so I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t get what I was waiting for. My brother recently mused that although he believes our earthly spirit may linger for a bit in the ether, in that place between here and wherever our energy lands in the after, that eventually we move on.

Faith is much like our intuition. It’s a place of knowing without knowing. The truth is, no one knows. I simultaneously love and hate that.

So, as humans with vital, beating hearts, we move on as well. Our grief–just like our afterlife energy–changes shape and form. It ebbs and flows, startling us with its intensity at the most inopportune times. If you are mired in that web of grief, be it fresh or ancient, I see you. Immerse yourself in that which comforts you and may there be glimmers of peace as you walk through your grief.

And if you need me, you can find me over here, doing the same.

 

Dispatch from an Old Refrigerator

Last week, we finally took delivery of our brand new, sparkly, modern refrigerator. The one we purchased in May, but because of supply chain issues, yadda yadda yadda, we didn’t receive until now. It was worth the wait.

Our old fridge had been with us since we moved into our house, 26 years ago. It was a wonderful appliance, a dependable workhorse, the contents of which held countless meals cooked and shared over those decades. I don’t remember ever having to have it repaired and she was still going strong as we pulled her out last week.

When I told a few friends and family about getting a new model, some gasped in despair and asked, “What will you do with all those photos?” I hadn’t given it much thought, and answered, “Well, we’ll rip ‘em off and enjoy a clean slate of shiny stainless steel.” They seemed distraught and insisted that we find another way to honor those years of pictures, artwork, postcards and random magnets. A collage maybe? Shadowbox? Scrapbook? At parties and family gatherings, it was common for folks to stand and peruse the doors for new pics and reminisce about the old ones. Oddly enough, as I quickly stripped the old fridge clean on the morning of the new delivery, I felt little sentimentality. I was ready for that clean slate.

I have a friend who will often comment when I post pictures of my messy walk-in closet before I purged and cleaned it up, or my stack of beloved books perched precariously on my bedside table. “How can you live in that chaos?” she asks me. Her question has always felt a bit judgmental, and I thought of her as I looked at the “before” photo I had snapped of the fridge doors layered with memories. Messy. Chaotic. Disorganized.

Just like life.

Raising two kids, a dog and a couple cats in a marriage over twenty-plus years is chaotic. It is hard and dirty work. When I was in the throes of it, I never enjoyed those women who seemed to put a lot of energy into making everything tidy and pretty. While I always appreciate a good aesthetic, nothing trumps authenticity. Who wants to walk in and relax in a space that feels as sterile as a model home? Give me honest, quirky comfort any day of the week. God bless your mess and mine.

A few weeks ago, a dear friend came to visit from out-of-state. She and I had met when our sons were in kindergarten, and during those years when she lived nearby, we would frequent each other’s kitchen stools and counters. That night, I cooked dinner and we shared a bottle of wine, just like old times. The next day, over lunch and cocktails, she said, “You have no idea how much I have craved simply sitting in your kitchen with you as you cook, sharing a drink and laughs. I miss it so much.” Tears sprung in my eyes as she told me this. My kitchen is the heartbeat of my home, a reflection of all that I love, messy or not.

In a few months, we’ll be undertaking a big kitchen remodel. New cabinets, countertops, freshened floors and more. As someone whose love language is food and cooking for others, it’s something I’ve dreamed of for a long time, but was never in our budget until now. We’re at a point where the kids are moved out and the whole mess of us are all moving on to the next stage, whatever that might be.

And I’m ready for it–the blank slate, the gleaming fridge, the quartz and tile and everything new again. Those beloved photo memories tucked into a shoebox until I figure out what to do with them. But I already know the remodeled version won’t be better than the first—that heartbeat, that imperfect, outdated, messy, chaotic place where my family was raised and thrived, and where friends and all who gathered were loved and nourished for 26 years.

Not better, just different.

 

A Very Bad Good Friday

My sister died on Good Friday.

Late that same evening, in an attempt to distract myself from tending to my grief, I found myself googling, “What does it mean when you die on Good Friday?” According to Christian mythology, a person who dies on Good Friday gets a direct pass to Heaven. No reckoning, no bargaining with God, no judge and jury necessary. I laughed, which surprised me on such a sad day. You see, I don’t believe there are specific “places” called Heaven and Hell, but if there were, my sister Karen would surely get a FastPass to those pearly gates.

We humans tend to canonize those who die. We are quick to dismiss their earthly shortcomings and exalt them as saints. Most don’t deserve it, but a few do.

I was born the youngest of a family of seven. The surprise caboose at the tail end of a very long and drawn-out train of siblings. Family legend has told me the story of how my tired mother groaned at the thought of raising yet another child when she discovered she was pregnant at age 45. And how my sister Karen, already a young teenager, celebrated my birth, excited to have a new baby sister to fuss over.

My earliest childhood memories were with Karen. When our mom returned to full-time work not long after I was born, it was Karen who made sure I didn’t slip through the cracks. Late spring weekends spent feeding stale bread crusts to the ducks at Lake Steilacoom. Hazy summer afternoons on Spanaway Lake, taking a rowboat out for a paddle, followed by a picnic of tuna fish sandwiches and cream soda under the shade of tall fir trees. A special trip on my birthday to the downtown Tacoma Sears with its magical outdoor escalator to procure my very first pair of coveted navy blue salt-water sandals. Karen taught me how to count to ten in Spanish, French, German and Swedish. She took me to see “The Sound of Music” at an old downtown theater and earnestly sang the words to “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” as though she wrote the lyrics herself. And when she met and fell in love with her first serious boyfriend, she’d invite me to tag along with them, the three of us taking long, meandering drives in her gray Peugeot, much to her boyfriend’s chagrin.

I was a chubby, emotional child. Not especially cute, and prone to jealousy and crying jags that could come out of the blue. I often felt ashamed of my big, messy emotions and believed they made me hard to love. But Karen was my safe place, my soft place to fall. My Person. My surrogate mom in a family that I often felt swallowed up in. When Karen married that first boyfriend and quickly became pregnant with her first daughter–my niece–I watched my initial jealousy slowly morph into an understanding of the limitless capacity of the human heart to love.

Bad things happen to good people all the time. If there’s anything that makes me doubt my faith and the idea of karma, it’s that. From a rough first marriage to professional challenges to cancer diagnoses and so much more, Karen weathered more upheavals in her life than anyone deserves. “I don’t think my life has been any harder than anyone else’s,” she wrote after thanking us siblings for a gift of a long weekend getaway to the Washington Coast following her first round with cancer. What could often be mistaken for passivity was Karen’s quiet grace. I never once heard her complain or moan at the inequity of her life. Even as she struggled with the debilitating effects of chemotherapy and the ravages of cancer, she would shrug with a smile and comment, “Well, we all have to die someday.”

I was in my early twenties when Karen got me a job working beside her in the medical library at Rainer School in Buckley, Washington–a state institution for people with intellectual disabilities. She had always had a passion for helping special-needs children and adults and because of that, I quickly learned to see differently-abled people through a lens of acceptance rather than fear. We shared carpools and lunches and quiet afternoons cataloging medical journals and books. It was at Rainier where she met and fell in love with her second husband, Laurent. A natural-born mother with an enviable and instinctual sense of nurturing, she and Laurent went on to have two more daughters. Karen was never more alive than when she was mothering her children, and later, her grandchildren. Family was everything.

“You have a PhD in dying,” a friend texted me when learning of my sister’s death. She knew this past year had been rife with loss for me.

Dorothy. Marilyn. Shirley. Chuck. Bill. Ella. Liza. Tim. Karen.

Natural causes. Heart attacks. Cancer. Suicide. Stroke. No Covid, interestingly enough, but does it really matter? (No, it doesn’t.) They weren’t all catastrophic losses to me, but some were. My mother-in-law. One of my dearest, most beloved friends. Colleagues of mine from my television days. Another friend who tossed her head back as she laughed and called us “soulmates” just months before her death. My sister.

While I have you here, can we talk a bit about grief?

My yoga practice has taught me how to stay present in discomfort. My yoga practice and my losses have made me into a Grief Ninja.

Grief is not something to conquer. It is not an intimidating wall to scale, get over and be done with, but rather something we continuously move through for the rest of our lives. Sometimes it feels natural and effortless, as the floodgates open and the tears pour out after we first learn of the death. Inevitably, though, we encounter potholes and perilous cliffsides that stop us in our tracks. We timidly peer over, unsure we have what it takes to keep moving. It is hard, exhausting, vital work that does not follow a linear track. Human nature makes us want to stuff down, cover up, distract, deny, diminish and ignore the pain. The easy route is to abandon the process of mourning when the going gets tough. I get it–it’s messy and uncomfortable. Our grief will make others squirm. But here’s what I’ve learned: the losses we suffer stay with us, as does the accompanying grief. It won’t always feel so breathtakingly painful, but grief remains as it changes shape and form, flavor and intensity. To fully mourn someone’s death is to fully honor their life.

A non-exhaustive list of things NOT to say to someone who is grieving:

“They (the dead) wouldn’t want you to feel sad.” (This is especially egregious when the person telling you this never knew the deceased.)

“They’re in a better place.” (Really? Even if this is true, it doesn’t help to hear.)

“Don’t be sad it happened (the death), but smile because you knew them.” (Fuck the hell all the way off if you recite mindless platitudes you gleaned off the internet.)

“They’re walking with Jesus now.” (Don’t. Even if you know their faith. Just don’t.)

“Well, they lived a long life and they were old.” (Someone I considered a friend said this to me with a dismissive shrug after my dad died. My first significant loss. I don’t consider her a friend any longer.)

Instead, say this:

“I’m sorry.”

And, if applicable, “I love you.”

That’s it. Simple. To hold quiet space for someone in mourning is sacred work.

Our culture does not normalize death and dying. The dying are tucked away, often unseen. Have you ever seen a dead person? Not the artificially embalmed and displayed in an open casket, but a real dead person? An actively dying person can look withered and older beyond their years and it can be shocking to witness, if we’re not prepared. After the death, we are urged to “get over it” and applauded if we quickly pull ourselves up and out by our bootstraps and carry on as though nothing happened. I have long admired the Jewish custom of “Sitting Shiva”–a week long period of intentional mourning following a loved one’s death. During this time, family members traditionally gather in one home to receive visitors. The word “shiva” means seven, signifying the seven-day mourning period in which mourners are supposed to sit low to the ground. On the seventh day of Shiva, mourners conclude the practice by taking a walk around the block, symbolizing the return back to regular life.

As I write this, today is the eighth day following Karen’s death. Her first granddaughter, Poppy, was born the day before Karen died. Birth and death intermingling, teetering together on the razor-thin edge of life. I am not one of unwavering faith and conviction, but I like the idea that Karen and Poppy met somewhere in the In Between. I like to lean into the mysteries of life and death and the comfort it gives me.

My sister died on Good Friday. I don’t know what happens after we die, but I am confident that Karen would not have needed a free pass on Good Friday to ensure a positive transition into The Other. I wrote this to her for a birthday celebration her family threw for her just a few years ago:

“When I think of Karen, I envision her in shades of her favorite jewel tones—amethyst, sapphire and emerald green. She’s dancing and singing along to the soundtrack from “Candide” or maybe onstage with her family, creating a dance party for others. One thing I know for sure is this: in a world full of nondescript stones in muted shades of gray, Karen is that delightful surprise of a shimmering gem you uncover just when you least expect it. And if you’re lucky, she’ll make you a fantastic tuna fish sandwich.”

This one hurts. I’m gonna be sad for awhile.

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Fifty-Three (The Pandemic Body Issue)

ONE: BREASTS

Decades ago, when my kids were very young, I’d often be awake during the still, wee hours of the night. Maybe a stomachache or nightmare had roused a young toddler. Or perhaps I’d find myself gliding rhythmically in the rocking chair, fussy baby nestled in my arms, nursing them back to sleep. Sometimes I’d hear the roar of a car engine and screeching tires breaking the hushed peace of night. Warm summer evenings often brought roving bands of teenagers carousing along the suburban street just behind my backyard. They sounded drunk, but I couldn’t be sure. What I did know for sure was that ever since I became a mother, revving engines and squealing tires at 3:00AM now struck fear in my heart. I wondered about the parents–were they awake and worried about their kids? With both of my children safe and accounted for in our home, I was grateful to not have to worry. Even through the most sleep-deprived years, I appreciated those times of being up in the middle of the night with my children. Like everything else, I knew those times were fleeting.

We weren’t but a month into quarantine when my boobs began to ache. Reminiscent of those early breast feeding days when my milk ducts would plug and my boobs would throb with the angry heat of inflammation, I was startled. I changed bras, I self-examined for suspicious lumps and I talked endlessly about my sore boobs to my quarantine family. Googling my symptoms brought forth few answers and after one-too-many painful, sleepless nights, I called my doctor and scheduled a virtual office visit. After carefully listening to my complaints and asking a few follow-up questions, she deemed my symptoms “fascinating” and assured me that she didn’t think it was anything too alarming. She asked me about my quarantine, how my kids were and where they were living. She shared a common story of a post-menopausal woman who suddenly started her period again when her daughter was carrying her first grandchild. “Our emotions and hormones are powerful influencers in our physical health,” she told me, “and these are extraordinary times.” She wondered how much my worry about the pandemic and the welfare of my (now young adult) children played into how my body was feeling.

My daughter was in Seattle, finishing up her winter quarter at the University of Washington. My son had recently relocated to the Bay Area and was living in one of the first regions to go into full lockdown. Did I worry about them? Without a doubt–and then some. I remembered the horror of 9/11 and how grateful I was at the time to have my (then very young) children with me. Thankful that I could control their intake of scary information and be a steady, comforting presence. To be able to see their faces and know if they were okay or afraid. And now, how everything seemed to be slipping out of control.

My doctor offered me several paths to help resolve the ache in my breasts, beginning with a simple supplement that would help balance out my hormones. She reminded me to get my regular mammogram once clinics opened up again for routine screenings. I researched the supplement, read reviews and began taking it later that afternoon. Within three days, the searing pain in my boobs subsided. Within a week, it was completely gone and hasn’t returned.

 Breasts: Represents mothering and nurturing and nourishment. A refusal to nourish the self. Over mothering. Over protection. 

TWO: JAW

I blame my TMJ on the orthodontist I had as a young teenager with braces. Once the wires and brackets had come off and my teeth were straight and my smile dazzling, he outfitted me with a black, rubber mouthguard. He considered himself “cutting edge” and the bulky mouthguard was prescribed in place of the more traditional wire and acrylic retainer most kids wore after getting their braces off. I was to wear the appliance at home during the day, and then only at night for an indeterminate time. My teeth remained aligned and dazzling, but my jaw soon began to pop and click. Popcorn, bagels and gum would send me into a tailspin of jaw pain and headaches. A routine cleaning at the dentist was always followed up by vigorous self-massage of the muscles on the sides of my face. With time and a few different custom night guards, my jaw relaxed and my TMJ became a rare annoyance.

As quarantine marched on with no end in sight, I began to wake up with headaches. At first, it was just mild pain that would quickly diminish within an hour of waking. I’d rub my neck and do some yoga and be back to normal by breakfast. But rather than subsiding, the headaches ramped up significantly. I’d awake in the middle of night with such searing pain that I’d sit up on the side of the bed, not knowing if I would vomit or cry or both. With my hands cupping the sides of my face, I’d instinctively dig my thumbs into the thick fibers of my jaw and will them to release. I’d get up and stand under the strong jets of my shower and roll my neck back and forth, letting the water pressure discharge the tension. As severe as the headaches were upon awaking, by lunchtime they were usually gone.

So much of this pandemic has made me angry. The misinformation and mismanagement from our government. The loss of income and security, of no fault of my own. Hate and racism running rampant. The complete lack of control over so much. Constant anxiety and fear about getting sick, or unknowingly exposing others. The loss of hundreds of relationships that I had with the people I taught yoga to each week. Literally overnight, like a hundred little deaths all at once. How do you effectively grieve that? On the surface, I didn’t seem or feel outwardly angry. But at night, when so much of our subconscious creeps into that liminal dream space and lands in our bodies, I was mad as hell.

With a history of TMJ and teeth grinding, I’ve worn a night guard for years. I examined my old appliance, noticing wear and cracks in the plastic. In the midst of a pandemic, I knew I couldn’t see my dentist anytime soon, so I made an appointment with my chiropractor. I told him about my new puppy, Bear, and how I remembered being so angry when he wouldn’t stop nipping at my hand while trying to teach him to walk him on a leash. How in frustration, I unconsciously clenched my jaw and felt my teeth crack and crunch. My chiropractor chuckled and after a quick exam, confirmed that my jaw was a mess. He made his adjustments and sent me on my way. Relief was gradual but sure. The headaches disappeared, but I could still feel my jaw lock and pop out of joint when eating certain foods. A month later, I got another adjustment and this time, my chiropractor showed me an exercise to help strengthen and release the affected muscles. Like magic–or perhaps science–my jaw is finally pain free again.

Jaw Problems: Anger. Resentment. Desire for revenge.

THREE: BELLY

My emotions have always set up shop in my belly. Butterflies at the heady rush of new love. That queasy adrenaline before embarking on a new adventure. A sure feeling of knowing-without-knowing when I sense negative energy in a person, place or situation. The heaviness of dread when I’m worried about someone I love.

My belly and I have had a complicated relationship.

As a young woman with body dysmorphia and anorexia, I would often grab at the flesh of my belly, grasping it in my hand with disgust. Gross! I would exclaim to myself in the mirror. I learned this from being a woman. It’s what we do. I pushed down any and all feelings, especially hunger. Over the years, I successfully conditioned myself to not feel physical hunger and I wore that numbness like a badge of honor. My belly was a nuisance at best and the smaller, flatter and quieter I could make it, the better. Not only did I quash hunger cues from my belly, but I also discredited other messages it sent me–emotional hunger, gut feelings, fear, sadness, anger. I shut it down because shutting down is so much easier than feeling and dealing. The body is clever and wise, however, and shutting down only works for so long before things rise back to the top, sometimes in the form of dis-ease.

Yoga introduced me to a new relationship with my belly as well as the rest of my body and mind. It was a slow process–as most of yoga is–to relearn conditioned behaviors and beliefs. To be able to place my hand over the ever-changing rise of my stomach and feel love, trust, and appreciation rather than disgust. To take the time to ask it what it needs, to listen to what it is telling me. My heart ached with recognition when, in my yoga classes, I’d instruct my yogis to do the same and I’d see so many women unable to touch their bellies without frantically rooting around for protruding ribs and hip bones or other signs of being “thin enough.”

Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been aware of a constant ball of dread tightly tangled in the pit of my belly. With both The Mister and I unemployed for the past six months, I worry about the financial impact of all this unknown. I see my friends and family struggling with significant health issues and I worry about them, too. Every morning, I get up and wonder what I should do, what can I do and what I might need to release. When I wake up in the still, wee hours of the night and anxiety roils in my belly, I find comfort in my yoga practice:

Breathe in, breathe out. Inhale, exhale. I am safe. I am healthy, strong and resilient. I am open to moving in new directions and I can flex and adjust to my situation. 

The ball of dread often loosens and fades away.

I’m fond of telling people that even as a yoga teacher, I am not “woo-woo.” I insist that I don’t speak with flowery words or believe that essential oils have magical powers. I’m a straight-shooting, reality-rooted, sensible yoga teacher. Recently though, it was brought to my attention that while I might not be “woo-woo”, I am decidedly “woo.” Okay. I can deal with that.

If being “woo” means that I trust and respect the messages my body sends me, then so be it. If it means that I believe that our emotional health is unshakeably intertwined with our physical health, then hell yes I am “woo.” We humans don’t exist as two separate parts–brain, and then body. It’s all connected.

Stomach: Holds nourishment. Digests ideas. Dread. Fear of the new. Inability to assimilate the new.

EPILOGUE

A dear friend and I each have the same book on our nightstands. It is a small, thin volume that has become our mutual handbook for our physical and emotional health. Titled “Heal Your Body” by Louise Hay, we will often text each other when experiencing mysterious symptoms and ask each other if what we find in the book resonates with us. We don’t downplay the reality of serious disease or dismiss the importance of seeking traditional allopathic medical treatment. And we both agree that genetics and fate play a huge role in our health. We laugh at what we find in the book and then gasp at the truth it tells us. We take what the book says with a grain of salt and an open-minded air of curiosity.

Louise Hay writes:

I’ve learned that there are really just two mental patterns that contribute to dis-ease: fear and anger. Anger can show up as impatience, irritation, frustration, criticism, resentment, jealously or bitterness. These are all thoughts that poison the body. When we release this burden, all the organs in our body begin to function properly. Fear could be tension, anxiety, nervousness, worry, doubt, insecurity, feeling not good enough, or unworthiness. Do you relate to any of this stuff?

I do. Without a doubt.

I’m certainly no saint. I’ve done my fair share of numbing and avoiding during these last six months. Whether it’s enjoying too much bourbon or distracting myself with quarantine baking projects, sometimes I give myself the grace of imperfection. But be it a few hours or a few days, I always return to the practices that bring me back to myself–yoga, meditation, writing, adequate hydration, exercise and movement that feels life-affirming rather than energy-depleting.

You may have heard that these are extraordinary times. What is your body telling you?

 

 

 

 

The Practice of Pandemic

It’s Wednesday. Or is it Thursday? I blink open my eyes from a surprisingly satisfying sleep. A familiar ball of dread lays heavy in my belly until I remember my morning practice: I swallow and my throat feels fine. Check. I take a deep, full breath in and exhale slowly. Breathing, good. Check. All the usual aches and pains. Check. I’m in my house–my beloved home–with The Mister snoring on the other side of the bed, my daughter tucked in her room across the hall, my puppy still sleeping quietly in his crate. Check, check, check. I tell myself, today I’m okay. No, wait–I’m good. Really good, at least right now. And I feel the dread ball slowly loosen its grip and unravel.

Like a psychedelic acid trip, each day melts and morphs, warping into the next, with no work or yoga or schedule to keep the boundaries intact. My responsibility is so simple: just be. And it’s not easy at all.

I find comfort in consistency. I get up at about the same time every day, usually between 6:00 and 7:00, before the puppy fusses and the rest of the family wakes up. The cat mews her insistent greeting and guides me to the laundry room where I feed her and scratch her head reassuringly. The coffee brews, the water bowls are freshened, then the dishwasher is emptied. I wipe down countertops and spritz lemon-scented Lysol on doorknobs and light switches and faucet handles. I like the citrusy smell it leaves behind and it makes me feel as if I’m doing something. Anything.

Grasping for control where there really is none.

Roomba is set to work and the cat skitters away. The whir and buzz of Roomba at work, sucking up the gritty remains of the previous day, is both satisfying and grating on my nerves. I dance out of her path right before she touches my feet as I go about my morning routine, convinced that it is bad luck if she bumps into me. Some days it feels as if she is chasing me, challenging me and my strange superstitions. I laugh at myself but also move quickly so that I’m not proven right.

I settle down at the office desk with my coffee at my left wrist and the cat on her back on the carpet just to the side of me, asking for a belly rub. In between sips I reach down and swirl her silky black and white fur as she chirps her approval and demands more. Quickly glancing at the news headlines on my home page, I move on to Facebook. Scroll, scroll, scroll. I slip past the alarmist articles full of statistics and predictions, send a birthday greeting or two, “like” all the dog and pretty nature photos and check for messages. Facebook is a habit I’m trying to limit, much like my two bourbon-rocks each night. Neither sits easy in my stomach after too much indulgence.

Every few days or so, I find a message from one of my yoga peeps. Teaching yoga now feels foreign and miles away after guiding weekly classes without pause for fifteen years. Reading their words of love and appreciation makes me feel warm and hopeful. Sometimes, I cry. I ask myself how can I guide anyone else when I’m struggling to find the path myself?

A memory pops into my brain: I’m sitting cross-legged on a cork yoga block on my mat on the fashionably-stamped-and-glossy heated concrete floor of a cavernous yoga studio in Park City, Utah. It’s the second day of a three-day workshop and my teacher is leading us in our morning meditation. My eyes flutter open and closed until I settle into my breath and my seat. My teacher drones on, his nasal-y voice beginning to grate on my nerves. My mind drifts and I wonder if he’s making his voice more annoying on purpose. Just be, I implore myself. I make it through a few more breaths before the thoughts clamor in again. Ohmygod could he just shut the fuck up, I scream inside. My right eye cracks open and I see one of his assistants catch my gaze before I quickly snap it shut again. By now, I’ve lost the rhythm of my breath and my shoulders are inching towards my ears. Can you simply be with yourself, as you are, right here? my teacher asks again. Fuck no, I want to scream.

It’s so simple.

I log out of Facebook much sooner than the day before and give myself a quick kudo or two for such discipline. Facebook, in particular, has become a minefield of triggers for me. I feel its pull throughout the day but I’ve learned it is no better for my mental health than a diet of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food is for my physical well-being. But like Ben & Jerry’s, sometimes I allow myself a spoonful or two. Moderation is key.

I get my puppy, Bear, up and out of his crate and get ourselves ready for our morning walk. Bear, like me, thrives on consistency, and he systematically pads through the house, room by room, stuffed puppy resolutely clenched in his mouth, making sure all is well in his home. Make no mistake, Bear is our protector.

Our governor has closed all state beaches. Friday was Bear’s and my beach day. I had taken him to the beach every Friday morning since he was able to safely ride in the car. I miss the water. I miss the ritual of exhaling the week with Bear amidst the driftwood and the gulls and our seal friends. Bear had grown to love the beach, even though he isn’t much of a water dog. I miss the water. I miss our ritual. I wonder if Bear does, too.

“I don’t think you fully thought out this decision,” remarked The Mister during one of our heated disagreements soon after I adopted Bear. I laughed and said “Since when have I not overthought every single thing in my life?”

The truth is, he was probably right. Adopting and raising Bear has taken a huge amount of time and patience. But I’ve never regretted my decision. Bear is both a distraction and an exercise in being present. Dogs live in the here and now, not in a world of “what ifs” and “worst case scenarios.” Bear keeps me grounded, keeps me healthy and moving, and reminds me to pay attention. He shows me how to simply be here now.

It’s so simple. Just be here now.

Things I miss the most: beaches, live music, the community of the Y, sharing drinks with a friend in a darkened dive bar. Seattle. La Push. Planning. Oh, how I miss planning!

A few years before the Park City workshop, I attended my first weekend yoga workshop with my teacher at a community center on Mercer Island, Washington. I had been practicing yoga for five years and teaching yoga for about two. I knew just enough to think I knew it all. The Friday evening introduction and practice had felt familiar and good. I rolled out my mat Saturday morning feeling confident and strong, and the first few Sun Salutations eased any residual stiffness from the night before. Before long, the temperature in the large conference room began to rise, degree by degree, inching steadily towards ninety. My baggy, cotton t-shirt was soon soaked and heavy with sweat, which poured down my face in nonstop, salty rivulets, stinging my eyes. About an hour into the practice, I glanced over at my friend and we exchanged weary smiles. The class continued on and on and my mind went into overdrive. I can’t. I just can’t. How much longer? I dropped to my knees into Child’s Pose, trying to slow down my runaway breath and calm my mind. I’d get up and make it through a few more sequences, then collapse again. I found myself getting angry and thinking about leaving, shouting to myself this isn’t what I signed up for! Feeling fatigued and defeated, thoughts raced through my brain. I’m a fraud. I have no business doing yoga, let alone teaching yoga. By the time we moved onto our backs for some longer stretching and twists, I had composed my resignation letter to the Y in my mind.

Three hours after we began, I laid back into Savasana, our final resting pose. There was not a dry spot left on my body and whatever modesty I thought I’d have by wearing a baggy t-shirt was lost as it clung to every curve and contour like a flirty bathing suit. The tears came, first as a trickle, then like rushing rivers down the sides of my face. Sweat and tears mingling into a messy tributary, soaking my towel and the mat beneath me.

Exhausted and spent. Exhilarated, wrung out, wobbly yet firmly grounded. Stronger than I ever believed. Changed.

Bear and I had a rotating list of places we would visit for our walks each day. One by one, each has been temporarily closed. First the beaches, then, last week, the trails at Brightwater. As Bear and I approached the trailhead, I saw the small notice announcing the closure taped to a wooden post. My chest tightened. My memory flashed to the feeling of the heat and humidity steadily increasing in that conference room on Mercer Island. How I felt like I couldn’t breathe. How I had no control.

Be here now. You are stronger than you think.

Things I don’t miss: traffic, crowds, always feeling like I’m not doing enough.

Things that help: walking, nature, yoga, Bear. Cooking and baking and feeding my loved ones. Writing.

I live in the suburbs but close to the country, so after our morning walk, Bear and I often take a drive. With the windows open, we dip down into the valley where the berries and corn and pumpkins will grow and Bear sticks his head out into the wind. I see him in my side view mirrors and take in his reflection: seemingly blissful, eyes closed, nose up, taking in sensory information. Horses, goats, dogs, fertilizer. We pick a different route each time, sometimes stopping for a drive-through coffee and treat before finding our way back home. Pulling into our garage, he perches his front paws on the center console beside my seat and licks my face.

A dear friend messages me the news of their partner’s cancer diagnosis. A family member shares their journey through aggressive chemotherapy treatments. I hear about a co-worker from my television days who suffered a major stroke. Memorials and funerals are postponed. Life and death and grief go on regardless.

Can you simply be with yourself, as you are, right here and now?

The day moves on–predictably, consistently, fortunately, thankfully. I struggle a bit, then I don’t. I check in on friends and family, share funny texts with others and compile a list of shows and movies to watch. I plan healthy, comforting meals. I cook a lot and clean a little. What day is it? I often ask whomever happens to be in the room.

I am heartened by announcements of performances and shows rescheduled for summer and fall, some of which I had tickets for. In those, I find hope.

Nothing lasts forever.

Often, towards the end of the yoga classes I teach, we go into backbends. Backbends, which ask our legs to be strong, even though they tremble. Backbends, which expose our vulnerability, our soft underbellies, our fragile hearts. As their teacher, I have the privilege of witnessing my yoga peep’s faces of exhaustion, of not believing they can as I cue them into backbend after backbend. Breathe! I implore. Breathe strong and loud enough so that the person next to you can hear you and by doing so, you just might help them find their breath. Time after time, I see these tired, doubting yogis ground down into the muscles of their legs and triumphantly rise up. Watching this sends shivers down my spine. Humans beings, resilient and strong.

You are so much stronger than you believe.

And really, it’s so simple. Our only responsibility is to be here now, without fast-forwarding into the fear of the unknown. I know it’s not easy, but when you lose your breath and lose your way–because we all do–I promise that I will breathe for you until you can find your breath and your way again.

Breath in, breath out. Day in, day out. We will be changed. We will be stronger than we ever imagined.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Fifty-Two

First, a word about this blog: two years ago, with the intention of honing my writing chops, I decided to create and publish this Three Things blog each Sunday with a commitment to see it through one full year. And it worked quite beautifully, I’m proud to say. My writing got better, but not necessarily easier. It was hard, as good things often are, and I began to feel the familiar strain of burnout. Writing this blog had become my second job, a job that took up most of my weekends and didn’t pay me one cent. The postings dwindled and I stopped short at Issue Fifty-One, one week shy of my one year goal. 

Like a college student who drops out with one quarter to go to finish their degree, I gave up. Hey, look at me and my cheeky self-sabotage!

So, after some soul-searching and a week of incredible experiences that made me go “hmmm”, along with a few deep conversations with friends who shine a light on my shadows, I’m firing up my blog and hammering out at least one more post. 

In other words, I’m getting out of my own way. 

ONE: PROM QUEEN

High school was not my jam. 

High school was a place I needed to pass through in order to get on with my life and by the time I was 16, I was ready to live. Cheerleaders and homecoming, football games and prom held little interest for me. My classes were uninspiring and my grades were okay and I loved creative writing class, but I found my true refuge and My People in dark clubs and concert venues amidst the clatter and din of pulsating bass lines that shook my heart. My best friend and I started working with local bands, pulling cable and lugging equipment cases, emerging from empty high school gyms and clubs the morning after, covered in a salty sheen of sweat and the smell of duct tape on our hands. I dreamed of becoming a recording engineer or music producer. 

Music saved me.

After high school, I studied television production and broadcasting–the brightly colored knobs, buttons and lights on the production switcher were intoxicating to me and reminded me of the sound and light boards I was familiar with in the music business. My days were filled with TV school, my nights were spent catching local bands around Seattle and I filled the rest of my time sewing most of my “club clothes”–velvet mini skirts, leopard-print shirt dresses, and stretchy, form-fitting dresses I paired with vintage coats and shoes scavenged from thrift stores. I was a hair model at a trendy downtown salon, sporting all manner of spikes. And I had given full reign to my anorexia by this time, so that when I stepped into the dark nightclub in my tiny, velvet mini skirt, I felt like the belle of the ball–the bands knew me and I knew them. I felt seen and important. Loved, even. Validation that didn’t exist in the hallways and classrooms at my high school.

The attention fed me in a way food never could. 

“Boy crazy” was what my mom liked to call me as she rolled her eyes dismissively. My sister teased that I couldn’t possibly have a deep thought in my head. All I knew was how much I loved the way my heart quickened and my belly fluttered and how time seemed to stop when I was in the throes of the thrum of loud music, bright lights and crazy, sexy band boys. And kissing. Kissing was my jam. 

I wound up marrying a boy from a band and going on to work in film and video post-production, still turning knobs and dials, studying scopes and monitors, even working on a few music videos during Seattle’s grungiest heydays. I had kids, raised a family, started teaching yoga. I stopped going to clubs. And in the midst of it all, I lost myself. 

I missed the clatter and din. The way I could be pressed up against sweaty bodies of strangers I had no expectation of, nor them of me, and experience the music together, but separately. A friend recently remarked how it was the perfect outlet for my introverted self–to be together with others and the collective energy, but I could remain as unseen as I chose to be.

Reconnecting with a friend from my music days reconnected me to music. We became each other’s partner-in-crime and dove back into the gritty clubs and a brand-new music scene. And it was in that new-found scene that I discovered the band Chk Chk Chk. (Or, !!!) I even wrote about them here, in my very first issue of my Three Things blog. In that blog post, I mentioned the lead singer, Nic Offer, and wrote about fantasizing about having his baby. He drips with an overt and oozey sexuality that I (and many others) find delightful and I quickly came to refer to him as Baby Daddy. If you were my friend, you knew exactly who Baby Daddy was. 

No one was surprised that I snapped up tickets to both their Seattle and Portland shows when their latest tour was announced. I booked an Airbnb within walking distance of the venue in Portland, convinced another friend to come along for the fun and counted down the days. I listened to their new release, Wallop, nonstop and made my friends promise to not let me leave the shows without meeting Baby Daddy. 

How quickly we lose passion as we get older, if we’re not careful. 

The day of their Portland show was sunny and brisk, a clear, bluebird sky adding a lovely contrast to the red and yellow leaves falling from the trees. After a three and a half hour drive down from Seattle, I told my friend I would likely nap once we got to our Airbnb, but stretching our legs to take a walk for a cocktail and an early dinner won out. We had just turned down the street the venue was on when I noticed someone leaning up against a lamp post. My eyes were drawn to the red pants and then up to the messy mop of curls but it wasn’t until we had passed that I recognized the face. Baby Daddy was leaning up against the light post, ear buds in, listening to something on his phone. Without a word to my friend, I turned and approached him, getting his attention. He looked surprised and then relieved when I said “I am such a big fan.” He laughed and commented that he was worried I was going to ask him for directions. The three of us chatted casually, me trying to play it cool with my heart beating out of my chest, that familiar and intoxicating flutter deep in my belly, my extroverted friend thankfully not referring to him as “Baby Daddy” and me finally asking if I could snap a photo with him. “Of course,” he said with a smile.

Pictures or it didn’t happen. 

We squeezed ourselves up front with the hardcore Chk Chk Chk fans as the synth line of the opening track of their latest release began to pulse. I spilled my drink. Baby Daddy bounded out in his shorts and sneakers and for the next 90 minutes, time stopped. It is a wild, in-your-face, nonstop ride of funky beats at a Chk Chk Chk show and Baby Daddy works the crowd like no other performer I’ve seen. He flashed a smile of recognition my way and my knees weakened. I felt seen and it was electric. Later on, he jumped into the crowd and we danced. Baby Daddy and I danced together! The show ended long before I was ready. 

Giddy and still slightly drunk, my friend and I stumbled back to our Airbnb. We both agreed it couldn’t have been a more perfect day.

The following day was all about recovery. Yoga, water, ice, walking to loosen up cranky knees. I had another show tomorrow. I tweeted out to the band a request to play my favorite song from their new release, a song they hadn’t played in Portland. The venue retweeted it. I thought nothing more of it. 

The Crocodile seemed far more crowded than the club in Portland and I worried about getting close enough. Squeezing, shifting, shuffling my way towards the front, I finally found a spot to claim. Next to me, a big guy sporting a large, white cowboy hat. I turned to my friend and made a snarky remark about “the yee-haw who thinks it’s a good idea to wear a cowboy hat to a show.” 

The familiar synth line got the excitement building and I caught a glimpse of Baby Daddy behind the curtain, getting ready to explode onto the stage. Maybe it was because it was Wednesday instead of Monday, maybe it was because they had played a set at KEXP earlier in the day, but the band’s energy was off the charts that night at the Crocodile. The crowd–even the guy in the cowboy hat–went crazy and we all went hard and crazy together, especially when Baby Daddy gyrated his signature dance moves right in front of our faces. I looked up, caught his eye and another smile. Seen. Electric. Flutter and breath. Three songs in and Baby Daddy grabs the cowboy hat and puts it on and does a little improvised choreo with the hat before handing it back to the guy standing next to me who suddenly now has a bit more cred in my eyes. And I felt bad about the snarky comment. 

It was a bit later in their set when they stopped to introduce their next song. “This next song is for, yes–I think this next song is for you” as Baby Daddy spun around and pointed directly at me. My heart stopped and I pointed to my chest and mouthed the question me? as I looked behind to check for someone else. Just then, a sloppy-drunk girl bounded up beside me shouting “Me! Me! Me! It’s my birthday! It’s for me!” and I thought, oh no, not today, sweetheart. Today, it was for me. Unmistakably me. The song began and Baby Daddy came right over and we sang the first line or two to each other. He ran off, jumped off the stage and into the crowd and everyone around me cheered and gave me high-fives. The guy with the cowboy hat handed the hat to me and shouted, “you need to wear this–this is YOUR song!” and I gamely put the hat on and did a little hat dance in the spirit of it all. I lost sight of Baby Daddy in the crowd but suddenly heard his voice in my right ear, “It was you, right?” before seeing a flash of pink and white plaid shorts climb back on stage. My friend, who was just behind me, got my attention and said that Baby Daddy had tried to talk to me.

It was me, alright.

The show went on, time stood still, sweat soaking through all the layers of my clothing. Last song, encore, too soon. I wasn’t ready. Baby Daddy ran across the length of the stage, blowing kisses to the adoring, cheering crowd. He came back to the side I was on, reached out and grabbed both of my hands. Our eyes connected and I smiled broadly, feet still floating on cloud nine. A moment in time.

Seen. Electric. Powerful. Human.

I remember locking eyes with Prince when I saw him at the Showbox on the last tour of his too-short life. A chill ran down my spine then as it did now.

The house lights came up and I laughed with some of the other Chk Chk Chk fans around me, sharing in the electricity of the evening. My friend found me and wrapped me in a tight hug for a long time. “Tonight, I was the Prom Queen, wasn’t I?” I whispered in his ear. “Yes! You were the Prom Queen!” he assured me. 

As we filed out of the Crocodile, I overheard some rumblings of an after party. I knew it was the band’s last show on the west coast before they headed back east. I wanted to give Nic a hug and just tell him thank you, but I also didn’t want to chance ruining the magic of the evening by wishing for too much. And I didn’t want to be creepy. I texted my daughter the news and she texted back that I, indeed, had just had the best “next-level-concert-experience ever.”

It’s nice when I can still impress the kids. 

A prom queen in a cowboy hat. A random tweet. A chance meeting by a light pole on a Portland street on a sunny fall day. I don’t know if Baby Daddy knew what he was doing when he dedicated that song to me–if he knew he was placing that sparkly tiara on my head and draping the sash around my shoulders. But I do know that I’ll be mostly referring to him as Nic now. Not because we’re chummy besties and certainly not because I’d ever be opposed to the idea of having his baby (because I’ll always entertain that fantasy) but because somehow along the way he became beautifully human. As his and my eyes connected, he became Nic. 

Seen. Electric. Powerful. A motherfucking Prom Queen. 

Thanks, Nic.

TWO: PASSION

How quickly we lose passion as we get older, if we’re not careful.

I clearly remember the Pampered Chef party I attended when my daughter was in preschool, along with a gaggle of housewives and neighborhood moms. We sat in a circle, catalogs on our laps, and took our turn answering the ice-breaker question, “What is your passion?” My mind spun, trying to think of the best one, my biggest passion, the one thing that gave me all the goosebumps above everything else. I listened as one by one, the women would shrug nonchalantly and say “my family?” It was my turn and I answered “music” and went on to talk about the chills and thrills I got listening to music and how everything else seemed to disappear when seeing a live show. How I never felt more alive than when experiencing live music. My answer was met with blank stares and judgement because obviously, I was an abysmal wife and mother and I had given the wrong fucking suburban mom answer. (But I left with an awesome spatula.)

Those were not My People. 

In my work as a Wellness Coach, I meet with dozens of people each year who come to my office for guidance in healthy living. When I ask them, “what do you love to do?” they look at me like it’s a trick question. Like they’re supposed to say running or working out or eating kale. I tell them, no, really. What lights you up? More often than not, they struggle to answer. 

When do we decide we’re too old? Or do we let someone else decide that for us?

When I began going back to shows at clubs, I got all the questions. Don’t you feel weird? Out of place? Too old? Nope, I didn’t. Not at all. And I don’t let anyone convince me I should.

What is it for you? Art? Politics? Hiking? Find museums and causes that you believe in and hiking groups to help you navigate the trails. Intentionally surround yourself with passionate people who expand your universe, rather than shrink it with talk of shoulds and should nots. Passionate people have a light in their eyes and tend not to worry what other folks think. 

“She feels in italics and thinks in capitals” reads the tattoo on my right forearm. Fuck yes.

I encourage the members I meet with to just keep moving. But I want to tell them it’s so much more than that. That finding a passion, and then living passionately, with curiosity and an open mind for learning is just as vital to staying young as exercise is. This much I know is true. 

Find something that makes time stop for you. Find something that makes your heart pound and your knees go weak and maybe you even stumble and take a slow-motion (slightly drunk) tumble to the sidewalk as you reach for the kitty who slunk out of the bushes to surprise you on your walk home. 

Just make sure you have a friend nearby who can help you up and laugh about it in the morning. 

THREE: WRITING

The moment we begin to create our art with someone else in mind–such as an audience–our art dies. 

On our drive home, my friend on the Portland adventure asked me about my writing. I admitted the thought of me writing repulsed me. Like, physically made me want to barf. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but I stopped writing when I started wondering what other people wanted to read. I began to worry endlessly about getting drafts and essays edited and good enough for submission. What were they looking for? Was I even good enough? I couldn’t possibly be good enough. 

She kept asking questions (because she’s like that) and I told her that my writing was as essential to my well-being as exercise and eating vegetables. That I didn’t feel well if I wasn’t writing. What if, she mused, you started writing just for yourself again? Without the expectation of anyone ever reading your words? What if you wrote what you–just you–wanted and needed to read? 

Her question wasn’t earth-shattering, or one I hadn’t heard before. But it landed in me in a way that, this time, made me stop. What if? What if I wrote just for myself? I know how easy it is to get caught up in the likes and the shares and the retweets and the comments. How social media muddies the waters of creativity and perpetuates unhelpful comparisons. I needed to unplug from that cycle. I am making a promise to myself to keep writing, but with the intention of only writing what I want to read. For my eyes only, at least for now. Maybe it results in a lovely personal journal or maybe an awesome book for all to read someday, somewhere. The important thing is that it doesn’t fucking matter.

I write because it is who I am. 

So, here it is, Issue Fifty-Two of Three Things. One full year of weekly blogs, done. The circle complete, ironically beginning with Chk Chk Chk and ending with Chk Chk Chk. (Hey, thanks Nic.)

I couldn’t have planned it any better. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Thing: Requiem for Max

It’s been just over 48 hours since my dog died. By the time you read this, it will have been even longer. I spent the first 24 hours after he died still hearing his familiar cough, the clickity-clack of his nails on the hardwood floor, his breathing as he waited for me to make my way downstairs in the morning.

Mourning is funny and the human brain plays tricks on us.

I know grief well and this grief is sharp and stabbing and makes me want to vomit. It’s not constant, but when it hits, I can’t breathe. My eyelids are swollen and the skin on my face feels taut from the salt of my dried tears. And then life goes on–errands and work, grocery-store checkers who ask me what fun plans I have for the weekend. Inside my head, I plot my answer just to snap them out of their chipper mindlessness–oh, just going home to put away more of my dead dog’s things and maybe go upstairs to wrap myself in a blanket to sob and grieve a little more. I might throw up. You? Instead, I tell them, not much.

I once compared the types of grief to a salsa bar. This is habanero level.

In texts to trusted friends, I shamefully whisper, I feel like this is harder than when my mom died. Is that weird? They assure me that it isn’t. That I’m not a horrible person because they’ve felt the very same way. I’m careful not to share this with people who will tell me he was just a dog. An old dog.

For nearly 16 years, Max was a daily presence in my life. Every day, all day long, he was there. And not just there but deeply connected to all of us in our family. We were his pack and I was the Alpha. Together we won the Top Dog award in puppy class. Together we logged miles upon miles on the trails in the woods behind our house, explored the park that was eventually built, chasing butterflies and wild bunnies along the way. We looked out for bears in early spring and bobcats in the summer. He showed me how to joyfully leap over the awful garter snakes laying wait in our path but I always turned around and went back the other way. If Max thought I was a coward, he never let on. Instead, he’d simply shrug and follow me back. He always followed me back.

We like to talk about unconditional love when it comes to our children and partners, but I’ve never experienced the truly unconditional love like Max had for me and I for him. Grouchy, tired, annoyed and impatient–my many colored moods didn’t faze him. He loved me beyond measure, sometimes to a measure I was not deserving of. One of my yoga teachers often captions photos of her dogs with the hashtag, #dogisgodspelledbackwards. I wonder if dogs and their unflinching love and loyalty are the embodiment of god on earth. They are here to teach us about love.

Love is all there is.

Max knew the powerful medicine of a lively romp through nature, how both of us would return home breathless and centered in a way even the best yoga class couldn’t touch. He joyfully splashed through deep, muddy puddles in winter as I tentatively tiptoed around them, only to lose my balance and land both feet directly in the murky depths of the thick, wet mess. Patiently waiting for me on the other side of the puddle, he seemed to say, you have to go through the muck, not pussy-foot around it, silly!

The only way out is through.

As my kids grew up and left for college, Max was there to console me. As The Mister’s work continued to take him away and out of town for weeks at a time, Max stayed with me. Max was by my side as I ventured out on my first solo weekends away to cabins in the woods that grew into spending days and days playing together at the ocean’s edge.

Just he and I. Me and Max. A girl and her dog. My constant companion in a sea of change.

The last few months have been hard to endure. Watching my best friend struggle to walk, feeling his bony hips and shoulders poke through his still-thick coat. The morning after Christmas, I awoke before the sun and packed myself and Max into my Prius, driving us both to the beach in Mukilteo. His bones and joints ached so much that he no longer wanted to lay down on his bed in the back of my car. As I carefully descended down the hill towards the water, Max lost his balance and became awkwardly lodged between the front seats. His breathing labored almost immediately and I worried he was getting crushed. I pulled over and managed to hoist him up and out. I sat back in my car and sobbed. December 26 was the last day we spent at the water–Max excitedly trotting from smell to smell, raising a leg to mark tufts of beach grass here and there, giddy to see crows and gulls and other early-risers.

We should all be so fortunate to die such a peaceful death. Surrounded by those who love us the very most, stroking our arms, massaging our scalp as we relax and go to sleep one last time. To spend our final days on earth immersed in our favorite things–one last trip to the woods, as many cheeseburgers as we want, a cocoon of love wrapped tight around us. To have delayed this death any longer would have been selfish. Knowing this doesn’t make the sting and ache of his passing hurt any less.

Nearly 16 years ago, on a Saturday in September, we were the first people at the shelter to set eyes on this litter of pups. Max and his three siblings, all a mix of Golden Retriever and Australian Shepherd. As we were led towards the pen the puppies were in, Max stood out as the only one with a golden coat and a spray of freckles over his snout and along his white socks. I walked right up to the gaggle of squirmy pups, pointed to Max and proclaimed, I want you. Done. There was no discussion.

On that day, my daughter was four years old and a bit intimidated by such wild, frisky animals. My son, a slightly more confident nine-year-old. I was a stay-at-home mom and not yet a yoga teacher. The Mister, unconvinced we were ready to undertake such a formidable task. We filled out the adoption paperwork and left the shelter to shop for crates and leashes, toys and treats. We lunched on burritos and quesadillas at Taco Time, excitedly debating names and finally agreeing on “Max”. The next day, I picked him up from the shelter, clutching his soft, sweet puppy body on my lap as I carefully steered the minivan home.

The five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

Right now, I’m hovering somewhere in the bargaining stage. Just bring him back, a voice inside me pleads. Just bring him back.

Today, the hole in my heart is massive and raw, with jagged edges that may never fully knit back together again. To those who encourage another dog right away, I say no. Not yet, because I need to sit in the space between–this emptiness–without rushing to fill it up again. To be present in this place of discomfort, as I often encourage my yoga classes. It’s not even close to comfortable discomfort. It fucking hurts like hell. It’s a small price to pay for the love we were so freely given.

Love is all there is.

The only way out is through.

Impossibly sad but forever changed. Send love and whiskey.


Max, the Best Dog in the World.
Max at Cannon Beach.
Just a girl and her dog.

Three Things, Issue Fifty-One

ONE

As soon as I open my eyes, a feeling of dread descends like the thickest ooze sliding down from my consciousness and drapes like a black blanket around my heart. This particular dread, it’s a familiar sensation–one that reminds me to call my endocrinologist and get my thyroid levels checked. When my thyroid hormones dip low–as they are prone to do–even the cheeriest news or the most potent antidepressant won’t touch the darkness. It feels heavy and hopeless, thick and unwieldy. A quick blood test, a tiny tweak in my medication is often all it takes to shift from dread to okay-ness. And yet I’ll likely put it off until later.

As soon as my feet hit the bedroom floor, my knees pop and moan but I remind myself how good it is to be able to walk. A full year has passed with ragged, torn meniscus in both knees. Some level of pain is always present, but I can still walk miles and I’m strong as dirt. This is a conversation I often I have with myself–it’s not that bad, it could be so much worse, just suck it up and get on with your day. It’s a coping mechanism that keeps me from actually moving forward to resolution and healing. It serves me well in my practice of avoidance. I bitch about my stress levels to a close friend and he comments that maybe I haven’t been exercising as much as I used to in light of my sad, crackly knees. You know, exercise is a stress reducer he reminds me, the yoga instructor. His words make me stop in my tracks and chuckle. We all have our blind spots. Just now, I pause my writing long enough to open the email window and type out a request for a referral to yet another orthopedist.

I hate appointments. I hate having to be anywhere at a specific time, aside from work. Just last week, I scheduled a massage–a massage!–and spent the week dreading having to get up and out on my day off. I shudder at the sound of my privilege.

The LIVESTRONG participants I work with tell me of surrendering their lives to doctor appointments. The loss of control. The woman at the head of the conference room table talks about having to juggle four appointments in one day and how her life is effectively suspended in this new, scary limbo-land of scans and blood tests and meetings with specialists. Her team, she calls them. I sit and listen and hear the fear and resignation and make a mental note to schedule my annual mammogram that I’ve neglected for two years. Oh, and that colonoscopy.

I am grateful and privileged and humbled by life. And I need to make a few appointments.

TWO

When you lose someone you love to suicide, the entire year is colored by that loss.

I was in a hurry to kick 2018 to the curb, as if on one, specific day I would turn the page and enter a whole new reality. Much like cracking open a new book, a happier tale I could immerse myself in and leave the grief of the old story behind. 2019 has got to be better! was the battle cry. And then I happened upon a social media post from the father of the young woman who took her own life earlier that year. He wrote of all the “firsts” without Ellie and how, as painful as the year had been, he was hesitant to turn the calendar to a new year. 2019 will be the first year without Ellie in it, he reflected. At least she had been alive in 2018. At least there was that. It was hard to let go, to move forward into a new calendar year, even amidst the unrelenting sorrow.

I think of that every time I scroll through my direct messages on Instagram. Instagram tells me exactly how many weeks have passed since Ellie and I last shared our silly conversations and her requests for baked goods every time I posted a photo of a batch of cookies or a loaf of carrot cake with cream cheese icing on the side. I made her that carrot cake right before she died.

Forty-two weeks.

Sometimes I go back and look at her Instagram account, brimming with photos of a vibrant young woman, living out loud, arms draped across friends’ shoulders, traveling and skiing with family, captions pulled from song lyrics and bible verses. I look at the light of her eyes. I try to see the sadness or despair that maybe I missed and I can’t find it. I attempt to cobble together a story that makes sense. It never works. Some things never make sense. Suicide, especially, is nonsensical.

And there were smaller, quieter deaths, too. Watching my 15-year-old dog struggle so much on our walks in the woods that now I mostly walk by myself. Tiny, little deaths in friendships that grew into yawning chasms that may or may not ever be bridged. Watching my increasingly frail 100-year-old mother-in-law enter hospice care and then, a month later, get released from it. We laugh about how she will outlive us all, but the truth is she will die and leave us with a gaping void that we will fill with our grief and memories.

The older I get, the more comfortable I become with the concept of non-linear time. Calendars and clocks are simply constructs that cater to our human needs and over-scheduled lives. When the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, I’m happy to be snuggled under my weighted blanket, sound asleep. Even when I was younger, the tradition of toasting with champagne and drunkenly bellowing “Auld Lang Syne” with a group of friends and strangers always rang hollow. December 31st is usually far less sacred and meaningful than that perfect day on the wild Washington coast when I’m rendered breathless by the power and beauty of nature. Or the long and leisurely dinner with my best friend when we talk about everything and nothing at all as the hard margins of time melt away. Or the simple evening at home with family and endless episodes of The Office or Queer Eye and a perfectly-popped bowl of popcorn.

Forty-two weeks. The first year without someone I loved.

THREE

I used to hate the cold and dark of winter, just like you.

But now, I relish this time of year. The quiet stillness. The bareness of nature. The invitation to rest. When it gets dark, I light candles. I used to save all my candles for special occasions until a bloom of thick, powdery dust covered the wax and any scent it once held had long since evaporated.

Today is a special occasion. Just like yesterday was and tomorrow will be.

I want to learn to sit in my own still, darkness and see. Observe. Be curious. This year I learned that to be able to sit with someone else’s shadows, I need to become comfortable with my own.

I want to learn to sit with someone else’s darkness. To sit with them without saying at least…or yeah, but…or diminish their struggle with some story of something worse. To be quiet and still with them rather than prattle on with my presumption of wisdom or effort to cajole.

There is so much to look forward to and I recognize my privilege. An opportunity to lead a retreat with like-minded souls. A trip to Colorado and Red Rocks in the spring with my daughter. Tickets for Broadway musicals and small, gritty rock shows that leave my ears ringing and my soul resurrected. My work that is rewarding and life-affirming even in the face of frank discussions of death and illness. Quiet meals shared together. Loud, raucous drag races that reverberate energy through my spine from head to toe and make me laugh and shout again! Again! Again!

But in the meantime–right now–I welcome the dark and winter’s lessons. The cold. The wet. The sudden, whipping windstorms that seem to sneak up and surprise us in the still of night more and more frequently. I walk through the barren winter woods by myself and I stop and listen.

Rest here. Be here. This darkness, it will pass. Don’t rush so fast towards the light because in that rush you will miss things. Important things. Instead, be curious in the dark. Don’t look away. Pay attention.

Be here now.


Three Things, Issue Fifty

ONE: RACHEL

I was nine years old and in third grade when my best friend, Rachel Owre, moved away and broke my heart. Rachel and I were quick soul sisters, both enamored with horses and books and scribbling our thoughts and pencil drawings in dog-eared notebooks we stashed in desk drawers at home. I had had good friends before, but Rachel was the first person who really “got” me. As a chubby, shy, awkward little girl and the youngest of seven, it was heady stuff to feel seen and understood by another. We hadn’t been friends for even a year before she left.

Rachel sent me her new address–somewhere far away on the east coast, Virginia, I think–and she and I exchanged a few letters after she left. Before long, the letters dwindled and eventually stopped and I went about my clumsy life, still dreaming of horses and books but more by myself than with anyone else. That summer, I built a fort in a corner of my backyard under the awning of three fir trees, the natural drape and swathe of their limbs creating a woodsy roof and a sense of seclusion. It was my clubhouse, a secret hideaway where I’d go to write and think and pretend I was the president of an exclusive club for girls who loved horses.

And just like that, Rachel moved back.

It was the start of fourth grade and I was thrilled to welcome back this beloved kindred spirit of mine. Suddenly, all was right in my little world again and I couldn’t wait to invite Rachel over to huddle together in our secret clubhouse and write stories. But Rachel Owre came back as Rachel Robinson.

Rachel’s parents were the first I knew to be divorced. Divorce was unusual in our suburban community during those years. If divorce was discussed at all, it was done in hushed whispers and nearly always between adults. Rachel didn’t talk about her parents’ split or her new father and her new (wonderfully alliterative) name, but I didn’t care. I was over-the-moon delighted to have my person back.

Suburban housewife style in the seventies ran the gamut from conservative frocks with rounded collars, cinched-in waistbands and full circle skirts to the newly-emerging hippie style with wide, bellbottom pants and patterned smocks. My own mother, who I thought looked like Elizabeth Taylor when I was very young, quickly eschewed skirts in favor of comfortable, stretchy pants and artsy blouses as the decade wore on. My misfit family tended to march to the beat of their own, very liberal and non-conformist drummer and my mother’s style reflected that.

It was a blustery Friday night in October when Rachel invited me over for dinner and a sleep-over at her new house with her new father and step-siblings. I was excited to spend time with my best friend and a little nervous at the prospect of having to be on my best behavior with these strangers. Rachel’s mom greeted me at the front door, complete with impeccably coifed hair, her tiny waist encircled in a trim, white belt that coordinated with the full skirt of her perfect dress and smart, white leather pumps. She was a stunning, flawless representation of Mad Men’s Betty Draper.

Their modest, tract-home rambler was filled with the aroma of dinner cooking and it wasn’t long before Rachel and I were called into the dining room to eat. Betty Draper and her Mr. Robinson husband, each sitting at their respective ends of the table, Rachel and I and her newly acquired siblings filling in the sides. We joined hands and bowed heads while Mr. Robinson recited grace before dinner. Even coming from a Lutheran minister’s family, this formality always made me uncomfortable. I closed my eyes, hoping my hands weren’t sweaty and pretended to pray.

Food was passed and plates were filled with Betty Draper’s chicken and dumplings. As much as my family cooked wonderful food, chicken and dumplings was a brand new thing for me. It smelled heavenly. As I dug into my serving, I silently swooned over how good it all tasted. And the dumplings! Like warm, tender bread balls soaked in a savory stew. I even managed to choke down a few of the mushy green peas I typically despised.

I cleaned my plate and washed it down with a chug of cold milk and searched for the serving bowl of chicken and dumplings. Politely, I asked if I could have a second helping. After all, Mr. Robinson was on his second and third dumpling and there was plenty left. Betty Draper flashed me a disapproving glance and begrudgingly shoved the bowl in my direction. My face grew red hot with shame–a shame I didn’t understand but knotted into a tight ball in my stomach and made me pray I could disappear. “Well, go on,” she barked, waiting for me to pick up the serving spoon. Rachel sat beside me, head down and wordless. I fished out the smallest remaining dumpling and put it on my plate. Rachel’s family and I choked down the rest of our dinner in uneasy silence.

Rachel and I spent the night in her basement, sharing a musty queen mattress, surrounded by shelves of old books and stacked board games. Mr. Robinson’s fishing and hunting gear stowed in a far corner, its forms casting eerie shadows on the walls and cobwebbed ceiling beams as I lay awake most of the night. I still imagine that very basement with the steep, creaky, wooden stairs leading from a door in the kitchen down to its murky depths every time I hear or read a horror story about bad things happening in basements.

It wasn’t long before Rachel moved again, this time for good and far away. After that dinner of her mother’s chicken and dumplings, we didn’t hang out as much. She never got to see my secret clubhouse nestled in the corner of my backyard beneath the thick canopy of evergreens.

And I never ate chicken and dumplings again. Well, until recently.

TWO: CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS

It was October and a recipe from Smitten Kitchen popped up on my social media newsfeed. Chicken and Dumplings, it read. Curious, I clicked on the recipe and scrolled down to read the reviews and comments. The best thing ever! someone swooned. On my regular rotation of cozy fall dinners! exclaimed another. Never fails to please the whole family!

Captivated and incredulous, I read through each of the comments and then the recipe and back again to the glowing comments. Before I knew it, I was back in time, sitting beside my best friend with her new family and her perfect mother’s delicious chicken and dumplings. The red-hot embarrassment searing my cheeks. The slap of shame. I shook my head to dislodge the memory and wondered how so many people actually ate chicken and dumplings with some regularity and enjoyed it?

I lived for many years with a secret but exhaustive list of forbidden foods that I would not touch. People around me marveled and praised my will power. Their praise fueled my disorder until there was never enough praise left. It’s taken hours of therapy to unravel my control issues around eating and how it defined me and my self-esteem. I am proud of the relationship I now have with food and eating but sometimes a seemingly innocuous recipe for Chicken and Dumplings reminds me of just how pervasive anorexia’s lasting influence can be.

I printed out Smitten Kitchen’s Chicken and Dumplings recipe, prepared a grocery list and made a plan. A Sunday dinner of Chicken and Dumplings was on the calendar.

With my favorite playlist on shuffle, I got to work that Sunday afternoon. Searing chicken thighs and rendering fat. Chopping and sautéing fragrant leeks and carrots and soft leaves of fresh tarragon. A pour of broth and milk, a stir of flour and an hour or so of simmer. I left out the gross, mushy peas. The house redolent and full of hearty aromas that invited you to pull up a stool, pour a glass of wine and sit for a bit. This Sunday, however, I was alone. Alone and on a mission.

The chicken stew nearly complete, it was time to make the dumplings. Flour, baking powder, salt and a bit of chicken fat. Golf-ball sized blobs nestled onto the stop of the bubbling chicken and vegetables. Cover and wait until doubled in size. I peered into the Dutch oven after 20 minutes and decided it was time. I pushed aside the dumplings and spooned the stew into my bowl. I carefully placed two dumplings on top of that. Proud of my creation and knowing the emotional heft it held, I snapped a photo of the bowl and posted it to my Instagram story. “I have a whole story about chicken and dumplings”, I wrote. “I’ll tell you about it later.”

But for now on this Sunday evening, it was about me and my bowl of chicken and dumplings. This beautiful food I had prepared from scratch on my own, with love and the intent of nourishment. With the hope of healing some remnants of shame from a dinner long, long ago. The stew–sublime, perfectly balanced, rich flavors of chicken with notes of tarragon. And the dumplings?

Meh.

I wasn’t a fan of the dumplings. They were tasty, as I’m sure most dumplings are, but I found myself pushing them aside in favor of the rest of the dish. I wondered how Betty Draper’s dumplings compared to mine. What was it that made them so delicious that night around their dinner table? I sat with my bowl and finished it and got a little bit more, thinking of Rachel’s mother the whole time, wondering if she was still alive and how Rachel had faired through the divorce and the moving and the rest of her life. Did she ever think of me? Would she even remember that night around her dinner table?

Leftovers packed away and in the refrigerator, I felt a sense of accomplishment. Chicken and Dumplings, now just another recipe, another food to eat or not eat.

Its power of shame and emotion beautifully, mindfully extracted from the soft dumplings and left in my bowl.

THREE: THE STORIES WE TELL

I first heard Portland-based author Lidia Yucknavitch say “I am not the story you made of me” at a writing workshop I took with her a couple years ago.

In my work as a yoga teacher and Wellness Coach, I hear countless stories from many people each and every week. I am continually amazed at how attached we humans are to our stories and how we limit and punish ourselves with these often false narratives. Imagine what we lose in the midst of our allegiance to stories that hold no truth for us.

My arms are too short for yoga.

I need people to like me.

I can’t lift heavy weights because I was a high school cheerleader. 

Meditation and going within just don’t work for me. I need to stay busy.

I don’t deserve to be happy.

I’m not enough.

If I just lose five/ten/twenty pounds…

I can’t eat chicken and dumplings.

Each one of us has stories–lots of stories–that we tell ourselves every day. Some we have lugged around for decades from our formative years, those stories others have built around and about us for their own comfort and convenience that we accept without question. Other stories we adhere to in an effort to avoid pain. There are stories that are convenient and comfortable for us, but not necessarily true.

“I am not the story you made of me” is what kept repeating in my mind as I remembered the dumplings and as I prepared my own on that recent Sunday afternoon.

“We don’t have to accept the stories we inherit, the ones that tell us who we’re supposed to be. We can stand up and say no at any point, even if we’ve been saying yes our entire lives. It’s never too late. We can always reject the story placed on top of us, and we can always revise and destroy one story and restore another. It’s a never-ending possibility.” ~ Lidia Yucknavitch

It’s your narrative. Own it. Take time to make sure it’s true and that it reflects the highest, very best version of you.

Be brave enough to make your revisions.

Three Things, Issue Forty-Nine

I opened her email, happy that she had thought to check in on me. She mentioned the “triggering headlines” splashed throughout the media about the alleged sexual misconduct of the most recent Supreme Court nominee. She shared how she has finally found some peace surrounding the sexual assaults she had experienced.

“And yeah—rapey men,” I wrote back. “I feel like I dodged a major bullet, having worked and played in such male-dominated fields since I was a young teenager and escaped without a rape story,” In parentheses–almost like a casual afterthought–I went on to recount an experience of being held down by a man I had a crush on. I finished by saying how sad I felt for the millions of women who have had to live with the memories of such shame and violence.

You know, other women.

ONE: TERRY

He seemed different from the rest of the roadies. Tall, with a confident swagger and shaggy, blonde hair–he could have been mistaken for the lead singer of a band, rather than part of the crew. My friend, Steve, introduced him to me and I felt his eyes take in my body with a hunger that made me blush. “I’m Terry,” he said, his blue eyes twinkling as he grinned and shook my hand. My entire arm buzzed with an energy I had never felt before.

“He’s an asshole,” Steve told me later. “Stay away from him.” I laughed his opinion off, figuring that he had noticed the chemistry between Terry and I and was jealous. It was no secret that Steve had always been a little sweet on me and I had never reciprocated his feelings. “Don’t worry,” I assured him. “I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself.”

At seventeen, I was a virgin and had already spent a couple of years hanging out with local rock and roll bands with my best girlfriend and Steve. I had found my happy place–all three of us had–a refuge away from the dysfunction of our respective family homes. A place where we belonged. The guys in the bands were cute and sexy, but largely unavailable. My bestie and I, like little sisters to these exciting older men with their guitars and microphones.

It was a warm spring afternoon when Steve and I were driving about, likely picking up equipment and supplies for an upcoming weekend gig. My best friend, relegated to home that day and not with us. “We have to pick up Terry,” Steve told me, and I felt a rush of excitement flush through my veins. Terry got in the back seat of the red Impala and the three of us chattered on about the band and the weather and what we were going to eat later on.

I don’t remember why we stopped at the house we stopped at, or even exactly where it was. It was unfamiliar to me, but I plopped down on the sofa in the living room while Steve left and busied himself with other things. Terry handed me a beer and sat down beside me. We began talking and I enjoyed the gentle flirtation between us. He was cute–cute enough for me to ignore the stale cigarette smoke on his breath. Terry put his hand on my leg and I felt that familiar charge of energy surge through me again. He leaned over and kissed me and I was thrilled.

At seventeen, I was a virgin but I loved kissing. Kissing boys was something I could spend hours doing. Terry was older, though–by four or five years, at least–a maturity that both frightened and intrigued me. As we kissed, Terry become more insistent, shoving his tongue to the back of my throat and beginning to press his body onto mine. We both fell back on the sofa, Terry on top of me. There was a point at which something changed in him–like a switch that was flipped that I didn’t understand, but viscerally felt. His hands shoved roughly up over my breasts and under my bra and I instinctively pushed them away. “You’re a little tease, aren’t you?” he sneered. The weight of his body and the shift in his demeanor panicked me. I struggled to breathe and turned my head away as he tried to continue to kiss me. Terry grabbed my hand and pressed it into his crotch as he began to unbutton his jeans. “No. Stop.” I said. I wanted to be nice, to let him know it wasn’t his fault, but I couldn’t breathe and I was terrified.

Be careful, don’t make them mad, my mother said.

Steve walked back into the room and everything stopped. I couldn’t tell you if it had been ten minutes or two hours. Terry sat up, took a swig off his beer and glared at me, shaking his head. He leaned over and hissed in my ear, you’re just a stupid little girl, you know. His breath was full of beer and cigarettes, disgust and irritation.

I’m sorry, I told him.

The three of us piled back into the red Impala and drove away, an uncomfortable silence filling the space between. I sat in the front seat and struggled to blink back tears as I stared out the window. Shame and embarrassment wrapped around my shoulders. I felt Steve’s eyes on me, a mix of disappointment and concern. I never saw Terry again. He was fired from the band, something about stealing equipment.

I told you so, Steve said later. I know, I said.

TWO: KRISTOFFER

At twenty-one, I was finally coming into my own. Or so I thought. My dirty little secret–my anorexia–resulting in an attractively flat stomach, narrow, boyish hips and no discernible breasts whatsoever. The boob thing–that was okay, I thought, a small sacrifice to pay in order to finally gain the admiration of family, friends and strangers, all of whom openly approved of my newly svelte figure.

Fresh out of my first, long-term relationship and finally old enough to go to the clubs we so urgently desired, my bestie and I found our way back to the music and the bands we had become acquainted with as teenagers. I was “legal” now, a hair model for a Seattle salon, immersed in edgy, punk rock and New Wave fashion trends and quickly becoming adept at masquerading a certain worldliness and hipster vibe that brought me the attention I craved.

Kristoffer was the bass player in one of Seattle’s most popular bands. Years prior, the lead singer and I had shared bouts of consensual, clandestine trysts in backstage broom closets, but now Kristoffer was openly courting me, like a legitimate girlfriend. More dark and brooding than the usual blonde pretty boys I preferred, I could see Kris watching me from the stage as the band played their set. He’d seek me out during their breaks, pressing his body close to mine, whispering in my ear me how attractive I looked. He sent me sweet Valentines and flowers and invited me to concerts where he took me backstage and introduced me to his famous friends.

He shared a two bedroom apartment in Ballard with the guitar player of another Seattle band, and my bestie and I would often stop by after a night of club-going to drink wine and watch old movies with Kristoffer and his roommate. The first time I watched  “It’s A Wonderful Life” was on a icy night in December, curled up in Kris’ apartment.

After I moved to Wallingford, a nearby neighborhood, my visits to Kristoffer’s apartment became more frequent and usually by myself. Our attraction was mutual and intense. We’d kiss and make-out for awhile until eventually I was giving Kris blowjobs on the sofa while his roommate played guitar in the next room. I’d stay fully clothed and he’d force my head down into his lap and hold it there until I could barely breathe. My neck ached and I’d feel that familiar sense of panic rise up again, but I figured it was just the way these things went. A few weeks later, with his roommate gone for the evening and plans for a nice dinner together, Kris unbuttoned my blouse and unhooked my bra. He fingered the fabric of my bra, immediately noticing the thick padding on the cups and my small breasts underneath. “What is this?” he spat out angrily. “What do you mean?” I asked him, already wishing I could disappear. “You lied to me!” Kris said, his voice filling with indignant rage, his face reddening, looking so unlike the man I thought I knew. “You deceived me! You’re fake! How dare you do this to me?”

I’m sorry, I told him and slunk out of the apartment, alone.

Desperate to rekindle the sweetness we once shared, I saw Kris one more time after that. I promised myself I’d swallow my shame and forget his bitter accusations about my body–my sham of a body that had let him down. We had sex–awful, horrible sex. Kristoffer was impatient and rough while I tried to cover my chest in shame and pretend to enjoy it all. He fell asleep and in silent darkness I pulled on my clothes and drove home.

You’re not so pretty when you’re drunk, my mother said.

THREE: TELEVISION

By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I had built myself a respectable career in television production and broadcasting. Within a handful of years, I had worked my way up from a part-time graveyard shift master control operator to crew chief, overseeing a staff of a dozen or so broadcast technicians. I loved working in television–it reminded me of the music business with all of its buttons and knobs, flashing gauges and pulsing meters. The thrill and immediacy of live broadcasts. I was one of just a few women working in our department and I had developed a comfort level working with so many men. We were all pals–I knew their wives and kids and we’d hang out and party together. I felt like one of the guys. I was proud to be considered a “guy’s girl”.

The station I worked at was an independent channel, not affiliated with one of the three major networks at the time. It seemed we were forever under the threat of being bought and sold by new investors, our jobs always hanging by a thin thread. Tensions would run high as gossip trickled through the grapevine, each one of us always on the lookout for an opportunity for a better job before we were forced out. I was already moonlighting at a post-production house on the other side of town, but couldn’t afford to quit my day job quite yet.

“You’d be surprised at just how many people here keep guns in their lockers,” one of my crew members shared with me. I had just told him of my fear of guns during a discussion of the target practice he’d just come from. I was alarmed, but chose to interpret this information as just his way to add some shock value to his comments. He was like that–always with a bit of unpredictable crazy flashing in his eyes. Silly boys, I thought as I sighed and went back to work.

A few weeks later, I had to address a problem that had arisen within our department. Sloppy work, some misrepresentation of data and facts. I walked into the master control room where the two guys I needed to talk with sat, leaning back in their chairs, watching satellite feeds and our on-air broadcast. I told them of the problem, warning that if it happened again that there would be serious repercussions. One of them turned around slowly to face the other and said, “You know what Tracie needs? She needs a good gang-raping. That’s what she needs.”

The two men laughed and laughed, so pleased at putting me in my place. The sure exertion of power.

I remember them laughing, she said.

I didn’t sleep much for the next few days, but I did report their comments to my boss. He took it seriously and addressed it appropriately. Oh, we were just joking! they said before their apology. Can’t you take a joke? they asked me, these two men whom I had considered my friends. Whose wives and kids I knew and who knew my husband.

I never felt safe there again. Within a few months, I began my new career as a colorist at the post-production house on the other side of town.

Don’t make a fuss, don’t cause problems, my mother said.

EPILOGUE

I never told my mother about any of these. I never told anyone. I never told her about working as a secretary at the car dealership years earlier, when the general manager and the two sales managers would call me into their office, close the door and make me look through Penthouse magazines, all the while giggling and searching my face for a reaction. Or how they’d supply me with sports cars to drive on the weekends and drugs–so many drugs–to keep me quiet. Or how they finally fired me but made sure I was able to collect unemployment insurance because they sensed “I knew too much and might start talking.”

What did you do to make them mad? my mother asked.

It was Thursday afternoon and I had just come back from teaching my yoga classes–the last one so full of power and ferocity, the one in which I reminded the thirty or so women there that we needed everyone’s voices as we roared through our Lion’s Breaths. At home, The Mister had the TV on, rapturously watching the hearing. As I puttered through the house, I heard Christine Blasey Ford’s voice describe being held down by Brett Kavanaugh and how she felt panicked and powerless and how she worried she might accidentally die. How she never told anyone because she didn’t know how. How she was so afraid. I felt sick to my stomach and my insides shook as I began to remember. I thought of my email to my friend and my naiveté as I wrote about how I “dodged a major bullet.”

I grabbed my phone and typed out a text to my nineteen-year-old daughter in Seattle, on the cusp of her sophomore year of college. I shared with her my anger towards these rapey men and how I prayed that she would never, ever have to feel the shame and powerlessness that so many women have had to endure.

You know, other women.

Like me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Forty-Eight

I was in the throes of writing, researching and editing this post last night when my unruly sausage fingers accidentally hit “publish” somewhere between Thing One and Thing Three. If you received a notification that there was a bright and shiny new post only to be told “that page doesn’t exist”–whoops. It was late and I was two bourbons in. Here it is in the completely sober light of day, as it should be.

ONE: DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY

I had noticed the random sticky notes and white board messages popping up around the Health and Wellness office over the past few weeks.

Good things are going to happen! It’s a beautiful day, sunshine! If you can dream it, you can do it!

My eyes rolled as if they had a mind of their own as I fished around for a spare dry erase marker in the collection of pens and Sharpies. Chuckling to myself, I carefully printed in tiny black letters “Reallly? I need proof” underneath the cheery, rainbow-hued “good things are going to happen” sentiment. Pleased and amused with myself, I sat down and went about my appointments and tasks of the day. In my mind, I had imagined the start of a playful back-and-forth exchange between this mysterious Little Miss Sunshine and my natural Eeyore-esque self.

A Twitter friend once posed the questions 1.) Which Winnie The Pooh character do people think you are the most like, and then, 2.) Which character are you really the most like?

1.) Owl

2.) Eeyore

Two days later, I returned to the office only to discover my little black message was erased. Wiped away. My sad surprise was quickly replaced with a renewed wave of mischief and I drew a small, bleak frown-y face in the margin where my original retort had lived. Apparently, Little Miss Sunshine lacked my particular brand of humor. The next day, my bleak frowny-face was wiped clean away, too.

One of my favorite colleagues had recently moved on to a new chapter in her life and I had interviewed to fill her job. With her hundreds of miles away in a different state, I disgustedly snapped photos of the happy platitudes that were popping up everywhere since she had left and texted her the photos along with a panicked message: I know you would have never done this! Who is doing this? I can’t take this job with this stuff happening! I think I need to withdraw my application! Help me!

Change is hard. For me, anyway.

I could hear her signature belly laugh as she texted me back off the ledge. Between the two of us, we deduced who the cheery culprit might be and I took a few deep breaths. I mean, they weren’t death threats–they were just mindless, happy platitudes.

It’s the mindless part that gets me.

It was only a few days later when another friend posted this article on her newsfeed. It used a term I had never heard of before–“toxic positivity”–and I immediately began to understand why the happy little post-it notes everywhere had triggered me. Take a scroll through your social media feeds and you’ll come upon meme after meme extolling the virtue of “just think happy thoughts.” As someone whose moods tend to run a little darker than than your standard-variety yoga teacher, I’ve had issues with the “good vibes only” mentality that pervades the yoga industry as well as much of the fitness world. Those days when I’ve been grieving the loss of a loved one, the mornings when my hormones have pushed me into a muddy funk and my bed seems to be my only friend, or my struggles with tough transitions in my life–all of those days could have been eliminated with a positive attitude? Really?

Yeah, no.

I might say I’m an Eeyore, but there’s a whole lot of Tigger in me, too. Maybe even a bit of Piglet. Frankly, I see a lot of Pooh and Rabbit in most of us. Take all those beloved characters, mosh them together and you’ll likely come closer to what it means to be human. With September being National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, I believe it’s more important than ever to stop the dumbing-down of our emotional health. Can you imagine what it might feel like to someone struggling with clinical depression to repeatedly hear “just turn that frown upside-down!” or, “no bad days allowed!”

I believe we are capable of accepting and experiencing the wide rainbow of complex emotions within us. Sadness–yours or mine–doesn’t faze me, unless it lasts for weeks and impedes one’s ability to function. (If that happens, it’s important to seek out help. Let’s de-stigmatize therapy and medication–both can be life savers.) But otherwise, give yourself a day or two or three. Journal. Meditate. Get outside and move. Don’t just “get over it” but be brave enough to mine those depths a little deeper, knowing that the shadows you might feel lost in are a beautiful, important part of you. Good mental and emotional health means feeling the full spectrum without being shamed into shallow cheerfulness. Shallow cheerfulness–that’s toxic positivity.

A well-meaning pal once told me that the dear friend that I was grieving the loss of “wouldn’t want me to be sad.” The hell she wouldn’t! When the day comes that I take my last breath, I sure hope there’s one or two people around who feel sad that I died. I hope someone out there sheds a tear or two because that means I made an impact in this earthly life. No one needs to be sad for long and certainly not forever, but just until the grief moves around and through and processes out the way it needs to. Because it always needs to.

Until then, I promise to practice my compassion and acceptance of the sunny, happy notes left around the office where I work. I’ll be grateful that they aren’t threatening or bitter or warning of imminent disaster. But I still might scribble a few dark remarks here and there.

You know, just for balance.

TWO: THINKING OF YOU

August sucked donkey balls.

It really did. And since we’re talking about mental health, I can honestly say I slogged through some pretty stiff depression during most of August. More circumstantial than chemical, and for a variety of reasons far too boring to list, but still. Depression is something that seems easier for me to see in the rear view mirror rather than naming and claiming it while I’m in the midst of it. It’s the nature of the beast and it’s what makes it so insidious and vexing. My heavy clouds are lifting as I write, I’m happy to say. The welcomed showers and cool gray skies have a way of seeping into those tough dark recesses and loosening stuff up so I can move it on out and breathe again. It’s so good to breathe again.

August was not without its bright spots, though, and some of the brightest were the unexpected cards and notes I just happened to get in the mail when I needed them the most. The simplest sentiment, hand-scribbled across a card that seemed chosen just for me was often all I needed to get through the most tangled up days. No one knew I was slogging through the mud of life, and yet these cards made their way to me at a time when I needed them the most. (Hey, thanks, Universe.) I wrote about the lost art of letter-writing just four posts ago and I believe so strongly in its simplicity, power and ability to connect with those you love.

My friend and yoga peep, Cat, recently turned me on to Thinking Of You Week. Cat is an artist, living and working in Everett, Washington who creates colorful, whimsical, handmade letter-press greeting cards that you can get here.  I have an entire collection of her cards, some of which I’ll be mailing out beginning tomorrow for Thinking Of You Week. Here’s how it works: for one week–seven days–you are encouraged to send one card a day to seven different people. Just imagine those seven souls in your life, plodding out to their mailbox, expecting only billing statements and advertisements, catching a glimpse of a real postage stamp peeking out from their stack of mail. The delight! The surprise!

Why wouldn’t you do that?

Thinking Of You Week begins tomorrow, September 24th and runs through Sunday, September 30th. For all you cynics who are assuming it must be sponsored by Hallmark or some other corporate conglomerate, well, the Greeting Card Association (GCA) is the sponsor, but so what? Sure, it’s a made-up thing intended to sell cards–much like Valentine’s Day–but like Valentine’s Day, why not tell someone you love them? This is where my idealistic Tigger and Pooh Bear influences override the pessimism of Eeyore.

Who’s the first person that comes to mind? Send them your first card tomorrow. If you’re like me, the first three or four recipients are easy to imagine. After that, pay attention to that one name or face that keeps popping up in your head. Doesn’t make any sense? Maybe you feel shy or embarrassed to send them a card? Do it anyway. I believe there’s a reason we think of people at some times more than others. Pay attention to that. Then, act.

You know, just do it.

Our world is bananas right now. So much of what we are going through is out of our control. Everyone has something they’re struggling with. Each of us has the power to brighten someone’s day and spread a little love around. Not in a mindless, syrupy-saccharine way, but in a way that is personal and intimate. Sending someone something that comes from your heart, something tangible they can hold in their hands and take out again when the road gets rough–that’s powerful medicine.

Thinking Of You Week starts tomorrow. Seven days, seven cards, seven people. So much love.

Let me know how it goes.

THREE: MUSIC

This blog was originally intended as a place for me to write about the music I’ve been listening to. Happily, the blog has naturally morphed and weaved and evolved beyond that and into many more things as well. Despite a dismal summer of live music-going, I’m still all about the music. October holds much promise, though, with next month frighteningly jam-packed with live shows I have tickets for. But until then, here are three bands’ most recent releases that I’ve been streaming non-stop.

1.) Brockhampton, iridescence

If you haven’t jumped on the Brockhampton train yet, I don’t know what to say except it left the station late last year and you have some serious catching up to do. Their new release is as fresh and unpredictable as this prolific, rule-breaking hip-hop band has always been. See them live if you can and if you dare. (And yeah, they’re pretty explicit, so if you’re sensitive to that, just move along.)

2.)  The Internet, Hive Mind

This is their fourth studio release and the very first I’ve heard of this delicious, groove-heavy R&B band out of LA and of which I am currently head-over-heels obsessed with. Be careful, you just might fall in love, too.

3.) Hibou, Something Familiar

Seattle-based, one-man-band of Peter Michel, AKA Hibou, is a dreamy, ethereal, musical force to be reckoned with. Hibou performs live as a four-piece band and I’ve seen them (him) twice–first, opening up for Unknown Mortal Orchestra a couple years ago and most recently, this summer at Capitol Hill Block Party. See them (him) live if you can, but if you can’t, download or stream “Junipero Love”, then lay back and get lost in your own mind. Trust me, it’s time well spent.

Happy Autumn, finally. If you need soup, hit me up.

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Forty-Seven

It’s been a month since I last logged on to my website. Two full months since my last published post. I miss writing. My body misses it–the release of words and emotions I store away in my tissues–muscles, organs, veins–all tight with unexpressed everything. I feel congested in a deep, visceral way. Vaguely unwell.

You should probably write, my daughter tells me as she looks over and sees me crying during another episode of “Queer Eye”.

This summer has been dizzying. Literally.

ONE: VERTIGO

The neurologist finished his exam and shrugged his shoulders. “Some people are simply prone to having episodes of vertigo throughout their life,” he told me as my eyes struggled to focus back on his face after the head and neck maneuvers he had just put me through.

Well, at least most people don’t die from vertigo, I remember thinking as I drove home. There’s that.

It was nearly three years ago when the vertigo descended with a vengence. I first noticed it while driving home from Tacoma one sunny afternoon. Scrambled brains is the way I describe it. Usually only lasting five or ten seconds, tops, then returning to clarity. Sometimes it would only strike once or twice during a drive, other times so frequently I had to pull off the freeway for a bit. I googled and WebMDed and YouTubed for help in between visits to my healthcare providers. At its worst, I couldn’t bear to lay facedown for my regular acupuncture treatment. The room spun and my stomach churned as if I had drank two too many glasses of pink champagne.

Well, at least it doesn’t happen during yoga, I reassured myself. Until it did. During triangle pose. I felt my legs wobble in an effort to keep my balance as the scrambled brains took hold.

It was my acupuncturist who finally suggested a twice-daily “tea” of Chinese herbs to counteract my “damp” constitution. Willing to try anything for relief, I happily swilled the muddy, gingery concoction each morning and night. Within a month, my brains cleared up.

My brains were clear and the vertigo had stayed away for the past two years. Occasionally, I’d feel a hint of it coming on and I’d grab a bottle of the magic herbs and within a week I’d be okay again. It was such a relief to find something that helped me feel better relatively quickly and painlessly.

It was the trusty herbs that I reached for two months ago when the scrambled brains returned. It had been so long that I had forgotten what life with vertigo felt like. Life with unpredictable vertigo feels tentative and a bit risky. Constantly nervous to venture too far away from home. Dreading freeway driving. Unable to sit and focus on a computer screen for more than a few minutes at a time. My writing came to a screeching halt.

It’s hard to write with scrambled brains.

I knew I wanted a break from the weekly writing deadline I had imposed on myself, but it was never my intention to walk away for two months. Habits are hard to form, easy to break and a bitch to get back to. My writing muscles feel as shaky as my biceps as I curl the 50 pound barbell to my shoulders for the first time in a long time. But after three bottles of twice-daily Chinese tea that looks and tastes a bit like dirt, my brain is back.

And so am I.

Hey–hi. I hope to be writing more regularly again.

TWO: CLUTTER

It was hard to look at the “before” photo I had snapped of my closet. It still is.

Last weekend, I undertook the daunting task of completely cleaning out my bedroom closet. It was something I had been meaning to do for months and had successfully avoided for much longer. The task came up during lunch with a good friend who talked about her love of organization and how our living spaces can sometimes reflect something much greater. My confession tumbled out, almost in relief, sharing my dirty little secret. I told her about my mess of a closet and how it made me anxious everyday when I went in to get dressed for work. Slippery yoga pants in every color of the rainbow, cascading to the floor so many times I just stopped picking them up. Clean laundry left on the bed or bathroom counter because I couldn’t find space to put it back in the closet. I hated my closet and I hated the idea of cleaning it out even more.

Sometimes we have to do the hard things.

I had to cancel attending a friend’s wedding in eastern Washington because my scrambled brains were too risky to chance a five-hour drive by myself. I was left gazing into a weekend clear of responsibilities and plans. The Mister and daughter, both off on their own work and fun adventures. It was the perfect opportunity. Buoyed by a few encouraging texts and guidance from my organized friend and choreographed to the soundtrack of my favorite playlist, I got to work.

Pre-kid clothes. One maternity shirt holdover because I always liked the color. Baseball mom clothes. Trying-to-be-cool again clothes. Mom jeans. Mom sweaters. Eddie Bauer. So much Eddie Bauer. Levi 501s. Boot cut jeans from the Gap. Oh hey–my wedding dress! Tattered hoodies. Riding pants. Yoga pants. Yoga tops. Yoga totes. Hot tub clothes. My Zulily phase, when nothing could be returned. My actually-getting-cooler-phase. Black jeans. Skinny jeans. Ripped jeans. Boots. Boots. Boots.

Donate. Toss. Consider. Keep.

Four distinct piles, the “donate” pile towering far above the other three. I bagged up nine tall kitchen garbage bags full of clothes and shoes and drove them directly to the donation box.

Somewhere between the end of the first day and the beginning of the second, I was gripped with the fear of scarcity. Would I have enough? What if I didn’t? What if I made a mistake?

Abundance. There is more than enough, I reassured myself. My shoulders dropped and I exhaled. Of course there is.

Do I love it? Does it fit? Does it reflect who I really am today? My friend’s directives rang clear in my head.

By the end of the second day, the closet was coming together. Three more bags filled with donations. I stepped back and took it all in. My god, it looks like a little boutique! I thought to myself. Shelves, neatly stacked with yoga pants, organized by color and length. Clear, plastic boxes, each home to one pair of shoes that I could easily identify, tucked on the top shelf. My father’s favorite hat–the one I had taken home with me on the day he died–carefully placed in its own box, along with the bulletin from his memorial. (That is, right after I put the hat on myself and thought maybe I could rock a fedora after all.)

Everything in its place. A place for everything.

I texted my friend the “after” picture. She texted me back all the right things. I looked at my phone again and in a moment of vulnerability, posted each photo on my Instagram feed, along with a short narrative about my weekend of letting go. Side by side, swipe left, swipe right. Before and after.

Holy shit.

It’s amazing what we choose not to see. Overwhelmed with life in general, I had stopped seeing the mountain of clutter right in front of my eyes. I felt it, in the anxiety and stress that crept up in me every morning as I tried to start my day. The way I’d snap at The Mister when he’d casually mention the pile of clean laundry on the counter, rather than in the closet. How I just stopped trying because it wasn’t working anymore.

My closet looked exactly the way my scrambled brains felt with the vertigo.

I look at my closet today and I giggle a bit. It makes me smile. It’s beautiful, really. Clear and clean, with just enough plus a little wiggle room to grow and dwell in possibility.

THREE: SUMMER

My mind keeps flashing on a memory of a secret beach cove I discovered when I was a little girl. Well, maybe it wasn’t exactly a “secret”–I’m pretty sure it was someone’s private beachfront. But in my 10-year-old brain, it felt wonderful and mysterious and secretive. I didn’t tell anyone about it.

No one ever noticed when I’d ride my purple stingray down the dead end street that emptied out to Steilacoom Lake. Leaving my bike at the end of the grass, I’d tiptoe down a weedy, dirt path that led to a narrow swath of pebbly beach. Two quiet, modest homes–cabins, really–framed the small patch of lakefront and I’d sit at the water and escape. I never saw or heard another person down there, so I began to think of it as my own. I’d take sticks and trace patterns in the silty dirt and flick rocks into the water, waiting for the satisfying “plunk” of each as it hit the water’s surface. Sometimes a duck or two came floating by and I’d feed them crusts of bread and stale saltines I swiped from home. Mostly, I was alone and unseen and free to dive into my daydreams.

This summer has been weird and unsatisfying. Between the vertigo and the heat and smoke-haze and not having my favorite partner-in-crime available for summer shenanigans, I’ve found myself wishing I had my secret beach cove again. Somewhere to escape to and be unseen.

I felt it today as I strolled by myself though the modest crowd at the waterfront art festival. I walked to the end of the pier and leaned on the weathered railing. The gray-blue expanse of Puget Sound, shrouded in a filter of smoke from the wildfires, lay out in front of me. I wanted to find a quiet piece of beach and be alone with the gentle lap of the water. I nearly drove to Steilacoom Lake in hopes of finding it again.

Summer is not my favorite, but I love summer’s beginning when the finally-warm breezes carry scents of berries and grass. The longer days and early sunrises. Skies full of stars. I am past the days of school-year summer vacations and yet I still get giddy in June. July comes and goes, predictably balmy and busy, the front lawn left to go dormant and brown. But by the middle of August, I am exhausted. I even let my flowers die.

August feels long and dry and a bit lonely. The dog days of summer. A quick reference to Wikipedia even makes the connection of this late summer period to “…heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck.”

C’mon–is August anyone’s favorite?

I sat at the dining room table reading the newspaper yesterday morning, the windows open wide to let in the cool morning air. I sipped my coffee and heard the faint and familiar blast of an airhorn. Fifteen minutes later, it blared again. And then again. Football scrimmage just a mile down the hill at the neighborhood high school. A sure and welcome harbinger of fall.

September can’t come soon enough.

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Forty-Six

ONE: BROTHER

Have you ever prayed for someone to die?

I was a young adolescent when I began to pray regularly for my brother to die. It’s not something I’m proud of and I’d usually send up a petition for forgiveness at the same time, just for good measure. Life with my brother was a living hell, with regular threats lobbed my way along with his perpetual sneer and general, unpredictable rage. In the summer months, he and his buddies would venture up into the mountains to camp for a few days at a time and I’d pray he’d never return, entertaining fantasies of him taking a quick tumble off a high cliff to a quick and painless death. He always returned, though, along with more threats and the accompanying fear I’d learned to live with.

It was my brother’s birthday last week. He would have been sixty-one years old.

As a young girl, I prayed for my brother to like me. When we were very young, there were days where he’d let me join in on his Lego-building ventures or an occasional battle with his little green army men. Playing beside my older brother made me feel important, as if I had been let into an exclusive, grown-up club. It didn’t last long. His potent outbursts and conflicts with my parents began while he was still in elementary school and only intensified as he grew older.

I don’t remember the date of my brother’s death, but I always remember his birthday. I have his birthday written on the calendar pinned to my yellow kitchen wall. June 5th.

Once we became adults, I didn’t see him for years at a time. This was intentional. I worried about him finding out where I lived and coming to kill me and my family. Regular nightmares of this scenario peppered my sleep and I’d awaken with a jolt in a cold sweat, chest heaving in fear. As years passed, he started showing up at Thanksgiving or other family gatherings—even my wedding. He was pleasant but distant and my fear of him existed on a deep, cellular level. Whenever he left, my insides unclenched and I felt my breath drop from high up in my shallow chest back into my low belly.

Each June, I’d think of my brother on his birthday and imagine him spending it alone with his dog. I feared him and loved him and wanted nothing to do with him, but still felt pangs of sadness over the disconnected rubble of a life he had built. Undiagnosed mental illness, learning disabilities. I often wondered if he had regrets.

I was busy raising my two young kids when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. The diagnosis came after months of strange symptoms when he would often call me and ask for help in researching his ailments. He was my brother and I loved him as such, but he still scared the hell out of me. I helped as much as I could, always feeling the seize in my belly and the catch in my breath with each phone call.

My phone rang on a rainy evening just before New Years. My brother had been in hospice for a short time, my other siblings taking turns tending to him in his final days. Just one year prior, I had sat with my mother as she took her last breath and I didn’t think I possessed the fortitude to do the same for my brother.

The first thought in my head after hearing the news that he had died was, well, Tracie–your prayer was answered. I thought of all the hours I had spent praying that he would die so that I could live a life free of the terror his presence instilled in me. A wave of guilt washed up and over me, flooding my chest and throat, taking me under. Then, grief. Huge, sneaker waves of grief, pummeling me with sucker punches at my solar plexus, over and over and over again. I sat on my bed and sobbed.

I had been planning to see him the following day, but he went ahead and died before I was able to. I grieved over the opportunities lost, the loss of the brother that I might have had. The one I fantasized about having instead of the one who haunted my nightmares. I imagined me sitting at his bedside and hearing him whisper a deathbed apology. A plea for forgiveness and understanding. Taking responsibility.

When someone you love dies, your heart breaks. When someone with whom you have a conflicted, complex and unresolved relationship dies, the path of mourning is riddled with detours and potholes.

A close childhood friend of my brother’s hosted a memorial service for him a month after his death. My siblings and I piled into our cars and drove down, wondering who–if anyone–would be in attendance. The brother we knew was a bitter loner. We assumed it would be just us–his siblings–and a smattering of others.

The house where the service was held was packed with mourners. Most were strangers to me, but I recognized a few from our old neighborhood as they came up to give me a hug and called me by my name. I wondered if they knew about his years of threats and attacks. We filled paper plates with casseroles and salads and an informal remembrance of my brother began. One by one, his friends spoke glowingly of my brother’s kindness and love of animals. Of how he would drop everything to help a friend out. How he loved the outdoors and made a point to spend his birthdays in nature with his dog and perhaps a close friend or two or three. They used words like gentle and sensitive and loyal to describe him.

My siblings and I exchanged stunned glances with each other and said nothing.

The brother I knew had not existed outside the boundaries of our large, complicated family. I immediately felt silly for all the years I spent pitying him and the sad life I assumed he was living. I felt resentful that all these other people had known the brother I had forever dreamed of having. I felt cheated and duped and completely dumbfounded.

Family dynamics are fluid, tricky and tough to rise above.

TWO: FATHER

I always felt like I was my father’s last chance for a do-over.

Twenty years separate me from my oldest sibling. An entire generation. It’s safe to say that I had a much different father than the rest of my six siblings. Same man, same name, but an entirely different dad.

By the time I came along, my father had transitioned from his first career in the clergy to his second wind as a college sociology professor. Office hours, more or less. He still played the organ and directed the church choir each Sunday, but life was a bit more predictable than when he was a minister. Because of that, I reaped the benefits. Extra time to play catch with me, summer evenings spent kicking a soccer ball around the back lawn, holding onto my bike seat until he wasn’t anymore and I caught my balance and pedaled off into the sunset on my own.

I loved my dad, but I was no daddy’s girl.

He wouldn’t hear of that. Both of my parents valued education and raised strong, independent women. But I always felt as though I was my father’s last hope.

Professional challenges. Hectic life with seven children and aging parents. Struggles with his youngest son. Conflicted relationships with a few of his other children. A marriage that was rarely easy. Dashed hopes and dreams.

My father developed psoriasis early in my life. Crimson, scaly skin covered most of his body, except for his face. We had four bathrooms in the house I grew up in and one was designated as his. My father’s bathroom was always covered in a light layer of dead skin flakes that perpetually sloughed off his angry body. I hated using that bathroom and having to navigate around the piles of flakes. It was as if he was a snake, shedding, continually. Every few years, he’d spend a week or two in the local hospital receiving “tar treatments”–an event he seemed to look forward to. Whether it was the prospect of being tended to by young, attractive nurses or the opportunity to rest, unbothered by the demands of a large family, my dad thoroughly enjoyed his respite covered in tar. He usually came home with improved skin that would last until the next flare-up.

As I got older, he took me to soccer games and watched Wimbledon with me. When my school had an open house, he came and talked to my instructors and returned home boasting of the glowing reports they had given me. She can do anything she puts her mind to! he exclaimed proudly, parroting back the words he had heard from my teachers. And when I finally got up the nerve to move away from home for the very first time, he helped me find my way around Portland and rent my first apartment. We ate pastrami sandwiches at Rose’s Deli on 23rd as he regaled me with stories of living in New York City as a young man starting out on his own.

I felt like my dad was proud of me. Like I was his shining star after so much strife.

My father loved the sound of his own voice–his chosen vocations as a pastor and professor not by chance–and was always game for a lively debate. Politics, religion, social justice. My dad could speak confidently on nearly any topic, but rarely spoke of his feelings. I don’t remember him ever telling me that he loved me, although I never doubted that he did.

I often wondered if his psoriasis was his body’s way of shedding all the pent-up emotions he was never able to express.

The day that my father died, I went back to the small apartment he and my mom shared at my sister’s home in Redmond. I found his hat–he always wore a hat–and pulled it to my nose. Stale cigarette smoke and the unmistakable scent of old, dead skin. My dad’s skin. Familiar, just like I remembered. I took the hat home with me that afternoon and zipped it up in a plastic bag. It sits on a shelf in my bedroom closet.

After he died, the church where he spent most of my childhood as the choir director held a memorial service. Strangers I had never seen before stood up to speak of my father–Pastor Jansen they called him. They told stories of playing games with him during summers at vacation bible school and Camp Lutherwood. How he helped them through their struggles with faith as a young person. How his stories and sense of humor in his sermons made the gospel come alive for them.

Later that afternoon, my siblings and I sat around my sister’s backyard and ate egg salad sandwiches. I couldn’t believe what some of those people said about Dad, one of my sisters commented. It was as if they were talking about someone else. That wasn’t the dad I knew. A tinge of sadness and envy played around the edges of her words. A lost opportunity to have the dad she imagined.

Family dynamics are fluid, tricky and tough to navigate and I never took for granted the do-over dad I was lucky enough to have.

Happy Father’s Day.

THREE: FAMILY

She said it as matter-of-factly as if she was commenting on the weather. No one in the family really thinks of you as a writer. The words stopped me in my tracks, but then I nodded as I digested what she just said and pretended like I understood and accepted her explanation.

Family dynamics are tricky. Insidious and sneaky.

I had been struggling with finding my voice in my writing again and was looking for affirmation from my family. Hinting for an “atta girl” or a word of encouragement. Her words stung at first, like the pinch of a thin needle into a vein, but then spread out through my bones as I sat with them. No one really thinks of you as a writer. 

Well, okay.

As the youngest of seven children, I have spent most of my life looking up to everyone. Deferring. Taking advice. Assuming that I couldn’t possibly know because I wasn’t old enough.

I think I’m old enough now.

A friend recently let out a loud chuckle and asked me, incredulous, who are you? when I described to her how I’ve always tended to automatically defer to my older siblings. She went on to tell me, everything I know you to be flies in the face of you being deferential and passive! You’re a grown-ass adult! Why do you allow yourself to be that way?

Why, indeed.

I had no answer for her other than family dynamics can be a motherfucker. If we’re lucky, we successfully build a life away from the constraints of what our families think we should be. That’s not to say our families can’t be closely-knit, wonderful and supportive and they often are. But if we’re not careful, the dynamics we grow up in can prove to be limiting. Those tender, formative years where we learn how to interact with others. Where we begin to define ourselves as we are in relationship with others. It’s heady stuff and easy to fall into our prescribed roles, even when we’re old enough to know better.

The smart one. The emotional one. The baby. The responsible one. The skinny one. The leader. The shy one. The difficult one. 

I don’t know why my brother felt compelled and safe enough to create an completely alternative life with his friends rather than with us, his biological brothers and sisters. Maybe there was too much water under the bridge and he couldn’t find his way back. I can’t tell you why my father created memories of summer camp and kick ball with kids in his congregation more than the ones he went home to at night. I can tell you that family dynamics can be a slick and slippery slope.

No one really thinks of you as a writer, she said to me.

That’s okay, because I’m plenty old enough now to know that I am.

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Forty-Five

ONE: JUNE

It’s the third of June, issue 45. Nearly halfway through 2018. So many words written in just under a year. Far more words than I wrote in the previous three years. But no submissions. Zero.

It was back in January when I published this post and publicly proclaimed that 2018 was going to be my year of submission. I had steeled myself to receive a litany of rejections throughout the year, knowing rejections are inevitable on the path to acceptance in a writer’s world. And yet.

I haven’t submitted a thing. I entered a writing contest and then didn’t win, if that counts. Does that count? I have several essays that are waiting in the wings to be nipped and tucked and embellished into something worthy of submission. I have ideas for two books that are just chomping at the bit to be fleshed out and proposed. And yet.

Writing my Three Things blog has been fantastic for honing the discipline of my craft. It’s made me write, which is exactly what it was intended for. But it takes up a lot of my time and takes me away from focusing on other stuff.

Like submissions. And book proposals. I’ve even been conjuring up ideas for another yoga retreat.

My original intention was to take Three Things out for a full year–52 weeks–and then reduce it down to either twice a month or a once-monthly installment. I still need the discipline of a looming deadline to keep me moving forward, so I’m not throwing in the towel completely. Three Things has become a part of me, one that I would miss and mourn if it died. So, this isn’t goodbye, but I may be scaling it down a bit in the weeks to come. Rest assured, I’m still knee-deep in recipes that I’ll be posting once I’ve got them developed to delicious perfection. Music, too, as we dive into the festivals and concerts and new releases of summer.

My yoga practice has taught me the importance of living life intentionally. It’s so easy to get swept up in the clatter and din of the world and lose focus of the kind of life I’m hoping to build. June is a terrific time to press pause, take inventory and readjust the trajectory of our energy if we’ve drifted off course.

How ’bout you? Does your life GPS need a bit of recalculation?

TWO: TRIGGERS

There’s this thing I do whenever I’m in a big group setting and things are being handed out–it could be papers or pencils or slices of birthday cake at a party–and I’m the only one who didn’t get one. I start to spiral downward. I feel my face get hot as I try to swallow my embarrassment and look blithely around the room in an attempt to masquerade my reaction. It’s usually an innocent oversight, with no personal attack intended. But it doesn’t matter.

Being overlooked and forgotten is a trigger of mine.

I know it stems, in part, from my place in my family of origin. The youngest by far in a family of seven. I cried a lot when I was a little girl, always needing my mother’s attention. Her exasperated sighs and tired eyes and wishing I wasn’t so clingy. My neediness embarrassed her and me. Youngest child, middle child, oldest of the pack–we all carry with us emotional baggage from our youth. And this is just one of mine–I have a whole cast of triggers from life with my violent brother, years of disordered eating, body dysmorphia and compulsive exercise.

What’s yours?

Being forgotten is the trigger of mine that happened to raise its ugly head recently when I was inadvertently left off a group email for an upcoming event. There was no malice intended, no ulterior motive, just simple forgetfulness. I laughed it off at first, but then noticed the familiar sink of my heart and the sharp sting of feeling less than. Unseen. I sat with my sad soup of emotion for a bit, stirred it around and let it simmer. And then I put it in its place and moved on. No one needed to manage my trigger but me.

I belong to a very active Facebook group for fans of a particular podcast and several times a week, someone within the group will post a story with what seems to be a mile of cautionary “trigger warning!” preamble.

Trigger warning: talking about doctor appointments! Trigger warning: lost kittens! Trigger warning: visits with the in-laws! Trigger warning: thunder and lightning! Trigger warning: spiders!

I’m not even kidding. I roll my eyes and scroll on past.

It makes me sad to think we’ve all become so hypersensitive that we look to others to curate a trigger-free world for us. I’d like to believe that we’re self-aware and responsible enough to know and deal with the tough stuff that comes our way. Because it will. Because that’s life. We don’t have control over what anyone else says or does, but we always have control over our reactions.

I can control my reactions. And if I can’t, that’s my issue, not yours.

Expecting trigger warnings for every little thing that holds potential for upsetting someone diminishes the importance of recognizing those who struggle with serious issues of trauma and PTSD. Victims of violent crime, combat veterans, abuse survivors. If my innocuous Facebook post about my dog reminded you of Buster the bulldog from your childhood and propelled you into a tailspin of pent-up grief and mourning, I’m sorry. But your reaction is yours to deal with.

Becoming more self-aware and accountable for our actions and reactions makes everyone’s life a bit easier. And yeah, it takes time and effort, maybe a bit of counseling or therapy. Develop a meditation practice or another mode of self-inquiry. Get quiet and painfully honest with yourself.

Take your finger off the trigger.

THREE: NO APOLOGY NECESSARY

She was a petite woman in my chair-based yoga class, asking where some of the older chairs had disappeared to. We had recently updated our stash of chairs and the shiny, new ones had seats that were at least an inch or two higher. It’s important that the yogis are able to easily place their feet on the floor while seated all the way back in the chair. The woman lowered her voice and whispered, “I’m sorry I’m so short. I’m embarrassed to have to ask.”

“First of all,” I replied, looking her squarely in the eyes, “don’t ever, ever, ever apologize for your body! Secondly, I’ll find you those chairs and finally, you’re not the only one who has asked me about them.” A look of relief washed across her face as she flashed a shy smile and sighed.

Don’t apologize for your body.

I was nearing the end of a first-aid training at a local YMCA when the instructor had us take a break before the final exam. The private, single-use bathroom nearby was occupied, so I stood in the hallway, waiting my turn. Soon, the door swung open and a young woman in her early twenties emerged. She saw me waiting in the hallway and sheepishly gasped, “Oh, sorry!” as she slipped out of the bathroom.

What are you apologizing for? I wanted to ask her. For using the bathroom and making me wait? For taking up space? Or are you apologizing out of habit because this is what you’ve learned to do as a woman?

Don’t apologize for taking up space. Ever. Ever, ever, ever.

My friend was telling me about her trip to Disneyland, grousing about the distracted crowds, faces in phones, everyone so unaware of their bodies in space. I loved how she talked about making herself bigger to withstand the bumper-car-barrage of clueless bodies constantly coming her way. Shoulders back, elbows out, chin high. I loved how she showed her daughter how to do it, too.

How many women do you see striding confidently through a crowd? How many men do you see trying to shrink and become less-than? It’s a man’s world–or at least it has been, historically. I think it’s time we begin to change that up.

For so long, I strived to make myself as small as possible. To take up less space, be less of a bother to anyone. It was as if I walked through my days apologizing for my existence. Oh, sorry I’m herewhoops.

I’m happy to say I don’t do that anymore and neither should you. Take up space. Make some noise. Turn some heads with your loud, infectious laugh. Tell the yoga teacher you’re gonna need a different chair to better fit your remarkable body. Make your way through the weight room at the gym, shoulder-to-shoulder with all the muscle-y, preening men and high school boys and take your rightful place with the barbells and deadlifts.

Apologies are great and necessary for lots of things: stealing, betraying trust, lying, deliberately hurting someone, making a mistake. But your existence, your body and what you need requires no apology at all.

“I ain’t sorry.” ~ Beyoncé

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Forty-Four

ONE:SUMMER

It’s still officially spring, but isn’t Memorial Day the unofficial start of summer? I guess we can start wearing white now. Just kidding–you know you can wear white wherever and whenever the hell you want to, right? And anyone who lives in the Pacific Northwest knows that summer doesn’t truly begin until sometime in late July. (Thankfully.)

I hate the heat, but I love the warmth and promise that arrives between late May and early July. Before the firecrackers are launched and the dog days set in, when the grass is still green and the gardens lush with blooms. It is a heady time, the air full of fragrance–warm dirt and berries, barbecue and cocoa butter.

It wasn’t long ago that I had been searching for a photo that had been downloaded onto our desktop’s library and got swept up in a wave of memories as I scrolled into the summer of 2016. A kaleidoscopic photo diary of that summer–beaches and cities and sunsets and art fairs stretched out before me. A summer rich with experiences. I grew nostalgic and even a bit envious of the summer I had that year. Last summer–2017–had felt different and I wondered why.

A torn meniscus and the resulting pain and limited mobility. A crushed spirit. Lost mojo. Energy drained. I told my friend I didn’t want to go to the drag races last summer because it would be “too hot and too loud” and then regretted missing the heat and roar and the dusty parking lot where we’d wait out the lengthy line of exiting race fans, sitting on the open hatch of my Prius with cool drinks, limp sandwiches and deep conversation.

I closed my photo library on the desktop and immediately messaged my friend, instructing him to write up a wish list of things to do this summer. Concerts, fairs, day trips, restaurants, hikes–bring it on. I told him I would be doing the same and we’d meet up and commit to a calendar of events. We made plans to meet for brunch on a rainy Sunday in March and hatch our summer agenda.

We never made it to brunch that day because I spent the afternoon with the Mister and my daughter in a hospital room in Tacoma, holding the warm hand of an unconscious young woman on life support. A brilliant young woman whom we loved, who–for whatever reason–couldn’t face the future. Her sister, bustling about, taking care of everyone and their sadness, her plans for the future immediately paused and altered in the chaos of life and death.

It is such a privilege to be able to plan. It is a gift to be able to look forward.

This summer, I am not taking that privilege for granted. I now have two knees sporting torn meniscus but my spirit is strong and my mojo is back in town. There will be concerts outdoors and crowded art fairs where I will grouse about the “too many people” and then laugh at my crabby, judgmental self. Ferry rides, just because. Sunsets over water and back fences and forests. Sunrises on those early Thursday mornings when I rise before dawn to teach yoga. Sunrises that I will pause for and notice how very sweet the early morning summer air smells. Snakes on trails. A chorus of frogs at dusk. Showing more skin and caring less. Sunscreen.

Next summer is not guaranteed. Living fully through this summer–through tomorrow and the next day–is a privilege I will not take for granted.

Now, tell me your plans for this one wild and precious summer.

TWO: LETTERS

Twenty years from now, will you hold that heartfelt text from your best friend in your hands and smile at their handwriting and feel their presence?

Probably not. That makes me sad.

I hold the same nostalgic romanticism about letter writing as I do about baking one’s own bread or the musty bouquet between the pages of an old book or bellying up to the bar in the diviest watering hole in town, if you can still find one.

When people tell stories about finding a stack of letters bound by string or elastic, I feel a tingle down my spine. Words and paper, handwriting and emotion, all bundled together for someone to hold up to their nose and inhale. Tangible and real, an exchange of communication between humans that you can touch and feel and hold in your hands. I love it so much.

I’ve always been a letter-writer. I juggled a constant stream of pen pals as I was growing up and still keep in touch with a few via social media. I keep a ziplock bag of cards in an office drawer that I pull out when I think of someone and scrawl out a greeting and slide it into the mail. Whose heart doesn’t leap a little at the sight of a real postage stamp on the top right corner of a hand-addressed card or letter tucked into the monotonous stack of bills and solicitations found in most mailboxes these days?

The Mister and I met through a letter I wrote to the management company of the rock and roll band he worked with. Even then, letter writing was beginning to fade and few twenty-somethings took the time and effort to do so. I like to think it was the novelty of it that got the Mister’s attention, or perhaps it was my witty way with words or clever ideas. I wish he had kept that letter, but when you’re young and immortal you throw things away without much thought to the future.

I don’t save every birthday and Christmas card, but I do have a file folder where I stuff the ones that are covered with handwritten sentiments and love. I have a letter from my mom, sent to me when I was living on my own for the first time in Portland. She writes about going to The Sizzler with my dad and what TV shows she’s watching and how the house is too quiet without me. The sight of her meticulous, small handwriting fills me with love. I have a little note from my father, his rangy script thanking me for helping him grade a stack of college finals when he was overwhelmed with work. And if you’ve ever handed me a note or letter or a card expressing how yoga has impacted your life, that’s tucked in there, too. I take those out and read them again on days that feel hard and dark, those times when I wonder if I’m doing anything right.

I love the immediacy and efficiency of texting. I love how it keeps us in touch with each other, even with a simple kissy-face emoji when we’re too busy or tired to write more. Email is great to make plans and do business with. But you can’t hold any of it in your hands. You can’t see the familiar handwriting of your loved ones. It’s not the same and it shouldn’t replace the art and intimacy of letter writing.

So, write someone a letter today. It doesn’t have to be pages long. Tell them what they mean to you. Bring up a memory that makes you smile and write it down and share it with them. Send a birthday card, a thank-you note, a love letter. Doodle in the margins and sign your name with a flourish that feels right.

I’ll send you one, too, if you want. Message me your mailing address and I promise to put something in the mail for you.

A little something, a happy surprise for you to find in your stack of bills, to hold in your hands and maybe tuck away in a file to pull out again on your darkest days.

THREE: FLOW

I’ve been watching you lately.

You who come to my class with your head tangled up in your worries and fears. I see you.

For the first eternity after beginning to teach yoga, I never looked up. I practiced in the front of the class, on my mat, breathing and cueing and moving and sweating just like the rest of you. My need to prove myself to you. Like you wouldn’t believe me or take me seriously as a yoga teacher if I didn’t show you that I could do everything I was asking you to.

I missed out on a lot.

I missed your triumphs when you caught your first millisecond of balance in Crow Pose. I missed seeing half the class drop to their knees because I was so intent on challenging everyone–on proving something to someone, mostly myself–that I forgot about who was actually in the class and what they came for. I missed seeing your cheeky t-shirts as you rose up into that first Mountain Pose that read “mama needs a cocktail” or “made of star stuff” that would have made me smile, or even laugh and get to know you a bit better.

In teacher training, my teacher would often cue us through Sun Salutation after Sun Salutation until my shoulders burned with the fire of effort and rivers of sweat streamed down my legs. She was looking for something from us. Not grit, not endurance, not mettle.

But flow. Dropping. Releasing. Getting out of our own way. Flow, baby, flow.

That moment–that magical moment when a class collectively drops into the rhythm of their breath and gets out of themselves is stunning. You stop tugging at your top, so worried that your beautiful belly which bears the evidence of the human you built there might show. You rise to standing at the top of your mat, strands of hair plastered willy-nilly across your face with an expression of utter peace and contentment. You don’t bother to wipe the hair out of your eyes because you don’t care and your lack of caring makes me smile. There’s no hurry up or keep up or fuck up because you are being far more than doing.

It gives me chills every single time. It makes me remember why I love my job.

Recently, I had read an article about Pattabhi Jois, the father of Ashtanga yoga, which made a claim about Jois prescribing twelve Sun Salutations a day as a cure for insanity. First of all, Pattabhi Jois was not a doctor and probably should not have been prescribing anything for anybody. Secondly, I was never able to locate that article again, so I cannot vouch for its validity. But I can vouch for the medicine that yoga has the potential to be. Yoga, in its purest sense, not yoga in its commercialized and commodified form. Not the perfected postures in color coordinated outfits Photoshopped to highlight the young, thin, white model’s muscle definition. But yoga as a means of dropping ego and self and diving into the depths of breath and presence. Getting out of your manic mind and into something greater.

Meditation in motion.

I see it during Locust when you gather energy into your core and allow your breath to lift you up, almost effortlessly. I see it as you pause, taking time to find your roots and stability and then kick back and stretch forward into the balance of Dancer’s Pose. I see it in your soft, steady gaze as we hold Warrior 2 and you realize how fierce and grounded you truly are. I see it as you lower to your knees and bow to the floor in Child’s Pose, honoring the reality and truth of your body today.

In my second eternity of teaching yoga, my practice is paying attention. Watching, guiding and reminding until I see you drop the noise of yourself and flow into something greater.

I see you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Forty-Three

It’s back to basics this week, dear readers. I have a bit of Seattle music to share with you, a brand-new yoga streaming site that is wonderfully inclusive and long-overdue in the yoga world, PLUS the absolute best thing I’ve cooked in recent memory. Music, yoga and tacos. It doesn’t get much better than that, does it?

ONE: LA LUZ 

How tired was I Thursday night? After two consecutive nights filled with dystopian nightmares, I was tired enough to threaten to leave early from the La Luz show at The Crocodile before it even started. But something wonderful happens when you put a bit of intention, a dash of energy, a smidgen of forward momentum and your best friend waiting for you downtown that propels even the weariest of bodies into action.

You just do it.

It was nearly three years ago that I first caught La Luz at The Sunset in Ballard. Born in Seattle in 2012, this quartet led by lead singer and guitarist Shana Cleveland had been stirring up a buzz of excitement ever since their inception. The show at The Sunset was a celebration of their 2015 release, Weirdo Shrine, and I floated out of that sold-out show, their catchy melodies ear-wormed into my brain and me, a confirmed La Luz fan. Earlier this year when they announced an international tour to support their newest release, my ticket was promptly purchased.

Surf rock meets doo-wap meets fuzzy-wuzzy reverb harmonies. Welcome to La Luz.

I had been listening to their newest release, Floating Features, all week and although I love their signature happy-woozy-dreamlike sound, I worried that I’d be wishing I was barefoot and swinging in my hammock in the sun rather than standing in my Fluevogs until midnight at The Croc. Apparently, this is what getting older feels like.

Turns out, I had nothing to be worried about. In addition to the capacity crowd, La Luz hit the stage with energy to spare, thank you very much. Although leaning heavily on tracks from their most recent release, La Luz also brought out earlier material for their diehard, hometown Seattle fans. Complete with a Soul Train-esque dance-off down the middle of the venue and a bit of good-natured crowd surfing at the end, I walked out of The Croc feeling surprisingly energized and so grateful that I had dragged my sad, sleepy self downtown to see them.

These formidable four women call Los Angeles home now, but Seattle has claimed them for life. Summer’s just around the corner, kids, and I can’t think of a better musical backdrop to your lazy, hazy poolside afternoons in the sun than Floating Features.

And maybe it’s just a happy coincidence, but I haven’t had a single nightmare since.

TWO: DANA FALSETTI

It was 2005 and I had just bought my first Prius, the Seahawks were playing in their first Super Bowl, Yoga Journal was still a respected yoga publication and Lululemon was barely a blip on the yoga pants screen. I took my first yoga teacher training that year, too, and didn’t see anyone in the class who looked like me.

Matter of fact, nearly every class I took during my initial whirlwind love affair with yoga was filled with not me’s. Slender, lithe women, able to effortlessly wrap their foot behind their head and always–always–that one show-offy dude with a ponytail sticking handstands before class in the front row of every workshop I took.

I pretended not to care.

I loved yoga and my body did, too. I became stronger and more flexible and most importantly, more confident and comfortable in my own skin for the first time in my life. I became a yoga teacher but I always knew I didn’t fit the “norm” of what people expected a yoga teacher to look like.

Enter Dana Falsetti.

I had the pleasure of taking a restorative class with Dana last summer in Seattle and will admit to being a bit skeptical of this Instagram “yogalebrity”. Decades younger than me, I was curious to experience what she had to offer as a teacher. What I discovered was a woman whose wisdom belied her age–an old soul in every sense of the word–and I left the two-hour practice blissfully relaxed and duly impressed. The studio was full of women of all ages, bodies and ethnicities engaged in a body-positive practice that connected them to themselves in the most affirming way. I felt excited to see where her vision would take her. And lest you think that Dana only teaches restorative and beginner yoga, you only need one glimpse of her Instagram page to see that she is the queen of inversions and arm balances as well.

The yoga world desperately needs this vibrant, young woman who is blazing her trail on her own terms and creating a world where yoga is an inclusive practice, rather than one reserved for bendy, skinny women willing and able to afford a wardrobe of $100 yoga pants. After a tenuous legal battle with an yoga apparel company, Dana has gathered her resources together and launched her first streaming website. Although the content is still a bit limited after its debut just a week ago, the production quality is excellent and the focus of the classes is promising. Presently, Dana features a nice selection of beginner yoga tutorials, as well as several classes on philosophy and much more to come very soon. With a sliding, pay-what-you-can subscription rate, the value is unparalleled.

Dana Falsetti is one remarkable, bad-ass yogi who is leading the charge of showing the world that yoga is for every body. I suggest you subscribe to her website today.

I already have.

THREE: TACOS

I cook a lot but every once in awhile, I blow my own mind.

With Cinco de Mayo just in my rearview mirror, I had been craving tacos. I threw together my trusty fish tacos with a cabbage salsa and zingy chipotle sauce that were respectable, but didn’t quite quench my taco thirst. One week later, I stumbled across this recipe for Spicy Chorizo and Potato Tacos and knew I needed to give it a try.

First off–who knew I could make my own chorizo? Okay, so maybe you did, but making my own chorizo had never, ever crossed my mind. I am lucky enough to be close to several grocery stores with a good selection of respectable chorizo, but I couldn’t resist the urge to experiment with making my own. You must make your own. Just do it and thank me later.

The aroma of the melange of spices being toasted together in a bit of olive oil is enough to send the whole house swooning. You do not want to miss out on that. And it’s relatively simple, providing you already have most of the spices on hand. Once the spice blend has bloomed in the oil, the sausage is added along with some already steamed Yukon Gold potatoes.

It is exquisite.

You might want to stop there, but I’m going to insist you go one step further and make the delicious and piquant green sauce from tomatillos and avocado. It’s super duper easy–all whirled together in your blender or food processor into the dreamiest shade of green. It is the perfect, tangy foil to the decadent, rich filling of chorizo and potatoes. You can find the recipe for this necessary green sauce right here.

Go pick yourself up some of the very best corn tortillas you can buy, dice up a bit of white onion, a few sprigs of cilantro, take a bite and watch the eyes roll back in your head. Okay, so that’s probably not actually physically possible, but you’ll definitely feel it. And then say a few prayers of thanksgiving to the taco gods and goddesses.

Happy vigésimo de mayo, friends!

 

 

Three Things, Issue Forty-Two

ONE: MOTHER

My mother was my first reader. Standing in the doorway of her bedroom, I’d clear my throat, take a deep breath and read to her my latest writing with all the necessary vocal inflection and emphasis. She would sit, appropriately attentive and listen, smiling and nodding and often give a happy clap at the end.

My mother was an artist and her favored medium was paint. Watercolors and oils, some hung on the walls of our home but most stuffed in closets and portfolios from her days as an art major at the University of Washington. Later on, she created bowls and mugs and vases from coiled and patterned clay, each one glazed and fired in a kiln kept in a musty furnace room in our house. During her pottery days, the entire house seemed to be covered in a thin film of clay dust. Jars upon jars of milky glaze lined up along her work space–a spare bedroom converted as her studio–just waiting to be painted onto these gray clay creations. I loved how the nondescript, matte glazes would magically transform into shiny, colorful shades of blue and green and yellow with a little time spent in the intense heat of the kiln. I never minded the dust, because when my mother was immersed in her art, she was happy.

It always amazed me what beauty would be born from the union of desire, vision, passion and heat.

I knew better than to choose an art form that my mother was already proficient at. She could be a blunt and ruthless critic of many things. As a young girl, I drew and doodled, too, but could never match my mother’s talent. Timidly, I would share my drawings with her and she would cock her head to the left while studying my work, instinctively pick up a pencil or piece of charcoal and with a few well-placed strokes, add dimension and depth to my simple lines. Like magic.

So I wrote.

I wrote prolifically as a young girl. Poems and essays and short stories, then earnest starts of novels filled with girls named Kimberly and Lindsey who rode horses and had the names and lives I dreamed of having. I’d spend entire summers lost in my writing, my stories like an imaginary friend. Once adolescence descended, I turned to the privacy of my personal journals and stopped reading aloud to my mother. Whatever essays I wrote were for school, rather than myself. I’ve always felt like a writer, but the self-consciousness of growing up and the dysfunction in my home pulled me away from my words and into brooding musicians and backstage passes and the distraction of desire.

Why did you stop painting? I’d ask my mother. Oh, I just wasn’t good enough, she’d say.

My siblings and I unearthed her university portfolios in the storage locker we had moved her furniture into when she was no longer able to live on her own. We gathered around, each clutching our number that we had drawn to see who got to choose first, gasping over and in awe of the talent our mother had as my brother pulled out sketch after sketch, canvas after canvas. Her work like an illustrated diary of her progression as an artist. As a woman. It was breathtaking.

Why did she stop? we wondered wistfully.

Through a long and circuitous route, I found my way back to writing. It was hard to begin again, awkwardly laying down words and paragraphs, thoughts and feelings. It was scary to be honest and bare and vulnerable. As I write, I often remember my mother and how her demeanor transformed when she would immerse herself in her art. It was as if somewhere deep within she became shades lighter, her eyes brighter. I think of her as I finish a piece of writing and feel a palpable change of energy and find a deeper, easier exhale.

I still read aloud everything I write before posting it for public consumption. It’s important for me to hear myself say the words I write, to feel their cadence and rhythm. My words need to sound and feel natural, as if they were coming from me in conversation with whomever is reading.

And more often than not, I imagine myself standing in the doorway of my mother’s bedroom, reading and sharing my words with just the right inflection, waiting for her delighted clap and bravo at the end.

TWO: IN-LAW

My mother-in-law, Dorothy, is one hundred years old.

One of the things The Mister and I shared was older parents. His mom was in the same generation as mine and there was a camaraderie formed that came from an understanding of what it felt like to have grown up with parents that were older than everyone else’s. But the similarities stopped there.

Dorothy was spry and lively when I met her on Mother’s Day in 1985, a stark contrast to my own parents whose health had already begun to decline. Closing in on seventy years old at the time, she was still planning adventurous backpacking trips around Europe and practiced yoga with her daughter. The Mister had invited his mother and his sister for a Mother’s Day brunch that year, the table set with a pitcher of fresh-squeezed orange juice and a platter of sourdough pancakes. And me.

I was a nervous wreck when I met my boyfriend’s family and barely said a word. His sister, opinionated and loud, overshadowed everyone. I went mute and then worried about what everyone thought of me.

Over the ensuing years, I managed to find my voice again and Dorothy and I forged a warm friendship. The relationship between mothers and daughters-in-law is one of the trickiest ones around and I was grateful to Dorothy for making it less so.

Once my kids were born, Dorothy became the grandparent that my own parents were unable to be. She saved my sanity countless times as I struggled as a new mom, taking care of my son for an hour or two while I enjoyed the quiet luxury of a haircut alone. She was the grandparent showing up for baseball games and gymnastic meets, the one at Grandparent’s Day at the elementary school, the one who got down on the rug and played My Little Pony and Thomas The Tank Engine for hours on end. It’s often said that being a grandparent gives us the opportunity for a do-over, to be better than the parent we were on the first go-round. Having lived a messy, imperfect life, I always sensed Dorothy knew this.

She is the grandparent that my children remember and with whom they share the most meaningful relationship.

Today, Dorothy is one hundred years old and although she is still in this world physically, she is rarely with us in the here and now. Unlike my own mother, who became unfiltered and bitter as her mental acuity declined, Dorothy has remained kind and good-natured. She still recognizes us as her family, even though she might confuse us with others from her past.

And today–even at one hundred years old–Dorothy is still a remarkable role model for me, showing me what grace and grit, unconditional love and a life of beautiful imperfection looks like.

Happy Mother’s Day, Dorothy.

THREE: ME

I didn’t think you even wanted kids my friend commented when I told him the news of my first pregnancy. Wait. What? Did I really say that? Or was that just the impression I gave off?

I grew up as the youngest in a family of seven siblings, an appropriately chubby caboose of a child. My oldest sister had her first baby when I was only ten years old and I remember her tentativeness around my holding her precious cargo. So I didn’t.

Babies were weird, foreign beings. They still are, in a way.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want kids. It was just that domestication and all it entailed was never on my radar. Until suddenly it was.

I got pregnant right away, the swiftness of conception leaving me stunned and unprepared. I had assumed I would have months–maybe a year or more–to get comfortable with the idea of becoming a parent. Instead, I had nine short months to prepare for the reality of it. I read books and took classes. I did all the right things, made sure I had all the right gear. Two weeks before my due date, my sister hosted a barbecue-slash-babyshower for me at her home. Her neighbor had just given birth and she wanted me to have at least one experience of holding a real, live baby before I was holding my own.

Squirmy and soft but startlingly strong. Warm and gurgly. Like a little pink alien without an instruction book. Her head smelled nice. I was happy to hand her back when she started to fuss.

I went home that night more scared than ever.

I cried when I had to leave the hospital after delivering my son. We had stayed an extra night due to him turning blue and not breathing when I nursed him. The worry that I would kill my baby doing the one thing that was supposed to keep him alive didn’t do much for my confidence. How could they allow us to leave? There would be no nurse at our house to reassure me that I was doing things right. No one to help us stop him from crying. No one to help me stop me from crying.

Nothing prepares you for motherhood but motherhood. Into the fire. Sink and swim.

The Mister had changed every diaper on our son for the first ten days until he had to leave and go out of town for work. I cried as he drove away, leaving me framed in our living room window, clutching this squirmy, gurgly alien of an infant. Later that evening, my brother’s wife called me to see how things were going. Oh, fine I reassured her and then hung up and burst into tears. My sister came to visit and insisted I leave the house for some time by myself. I drove off in my sporty, white Acura with the carseat now strapped in the back and wondered if I’d ever come back. I stopped at RiteAid and stumbled around the aisles, not looking for anything but searching for something.

I parked in an empty lot and cried some more and came back.

I came back and one day at a time I figured it out. Two months into my son’s life, the depression began to lift and I managed to get both of us out of the house in time to attend a support group for new moms and their babies at the hospital where I had delivered. All forty of us and our babies, sitting in a large oval on the floor of a hospital conference room, each of us with the same, withered expression on our face. The facilitator had us introduce ourselves and our baby, encouraging us to check in and share with the group how things were going. One after another, the moms started talking and one after another they’d dissolve into tears. Through the snot and sniffle, each one choked out familiar stories of sore nipples and leaking milk, of not sleeping or showering for days, of how hard–so very hard–it all was. And how much they loved these little, strange alien baby beings, more than they thought was humanly possible.

Dumbstruck and suddenly comforted by the unity of us all, I gazed around the group and saw every woman sitting and nodding in empathy. Some crying, just because. Because sometimes you do that.

Everyone tells you it will be the hardest job you will ever have, but nothing will prepare you. Sink and swim, sink and swim, sink and swim.

Messy, breathtaking, heartbreaking, transformational motherhood.

It is amazing what stunning beauty can be born from the union of desire, vision, passion and heat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Forty-One

“Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy — to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work.” ~ Søren Kierkegaard

ONE: MONDAY MORNINGS AT LA PUSH

There was a way I behaved for the first decade I visited La Push: I would rise early before everyone else, pull on my running tights, lace up my sneakers and tumble out onto the empty beach and run.

I used to be a runner.

I’d negotiate up, over and around any driftwood in my way, plod awkwardly through the soft, dry sand and get as close to the water as possible so I’d have a firmer surface to run on. The beach at La Push isn’t steep, but it’s not exactly level either. I’d head off towards the south end of the shore first, the whirring wind and crashing waves creating my own noise-canceling headphones with their constant, ambient drone. Closing off and going within, eyes barely open, ignoring the sharp ache in my left hip from running on the lopsided sand. I’d arrive at the towering cliffside just long enough to touch the sacred stones as if handing off the baton in a relay and turn and head north. With the wind at my back now and fully warmed up, in this direction I felt stronger and faster and withdrew even deeper. Numb. More numb. Numbest. As the other end of the beach approached, a feeling of victory emerged. Validation. Proven. Earned. Pausing just long enough to tap one of the black boulders that line the jetty on the north side, I’d cool down with a slow jog back towards the cabin and slog through the deep, soft sand and feel sensation returning to my lungs and hips. Familiar ache replacing the comfort of numb.

Now, I wonder what I missed all those years.

Last Monday morning at La Push I didn’t rise early to run but I rose early to venture out at low tide to see what I could see. It was damp and chilly–47 degrees–and overcast with the clouds so low they appeared to touch the sand. My feet were strapped into my Teva sandals, rather than sneakers, so that I could readily splash through the creek that dissects the beach and empties into the ocean. I met my friend and we set off, uncaffeinated and groggy. Soon, my toes were frozen icy pink with smooth, tiny pebbles lodged under my heel and instep. I didn’t ignore the discomfort but instead stopped to shake the rocks from my soles and rub my toes before continuing on. One, singular other human graced the shoreline that Monday morning–a fisherwoman, her line in the water, patiently waiting for a bite. She smiled and said hello.

As we approached the majestic rock face, I slowed down even more and took in a long, deep breath of salty air. Feel that? I asked my friend. That’s spirit. There’s a heaviness that exists on that end of the shore that is palpable and real, at least to me. My friend nodded in an effort to appease me and scampered off to climb the rocks, looking for tide pools and starfish. I stayed back and looked up, as I often do at this end of the beach, to gaze at the cliffside lined with ancient, tall trees draped in fringy moss. I imagined bear and cougar perched at the edge, surveying the shore. Circling high above the tree tops, four eagles emerged. I watched as they soared and glided with grace and power and felt their sharp eyes on me. My friend came back from the rocks and I told him how I believed the eagles were tribal elders and chiefs, making sure all was well on their sacred land. He told me he thought the eagles were looking for food. I like to think we both were right.

Later that Monday, toes thawed and warm, I ventured out to the beach again. It was early afternoon and the sun had burned off the gray, leaving an expanse of blue sky streaked with pulled-cotton clouds. I looked left, then right and not another soul was on the sand. Mondays at La Push are often like that. The standard bustle of Sunday afternoons as cabin dwellers pack up and head back to civilization before the start of another work week always makes me feel privileged to stay another day. This Monday afternoon the ocean had taken on a complex shade of turquoise that morphed from green-blue to blue-green depending on its depth and churn. Driftwood logs and roots created picture-perfect frames of James Island and the surf, so I paused time and time again to snap a photo here and then there. I found a worn, rough stick, just right for an improvised hiking pole and made my way higher up on the beach, exploring nooks and crannies. Impromptu forts fashioned from weathered logs, long tossed from hefty waves in a storm. Cairns of smooth, flat stones, precisely built and balanced, hidden in open knotholes. I looked for water spouts in the nearby surf, signs of a whale friend I had watched just offshore the previous day.

Looking up. Looking down. Heaven and earth. Horizon and beyond.

My friend joined me after awhile and together we sat on smooth driftwood and marveled at our good fortune to be the only ones at this place on this day at this time.

Not numb, but fully feeling. No hurry, but slowing down. Not missing a thing, but paying wide-eyed attention, filled with wonder. No running away or even towards, but instead sitting in stillness. Here and now. Peace–real peace–abides in the present.

I used to be a runner. But now I’ve slowed down.

I don’t want to miss a thing.

TWO: DRAG QUEENS

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” ~ Rumi

I really love drag queens.

I can’t tell you exactly how it came about, but sometime after my last birthday, I declared that I wanted to go to a drag show for my next.

It was my college-aged daughter who had just regaled me with a story of her and her pals going to a Seattle nightclub that had an 18+ college night that included a weekly drag show. When I realized my birthday landed on that very night of the week, my birthday celebration was planned.

A sushi dinner with close friends and The Mister, birthday cupcakes from Cupcake Royale, drinks at The Comet and then on to Neighbours Nightclub for the queens. I love Capitol Hill in Seattle. Even on a Wednesday evening the neighborhood is alive and bursting with color and sound. Urban vibrancy. There is an ease I feel in the city, especially in this neck of the woods where tolerance reigns. We enter from a back alleyway, get scanned with a metal detector and walk into a nearly-empty club. My daughter and her pals aren’t there yet, so we head upstairs for drinks and a game of pool. Music pulses with urban house beats and I dance and twirl my pool stick, sipping my whiskey, so happy to be in this place at this time.

Once my daughter and her squad arrive, we move downstairs. A couple of scantily-clad male go-go dancers gyrate on a platform and move through the growing crowd. My friend, a self-proclaimed dancing queen herself, smiles with pure contentment as one of the dancers shimmies up behind her and together they dance, in sync and immersed in the music. Soon, the queens begin to arrive and anticipation is thick and buzzes through the room.

I’ve grown to understand my need to witness and be around artists who are unabashedly and authentically real. As a writer, I need that regular reminder that walls and pretense have no place in the creation of art and self-expression. It’s a lesson I came late to learn and one that bears repeating.

This is why I love drag queens.

Adorned in a glamorous, pink chiffon floor-length gown that I imagined Eartha Kitt once wore, our mistress of ceremonies took the stage. Appropriately cheeky and irreverent, she entertained as she introduced each queen. Each one, impeccably costumed and rehearsed, strode onto the stage in stilettos I could only dream of teetering in. Britney Spears, Demi Lovato and Marina and the Diamonds were all represented in their lip sync routines that were meticulously choreographed and executed. Fans in the crowd cheered and applauded each one as they interacted with the audience, gathering dollar bills as they made their way back to the stage for their grand finish and bow.

And me, the entire time, grinning ear-to-ear, asking my friends over and over again, why do I love this so much?

Drag queens are not clowns or freaks, nor are they there to be laughed at. They are true entertainers, artists and individuals in the most beautiful, stunning and inspirational way.

There is real magic when you surround yourself with others who are comfortable in their own skin. This year, this birthday, I needed a bit of that magic.

THREE: TOUCH ME

“Maybe you’ve had skin next to your skin, but when was the last time you let yourself be touched?” ~ Tom Spanbauer, In the City of Shy Hunters

I love having my face stroked. If you want something from me, massage my head. For my birthday, I booked myself a facial.

Mariposa Day Spa is a gem of place, tucked downstairs on a lower level from the busy, antique-filled First Street in downtown Snohomish. I’ve lived here for over twenty years and just stumbled upon this spot last year. Apparently, I wasn’t paying attention.

Everyone at the spa speaks in hushed, whispered voices. With all the treatment rooms separated only by curtains, it is as much of a courtesy to the other clients as it is a draw for me and my ASMR tendencies.

ASMR is an acronym for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. In short, I get full-body shivers and tingles from certain sounds and colors. I’ve had it all my life, but it wasn’t until I heard this episode of This American Life that I realized I was not alone.

China teacups clinking on saucers.

Horse’s teeth chewing their bridle bit.

The squeak of a leather English saddle when riding.

Car wheels on a gravel road.

All these sounds give me the most wonderful shivers down my spine. Some colors, too–the combination of pink and yellow, the deepest, richest purple, the sky-blue shade of my best friend’s Schwinn Varsity 10-speed bike when we were teenagers.

I lay on the warm treatment table under a cozy blanket. Soft, soothing, ambient music pipes in. I close my eyes and the esthetician arrives, waving lavender oil under my nose and tells me to inhale. From that point on, I am putty. Warm towels wrap my face, the satisfying clink of jar tops being screwed and unscrewed and lovely, creamy potions spread over my skin. Steam then mist then the clatter of hot stones taken from their water bath and spread over my shoulders. More creams, more strokes, the flick of a towel, hand massage, foot massage and a final, swoon-worthy scalp massage.

It’s so important to allow ourselves to receive the healing power of touch the esthetician whispers to me as she finishes and leaves me to absorb the final moments of bliss. Tears pool in the corners of my eyes.

Yes, it is.

 

 

Three Things, Issue Forty

ONE: LA PUSH

Going to the ocean when I was a kid meant a day trip to the perpetually socked-in-like-pea-soup Ocean Shores. I’ve loved the ocean’s energy for as long as I can remember, but I never recall there being sunshine at Ocean Shores.

We’d pile into our green Chevy van with an ice chest full of homemade tuna fish sandwiches, breathless with excitement over the adventures sure to be had. It was summer and we’d leave the warm sunshine of suburbia and sure enough, as we made our way west, the sky turned to shades of steel and concrete and our moods quickly soured.

The ocean beach itself was fifty shades of gray. The lack of rain didn’t make it any less dismal. An uninterrupted swath of gray sand kissed by gray waves butted up to a slightly lighter gray sky. Bundled up, we dug with plastic shovels and made sad attempts at flying cheap kites and ate our gritty tuna sandwiches with stale off-brand potato chips. We’d wade into the surf up to our ankles and feel the sand give way beneath our feet as my sister told me I’d be eaten up by quicksand if I wasn’t careful.

By the time I was 21, I was living in Portland and dating a model named Doug when he drove us out to Cannon Beach in his vintage Volvo sports car. It was September and the beach shimmered in the sunlight. The gray sand was bathed in warm light and the water was topaz blue and glistened with every crest of the waves. I marveled at the stately sea stacks and the quaint shops and restaurants that didn’t serve gritty tuna sandwiches. Doug and I held hands and sipped expensive wine and I felt like a grown-up and dreamed of the life we’d have with beautiful tow-headed model children who we’d take to the beautiful, sunny ocean beach our in fancy sports cars that we’d collect.

Doug eventually came out of the closet and we broke up, but not long after I met The Mister. He and I spent years stealing away for romantic weekends in Cannon Beach and trips to California and Hawaii. The beaches there were clean and sunny and we’d sleep in fancy inns and hotels with room service where we’d eat our eggs benedict in bathrobes sitting on balconies overlooking the sea.

I’ve always loved the ocean.

The Mister and I married and had a couple kids and our fancy beach vacations evaporated as quickly as our lazy Sunday morning brunches spiked with mimosas followed by naps. I missed the ocean but The Mister’s work schedule made summer vacations tough. A couple of my siblings and their older kids had a tradition of summers out on the Olympic Pennisula and encouraged me to join them.

This might be a good time to mention that, apparently, over the previous years I had developed into something that is best described as “high maintenance”.

A bit fussy. Maybe a touch tightly-wound. Particular about things. A lot of things.

My sister knew this, so she spent an inordinate amount of time describing the beach they loved, the accommodations and what it would be like. I was still a new mom and not an easygoing one, so I listened carefully before finally agreeing to give it a whirl. My kids, now 18 months and six years old, needed a family vacation tradition and this was going to be it.

Let’s just say the first few years were rough.

The cabins at La Push were basic, one notch up from rustic, and not at all what I was used to. Traveling with young kids was exhausting–the gear, the food, the unfamiliar sleeping arrangements. The Mister often wasn’t able to join us, so I was on my own. I cried in the shower that was barely big enough for me to turn around in, grimacing as the thin, plastic curtain stuck to my wet skin.

But I still remember the first time speeding down the road towards La Push, gazing into the thick rows of trees in the dark forests of Olympic National Park. Amidst those tall firs, I imagined myself as Max from my favorite childhood book, “Where The Wild Things Are” and felt as if I’d come home.

There were the nightly beach fires with s’mores and sangria and fire questions and answers. The delicious family dinners and the community of cousins and sandcastles and sunsets over James Island. And yeah, the meltdowns and fights and misunderstandings that go along with any family endeavor. Through it all, a tradition was born.

And something else happened, too. I grew up a little bit. Loosened up. Relaxed my grip on how things always had to be “just so”. And I fell in love.

I fell in love with this place way up north on the wild and wooly Washington coast. A place that is often rainy but just as quickly turns to surprisingly warm, brilliant sunshine. A place that even on the stormiest days is not monochrome and dull, but alive with the surrounding forests that stretch down to touch the waves. Multicolored driftwood, in abstract shapes of whales, ravens and spears line the slim crescent of coastline. La Push is sacred ground, located on the Quileute Indian Reservation, with no casino in sight.

The cabins have been upgraded, although I’m happy to say I don’t care as much anymore. This is where I come to breathe. Here is where I come to grieve and come to remember how to live. I come here to stand at the ocean’s edge and to gaze into the night sky and feel so very small. The ocean and sky, each full of secrets and wonder.

I still think of Max and his wild rumpus as I speed towards La Push each year. I’m grateful to my siblings for inviting me to join them at this magical place nearly 20 years ago, and to my ancestors from whom we inherited this fierce love and awe of nature.

More than anything though, I come to La Push to listen.

TWO: BIRTHDAYS

I’ve often wondered why it is that my birthday is such a big deal to me. But it has been, ever since I can remember.

My love of my birthday must have been born from the fact that I grew up in a family where I was just one of many. Seven, to be exact, not counting the grandparents who took turns living with us. But on your birthday, you got to pick whatever you wanted to have for dinner and that was a very big deal, indeed. Kentucky Fried Chicken was my go-to birthday dinner for years until I became old enough to know better. My mom (or one of my sisters) would bake a 13 x 9 chocolate cake with homemade chocolate frosting, topped with brightly-colored sprinkles and candles. Someone would sing the happy birthday song to me, I’d make a wish, blow and then, presents.

I have all that I need, but I still love presents. I even still love having someone sing that song to me. And I still love my birthday.

I’ve thrown myself big parties and small ones. I’ve had quiet birthdays with my closest family and louder ones with more. It’s never felt strange to take a day to feel special. I’ve never felt the need to apologize for it, although others have insinuated that perhaps I should.

When are we too old to be happy about and celebrate living another year?

As May draws near, I take time to think about how I’d like to commemorate my trip around the sun. A plan is hatched, invites extended, reservations made. This year, my birthday falls during the week the Y is closed for maintenance, so I took myself to La Push to write and walk and grieve and listen.

The act of valuing yourself enough to give yourself exactly what you need and desire is a powerful one. If he truly loved me, he’d know exactly what I want, was a conversation I overheard recently. I’m not sure in whose life that mythology works, but in my life, love has nothing to do with mind reading.

So, happy birthday. I’m so very happy you were born and I hope you are, too.

I don’t take this life for granted. Might as well celebrate.

THREE: AGE

When I tell you that I’ve spent the better part of my life worrying about and trying to make people like me, it’s not a badge of honor.

Matter of fact, it’s kind of embarrassing.

Maybe you are the type of person who has never cared one way or another. If so, I’d say you’re a rare and lucky soul and I’d also think to myself that you’re probably lying just a little bit. I think it’s a natural part of the human condition to want others to like us. To be part of the gang, to get along, to be popular.

A funny thing happened along my way to getting older–I stopped worrying about whether or not people liked me and instead, I hoped that I’d like them.

My overwhelming desire to be liked has impacted every single relationship in my life, and not always in the most positive ways. From family to friends to my professional relationships and into my yoga teaching and writing–it’s been there. Often too much there.

Until now. Full stop. Pivot.

What a gift it is to be comfortable in my own skin. To be able to see those whom I so desperately needed approval from as just as flawed–and sometimes more so–as I am. How freeing it is to be less concerned with how I am perceived and instead far more interested in others without the heavy baggage of self-absorbed anxiety.

Watch me pull my gaze out of my navel.

The years I spent abdicating my own authenticity to better suit the needs of others were not without valuable lessons and the sum of them all have created who I am today. I gather around me a small clan of souls I like to call my “ride or dies” and that’s more than enough.

What a gift it is to grow older.

Happy birthday, everybody.

 

 

Three Things, Issue Thirty-Nine

ONE: DEATH

I was thirty-five years old before I ever attended a funeral or memorial service.

Both sets of my grandparents had died during my lifetime and yet I never attended their funerals. Granted, I was young when most of them passed away, but my parents never seemed to press the issue of my attendance. I was a clingy, emotional child and imagine it was simply easier for me to stay home with my sister. It was as if one day my grandparents were in my life and the next day I never saw them again. My parents didn’t talk about it much. The concept of death was confusing and mysterious.

My mother’s best friend, Betty, passed away from complications of lupus not long after her retirement. By this time I was at the end of my teenage years and I loved the rarely-seen playful nature that Betty coaxed out of my mom. I hold images of the two of them curled around mugs of thick coffee and a plate of store-bought taffy cookies, planning and conspiring day trips here and there, mapping out adventures to be had. Betty’s eyes always sparkled with the hint of inside jokes that made my mother blush. She’d compliment my long, smooth legs, making me feel beautiful and confident while she questioned my choice of boyfriends like a protective aunt.

Her illness and death came far too soon.

I was at my boyfriend’s apartment when out of the blue, I sat up abruptly and insisted I had to go home. I felt an urgency to get to my mother and be with her. I couldn’t explain it, but when I walked in the door, she was in tears and told me that Betty had passed away that afternoon.

Knowing without knowing.

Betty’s family planned a memorial service–a celebration of her life–rather than a funeral. It was a warm summer day full of sunshine, the event held in the lush gardens at Betty’s daughter’s home. My mom and dad and a sibling or two attended, but I did not. I couldn’t face the inevitable avalanche of emotion.

I used to worry if I started crying, I’d never stop.

My mom was never the same after Betty’s death. And death remained a strange, abstract concept to me. Betty didn’t seem dead and I found myself expecting her to arrive at the door to whisk my sad mother away to points unknown and bring her back breathless and happy again.

A tightly-knotted boulder of emotion sat low in my belly the day I prepared to attend my father’s memorial service. Please, God, don’t let me cry, was my impassioned plea. I was thirty-five and still worried that if I started crying, I’d never stop. It was months after his actual passing and I had seen his dead body and confirmed that my father was no longer in the building. But this was my first experience with real grief.

At the service, I started crying and I felt like I’d never stop. At first, I was ashamed of such unbridled emotion and tried to choke back the sobs which only resulted in strange, snorting sounds. But then, as abruptly as a flick of a switch, something changed. My dad just died! I should be crying if my dad just died! The less I tried to rein in my natural emotion, the more everything became bathed in a soft, gentle energy of mourning. My uncontrolled hiccuping sobs relaxed. I was so, so sad and it was just as it should be.

My daughter and I walked into the cavernous auditorium of the church where Ellie’s service was held yesterday. A familiar knot in my belly, I recognized the fear that I would never be able to stop the tears once they began to flow. Photos of Ellie, emblazoned across the stage, as tall as a movie screen. Please don’t let me cry rose up in my subconscious again, afraid of looking foolish amidst these hundreds of mourners. If you need to cry, cry spoke the pastor leading the service. If you need to laugh, laugh he gently reminded us.

And we did, the whole mess of us. Remembering, honoring, crying, laughing, mourning. The reality of death, the finality and unfairness of it all. The celebration of a brilliant young woman who packed more love and life in her 17 years than most of us ever will. The full spectrum of grief to joy and back again, shared in community in its untidy entirety.

Death, not so much an abstract concept anymore, but death as a part of life.

TWO: APRIL

“April is the cruelest month…” ~ T.S. Eliot

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln (April 14, 1865)

Adolph Hitler’s birthday (April 20, 1889)

The sinking of the Titanic (April 15, 1912)

The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. (April 4, 1968)

Chernobyl disaster (April 26, 1986)

Oklahoma City bombing (April 19, 1995)

Columbine (April 20, 1999)

Virginia Tech shooting (April 16, 2007)

Deepwater Horizon explosion (April 20, 2010)

The Boston Marathon Bombing (April 15, 2013)

Prince died (April 21, 2016)

We’re in the homestretch, friends. Hang on. Care for each other. Pay attention. Love each other.

THREE: HEALING

The human body has always fascinated me. When I was young, I’d put my face up close to cuts and abrasions and study their progress of transformation. I’d watch as the inner tissue would begin to knit itself back together again and marvel at the way the body healed itself from the inside out. I wasn’t a scab picker, but I loved the moment the crusty lid of a wound would release to reveal the baby-pink skin beneath. I’d watch as the soft pink took on more color and after a week or two it took a bit of searching to find the spot of injury again. Bruises were cool, too. Such an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colors and healing just beneath the skin.

I love my scars.

The bumpy, keloid scar on my shoulder from a scald of spilled hot tomato soup. The lump of a scar on my right cheek where my brother clocked me with a ceramic mug of hot coffee and another scar on my nose from the sharp slice of the broken mug. The numb, white line of a sliver in my thumb from a slip of an Exacto knife while trying to get the very last bits of an expensive hair gel out a bottle. The straight slice of a laparoscopic scar from my appendectomy that sometimes gets mistaken for a bellybutton piercing. My right ankle, a multifaceted roadmap of scars from a broken and dislocated joint and slow-to-heal incision. If you tap the outside of my ankle, you can feel the metal plate and screws that live there.

A story for every imperfection. Each wound creating the complexity of a human life, each one a unique journey of pain and healing.

My surgeon warned me that the incisions on my ankle might be slower to heal because of it being further from my heart. Less circulation. He was right. Even once I was cleared to walk again, the surgical sites stayed open and sometimes angry. I cared for them meticulously, but worried about my upcoming trip to the coast where I’d be tempted to put my feet in the ocean. Just be careful, the surgeon advised. My eyes rolled. I was over three months post-op and weary of my limitations.

I’m not sure I know how to be at the ocean’s edge and not let the icy Northwest coast salt water wash up over my feet and ankles. It always seems like a necessary baptism.

Each night, I’d make sure any sand and grit was rinsed free before applying antibiotic cream and bandages. I was careful.

Home again after five days at the coast, I bent over to inspect my wounds. I looked closer and was amazed to see the sure signs of healing. The incisions, less red and angry, no longer bearing a constant, sore ache. Edges beginning to knit together, the soft pink of new skin.

Holy water.

Heart wounds are deep and tricky. There’s often talk of healing after loss, but I don’t believe that. At least not in the way our tissues heal and over time we have to search for that place of injury again. Each loss I’ve suffered leaves a hole, a chasm, a fissure that always remains. No amount of stitches or time or carefully applied cream will close that space. But instead, a new normal. A beating heart, riddled with a tapestry of tender holes where love has lived. Unseen, but those holes forever filled with a soft ache of sadness.

Soon, my feet will be at the edge of that very same Northwest coastline again. The expected, sharp gasp of breath as I let the frigid waves lap and splash at my feet and ankles, toes curling into soft sand. Ebb and flow, wild and messy, an offering of tears and grief.

A necessary baptism.

Holy water.

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

~ Leonard Cohen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Thirty-Eight

ONE: CONTROL

Do you believe everything happens for a reason? asked the text that arrived late in the night. Awakened by my phone’s vibration, I squinted my eyes and struggled to make out the blur of words before rolling over and falling back asleep. Waking up the next morning, the question haunted me.

Do I believe everything happens for a reason? No. I believe that we desperately want to believe that there is Divine order in everything–the good, the bad and the ugly. To believe that there is some greater force at work when our life is crumbling down around us gives us hope and comfort and there’s nothing wrong with wanting hope and comfort. I get that.

But it’s not what I believe.

To believe that everything happens for a reason means that there was some Divine intentionality involved in the anguish of a vibrant, smart and kind teenage girl on the cusp of her life and her desperate choice to deliberately end it. To believe that it happened for a reason would imply that this soul was plucked out and chosen to suffer. Unlike this young woman–whose own steadfast faith shined like a beacon for others–I often struggle with my beliefs, but what I know for sure is this: any God I believe in would not intentionally inflict such horrific pain.

Our community has been pummeled by a series of unimaginable losses: the sudden, unexpected death of a husband and father; the accidental death of a local pastor’s son, on his way to complete his first year at college; the suicide of a high school freshman from a neighboring school down the road; and the suicide of a high school senior, a young woman I held close to my heart and for whom I grieve deeply.

Bad things happen to good people. Sometimes, the worst happens to the very best.

Did he have heart disease? Did he exercise? Had he been to the doctor recently? 

Was he paying attention? Was he drunk or on drugs? Was he on his phone and distracted?

Surely, there must have been signs. Did he seem depressed? Was she on medication? Was she being bullied? Didn’t her family know?

Our grasping for control shows up in the questions we ask. We want to make sense out of the senseless. We want to make sure that this doesn’t happen to us. Please, please, dear God, don’t let this happen to us.

I don’t believe everything happens for a reason, but I do believe in the strength and resiliency of human beings. Life will test us in ways we can’t comprehend–this is part of the mystery of life. There is wisdom and valuable perspective to be gained from the trials we go through, if we’re able to withstand the challenge and get to the other side where we begin to see the light of day again. I believe there is a circle of humanity that exists that connects those who have suffered to those who are suffering and in those connections we find solace and strength. Within those connections, we learn what it means to be fully human.

The truth is life is hard and some days it will crush you. The truth is mental illness is real and depression can be deceptive and insidious. The truth is some people’s superhero strength is their weakness. The truth is we have so little control over so much. The truth is scary.

The truth is we are not alone. You are never alone. Life can be hard but it can also be breathtakingly beautiful and full of joy and hope. A life well-lived is one of vivid contrasts.

We are all in this together.

TWO: GRIEF

In a lighter moment recently, I imagined our path through grief like sampling at a salsa bar–sometimes it’s fiery and fierce and you don’t think you’ll survive. Other times it’s mellow and slow-roasted with a familiar smokiness when we taste it on our tongue that brings back rich memories. Then there’s the astringent, bitter one when our impulse is to recoil and spit it out and rinse our mouth with something soothing. The surprisingly sweet salsa of grief–still sharp with spice but with the relief of sweetness on your palate at the end. The grief salsa I like the least is the one that takes you by surprise without warning. A sneak attack when you are just going about your day, not expecting the slap and sting. The one that brings me to my knees.

Grief looks like this: padding aimlessly through the house on a Friday morning, opening and closing the refrigerator, sniffing the butcher-papered package of ground chicken meant for meatballs you bought five days ago that you haven’t been able to fathom cooking since the black velvet blanket of sadness descended. Then repeating the same pattern three, four, sometimes five more times.

Grief looks like simultaneously wanting everyone to leave you alone and wishing a group of friends would appear at your door with a grocery store sheet cake and plastic forks.

Grief is inconvenient. Grief is messy. Some people will tell you they’re tired of your grief by encouraging you to “get over it”. They might use different words, softer words that mask the intent, but the message is the same. These people are not your friends.

Walking the path of grief means knowing where you stand within the concentric circles of the blast radius of the explosion, then reaching in to lend a hand, an ear, a shoulder to those standing much closer to the eye of the storm.

If you’re in the eye of the storm, grief means allowing us to help you.

Walking the path of grief is not the scenic route but there is no other way through. There are massive inclines that will test your stamina and your lungs will ache with effort. There are labyrinth-like switchbacks and dead ends that will play with your mind and make you think you’re losing it. You’ll encounter others on this path and it’s important to hoist those that are struggling on your stronger back, maybe just for a few steps. And when your legs shake and tremble, remember to rest. And then get up and take one more step forward.

Grief feels like the skin on your face drawn dry and tight by so many salty tears and snot. Eyelids so swollen that lashes retract and disappear.

Grief means tucking yourself into bed at night and realizing that you didn’t feel that sharp sadness today and then feeling guilty about it.

Grief means looking out the window and wondering how the world can keep going when everything in your world seems to have ended.

Grief means remembering that life is for the living and through our living, we honor those we have lost.

One more step. Just one.

And that’s how we get through. There is no other way.

THREE: PRAYER

“I don’t know exactly what a prayer is…” ~ Mary Oliver

This past week I have prayed like a motherfucker.

My faith has always waxed and waned, but I know how to pray. One of my favorite prayers I learned at the Lutheran church I attended for about a decade included the words, ” Dear God, help me in my disbelief.” Even as the daughter and granddaughter of ministers, I was always encouraged to question. Blind faith was for fools, I was taught, and my parents didn’t raise a fool. When I was younger and went through challenging times, my mother would often say, “I’ll pray for you.” I wasn’t sure who or what exactly my self-described heathen of a mother was praying to, but I liked that she did.

Eyes closed, squeezing out more tears than I imagined I could ever produce, holding the warm hand of this young woman I loved. Please, God, please. Please. I felt like a hypocrite, desperately reciting clumsy petitions to a God whose viability I regularly questioned. Awkward and afraid, I asked her sister if she wanted to lead us in a prayer, knowing how much faith meant to this family in so much pain. And with composure and fortitude and conviction fitting someone decades older, we gathered around the hospital bed and she did.

In that moment, I felt comfort. I exhaled.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…

I prayed like a motherfucker this week, praying for a miracle. I prayed that the brain damage would be miraculously reversed and this beloved young woman would sit up in her bed, yank out the tubes that were keeping her alive and laugh at the crazy joke she played on all of us. But this young woman with the mischievous glint in her eyes and deep belly laugh walked in kindness above all else. She would never have thought it was funny to worry and hurt so many people she loved.

So what exactly are we praying for? someone asked me.

Peace. Comfort. Understanding.

I don’t know, I answered.

My daughter dreamed of the young woman and her sister with whom she had shared so many memories. In the early morning hours of the day this young woman took her last breath, my daughter had a dream of being embraced in a hug with these two dear friends of hers. The young woman, consoling her sister and her friend, repeating these words over and over and over again:

It’s gonna be okay. It’s all gonna be okay.

But right now, it’s hard as hell.

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Thirty-Seven

It’s been a brutal week. Hellish even, with multiple punches to the gut and solar plexus that make me feel like I’m drowning. I’ll get my bearings enough to reach for something to grasp onto, only to be sucker punched while I’m looking the other way. This is the tough gristle and jaggedy bone of life. The stuff you never want to have to deal with but you do, riding all the waves of grief and ache, letting each pass through until the next one inevitably hits.

Life and death.

It’s not my intention to be alarmist or unnecessarily coy and I wish I could tell you more, but I can’t right now. Don’t worry about me because I’m okay–this is more about the people I love and my community at large.

Today, here are three things that matter.

ONE: LOVE

At the end of our lives, all that will matter is who and how we loved.

This is not an original thought, nor terribly earth-shattering and certainly not very complex. But it’s not an empty, airy-fairy platitude either.

I taught my yoga classes last week on the theme of “keep it simple”. As humans, we are gifted these phenomenal brains that like to over-think, analyze and criticize. While critical thinking and an analytical mind can serve us in many realms, we often let our brains get in the way when it comes down to our relationships.

Love hard and long. Love as clearly as possible. Love without regret.

Keep it simple. Love each other. And allow others to love you, in all those bumbling, imperfect ways that we humans tend to do.

TWO: ATTENTION

Pay attention to those you love and how you love. Pay attention to what’s going on within you.

If we’re lucky enough to live a few decades, it’s inevitable that we strap some pretty impressive baggage to our backs and lug it from one relationship to the next. No one gets out of here with a perfect record.

So take a few moments each week to pull your head out of the rat race, unplug from the busy effort of day-to-day living and get quiet. Notice your breath, notice what comes up. Sit with it. Squirm a bit. Watch yourself want to leave but stay anyway. Your breath serves as your anchor.

It’s so simple and not easy at all. Paying attention is one of the most valuable practices we can do for ourselves and with others.

Bring that quiet awareness to your loved ones. What do you notice? Listen. Listen to what they say and listen to what they don’t say or maybe can’t say. It’s not our job to be mind-readers of the people we love, but it’s important to recognize that we all have moments when we struggle to express ourselves clearly.

Look up from your phone, from your work, from your navel and look around. Pay attention.

THREE: GRACE

And when you screw up–because we all do–give yourself grace. Then, take a handful of that grace and share it with someone else.

We all stumble and fall. I know it doesn’t always look that way from the outside. Scan your social media feed on any given day and look for evidence of an imperfect life and you might be searching for awhile. There’s always been the tendency to want to “keep up with the Joneses” or gaze longingly at your neighbor’s greener grass but social media has heightened our propensity for comparison to others. Those exotic vacations, all the happy family holidays, the sexy new jobs and fancy, expensive meals that it seems like everyone else is partaking of but you. Extend that grace to the folks who put the extra effort into portraying a perfect life and understand that it usually stems from our basic human desire to be loved.

Grace. It’s so simple.

When you get caught up in the minutiae of life and you miss the bigger picture, grace.

When you love others without first unpacking all that complicated baggage strapped to your back, grace.

When the people you love love you back in their messy, imperfect ways that we humans tend to do, grace.

At the end of the day, grace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Press Pause (or, One Thing)

I’m taking this week off, dear readers. I’ll be back next week with another installment of Three Things but until then, here’s a little something I wrote about Easter just one year ago.

HALLELUJAH, INDEED

I was in my early thirties and my mom was still giving me an Easter basket.

My extended family of siblings and nieces and nephews had gathered at my eldest sister’s property in Redmond for our annual Easter egg hunt and my mom, with an index finger pressed to her lips to ensure secrecy, beckoned me to her bedroom. Don’t tell anyone, she admonished as she handed me a brown wicker basket filled with lavender plastic grass and Cadbury eggs. I giggled. I was the youngest of seven and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy a bit of preferential “baby of the family” treatment now and then.

Easter used to be a big deal. I am the daughter and granddaughter of Lutheran ministers and understood the significance of the holiday in Christian theology. As a young girl, Easter Sunday meant big, formal dinners with relatives we rarely saw. Ham, scalloped potatoes, asparagus. Rhubarb pie, if we were lucky. The Saturday evening before Easter was always spent curled over mugs of vinegar-scented egg dye, creating colorful hard-boiled eggs in pastel hues. As we got older and my siblings had their own babies, the holiday moved north to Redmond, to my sister’s five acres in the woods. She spent hours of effort planning, stuffing and hiding dozens upon dozens of plastic eggs throughout the dewy flora and fauna. The egg hunt was a production of grandest proportions and afterward we’d gather for another feast–less formal by now and punctuated by happy shrieks from babies and toddlers–but no less magnificent.

By the time my kids were born, the five acres had been sold and the annual egg hunt pretty much retired. The Mister and I spent a decade or so doggedly attending church at a progressive Lutheran congregation nearby. I had a close friendship with the pastor who confided in me that in clergy circles “Holy Week” (the week between Palm Sunday and Easter) was widely regarded as “Hell Week” due to its demands on church leaders. For a few years, I did the whole shebang–smudge of ash on my forehead on Ash Wednesday, congregational soup suppers during Lent, waving palm fronds on on Palm Sunday. And then, after a less-ambitious egg hunt in our surburban yard, we’d drag our kids to the Easter Sunday service. The normally half-empty worship sanctuary now bursting at the seams with the C & E parishioners, or “Chreasters”–those folks who only step into a church on Christmas and Easter. It wasn’t long before our family decided to skip the crowded holiday service altogether and enjoy our deviled eggs by ourselves.

I made a valiant attempt to keep the Easter train chugging. I offered to host a big dinner at my house, but by now most of my sibling’s families were grown and moving on to other traditions. Last year, with my son in Philadelphia and myself in Portland at a writing workshop, I bemoaned the fact that Easter was, in fact, dead. “It’s not like we ever really did anything to celebrate,” my daughter said. Ugh. That made me sad.

So, this Easter, with my kids now 22 and 18, there will be no baskets filled with fake grass. (The cats always ate that stuff anyway, and we’d find it, well…you know, later.) I completely understand my mom’s insistence that I still got a basket, even when I probably shouldn’t have. It’s that last-gasp-grasp to cling to the way things were. Honoring traditions that perhaps have been worn hollow. Wanting to halt the passage of time. A desire to keep our kids (and maybe ourselves, too) just as they were, as opposed to embracing who they are now. I get that. Holy Jesus and Mary, I totally get that.

Instead of ham, there will be salmon on the grill. Green beans and smashed potatoes. Homemade peanut butter eggs and bags of the only candy that counts on Easter–those little chocolate Cadbury eggs with pastel-colored crunchy shells.

Hallelujah. Happy Easter.

Three Things, Issue Thirty-Six

ONE: SPRING

She came into the world on an early Tuesday morning in spring, just as the sun began to stretch itself over the horizon. She once read in Oprah magazine how the season you are born in will always be your favorite. Your power season, the article called it. She doesn’t read Oprah anymore, but she likes to think that’s why she likes spring.

She considers spring and fall “shoulder seasons” to the more intense winter and summer. Although she never minds the cold and wet of winter as much as some of her friends, too much darkness can plunge her headlong into a deep, untouchable place. A place where she often loses track of herself and forgets the way out, like the longest mountain trail full of switchbacks and slippery boulders. Calling for help is a last resort and one she rarely considers. But no season feels more oppressive to her than the end of summer. Statistically, more homicides are committed in the unrelenting dog days of summer, a statistic she understands. The end of August is spent draped in front of an oscillating fan, imagining rain and staying away from annoying people and sharp objects.

If spring isn’t her favorite, it’s a close second to autumn.

Childhood birthdays on 60 degree days splashed with cotton ball clouds. Her favorite yellow gingham culotte and navy blue saltwater sandals. Picnics on the lake shore, sipping from cans of cream soda and ripping crusts from tuna sandwiches to feed to the ducks. And her favorite birthday dinner–Kentucky Fried Chicken, before the food rules became a staple in her life. Before the shame set in.

As soon as the tender, green shoots of the crocus push through the dirt, her heart quickens and the world feels less heavy. In spring, she can smell things growing. The smell of dirt erupting with new life. Even the rain has a different scent in springtime–like a cleansing baptism rather than a daylong deluge. Roadside medians and neighborhood gardens peppered with pops of violet primroses, yellow narcissus and later, clusters of pastel hyacinths, resplendent in their intoxicating perfume.

Spring weather is mercurial, like her moods. Nothing annoys her more than people commenting on the weather in spring. Can you believe this crazy weather today? they exclaim while she thinks to herself, well, what did you expect? Spring does its thing as it should–a brilliant spectrum of meteorological events from pelting hail to thunderous lightning to blinding sunshine and double rainbows, all within a few hours in a day. There’s a beautiful lack of monotony to a proper spring and she wonders why everyone is always so surprised when it behaves accordingly.

And year after year, the lilacs bloom on her birthday. She slips out to tug the branches close to her nose and breathe in their fragrance. That’s it, she thinks every year. That’s the smell of spring.

From an early age, she learned that spring was what hope smells like.

TWO: FLYING

It took twenty-three years and a new boyfriend before she flew on an airplane. Partly because her family never traveled much and mostly because her roots grow long and deep into her home soil, she was never inclined to give flying a try. But the onset of early adulthood and the inklings of a fresh love brought with it the potential of adventure. For once, she wanted to be brave.

Her father loved flying and loved to regale anyone who would listen with stories of his flights back east to visit family. His normally tired eyes danced when he spoke of the roar of the jet engines. She watched him carefully as he demonstrated how to let one’s body go limp during takeoff. So you can fully absorb the energy pull he’d say. She wonders if she inherited her love of hydroplanes and drag racing and punk rock from her father’s fascination with expressions of energy.

While her mother warns her of the perils of flying, her father offers to drive her to the airport for her red-eye flight. Puffing on his Benson & Hedges as he drives, he meticulously checks off each detail of boarding passes and departure gates. Her stomach roils with nerves. She looks at her lap and fidgets with the hem on the skirt of her ivory wool suit–a special splurge charged on her Nordstrom card for this inaugural flight. It was late August–the week before Labor Day–and she hadn’t even considered the steamy east coast weather when she planned her flying attire. These were the days when people still dressed up for air travel. The days before shoe bombs and pajama pants and TSA body scans.

She sits at her gate and remembers Saturday nights spent at the airport with her older sister, watching planes take off and land, over and over and over again. Like magic. Chocolate and vanilla swirled Diary Queen soft serve cones on the way home.

She grabs her blue duffel bag as the boarding agent calls her row. Her father doesn’t offer a hug, but instead presses three Xanax into her palm and promises he will stand at the window and watch her plane take off. Just to make sure. Just to be safe.

She always feels her father with her when she flies.

THREE: NEW YORK CITY

It took twenty-three years and a new boyfriend before she made it to New York City. She had never before ventured off the west coast but New York City had forever held a certain allure for her. Her father, born in a coastal town of Oregon, often spoke of his time as a young man in Manhattan. Boasting of his proficiency at navigating the New York subway system, spinning tales of his studies at Union Seminary, admitting his confused delight at being propositioned by gay men in Central Park. So many stories. Her father possessed an east-coast aesthetic that paralleled his liberal west-coast leanings. It was a combination that always made sense to her.

Her spiritual teacher once taught her to pay attention to visceral reactions to certain places. Notice what happens in your body, her teacher urged. She thinks of her aversion to Los Angeles and Arizona and places in the desert where life can’t be supported without artificial means. She begins to notice the waves of sadness wash over her when she visits friends in those arid regions. Every journey back to the Northwest her eyes predictably well with tears as the brown, lifeless hillsides transition to the rich, green forested peaks of her hometown. She remembers the way her shoulders and jawline release and how her breath feels fuller and richer when she spends time on the wild coastline of the Pacific. Her body is her teacher, if she allows it.

A lump of emotion rises in her chest at the first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline and the green sprawl of Central Park. The first time it happens she’s in an airplane and it startles her. She chalks it up to her relief at landing soon and brushes the tears from her eyes. But then again, on subsequent trips by bus and train. She doesn’t quite understand it like she understands the softening of her shoulders at the ocean’s edge or her exhale at the sight of her green forests.

Back west, she studies maps of New York City and learns its neighborhoods and boroughs. From faraway, the city skyline seems to dazzle with promise and sparkling secrets. Once on its streets, she leans into the city’s grit and guts. This is her favorite part. Feeling at once at home and completely lost, she dreams of a way to explain this to the people she loves so they understand. So she understands. She walks through Chinatown and Little Italy and into Soho, breathing in bouquets of rotting fish heads and capicola and flat loaves of ciabatta, pulled fresh from brick ovens. The people are friendly and straightforward. She feels seen but unseen and that brings her comfort.

Manhattan is perpetual motion. To idly stroll in Manhattan means to risk being swallowed. She appreciates the city that encourages her purposeful gait. She doubts she could ever live there, but imagines spending a week or two each year, perhaps in the springtime when the lilacs bloom in Central Park and she could wear more clothes and have time to linger at every painting at The Met.

Her children grow up and fall in love with the city as she did. Walking behind her son through Greenwich Village on a warm evening in late June, she glances up and recognizes the long legs and familiar stride. The purposeful gait. Tears puddle in her eyes. She remembers to listen to her body and feels at once hopelessly lost and at home.

She sees her father in her son on the sidewalks and subways of New York City.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Thirty-Five

ONE: PIE

“Pie is the food of the heroic. No pie-eating people can ever be permanently vanquished.” ~ New York Times, May 3, 1902 (from “Pie & Whiskey”)

I fancy myself a respectable baker, but pie is my Achilles heel. Cakes, cookies and breads are a breeze. Cheesecakes, even–a speciality of mine. But pie? Pie strikes fear in this baker’s heart.

Most baking is chemistry. Dry and wet ingredients, precisely measured and weighed. Fat for a tender crumb, leavening for lightness. Eggs, yeast, baking powder or soda. A specific formula mixed together and then, heat and time. A bit of love and attention.

I love the process of baking.

And yet each November, I dread and struggle with my simple Thanksgiving pumpkin and pecan pies. Single crust, what could go wrong?

Everything. Every damn thing.

Pie dough that cracks and splits as I attempt to transfer it to the pie dish. Too thick, too tough, lousy flavor. I’ve tried every “no fail” pie crust recipe with every “secret” ingredient and failed every single time. I bought a fancy marble slab to roll dough on. A heavy-duty pastry blender. A stainless steel rolling pin, kept chilled in the freezer. Once or twice, I cheated and sheepishly used the pre-made pie crusts already rolled out between waxed paper in the refrigerated grocery store cases. The results were uniformly dreadful.

Enter “Pie & Whiskey: Writers Under the Influence of Butter & Booze”. If there had ever been a book that spoke directly to my soul, it was this.

A Christmas gift from my son, “Pie & Whiskey” is a collection of writing about, well–pie and whiskey. Born in 2012 in Spokane, Washington, Pie & Whiskey began as a reading event where writers gathered to read and listen to each other’s prose, accompanied by some good booze and freshly baked sweets. Five years later, a collection of essays and recipes was published into book form and landed in my floury hands.

I was immediately smitten. And inspired.

Paging through the essays, I learned an important point about pie: although making pie is baking, to do it well requires less precision and far more poetry. Making pie crust is a feel, a sense, an intuitive process. I had been going about it all wrong.

My dear friend and cooking comrade, Erin, turned me on to another resource, Art Of The Pie. Its founder, Kate McDermott, lives in Port Angeles and is the author of “Art Of The Pie” as well as another cookbook coming out in the fall of 2018. Her website is packed with reassuring instructions on pie making, including her recipe for pie crust. As I read through the recipe, I noticed a familiar theme. Simple, high-quality ingredients, no fancy equipment needed. Clean hands, warm heart and a whole lotta soul.

Pi Day came around last week and I was inspired to give my renewed pie hope a test drive. I chose rhubarb because it’s my favorite. With no fresh rhubarb yet in the stores, I found a bag of frozen fruit that I figured would work just fine. I studied Kate’s encouraging recipe. I chilled my ingredients. I gave myself a pep talk and got to work.

My pastry blender stayed in the drawer as I dove in with my bare hands, rubbing flour into butter until I had small bits of dough. I sprinkled ice water into the bowl and again, used my hands to mix until the dough just began to hold a shape. I wrapped two “chubby disks” of pie dough in plastic and tossed them in the fridge to rest. I exhaled.

An hour later, I began to roll. Kate assures me that pie dough wants to please me, so I kept a running banter with my dough, encouraging and coaxing, reassuring it of my belief in its success. It didn’t crack, it didn’t stick and I was able to drape the bottom crust gently in the plate and let it relax into its shape. I sprinkled flour and sugar over the crust, added the fruit, more flour and sugar and lightly blanketed it all with the top crust. I cooed soft, kind words and fluted the edges. The pie slid into the oven. I exhaled again.

The crust? Magnificent. The pie? A resounding flop.

Between the frozen fruit and my misbehaving oven, the filling was dotted with chunks of uncooked rhubarb. Biting into uncooked rhubarb is an unhappy surprise. Much of the fruit was still firm and hadn’t been cooked down into its typical soft-tart-sweet-thick filling.The crust though! Beautiful and golden. Flaky and buttery. Almost perfect.

I decided to deem my efforts a success, even with its tough, partially baked, fruity flaws.

This year is Tracie’s Year Of The Pie. I might even spring for one of Kate’s Pie Day Camp Workshops. Armed with my Costco-sized jug of Bulleit Bourbon and a few reliable pie mentors, I can’t wait to see what comes out of the oven.

If pie is the food of the heroic, let’s all be heroes.

TWO: CORNED BEEF

Every St. Patrick’s Day, my mother made corned beef and cabbage. I’m not sure why, considering our Scandinavian DNA, but it showed up on the dinner table like clockwork each March. Stringy meat with weird globs of fat and a watery broth filled with limp cabbage and soft carrots. The only redeeming thing on my plate were the little red potatoes that sat beside the rest. The next day, I’d find a corned beef sandwich in my lunch, smeared with mayo and grainy mustard. Lifted out of the previous night’s nondescript soup, the corned beef sandwich was my favorite part of our lackluster St. Patrick’s Day observations.

Once I had a couple of young kids of my own, I did the same thing. Without thinking much about it, I tossed a brisket in my shopping cart each March, added a head of green cabbage, a bag of red potatoes and a couple of carrots. My kitchen filled with the familiar fragrance of the corned beef, braising in a briny bath for hours in the oven, served with the same thin, pale broth. And every year, my reaction was the same. Meh. Sometimes I’d toss the leftovers out, pausing only briefly to wonder why I made this same uninspired, unenjoyable meal year after year.

Why do we do the things we do?

It was only four years ago that I had the epiphany that I didn’t have to ever make corned beef and cabbage again. Sometimes I am a slow learner.

Knowing that the Mister was built from some sturdy Irish stock and therefore my kids, too, I was still compelled to acknowledge St. Patrick’s Day. For a few years, instead of corned beef, I brewed a pot of thick, Irish stew followed by a rich Guinness chocolate cake. Much better, I thought. Last week, I was strolling through Costco during sample time and tried a bite of the pre-cooked corned beef they were hawking for the holiday. And just like that, the familiar taste, the Marches of my youth, all that corned beef came flashing back into my memory.

I kinda liked it.

I didn’t buy the pre-cooked, microwaveable stuff I had sampled, but found the brisket just around the corner and stuck it in my cart. I chuckled at myself for doing it again, but decided this year, I’d do it differently.

A new recipe–one that doesn’t immerse the meat in water for hours, but a roast cooked slow and low in just a wee bit of Guinness stout and vinegar. A lid of garlic, sugar and spices and slid under the broiler at the very end to create a crisp crust. Cabbage, sliced into steaks, brushed with olive oil and roasted until the edges darken and caramelize. A few potatoes, steamed and mashed with cauliflower to round things out. No watery broth, no lifeless cabbage in sight. It was the best St. Paddy’s meal I’ve ever had.

Tradition. Reimagined and improved, mindfully.

THREE: THE MORAL OF THE STORY

So why do we do the things we do?

Every once in awhile, I’ll notice an interview with a young woman–perhaps the celebrity of the hour, maybe 30-ish or not quite. She’ll talk confidently about self-discovery and how she is making strong, brave decisions now that she is an evolved, mature woman. She has finally come into her own, she’ll announce.

And I’ll think, well, good for you. And then I’ll also think, but really?

All the women’s magazines I was still reading in my twenties assured me that my thirties was where it was at. I’d come into my own and be flush with confidence. The reality was my thirties were spent raising two young humans and adjusting to life in the foreign world of a stay-at-home mom. There wasn’t any part of me coming into my own. I couldn’t have told you what my own was. I spent that decade scrambling to be a decent mom, a good partner and fit nicely into to my very suburban neighborhood. I played a role, of sorts. The truth was I hadn’t found myself at all, but was getting lost much deeper in the woods.

In my forties, I tumbled into a heady love affair with yoga which began to reconnect me to myself. But even then, whatever rare free time I had was spent chanting kirtan with groups of yoga friends and draping myself in mala beads and om shantis. I wasn’t sure why or really what I was doing. But I desperately wanted to fit in. I wanted a tribe. To belong. I spent money on the right yoga clothes, the right mat, workshops with yogalebrities and teacher trainings that wrung me out and left me as limp as a wet noodle.

I still made the damned corned beef and cabbage every March. And I couldn’t tell you why.

Yoga began the journey back to myself but it also led me down the slippery slope of saying yes. “Be a yes!” was a familiar refrain throughout much of my teacher training. Even the now-despised Lululemon bags were emblazoned with pseudo-spiritual platitudes that encouraged (mostly) women to say yes to everything. Saying yes was the road to fulfillment. Enlightenment, even. When I began to question that philosophy, I was told I was growing cynical and closed-minded.

Just say yes! Really though?

It’s only recently that I’ve discovered the power that comes from a well-placed no, thank you. Saying no doesn’t make a person closed off. Saying no when something just isn’t right creates healthy boundaries. Growing older gives us the gift of experience–we learn to trust what feels good and right and fulfilling rather than constantly questioning our instincts or worse, believing we don’t deserve to feel good and right and fulfilled. We learn to identify what depletes us and how to say no without apology. I’ll admit I’m a late bloomer, but I’m not sure most of us have that capacity at thirty. Maybe not even forty. This life stuff takes time and introspection.

Why do we do things we do? How much of our time is spent creating a life we think we should want rather than taking time to mindfully consider what it is that genuinely curls our toes?

How long are you going to keep making the same corned beef, year after year?

I’m happy to report I don’t care so much about fitting in anymore. Sometimes my tribe is a party of one or two and that suits me fine. I make the corned beef because I took what I liked and made it into something much better. Kirtans don’t really float my boat anymore–and maybe they never really did. A mindful, well-timed no, thank you opens up space for more honest and enthusiastic yes, pleases.

Like pie, life yields the best results when intuitive. Less precision, more poetry.

I don’t know about you, but this is my Year Of The Pie.

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Thirty-Four

I’m going back to basics this week, pals. Returning to the original format of Three Things, mostly because I can only mine the deep, dark depths of my soul for so long before I need to come up for air. Excuse me while I suck in as much life-giving oxygen as I can. In the meantime, here’s this week’s Three Things.

SOMETHING I’M LISTENING TO: EVERYTHING, ON SPOTIFY

Music is the marrow in my bones, the plasma in my veins, it’s the pump of my heart that sends life pulsing through my body. Raised in a house filled with a full spectrum of art, music has always been the most powerful influence in my life.

It seems just like yesterday and also a million miles ago when I sat in a Starbucks in the early 2000s and breathlessly picked out ten songs of my own choosing and burned my very own custom CD at one of their now-defunct Hear Music bars. Not long after that, iTunes launched and shivers shot down my spine when I realized I had a seemingly limitless library of music at my fingertips in my very own home. Down the rabbit hole I tumbled, sometimes losing myself searching for and downloading music for hours on end. When the first iPods were introduced, my mind was officially blown. My mom was still alive when I tried to explain to her how thousands of songs could be stored on this wee device. I don’t think she ever quite grasped the concept.

My kids have chided me for holding onto to my quaint iPods and allegiance to iTunes for so long. Although I may not be quite ready yet to surrender my tiny blue iPod Shuffle that clips to the hem of my shirt while I’m sweating on the elliptical, I am slowly coming around. I know music streaming is where it’s at and I need to start putting all my eggs in one basket, musically speaking.

Spotify has been around for ten years now. Developed in Sweden, it was an easy choice. I’ve actually had a Spotify account for a number of years, but only recently upgraded to their premium service. I love that I can listen to Bach on Sunday mornings and obscure 70s disco tracks while I cook and switch between the two with a tap of my finger. Chill downtempo dubs? Yes. Trap and 80s house music? Sure! A little Chet Baker vibe mixed with early Johnny Cash? It’s all so easy and right there. Of course I have my favorite songs and artists, but nothing thrills me more than to discover brand spankin’ new music. That never-before-heard song that makes you swoon, that artist that blows your mind, that one trigger that sends you down the rabbit hole again and sets your soul ablaze. Once you’ve used Spotify for awhile, their Discover Weekly playlists become more and more perfectly customized to your tastes. It’s like cracking open the most beautiful Easter egg and discovering oodles of shimmering gems inside.

By the way, did you know Madison McFerrin is Bobby Mcferrin’s (“Don’t Worry, Be Happy”) daughter and her music is dreamy and to-die-for? Thanks, Spotify.

I create custom playlists for all my yoga classes and am often approached about the music I play. With over a hundred playlists on my iTunes account, I’m in the process of switching them over to Spotify so that folks can eventually access all my playlists there. I’ve linked my Facebook to my Spotify account, so feel free to find and follow me on Spotify–my user name is “trixiekat”. Once there, you’ll be able to see what rabbit hole I’m presently in and maybe even take a tumble down alongside me.

C’mon in and join me. We’ll hang out.

SOMETHING I’M COOKING: HARISSA CHICKEN AND CHICKPEAS

Speaking of rabbit holes, lately you’ll find me in the one filled with chickpeas.

Honestly, I’m not a big fan of hummus, but give me chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) in their whole, unadulterated form and I’m in heaven. In my younger days, I’d often crack open a can and just eat them on their own. So when I found myself searching for a way to put a jar of harissa paste to good use, this recipe caught my eye.

Trader Joe’s is my favorite place to discover inexpensive little jars of interesting condiments, sauces and seasonings. The bright and fiery orange-red jar of harissa called my name and I dropped it in my shopping cart without much forethought about what I’d use it for. I brought it home and there it sat in my pantry–always so pretty and inviting, but mysterious and exotic, like that attractive stranger you notice in line at the coffee shop but can’t imagine ever talking to.

So now what the hell do I do with it?

After a bit of research, I learned that harissa is a smoky-spicy condiment from Northern Africa–Tunisia, to be exact. Made from peppers and spices, its purpose can be as simple as swirling a small smear into your scrambled eggs for a morning jolt of zing or making it the featured player in a more complex dish. You can make your own harissa fairly easily, too, and thereby control the heat a bit more. Apparently, each jar and tube of harissa can vary widely in the hotness department, so make sure you give yours a nibble before dumping the whole thing in your pan.

The Trader Joe’s harissa packs a mighty punch. You’ve been warned.

I know the Instapot is all the rage these days, but if you don’t have a well-seasoned cast iron pan, don’t even start with me. My cast iron pan gets at least as much use as any of my other cookware and yields results that you just can’t get in a standard frying pan. Cast iron easily withstands a high heat to get a wonderful caramelized crust on things like veggies and meat, and then can get tossed right into the oven for finishing. This recipe can be made without a cast iron pan, but it’s so much better and easier with one.

Harissa Chicken and Chickpeas uses bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs which I adore. You can probably substitute boneless, skinless thighs, or even chicken breasts if you must, but why pay more for less flavor? I love the crispy sear the skin develops with the high heat and the meat cooks better, tastes better and stays super tender when cooked on the bone. You can play around with the amount of chicken stock, giving it more or less sauce as you see fit. I was grateful to have a pile of couscous flavored with stock alongside the chicken to cut the heat a bit. Plain yogurt with a drizzle of good olive oil would be a nice, cooling accompaniment as well.

The best part of Harissa Chicken and Chickpeas is that it’s done in one pan–simple, inexpensive, packed with flavor and spice. Also, chickpeas.

More chickpeas, please. And pass the harissa.

SOMETHING I’M DOING: THE HARD THINGS

My parents gave me many gifts, not the least of which are my love of music and cooking really good food. But in the area of discipline and buckling down and doing the really hard things, they were a bit remiss. I like to give them ample grace, though, knowing that I came along as a seventh surprise towards the end of a wild, crazy ride. I get it. They were tired.

As I grew into a teenager and young adult and found myself faced with a daunting challenge or two, my mom would wring her hands and tell me I could quit. Sometimes she told me I should quit. She hated seeing me upset. Granted, I’ve always tended to feel and express things in big ways–I’m not much for subtlety or a poker face. As a mom myself now, I understand how tough it is to see your kid struggle. But you know, it’s not about the mom. It’s about the kid learning what it means to do the hard things. And how.

Yoga has been my greatest teacher on learning how to do the hard things. Physically, without a doubt–putting in the time and effort to build enough strength, endurance and body awareness to take myself into more advanced postures was where it began. But then came the mental test. Holding a simple pose for an extended period of time, watching my mind shift into overdrive and doubt. Convinced I can’t withstand the challenge, daydreaming of leaving my body and running out the door to find relief. Overwhelmed with fear and self-loathing, my worst enemy is almost always myself.

I’m still learning how to get out of my own way.

So it goes with writing. There is a common misconception that writing comes easily to writers. Any ease of writing that I’ve developed has come primarily from practice, not from any innate gift of creativity or expression. I think most writers would agree that while writing is not easier for us, it is much more necessary.

And sometimes it’s necessary to do the hard things.

Week after week, I write. I struggle. I doubt. I want to quit. My pity parties are unparalleled. Over time, I’ve grown more comfortable with writing poorly so that I can go back, revise and write better. I watch my mind flail and falter into the same self-defeating thoughts I’ve learned to identify in my yoga practice. Through my yoga, I begin to make the connections. I start to understand how I am prone to undermining my very necessary writing practice as well.

And so it goes with life. We show up. We don’t quit. We write that first word of the first sentence of a new paragraph and cringe. We do the hard, necessary things and maybe, just maybe, it gets easier.

I’ll make the playlist and bring some really good food along the way.

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Thirty-Three

Fear.

I don’t consider myself an anxious person by nature, but I’m well aware of the fears I have.

It was Christmas morning when I unwrapped this book--Fear, Illustrated, by Julie M. Elman. Sent to me by my brother in Athens, Ohio, it was as if it had been written for me. As I thumbed through the book and its fantastic illustrations, I saw my quirky self reflected back from its pages. We all have fears, some more than others. And while I’ve often been teased for the strange fears I have, I don’t think I’d necessarily trust a human being who claims to have no fear of anything.

Just for perspective, here is a partial list of things I am not afraid of: going to the dentist, public speaking, big cities, needles, raucous punk clubs, parallel parking, growing older, confrontation, sushi and horses.

Now, I’ll tell you about one fear I’ll always have, another fear I’m working on, and one final fear that I’ve had to face and live through.

SNAKES

The backyard of the house where I grew up seemed big and expansive, as all things seem to feel when you’re a child. We had a large deck that wrapped around and led to a patio, which then led to the lawn, which was terraced into two parts. The upper lawn–where most of the action happened–and then a gently sloping grade which took you to the lower level where wild Oregon grape shrubs and my parent’s failed goldfish ponds were tucked. My siblings and I would take our little green army men and cowboys and Indians and recreate epic battles amongst the bramble and broken concrete.

My father liked to spend hot summer afternoons working in the yard, wearing nothing but his tiny red Speedo briefs. His psoriasis was severe and extensive, covering nearly all of his body except for his face with an angry, scaly, red rash. Clothing would often rub and irritate his skin even more, so he took advantage of the few summer days warm enough to expose as much skin as possible to the sunlight. Although a common sight for me, I was mortified when friends would come over and witness this. They’d stop in their tracks and take in the sight of my father, hairy chest, belly out, scaly chicken legs and softly mutter “oh” as I quickly ushered them into my bedroom to play.

When I was old enough, I mowed the lawn. First, with a rotary push-mower, which took forever and whose blades would jam if the grass was too long. Later, my dad proudly bought an electric model–complete with a long, snaking cord that needed to be plugged into an outlet at the house in order to run. The cord was cumbersome, always getting in the way and I constantly feared it becoming caught in the mower blades and me being electrocuted to death.

But the threat of electrocution was nothing compared to my fear of snakes.

After mowing the main level of lawn, I’d park the mower at the top of the hill, run inside for a cool drink and an bushel of courage. You see, the snakes lived down there. On that lower level, they found refuge in the terracing stones and would slither out on the warmest afternoons to sun their scaly skin, much like my father liked to do. Early in the season, I was safe and could successfully mow both sections of lawn without incident. But come August, all bets were off. Always wanting to do a good job and be praised for my efforts, I’d steel myself and start the mower up. Things would be going smoothly, confidence increasing, so very sure I was in the clear.

And then it would happen. It always happened.

As if laying in wait, the snake would appear, sometimes just one, but on the worst days–two. I’d often hear it first–the subtle rustle of the grass, the slight slither of movement. There was no thought, just  instinct and adrenaline. A blood-curdling scream and a swift sprint to shelter in my house, abandoning the mower and its ridiculous cord down below. It would usually take a day or two before my father or a braver, older sibling would finally finish the job and bring the mower back to the snake-free confines of the garden shed.

It’s just a harmless garter snake! everyone tells me. There is no such thing, I reply.

My family was camping in southern Oregon, on our way to the Shakespearean festival in Ashland when my sister and I awoke early, before the rest. Let’s go for a hike, my sister suggested, so we set off towards the rocky hillside that towered at one end of the campground. Clambering up the boulders, I was all of nine years old and thrilled to be included in this adventure. Higher and higher we climbed until I turned, hearing an ominous rustle. There, just beneath the cover of a large boulder, lay a coiled rattlesnake, diamonds on its back, shaking its tail. No thought, pure instinct and adrenaline, blood-curdling scream, one sneaker lost in my desperate scramble back down to the campground, sobbing hysterically.

I woke up the entire campground that morning in southern Oregon. I like to think I warned everyone about the dangers of rattlesnakes nearby.

Even today, I will double-back and retreat if I see or hear a snake on the trails in the woods by my house. I cannot look at a photo, let alone a video, of a snake. And don’t even suggest exposure therapy to me.

Snakes and I will never find peace.

BRIDGES

I spent the first two decades of my life in a place called Lakewood. Unlike some places whose names are descriptive but not at all indicative of the actual environment, Lakewood really has five lakes and a whole lot of woods. It’s changed massively over the years, but back then, Lakewood was an idyllic place to live and play.

The second largest lake in Lakewood, and the one I lived nearest to, is Lake Steilacoom. From our back deck we had a peek-a-boo view of the lake, our house just one lot away from the water. I’d often ride my bike down the narrow and winding Interlakken Drive, past stately stone mansions and more modest Colonials to get to my friend’s house on the other side. A bridge spanned the width of the lake, sometimes filled with optimistic fishermen or mischievous teens. Once on the bridge, I’d pedal my bike as fast as I could, looking straight ahead, legs tingling with nerves and let out a big exhale as I got to the other side. As summer neared and school emptied out, I heard tales of older teenagers tossing others off the bridge–a rite of passage, a ritual of sorts. Not any kind of swimmer myself, I consciously avoided the bridge during most of each June.

Bridges freak me out.

It didn’t help that not far from me was the Tacoma Narrows Bridge–also known as “Galloping Gertie”. The black and white footage right before its collapse in 1940, its bridge deck undulating like a belly dancer’s midriff, is permanently etched in my brain. We’d often take the Narrows Bridge on our way to Gig Harbor and points west for a day trip or camping. I’d hold my breath, not daring to look left or right, until we safely made it to the other side.

As I got older, I tried to figure out what it was about bridges that frightened me. The floating bridges across Lake Washington in Seattle don’t bother me much, even when the wind blows the water up and over my car.  If I can see the looming expanse of the bridge in the distance before I cross it, my anxiety level increases substantially. The Astoria-Megler Bridge, which connects Washington and Oregon at the mouth of the Columbia River is a classic example. Even simply driving past this bridge on my way to the Oregon coast shoots shivers down my spine. Pitch and grade seem to make an difference, too, none more anxiety-inducing than the Eshima Ohashi Bridge in Japan. I have nightmares about that bridge.

And like most fears, it’s not rational. I know the bridge won’t break. I’m fairly certain I’ll be fine. And yet.

It wasn’t long ago that I was New York City with my kids. Taking a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge was on our bucket list of things to do while we were there. Our Airbnb apartment sat on the Lower East Side, not too far from the Brooklyn Bridge, but much closer to the Manhattan Bridge. It was Friday night and we had spent the day traversing Central Park and browsing at the Met. My feet were blistered and I had just come back from a much-needed foot massage in nearby Chinatown. The three of us, exhausted and sore, but we were in New York City on a Friday night.

“Hey, let’s walk across the bridge!” my son suggested with the energy of someone thirty years younger than me.

We decided on the Manhattan Bridge–a short ten-minute walk from our apartment. The sun had already set on a warm summer night, the city aglow with shimmering lights and bustling energy. My feet, still greasy from my massage, slipped and slid in my flip-flops, reminding me of my blisters. But we were New York City on a Friday night!

As we neared the bridge entrance, my breath quickened. I felt the familiar trepidation creeping in. My kids knew about my phobia and checked in regularly. How you doin’ mom? they’d ask. I’m okay, I assured them, trying to convince myself.

There was a broad, separate path for pedestrians and cyclists on the bridge, so the rush of traffic didn’t affect us much. Steadfast in my goal, I trudged on as the bridge deck rose from the surface street, approaching, but not yet above the East River. I can do this I can do this I can do this ran the mantra in my head. I wanted to be brave for my kids. I didn’t want to be the scaredy-cat mom. I wanted to share this victory with the people I loved the most. I imagined the high-fives and atta-girls I’d collect across the river in Brooklyn. How proud they’d be! How proud I’d be! And then I remembered I’d have to cross the bridge once again, all the way back into Manhattan.

The bridge rose higher and the East River was now becoming visible not too far in the distance. I took deep, slow breaths, but vertigo set in and my head began to spin. My legs, buzzing with that familiar tingle. I don’t think I can do it, I told my kids. They cajoled, they encouraged, they offered moral support. I didn’t want to ruin the experience for them with a full-on panic attack, so I decided to turn back and let my son and daughter continue on to Brooklyn and back on their own.

Alone and only a little bit disappointed–after all, I was still in New York City on a Friday night–I made my way back down to the bridge entrance. Finally on my own, I was able to slow down and immerse myself in all the sights and sounds and smells of the city–taxis and cyclists, all in a focused rush to get somewhere important. I breathed in the perfume of wood-fired pizza from a sidewalk bistro mingling with aromas of garlic/ginger/soy/seafood as I neared Chinatown. I stopped at a Thai ice cream shop, ordered a cup of matcha rolled ice cream and took it back to our apartment. I sat on the balcony, three stories above the bustle, and waited for my kids to return. I decided to give myself grace rather than wallow in defeat.

There’s something heady about facing a fear and giving yourself a personal challenge. It’s powerful stuff, even if you don’t succeed. I know I’ll make it back to New York City one day soon. In my mind’s eye, I imagine myself confidently striding across both the Brooklyn and the Manhattan bridge by myself. Maybe I’ll document it with a video on my phone. Maybe it will be a private victory. Maybe I’ll bring someone with me for moral support.

No matter how I do it, I like to finish what I start.

MY PARENTS DYING

Spoiler alert: my parents died.

I was the youngest child of seven kids. My mother was forty-five years old when I was born. Even by today’s standards she would be considered an “older mom”, but back then, it was virtually unheard of for a woman of her age to give birth. I’ll be fifty years old when you’re in kindergarten! my mom would often lament.

I was always aware that my parents were the oldest parents on the block. The oldest parents at my school. The oldest parents of anyone I knew. I’m not sure how or when it began, but I was always aware of death and afraid that my parents would die.

Mortality on my mind.

As a very young girl, I’d lay in bed at night, reciting the familiar prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” silently to myself. At the end of the verses, I’d add “And please let my mom and dad live for many, many, many, many, many more years.” I’d often drift off to sleep in the midst of the “manys” and wake up, worried that I had jinxed it somehow.

My father was a heavy smoker and developed heart issues as he aged. After a scary episode while he was teaching at the college, my mother returned home from visiting him in the hospital. “I just didn’t think I’d lose him this soon!” she sobbed, still frantic from the incident. Her distress distressed me, but I also felt secretly pleased that she seemed to still care about him. My parents had a complicated and imperfect marriage. As it turned out, my dad made it through the crisis. With a new prescription for nitroglycerin and a diuretic, life returned to normal.

Through my childhood and teenage years, my mom had a few serious heath scares and we all lived under the threat of my unpredictable, sometimes violent brother in the house. But no one died.

I consciously counted the milestones in my life my parents were around for: establishing my career, getting engaged, getting married, buying a house, having my first child. When my son was two, my dad became critically ill.

Other than my grandparents, with whom I wasn’t especially close, I had never lost someone I loved. This was it, I thought. Here we go. I had to prepare. I threw myself into research, buying books on death and dying, reading about grief and what it felt like, trying to imagine life without my dad. He was always stubborn and a bit cocky and wasn’t ready to die. He talked about wanting to live to see the year 2000.

But he did die.

The hospice nurse called me the morning of his death. Your father is showing signs of dying soon, she told me. I asked her to be specific. Tell me what you mean, I insisted. Calmly, compassionately, she listed all the physical changes he was going through until I was satisfied. You should come now, she said.

My father died before I got there. I’m pretty sure that’s how he wanted it. Or at least that’s what I’ve told myself.

I had never seen a dead person before but I wanted to see my dad. I entered his room and saw a man’s body in a hospital bed, eyes closed, mouth slightly ajar. That’s not my dad, I thought.

My dad had left the building.

It was the middle of March when my father died. Corned beef and cabbage were simmering in the oven that evening, the Mister and my son playing quietly downstairs. I stood at my bedroom window upstairs and gazed out at the blustery day, letting my grief wash over me in unfamiliar waves. My eyes hurt from crying. So this is what it feels like to lose my dad, I thought. I couldn’t believe that everywhere else, life just went on, as if nothing had changed. Because everything had changed. I turned to leave when out the corner of my eye I caught a flash of color rise up in the gray sky. A bright red mylar balloon, set free from somewhere, swirling and whirling in the wind, floating up into the clouds. I squinted as I made out the words on the balloon:

I love you. 

Me, too, Dad. Me too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Thirty-Two

ORANGES

I saw the sign for the Cara Cara oranges as I strolled through Central Market last Wednesday, picking up a bulb of fennel and a few stalks of celery for the pork ragu I had planned for later in the week. Five pounds for five dollars. A buck a pound. I picked out three oranges, weighing each in my hand to determine juiciness, before wrapping them in a bag and tossing it in my cart.

My Thursdays begin before dawn and lately I haven’t been getting home until much later in the afternoon. My Thursdays are my Fridays and my body knows it. As if on cue, my muscles go limp once I’m home on Thursday afternoon. Flopping on the sofa with just a hint of drama, I kick off my shoes and feel the drop of adrenaline snake through my veins. That invisible force that keeps me moving forward through all my classes promptly exits, stage left, and I’m a slug.

A body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted on by an outside force. 

Sofa = outside force.

Over the past month I’ve had a strong craving for citrus on Thursday afternoons. Vitamin C deficiency? With no oranges or grapefruit in the house, I tear open a pack of Emergen-C and mix the powder into a glass of water. It’s refreshing and quenching, but not quite satisfying. It’s happened enough on Thursdays that I pay attention now.

A decade ago, I faithfully followed the Atkins diet. It’s surprisingly healthy–not the bacon and eggs diet that the news likes to paint it as, but mostly vegetables, protein and fat. Fruit was prohibited, especially in the early stages. More than the crusty bread or bowl of pasta, it was fruit I craved the most. The crisp-tart-juicy crunch of a fresh apple. The soft yield of a ripe honeydew melon, giving way to a wave of sweetness. A just-right Bosc pear with a slim knob of cheddar. And the citrus–grapefruit and oranges, in all their varieties. It didn’t seem right to abolish all this natural fruity goodness, but I’m a rule-follower. Years passed without me ever biting into an apple or pear.

The springtime of eighth grade was when I began bringing a single navel orange in a thin, brown paper sack to lunch everyday. Ever since my best friend had unceremoniously disowned me earlier that year, I dreaded lunch time. I’d enter the cafeteria, scan the room for an empty seat, ideally far away from my ex-friend and her new, drill team squad. Someone would usually welcome me over and I’d sit, pull out my orange and start to dig my fingernails into its bumpy skin. Oranges were the perfect foil for a lonely lunch break. It took a good amount of time and focus to peel off the thick skin of the fruit and then, the careful stripping away of the papery membrane beneath. Once the white pith was removed, the sectioning began. I’d section as I ate, elbows perched on the table, holding the remaining orange in one hand, nonchalantly slipping the sections in my mouth with the other. If I timed it right, it would take the entire lunch period to fully peel and eat my orange.

I can’t believe all you eat for lunch is one orange! a classmate wrote in my yearbook that June.

Rule #3: Let them be astonished at your discipline.

The bag of Cara Cara oranges sat on the kitchen counter, untouched. It was Thursday evening and I was already in pajama pants and fuzzy socks. I looked at the oranges and felt the familiar craving for citrus, right on schedule. I pulled one from the bag, held it in my hand and contemplated how to eat it. Cut into neat wedges and torn from the skin with my teeth? Or the more primal, skin-ripping, oil-squirting method I used as a teenager?

My fingers dug deeply into the skin–so deeply that I punctured the delicate flesh underneath. I kept on, though, splitting and ripping orange peel, until the brilliant rubied-flesh of the fruit was fully exposed. The Cara Caras seemed more fragile than a traditional navel orange, so I gave up trying to neatly section the fruit and instead, shoved the jagged pieces, dripping with juice, into my mouth.

Craving, vanished.

A waver of guilt, leftover from my Atkins days. Disobeying the rules. A flashback from junior high. The safe silence of me and my orange.

Fingers, sticky, messy, covered with pith and pulp. Unkempt.

DONUTS

My best friend in seventh grade, Kathy, had a kitchen full of illicit goodies. Cases of Coke and Dr. Pepper, boxes of Milky Way candy bars, multipacks of Cheetos, Fritos and Lays to drop into lunch sacks and always, a large, brown, waxed cardboard box filled with old-fashioned donuts from the day-old bakery across the street from Bowlero Lanes.

My own family’s paucity of comparable snacks made Kathy’s stash all the more beguiling.

My favorite after-school snack at Kathy’s was one of those old-fashioned donuts and a tall glass of whole milk. By this time, skim milk was all my mother would buy and the thick, rich whole milk tasted like sin and goodness. The very best of the worst. But it was the crispy crunch of the outer crust of the donuts that I loved the most. The sugar glaze, spread and nestled into uneven crags. The cake-y insides, not as sweet as the rest, but soft and welcoming. Sometimes my teeth ached in response.

Later in seventh grade, Kathy and I shared a paper route. Dutifully mounting the heavy canvas bags of carefully folded Tacoma New Tribunes on our Schwinn Varsities, we rode through our neck of the woods, tossing papers on porches and stuffing others in narrow boxes at the end of long, gravel driveways each evening. It was a good job for a thirteen year old. My paper route paid for my first pair of red-striped Adidas Superstar sneakers and my bright orange Schwinn ten-speed I named Nigel.

And on Sunday mornings we ate donuts.

Not the slightly stale, old-fashioned donuts from Kathy’s kitchen, but fresh, hot, raised and glazed donuts from the Original House of Donuts.

Our route crept through our sleepy suburban neighborhood and always emptied out right before Gravelly Lake Drive, where the traffic got busy. The Original House of Donuts, with its iconic A-frame shape and unmistakable bouquet of yeasty delights sat on a quiet corner of Gravelly Lake Drive and would lure us in like a cat to catnip. After delivering our hefty load of Sunday papers at the crack of dawn, our appetites were primed and ready. We’d shake out a few quarters and dimes on the counter and pick and choose our favorites. Maybe a cinnamon twist or a simple chocolate-glazed? Maple bars were always good or is today the day we splurge for the pink frosted with sprinkles?

With our bikes perched on kickstands, we’d sit on the curb outside and inhale our sweet reward before cycling back to our respective houses and burrow back into our beds.

I moved away from my hometown in my early twenties. Donuts loosened their grip on me, partly due to my ever-increasing litany of food rules, but mostly because all the grocery store varieties and Krispy Kreme versions were sorely lacking. If I was going to bother having a donut, it might as well be the best.

Growing up and having a couple kids brought with it frequent trips into nostalgia. Usually once a year, my daughter’s gymnastic schedule took us to Lakewood for a meet, a mere five minutes from the Original House of Donuts on Gravelly Lake Drive. Extolling the virtues of the finest donuts in the world, I’d insist we stop in and fill a pink box with a dozen or so. Once, I brought a box in for the gymnasts to share after competing. Most of the girls–all preteens or just beyond–gazed sadly at the selection and shook their heads no, thank you.

I recognized that gaze. Longing. Resolve.

It was just last month that I took a Friday to travel down to Tacoma to visit my new great-nephew and my sister, Karen. The rain was insistent and cold, the freeway a constant blur of gray spray. Like a homing pigeon following its instinct, I took the Lakewood exit and dropped into my old neighborhood. I’m always startled by the change–how this once bustling place I spent my life growing up in now seems like a ghost of its former self. I turned onto Gravelly Lake Drive and saw the familiar red neon “donuts” sign beckoning down the block. Pulling into the parking lot, I exhaled and sat in my car for a few minutes, surveying what used to be everything I knew. The red-brick building of the bank my parents used, remembering the silver coins my mother would drop in my palm after cashing her checks at the drive-through window. The shoe store next door, with its giant “Shoeland” markee, now a vacant skeleton of a business, the sign disappearing decades ago. Across the street, a flat, freshly razed lot where the vacuum cleaner repair shop used to sit. The beauty parlor, demolished and scraped clean as if it never existed.

Inside, the warm, familiar scent of yeast and sugar. My Sunday mornings, bottled up in one whiff of that perfume.

I choose four pastries–a cinnamon twist, a chocolate glazed, a maple bar and one filled with Bavarian cream. I paused, as I always do, as I paid the counter clerk and debated whether or not to regale her with tales of my Sunday morning paper route and what this shop had meant to my formative years in this town. As I always do, I took my change and left with a simple “thank you.”

Back in my car, windows streaked with raindrops, I pulled out the cinnamon twist, brushing the shards of sugar from my lap. I took one bite and set it down. That’s enough, a voice told me. I paused and closed my eyes and felt my breath. I picked the twist up again and took another bite. And another. I sat in my Prius and finished the entire thing.

Rule #17: Never, ever eat an entire donut.

Little victories. Sweet victories.

FISH AND CHIPS

I sat in the therapist’s office and silently judged her. Probably fifteen or more years older than I, slim and conservatively well-dressed, she seemed more cold than warm. I had found her listing on the back page of the Seattle Weekly, advertising counseling for eating disorders. Her last name–Erlandson–seemed strongly Scandinavian and thereby trustworthy to me. Although I was newly married and years beyond the most extreme of my anorexia, my anxiety over food had skyrocketed. Body dysmorphia cast a dark, looming shadow over every important relationship in my life. Sometimes, I still resorted to hundreds of frantic leg lifts behind the bedroom door.

What you see is not always what you get.

This therapist and I worked together for several months, meeting once a week or so. I was in my late twenties and portrayed a pretty picture of tangible success–good, interesting career, stylish and relatively slender. But as soon as I opened my mouth, a cavalcade of jumbled emotions tumbled out. We talked about food and the hold it had on me. We talked about food and the power I gave it as I freely abdicated my own power away. We talked about food until I hated talking about food anymore and insisted we stop. When we stopped talking about food, she led me through a guided meditation, the vivid images of which have stayed with me throughout all these years.

What scares you the most? she asks me. Eating, I tell her. Eating what? she presses me. I stop in my tracks, overwhelmed at the list of things I’m too afraid to eat.

She sends me on my way with an assignment. That evening, I am to choose something I’ve forbidden myself to never eat and eat it. Just do it. No rules.

For the rest of the day, my breath is shallow and a thick ball of nerves sets up shop in my belly. The assignment hangs over my head, dark and forboding. I could lie, I think to myself.

I hate lying. I choose fish and chips.

I choose an Ivar’s Fish and Chips where I won’t run into anyone I know. Sitting in the parking lot, I watch as families and singles go in, order, sit at the tables inside, seeming to enjoy their food. I am in awe. It seems like too much. I fantasize about leaving and going to the gym instead. Finally, I get out of my car and go inside. The young girl at the counter seems friendly and not judgmental at all.

Three piece fish and chips to go, please. Tartar sauce? Okay, sure.

Rule #22: Never eat in your car. It is gross and gluttonous and looks like you have no control.

I sat in my car and took out the small cardboard tray that held my assignment. It smelled like failure and despair. Hot grease and crispy, fried things.

Rule #12: Never eat anything deep fried.

I draw the first piece of fish to my lips, hot and steaming. I nibble. I stop and put it down. There, that’s enough. I let it cool a bit, then take another bite. The next piece I dip in the tartar sauce. I pick up a french fry and eat it. How long has it been since I’ve eaten a french fry? Years. A decade, maybe. I finish eating and crumple the bag and take it outside to the trash at the restaurant. I drive home with my windows open, airing out any evidence of my indiscretion. I feel sick to my stomach and full of shame and self-loathing.

Baby steps, my therapist consoles me as I report back. It gets better, she says.

My Thursdays are my Fridays and my body knows it. With three yoga classes taught and under my belt, I had just finished my last physical therapy appointment. The sun was out after a sprinkling of snow the night before. From my therapist’s house, I can see Puget Sound and hear the distant horn of a ferry boat crossing from Whidbey Island. I had forgotten my little bag of nuts I carry in my car to keep my blood sugar and hunger in check when I don’t have time to eat. My stomach rumbled and growled in response to the six hours since my last meal.

I turned right instead of left and headed down the hill towards the ferry terminal. An Ivar’s Fish and Chips sits at the bottom of the hill.

The sun was shining, but the air was full of ice and frost and the driftwood still speckled with spots of snow nestled in their nooks and crannies. I took my order of fish and chips to my car and parked in a space right in front of a glistening water view. I pulled out the familiar cardboard tray and gazed at the pieces of fish, still hot from the fryer. Funny, they don’t look that powerful. I glanced up and saw a few hearty souls, bundled up to their ears, briskly walking the picturesque waterfront. For a fleeting instant, I felt the familiar shame and embarrassment of eating in public.

See rules #3, 12 and 22.

I finish my lunch, satiated and content. The bag and a few leftover, soggy fries, tossed in the garbage can at the end of the beach. I breathe in the salty, frigid air and take a short walk, my exposed calves in my yoga tights stinging from the cold. I snap a photo or two, always and forever in awe of the natural beauty I live so close to.

Back in my car, heater on blast, I brush a few crumbs from my t-shirt before backing out and heading home. I look down again and notice the word, printed in white capital letters, emblazoned across my chest:

UNRULY.

Finally.

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Thirty-One

It’s the season of Lent.

According to the Christian liturgical calendar, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. This year, Ash Wednesday fell on Valentine’s Day, February 14th. This year, February 14th was the date of another mass shooting at a school in America.

A holy day. A day of foreheads crossed with ash. A day of love and candy hearts. A day of unimaginable terror, loss and pain.

At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, seventeen people were killed at the hands of a young, white man using an AR-15 rifle. Seventeen families’ lives altered forever. A new, awful reality.

Blood red hearts. Silenced. Still.

I bring up Lent and the Christian calendar and yet I cannot tell you what I believe. I am the baptized daughter and granddaughter of Lutheran ministers and I’d love to confidently say I believe in a loving and benevolent God. But the truth is, the older I get, the less faith I have. While my grandfather fulfilled the more conservative, traditional picture of a pastor, my father did not. He was a man of quiet faith and liberal leanings and didn’t talk to us much about God and even less about Jesus. By the time I was born–the youngest of seven children–my family’s church going had dwindled to an occasional drop in the bucket. Following a series of unfortunate events, my father ultimately left the ministry, became a college professor and spent most of his Sundays as the choir director, pounding out “A Mighty Fortress” on the church organ, rather than preaching from the pulpit.

As a child, I never even learned the simple words to “Jesus Loves Me.”

What I did learn from my father is that having faith sometimes means that we fall out of step with popular culture. The season of Lent is a time to consider letting go, doing without, fasting, abstaining. To be honest, I rarely took Lent seriously and almost never participated. But this year is different. I may not have a lot of faith these days, but I do believe in the power of stepping back and stepping off the mindless hamster wheel of life. I believe in the value of paying attention and doing without that which we have grown to depend on–a dependency that may have crept up on us unnoticed.

This season of Lent, I’ve chosen to step back from my dependency on social media.

A dear friend of mine described her renegotiated relationship with Facebook as a “snack”, rather than a full meal. An amuse bouche, an aperitif, a simple taste of what’s going on in our friends’ lives, rather than a five-course feast on what may or may not be reality. I set out on this journey away from social media a few weeks ago and was immediately struck by how many more hours in the day it felt like I had. It was a substantial difference–considerable enough to motivate me to continue. This week, I’m sharing with you three things I have been doing more of since stepping back from Facebook.

THING ONE: SWEATING

With raggedy-jaggedy torn meniscus ligaments in both knees, rest is not my friend. As my physical therapist often reminds me, our joints like to move. They need to move in order to stay functional. Since I no longer begin every morning with a cuppa joe and an endless scroll of my newsfeed, I now arrive at the gym early before teaching my classes and get busy getting my sweat on. The elliptical trainer is my new best friend and my knees seem to approve. Even though I had stayed active with hikes in the woods and a passel of yoga classes, I’d missed the serious sweat a good cardio lashing gave me.

Heart-pounding, blood-pulsing, muscle-reviving.

I don’t sparkle. I sweat. I sweat buckets and bushels from my pores. Full-body baptism. Born again.

The elliptical is just the beginning. I move on and lift and pull heavy things. Grip and grunt, powerful might. Strong as dirt.

Muscle swell. Bicep bulge. Call and response.

Alive and kicking.

THING TWO: READING AND WRITING

Reading and writing go hand-in-hand. You can’t write well unless you’re a reader. Every writer needs to read more.

Reading my Facebook feed throughout the day deadened my writing. It killed my creativity and massacred my motivation. There was never an instance where I spent time on social media, pushed away from the computer and felt inspired to do anything, let alone be more creative.

Ennui. Languid. Apathy for as far as eyes could see. Like a virtual virus.

So, I begin my day reading poetry or an essay or a chapter from a book. My notebook sits at my elbow, ready for a few scratches of ideas, a theme to flesh out, a doodle or two snaking down the margins. The critical voice of my inner editor is hushed. Shhhhhh–not now. Words, ideas, shapes and scenes tumble forth without second-guessing.

For my eyes only. Spiritual, creative push-ups.

I wrote and sent Valentines to a few friends. Sentiments of love, trails of thoughts, prayers of appreciation. Gratitude and grace. I wrote a letter, a real letter, on paper, stamped and addressed and delivered. When was the last time you found a letter in your mailbox?

Would you like to? Would it make you happy? Or do you not have time?

THING THREE: COOKING

It was a rare Friday night that we were all together for dinner. The Mister, myself, my son and daughter. Dinner together, the first since Christmas.

Too many years were wasted believing I didn’t deserve to eat. When I did eat, I was careful to not enjoy it too much. For me to fully relish food and its preparation equated to gluttony. Gross. Fat. Unloved. Unloveable. Those messages are still rampant out there–on social media, television, magazine covers, sometimes even from friends and family. It’s insidious and weakens the potential power of every woman on earth.

Sustenance. Hearty, heartfelt. Imagined, prepped and simmered, served with love. Breaking bread. Connection and conversation.

Holy communion.

That’s what food and cooking equate to me today. My weekends are for cooking and preparing meals to last me into the busy week ahead, so that I’m not tempted to resort to food devoid of soul. You know that stuff–food that’s over processed, prepackaged, quick to heat and eat but leaves you hollow and empty. Less time on Facebook gives me more time to plan, shop for and create meaningful meals to feed myself and my loved ones.

Nourish. Manna from heaven.

A sacred Friday night shared with my family. Spinach and chickpeas, caesar salad and crusty bread. Bellies full, we draped ourselves across our new sofa and watched Jeopardy and then Olympic ice skating, collectively gasping at every bobble and spill, triple and quad axle and lutz. The quad of us. Divine fellowship.

Here’s the recipe I cooked that Friday night, the Spinach and Chickpeas. Born of Spanish origin, the smoked paprika is where it’s at. I use at least twice as much paprika as the original recipe called for. You be the judge. Make it for someone you love, or for yourself on that night when Facebook simply won’t fill you up.

It’s the season of Lent. Letting go, doing without. Stepping out of our habitual rhythms, dwelling in the possibility of connecting with something greater.

I hope someday I can tell you what I believe. I wish had the answer to the crisis our nation is currently in.

I know for sure the answer is not on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Thirty

It’s the season of love. Well, at least a day of it, if you buy into all the marketing. Valentine’s Day and I have a complicated relationship. I love it and I hate it and I hate that I love it. This week’s three things is dedicated to all things pink, heart-shaped and sweet.

THING ONE: EXPECTATIONS

Is Valentine’s Day really much different than Christmas in the expectations department? Oh, sure, the sheer scope and breadth of the holidays don’t compare, but if you’re not careful, the potential for spending February 14th feeling sad and forlorn is quite real.

Some of my best elementary school memories center around Valentine’s Day. The careful crafting of the custom-made, personalized vessel for the cards–sometimes a repurposed shoe box, other times a large, white envelope fashioned out of stapled butcher paper, a blank canvas just ripe for crayons and glitter and hearts. Classroom parties with cupcakes sporting creamy lids with tiny, cinnamon-hot imperial hearts sprinkled on top. The very best, though, was the moment the teacher gave the nod for the distribution to begin. We’d jump up, clutching our carefully addressed envelopes and circle around the desks, dropping each in its respective receptacle. And then we’d sit back down again, tearing open tiny cards with silly sentiments, signed by our pals and maybe even that one cute boy in class.

The moment elementary school Valentine’s Day turned into a Halloween-esque candy grab was a very sad moment, indeed. It was never about the candy–the sweetness was wholly in the simplicity of expressing friendship and love.

Everything got more complicated in my teenage years. My high school promoted flower and candy-gram sales, intended as a fundraiser as well as an opportunity to let your beloved know you were sweet on them. Inevitably, the Marcia Brady-cheerleaders with the flowing blonde hair would parade through the hallways, arms laden with chocolates and pink and red carnations from their admirers and I would make my way home, empty-handed, still hopeful I might find a cupcake waiting on the kitchen counter.

It’s awkward to see such an obvious display of how some are more desired than others. Especially when you’re fifteen.

Thankfully, I grew up and had nice boyfriends who gave me cards filled with warm, mushy words. An expensive delivery of flowers to my desk at work. Fancy, overpriced dinners in candlelit restaurants. I loved those Valentine’s Days, too, but began to feel the creep of commercialized expectations. Love isn’t really love when it’s an obligation, is it?

Despite what you hear, every kiss does not begin at Kaye and every woman does not pine for diamonds and rubies and vases of red roses. I couldn’t care less about jewelry, but heartfelt words scribbled in a card mean the world to me. Roses are overpriced and pedestrian but three bunches of colorful tulips for ten bucks fetched from the neighborhood grocery store make my toes curl. Often, The Mister is out of town on Valentine’s Day so I treat myself to whatever feels good and right and loving. And I enjoy sending Valentines to a few of my friends, too–after all, love takes many forms.

So, yeah–I’m a sucker for this holiday but have grown wise to its slippery slope of potential pitfalls. A little nudge and encouragement to take a day to express our love to our favorite people never hurt. It doesn’t have to be fancy or purchased or pink or flowery. Love doesn’t cost a thing.

Even and especially when that special someone is yourself.

THING TWO: PINK

When I was pregnant with my daughter and found out I was having a girl, I vowed to never dress her in pink.

I had already been inside Toys R Us enough times to recognize their toy aisles separated into blue and pink. Boy toys here, girls only over there. I hated everything about what pink meant. Pink equalled less than. Pink was weak and limiting and not to be taken seriously. I didn’t buy one single item of pink clothing for my daughter before she was born.

Pink, pink you stink!

Not everyone got the memo, though, and my daughter received several lovely items in pink when she was a baby. Most notably, a wee, soft-pink cardigan sweater, so beautifully knit and well-made that I couldn’t resist slipping it on her chubby infant arms. Much to my chagrin, pink was my daughter’s color. Fortunately, she was never much of a girly-girl and rarely chose pink herself when buying clothes except when it came to her senior prom. The dress she ultimately chose was pink.

Pink pussy hats. Pink, taking its power back.

It wasn’t that long ago when I began to notice a physical reaction in myself when I’d look at certain color combinations. A tingle up my spine, a quickening of my breath, not unlike taking that first bite of the most luscious dessert. Sometimes I’d feel it when looking at my daughter’s colorful gymnastic leotards. Beautifully patterned, often sparkly, and my very favorite of all was–you guessed it–pink. Well, actually pink and yellow with a lick of purple and shimmer of silver thrown in.

Give me the color pink and pair it with yellow and I can barely contain myself. It can be a soft, pale shade or the brightest hue of fuchsia, but when you stick it next to yellow, I’m in sensory overload. I can’t explain it but I’ve stopped worrying about how odd it is and instead allow myself to fully enjoy the experience.

A few years back, I planted only pink and yellow annuals in my flower boxes on my deck. Petunias, pansies, marigolds. The entire summer was spent gazing at those blooms in color ecstasy. I admire any man who is confident enough to wear pink–a rosy dress shirt, a pink paisley tie. My current favorite pair of yoga pants are pink and black.

I’ve come to learn that my aversion to pink was based solely on cultural expectations and when I bought into that myth, I denied myself the pleasure of such a toe-curling color. No longer a color of weakness or merely a watered-down red, pink stands strongly on its own. Pink is kicking ass and taking names.

Hot pink, soft pink, fuchsia, coral, salmon and everything in between. Bring it on–with side of yellow.

THING THREE: KISS

I love love. For as long as I can remember, I was that girl whose whole body trembled at the sight of my crush. That swooshy-woozy rush of blood in my veins, the flush of blush in my cheeks, the earthquakey aftershocks in my heart. Like an addict, I crave those sensations. Is there anything quite like the feeling of romantic love?

My first crush dates back to kindergarten. A little bald-headed boy whose name I can’t remember. A smattering of puppy loves throughout elementary school, all unrequited. At sixteen, I had never been kissed and spent that entire year of my life obsessing over it. Sweet sixteen and never been kissed! Sixteen came and went and by the summer after my seventeenth birthday, I decided to take matters into my own hands. And lips.

My best friend, Jenny, and I were convinced we were too cool for school and ready to launch our careers in the music business. We posted 3 x 5 index cards in local music stores that read “Got a band? Need a hand? Maybe we can help!” with all the earnestness two naive teenage girls could muster. (Which was a lot, by the way.) There were only a couple creepy responses before Steve called. A few years older than us and just as idealistically passionate about rock and roll, Steve rolled up in his red Chevy Impala and whisked us away for the next forseeable future. He was a lighting guy and quickly landed a job with a local band called Blue Mountain Eagle.

If there was heaven on earth, we just found it.

Blue Mountain Eagle had six members–all at least five years older than us and therefore far more worldly and attractive than any boy in our high school. Late afternoons spent at band practice, Friday and Saturday nights spent stringing cable, lugging cases, setting up and practicing saying “we’re with the band.” Our hands smelled of duct tape and metal and we even scored the exclusive band t-shirts with the blue ribbing which were just for the roadies. The band played at proms–so many proms–and we tagged along, helped out and engaged in a few raucous food fights during tear-downs. The guys in the band welcomed us like the younger sisters they saw us as. Make no mistake, though–this was rock and roll and you could smell sex every time Gallagher, the lead singer, gave a sly grin and swiveled his hips to “Sneaking Sally Down The Alley.”

Hormones on high.

True to form, I had crushes on all six guys, but none more than the electric violinist, Mark. Yes, electric violin. Bespectacled with a generous mop of Afro-curly hair, dimples and the kindest eyes I’ve ever seen, Mark was not exactly my type, but definitely my favorite. Not nearly as raunchy as the swaggering Gallagher, Mark seemed almost studious with his violin and would often stand back and let the other, more flamboyant guys take the spotlight. And every July, like clockwork, there was a massive party held in his honor–The Mark Booth Birthday Party.

The Mark Booth Birthday Party was legendary. And I had a plan.

Held each summer at a modest home near Sea-Tac that you could see from the freeway, the action was always behind the house. A makeshift stage for the band to play on, barbecues grilling burgers and hotdogs, kegs of beer and fifths of Black Velvet for as far as you could see. Mother Nature was a fan, as well, and each year she came through with bluebird skies and sunshine. It always seemed like a hundred people were there, with bare skin for miles and everyone decked out in tube tops, tanks and Levi cut-offs–the requisite uniform of summer.

Oh, the perfume of fresh-cut grass, warm, sun-kissed skin, weed and stale beer!

The band played for hours, often joined by other musicians who happened to stop by. Jenny and I did our best to be appropriately sociable and charming without embarrassing Steve or the band. We knew we were some of the youngest ones there and were careful to behave maturely. Well, as maturely as is expected with a rock and roll band. Before we knew it, the sun had set and the crowd was beginning to thin out.

In the dusky shadows, I spotted Mark standing to the side of the stage. Emboldened by a bit of beer and a lot of teenage desperation, I walked up to him to wish him a happy birthday in person. He grinned and wrapped me in a hug and seemed genuinely pleased to see me. It was time to implement my plan, I thought. All systems go. It was really happening. As we hugged, I whispered in his ear, “Can I give you a birthday kiss?”

Never hurts to ask for what you need.

Mark seemed happy to help a girl out and I got my kiss. My very first kiss with a boy–not mushy and romantic, but not exactly a peck, either. It was nice. Mark’s lips were soft and his eyes were smiling and my heart was ba-ba-booming right out of my chest. I thanked him and giggled a bit before skipping off to find Steve and Jenny and head home, lips a-buzzing with a brand new glow.

My persistent anxiety over that milestone evaporated like smoke into the warm summer breeze that night. I never regretted taking matters into my own hands and gettin’ er done. Mark was a champ about it and eventually went on to find a girlfriend and break my hopeful teenage heart, as all musicians did.

Kissing is awesome and underrated. Powerful and passionate. The meeting of mouths and lips, hot breath and warm tongues. Intimate and exciting or sweetly familiar. Not simply a means to an end, but a pretty fantastic event all on its own.

Kissing still remains one of my most favorite things in the world.

Thanks, Mark, for getting it started.

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Twenty-Nine

January is officially in our rearview mirror, my friends. Was it as dark for you as it was for me? Like, literally lacking sunlight. Typically, I’m a gray day kind of girl, but hooooooboy last month tested even my most ardent drizzle-loving spirit. We’re on to February–a month of hopeful primroses and pink candy hearts and crushed expectations. But first, a few words about January.

THING ONE: DARKNESS

After the blur and chaos that is my typical December, January descends like a welcome, weighted blanket, just ready for me to tuck myself under and breathe again. I like the “clean slate” feeling of January, the empty wall calendar, the tidying up, looking ahead and dwelling in possibility. Here in the Pacific Northwest, January days are maddeningly short on light, with sunrises not until 8:00AM and sunsets rushing in by 4:30PM.

That is, if the sun bothers to come up and out at all.

It seemed darker than normal this year. Maybe it was the reflection of my mood about the political mess in our country. Maybe it was me leaning into the comfort of my shadows just a bit more heavily, putting both of my shoulders into it and getting lost in the depths of my own darkness. I was acutely aware of the short span of daylight this year, to the point of feeling panicky as the late afternoon shadows grew long.

I wanted to sleep. A lot.

Naps are a regular part of my routine and I consider myself fairly advanced in my napping skills. More psychologically necessary than physically for me, my introvert self needs a time-out to recenter after teaching a large yoga class. I scroll through my podcasts, press play and let myself get lulled to sleep for about 30 minutes. It’s quick and efficient and gets me back into balance so I can tackle whatever is next, which often is another yoga class. This January was different, though, with my bed holding a much tighter grip on me than usual.

Was I depressed?

I tend not to worry too much when I have a blue day or two. There is something about leaning into the blue that suits me. Don’t be sad! my mother would implore, most likely triggered by the memory of her sister’s suicide so long ago. But I like it here, I would tell her, just wanting to feel the contrast of my many flavored moods. I consider myself to be realistically optimistic, but not artificially cheery. But there was an endless drone of days in January this year–each one as dark and dank and drippy as the next, with the occasional deluge of rain to soak all of us to our core.

I haven’t washed my car in months. Why bother?

Maybe it wasn’t depression as much as it was a simple lack of contrast, day after day, each nearly indistinguishable from the next. The outside mirroring my insides, a general dull and lackluster energy that seemed to envelope every day. A hike outside, a sweaty workout, a lively yoga class, a rousing rock show with a pal would help brighten things temporarily, but those shadows were always lurking right around the corner, ready to sneak out again.

Think happy thoughts. Count your blessings. Insert cheerful platitude here.

Did you know “Blue Monday” is thought to be the saddest day of the year? Traditionally, it falls on the third Monday of January. Just far enough away from the revelry of the holidays and yet still miles out from the hopefulness of spring. I don’t remember how blue that Monday was for me but I’m fairly certain it was about as flat and gray as all the other days in January had been.

I stopped by Central Market the other day and felt compelled to snap a few photos of the bright and happy primroses arranged in front of the store. I bent down and stuck my nose in the white hyacinths, inhaling their scent of spring. Enough of this leaning into the blue, I thought. Good riddance, dear dreary January. I’ve had enough hygge to last awhile.

The sun’s gotta be out there somewhere. I just know it.

THING TWO: DRISHTI

In yoga, drishti is what we call the soft, focused gaze we take in our physical postures. Up, down, inward, to the side. It changes with each pose. It is part of the fifth limb of the eight limbs of yoga–pratyahara, or the withdrawal of senses. We choose an intentional gaze, focusing our eyes on a specific, neutral point, rather than allowing ourselves to be distracted by this or that. (Squirrel!) Drishti is a powerful practice and I’ll often say in my classes that what we fill our eyes with is what we fill our head with.

So what are you filling your head with?

Get up, make coffee, scroll Facebook. My morning habit, my routine, the achilles heel of my day. Somewhere along the way, my morning date with social media has morphed into something far more depleting than enriching. Inflammatory headlines, social media rants and nasty fights playing out right before my eyes. Vaguebook, humble brag, fake news. Refresh, refresh, refresh. I’d find myself lingering for far too long, waiting for that one update from a friend, the newsy post with a photo or two from a neighbor’s vacation, a funny anecdote from someone’s day, something inspiring to launch into action. Instead, I’d finally push away and log out feeling empty and anxious, watching that 30 minutes or more of my day get swirled and flushed down the drain.

Social media is awesome and entertaining and awful and addictive. Like nearly every modern invention, it has the potential to do powerful good and cause considerable harm. And the lines between the two sometimes get very blurry. After the most recent presidential election, I looked to Facebook to find solace and community, unity and energy to forge ahead with positive change. I found a little bit of that, but I found far more divisiveness, tribalism and name-calling. I unfollowed and unfriended and attempted to make it a more productive place to set my gaze, but it’s just not working.

I need less.

I love the peek into other people’s lives, no matter how carefully curated and polished that peek is. I’m a bit of a voyeur at heart, and although you won’t find me peeping into windows at night, I’m happy to look into your world that you present for public consumption. I love your words and ideas, your photos and reflections. I love the birthday greetings and your kids’ milestones and your brave honesty. I’m always curious as to how other people live, but Facebook has seemed to crumble into a vacuous time-suck.

When I spend time out at the coast at La Push, I begin each day with a hot cup of coffee, bundled in blankets, sitting on the deck of my cabin, gazing out at the crashing surf. It’s one of my favorite parts of being there–those mornings on the deck, unencumbered by digital distraction. It is as much of a deliberate practice as yoga is–and it is yoga–the mindful, intentional gaze of my drishti, the focus on my breath and the clarity and energy that comes from that.

What do I choose to look at? What am I filling my head with?

As February begins, I am paying more attention to my drishti. Habits are tricky little devils that are tough to break free from, but like most things, the first step is the hardest. A fresh morning routine, perhaps with the quiet of my breath and some written reflections. Maybe a few minutes paging through my new book of Mary Oliver poetry. Less digital, virtual relationships and more real, in-the-flesh human ones.

I’ll meet you for coffee. Or whiskey, if that’s your pleasure.

THING THREE: DIARY

Dear Diary,

I lied to you.

I spent much of January remembering scenes from my youth. Glimmers of ideas for stories and memoirs swim in my head and, in an effort to get a bit more clarity, I pulled out a few dusty journals that I kept along the way. Writing has always been my sanctuary, my place of peace. Writing was–and still is–where I escaped to when I needed to work things out.  Like a lot of people, I documented much of my young, cringe-worthy life within the pages of my diaries. But it hasn’t always been my place of truth.

Who lies to themselves in their diary? Me, for one. Also, someone (like me) who couldn’t face the true awkwardness of themselves.

Awkward doesn’t even begin to adequately describe how I was in my younger days. I was a late bloomer in everything and when I did bloom, the transition was less an ugly duckling blossoming into a swan and more like the duckling growing, well–into a duck. When I lost a lot of weight in junior high, I finally felt more “normal” but at some point losing the weight morphed from self-improvement into self-obliteration. An effort to erase. I fumbled about, starved myself, pretended and tried to be everything that I wasn’t. I was the girl who appeared cool enough to hang out with rock and roll bands from the time I was 16 years old but too self-conscious to really enjoy it. I was 17 when I was included on the guest list at a Pat Benatar concert when Pat Benatar was the hottest ticket in town. I took my seat in the audience–a prime spot a few rows back at the Paramount Theater in Seattle. I was no stranger to rock concerts, but when Pat Benatar came out onstage and the music pulsed and everyone around me jumped up and began to dance, I stayed glued to my seat. Embarrassed and unable to move. Awkward and frozen. I could hear Pat Benatar, but I didn’t see a thing. My journal entry doesn’t mention anything about spending the entire show on my ass, but instead I made sure to wax on and on about how fabulous everything was. Trying to convince myself how fabulous I was.

My general lack of worldliness–despite outward appearances–was so shameful to me that I even lied about losing my virginity. Writing in my journal very vaguely about various experiences with boys, with a wink and a smile, I insinuated that I was far more seasoned in my sexuality that I really was. After all, everyone else was doing it. I lied to myself and I lied to my friends, dreaming up stories about my exploits, making them more than they were. The saddest part being that when I actually did lose my virginity, it barely even warranted a mention within my journal pages. I had to save face–to myself–in my own diary.

Uncomfortable in my own skin. Who was I trying to impress? Myself?

Having kids and yoga helped me filter out the bullshit. Becoming a mom was the catalyst I needed to get out of my own way. Yoga was the medium that enabled me to do so.

Who do you think you are?

And who are you really?

Writing has always been my sanctuary. Now, it’s also my place of truth-telling. You know, it’s good to grow up.

Dear Diary,

I’m sorry I lied.

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Twenty-Eight (Part Two of Two)

I am a woman of my word. As promised, here is Part Two of Three Things this yoga teacher would like you to know.

THING FOUR: COME AS YOU ARE

Inflexible. I can’t touch my toes. Too fat, too old, too type-A for yoga.

Tired. Weak. Cranky. Overwhelmed with grief. Overwhelmed with life. Depressed.

Imagine having a friend who not only accepted you in all those states, but met you there, too. A friend who didn’t show up and try to cajole or trick you into feeling something differently so that they can feel better, but a pal who met you right where you are.

That’s yoga.

We are conditioned to put on a happy face when all we want to do is cry. At an early age, we learn that it is preferable to do things well, rather than struggle and risk falling on our face. We learn what shame feels like. Some of us get proficient at denying how we feel in an effort to stoically soldier on–no matter what–and that denial becomes a way of life. And yes, there are plenty of days when we have to drag ourselves out of bed and fulfill our responsibilities, even when we would rather not. That’s called being an adult. But being a yogi means showing up for yourself without the mask.

Yoga asks you to show up as you are. It couldn’t care less that you were once a star athlete or presently overweight or can’t begin to touch your toes. Instead, it asks you to bring your whole, messy, imperfect self to your mat and see yourself as you are.

I once took a yoga class in which the teacher was constantly encouraging us to smile. She oozed saccharine-sweetness and spoke in a singsongy voice and it was irritating as hell. I never went back and I wondered about the woman right behind me whose mat was tucked in the back corner and wept softly in savasana. How had she felt about the cheery promptings? In my teacher training, my teacher would always insist that I set up smack-dab in the middle of the room, rather than my preferred corner pocket. I understood why she did that–taking me out of my comfort zone time and time again taught me invaluable lessons and helped me grow. But in my class, come as you are. I promise I won’t ask you to smile or insist you not tuck yourself into the corner on those days when that’s exactly what you need.

I will trust that you are taking care of yourself and I’ll be really glad you came.

Come as you are in your paint-stained Target yoga pants with the holes in the knees. Come as you are with red-rimmed eyes and a heart so heavy you worry it might spill right out of your chest in child’s pose. Bring your soft belly and your shaky thighs, your sinus headache and unwashed hair. And on those days when you’re exhausted and can’t imagine moving a muscle, come then too, and see where it takes you. Maybe nowhere. Maybe somewhere surprising.

Your ego says “fix yourself up, be presentable and proficient.”

Your yoga practice laughs and reminds you that you, right now, as you are, are enough.

THING FIVE: YOGA IS NOT A LINEAR PATH

I spent my younger days as a runner and then later, as a pretty serious weight-lifter. There was something wonderful about knowing that if I put in the disciplined effort, my muscles would get stronger and I could run longer and faster. I was all about setting, meeting and blowing through goal after goal after goal. I thrived on gritting my teeth and working harder. While there is nothing wrong with hard work and setting goals for oneself, the “more is better” mentality conveniently fed into the same compulsive nature that my anorexia did just a few years prior.

Yoga doesn’t work that way. Yoga is like peeling an onion.

The onion analogy is a common one because it’s accurate. As we begin a yoga practice, we unpack our stiff muscles and find a deeper breath. After a month of regular practice, we feel more steady on our feet, our legs stop that uncontrolled quivering and we might even sleep better. We fall in love a little bit and begin to use words like “magic” and “amazing” when we chat with skeptical friends. And then it happens: we stick with it long enough to peel back that next layer, we dive in just a bit deeper and we are brought to our knees, sometimes quite literally.

Arms shake where they were once steady. Breath catches where it used to flow. We struggle where we used to feel competent. What once was blissful becomes unfamiliar and uncomfortable. And we might begin to avoid our practice.

Don’t stop.

Don’t stop, but don’t force it, either. Harder physical effort is usually not the answer when we reach that place–that tender layer beneath. Don’t stop, but do slow down and pay attention. What lies beneath? Is it an old injury rearing its head? A place of trauma? Does it feel like fear? Grief? Don’t stop, but listen and trust that something is happening–working out, working through–even when you lose your flashy arm balance or suddenly traditional pigeon pose feel counterintuitive.

I believe this non-linear path of yoga is one of the reasons we often say yoga is not so much of a work out as it is a work in. Yoga is a holistic practice, meaning that it incorporates not just our physical self, but mind, body and spirit. Sure, you might stretch your hamstrings so you can touch your toes, but it will also shine a light on those more deeply embedded places within you–those fragile, eight-year-old-you wounds and other scratchy abrasions to your soul that are crying out for a bit of healing.

And what lies beneath? Often, a new layer of freedom. Perhaps a glittery gift of dissolved tension, the release of that nagging pain. Maybe that morning waking up without the shadow of dread peeking around the corner.

One layer at a time.

THING SIX: SOMETIMES YOU CRY IN SAVASANA

The yoga studio was packed wall-to-wall with aspiring yoga teachers and a couple dozen other folks looking for their Saturday morning yoga fix. It had been a sweaty practice, as it always was at that 90-degree studio, and I had felt strong and confident and zoned-in to my zen. The teacher cued us through our final twist and then we laid back on our mats for savasana, our final rest. Music began to play and as the first few chords rang out, I felt a bubble of emotion rise up in my chest. The bubble floated up to my face and my lips twisted as tears stung my eyes. I held my breath in fear of letting out a loud, gasping sob. I covered my face with a towel and tried too hard not to cry.

What is happening? I screamed to myself. I had felt so good, so balanced, so strong. It hadn’t been a weepy practice; the teacher hadn’t even said anything particularly profound that morning. Why, why, why?

When I was in second grade and being teased, I would start to cry and begin to panic when I felt like I couldn’t stop. Which was often. Wave after wave of sobs. Gasping for air. Shaking sobs. I felt out of control and ashamed of myself.

After the yoga class, I sat up and wiped my face with my towel, convinced that the sweat and tears and snot would be indistinguishable from each other and no one would know how close to losing control I had come. I quickly gathered my things and escaped to a nearby park. In the middle of the grassy clearing in an empty park on a hot July afternoon, I sat alone and let myself lose control.

Do you ever get the feeling that sometimes you’re releasing really old, almost ancient shit? my massage therapist once asked when we were discussing emotional releases in the physical body.

Sitting cross-legged in the park on that summer day, I let out some rusty, corroded, moss-covered shit. So ancient, so buried beneath the facade of coping well that I couldn’t even begin to identify it. I wept openly, my tears like a baptism, purging and releasing. Afterwards, I stood up, smoothed out my yoga pants and felt renewed.

Years earlier, as my mother lay dying, I pulled one leg over the other in a reclining twist at the end of another yoga class in a different studio. My mother’s face, so clear and smiling, popped into my vision. Not quite an apparition, but not quite of this world. I felt startled, but the twist rippled through me like a sigh, like a deep breath out after so much pain. It was fresh and identifiable. Lying in savasana, I sensed the warm trickle of subtle tears sneak out the corners of my eyes as I mourned my mother slipping away from me.

Our bodies are clever little devils. Our tissues, the very fibers of our being hold on to emotions–good, bad and otherwise. Emotions bubbling up in any type of body work–yoga, massage, acupuncture, etc., are common, healthy and important responses. Left unchecked for too long, buried shit eventually turns into disease and chronic pain.

I really like yoga, but I stopped going because every time we laid down at the end, I started to cry and I was embarrassed, a friend once told me. Oh honey, I replied. Keep going! You are doing such important work.

And sometimes you cry in savasana.

Sometimes we all do.

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Twenty-Seven (Part One of Two)

It’s the third week of January and the gym is where it’s at. Despite what you hear about everyone showing up on January 2nd, the truth is the biggest crowds at the gym and in my yoga classes typically arrive during the second and third weeks of the new year. It’s as if folks need to rev up a bit before sliding into their new spandex. Maybe they’re still digesting. As exhilarating as it is to absorb the energy of classes bursting at the seams, I also know the liveliness is predictably short-lived. By Valentines Day, the parking lot thins out, your favorite elliptical trainer is always open again and your cherished spot in the yoga room–that special patch near the warm sun that beats down on the hardwood floor is ready and waiting for your mat every time.

It always makes me a little sad.

January–pregnant with possibility and full of fresh faces–is a heady time. With every new yogi who crosses the threshold of my class and plants their feet on a sticky mat, I wonder how the practice will land in them. I’m excited by what they haven’t yet discovered. And I say a little prayer that they’ll stay long enough to find out. In the spirit of the still-new year, here are the first three things this yoga teacher would like you to know. Next week, I’ll share three more.

THING ONE: NO ONE IS WATCHING YOU

My classes have heard me say that’s the good news and the bad news. And it’s not fake news–it’s the absolute truth. The only person really watching you is me and I’m mostly watching your feet in standing poses. Sometimes I notice that transcendent moment when you fully immerse yourself in the present tense and your face beams with peace. It sends a shiver down my spine and reminds me of why I love my job.

I clearly remember my very first yoga class. Taught by an elegant and graceful ballet teacher, I felt awkward and ugly and self-conscious. In my embarrassment, I let a giggle slip through and was immediately reprimanded by the steely gaze of the teacher. It had taken me two full years to build up the courage to step into a public yoga class and that first class was not full of bliss and rainbows. I’m a bit stubborn, though, so I kept coming back.

Butts high in the air, legs splayed wide, soft underbelly exposed. Muscles trembling. Vulnerable. Uncomfortable. It’s all a part of yoga and you can bet that everyone else around you is feeling some variation of the same and not the least concerned about you and your funny-looking feet or tattered sweat pants.

A huge part of our practice in yoga is dropping our ego–the part of us that shows up with something to prove. That part of us that feels shame when we take a spectacular tumble out of a balancing pose. The same part that puffs us up when our lunges are deeper, our transitions smoother, our inversions braver than the person’s next to us. The very part of us that is defined by external sources, rather than who we truly are beneath the surface. Comparison is the thief of joy and yet it’s one of the hardest things to let go of.

No one is watching you, but for your own sake, wear clothing you are comfortable in. More importantly, wear clothing that doesn’t ride up, slide down or fall off. Secure your hair so you’re not distracted by sweaty strands tickling your eyes, nose and mouth. It was during my first experience in a heated studio when I realized that my modest choice of a baggy, cotton t-shirt had become utterly revealing once soaked and heavy with sweat. The shirt clung and slid and draped over my head in every Downward Facing Dog. I spent at least half of that class managing my clothing rather than practicing yoga. The very next week, I bought several snug tank tops that stayed in place even upside down. Not having to fuss and fiddle with my clothes blew the roof off my yoga practice.

And then, your feet. Can we all agree that feet are weird? I know mine are. Feet are the strangest things, and pretty miraculous, too.

Take your shoes off and lose the socks. Bunions, hammertoes, blackened toenails and all. Unless you have a medical condition with which you’ve been instructed to never go barefoot, take your shoes and socks off. I guarantee your weird feet will not be the most hideous in the world and the benefits to being barefoot on your mat are invaluable. Spend some time spreading your toes and wiggling them about. Stick your fingers in between your toes and stretch them wide. Yoga will strengthen weak feet, stretch tight ones and enliven even the deadest dogs. Yoga teaches us what it feels like to stand balanced on our feet and up into our legs and core. Our feet are our important connection to the earth. Let them see the light of day.

No one is watching you. It’s bad news for some of us who have defined our worthiness through the gaze of others. What happens when no one is watching you anymore?

It becomes about the intimate relationship between you and yourself.

THING TWO: TAKE YOUR TIME

We want it now. Maybe even yesterday. Yoga doesn’t work that way.

One of my favorite teachers, Christina Sell, introduced me to the idea of “making the easy poses hard.” It’s how I teach most of my classes now.

Mountain Pose. Tadasana. Standing tall at the top of our mat. Balanced. Strong. Alert, yet open and soft. Mountain Pose is the foundation of most of our practice.

Teaching yoga in a Y brings the most diverse cross-section of yogis to my classes. I also get a lot of athletes in my classes. Triathletes, marathoners, competitive swimmers and a whole array of past college and high school jocks who strut into a yoga class expecting it to be a pleasant, easy stretch.

Whoops.

While your yoga practice will give you a nice stretch, it will also ask much, much more of you if you stick around long enough to listen. It will teach you the importance of building a strong foundation first. It will teach you that showy, fancy poses are nice but without the foundation to support them, they become a hot mess with potential to injure. A good yoga practice will bring to light our impatient nature, our persistent ego and our need to be more and more and more rather than softening into the acceptance that we are–right now–enough.

If you have been an athlete for most of your life, you know what it means to push through. I imagine you are made of grit and determination and know how to dig deep. Maybe you’ve even defined yourself through your physical accomplishments. But do you know what it feels like to dial it back? To soften your belly rather than constantly suck it in? To rest when your body needs it rather than just keep going?

Disembodied humans walk into yoga classes every day. While it’s easy to characterize disembodiment as folks who haven’t moved or exercised much, I also see shades of disembodiment in serious athletes. Imagine the runner who continues to train despite stress fractures and hip pain. The competitive weight lifter who ignores her angry rotator cuff. My classes are full of yogis who are quick to reach for the furthest, most advanced variation offered of any pose, come what may. Jaws clench and twitch. Try harder! Go deeper! Just do it! Suddenly, being balanced and strong, soft yet alert, breathing deeply in that sweet spot between ease and effort flies right out the window.

Are you even breathing? Dial it back, baby.

If you want to catch your top leg in Ardha Chandra and come into the deeper, more challenging Ardha Chandra Chapasana, invest some time working on your Virabradrasana 2 and Parsvakonasana. If you want to balance well on one leg, make absolutely sure you know what it feels like to be well-balanced on two. Learn what it feels like to open your hips versus square them up. If you are obsessed with mastering Urdhva Dhanurasana, understand what it feels like to be rooted in your legs and how to begin to move the curve of your spine deeper into your body through poses like Bhujangasana and Salabhasana first. Handstand? Log some time opening, stabilizing and strengthening your shoulders in a well-aligned Downward Facing Dog and lots and lots of core.

Drop your goals and your ego and just show up. I know, it’s not as sexy as you imagined. Or as easy as you hoped.

Do it anyway.

THING THREE: SOMETIMES I HATE YOGA

I’ve broken up with yoga so many times I’ve lost count. My relationship with yoga is not unlike most of my relationships in my life. Sometimes, we break up. We often misunderstand each other. We take each other for granted. Miscommunicate. Feelings get hurt.

It’s not you, yoga. It’s me.

Almost always, it’s been me. I am far more flawed and culpable than yoga will ever be. I try too hard or not nearly enough. I have expectations of the practice that have no roots in reality and when I am disappointed, I slam the door and walk away. Like a lot of friends, yoga will hold a mirror up to me and ask me to look at my reflection honestly. Like a lot of friends, that makes me mad–or at least pretty squirmy–and I distance myself for awhile. I often make my yoga practice way more complicated than it needs to be and then complain about it being so bloody complicated.

It is so simple.

Like most relationships, just show up. Not with expectations or bells and whistles, but as you are. A hot mess some days. Beautifully stunning and full of grace on others. Most days, though, in muted shades of gray and blue with soft, malleable edges and a willingness to be fully human.

Yoga has been in my life for nearly twenty years now. I once read that if someone has been in your life for seven years, they will likely be in your life forever. There is an ebb and flow to even the sturdiest, most enduring of relationships. The true test is whether or not both parties are willing to ride through the stormiest swells as well as the gentle, lapping waves.

I think I’ll keep showing up.

 

 

Three Things, Issue Twenty-Six

Dear Hawaii–I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine the terror you must have felt yesterday. Dear Oprah–nice speech, but please do not run for president. Dear everyone else–hey, we’re already halfway through January!

SOMETHING I’M LISTENING TO: BROCKHAMPTON

Let’s just say I don’t exactly fit in with the general audience demographic for this band.

It was last summer when my 18-year-old daughter started listening to and talking about Brockhampton. Officially old and turning into my parents, I mistakenly understood it to be a guy–like, you know, Brock Hampton. Who is this Brock guy? I asked and she laughed and laughed and rolled her eyes and corrected me. It’s not a guy, mom–it’s a “they”. Brockhampton is a band. They call themselves an American boy band.

Having logged years of One Direction fandom with my daughter, I get the whole “boy band” thing. But Brockhampton is not that kind of boy band. Brockhampton is redefining what a boy band is, in the most fantastic way.

Brockhampton is a completely collaborative project spearheaded by visionary artist, Kevin Abstract, and built entirely from the internet. Its members number right around 14 and include rappers, producers, musicians and visual artists. Best defined as a hip-hop, alternative R&B group, they released three–THREE!–studio albums in 2017. The trilogy–Saturation, Saturation II and Saturation III–does an exceptional job at showcasing the unique talents of each member. Full of gritty, gutsy lyrics that challenge stereotypes and mash genres, all three releases stand on their own. Together, they are an impressive documentation of Brockhampton’s DIY approach and resulting meteoric rise.

I’ve always had a sweet spot for hip-hop, R&B and anything with a catchy-poppy-hook. I also love anyone who is innovative enough to dare to do things differently. Now more than ever, the music business needs innovators and risk takers like Brockhampton. Artists like these are the future of pop, rock and hip-hop. I may not fit the stereotype of your typical Brockhampton fan, but that won’t keep me from streaming their stuff non-stop.

And if you have any leads for tickets to either of their two sold-out shows in Seattle at the end of February, hit me up. Please.

SOMETHING I’M COOKING: BANANA BREAD

I know. Banana bread? Yep. Before you’re bored to tears, though, stay with me.

Brown, overripe bananas seem to be ubiquitous in any kitchen that has kids in it and ours was no exception. As much as I baked, banana bread was never a favorite here in my house. Most of my overripe bananas went into the freezer for smoothies or the compost bin and garbage can. Zucchini bread was what the hometown crowds clamored for and I was happy to oblige. But I was always in search of that one banana bread recipe that would win them over. I made banana cake and black-bottomed banana bars. Exotic, coconut and macadamia nut filled loaves. Marbly-chocolate banana bread and my most recent favorite version with peanut butter. A few of them got close, but none was a clear winner.

Anytime my favorite baking website splashes proclamations of “Recipe Of The Year!” across all my social media feeds, I sit up and take notice. When I read that King Arthur Flour’s Recipe Of The Year was a humble banana bread, I was skeptical. Just skeptical enough to give it a try.

A few things stand out in the KAF recipe, not the least of which is more bananas. While most banana bread recipes call for anywhere from two to three bananas, or roughly a cup of mashed fruit, this one has two cups. I used five reasonably sized bananas. The result is a super-moist bread with lots of banana flavor. Using brown sugar rather than white and adding whole wheat flour to the mix also elevates the final product. And because I can never leave well enough alone, I added a bit of cardamom to the batter and used a crunchy, raw, turbinado sugar for the cinnamon-sugar topping. You can find my slightly-modified version of the recipe here.

Upon sampling, my non-banana-bread-loving son commented that perhaps I had finally hit the banana bread lottery. It is truly delicious and a great recipe to have in your back pocket on those days you’re left staring at the bunch of darkening bananas on your counter.

SOMETHING I’M DOING: RELEASE AND REPEAT

I recently dreamed that I was suffocating under a mountain of clothes in my closet.

It’s not a stretch to imagine where that came from. For the past year, I’ve accumulated far more than I’ve discarded and the result is, well, something akin to a mountain in my closet, complete with the occasional avalanche of slippery yoga pants now and then. Each time I carry a stack of folded laundry upstairs to put away, my anxiety level rises. I stuff things on shelves and squeeze in one more hanger with the rest. And the shoes–oh my. So many shoes. The irony is I have a job where I don’t wear shoes at all.

My mom liked to hold onto things. Lots and lots of things. Things brought her comfort. I imagine if you logged a lifetime in which so many people you loved died or constantly disappointed you, things might  hold more promise than just about anything else. I used to occasionally watch those reality TV shows about hoarders and was often struck by the fact that underlying all the accumulation and hoarding was usually some pretty hefty emotional trauma. My mom lost a lot of people she loved. In the end, she collected dolls and cars and bears.

I’ve gotten in the habit of keeping a few garbage bags stashed upstairs and when I’m feeling especially stressed, I commit to filling at least one big bag with clothing or shoes I haven’t worn in a year or more. Once it’s filled, I carry it directly to my car and deposit it in a neighborhood collection bin. What always seems so difficult at first–letting go–becomes almost exhilarating in the end.

I feel lighter, more free.

As the kids have grown and flown, I’ve done the same thing in my pantry, unearthing decade-old cans of chicken soup and bags of expired fruit snacks. I recently cleared out a cabinet in my kitchen that housed teetering towers of old, sticky Tupperware with missing lids and cracked sides. And yet I still have miles to go with laundry room shelves filled with cleaning products I never use and junk drawers stuck with old takeout menus and little rubber bouncy balls. It is a process that can be tenuous at times.

I’ve begun to notice a similar anxiety rising up in me with digital clutter. Junk mail, solicitations, newsletters. Click. Delete. Unsubscribe.

Lighter. Better.

Someone recently suggested tuning in to the emotions I feel when scrolling my social media feeds. Anxiety? Envy? Inadequacy? Disgust? Click. Unfollow. Done.

Sometimes we don’t realize the negative effect that something or someone has on our emotions until it’s gone.

The Mister spent most of last summer working on a movie that was shooting in Puerto Rico. After living out of a suitcase for nearly two months, he came home and reflected on the freedom that came with only having the necessities of life around him. He talked about how having less made him realize how things can weigh us down in more ways than we imagine. Although I agreed with much of what he said, I’m not quite ready to discard my grandmother’s antique china cabinet or my mother’s watercolor paintings or even my favorite spatula.

It’s a process.

I am ridiculously sentimental and I am my mother’s daughter. While I don’t sport the array of collections and clutter that she did, I clearly see my tendencies to hold on to things that carry memory and love and possibility. I understand that there’s a thin line between comfort and anxiety, though, and I’m getting better at recognizing where it is.

One bag at a time. One click. One mindful decision at a time. Let go. Set free.

Release and repeat.

 

 

Three Things, Issue Twenty-Five

Happy New Year, everyone. How it’s going? Hang in there. We’ll get through this winter together.

SOMETHING I’M LISTENING TO: SALLIE FORD

You know that impossibly nerdy, bookish girl in your high school class who was also the coolest kid in school except that you were too clueless, conforming and self-absorbed to see it?

Sallie Ford is that girl. She’s all grown up now and still way cooler than you and me.

I don’t go out on New Years Eve, so when Sallie Ford announced a show at The Sunset in Seattle for New Years Eve this past year, I was disappointed. Do I dare break my rule and brave the revelers? I had caught Sallie Ford’s show at The Sunset earlier in 2017, right after the release of her latest album, Soul Sick, and was an immediate and ardent fan. Shows at The Sunset will do that to you. Sallie Ford will do that to you. Lucky for me, she soon added another show, this time on December 30. I snatched up my ticket, excited to ring in the New Year one day early.

I am so glad I did.

Hailing from Portland, Oregon by way of North Carolina, Sallie Ford is a force to be reckoned with. Her big, treble-and-twang guitar sounds pair perfectly with the clear, sometimes plaintive, tones of her well-oiled vocals. Described as part rockabilly, part soul with a hefty dose of good old-fashioned 1950’s rock and roll, Sallie Ford and her band are always crowd pleasers. Her songs are often filled with intimate, confessional lyrics wound around deceptively toe-tapping melodies that make you forget she just spilled her guts out in the process. Opening her set with a tight, powerful version of “Get Out” from Soul Sick, she extinguished any doubt about who was in charge that night. Although it’s easy to get swept up in the nostalgic sound of Ford and her band, there’s something unmistakably relevant and timely about the music and her message. I strode out of The Sunset on the second-to-last day of 2017 feeling empowered, ready to kick ass and take names in the new year. Soul Sick is clear confirmation that Sallie Ford continues to grow in leaps and bounds and I can’t wait to see what she brings us next.

I have a very short list of artists who I make sure to see every time they roll through town. Sallie Ford is on that list.

SOMETHING I’M COOKING: CASSEROLES

It’s January. It’s wet and drippy, dark and downright bone-chilling at times. Comfort food reigns supreme in winter, but after the heavy feasting of the holidays, I know I’m usually looking for something on the lighter side once we’re past the parties. I find myself craving vegetables and green things, but salads are still too cool and summery to hold much attraction for me.

Bring on the casseroles, baby.

Casseroles are pretty divisive, I think. If you’re the type of person who gets squeamish when different foods touch on your plate, I imagine casseroles are not your thing. For me, however, some of my fondest childhood food memories revolve around casseroles–after all, in the ’60s and ’70s, casseroles were king. Tuna noodle, homemade baked mac and cheese, pork chops and rice and other concoctions that almost always required a can or two of Campbell’s Cream Of Something soup. And then, there was Super Supper.

Super Supper is the one childhood dish that nearly all my siblings and I can attest to loving unconditionally. Born from one of those little paperback Betty Crocker cookbooks that grocery stores still stock at the checkout counter, my mom made Super Supper regularly. It was only recently that I realized that it is basically an inverted version of Shepard’s Pie–a bottom layer of mashed potatoes, covered with a tomato-based, herb-spiked layer of ground beef or turkey with a few kernels of corn mixed in, topped with shredded cheddar cheese. Not necessarily light, but with a side of steamed broccoli, a perfectly fine winter meal.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with a few revisions to the original–subbing a cauliflower mash for the bottom potato layer proved to be tasty but not quite sturdy enough for the base. (I’ll be reworking that one a bit more.) Ground turkey is my choice over beef, but you could even try a vegetarian substitute and toss in a few chopped portabello mushrooms for a meaty but meatless nutritional boost. Like most casseroles, I’ve found Super Supper to be easily modified and customized to suit a variety of tastes. Although there is no can of Campbell’s Soup required, there is the couple cups of instant mashed potato flakes it calls for. (After all, the original was from a Betty Crocker cookbook, so of course it calls for a box of Betty Crocker Potato Flakes.) Dried mashed potato flakes are not something I keep in my pantry, so making the potato base from real potatoes would work great, I think. Swapping out processed stuff for the real thing is nearly always a win. Just make sure the potatoes have enough body and heft so they don’t get squishy. And make sure to add enough sour cream or yogurt to give that layer its requisite “tang.”

You can find the Super Supper recipe here. This week, I’m also including a bonus recipe for a most marvelous wintertime soup that is sure to warm the cockles of your heart and belly. It’s also a great way to use up that ham bone left over from Christmas. It’s called Ham And No Bean Soup because I first discovered this soup while in the midst of a very low-carb phase of my life when beans weren’t a part of my diet. If you love beans, feel free to add them towards the end, but if you don’t, I guarantee you won’t miss them. As is, this soup is thick and smoky, studded with chunks of leftover ham. The thickness comes from pureed cauliflower and carrots, so you get your fill of veggies in one, big, satisfying bowl of comfort. It’s The Mister’s favorite, and one of mine, too.

SOMETHING I’M DOING: DISROBING

The house. I’m disrobing the house of its holiday cheer. After all, Saturday was the Twelfth Day of Christmas.

Taking off, taking down, packing away, cleaning up. It’s like a seasonal dance, a ritual of sorts. The sharp pang of contrast against the giddy, breathless pulling out, putting up and dressing the house in its finest Christmas suit just weeks prior. A touch of melancholy, regret that time has slipped away again. Too busy to simply sit and simmer in the season. It’s always too fleeting, it seems.

“We have such a great, cozy Christmas house,” my daughter often observes. That makes me happy, and she’s right. Twelve-foot fresh-cut tree bursting with forest scent, garland draped along railings, lights, lights and more lights. The simple, wooden nativity gifted to me from my mom, her handwriting still on the box. My Swedish candelabra, my grandmother’s painted dala horse and red and white Scandinavian table runner to connect us to our roots. A tall, skinny tree tucked in the corner of the family room, now home to my mother’s collection of delicate crocheted snowflakes and soft white lights.

Remembering. A nod to the past. A prayer of sorts. Amen to all that.

I insist on keeping all the decorations up through the Twelfth Day of Christmas. It’s as if I feel the judgement of my father beaming down on me, who instilled that tradition in me and some of my siblings. I like it because it makes me feel wonderfully out-of-step with the too-busy, too-quick-to-move-on, hey-look-it’s-Valentines-Day world just outside my door. It invites me to linger longer and slow down. Pay attention.

The impermanence of everything.

So it begins, usually with a sigh. First, yards of red plaid ribbon get tugged from the branches of the tree and carefully rewound on their spools. Then, the shiny red and green balls and finally the bears, one by one. Hundreds of bear ornaments, mixed in with a few dinosaurs, glittery ice skates and cheeky sock monkeys. Some soft and cuddly, others hard and resilient, more than a few fragile ones, prone to breaking. Kinda like humans.

Each bear, each ornament, each decoration holding the gift of memory. Love. Life. Time passing.

I’ll take more time to sit and stare at the tree next year, I promise to myself.

I hope I do. I hope you do, too.

Happy New Year. Be well, be kind, be true.

 

Three Things, Issue Twenty-Four

What a week this was–Christmas and its aftermath. Traditionally, one of my favorite weeks of the year. I typically take time off from work and let my eyes go all woozy and unfocused at the Christmas tree. I might crack a new book or two in between a few long, muddy hikes and spend at least one full day padding around in my pajamas. This year, however, the last week of the year was punctuated with extended-family drama, a smattering of snark and a dusting of disappointment. Family dynamics can be complicated. Some years are like that.

Which brings us to today, New Years Eve. Only second to the Fourth of July as my most despised holiday. As a rule, I don’t go out on New Years Eve and I’m not much of a resolution girl. Once I kicked resolutions to the curb, I spent years talking about New Years “intentions” in my best soothing yoga voice. It wasn’t much later that I realized intentions were just resolutions dressed up in yoga pants. Now, I keep it simple. I think of a few words to shape the year ahead. Here are my three words for 2018.

WORD ONE: SUBMISSION noun \ səb-ˈmi-shən \

This blog was born nearly eight years ago. Eight years! That’s a long time. Over those years, I’ve had a couple different hairstyles, both of my kids graduated from high school, one kid graduated from college, the other has entered college and here I’ve sat, writing more off than on, a little here and there but rarely regularly. Until this past summer, that is. It was late July when I challenged myself to develop a real, honest-to-goodness writing practice. For accountability, I splashed it all over social media each week. You know what? It worked. I have posted a new Three Things blog for 24 weeks now–that’s nearly six months. I’ve generated tons of content, wrote a lot of shitty first drafts as well as a few things that have the potential to be shaped and shifted, edited and expanded into something better.

Something worthy of submission.

It’s been five years since I submitted any of my writing for publication. For most of this year, the mere thought of submitting anything anywhere would set my insides to churning. The phrase “my next step is to start submitting work again” would get stuck in my throat like a pokey little chicken bone. I like to think that my writing has improved over the past six months. It’s not rocket science–you just show up and write, each day, week after week, badly at first and then, maybe a little better. Just as my biceps begin to bulge with consistent training, my writing guns are finally beginning to show.

It’s scary as hell. But I’m doing it anyway.

WORD TWO: REJECTION noun \ ri-ˈjek-shən \

Rejection is as necessary of a step in the life of a writer as is the actual writing. That’s not hyperbole, just a real life fact. A writer with whom I’ve taken a workshop recently shared that she received 38 rejection letters for a book that was eventually published, received acclaim and has now been optioned for a movie. Thirty-eight. And that’s probably below the average. A year ago, I wasn’t ready.

I’m ready now.

Rejection sucks. We can all agree on that, yes? I’ve wasted many years of my life worrying about whether or not people like me. I have shrunk and silenced and molded myself to suit others at my own expense. I worried more about ruffling feathers than unfurling the brilliant expanse of my own. I bet you have, too. It’s part of the human experience–we all just want to be liked, to fit in–at least somewhere. A quick glance at social media will confirm that.

Not that I’m a total rebel–I still want to be liked. The difference today is I’m unwilling to make myself smaller or better behaved to get there. The difference is that I accept the necessity of rejection on my path to a life well-lived. Getting older is not all moans and groans–this clarity of conviction comes with having trodden many years on this earth. The best writers–all artists, actually–have always been a bit disruptive and provocative.

You know those “vision boards” that became popular awhile back in the new age, Oprah-influenced, woo-woo circles? I love a good collage as much as the next person, but I never felt the urge to sit around with scissors and glue, cutting and pasting magazine pictures onto poster board of stuff I wanted to “attract” into my life. Instead, I’m planning on hanging a “rejection board” on the wall of my office, where I do most of my writing. I’ll make it aesthetically pleasing–maybe one of those soft, fabric-covered boards with criss-cross ribbons meant for tucking lovely notes and photos in. On mine, I’ll post each and every rejection letter I receive. If the board fills up, I’ll know I’m doing my work. To submit means to be rejected and to be rejected means I’m on my way.

The thought of exposing myself to this necessary rejection still makes my innards rumble and roil. But I’ll do it anyway.

WORD THREE: ACCEPTANCE noun \ ik-ˈsep-tən(t)s\

This is a big one.

Sure, I’d like to think that somewhere amidst all the submitting and rejecting of my work, there might be a tiny speck of acceptance tossed in there. If it comes, I’ll tape that letter of acceptance smack-dab in the center of my sweet rejection board. I mean, how great would that be? (Really great.) But when I think of acceptance this year, I think of it mostly in terms of accepting what I can and cannot control.

Acceptance that I cannot control other people’s reactions. I cannot control whether or not they like or understand me. I cannot control their acceptance of my writing, no matter how much of my naked self I’ve exposed to the harsh, unforgiving light of the world.

I accept that I can control what steps I take to prepare for the life I want. And most of all, I control my reactions to everything that happens to me–all the yummy, sweet, love-soaked stuff as well as the hideous, bitter, angry rejection stuff.

Through it all, I’ll remind myself (and you, every now and then) that every last bit of it is an important part of life–this messy, achey, swoony, hard-as-nails, breathtaking life.

It’s so hard. But I’ll do it anyway.

Happy New Year, lovely people. Celebrate safely. I need all of you around to write about.

Now, tell me your three words.

Three Things, Issue Twenty-Three

Happy Christmas Eve, all you Christmas people. I get it–you’re busy, I’m busy–so I’ll make this short this week. Let me tell you about my life preservers–here are three things that saved me this year.

THING ONE: MUSIC

I disappear into the obscure murk of a club. Bodies melt. Energy exchange. Clatter and din. Vibration and shudder in the rattle and hum of the bass and drum.

Duct tape has a smell that mixes with metal and sweat and spilled beer and brings me back to who I am.

Here, I am unseen in the shadows. I lean back and close my eyes and feel the alchemy of everything surge through my bones.

When I feel dead, this brings me alive.

THING TWO: WATER

Part 1. The Big Dipper sits squarely in the black space between the tall treetops as I float on my back in my hot tub. “Whenever you feel alone, look up at the Big Dipper and know I see it, too.” she said to me.

Water covers my ears so that all I hear is the steady whooshwhooshwhoosh of my heart. It’s silent and deafening. My heartbeat tells me that I am alive. The Big Dipper reminds me that we are all in this mess together, even in complete solitude.

My fingers release from the sides of the tub and I allow myself to be gently held. Buoyant. Weightless. Let go or be dragged.

Part 2. “Don’t deny yourself your inspiration points,” she insisted.

Where the forest meets the sea. Wild and untamed. Show-offy waves crash against craggy rocks and seastacks. The ancient trees, bent and hobbled like the most noble of grandmothers and as strong and wise as her, too. Here is where I feel as small as the grain of sand that scrunches through my toes on my way to the foamy tideline.

Power and perspective. Constant motion begets utter stillness. Everything contradicts into perfect sense.

The water is where I am renewed.

THING THREE: MY CLASSES

Long, drawn faces with brows knit into deep crevasses. Eyes rimmed with fatigue, worry, fear. Me, too, I say. I’m glad you’re here.

See, this is what helps me, I tell them. I guide bodies through stretches and pose after pose and shout at them “Let me see you breathe!”

Jawlines soften. Deep, audible sigh. There, I say. That. That’s it, that’s yoga.

I don’t believe that yoga is magic but I do believe that something magical can happen when you do yoga.

When all I feel is worthless and afraid, my classes show me otherwise. Energy shifts. Palpable change.

No one will pay me to teach yoga to myself, I joke to my classes. The relationship is symbiotic, simple and profound. I guide and observe. They respond and practice and walk out different than they arrived. Cells rearranged. Stillness within.

My classes give me hope when all I feel is despair.

Music, water, teaching. My three life preservers.

Tell me, what are yours?

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Twenty-Two

Remember how we all couldn’t wait to be done with 2016? Yeah. Me, too. Despite our shiniest hopes, this year wasn’t much better. As 2017 begins to glimmer in our rearview mirror, I’m filling the last few blogs of this year with some reflections on the past twelve months. It’s been a real trudge, hasn’t it? I hope yours was better than mine. Here are three things about my 2017.

THING ONE: ME

I lost my bearings this year. I teetered and tottered on the precipice of a yawning, black canyon of despair and depression after the inauguration in January. A constant gnaw set up shop in the pit of my belly and rarely took time off. Sleep was an elusive motherfucker. I felt the “Inez” in me flare up and flame–my mother’s worrywart and chicken little tendencies–and often felt grateful that she was no longer here on earth to witness it all. It would have broke her. It nearly broke me.

I lost my voice. My writing voice. That voice that I have learned is a nonnegotiable, vital part of my well-being. After January, I began to believe my stories weren’t important enough, weren’t big enough, simply were not enough. We need to hear the voices of the marginalized! shouted the timeline of my social media feeds. I understood my privilege and even as a woman, I’ve never felt terribly marginalized. So, I read a lot of other peoples’ writing. I sat with their stories and watched what was evoked in me. Sometimes fear. Other times, defensiveness. I would ask myself why. I read and absorbed and I learned.

I lost some friendships. Or at least I lost some traction in some friendships. I’m one of those who hangs on for dear life, even when the shore seems another lifetime away. Even when it’s not in my best interest to keep my white-knuckled grip. But when the world seems to turn upside-down, we change. Our friends change and the relationships inevitably change, too. Our coping mechanisms have a way of weeding out the dead wood and exposing what is left behind. Some people aren’t meant to be in your life forever another friend mused when we were commiserating with each other about this.

Ugh.

Something miraculous happened around the summer, though. I found my legs–my 2017 legs. The strong, stable legs that would carry me throughout the trudge of the rest of the year, even with a torn meniscus. I unfollowed a lot of folks on social media as I identified my triggers. I reduced the amount of time I spent on Facebook, in particular. I remembered what was good and real in my life and reminded myself that I didn’t have the luxury of a dramatic fall into that deep canyon. Two young adult kids on the cusp of their independent lives would not benefit from a mother who threw herself off the edge. I also had my yoga classes, filled with more people than ever, looking for tools and solace, grasping for their breath and the the connection to something as real and living as their own flesh and bones. I had stuff to do and that sense of purpose kept me focused and alive.

And then I found my voice again–my writing voice–when I stopped caring what other people thought. (It always works that way, you know. It’s not much of a mystery.) I began this blog, published every Sunday, as a challenge to myself. I called myself a writer, but I wasn’t writing much. The sole intention of this blog was to see if I could walk the walk. I don’t usually write about big topics of social justice or politics, but instead I share my small, little stories about three things each week. Nothing makes me happier when telling my stories encourages others to share theirs. Our stories are where we find meaning and connection, even and especially in the seemingly small, quiet stories of our lives.

My circle of trusted humans continues to shrink but what remains begins to develop the richest, most beautiful patina. As the boundaries get renegotiated and tighten up in some friendships, other boundaries expand to create new ones and deepen others. I took time to mourn the loss of what once was and accepted responsibility for what was mine. I stopped trying to fix what wasn’t. Sometimes the learning curve is steep and treacherous.

It’s been a gritty, tumultuous year and I’m not confident the next will be much smoother.

THING TWO: SON

When you’re up to your elbows in poop and barf and the latest virus making the rounds through your kids’ preschool class, you can’t even begin to imagine living without these creatures. Raising little humans is  an all-encompassing venture where–if you’re lucky–you come up for air once every three months or so.

And then they’re gone. Seriously, just like that.

And isn’t that just wonderful? I mean, how many of us daydream about having our unemployed, 28-year-old son living in our basement with his pregnant girlfriend? (Not that that’s the end of the world, either. It’s just not what most of us moms and dads wish for.) As parents, our only job is to build independent, capable, contributing, and kind adults. It’s not for the faint of heart, this parenting gig, and it’s not without its share of detours and roadblocks and dead ends.

You also cry. A lot. Or maybe that’s just me.

This year was a bit of rollercoaster for our family, filled with comings and goings, coming back agains, stumbles and recoveries but overwhelmingly, the sprouting of the most magnificent of iridescent wings in both my son and daughter. It was a hard year, at times, chock-full of tough decisions and teary farewells and giddy celebrations. I have a tattoo on my right forearm that reads, “she feels in italics and thinks in capitals” and 2017 was all about the italics and capitals.

I’m exhausted. And also proud as hell.

My son landed a pretty nice, if temporary, gig working in the sports department at a major newspaper. Cool, we thought, and bought him his first grown-up, queen-sized bed for his new, queen-sized life working and living in Seattle. But because being young is about seizing all the opportunities all the time, he went on to apply for and land an even tonier job in the king-sized city of Manhattan. Equipped with a couple of suitcases and my broken heart, he left his new mattress behind to begin a new job at Sports Illustrated. He left on my birthday. My birthday! I reminded myself it wasn’t all about me, wiped my snotty tears on the sleeve of my hoodie and got to planning my fall trip to the east coast. Oh, and did I mention our New York City Christmas? I signed up for frequent-flier miles because I was sure I’d be flying frequently. I dreamed about Christmas shopping at Chelsea Market, walking the High Line in the snow and long afternoons at MOMA.

He settled into a place in Brooklyn and I settled into my new reality of having my kid 3000 miles away from me.

A funny thing happens when you begin to mature. You start to know yourself. You reach a certain age with a duffle bag full of life experiences on your back and you begin to see beyond the shiny, bright lights of what the world tells you you should want and you tap into what you–really YOU–want. He called me while I was escaped to the Olympic Peninsula (trying to salvage my broken-hearted birthday) and told me he didn’t think this bright, shiny life in NYC was what he wanted. I put on my wise yoga-teacher-mom cap and counseled him with all the reasons to stay. It’s okay to be unsure, I told him. It’s okay to be uncomfortable.

He missed the Pacific Northwest. He missed his girlfriend. He missed his family. It just didn’t feel right, he said. He missed us! I felt a shudder of pride down my spine when I realized I had raised a young adult who actually still enjoyed his family and wanted to be near us. He had attended college in Arizona, spent summers living in NYC and Philadelphia and had made the very grown-up decision that he needed to get back to Seattle.

How many of us have stayed in a relationship or job or school or living situation for far too long, only because we were afraid to disappoint the expectations of others? Yeah. Me, too. Those were not my finest moments. I was impressed that my son had the wherewithal to realize something was not a good fit and took the steps to choose differently.

The suitcases and my broken heart and my kid flew back to the West Coast. Sports Illustrated was sad to say goodbye and he even continued to work remotely for them for awhile. He managed to get his pretty nice gig at that major newspaper back–this time as a permanent, full-time position. The heart palpitations I was having all month long magically stopped. Funny how that works.

It’s not easy for any of us to strike out on our own and build our grown-up lives. My own trajectory was riddled with side trips and strange rest stops and decisions I later regretted but then grew to understand and learn from. There is nothing remotely linear about a life well-lived. Up, down, backwards, sideways and those breathtaking spirally-curly-cue turns to the right and left and back again.

A life well-lived looks like a complex, fantastic work of art, one that can be interpreted many ways. The only thing that matters, though, is that it is an honest expression of the artist themselves.

THING THREE: DAUGHTER

I didn’t take the traditional, turn-18-and-go-off-to-college route. Remember what I said about being the one left holding on for dear life? That was me at 18. My daughter, on the other hand, chose differently.

There’s something about your child’s senior year of high school. Each and every event is touted as their “last”–their last, first day of high school, their last school concert, the last high school football game, the last, last day of school. It’s enough to exhaust all boxes of tissues. (That said, I’ve never been more emotional than the the last day of each of my kid’s elementary school years. It always felt a bit manipulative, you know, like the ending of a cheesy Hallmark movie. Cry, dammit, or else! It’s excruciating and unfair.) The entire senior year of high school is focused on sentimental endings stirred up and mixed in with the excitement of future plans and college acceptance letters and decisions, both big and small. All the parents talked about their kid’s leaving home looming like the most dreadful farewell.

Everyone was worried about me as my daughter prepared to leave for college. Everyone except me.

My daughter is a different animal. Quietly confident and smart as a whip. She surrounds herself with good, caring people. I knew she’d be okay. I was pretty sure I’d be okay, too.

We packed her up and drove her off to college on a misty, steel-gray Seattle morning in late September. Everything she needed, stuffed in the back of a Prius. Her roommate, a dear friend since seventh grade, made the transition that much easier. A space of her own, a brand new world at her feet, adventures to be had. Bright lights, big city. It was heady stuff. I left her on campus without much fanfare and only a few tears.

It’s a strange feeling to wake up in your house all alone after nearly two decades of it being filled with family. A house that served as central headquarters, once brimming with loud fights and birthday parties and tears and bedtime stories. The other, less poignant side of the coin is the exhilaration you feel when you realize that you can go/do/eat anything you please and no one will be around to protest. It was not unlike the giddy freedom I remember feeling the first time I lived on my own. This time around, I fantasized about driving to Canada and spending a few days in Vancouver, or out to LaPush for some ocean therapy. I wound up making popcorn for dinner, perfectly content to simply know I could do whatever I pleased.

By all accounts, it was an effortless transition for my daughter from the comforts of home to the less-comfortable dorms at the University of Washington. The frightened, white-knuckled-gripping, unsure 18-year-old in me had a hard time comprehending just how easy it was for her to adventure away to college. Having not had that experience, I was without a reference point. Did she not love us? Might she never come home again? was the endless loop of worries that surged as I channeled my inner Inez again. Was she not afraid? The 18-year-old me was governed by fear. My daughter was not. I had made the mistake of confusing her lack of anxiety with a lack of love.

My daughter is a different animal than me, thankfully.

From the early days of watching her flip and fly through the air with the greatest of ease as a competitive gymnast and later, as a diver on her high school team, I remembered my daughter was born with a type of grit and determination that I never possessed. Fearless? No, not fearless, but persistent as hell with a belief and drive in herself that cannot be taught. We might share some DNA, but this girl is uniquely her own. And that, right there, will take her far.

I like to drive through the campus and imagine my mom and dad there, lurking in the gothic architecture and ancient cherry trees. Both were graduates of the university and I know they are proud of their youngest granddaughter. They gave her valuable gifts of intellect and curiosity. The mystical, magical part of me believes they are looking over her, guiding her, protecting her. The sensible, practical part of me trusts that she’ll be just fine.

It’s been a helluva year, this year. Maybe next year, too. Come what may, we’ll all be over here, creating these fantastic, messy works of art that we’ll call life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Twenty-One

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

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

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

I’m really glad I did.

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

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

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

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

SOMETHING I’M COOKING: SWEDISH MEATBALLS

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

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

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

WHAT ABOUT THE MEATBALLS?

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

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE MEATBALLS?

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

WHAT ABOUT THE MEATBALLS?

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

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

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

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

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

I’m not panicking. Much.

SOMETHING I’M DOING: ADAPTING TO INJURIES

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

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

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

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

Injuries are also a bitch.

My injuries will not define me.

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

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

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

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

BOOM.

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

Hi, I’m a torn meniscus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t get old.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Twenty

I saw Santa today. Not the mall-variety Santa, but SANTA. The white-bearded guy was roaming the tree farm from where we cut our Christmas tree and the sight of him evoked nearly the same giddy reaction in me as it did in my five-year-old self. “Santa’s coming!” I hissed at my 18-year-old daughter as we stood under the cover of the snack shed in the cold, hard rain. He was round, he was jolly and he had candy canes. I felt my heart quicken. What is it with this Kris Kringle mythology? I’ll tell you what it is: it was enough to brighten the most cynical, achy, cranky, sad soul of this believer on a cold, wet December day.

SOMETHING I’M LISTENING TO: PUBLIC THEATRE

There was a time in my life when not going to a seedy club on a weeknight for a bit of local, live music meant that it was a very, very slow week indeed. These days, it takes a bit more coaxing for me to venture out in the chilly bite of a Seattle night in November, but I’ve rarely regretted doing so.

Such was the case this past Tuesday when I agreed to meet my daughter and a few of her pals at The Funhouse in Seattle. The Funhouse is a tiny little space–the stage is actually in the front window of the venue–connected to the larger (and iconic) El Corazon. When The Funhouse hosts all-ages shows, the over-21 drinkers are relegated to an even smaller, caged area at the very back, by the bar. It sounds worse than it really is and it’s a place I’m happy to reside if it means I can stand back and take in some up-and-coming new local music in an intimate setting.

The podcast I’m a part of, Somethin About Nothin, likes to feature local music, so I considered it part of my job responsibilities to go check out a band called Public Theatre. From Snohomish, Public Theatre is a four-piece, alt-rock group that’s managing to make a bit of an impression on the Seattle music scene. Fronted by lanky, dynamic lead singer Logan Britsch, they are tight and energetic, with a good selection of originals to showcase their talent. “Grim Reaper” is their most recent and most musically complex track to date. When listening to “Fixated” it’s hard not to make comparisons to The Orwells and notice the hint of Kurt Cobain influence in Britsch’s vocal range that glides from sweet and melodic to raw, rough and emotional by the song’s end. Public Theatre was the second act of a four-band bill that Tuesday night which included two nationally-known, more established acts. Public Theatre was, hands-down, my most favorite band of the night.

These guys are young and ambitious, and with a solid foundation to build from, I can’t wait to see where they go in the next few years. They’ll be playing around town–both Seattle and Everett–so this is your chance to get out of your jammie pants and that pesky comfort zone of yours and support your local artists. You won’t regret it.

You can follow Public Theatre on Facebook, Instagram and Spotify and listen to them here on Soundcloud.

SOMETHING I’M COOKING: BRUSSELS SPROUTS

About this time every year, I crave green. Following the heavy, decidedly beige and brown feast from last week, all I can think about is vegetables. Lots and lots of vegetables, preferably green ones.

Cruciferous vegetables are the bomb. Be it broccoli, kale, cauliflower or brussels sprouts, this group of veggies is my fall and winter go-to when I need an infusion of nutrition. It was at a local happy hour when I first experienced some of the most tasty brussels sprouts I had ever come across. Caramelized and charred with smoky, thick-cut bacon, garlic and soy sauce and finished with a sweet-spicy glaze of an Asian chili sauce, the swooning began immediately. I went home that night and the very next day began my quest to recreate this most heavenly dish.

I think I got pretty close. If nothing else, I have one more delicious and reasonably nutritious cruciferous veggie recipe to pull out on those days when I need a boost of green and something that isn’t draped in turkey gravy. Chili Garlic Brussel Sprouts could easily be a light meal in itself, or served with a side of jasmine rice or with your protein of choice.

Give it a try and let me know what you think. But definitely eat something green today.

SOMETHING I’M DOING: CHANGE

The top five most stressful changes in an adult life are: 1.) the death of a loved one, 2.) divorce, 3.) moving, 4.) major illness or injury and 5.) job loss.

I’m pretty sure mine aren’t even in the top twenty.

But as change goes, I’m like that root-bound plant you picked up from the grocery store nursery at the end of the season, hoping to save a few bucks and bring it back to full and vibrant life. You tip the bucket upside down to free the root ball and it takes more than just a few sharp slaps to its side to loosen the soil. Pruning shears in hand, you go to work, slicing through the thick, black plastic of its container and out plops the mass of intertwined roots, married as tight together as the most intricate Celtic knot.

That’s me. Root-bound.

I was having a conversation with a friend recently, bemoaning my lack of grace in the face of change. I mentioned my tendency to be the most rooted, most reliable, most consistent human I know. “Well, isn’t that a good thing?” she asked. Yes, and no.

When you dump that hard lump of root ball to the ground, any good gardener knows it’s necessary to snip away at the fibrous mass in an attempt to create new shoots of life once the plant goes into the soil. If not, the plant may not thrive and might even die, entangled in its woven legs. But snipped free, some of those roots can begin to burrow and grow again and with a little bit of nurturing, result in the most beautiful and vibrant specimen.

So that’s me right now. I’ve snipped away at my solid root ball these past few months–not with pruning shears but with tiny little fingernail clippers. It’s almost laughable at how small the changes I’ve made and the resulting stress they’ve had on my body and mind. Another (less-rooted) person might sail through their life, whacking away at their roots with a machete and revel in the subsequent growth and adventure.

But not this girl.

I let go of a yoga class I’ve taught for a dozen years–one of my biggest, often filled with forty or more yogis. I’ve taken on the challenge of something new–a podcast. It’s scary, uncharted territory. I might fail or look foolish. There’s growing pains, those 3:00 am wide-eyed wake ups, gripped with worry, flush with imagination of the worst possible outcome. There’s risk, but because it’s me, that risk is negligible at best. I’ve made sure of that. Even still, I can’t ignore the gnaw of unease in my gut, the flutter of my heart in my chest. I’ve lost my footing.

So I practice. I fall back on what has always helped in the past. Yoga. Meditation. Writing. Get back in my body, touch what’s tangible, watch my breath. Acknowledge what’s there–the fear, the doubt, the discomfort of those tiny, necessary lacerations in my roots.

And yeah, I like the fact that I’m dependable. It’s taken me far. Reliable is great until you realize you’re that decades-old Toyota with the oxidized paint and the muffler held on with duct tape. Roots are good and important to have. Too many roots can suck the living life right out of you.

Water me, feed me, watch me grow.

 

 

Three Things, Issue Nineteen

How are those leftovers going? Turkey soup? Enchiladas? Or a straight-up, turkey/dressing/cranberry sammich? What’s your favorite? Now that Thanksgiving is in our rearview mirror, here are three things I do in the month before Christmas.

SOMETHING I’M LISTENING TO: CHRISTMAS MUSIC

Don’t you dare start playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving. Just don’t.

But as soon as the turkey carcass has been picked clean, bring it on. Beside politics, I’m not sure if there’s anything more polarizing than Christmas music. It’s about as personal as it gets. Often loaded with triggers–both good and bad–of holidays past. I cannot hear The Waitresses “Christmas Wrapping” song without revisiting the giddiness of young adulthood. Memories of hanging out with bands, long nights and loud music, feeling as though anything was possible. And the opening strains of the soundtrack of “Amahl and the Night Visitors” always brings a fullness to my heart and usually a lump in my throat as it floods my body with memories of my family and formative years. Music is always evocative, and no more so than during the holidays.

I wasn’t raised with a lot of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, but The Mister was. Sinatra’s “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and “White Christmas” are now a part of our family’s regular rotation of holiday music. I’ll always be a sucker for any song from the classic “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” movie–probably the only movie I can actually quote entire lines from. Later in my teen years, my mom discovered Mannheim Steamroller and our house was soon filled with the synthesizer strains of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. And then, as my daughter and I began annual pilgrimages to The Nutcracker ballet, the music and melodies of Tchaikovsky’s score became ubiquitous with December.

But the music that I find myself reaching for the most during this month is classical choral music. It’s the stuff that sends shivers down my spine and tingles in my toes. It’s what springs tears to my eyes as I feel the vocal harmonies reverberate through my bones. It can be both as joyous and hopeful as Christmas morning and as dark and brooding as the longest, lonely night.

One of my favorite performances of classical choral music was many years ago when my niece performed with the Pacific Lutheran University choir at their annual Christmas concert. Held in an old church on Capitol Hill, the choir began in the balcony behind us. Ethereal and haunting, voices surrounded us as the choir began their procession down the church aisles, each member holding a single, lit candle. I’m pretty sure I cried. I might even be crying now as I remember it. Towards the end of their program, they encouraged the audience to join in with a few familiar carols, leaving the crowd buoyed by their uplifted voices. It was magnificent. All of PLU’s Christmas performances on their campus this year are sold out, but they will be doing one show in Seattle at Benaroya Hall. Grab your tickets here for the Seattle performance on December 4th and then tell me just how phenomenal it was. Because it will be. It might even make you cry, in the best possible way.

SOMETHING I’M COOKING: CHRISTMAS BAKING

I was ten when I was given the “Betty Crocker Cooky Book.” I still have it and I still use it.  I can page through that dog-eared, vanilla-stained, well-loved volume and still remember the Christmases I made that cookie and this one. The ones that bombed, the winners I still make today. It was as if with that book, I was bestowed the crown of Queen Cookie Baker of the family. It was a role I gladly accepted.

The cinnamony-pumpkin-spice of November naturally segues to rich chocolate and mint come December. There were years that I baked a dozen varieties of cookies for our holiday celebration. We even dubbed the dining room, laden with plates of sweets on Christmas Day, “The Cookie Room.” It is nothing short of impressive.

This is the month my weekends are spent baking and preparing. I make a list of the cookies I’ll be baking this year and plan my time accordingly. Tins upon tins of freshly baked cookies are packed and whisked away to the freezer until Christmas morning when everything gets pulled out and displayed in all its sweet glory. Guests arrive and gather around the table, searching for their perennial favorites, noticing flashy new ones to try. Later, plates of cookies are packaged and wrapped to take home to enjoy. Leftovers are shared far and wide with friends and family as we pick and nibble on the crumbs left behind.

If the act of baking is food for my soul, then December is replete with nourishment of the very marrow of me.

SOMETHING I’M DOING: GETTING OUTSIDE

Those hot, sunny days in August are wasted on me. Those are the days you can usually find me inside, draped in front of a fan wearing as few clothes as possible, trying to be very, very still and praying for rain. I spent most of my childhood learning how to manage the panic that would rise in my chest on those first few sunny summer days. It’s a Pacific Northwest thing, I think. That anxiety that comes when the sun makes an appearance after a long, wet, cool spring and no one knows if it will ever come out again. I swear it’s in my cells, that panic. Get outside! Do something! Go towards water! It’s taken me this long to embrace and accept my love of gray. It’s my love of gray days and a drizzly sky that gets me outside far more regularly in the fall and winter, than in the dog days of summer.

Pshhht–summer is for amateurs. Now it’s my time.

One of the best things about where I live is that I am a mere five-minute walk from a sprawling, wooded 84-acre park. Basically in my backyard, just a hop over one major street and a short traipse across the elementary school dumps me into miles of forested trails. It’s like another world. These woods and this park are my happy place. On those brilliant, bluebird days of spring and summer I share it (somewhat begrudgingly) with the neighborhood joggers and dog walkers. Come November and December though, I can go days without seeing another soul on the trails. And that’s just how I like it.

I’ve trekked through these woods weekly for the past twenty years. Don’t you get bored with it? a friend once asked me. No, never. Because just as the ocean beach at LaPush is different–sometimes vastly so–each year when I visit, so is the woods. Always changing. The lushness of summer (and snakes) giving way to the crunch and color of fall. There’s a section of the trail, hugged by a family of massive maple trees, that becomes a magical yellow brick road as they drop their platter-sized, golden leaves to the ground. It takes my breath away every time. And then, as the rains come more frequently, the crimsons and oranges and yellows of fall transition to, well, the dirt and mud and bareness of winter.

I love it all.

In winter, I see what was camouflaged by thick foliage in the summer. Summer, in all its razzle-dazzle, can be distracting. In winter, I see the bones of the woods. Abandoned bird’s nests high in the skeleton of a tree, felled limbs and trunks from the autumn storms, underbrush peppered with an impressive exhibit of mushrooms. In the winter, I learn the woods’ secrets. It’s quiet. I’m quiet.

I listen.

Getting outside and moving in the stillness and muck of winter has always been the perfect antidote to the slick and sparkly busyness of the commercialized holidays. The sting of frosty air on my cheeks, the soothing water sounds of swollen creeks, the invitation to draw within.

“The winters will drive you crazy until you learn to get out into them.” ~ Parker Palmer.

I’ve read enough of Parker Palmer’s books to know that he’s talking about more than the winter that happens outside our windows. Making a habit of getting out into the physical winter helps me navigate the internal winters of my soul. Nature is one helluva teacher.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’d suggest you get out into it, too.

Three Things, Issue Eighteen

As holidays go, Thanksgiving lives at the tippity-top of my list of favorites. There’s something so lovely about its simplicity–a day to gather our beloveds, break bread and give thanks. You know, we should do that kind of stuff more often. And although I’ve moved beyond the romantic fairy tale of the landing of the Mayflower and alleged convivial clambake between the indigenous peoples and the Europeans, I’m still a sucker for the fact that we take a day out of our too-busy lives to simply be with each other.

It’s like we all press “pause.”

As dysfunctional as my childhood family was, we typically did holidays right. Everyone seemed to behave a little better. Thanksgiving was the one day of the year that we ditched our everyday plastic melamine plates for our grandmother’s elegant gold-trimmed and monogramed French Haviland china. We never had much money back then, but the pomp and circumstance of these beautiful, expensive dishes made me feel as though we did. The setting of the Thanksgiving table began days before the actual holiday. Tablecloths and napkins pressed, silver polished, crystal shined. As a card-carrying anticipation junkie, I loved going to school the week of Thanksgiving and coming home each day to discover what other preparations had been made in my absence. Pies baked. Potatoes peeled. Tear-inducing onions chopped on Thanksgiving morning giving way to the Macy’s parade on our tiny black and white TV perched in the kitchen. Relatives we rarely saw making appearances to pinch cheeks and press quarters into our palms. My mom’s stress level operated at a low roar on Thanksgiving Day, but she managed to pull it off, year after year. And then, after all the guests had left and the grandparents retired to their bedrooms, she would meticulously wash each piece of china in warm, soapy water, accompanied by deep, reflective sighs.

We all helped out on Thanksgiving Day, but there was no mistake of who really made the magic happen.

I am now the keeper of my grandmother’s china, as well as the china cabinet it was stored in. I love the smell of the antique cabinet–old wood and musty memories. The delicate clink of teacup on saucer that sends shivers down my spine. I usually set the table the morning of Thanksgiving, but it is no less a ritual than when my mother did it. I hear her voice as I pull the stacks of plates from the shelves. Be careful! They chip easily! I can’t replace that! I find the old wicker turkey basket that sits at the center of our table and fill it with whole walnuts, almonds and pecans, along with a nutcracker or two for those enterprising enough to crack them open. Tall, tapered candles and fancy candy dishes. Etched-crystal goblets and little bread plates. Which direction do the knife blades face? I imagine the voices of my relatives–grandparents, uncles and aunts long deceased–as I arrange each place setting.

I love ritual and tradition. I love Thanksgiving.

Growing up, we always had turkey and dressing. Mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. Green lime jello blended with cream cheese and studded with pears for an “undersea salad”. Occasionally, a palate-cleansing course of sherbet. But I never remember there ever being a mushroom-soup-dried-onion-topped-green bean casserole on the table. Or candied yams lidded with tiny marshmallows.

And I’m okay with that.

Instead, these days I throw slivered almonds into a pan with a bit of butter and brown the nuts and butter together. I add in fresh green beans and sauté until a few of them begin to blister. Green beans almondine is fast and tastes brighter and fresher to me than a heavy casserole. Sweet potatoes are tossed in a sweet-tangy-spicy glaze of maple syrup, lemons and cayenne pepper. And for god’s sake–dry brine your turkey this year and every year after because it is the most simple, most delicious way to roast a turkey–or any poultry, for that matter.

So, in honor of Thanksgiving, I’m sharing three things that you’ll find on my holiday table this year and every year. Click on the title to link to the recipe.

Thing One: Maple-Glazed Sweet Potatoes

I get it. You love those little marshmallows on top of your sweet potatoes and can’t imagine them any other way. Fine–read no further. But if you’re ready for a change, give these a whirl. Everybody who tries them loves these sweet potatoes and I think they give a lovely bit of kick and zest to an otherwise heavy meal.

Thing Two: Caramelized Onion And Kale Dressing

Don’t even start with me about serving kale on Thanksgiving. This dressing is sublime. It is what you crave the morning after with an over-easy egg on top. (Unless you’re that friend of mine who can’t bear the thought of putting one more egg on one more thing.) But seriously–this is fantastic. Not to mention you can prepare all the parts of it days ahead of time, so that on Thanksgiving, you simply mix it up and stick it in the oven. It is so good.

Thing Three: NPR Cranberry Sauce (AKA Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish)

Full disclosure: I also serve that jellied stuff that slides out of a can, because if I didn’t, my family would kill me. But this stuff–this Pepto-Bismol pink stuff–is what I crave with my turkey and mashed potatoes. Again, it’s the contrasting bite of the horseradish and onion that gives a wonderful respite from the gravy-laden-mashed-potatoes on your plate. A hat-tip to my brother who introduced us to this magic many, many years ago. I can’t imagine my Thanksgiving without it now.

So there you have it. Happy Thanksgiving. Use the good china. Shopping can wait.

Press pause and take time to love the ones you’re with.

Three Things, Issue Seventeen

Let’s stop talking about women’s bodies.

THING ONE: ME

My job is bodies.

I am a yoga teacher and I also work in the weight room at a gym. I’m not a personal trainer, but a “wellness coach.” I’m your pal at the gym. Your cheerleader. A friendly face when you can’t figure out how to dislodge yourself from the leg press. I like to think I keep things relatively clean and free of chaos, plus I know a little bit about muscles and sweat.

Tall and blonde and personable, she strode into the fitness office to fill me in on the latest exam she’s studying for. She often stops in to chat with me and bemoan her harried life as an older student and mom of two young kids. An important part of my job is connecting with our members, so I’m always happy to talk. This day she tells me how worried she is about her daughter. “She needs to start working out.”

Her daughter is six years old.

She goes on to tell me about her own body image issues and assures me it’s all about “being healthy” for her daughter. I ask the woman if her daughter’s pediatrician is concerned. “Well, no. But I see problems. She needs to work on her core. And off-court conditioning for basketball. I’m worried because all she wants to do is read.”

Her daughter is six years old.

It was early spring and I was ten years old when Mrs. Frater called my mom into my fourth grade classroom for an after-school meeting. “I’m worried about her weight,” Mrs. Frater told her, as if my mom had never noticed me. My fourth-grade teacher, with her ashy-blonde hair piled high into a stylish bouffant on top of her head and her collection of impeccable floral shift dresses with matching low pumps was likely intimidating. Her polished, feminine image was the very antithesis of my mom’s artsy smocks and slacks. I watched as my mother sat across from my fourth grade teacher and nodded silently in agreement. I couldn’t tell if she was embarrassed or relieved. Probably both. I was now Mrs. Frater’s project and I was mortified.

My body was a problem.

It wasn’t the diet I was immediately put on that was the biggest issue. It was the weekly weigh-ins. Each Friday, right before lunch, the school nurse would call me into her office to record my weight. There was nothing subtle about it. “Where do you go?” my classmates asked. I lied and made up some sad story about having an important job helping out the school nurse.

The diet worked. And then it didn’t, as all diets do. Summer came and I was set free from the humiliating weigh-ins and Mrs. Frater’s constant monitoring. In the fall, my fifth-grade teacher didn’t care about my weight, or at least didn’t seem to. She was a large, boisterous woman who raved about my writing and encouraged my imagination.

I wound up losing a great deal of weight during the summer before ninth grade. Not because anyone wanted me to–I just did. I was the queen of transformation. The accolades I received going back to school in the fall were intoxicating. The attention I got fueled my fire and I lost more and more and more weight over the years and into my twenties. My ribs and hipbones protruded. I had sores on my body from repetitive, compulsive exercise that didn’t heal. I ate spoonfuls of mustard in lieu of meals. I hated myself. And all the other girls wanted to be me.

My body was a problem.

I’ve lost more weight than you. While I was at it, I managed to disconnect from all hunger impulses better than anyone else. It was my superpower. It’s not the hardest thing I’ve ever done, nor am I especially proud of myself. Because at my most socially acceptable body size, I was the most fucked up on the inside.

Back in the fitness office, I listened to the mother as she continued to tell me all the reasons why her six-year-old daughter needed to start working out.

“Maybe she should just go out and play for awhile,” I suggested with a weak, forced smile. Inside, the ten-year-old in me crumpled.

You’re so skinny! Look at your stomach! I wish I had her legs. What do you eat all day? I’m so proud of you. You’re so pretty, I didn’t even recognize you. Look at her arms. OMG, she’s a stick. OMG, she’s gained so much weight, she must have issues. 

THING TWO: MINE

When I had kids of my own, I vowed they would never hear me say “Oh my god, I look so fat! I feel so fat today!”

I kept my promise. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of as a parent.

Bodies were not a topic of discussion in my home while my kids were growing up. Or even now. I made sure of that. Both were athletes and during their childhood their weights went up and went down, and then up and down again as body weights naturally do throughout the course of growing up and beyond. Because I insisted on not making food an issue of good versus bad, they often ate a startlingly unbalanced diet comprised mostly of yogurt and fruit and spaghetti and cheese. Despite this, they both managed to be strong and healthy.

Their bodies–in all their incarnations–were never a problem.

My daughter was a competitive gymnast and played recreational club soccer. On her soccer team, she often played goalie and enjoyed it. I overheard a conversation on the sidelines where a few of the moms refused to let their daughters play goalie because they wouldn’t be running enough. The mothers were worried their daughters might get fat.

Don’t let your body become a problem.

My daughter learned through team sports that her body is strong and able and capable of many things. I am thankful that she learned that her body is not just for other peoples’ consumption and commentary. But I am most proud of the fact that she never heard her mother apologize for and hate her body. And a funny thing happened along the way of not berating my body out loud to my family: I stopped berating my body to myself.

My mother’s body was a problem until the day she died. She dieted, she drank laxatives, she covered up, she apologized. Left unchecked, mothers tend to pass down these issues like unwanted heirlooms.

Don’t eat too much. Order the salad. Count your calories. What a cute figure! Leave a little something on your plate. Shouldn’t you be exercising? Take up less space. Who’s getting chunky? Suck in that gut. Don’t let him see you eat that. 

THING THREE: YOURS

After years of taking yoga workshops and teacher trainings (where my body was always an issue) I was excited to attend a writing workshop. The teacher of the workshop–an author of some acclaim and a staunch and vocal feminist–spoke about the marginalization of women. She was known to be a champion of women’s voices, an empowering writing mentor. I was ready to stretch my muscles in a brave and bold way.

As she introduced herself, she went on to talk about her past as a college athlete and how it informed her writing. And then, just like that, she apologized for her body. I could sense the self-deprecation happening before she even began. Inside my head I screamed at her to stop, but she went on, as most women do. “You’d never know I had been a competitive athlete by how thick and fat I am now.” The group of women chuckled uncomfortably. My heart sank. Suddenly, I was no longer brave and bold but self-conscious, comparing my body to hers. In my eyes, she wasn’t remotely fat. If she felt the need to apologize for her body, where does that leave mine?

Your body is a problem. You should probably apologize for it before anyone else notices.

Later that evening, she noticed a former student who had lost a significant amount weight since she had last seen her. The bold feminist writer pointed it out several times, incredulous that this student looked different. Part of me grew envious of the accolades as I felt myself disappearing into my 17-year-old anorexic brain. The other part of me just wanted to hear what this woman wrote, and for our leader to stop praising her shrinking body. How are we supposed to stand up and use our voices when we are shown that taking up less space is to be applauded? Even here, I couldn’t escape the message that our bodies are a problem.

This was her issue. This was my issue. This is our issue.

The fitness instructor who uses her social media page to publicly apologize to her classes for her weight gain and then thanks them for “sticking with her” until she managed to lose it again. (Her body is a problem.)

The coach of a high-school volleyball team who made all the teenage girls document each piece of Halloween candy they ate and then made them work it off, piece by piece, calorie by calorie. It was their penance, meant to teach them a lesson. (Their bodies are a problem.)

The young woman, experimenting with her sexuality and fashion, slut-shamed because her dress was short and tight. (Your body is a problem.)

The celebrity who doesn’t lose her baby weight fast enough. Or, ever. (Her body is a problem.)

The television viewers who tune in every week to watch overweight people sweat and weep in exhaustion and public humiliation on a TV show competition. (All their bodies are a problem. And our entertainment.)

My job is bodies.

Every day, I look closely at bodies. My yoga classes are filled with every body type imaginable. And although I don’t fixate on which one is larger and which one is smaller, I often look out and see a roomful of disembodied beings. Disconnected from their physical self because to be connected would be far too painful. A reminder of the problem.

If I listen to my body, it will betray me. If I give it what it wants, I’ll eat candy all day. Resting is a waste of time. I don’t deserve to eat. I need to push through every pose, jaw clenched, trying harder and harder and harder.

Stop. Just stop.

My body is not a problem. Your body is not a problem. They are glorious, miraculous variations on a theme.

Move and nourish and rest and live fully and confidently in your body, as it is, right here and now. Your body can be trusted, if you just give it a chance.

Let’s stop talking about women’s bodies. And see what happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Sixteen

It snowed this week. That was fun. Here’s three things I’ve been doing as I watch the snowflakes fly.

SOMETHING I’M LISTENING TO: DIRTWIRE

You always remember your first time.

Mine was in the auditorium of Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. I was ten. Both my mom and dad were there. It was life-changing.

It was my first (non-classical) live music experience. We had traveled up north to see The Earl Scruggs Band and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band perform together. Both my parents were classically-trained pianists, but for as long as I could remember, my mom had kept a banjo stowed under the bed in her bedroom. It didn’t come out often, but I loved the sharp twang of the strings when it did. Inspired by her father and his West Virginia Appalachian roots, my mom knew how to pick bluegrass on the banjo as well as play Mozart on the piano. Later, she acquired a beautiful mandolin, which I would gingerly take down off its place on her dresser and strum a few woeful, dissonant notes. My young, malleable mind was blown after that concert in Bellingham. The visceral power and impact of live music forever etched into my body and brain. We went back home to Tacoma and I immediately put Will The Circle Be Unbroken on repeat.

So, maybe it’s the hillbilly in me that makes me love Dirtwire so much. Dirtwire is comprised of David Satori, Evan Fraser and Mark Reveley–each of whom create music with other bands (Beats Antique, Bolo, Dogon Lights, Jed and Lucia) as well as with each other. Dirtwire is where bluegrass and blues, Americana and African beats, kazoos and synthesized psychedelia intersect and create a magical soundscape that is uniquely theirs. My yoga playlists are peppered with their genre-defying tracks. Lucky for us all, they are set to release their sixth record, Blaze, December 1st and have given us a sneak-preview with their single, “Stranger”, which you can download or stream here. Even better, Dirtwire is on tour now and will be riding into Seattle November 15th for a show at the Nectar Lounge in beautiful downtown Fremont. Snatch up your ticket here and maybe I’ll see you there.

My mom loved Bach, Jim Morrison, Leonard Bernstein and bluegrass. If she were still here today, I’m pretty sure Dirtwire would be on that list, too.

SOMETHING I’M COOKING: BREAD AND SOUP

Those of you who know me well know that I take a deep dive off the high board into my nesting right after Halloween. I try not to travel much between Halloween and New Years. My music-scene exploits become fewer and farther between and it takes some creative coaxing for me to venture out, especially in the evenings. I create hygge at its finest, if I do say so myself.

So when the surprising autumn snow began to fly on Friday, I took it as a sign to get busy. Inside. In my kitchen. With my two cats nestled together at the foot of the fireplace. I had recently come upon a recipe for what was touted as the best bread ever eaten–Kindred’s Milk Bread. This bread is served at Kindred Restaurant in North Carolina and is, allegedly, what dreams are made of. Do you ever read a recipe and feel an overwhelming compulsion to try it? No? Well, that’s what happened to me on Friday when it began to snow.

There’s something about baking bread that is just so wonderful. Baking bread is a full-on sensual experience that takes time. Lots of time. Sometimes, too much time. But it was Friday and I had nothing else distracting me (except writing this blog) so I pulled out the kneading hook of my trusty KitchenAid mixer and went to town. Milk, yeast, honey, eggs, flour. I followed the recipe to a “t”. My house was warm, but maybe not warm enough to warrant an outstanding first rise of the dough. Or second rise, for that matter. Nonetheless, hours after I began, the loaves went in the oven. The house smelled like magic. Forty-five minutes later, I pulled them out looking less-than-lofty but hoping for the best.

I mean, how bad can homemade bread be?

Not that bad, it turns out. But not outstanding either. Maybe a longer rise time was needed, maybe I killed the yeast, maybe it just wasn’t my bread baking day. However, it turns out Kindred’s Milk Bread makes fantastic toast on the morning after. If you bake some, let me know all your secrets to success.

Along with the bread, my plan was to stir up some Smoky Pumpkin Soup–a recipe sent to me from a dear pal with encouragement that the soup was foolproof and delicious. Turns out it was British, too, with instructions and measurements written in a charming UK flavor. Super simple, it required roasting almost all of the ingredients on a sheet pan for about an hour, blending it up and then heat and serve. Easy-peasy. The bread was in the oven when I brought my two sugar pumpkins in from the snow. Pumpkins are slippery little devils with thick, unyielding skin. Visions of amputated digits danced in my head, causing me to swap out my sharpest chef knife with one of those small, serrated jack-o-lantern carving knives from the grocery store. Still, gutting and cubing two pumpkins took an inordinate amount of time. I left the tough skin on while roasting–mostly because I was exhausted and thought it best to put my knives away.

Pumpkin, carrots, onion and garlic covered with slices of thick, smoky bacon, drizzled with olive oil and dusted with sage, thyme, red pepper flakes and smoked paprika. Again, the kitchen filled with the smell of magic.

Once out of the roasting pan, the pumpkin skins slid off effortlessly. I dumped the whole mess into my cast iron soup pot along with a quart of chicken stock and went to town with my immersion blender. You could always toss it in a regular blender or food processor if that’s more your style. The result was a brilliant golden-orange puree of smoky delight flecked with dark, caramelized roasted bits of veggies and bacon. I stirred in a splash or two of cream at the end, but even without it, this soup’s a winner.

And I definitely didn’t need two sugar pumpkins. All that hazardous work slicing and dicing resulted in double the amount of pumpkin the recipe called for. I tossed the leftovers into the freezer because I’m pretty certain I’ll be slinging more of this Smoky Pumpkin Soup before my nesting time is done.

SOMETHING I’M DOING: GUARDING MY GATE

“Go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Every November, I begin to encourage my yoga classes to imagine how they would like their final two months of the year to play out. Whether or not you observe any of the traditional holidays, November and December can be rife with sparkly distraction and too much to do. Before you know it, “Auld Lang Syne” is being sung as the champagne corks fly and you feel like you’ve been hit by a Mack truck. Everything of the past month is a blur. Create a vision and be intentional with all your choices, I suggest instead.

So imagine my delight when one of my favorite yoga teachers, Christina Sell, showed up in my inbox with a month-long program called “Shelter From The Storm.” Each day in November, I get a lovely reflection to meditate on, sometimes a recording of a guided meditation, other times a short physical practice. All with the intent of guarding the gate of our inner life. How do we hold onto the truth of ourselves when our awareness is constantly being diverted outwardly?

Distraction. It’s a motherfucker.

We allow ourselves to become distracted when we’re trying to please others more than ourselves. We allow ourselves to become distracted when the discomfort of being present within outweighs the inconvenience of the outward distraction. Sometimes distraction becomes a way of life, seeping in, bit by bit, getting so deep that one day we wake up and realize we can’t find our way out. When we begin to define ourselves by external influences, we risk losing ourselves in the chaos.

So, guard your gate.

What this looks like is choosing to sit in silence in meditation or prayer before logging onto social media each day. It means being as deliberate and intentional with what you feed your brain as you do with what you feed your body. Be wise when choosing your sources of news and how you spend your free time and with whom. It means extracting yourself from the hustle and bustle of the holidays and asking yourself “what’s important to me?”

Being the guardian of your inner life and honoring your inner truths is not selfish. Being present for yourself–your deepest self–naturally fosters the ability to be present for others.

And honestly, I can’t imagine a better gift to give to and receive from the people I love the most.

Well, unless it’s a pair of John Fluevog shoes.

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Fifteen (The Halloween Edition)

Halloween is coming, boys and girls. Be afraid, be very afraid! Here’s a little something about hobgoblins, spooky shadows and my love of trick-or-treating.

THING ONE: HOBGOBLINS

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mrs. Sullivan wrote this on the chalkboard of my ninth grade English class at Hudtloff Junior High. I was fifteen years old and ready to jump-start my life, fed up with the cliques and hive-mind mentality that the teenage years are steeped in. I had bigger fish to fry and Emerson’s words resonated deeply within my rebellious spirit.

Think for yourself.

“…adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

Trust your gut. Stand out from the crowd.

I’ve always felt like a misfit amongst misfits. I once took a writing workshop with a teacher well-known for her knack for empowering misfits and I left the weekend feeling even more on the outside looking in. I took away some good wisdom and met some terrific people, but I still felt different. A bit of a weirdo. If I don’t fit in with the misfits, then where do I?

Right here. With myself.

After the presidential election of 2016, my social media feeds were ablaze with blanket pronouncements of “If you voted for (fill in the blank), just unfriend me now because I have no interest in what you have to say.” The knee-jerk, impulsive part of me completely understood that heady emotion, but imagining a life filled with only different versions of me and my beliefs seemed, well, flat and uninteresting.

Preaching to the choir is lovely and while it’s good to have a tribe, in the end, divisiveness grows.

When I think about Emerson’s quote today, it seems more relevant than ever. (Little statesmen, anyone?) Pitting sides against each other, each group stereotyped into a convenient box, easily served up on social media and television news shows. Democrats are elitist, over-educated, snobs. Republicans are fascist, uneducated, religious zealots. And while I know a few folks who fit nicely into each stereotype, I know far more who are more alike than not.

I’ve never been one for hopping on bandwagons or hashtag campaigns or cutting-and-pasting to prove my anything to anyone.

Not long ago, I was asked to be a part of a new podcast. A hour-long podcast where we will sit together, each of us with different stories and a variety of viewpoints to share. It’s not just about politics but about everything and nothing at all. We won’t be stuck behind the anonymity of our computer screen where name-calling and pigeon-holing is a convenient cop-out, but rather sitting side-by-side and face-to-face, having a conversation and a few laughs. No, a lot of laughs. It’s not a groundbreaking idea and we probably won’t change the world or make headlines or start hashtags, but we will start a conversation.

Our systems are broken, but we humans, are not.

It’s a conversation we welcome you into.  And I’d probably buy you a shot of bourbon, too.

What’s your hobgoblin?

THING TWO: SHADOWS

“Are you happy?” she asked me as we sat on my deck on an early autumn afternoon. It was such a simple question that would seem to evoke an equally simple response. I paused and thought.

“Yes?” I finally answered, unconvinced. The question struck me as odd and far more complicated than I expected.

Is that what we’re here for? Is simple happiness the measure of a life well-lived?

The more I thought about it, the less I cared about “being happy.”

Maybe it’s my darker, introverted nature. Maybe it’s the byproduct of having been raised by thoughtful, creative, contemplative and complicated parents. Maybe it’s knowing that the most stunning portrait is always comprised of shadow and light.

My shadows are a part of me. I like to take them out and look at them from time to time. Sometimes they are blue, the color of my deepest insecurities, of feeling not enough. Not a stunning bluebird-kind-of-blue, but a muted, listless shade of gray-blue. Envy and jealousy, close shadow cousins, and two of my most familiar. Envy, a bright mossy green, while jealousy dives into a darker forest shade, often with an oily sheen. My favorite shadow, though, is red like the freshest smear of blood, with just enough exposure to air to deepen its hue and intensity, but not enough to dry it out and lose its fire. The same shade of blood red that graces my website. A shade of red meticulously searched for and selected.

I knew my blood-red, fiery anger scared my mom. It came out in its most brilliant form while I was a teenager, living alone with her in our small condo in the suburbs of Tacoma. I’d see her wince and recoil in its wake. I imagine it reminded her of my brother’s rage, which was often unpredictable and violent. “Let me feel my anger!” I’d shout at her in defiance. Nothing frightened her more, though, than my sadness. Sadness, in a shade of pale violet, would creep in stealthily and often stay for days. “Do you need help?” she’d wring her hands and ask me. No, I’d tell her. Just let me be.

Let me feel this. Let me sink into my shadows.

Her sister’s suicide as a young woman on the cusp of her life was always right there, feeding my mother’s fears. I’m not your sister, I’d tell her.

We all lived with shadows in my family, but we were not encouraged to bring them into the light of day. My mother, who suffered unimaginable losses throughout her life, never felt safe enough to look at or share much of hers. Towards the end of her life, her spine collapsed, barely able to hold herself upright any longer and eventually becoming bed ridden. Her doctors would look at x-rays and say it was because of this disc or that one, perhaps that vertebrae or look, see this nerve or two, and well, she should really lose some weight in their effort to explain it through science. I like science and believe in its importance and validity, but I’ve also often wondered if the crushing weight of my mother’s shadows grew far too heavy for her to bear.

The body stores our shadows. The shadows grow in darkness. Our shadows can crumple us if not given the light of day.

If your dog/friend/sister dies, feeling sadness–even moments of despair–is a normal, healthy human response. It’s not something to be whisked away into a bright yellow stroke of happiness. That kind of sadness rarely requires medication. It is meant to be felt and walked through. If you’ve been abused and abandoned, your rage is justified and necessary. To push it down in an effort to be strong or say it’s no big deal will eventually be too much for your body to withstand. Find safe ways to bring your shadows into light. Name them. See them. Take away their power to destroy and begin to accept them as a stunning part of you.

I love art museums and I love seeing a beautiful painting from a distance. Maybe it’s a landscape or a portrait or a scene from day in the life. I take in the impact of its immediate beauty and then step in close. And closer still. So close that I begin to see fine detail in the darkness. Darkness that is not a neutral void, but instead filled with depth and interest. Messy brushstrokes, maybe even a mistake or two. I back away again and the painting is infinitely richer and more vibrant. Breathtakingly beautiful.

Shadows don’t scare me. Mine, or yours.

Am I happy? she asked me. Yes, I’m happy. I’m also sad and worried and joyful and regretful and envious and angry and thankful. Many times throughout one day. Happiness, itself, is not a goal of mine.

I’m far more interested in the complex, contrasting masterpiece at the end.

THING THREE: TRICK-OR-TREAT

I don’t remember much of the Halloween costumes of my youth, but I do remember always loving trick-or-treating. My childhood neighborhood was in rural suburbia, with long, spooky driveways and dark, shadowy dead ends that dared us to creep up and look for a lit porch that might lead to candy. It was fun and thrilling, with the hunt always more satisfying than the catch. My friends and I would skip back to our respective houses, giggling about this neighbor or that one, and spill the contents of our bounty on the living room floor. Swapping Reese’s for Sweet Tarts, Butterfingers for Milky Ways and those sad Bit O’ Honeys always left for Grandma or the dog or the garbage can. My mom would fill small paper goodie bags decorated with black cats and pumpkins with multiple candy bars and treats, almost like a reward for those brave enough to traipse down our dark driveway and find our hidden front door.

My enthusiasm for Halloween intensified once I had kids of my own. We lived in a suburban subdivision with safe sidewalks, street lights and friendly porches, beckoning with the promise of treats on Halloween night. The first few years were exceptional, with jumbo 100-piece Costco bags of candy being depleted before eight o’ clock. The Mister and I would trade off who would walk with the kids and who would answer the door and give out candy. I loved seeing all the costumes and even welcomed the older teenagers, as long as they put in some effort. As years went by, my porch decorations grew more elaborate and I began to dress up in costume to answer the door. It seemed as though the older I got and the more comfortable I became in my own skin, the more fun I had with pretending to be someone or something else.

Clown, vampire, raven, witch, bloody zipper face, cat. I only made one kid cry.

Our kids grew up, the neighborhood demographics changed and trick-or-treating seemed to be replaced by shopping centers handing out candy on Halloween afternoon. WTF? Did anyone tell them it’s not about the candy?

I’ve always seen trick-or-treating as a wonderful community event. One steeped in years of tradition, passed down from parents to children. It’s about getting out of your house in the dark of night, safety in numbers and the glow of porch lights and jack-o-lanterns and ringing your neighbor’s doorbell.

When was the last time you rang your neighbor’s doorbell?

I believe Halloween and trick-or-treating is about facing your fears about all those things that go bump in the night. Ghosts and ghouls and goblins galore! Zombies and monsters! Tiny statesmen! Skeletons and witches! We put on our masks and costumes and pretend. We laugh with and at each other and no one, in all my years of Halloweening, has actually ever become the devil.

These days, we’re lucky to get a dozen trick-or-treaters. Sometimes I’ve blamed it on the weather, or the day of the week, but gone are the days when I couldn’t even sit down long enough to watch a few minutes of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” in between doorbell rings. It makes me sad and worried about the things we try so desperately to control. In my book, Halloween and the kids are alright.

We have so many bigger fish to fry.

I’ll be teaching one class this Tuesday, October 31st at noon. I’ll be in costume. You should come. I’m even bringing treats–Maple Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars with White Chocolate Ganache. The recipe is here.

Happy Halloween.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Fourteen

Have you noticed that it seems as though we just took a nosedive into the dark, dank depths of autumn? It’s one of my favorite times of the year. An invitation to draw within. I know many of you are spry summer-loving fairies, but me, I prefer to lean into these dark days and find those things that bring on the warm fuzzies. The Danish folk even have a word for it: hygge.  Maybe it’s my deep Scandinavian roots that pull me into this time of year and all its coziness. Either way, here are three things that help me create a bit of hygge in my autumn.

SOMETHING I’M LISTENING TO: SLEEP WITH ME PODCAST

When the kiddos were young, bedtime always, always included story time. Even when they were infants, we’d nestle together on the bed after their baths and read Goodnight Moon and Winnie The Pooh or later, Harry Potter. With practice, I had managed to master the voices of all the Pooh characters and The Mister was spot-on with most of the Harry Potter ones. Raising little humans was hard work and sometimes I’d stay and listen while The Mister read to the kids from Harry Potter, my eyelids heavy on the edge of sleep. I was struck by how soothing it was to be read to and how lovely it was to fall asleep with someone reading aloud. It almost didn’t even matter what was being read–just a familiar voice and the cadence and rhythm of a story being told.

Magic.

It was earlier this year when, felled by the fatigue of pneumonia, I discovered podcasts. Unable to even sit upright for very long, I took to my bed and began to search through the hundreds of podcasts on my phone. I loved that I could just lay there in my drug-induced stupor and listen to someone tell me a story. It reminded me of those bedtime stories with my kids and I soon began compiling a list of my favorites. Storytelling podcasts like This American Life and The Moth, true-crime podcasts like S-Town and Dirty John, interview podcasts like Fresh Air. One for every mood. And then, it turns out, one to go to sleep by.

Sleep With Me is a fantastic podcast masterminded by Drew Ackerman, who hosts the podcast under the moniker, “Dearest Scooter.” It is advertised as the “podcast that puts you to sleep” and indeed, it does. With Scooter’s droning, monotone delivery, rambling on about random subjects like Game Of Thrones and Star Trek, I rarely make it through the whole hour awake. It’s like Ambien for the ears, with no sleepwalking or morning hangover side effect. I’ll set my phone on the nightstand at a volume I can just barely hear and let Scooter’s “soothing dulcet tones” lull me to sleep. I’ve used Sleep With Me when traveling or even when I find myself wide awake at 2:00AM, worrying about your sick aunt, my aging dog and North Korea. And if your sleeping partner isn’t a fan of Scooter’s monotone drone, you can even get these SleepPhones–headphones fashioned into a soft headband that are specifically made for sleeping in.

I know I’m not the only human wide awake in the dead of night. Might as well give Sleep With Me a try and let yourself be lulled into that elusive, deep slumber.

SOMETHING I’M COOKING: SOUP

Many moons ago, inspired by an out-of-character desire to create community, I launched First Friday Soup Nights. On the first Friday of every month, I’d unlock my front door and welcome in whomever was interested in sharing a bowl of soup, some crusty bread, a glass of wine and conversation. My kids thought I was nuts and maybe I was, but I still think it was a good experiment. The first few Fridays were a big hit, with lots of friends and neighbors and family stopping by. As summer approached, though, attendance dwindled and I put First Fridays on indefinite hold.

It’s still on hiatus.

I liked the idea then and I still do now, but my introverted nature makes it harder and harder to coax these cozy ideas into action. But the idea of soup is never far from my mind, especially on chilly October nights. I was recently listening (on a podcast, no less) to an interview with chef and author Anthony Bourdain talk about food and its emotional connection to us. He spoke about how he has no interest anymore in “fancy food” or in eating food that needs to be critiqued and analyzed. It’s about fresh, simple food made well that connects us to each other and our emotions. Yes, I thought. That’s exactly how I view my cooking and relationship with food these days. I don’t pretend to be a gourmet chef, but I’m a pretty solid home cook. Cooking and baking for and with others feeds my soul. And soup, in all its magnificent varieties, fits the bill perfectly. It is comfort food of the highest order–second only to casseroles in my book and far less polarizing.

Vegetable, Barley and Sausage Soup was the very first soup I served on First Friday and it lives on today as one of my go-to recipes. Some of us know it as “Jaina Soup” or “Juli Soup” or, if you were there that First Friday, “Tracie Jansen Soup”, but it’s all the same. A massively flavorful, veggie-laden soup with barley and the very important final flourish of a sweet-sour-umami combination of brown sugar, balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce added just before serving. This recipe makes a lot of soup. Like, a lot. That said, plan accordingly and either 1.) divide the recipe in half, or 2.) make the whole recipe and throw a party, or 3.) make the whole recipe and freeze a bunch for leftovers or to bring to sick friends in need. Just make sure you use a soup pot that can handle the whole shebang.

Soup is fantastic because you can sneak umpteen million vegetables in it, add your favorite protein, a grain if you must, and eat it for days. This recipe uses a ton of cabbage and you could also swap in or add kale, chard or any other hearty, non-wilty green. Weekends are perfect for stirring up a pot of soup to have around for those days during the week that you’re too busy to cook. It’s cozy and comforting. Simple and fresh. Easy to share. Hygge.

This soup is so tasty it almost makes me want to pull First Friday Soup Night out of hibernation.

Almost.

SOMETHING I’M DOING: RESTORATIVE POSES

It took me years of dedicated practice in an athletic, physically demanding power-vinyasa-style of yoga before I could appreciate the benefits of a restorative yoga practice. Or maybe that was just my ego that told me restorative yoga was somehow “cheating.” Either way, a little bit of age and wisdom, sprinkled with a nagging injury or two convinced me of the necessity of balance in my yoga. I began teaching a Slow Flow class twice a week, with the intention of offering a gentler, kinder yoga. One that was more accessible to more bodies. A practice that truly left you feeling the “ahhhhhhh” in yoga instead of the “ouch” that some classes created. I will often coerce myself to my mat with the promise of these restorative poses and then wind up doing a full hour practice before I even realize it. Especially as the days grow shorter and cooler, I invite in more of a contemplative, quiet practice that restorative yoga provides. These are three of my go-to restorative poses.

Legs Up The Wall (Viparita Karani)

Find a blank wall (or create one) and sit sideways, with your hip against the wall. Roll onto your back and throw your legs up the wall. It’s as simple as that. You can make it fancier by placing a bolster or folded blankets under your hips if you’d like. The main idea is to get your feet and legs elevated and supported enough so that you can relax and simply breathe. In a pinch, I’ve practiced this laying on the floor with my legs up on a bed or chair, too. Viparita Karani helps to reverse the circulation in your legs and feels wonderful after a long day spent on your feet.

Supported Backbend

Taking time to lay in a passive, supported backbend takes us out of our “normal” rounded-shoulder, flexed-hip shape that we spend much of our day in if we tend to sit a lot. (Which a lot of us tend to do.) It helps open up the chest and shoulders, as well as the front body, all of which likes to contract and shorten as we age. I am a big fan of using bolsters, which you can buy here, or yoga blocks, to help get into many of these restorative postures. You can also improvise by stacking books, folded blankets or a firm sofa cushion underneath to support your body in this shape.

With a bolster (or firm sofa cushion) on the floor, sit up with your legs in front and pull the short edge of the bolster to the back of your hips. Once it’s there, simply lay back and extend your arms out to the side. Your butt stays on the floor as you relax and lay back onto the cushion. With blocks, place one block right at the bottom tips of your shoulder blades and lean back. Use a second block under your head to support the neck if you’re not comfortable letting the head drop back. Let the legs flop open and relax. Breathe deeply and allow your body to be held in this heart-opening shape. This supported backbend is one of my favorites.

Supported Child’s Pose

Grab your bolster (or stack of folded blankets) and place it on the floor in front of you. Take your knees wide, with your big toes together behind you. Settle your chest down onto the bolster between your knees and turn your head to one side. Relax into the support of the bolster. For a variation, you can sit sideways to the bolster and then gently turn your chest to face the cushion again, settle in and allow yourself to be supported there. If you do the twist variation, just make sure you repeat it on the other side.

So there you have it. Hygge. Do these or create your own. Maybe even invite me over.

I’ll bring fuzzy socks and the glogg.

 

 

Three Things, Issue Thirteen

When the world feels like it’s gone to hell in a hand basket, these three things make me happy: new music, the smell of roasting chicken in my house and pretty yoga pants.

SOMETHING I’M LISTENING TO: BECK

I still love that unmistakeable opening guitar riff of Beck’s debut song, “Loser”. When it came out, I was a brand new mom and often felt exactly like those ear-wormish lyrics, “I’m a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me?” I mean, not really, but kinda. I was overwhelmed and clueless and freaked out by motherhood and that song spoke to all the loser-ish feelings I had at the time. And speaking of ear worms, I’ve often wondered if Beck doesn’t find a way to embed subliminal Scientology messages in some of his songs. When “Dreams” first came out, I spent every night for a couple of weeks with the chorus of that song blasting in my head. Then again, maybe that’s just me.

“Loser” debuted over twenty years ago and Beck is still making music. His newest release, Colors, is fantastic. I’m not a superfan, but I’ve always paid attention when Beck releases something new. I also have mad respect for any artist who keeps plugging away, making new music, rather than relying on well-worn greatest hits and doing the casino-reunion-revival circuit. His body of work is vast and impressive–Odelay and Guero were solid personal favorites of mine, only to lose me on other releases like Modern Guilt and Sea Change. I’m happy to report that on Colors, Beck is back to his full-force, upbeat, hook-slinging best self.

The title track is catchy, complete with pan flutes and a chorus you’ll be compelled to sing along with. “Dreams” has been beautifully remixed and is also a “clean” version so I won’t have to time my yoga cues to cover the occasional unsavory word. (See previous note about subliminal messages. You’ve been warned.) “Up All Night” is flavored with straight-up pop and could easily slide in on any Top 40 playlist. Seriously, the only song I would skip over is the slower, blander “Fix Me.” Not bad for ten tracks.

Beck is one of the few artists I’ve loved for decades, but have yet to see live.Ticket prices for his shows are pretty spendy–usually around $100–but starting today, I’m setting aside a few shekels each month in anticipation for his next tour. Don’t you dare let me miss Beck the next time he blows through town. In the meantime, treat yourself to Colors and be happy, at least for a little while.

SOMETHING I’M COOKING: SPATCHCOCK!

Okay, without checking Google or Wikipedia, do you know what the word spatchcock means?

I’ll wait.

Because I didn’t. Even with my foodie and cooking background, I only came across the word “spatchcock” recently and went immediately nuts for it. Spatchcock. It sounds like something wonderfully naughty, though, doesn’t it? Like, “I went out for my birthday with my girlfriends and wound up getting totally spatchcocked.”

Not to rain on your parade or anything, but spatchcock is actually a cooking term for taking the backbone out of a bird. To butterfly. But I like spatchcock much, much better. The idea is the bird will cook much faster when it is laid out flat, sans backbone. It also tends to cook more evenly, hopefully reducing the risk of that horrible, dried-out breast meat that we all try to avoid.

I recently saw a tweet from someone that read “Every purchase of a rotisserie chicken has been an impulse buy.” I mean, what carnivore hasn’t cruised through Costco and been swept away by the aroma of roasting chickens and wound up with a $4.99 bird in their basket? Costco rotisserie chicken is great, but why does something that smells so good in the store wind up stinking like farts once you put it in your car? Tell me this hasn’t been your experience and I will tell you that you are a liar. My daughter and I even had a term for it: plippin’ chicken. Plip was the word my family used for fart when I was young, hence, “plippin’ chicken.”

Anyhow.

With fall comes all sorts of opportunities for roasting. Roasted meats, roasted veggies, roasted pumpkin seeds. Roasted chicken just seems so cozy once the temperatures begin to dip. So, spatchcock I did–this time with a free-range, organic chicken that won’t fill my Prius with farts but instead my house with hints of Thanksgivings to come. And about that spatchcocking–I found it infinitely easier to remove the backbone with my sharp kitchen shears as opposed to a knife, which I was certain would slip away and slice my fingers. I dry-brined the chicken overnight with a generous sprinkle of kosher salt. It’s the same way I do my turkey on Thanksgiving and it’s reliably simple and delicious. I also roasted a pan of delicata squash to go with the chicken. Why has it taken me so long to discover this wonderful variety of squash? So easy to prepare and roast and so pretty when sliced with their little scalloped edges. I used this recipe I found on Epicurious and roasted the squash with red onions, garlic, thyme and maple syrup.

Spatchcocked chicken and delicata squash. Fabulous. And so very fall-ish.

SOMETHING I’M DOING: GRASPING FOR CONTROL

It was just a pair of leggings.

I teach a lot of yoga each week and I’ve learned to appreciate a good yoga legging when I find one. Following the Lululemon debacle a few years ago, I began to be a bit more discerning over where I spent my yoga dollars. K-Deer came on the scene offering beautiful, well-made, well-fitting yoga wear in a wide range of sizes. They are a small, philanthropically-minded company out of New York City and I was immediately smitten with my first pair of their signature stripe-y leggings.

Do you ever feel like everything is spinning out of control?

Over the past two years, I’ve grown my collection of K-Deer leggings to the point where I don’t even bother wearing any other brand. They’re just that good. Fantastic prints and colors that give me that tingly feeling all the way down to my toes. They wear like a second skin, too, without exposing what doesn’t need to be exposed.

The shootings, the wildfires, a government that does not represent me.

These days, sometimes a new pair of brightly patterned leggings is what brings me joy. Such was the case when I took advantage of one of K-Deer’s sales and bought a pair of polka-dotted-teal-and-black capris. They arrived fast, swaddled in pink tissue paper, complete with that new legging smell. I wore them the next day and I sensed that something seemed off, but told myself it was just my imagination. I mean, I know there’s been some stress eating since November 8th, but c’mon. Why would these leggings, in the same size as all my other leggings, be slipping down my hips like a sausage casing off its filling?

After two more wears, I contacted the company. I told them I was a loyal customer, but these leggings were not right. I had worn and washed them several times, so it was beyond their window of permitted return policy. What I got back in response was a short reply assuring me that they had not changed their sizing in years and suggested I give them time to stretch out.

Sigh.

I wore them again. And again. Each time, feeling more bitter. And maybe just a little bit crazy.

In frustration, I reached out to K-Deer again, this time attaching photos, showing the 2-3 inch disparity in length between the new leggings and my slightly older ones. I told them it didn’t feel good to hear “it’s not us, it’s you.”

No response. Crickets.

Let it go, I told myself. Find somewhere else to spend your money, my friends told me.

It was the day after the Las Vegas shootings. The world, again, spun out of control. Anxiety rising in my chest. Social media on fire, fueling debate like kerosine on flames.

A full month after my first email, I typed out another to K-Deer. This time, my words a bit more coarse, my tone less forgiving, admonishing them for their lack of customer service.

(Did you notice that blur breezing past your window Tuesday morning? That was me, flying off the handle.)

Ten minutes later, my phone rang.

We’ve been trying to reach you, the woman from K-Deer said. Their emails were not getting to my inbox. Of course we’ll make it right, she told me, her voice soothing and unfettered by defense.

I exhaled.

It wasn’t about the leggings.

Have you noticed the persistent level of anxiety that many of us have grown accustomed to over the past year? I have. I see it etched on the faces of my yoga peeps. I hear it in the heavy sighs in child’s pose and right before savasana. I feel it, thick like an unrelenting November fog, woven into interactions with retail clerks, other drivers on the road and friends with whom I don’t see eye to eye. We stuff it down, we push it into our bodies, our muscles stiffen with One. More. Thing. Our chests ache with broken hearts and eyes tired from the smoke and lies and tears. We grasp for control, somewhere.

Powerless. Hopeless. Helpless. Sometimes, panicked at the thought of our future or lack thereof.

So, I unwittingly took my frustration out on a company who I believed wasn’t listening to me. It was an easy target. Listen to me! I yelled. Validate me. Hear me. Tell me I matter.

Come to your yoga practice and get clear. Ask the question, what can I control? What can’t I control? Where you have control, take clear, decisive action. Where you don’t, find a practice to help you release that. Begin to notice those undercurrents of unrest and anxiety right when they start to rumble rather than projecting your misguided stress onto unsuspecting victims.

Like I did. (Whoops.)

I learned that it wasn’t about the leggings. It was about my powerless feelings. I believed no one was listening. No control. I also learned that sometimes I leap to conclusions and imagine the worst about people and yes, about companies that make awesome, colorful yoga leggings.

Turns out, I do have a voice. A loud, clear one. One that projects and carries. You do, too.

Do the one thing that you can right now.

Make that phone call, tell your stories, support the marginalized and get back on your yoga mat and get clear.

Namaste’, motherfuckers. I love you.

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Twelve (My Life In Guns)

I don’t understand why any civilian would need automatic weapons. Can you tell me why? This past week was a sad, hard mofo of a week, so today I’m telling you three things about my life in guns.

MY LIFE IN GUNS, PART ONE

The Giant Little Golden Book titled “Cowboys And Indians” was a childhood favorite of mine. I’d kneel at my bedside with the book splayed open on my pink and yellow quilt, left thumb shoved in my mouth and pore over the pages of illustrations. I was five years old and just beginning to read.

I had no allegiance to either side and the book didn’t sway me. The Indians (circa 1960-something) sported magnificent feathered headdresses that reached far down their backs. Some had face paint, with swaths of color splashed across skin that looked different than mine. The horses they rode–always bareback and with the most minimal bridle and reins fashioned out of rope, were frequently pintos. Some of the pictures showed feathers tied into their manes. Horse-crazy from the outset, I would study the pictures and imagine what it would feel like to gallop bareback across the plains on my pinto pony. I imagined it feeling free and exhilarating.

The Indian’s moccasins caught my eye, too. They were often tall, like boots, with leather fringe that ran down the length of the outside seam. I begged my mother for my very own fringed moccasins and Santa relented and brought me a pair one year.  Not the fantastic knee-high ones like the book showed me, but low and tan and made from real suede, with fringe around the ankles. They would have to do.

Most impressive, though, were the bows and arrows. Quivers, either woven from bark or sewn out of animal hide, draped across the Indian’s shoulders and back. The arrows, tipped on one end with feathers, clustered in the quivers, waiting for that fateful moment when the Indian would reach back, usually mid-gallop, grasp an arrow and shoot it across the bow to its intended target.

The lethality of it all escaped my five-year-old brain.

The cowboys were no slouches, either. Rugged men, riding horses that were usually solid brown or black, with regal Western saddles and full bridles with bits and leather reins like I expected. My eyes would fixate on the shiny, silver starburst of the cowboy’s spurs that were buckled onto their boots with leather straps. So ornate, so pretty. It didn’t matter that those shiny starbursts were meant to dig into the horse’s flanks to make them run faster–I just thought they looked cool. And the chaps–oh, the chaps! How I loved the leather chaps the cowboys wore. I had no concept of what purpose they served, but style-wise, I was entranced.

Nothing, though, was more fascinating to me than the guns the cowboys sported. Gun belts and holsters slung low across their hips, the handles of their pistols right there, at the ready.

There’s something about the word “gun” that I’ve always been drawn to. Hard “g”. Short and sweet. I learned to read that word as a five-year-old and I liked the way it looked. I liked the way it sounded and the way it felt, hard, from the back of my throat.

Hard gee. Guh-guh-gun.

My parents got me both a bow and arrow set and my very own holster, studded with silver and complete with a realistic-looking cap gun. I marveled at its beauty and held it in my hand. So sleek and smooth, with what looked like inlaid mother-of-pearl on its handle. I’d pull the trigger and the loud, sharp snap! of the caps felt both startling and satisfying. The puff of gunpowder smoke rose up like incense to my nose.

My siblings and I played cowboys and Indians and I remembered not caring whether I was one or the other. It was play. It was fun. No one died.

It was before we knew better.

MY LIFE IN GUNS, PART TWO

My family and I had taken a lovely day trip to Kopachuck State Park, right outside of Gig Harbor, Washington. It was summertime and I was eight years old. My dad and mom, my brother, Chris, and one of my sisters had spent the afternoon in the park exploring low tide, gathering rocks and shells and picnicking in the woods. It had been an easy day, if somewhat unremarkable. Easy days seemed to be fewer and farther between as I grew older.

The sun was beginning to set, so we piled into our mossy-green Chevrolet van for the hour drive home. Our dad had reconfigured the back seats so that the two bench seats sat facing each other. Chris sat in the backwards-facing seat and fiddled with his BB gun rifle that our parents had bought him after much consternation and debate. He was twelve and adolescence was only making his outbursts and volatility more unpredictable. Mom and Dad always seemed to be grasping at whatever might appease him and bring a little peace to our family.

So they bought him a gun.

I was the baby of the family and a quiet child, but undoubtedly annoying at times to my siblings. Prone to crying and complaining of being picked on by my brothers and sisters. I don’t recall exactly how I was behaving in the van that evening we drove home from Kopachuck State Park, but I do remember my brother shooting me.

It wasn’t accidental. He looked at me, probably told me to “shut up” and shot me with his BB gun rifle as he sat facing me in the van, no more than two feet away. He hit me in the upper right arm and it hurt like hell. Stunned silence at first, followed by my wailing, both from the physical pain of being shot and the shock of my brother actually doing it. My dad pulled the van over and stopped to assess the situation.

I think he took the rifle away from my brother, but I’m not sure. I cried the rest of the way home.

It was nine years later when I overheard Chris telling his friends that he had decided to kill me and my mom once and for all. Our bedrooms were next to each other and I would often hear him and his buddies laughing and getting high and complaining about their lives. This time was different, though. A hush fell over the room when he said it. “Ah, man, no. You can’t really do that,” I heard one of his friends say. Chris continued, telling them of his plan to get a gun and shoot us dead. Just me and my mom. The rest of my siblings had moved out of the house by then and his relationship with our dad was a little less fraught with tension.

My blood turned to ice and I began shaking uncontrollably.

It wasn’t a stretch to imagine him actually doing it. After all, he had shot me once already, albeit with a BB gun. The year before, when I was sixteen, Chris had flown into a rage and attacked my mom and me, hurling a coffee cup at my face, resulting in significant cuts and burns and blood and stitches. He was a living, breathing, ticking time bomb and fear was a constant companion of mine.

That night I told my parents what I had overheard. I spent the night in my old bedroom, right next to my parent’s and further away from Chris’ room. My mom had since turned it into her office and had a small black and white television on the desk. Saturday Night Live was on and I watched it, hoping to take my mind off reality for a bit. A skit with John Belushi was featured, the audience howling with laughter and then bang! Belushi’s character gets shot dead with a gun. The audience clapped and cheered. Fade to black.

When I was a child, I never closed my eyes when I went to bed. Instead, I’d lay awake and simply wait for sleep to take over. Nightmares were a regular visitor.

I turned off the TV and curled up on the small sofa in my old bedroom, eyes wide open, exhausted from emotion but too afraid for sleep.

Two days later, my mom and I moved out of the house I had spent my entire childhood in. I never went back.

MY LIFE IN GUNS, PART THREE

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” ~ Mary Oliver

Tim was six-foot-four and the only boyfriend I ever had who made me feel small when he wrapped me in his bear hugs.

He was my first love, my first real boyfriend, the first boy to ever tell me he loved me and I, him.

We met while I was at TV school and he was studying to be a dental technician. It was heady and passionate, as all first loves tend to be. His family loved me from the get-go and I felt as though I had immediately inherited several extra brothers and sisters. They were different from my family–loud and boisterous, with lots of drinking on holidays. His father, a prominent dentist in the area, was a mean drunk and would openly berate Tim after a few too many Scotch and waters. “Why are you such a pussy?” his dad would bellow. “Why can’t you be more like your brothers?”

Tim and his father and brothers were avid hunters and fishermen. I grew to expect that Tim would be away on extended hunting weekends each fall. I chided him about killing “Bambi” but learned to accept this hobby of his and even gamely ate a few elk burgers along the way. Rifles and guns were a casual part of his (and now my) environment. I told Tim about my experience with my brother and he pulled me to his chest and held me, promising to always be my protector.

We navigated our relationship with all its inherent peaks and valleys. We were young and inexperienced and both of us prone to intense jealousies. I had unearthed his collection of Playboy magazines one afternoon and confronted him about it. We were driving in his baby blue Ford Pinto and Tim slammed on the brakes in angry exasperation. My body lunged into the seat belt, my tears now hot and salty and out of control. I was deep into my anorexia, my body–bony and thin and my breasts non-existent. I couldn’t comprehend how he could look at those images and still find me desirable. Rather than consoling, Tim sneered and taunted and dared me to get out and leave him, right then and there.

I wiped my face and looked out the window and stayed.

A year later, Tim had moved out of his family’s home and into his own apartment in Tacoma. He seemed better, more even-keeled, with some distance between he and his dad.

New Years Eve arrived that year with a forecast of bitter cold. The rain that had fallen earlier in the week was now predicted to harden into treacherous ice on the roads by nightfall. I hated driving in the snow and ice, so Tim picked me up in his Pinto from the condo I was living in with my mom. We would make pizza together for him to eat and we’d drink to welcome in the New Year, tucked safely in Tim’s apartment. He’d drive me home in the morning.

Dick Clark’s New Years Rockin’ Eve was on so we settled in to watch the ball drop from Times Square. Rick Springfield was performing, singing his hit, “Jessie’s Girl”. I wasn’t a fan of Springfield or pop music in general, so I rolled my eyes and made some off-handed comment about “well, at least he’s good looking.” Tim was already halfway through a fifth of Seagram’s Whiskey and my comment didn’t sit well with him.

“Oh really? Maybe you should just leave now and find little Ricky and finally get the rock star you’ve always dreamed of.” There was an unfamiliar edge to his voice that made my stomach churn.

Tim knew about my teenage years hanging around rock and roll bands, both local and larger. He knew of my weakness for drummers and bass players and my penchant for disappearing into the thrum of a loud, dark concert. But that was then. I was head over heels in love with Tim. I reminded him of that.

He drank more, now straight from the bottle. Something had shifted in him, a darkness encroached and he became scary. He raged on about what a slut I was, how he knew I wanted to fuck every band member in the world and how he could never be enough in my eyes. I pleaded with him to stop. I told him he was drunk and being ridiculous. I told him I loved him. He left to rummage around in his bedroom closet and emerged, holding his hunting rifle. My body stiffened and my heart dropped. I felt the familiar ice in my veins and I shook.

It was midnight now. Tim opened the front door of his apartment in the densely populated complex and fired his rifle off into the clear, black sky. Round after round. Each blast making my shoulders jump to my ears. I ran back into the bedroom, closed the door and sat on the bed, hugging my knees to my chin, rocking to control the trembles. I thought of my mom and how sad she would be if he killed me. I thought of how ironic life was and how guns seemed to follow me.

I was worried that Tim might shoot me, but I was more worried that he’d kill himself. After all, he’d said many times, “One day I’ll shoot myself and everyone will be happy.” It wasn’t a stretch to imagine it happening. He finished off the entire fifth of whiskey, his large frame and family history of alcoholism enabling him to hold a huge amount of liquor.

Eventually he ran out of rounds and whiskey. He opened the door to the bedroom and flopped down beside me. I didn’t move. I sat there as Tim passed out cold on the bed but waited and watched until his breath slowed to a regular, deep rhythm of sleep. I slid down under the comforter and rolled to the far side of the bed, eyes wide open until they weren’t.

I knew it was over then. I’d like to tell you I woke up in the morning and announced that I was breaking up with him and that was that. But I didn’t know how to break up with someone who meant so much to me, someone I loved but who I knew was so, so wrong for me. We had survived that night, but the wounds were deep.

Months later, Tim broke up with me, telling me he had found someone at work who he was interested in dating. I was appropriately devastated for a week or two, until my best friend picked me up, brushed me off and showed me how much more living I had to do.

Tim and I stayed in casual contact over the next few years. The girl from work broke up with him. He asked me to come back, but it was too late. He showed up drunk one night to a club in Pioneer Square where my friends and I were watching one of our favorite bands. Over the clatter and din of the crowd and the band, Tim asked me to marry him. I laughed and told him he was crazy. He said something shaming about the length of my miniskirt. He stumbled out on to the sidewalk, alone.

Five years later, I called Tim to tell him I was getting married. I wanted him to hear it from me, rather than through the gossip of the grapevine. He took it pretty well and asked who it was. I told him it was a boy from a band I had met and followed. “Congratulations,” he said sarcastically, “you finally got your rock star.” I wished him well and hung up.

That was the last time I spoke with Tim. A few years ago, I found him on Facebook. Living in Dryden, just east of the mountains. His timeline, mostly a collection of Ted Nugent gun memes and greetings from what seemed to be young nieces and nephews. No mention of marriages or relationships or children of his own. His profile picture depicted what looked like a mountain man. Full, bushy beard. Long, scraggly hair.

I recognized his eyes.

I didn’t reach out to him or send him a friend request. I was still afraid. Worried that he might want to meet in person or try to find me. I just wanted to know he was okay.

Not long ago, I typed his name into the Google search bar, followed by the word “obituary.” I don’t know why. I just did. The first hit popped up with a link to a funeral home’s memorial page. Tim had passed away just a few weeks prior, right after the long Labor Day weekend. Right before hunting season.

There was no formal obituary or service planned, no condolences or virtual candles lit on the funeral home’s page. No mention of how he died. Nothing. No one.

I told myself maybe he had succumbed to cancer. Perhaps a car accident. But the same voice that had told me to type in the word “obituary” also told me it was most likely something else.

It wasn’t a stretch to imagine him actually shooting himself.

Tim was my box of darkness. It’s taken me years to understand that he, too, was a gift.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Eleven

Today is my dad’s birthday. Or at least it would have been had he not died twenty years ago. But it’s still his birthday, right? I don’t remember the exact deathdates of the people I love who die, but I always, always remember their birthdates. One day, I’ll tell you about my dad. Happy birthday, Dad. This one’s for you.

SOMETHING I’M LISTENING TO: ODESZA

While everyone else was still crowing over hometown boy Macklemore’s success, another Seattle-area band was steadily building a legit and loyal following. Conceived in 2012 on the campus of Western Washington University in Bellingham, ODESZA is the music-child of producers Clayton Knight and Harrison Mills, alternately known as BeachesBeaches and Catacombkid, respectively. EDM has always been a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine, having come of age loving house and acid house music, but I was never a fan of the heavier dubstep tracks that were popular with the recent masses. ODESZA’s style of chill-out EDM groove is an alternative breath of fresh air, no previous rave experience necessary. Their recently released third album, A Moment Apart, is filled with songs featuring guest vocals by the likes of Leon Bridges and Regina Spektor and runs the gamut from smooth soulful vibes in “Across The Room” to more hypnotic tracks like “Boy” and uptempo dance beats of “Late Night.”

As much as I like to champion local bands, ODESZA doesn’t need my help. These guys are well on their way, having recently headlined Bumbershoot and presently in the midst of a successful arena tour. My only regret is having missed the chance to see them live on their way up. Also, can we talk about drumlines? ODESZA incorporates a drumline in their live shows, which I find both intriguing and frightening. Drumlines have forever evoked heady emotion in me. High school football games were always a bit of an emotional ordeal as tears filled my eyes at the first beat of the bass drum. I’d either hide behind sunglasses or mutter something about allergies as I wiped my face and struggled to keep from sobbing.

Not even kidding. Please tell me this has happened to you.

Beyond drumlines, though, take a minute and put a bit of ODESZA on your latest playlist and realize that Seattle is ripe with musical talent that reaches beyond the likes of Macklemore and Pearl Jam and Death Cab For Cutie. They’re all good, but these two guys from a little college in Bellingham–ODESZA–are at the top of their game.

SOMETHING I’M COOKING: OLD-FASHIONED APPLE CAKE WITH BROWN SUGAR FROSTING

I love the ritual of tradition and one of my longest-standing traditions was to bake a special “back to school” cake every first day of school. It was always strawberry cake. Pepto-Bismol pink, made with a box of white cake mix and a box of strawberry jello. Sure, there were some real pureed strawberries mixed in the batter and the frosting, but mostly, it came from a box. Had it not been so wonderfully delicious, I would have eschewed the boxes in favor of something more homemade, but, tradition. It had to be strawberry cake. When the kids were in elementary school, we’d invite their besties to walk home with them after the first day and join us in the ceremonial cutting of the cake. They’d all sit around, sugar-high and giddy from the first day back at school and dish on their newest teachers and classmates. Priceless.

The University of Washington began classes this past Wednesday–so very late in September that I nearly forgot all about strawberry cake. My daughter, now living in the dorms as a college freshman and my son, graduated from all schools and working at the Seattle Times, I had no kids at home to bake for. Well, what the hell do I do now? (Pretty much a constant question of mine lately.) My son suggested I bake the strawberry cake and then tour Seattle, dropping off paper plates of pink cake to both he and my daughter and perhaps a few of their pals. Meh. I wasn’t feeling it. Maybe it was time to put the strawberry cake in our rearview mirror.

So, I was browsing one of my favorite baking sites (King Arthur Flour) and happened upon a recipe that sparked my interest, Old-Fashioned Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting. You don’t get much more fall-ish than apples and the brown sugar frosting sounded like a magnificent match for a moist, apple-packed homemade cake. No jello, no boxed cake mix necessary. But what really sold me was the multitude of reviews that sung this cake’s praises as if it were manna from heaven. I don’t care if I’m shopping on Amazon or baking a cake, the reviews are where it’s at.

Manna from heaven, indeed. This cake is a keeper. Packed with three cups of diced apples, (I used Honeycrisp) it is one fantastic forkful of fruit after another. The frosting–not quite a buttercream but thicker than a glaze, goes on warm and cools to a smooth layer of brown-sugared brilliance. If I had three thumbs, I’d use the extra digit for emphasis, but since I don’t we’ll just call this a solid two-thumbs up.

The next day, I packaged up a container filled with apple cake and delivered it to my daughter’s dorm. It wasn’t pink, but it will do.

Tradition preserved.

SOMETHING I’M DOING: BEING TOO MUCH

Too fat/too skinny.

Too smart/too dumb.

Too loud/too quiet.

Too confident/too timid.

So many labels. Contradictions. We all have them, we all wear them. Our bodies carry them, sometimes outwardly, emblazoned across our skin, either with pride or shame. Most of them embedded so deeply into our psyche that it would take years of excavation to unearth and free these from our flesh.

Something your teacher said. A coach. Your place, your station, your labels within your family of origin. Those names, the labels spat out in the heat of an argument. An epithet proclaimed in passion.

Too serious/too funny.

Too needy/too independent.

Too strong/too weak.

Too nasty/too kind.

Contradictions.

I’ve been labeled all of these at some point during my life. Energy expended and precious time–years of my life–invested in making myself “just right”.

Like Goldilock’s porridge.

I wanted to be just right. I mean, don’t we all?

Don’t you?

A place of love, a place of fitting in, of belonging. A tribe. A collective where the lushness of our contradictions are celebrated.

If you’re lucky, a funny thing happens as you get older–you run out of fucks to give. You run out of all the fucks and in a moment of blazing clarity, you realize that the labels given to you are merely a means by which others seek to control, contort and fit you into a box that makes them more comfortable. I bet you’ve done that to someone you love. And I bet someone you love has done it to you.

Not everyone is lucky, though. I’ve known many older people who take their last breath believing that they needed to have been better. That their too-muchness was not enough.

I am not that person. At least not anymore.

Too brilliant/too dull.

Too emotional/too detached.

Too blunt/too vague.

So I wear this shirt. A shirt I had custom made, a label of my own making. As I do this, I take back the power of Too Much and I celebrate all the contradictions of me.

I am too much. A little bit extra. Sometimes a lot extra. More than enough.

Deal with it.

Happy birthday, Dad.

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Ten

“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” ~ George Eliot

We made it, kids. Fall is here. Fall is my favorite. Here are three fall-ish things.

SOMETHING I’M LISTENING TO: MY INTUITION

Yeah, so I’m still listening to that Superfood record I wrote about last week and just last night I saw Thee Oh Sees at Neumos with more stage-diving-crowd-surfers than I’ve ever seen at a show before which was off-the-charts wild and fun but what I’m really listening to is, well…me.

Just me.

Fall has always been a season of reassessment and reinvention for me. As a kid, every September I fantasized about coming back to school as a better, more interesting version of me. Anything was possible in the fall. New clothes, new classes, new friends.

Begin again.

So I’ve been spending time in the quiet of my breath, making sure I slow down and assess boundary lines in my relationships as well as in my work and play. What’s working? What isn’t? What do I allow? What do I not allow?

in·tu·i·tion
int(y)o͞oˈiSH(ə)n
noun
the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.

Exactly. Without the need for conscious reasoning. Something just feels “off”, not right, not sitting well with me. That’s the stuff I look out for in my moments of quiet breath. It’s the stuff when you open your mouth and share it with the wrong people and you’re told you’re overreacting, or too sensitive or simply silly. It’s the stuff you keep ignoring and watch it eventually build into a life that feels inauthentic. Like you’re playing a part, a character foreign to yourself.

Stop that shit right now.

A friend recently wrote about finding the power of saying “no”. I had to agree that being able to confidently say “no thank you” to people, places and things that simply don’t feel right any longer–or ever–has been one of the best parts of growing older. I’ve said yes to far too many things that didn’t sit well with me, for the sake of getting along.

Getting along just isn’t as much of a priority for me these days. The people I hold closest to my heart understand.

I often talk about the falling leaves in autumn as nature’s reminder to release what is no longer serving us.

Nature is a powerful, wise teacher. Make sure you spend some time with her this fall.

SOMETHING I’M COOKING: MUSHROOMS, WITH FRIENDS

It was the text I needed on the night I needed it the most.

“Sounds like we need a cocktail. Come over and we’ll make dinner and drinks. You like mushrooms, right?”

Do I like mushrooms? Oh, be still my heart.

What this friend didn’t know is that I had been recently hoarding all manner of mushroom recipes. Mushroom lasagne, mushroom soup, wild mushroom marsala pasta–you get the picture. My family detests mushrooms, so with my freshly emptied nest it was the most perfect opportunity to whip up some delicious mushroom concoction to usher in the advent of fall.

Cooking and baking is my soul food. Cooking and baking with a dear friend is, as it turns out, therapy.

We (she) made a rustic mushroom tart. A galette, actually. A galette is like a pie that doesn’t mind being a bit imperfect and rough around the edges. Matter of fact, the charm of a galette is its imperfection. No carefully fluted pie crust necessary. These days, imperfection is one of my favorite things.

We (she) got to cooking. Me, I basically chopped the mushrooms–a whopping pound and a half of shrooms, a tasty mix of wild and cremini. We (she) sautéed the whole mess of them with shallots and garlic and finished it with a swirl of mascarpone cheese and a shower of parmesan. Into the pastry it all went, the edges folded over here and there with makeshift pleats of dough to make a charming mushroom package of sorts.

As the tart baked, we hung out and sipped our whiskey sours and commiserated over our freshly emptied nests. Soul food. Therapy. The smells in the kitchen made me swoon.

We (she) paired the mushroom tart with a fantastic kale salad with roasted butternut squash and toasted almonds.

Mushrooms + kale + butternut squash + toasted nuts + whiskey = autumn. At least by my calculations.

Hours later, I headed home, leftover tart riding shotgun, belly and heart full, soul fed. My freshly emptied nest just a little more welcoming.

SOMETHING I’M DOING: LETTING GO

“Let go or be dragged.” ~ Zen proverb

The minute they’re born, they begin to leave.

From the final push out the womb or the whisk up and away from a neatly scalpeled uterus, snip goes the umbilical cord and there they go.

They were never “ours” to begin with.

First breath, first poop, first babble, first wobbly step. Everything exists to move away from us.

We exist to keep them safe as they fly.

When my son went off to college in Arizona, I would sometimes lay awake at night, imagining him in the desert, a place so foreign to me that it loomed like a predator. The dry, arid sandscapes taking him away. An ache, a pull, a very real tug at the center of my abdomen.

Belly button, cord of life.

Snip.

I dropped my daughter, my youngest, off at her college dorm this week. Not Arizona, but in Seattle. Close, but so far away.

“Are you okay?” my friends text me. “Of course,” I say.

I am okay.

And I am proud. And sad. Teary, a lot. Overcome with the poignancy of transition, of time passing. Grateful. Privileged to be able to see my kids off to college. I know this is a milestone that many do not get to pass.

I don’t take any of it for granted.

My inability to leave was of my own volition, a cage of my own construction, but for years I blamed my mother. My mother, who suffered loss after loss after loss. Unimaginable pain. And me, the mistake, the unplanned oopsy baby. Apparently, I grew on her over the years, because at 18 I could not leave. For awhile, I resented my older siblings, flying off, one by one–to school, to Europe, to new lives, exciting, independent lives and I stood and waved goodbye with clipped wings.

Snip.

It hadn’t been easy at my house. A brother who struggled with learning disabilities and rage and suspected abuse at the hands of a neighbor. By the time I was 16, he had threatened us and attacked me physically. Blood, stitches, scars. Urgent ambulance wheels crunching on our gravel driveway. The sharp smell of iodine on wounds. His presence lorded over us with fear.

So much fear.

My fear, my guilt, my mother. But ultimately it was me who decided to stay behind in an effort to be a protector.

As if I could have done anything.

At 21, I finally moved out. I looked in the rearview mirror and saw my mom, standing and waving and crying on the front porch of the condo we shared as I drove off in a little faded-red Datsun wagon, packed to the roof with my life. Portland. TV station. Big job, big move, big feels. I choked back the urge to turn around and stay.

Belly tug. Ache. Snip.

From the instant they were free of my body, I wanted to give them something different. Less fear, more freedom. Wings as far as the eyes could see.

I’m okay.

Let go or be dragged.

I open my hands and spread my fingers wide. No grasping, no gripping, no white knuckles, no holding on for dear life.

No dragging.

Just love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Nine

This week’s Three Things is brought to you courtesy of my recent road trip to the Oregon Coast. Some people are road trip people. I am not that person. But anytime you pack yourselves into a Prius and travel for five hours in any direction, things happen. Here’s what happened to me.

SOMETHING I’M LISTENING TO: SUPERFOOD

This little gem of a Brit-alt-pop band is so newly ripe and ready for the picking that I couldn’t even find much information about them on the internet or anywhere else. (Is there anywhere else?) All the more reason to jump on this fresh bandwagon of talent and treat your ears to every single track on their latest release, Bambino. Signed earlier this year to West London’s Dirty Hit Records, Superfood was first and last heard from in 2014 with their catchy single “You Can Believe”. If their first full-length release, Bambino, is any indication, this quirky foursome has spent the last three years busy stoking their creative fire. I listened to the entire record on my recent road trip to the coast and seriously loved every single track. How often does that happen? (Like, never.) Immensely listenable from beginning to end, each song more wonderfully unique from the last. If I had to pick favorites, the opening track, “Where’s The Bass Amp?”, complete with its ear worm chorus of “boom chicka boom” sits on the top of my list. “Double Dutch” is a sentimental favorite, seeing as it was my introduction to the band just a few months ago and immediately found a happy home on one of my yoga mixes. Bambino effortlessly steers its way through funky, toe-tapping tunes to light and airy grooves and right into heavier jams like “Shadow” with a deftness that defies their youth. As of right now, there is no US tour announced, but I will be the first in line for tickets when it is.

Superfood is your new best friend and Bambino is your soundtrack for autumn 2017.

SOMETHING I’M COOKING: SCONES

What is it with me and scones and Oregon? The last time I went on a scone bender, it was after sampling the most marvelous cranberry-orange scone at a tiny, hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Newport, Oregon nearly six years ago. We had ordered breakfast and were served a plate of these scones to nosh on while waiting. You see, scones are not something I typically eat or even give so much of a thought about. When I think of scones, I think of biscuits and when I think of biscuits, I imagine heavy, gluey, lumps of baked dough that get stuck on the roof of my mouth. Ick. I’ll take in my gluten elsewhere. But after my Newport scone experience, I raced home and researched recipes in an effort to replicate what I had tasted. The results were decidedly “meh”–okay, but nothing mind-blowing and I quickly moved on from my scone obsession.

Enter Cannon Beach.

The Sleeping Monk coffee shop is a staple in Cannon Beach, offering the best damn coffee on the northern coastline. I had stumbled into the cafe looking for my early morning caffeine fix while the rest of my family slept. The shop had just opened and the perfume of freshly brewed coffee danced alongside the scent of just-baked scones, bagels and donuts. My stomach growled. As I got up to the counter, I saw they offered two varieties of scones–orange chocolate chip and blue cheese and bacon. I ordered one of each to go, along with my very reasonably priced and deliciously executed latte’.

I’m pretty sure my eyes rolled back in my head as I took a bite of the blue cheese and bacon scone. Ohmygod. The most delicate, crisp crust gave way to the warm, creamy, savory insides of the pastry. Holy cow, I thought. Not gluey, not dry, but full-on Scone Heaven. I made my way back to the hotel and shared the orange chocolate chip scone with my daughter. We both agreed it was something to write home about.

The following day, I showed up again as The Sleeping Monk opened their doors. Same order, same Scone Heaven. As I paid at the counter, I quietly asked if they ever shared their scone recipe. “No,” the woman laughed, “but I’ll tell you one thing.” I leaned in expectantly and she whispered, “Buttermilk.”

Every scone recipe I had made up to this point used heavy cream, not buttermilk. I figured this was the answer to all my scone prayers. Once back home, I hit the internet again and found a recipe that held promise and used buttermilk.

About buttermilk: did you know that true buttermilk is not the low-fat stuff in cartons located in most dairy cases? The buttermilk of your dreams is actually a thick, full-fat, somewhat gloppy mess in a bottle found at your more discerning grocery stores. Buy that for all your buttermilk baking projects.

A cloudy, blustery Sunday morning is a terrific day for scone baking. I zested my oranges and pulsed my flour and butter and whisked together my gloppy buttermilk, egg yolk and vanilla, added some good chocolate chips, patted the whole thing into a flat, round disk and cut out eight triangles of pastry. I said a hasty prayer to the Scone Gods and slid it into the oven. Twenty minutes later, Scone Heaven emerged, this time in my very own kitchen.

The orange chocolate chip scones were beautiful and lightly browned, their crust just thin enough to hold the magic within. Both my daughter and I sampled one and agreed they were dangerously close to The Sleeping Monk’s rendition. Lightly sweet, delicate and tender inside–likely thanks to the buttermilk–and no floury heaviness in sight.

Next week, it’s the blue cheese and bacon scones. I’m imagining those split in half and filled with scrambled eggs, a slice of bacon, a handful of arugula and a smear of aioli.

You show up with a pitcher of mimosas and we’ll have brunch together.

SOMETHING I’M DOING: YOGA ON THE BEACH

A decade or more ago, when I was in the early blush of my love affair with yoga, Instagram didn’t exist. There wasn’t a yoga studio on every corner and hundred dollar yoga pants hadn’t yet hit the market. Since then, yoga has become A Thing. A lifestyle. Something to buy and market. There are hundreds of yoga Instagram accounts filled with carefully edited photographs of beautiful people executing feats of yoga prowess. And as it often happens with me, when something becomes A Thing that everyone is doing, I exit stage left.

Except here’s the problem: yoga is pretty fantastic.

So, I see-saw between my righteous indignation of seeing everyone doing yoga everywhere and my own personal practice, which tends to be simple, consistent, undocumented and absolutely life-changing. I cannot imagine my life without yoga. It’s just that good.

It was Thursday afternoon in Cannon Beach when I decided to find a piece of driftwood to perch my butt on and contemplate life. The blue-bird sky, the repetitive white-noise crash of the waves, the warm sun and me. Medicine. About thirty minutes in, though, my ass was aching and my body needed to move. I thought about doing yoga and immediately felt silly and self-conscious. I don’t want to be that person, I thoughtThat person who does yoga for show, who needs someone to take a picture of them doing down dog in the sand. Ugh. I scanned the beach and noticed a retired couple sitting on their deck just behind me. A few couples and families strolled down by the tide. I fought the urge until I realized how silly it all was.

Get outta your own way.

I got up and dug my hands and feet into the sand in Downward Facing Dog. I stepped into Warrior Two, then Reverse Warrior and stretched into Triangle Pose. I turned my face into the sun and saw nothing but the blue expanse of sky and stripes of cotton candy clouds. I shifted my weight into Half Moon and felt my balance wibble-wobble with the uneven sand and then grow steady with my breath. Finally, diving into a deep straddle forward fold, everything flipped upside down.

Perspective shift.

Brushing the sand off my hands I sat down again and laughed. How often we get in our own way and deny ourselves what is so good for us because of our silly biases and limiting thoughts. I glanced over at the rumpled mess of sand where I had done yoga and nobody cared. There would be no photo on Instagram, no proof that it actually happened.

And it felt so, so good and so, so necessary.

Medicine. The very best kind.

“I just don’t get the whole yoga thing,” she said to me dismissively few years back. I had just finished teaching a class and my reaction was immediate and defensive. I felt personally slighted.

Today I think of that conversation and laugh. Too bad. Your loss. What exactly are you hiding from?

Yoga. Nobody cares, there will be no pictures, no accolades involved. Just do it.

That’s namaste for now, my friends. Send me all your scone secrets and I’ll check in next week with three more things.

 

 

On The Occasion Of Our Anniversary

Today, I’ve been married 28 years. Marriage is hard.

If you were hoping for a photo of a vase of flowers and a card and some generic platitude about “being married to my best friend” and how “I’d do it all over again” I’d suggest you move on down your Facebook feed or on to another blog. Because even if those things are true, I believe in speaking a higher truth.

Marriage is hard.

My parents were married to each other for over 50 years, until they died. Their marriage was not even remotely perfect–both were deeply flawed human beings, as we all are. There was indiscretion, betrayal and denial as well as affection, compromise and perseverance. When hurt, my mother reverted to passive-aggressiveness and closed off. My father stayed mostly passive and made mistakes. Neither really talked about it, ever.

I carry both my parent’s tendencies with me in my own relationships, because that’s what was modeled for me. But then something happened: I grew the fuck up. And I learned I can make different choices.

I found a practice (yoga, meditation) that forces me to hold myself accountable and see myself for who I am, both with myself and in relationship with others. I respect and appreciate the commitment my parents showed for each other. You don’t stay married for over half a century without some level of commitment. But I also knew I wanted something better.

“Being in love is no reason to get married,” my dad told me one evening as we drove across the lower level of the Ship Canal Bridge. I was a young woman in her early twenties, passionate and already in love with love and eager to be swept off her feet. He didn’t bother to elaborate, but his comment stayed with me.

I have grown to agree with him.

I have been head-over-heels in love with people I had no business building a life with. Being in love with someone is a great and important start, but marrying someone and staying married requires so much more.

My marriage has been wonderful, ecstatic, awful and dark. There have been times I have been hurt beyond measure and doubted if the light would ever return. Other instances, I have wielded the weapons to inflict damage and closed down just as tightly as my mother.

We are all deeply flawed human beings.

My marriage produced two, terrific children–both now nearly grown into fine young adults. If you want smooth sailing in your marriage, I’d suggest not having children. I can’t imagine anything more challenging than transitioning to parenthood, complete with two huge suitcases full of each other’s childhood baggage.

I can’t imagine anything more worthwhile and illuminating, either. Being a parent made me want to be a better person. Being a parent made me a better person.

Marriage is hard.

It’s also wonderful and valuable and fun and challenging and heartbreaking. My marriage probably doesn’t look a thing like yours and that’s just how it should be. There are fights and reconciliations and love and laughter and contentment and love and compromise and doubts and love and hard, hard work and–if you’re lucky–revelations that make you both better humans.

So, happy anniversary to me and the Mister. To celebrate, we bought a new mattress. And honestly, I can’t think of anything more fitting to commemorate the nearly three decades of waking up next to each other in our deeply flawed, beautifully human skin.

Three (Kinda Different) Things, Issue Eight

Hurricanes, floods, fires and earthquakes. Here’s things about three of them.

SOMETHING I FEAR: HURRICANES

I was a swaddled babe in arms when the infamous Columbus Day storm hit the Pacific Northwest. My family had just moved into our newly-built home in Lakewood, Washington that my architect-wannabe father and his (actual) architect friends had designed and built specifically for our large, motley crew. It was a 3000-square-foot, Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired rambler set into the rural suburban woods, one lot away from the shoreline of Steilacoom Lake. It was a burgeoning community, with young families flocking to the idyllic lakeside woods boasting a quaint, colonial-style shopping center and an award-winning school district.

One of the focal points of our home was the floor-to-ceiling windows that lined the entire back of the house, from the living room into the dining room and extending into the mother-in-law apartment where our grandparents lived. We had a deck off the back, which lead into our terraced backyard and gave us a peek-a-boo view of the lake, especially in the winter. Jansen family legend has it that my mother stood in front of that wall of windows during the ferocious storm, holding me in her arms while watching the windows precariously bow in and out from the force of the winds.

My mom was a world class worrywart. A bit anxious by nature and not necessarily the most chill cat in the crib when natural disasters struck. I imagined her holding me, just over six months old, her body tense with trepidation and fear. And me, a mere baby, operating on instinct alone, probably absorbing every ounce of her jitters and then some.

At least that’s how I explain why I am so terrified of wind storms.

Thankfully the windows held that night of the Columbus Day storm, but my childhood was punctuated with snow-laden tree limbs falling through our flat-roofed home during winter storms and the eerie sound of tall trees being whipped around like licorice sticks when the wind blew hard and strong. We kept an army of plastic buckets and tarps at the ready to catch whatever came pouring through the ceiling when Mother Nature reared her head. I loved living amongst the trees, but there was a price to pay. The wild wind scared the hell outta me. It still does.

Decades later, I was living in Bothell in a tiny, 900-square-foot rambler with the Mister. It was our first house, bought hastily at the height of Seattle’s first real estate boom. Bill Clinton had just been elected president and the Inaguration Day storm blew in that January morning in 1993. It was a bear of a storm and The Mister and I stood huddled at the kitchen window, watching the gusts bend the trees like pipe cleaners. Our Bothell neighborhood wasn’t as woodsy as the one I grew up in, but we still had enough trees around us for it to be dangerous. A tall pine stood just to the southeast of our house, close enough to warrant a bit of concern. We’d take turns eyeing the pine out the front window while the other stood near the back. “I’m nervous about the tree in the front,” I’d tell the Mister, wringing my hands with worry. “Nah,” he assured me. “It’s fine.”

We were both peering out the front window at that pine tree when a powerful gust blew through. As if in slow motion, we watched as the entire root ball–easily four feet across–lift from the ground and topple the tree. Everything in the house went black as the thirty-foot pine fell across our front porch, taking out the eaves but thankfully missing most of the roof. We couldn’t open the front door. I may have begun crying, either from fear of it falling or relief that we were still alive. I can’t remember which. I do remember it was scary as fuck.

Insurance paid for a new roof, I took showers at work, we ate a lot of take-out food and wore layers upon layers of sweaters for that week that the power was out. We survived and had a good story to tell, but it only reinforced my terror of wind storms.

When we bought our current house, I immediately eyed the property for tall trees on the south side, the direction from which the biggest winds blow. A trio of cedars flanked the south side of the front of the house, right outside the kid’s bedrooms. I enforced my “fifty mile an hour rule”–whenever wind speeds were forecast to gust above 50, the kids had to sleep downstairs. The Mister would reassure me that the trees were so close to the house that if they did fall, they would merely “lean” onto the roof. Based on his misguided prediction of the pine tree in Bothell, I took no chances. During the Hanukkah Eve storm of 2006, the kids and I slept nestled in the sofas around our twelve-foot Christmas tree in the living room while the Mister slept peacefully upstairs. He has no worry with windstorms, despite the Pine Tree Incident. Tall trees fell across the freeways during that storm, but we emerged unscathed, thankfully.

Since then, the trio of beautiful cedars have been cut down, due to disease. It made me sad to see them go. I tend to cry when big, majestic trees get cut down. I mourn their death, but sleep a bit better when Mother Nature rears her blustery head as the fall storms blow through.

SOMETHING I’VE LIVED THROUGH: EARTHQUAKES

Make no mistake, earthquakes scare the hell outta me, too. The last significant one we experienced here was the 6.8 Nisqually Quake of 2001. I was visiting my mom at the adult family home she was living in, regaling her with stories of my children and yoga classes and plans for decorating her room when the ground began to shake. I immediately jumped up and positioned myself in the door frame. How did I do that so instinctually, I wondered, even at the time. My mom sat immobile in her recliner as I braced myself in the doorway and began talking to the earthquake. “Okay, stop now,” I’d say and the seismic waves grew a little bigger and stronger. “C’mon! That’s enough,” I pleaded out loud, as though I was insisting someone stop tickling me, rather than talking to an earthquake. Earthquakes feel like forever. The ground beneath betrays you. There’s always that point during the quake when you’re not sure if the quake is intent on getting stronger and going longer. But then the rocking and rolling finally stops and everyone exhales. Heartbeats slow, valuables are checked, loved ones contacted and accounted for. My son, safe in his elementary school classroom and my preschool-age daughter at home with the Mister, sitting in an overstuffed chair directly beneath a large plate-glass mirror hung on the wall. We live, we learn, we count our blessings of tightly mounted mirrors on walls. We exhale.

Everything is replaceable.

SOMETHING I’VE WITNESSED: FIRE

Marci Ellis moved into the stately white colonial that sat atop the grassy knoll just at the bend at the bottom of the hill of our lane. I never really appreciated the unique design of my childhood home, but instead coveted the traditional two-story houses that everyone else seemed to live in. I was in fourth grade and frequently fantasized about a girl my age moving in near me. A playmate. A best friend. We’d ride our bikes to buy bubble gum at the Rexall and spend summers wading in the lake. I had it all planned out.

When Marci Ellis moved in, I thought all my dreams were coming true. She was in my grade and channeled a perfect Jan Brady, with shiny, stick-straight hair down to her waist and bell-bottom jeans with wide, white leather belts. Best of all, though, she had horses! The big white colonial that sat atop the grassy knoll also sported a three-stall stable, just adjacent to the house. Painted white with dark green trim to match the house, that stable fueled my daydreams of having a best friend move in with her horses, just down the lane from me.

I’d see Marci walking to school and have conversations with her in my head, as I often do, but never dared to speak anything more than a simple greeting out loud. I was a shy and awkward young girl. Once in school, she told us stories of living on a ranch in Twisp with her horses. I had never heard of a place called Twisp, and it sounded magical. Over time, though, Marci gravitated to the more fashionable Jacquies and Starlas of my class rather than me, the odd, chubby girl who lived down the lane.

It was a dusky evening in late winter when I was riding my bike home from the Rexall and noticed an odd light reflecting off the trees. Too overcast for a sunset, the rosy reflective light confused me. I turned my head as I rounded the bend in the lane and saw the massive bright orange and yellow flames licking out of the upstairs windows of Marci Ellis’ big white house. The fire seemed larger than life, wild and with a mind of its own. I was momentarily stunned by the sight. It took my breath away. I turned and pedaled my bike as fast as I could back to my house and by the time I reached my driveway, I could hear sirens approaching in the distance. My family and neighbors gathered at the bend in the lane at the bottom of the hill and watched as the second story of Marci’s house burn to the rafters. A blackened skeleton of what used to be a home and the stench of embers was all that remained.

Marci Ellis didn’t come to school the next day, but rumors of the fire buzzed through my classroom. Excitedly, I told my teacher of riding my bike and seeing the flames shoot from the windows. “Oh!” she exclaimed,  “Were you the first one to call the fire department for help?” I paused for a long moment, considering the elevated hero status I might earn by lying and saying yes. My imagination raced towards images of my improved social standing for the remainder of elementary school and into junior high and most importantly, with Marci Ellis herself. All I had to do was say, “Yes. I called the fire department.”

“No,” I shook my head, “It wasn’t me.”  Even my teacher looked disappointed, as if she, too, was hoping my saying “yes” could have been a turning point in my clumsy social life.

Marci Ellis’ family eventually rebuilt and remodeled their house. Marci came back to school but everything was different. I didn’t look to her as the epitome of a best friend anymore. I didn’t covet her stately house on the hill, or even her horses that had to be moved to another property after the fire. In school, she was forever known as the girl whose house burned down. Eventually, Marci moved away. I’m not sure where, but I imagined she went back to magical Twisp where she’d ride her horses all day and not be known as the girl whose house caught fire.

Me, I’d still coast my bike down the hill and look up the grassy knoll and remember the lashing tongues of an out-of-control fire, my body still registering the fear and awe of witnessing something so powerful and destructive.

Stay safe, everyone. See you next week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things (within three things, so really–nine things), Issue Seven

In honor of Labor Day, Walter Becker’s passing, the fact that the entire country is either on fire, under water (or soon to be) and North Korea’s continuing to focus its sights on blowing us up in a mighty mushroom cloud, I’m keeping it simple this week. Here are three things within three things.

THREE THINGS YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW:

LCD Soundsystem/American Dream

James Murphy and David Bowie were good pals and Bowie’s influence is spread all over American Dream like Nutella on bananas and bagels. Funky, electro-post-punk deliciousness fills all ten tracks. It’s one of those rare records you feel compelled to listen to from beginning to end, just like in the olden days. A little dark, a little woozy and a whole lotta satisfying. I guarantee American Dream will be a featured player on many critic’s Best Of 2017 lists.

Foster The People/Sacred Hearts Club

My main memory of our road trip down the never-ending stretch of I-5 headed to Eugene, Oregon to visit the University Of Oregon’s campus with my then 17-year-old son is Foster The People’s freshman release, Torches, on repeat. It was a definite step up from the Disney channel sing-alongs of childhood, but to this day I still relate certain landmarks along the freeway to specific songs on that record. Sacred Hearts Club is Foster’s third release and my personal favorite. It’s a little weird and psychedelic but with enough alt-pop gems like “Sit Next To Me” and “I Love My Friends” to keep even the skeptics happy. And if you’ve ever wondered what your yoga teacher listens to full-blast right before class, “Loyal Like Sid & Nancy” is the answer.

LANY/LANY

It was just a couple years ago that I saw LANY perform on an itsy-bitsy-teeny-tiny stage in the front window of The Funhouse at El Corazon on a June night so hot the stifling heat radiating from the club took your breath away when you stepped in the door. They were opening for another band fronted by The Runaway’s Cherie Currie’s son and the cramped club was abuzz with rock royalty and a very drunk and disorderly Robert Hays. (Remember him from the “Airplane” movies?) Yeah. Anyhow, LANY was a supporting band, a mere blip on the screen and played an abbreviated set due to politics and technical difficulties. It was just enough, though, to get a whiff of LANY’s dreamy lead singer, Paul Jason Klein, and know they were worth keeping an eye on. Fast forward two years and LANY is playing festivals all around the country and abroad, including right here at Bumbershoot. They’ll be back in Seattle at The Showbox this November. Their first full-length self-titled album is like an easy-breezy summer night cuddled up watching the pink-to-orange sunset with your sweetie at the beach. Heavy on the indie-pop flavored guitar and synth grooves, LANY is the perfect soundtrack for a teenage makeout sesh, or, you know, if you’re an old lady hanging around by yourself cooking dinner.

THREE THINGS YOU SHOULD ALWAYS COOK FROM SCRATCH:

Salad dressing

Seriously. Get yourself some nice olive oil and a good vinegar, a whisk and some herbs and you’ve got a delicious salad dressing that can’t even compare to the bottled stuff. It takes all of five minutes and is worth every ounce of effort.

Frosting

I know, I know–everyone has one of those Friday nights with a spoon and a can of frosting, but knock it off. That stuff is awful. Even if you bake your cakes from a box, always make homemade frosting. Powdered sugar, butter, cream, vanilla. Mix it up, add some unsweetened cocoa powder if you’re jonsin’ for chocolate and no one will even question your choice to bake a cake from a box. And then whip up a little extra to stick in the back of the fridge for those Friday nights when you need it.

Marinara sauce

Full disclosure: I have not always made my own marinara sauce. But now that I do, I’m kicking myself for all those spaghetti nights with Prego sauce from a jar. Homemade marinara sauce is so incredibly easy and so much more tasty than the jarred stuff full of sugar and additives. Buy a can of the best tomatoes you can afford (San Marzano is what I typically use) and add a bit of garlic and your favorite Italian spices, maybe a splash of red wine, puree it to your desired consistency, bring to a simmer and enjoy the clean, fresh taste you can’t get in a jar. Or even try Marcella Hazan’s classic three ingredient marinara with tomatoes, a halved onion and butter. Fantastic and easypeasylemonsqueezy.

THREE YOGA POSES TO DO EVERYDAY:

Are you ready? Here goes:

Downward Facing Dog

Full-body stretch. A gentle, accessible inversion. Builds strength in upper body while providing a nice stretch for hamstrings and calves. Feels crazyhard at first and gets easier with practice.

Cat-Cow Pose 

My go-to pose when my lower back is feeling cranky. The gentle movement takes the spine through flexion and extension and gets the muscles around the spine warmed up for further work. Or you can just crawl into bed and feel better for doing your cat-cows.

Supine twist

Supine means you’re laying on the floor, so throw yourself on the floor and do some variation of a twist. It can be as simple as drawing your knees up into your chest and taking the knees down to one side and the other, or as fancy as wrapping your legs around each other in a bind and releasing the knees down. Anchor the opposite shoulder from the twist to the floor and look over that shoulder. Yummy, twisty goodness to help release tension in the back and hips.

And that’s a wrap. Stay safe, honor the laborers and your unions and if we’re still here next week, I’ll give you three more things.

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Six

Yes, I’ve heard the new Taylor Swift single. No, I don’t like it. Taylor, we get it–time to move on, gurl.

SOMETHING I’M DOING: BOAT POSE (NAVASANA)

Once, I had a six-pack. As in abs. As in literally, once, for just one day. I had succeeded in achieving the perfect storm of starvation and leg lifts and marveled as I pulled my shirt up in the bathroom mirror to gaze at the definition. I counted–yep, six. Any pride in my accomplishment lasted all of five minutes after which I smoothed the shirt back across my belly, walked into my bedroom and calculated how many fewer calories I could eat the rest of the day. Even with ribs and hip bones protruding and a thousand leg lifts a night, my lower belly was never, and would never be, perfectly flat. I wouldn’t be caught dead in a bikini. My belly was shameful and relegated to the confines of pleated waistbands and slouchy sweaters. I perfected the practice of looking at myself in the mirror, angrily pinching and grabbing at what little flesh lay at my lower belly and feeling disgust. Years prior, as a normally-sized teenage girl with a normally-sized soft stomach, a boy I was kissing ran his hand across my waist and over my belly. He snickered and patted my stomach as my insides churned and turned from breathy excitement to existential dread as he whispered in my ear, “What are we going to do about this?”

This. Jelly belly. Fix it, hide it, poke it, prod it, pinch it, grab it, hate it. Make it go away.

Smaller. Always smaller.

Three weeks ago, my Monday morning yoga class had finally dwindled down to its expected summer attendance of eight or so members. When I have a smaller class, I’ll often encourage them to suggest something specific they’d like to work on. “Boat pose!” one of my regulars shouted out. A chorus of groans fell across the room, as it often does whenever someone suggests we focus on abs. Boat pose it is, I said and began the class.

My yoga practice is a fantastic core strengthener even without boat pose. With all the planks and chaturungas and transitions and balance poses, a body gets a pretty decent wakeup call to the midsection. I’ll often teach many classes without throwing in focused ab work, but when I do, I am always reminded of the power of a strong core. Yoga taught me that a strong core goes far beyond the pursuit of a six-pack.

Navasana, I cue. We hold it for five breaths, then lower down and hover with our feet and shoulders off the ground, then extend our arms overhead. Five breaths. Up again, boat pose.

Breathe. Shake. Hover. Extend. Sit up. Boat. Breathe. Hover. Shake. Extend. Repeat. Release. Stretch. Sigh.

Who am I?

Yoga has taught me that the core of who I am is supported, quite literally, by my strong core. I stand tall and sure, connected to what I know to be true, to my core beliefs, to my gut instincts. When I am strong in my core, don’t mess with me. I am unmessablewith. I can hold plank for days and boat pose for breaths beyond breaths and beyond. But my belly? Still soft.

This belly, this miraculous thing that built two humans within. This belly that I allow to soften and breathe into and watch rise and fall when the world seems to spin out of control. This belly that sends me clear and true messages about what to do, who to believe, where to go. This belly that nourishes and guides and can be trusted. Loved, even.

My days are no longer filled with the requisite thousand leg lifts but I’ve been throwing in Boat Pose in every class I teach ever since that day three weeks ago, groans be damned. What was hard at first is getting easier. What was soft and unsure is becoming strong and certain.

Six-pack? You bet. Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

SOMETHING I’M COOKING: ZUCCHINI BREAD

It was nearly eight o’clock in the evening last Wednesday when the doorbell rang. My daughter and I exchanged annoyed glances until I relented and went to the door. My annoyance grew into a broad smile as I saw one of my daughter’s friends in the window, her arms filled with three infant-sized zucchini. I was already laughing when her friend stated, “I’m not one for subtlety, so if you don’t mind, I’d love another loaf of chocolate chip zucchini bread.”

Here are two things I love: baking and clarity. I think the world needs more of both.

Ever since November 8th, 2016, I have felt at a loss for words. My writing had dwindled down to nothing because I figured there was nothing worth saying. Every creative being I know struggled with this after the election. So much despair, so much hopelessness, so much fear. So. Much.

So I baked. I baked cookies and cakes and sent them out into the world. Spreading sweetness, far and wide. Baking is soul work for me and it’s one thing I do fairly well. I keep a supply of flat-rate boxes at the ready, just in case a faraway friend needs a little pick-me-up. A few years ago, I wrote an essay titled “Smart Cookies” and challenged people to tell me about what they were passionate about. What they thought about. Tell me what lights you up, I said, and I’ll send you cookies. Delicious, homemade cookies. Sadly, just a small handful of folks took me up on my offer. I still have the folder filled with their stories in my office. Sacred stories for sweet treats. I would have gladly baked for days to have received more stories, more conversations, more connections.

I took the three zucchini babies from the teenage girl’s arms and thanked her. She started to apologize for being so direct and I told her no. Don’t ever apologize for asking for what you want. Why do we do that? I wondered and thought of the beautifully simple, symbiotic relationship of her asking for what she wanted and the happiness I felt by being able to give it to her.

If my baking makes the world a little less awful for a few people, then so be it.

I still have zucchinis. If you want a loaf of zucchini bread, you have to ask for it.

SOMETHING I’M LISTENING TO: NAKED GIANTS

Music saved my life. Music continues to save my life anytime I find myself feeling isolated and alone, having a pity party for one and convinced I have no friends or a meaningful life. I dive into Spotify or YouTube or iTunes and hours later emerge lighter. Hopeful. Connected.

I mention this because Naked Giants reminds me of the type of band that would have saved my life as a angst-filled teenager. They are a local band, from Seattle–a three-piece, high-energy garage band of the craziest caliber. They’ve been getting some notice lately–most recently at the Capitol Hill Block Party this past July where my music-savvy millennial son proclaimed Naked Giants’ set as one of the highlights of the weekend. I had the pleasure of seeing them perform with Car Seat Headrest during The Best Encore I’ve Ever Witnessed as they came together and jammed out two Talking Heads covers that left my friend and I both slack-jawed and asking “what just happened?” We saw them again earlier this year at the Fisherman’s Music Festival in Everett as they headlined their own set. I love this band. I love Naked Giants. And the drummer reminds me of a young Rob Lowe.

The best news of the day is that Naked Giants have an upcoming show near you that you need to go to. They’ll be playing with Thunderpussy (another astonishing Seattle band) at an event called Summerzover at the Everett Yacht Club. Buy your tickets here and I’ll see you there. If you’re reading this and you don’t live near me, just wait. Naked Giants is on their way.

If you go, I’m not offering to buy everyone a drink, but you might get some zucchini bread out of the deal.

Now, watch this and I’ll tell you about three more things next week.

Three Things (Sorta), Issue Five

She sat across from me at my favorite funky breakfast joint and told me how her schedule just seemed to open up to allow her to travel back to Seattle to work and play with some of her favorite theater peeps. They were deep in rehearsals, reworking part of a play for a showcase. A play she had been an integral part of twenty years ago as a young actress. Her eyes danced as she spoke of it–matter of fact, her eyes have always danced, for as long as I’ve known her. As if she is perpetually concocting some sort of delicious mischief in her imagination. I’ve never met anyone else whose eyes dance like hers. It’s magic.

We ate our bacon, egg and arugula sandwiches and I told her about being in the (metaphorical) wilderness. Between this place and that. About hearing so many of my pals talking about their next chapter and how the perfect job/opportunity/plan/person just landed in their lap. Or about how “the universe” sent them clear and sure signs, leading them into a sense of direction. And then I told her about my sense of flailing. Where’s my sign? I asked her.

What if your sign is no sign? she stated more than asked. I rolled my eyes and told her that was the very thing my daughter had suggested the night before. Now I had two people remark that perhaps my sign is that I don’t fucking get a sign.

Is that a sign?

I went on to tell Dancing Eyes that I had begun this Three Things blog a month ago, so sure that I’d have plenty to say for the foreseeable future. I’m empty, I confessed to her. Running out of ideas is one of the biggest fears writers have and here I was only one month into my project and I was as barren as a sun-baked brick in the desert. I was ready to throw in the towel, quit, give up and move on.

Write about the empty, she said.

SOMETHING I’M LISTENING TO: EMPTINESS

One of the biggest things I missed after having kids was the sound of silence. It was jarring, really, that transition from quiet afternoons reading by myself to non-stop sound. It wasn’t even noise–just the absence of silence. Even growing up in a family of seven kids, we all had our own private bedrooms in which we holed up fairly regularly. I was conditioned to quiet time. Having children changed that, for awhile anyway. Both of my kids came from the same basic introverted DNA as the Mister and I, so even though our days were immersed in kid sounds, I was always grateful we didn’t produce any screamers. (You know the ones I’m talking about–those wily rugrats whose ear-piercing shrieks can, well, pierce ear drums? Not in my house.) I learned to live with and cherish a busy home, filled with the voices of the ones I love. Ideas and questions and laughter and outbursts. And then, before you know it, they’re gone.

Empty nest. Emptiness.

I know people who keep the television on all the time, just to keep them company.

The silence doesn’t scare me. It doesn’t make me sad. But with all the distractions and opportunities for busyness, it takes real discipline to sit in the silence. To listen.

“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” ~ Ram Dass

I want to hear everything.

SOMETHING I’M COOKING: FASTING

Dancing Eyes suggested I write about fasting–you know, to keep with the empty theme. I thought about fasting in the context of religious practices and how it’s believed to be an important ritual to do periodically in order to detach from our earthly habits and connect more deeply with God. I’ve never fasted religiously. But I have religiously fasted.

Making myself as empty as possible was my superpower. I could go without food longer than anyone I knew. And yeah, I was proud of that. It was the only thing I was proud of. You might not know that in the sisterhood of eating disorders, a hierarchy exists. Anorexics are at the tippity-top of that pyramid–those of us able to go without food completely, or at least very little. Bulimics–those who binge and purge–were considered below us, lesser than. What loss of control! How gross and messy! My journals from that time in my life are filled with declarations of disgust over the act of eating and how much I hated it. The sound of it. The chewing and swallowing. I wrote about hating the feeling of fullness and how I couldn’t wait to feel empty again. I’d run and do leg lifts for hours in order to get rid of the fullness. Eating was for the weak, I proclaimed, and I was strong.

I stayed as empty as possible for as long as possible to become as small as possible to take up the least possible space.

Even today, old enough to know better, I’m pulled toward that exhilaration of complete control. I feel it, especially when things seem to spin out of my reach, out of my understanding and I start to grasp for something–anything–to regain composure. It’s a slippery slope, for sure, and one that never completely goes away.

“Nothing tastes as good as feeling thin feels.” Some of my friends still say this. I try not to hang around them so much.

SOMETHING I’M DOING: BREATHING INTO THE EMPTINESS

My daughter and I were at her physical therapy appointment and her therapist asked her to breathe into her back right lower ribcage. She did it. I saw it. She breathed spaced into a place in her body that had collapsed due to a curvature in her spine. The yoga teacher in me was giddy as I watched and listened and observed the power of breathing space into places that had become dark. It was a powerful, effective therapy that yielded results.

Take your inhales into places that need light, length, healing and space, I tell my classes. Direct your exhales into parts of you that need to release, to loosen their grip, to let go.

I lay on my bed and breathe light into the muscle of my heart. Expand, contract, in and out, full and empty. I move off the bed and drape myself belly-up over my yoga wheel. Breathing into my chest and shoulders, allowing my neck to lengthen as I drop my head back. I feel wobbly and unsure until I take another breath and relax backwards into space. I’m looking upside down and behind me.

Dancing Eyes tell me, “Whenever I’m looking for something–a direction, a sign–it’s almost always behind, sometimes right over my shoulder.” This seems odd and new to me, someone conditioned to looking ahead. Planning, strategizing, setting goals. She shares a little more about going back to a theater role she performed as a young woman so long ago. To explore, to learn, to add to what was already there. To see what’s next.

In order to see where you’re going, you need to know where you came from.

After our breakfast, I drop Dancing Eyes off on Third Avenue in downtown Seattle. Before she leaves she turns to me and says, “Hey, be good to yourself.” My eyes flood with unexpected, hot tears. I drive home in silence, thinking. Remembering. Listening. Breathing into space.

A few days later, I’m stirring the two green olives into my extra dirty martini, chatting with another good friend, bemoaning the wilderness and the emptiness, all while looking for signs. She smiles at me and says, “You don’t get a sign.”

Third time’s a charm. I’m pretty sure that’s a sign.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Four

This weekly blog is mostly about three things I like. For a little different flavor, here are three things I detest: nuclear war and reckless, bellicose threats of it; white supremacy in any form; that blowhole of an idiot who is currently president. These things are not up for debate, so take that shit elsewhere. That said, the weather has cooled off and someone mentioned Labor Day and I got excited in anticipation of September. I hope we’re still around to enjoy it.

SOMETHING I’M LISTENING TO: LEWIS WATSON

It was way back when in our rainy, wet winter when my daughter and I were chatting one evening about music. She told me about an artist she had sworn to go see live if he ever toured through Seattle, which was very rarely. “I have a bunch of his music on every one of my playlists,” she went on to tell me. “I mean, basically, his songs are the soundtrack of my life.” This sounded like someone I should know, so imagine my surprise when she said his name and I drew a blank. “Who the hell is Lewis Watson?” I asked.

Well, let me tell you.

Lewis Watson is a young Englishman who broke onto the scene around 2010 via videos he posted on YouTube. The comparison to Ed Sheeran is a no-brainer–unassuming, quiet-spoken, singer-songwriter who plays a wee guitar. If you fancy yourself an Sheeran fan, you’ll likely be smitten with Watson. Now, I like Ed Sheeran for a variety of reasons and after seeing him live a few years back, I have mad respect for him as a performer. But I’ll admit when I took a listen to some of Watson’s music, I was, well, a bit sleepy. My tastes tend to run a bit more on the edgy, punky, funky and loud side and Watson’s catalog is comprised mostly of ballads. Nice ballads, but ballads.

It was May of this past year when Watson rolled through Seattle. On my birthday, no less. My daughter, knowing how I like to celebrate my birthday, had already assumed that going to this show was not an option. Au contraire, my dear, I told her. If there’s one thing I’m sure of it’s this: if there is an artist that means THAT MUCH to you, you GO. End of story. Tickets bought, plans made, friends invited. Knowing his music wasn’t really up my alley, I made playful wagers about who would fall asleep first.

Silly me.

Lewis Watson strode out into a singular spotlight on the stage of the Crocodile that Tuesday night in May. His fans, nothing less than ardent and attentive. He sheepishly mumbled something about not being able to afford to tour with his band, admitting to being a bit nervous, just he and his guitar. Whatever nerves were there, they quickly dissolved as Watson commanded the stage and the crowd with his personal and moving songs. He’d share a bit about them in between–his inspiration, his creative process–and the crowd was riveted. I learned awhile ago that the key to any artist connecting to their fans is an unflinching willingness to be seen naked–metaphorically, usually–but absolutely stripped down and honest with no pretense. Watson had this in spades. We sang choruses and rounds and Watson even jumped down off the stage, surrounded by the crowd, eyes closed and sang “Made Up Love Song #43” as he spun around in a dreamy trance. It was official–I was a Lewis Watson fan.

As it often goes with the best shows, it ended all too soon. Watson promised to hang out at the merch counter and meet every single fan who wanted to meet him. And he did. With good humor and grace and the most genuine attention, he sold t-shirts, signed CDs and dolled out hugs and photo ops to everyone until the last fan had left. My daughter and our pals and I floated out of the club and into the brisk Belltown night, fat and happy with the knowledge we had just seen something very special. Happy birthday, indeed.

You’d be foolish not to subscribe to his YouTube channel. Also, download and stream every Lewis Watson song and remember his name. One day you’ll be saying, “I knew him when…”

SOMETHING I’M COOKING: RICE NOODLES WITH PEANUT SAUCE AND PICKLED VEGETABLES

Since the weather cooled off, I’ve actually been back to my baking, taking good advantage of all the beautiful local berries in season. Also, when the world gets me all anxious and ungrounded, baking soothes my soul. The careful measuring, the waiting, the testing, the smells–therapy, all of it. Yesterday I managed to bake a pan of Blackberry Crumb Bars (because I simply do not do pies) as well as a lovely Blueberry-Lemon Yogurt Cake for dessert after tonight’s family dinner. But I promised the recipe for the rice noodle dish I posted a photo of last week, so I won’t let you down.

First, can we talk about peanut sauce? You’d think I’d have learned by now that anytime I set out to whip up some peanut sauce, I need to double the batch. A good peanut sauce makes my toes curl. And this peanut sauce is a fantastic one. I used this recipe from Smitten Kitchen as my inspiration. (About that tahini paste: you, like me, probably have an open, half-used jar of tahini. Look in the very back of the middle shelf of your refrigerator, behind the jar of lingonberries and that bottle of salted shrimp. It’s there, I just know it.) I love SK, but I felt the dish was begging for the additional brightness and tang of a few pickled vegetables, rather than just plain old cukes on top. So, I sliced up an English cucumber super thin, added a bunch of skinny carrot peelings and threw it all into a jar with a quarter cup of rice vinegar, a tablespoon of toasted sesame oil, a tablespoon or two of soy sauce and a shake of red pepper flakes. Taste it and add a teaspoon or two of sugar if you like it sweeter. Mix it all up and let it sit at least an hour or even overnight. Then, follow the recipe and DOUBLE THE PEANUT SAUCE and thank me later. I find that rice noodles seem to eagerly sop up any sauce I put on them and you don’t want this peanut sauce to get lost. If you happen to have leftover peanut sauce, I trust you will use it up wisely. Happy toe-curling.

SOMETHING I’M DOING: GUT-LISTENING

I was six years into teaching yoga and seven months into an apprenticeship at one of Seattle’s best yoga studios. The twice-weekly assisting I did with my teacher-mentors was a valuable education and the lessons I learned during that time I continue to use today. After each class, my teacher and fellow assistants would gather together and assess what we did well and where we could improve. It was during one of these discussions when I expressed the need to feel more grounded and present before the start of the class. “So, what pose could you do beforehand to help you get grounded?” my teacher asked me. I thought for a moment and said, “Ragdoll.” (A standing forward bend.) There was a long pause before my teacher slowly shook her head “no” and corrected me. “Mountain pose. Tadasana.” she curtly replied. I felt my cheeks grow hot with shame and confusion. I assumed she had been asking me what pose was helpful to me. I didn’t realize there was only one right answer and I had gotten it wrong.

It’s funny what experiences we remember and carry with us. And yet this seemingly innocuous interaction I had six years ago has stayed with me as a reminder to always trust my gut. Whether it’s intuition we have regarding relationships, a career change, choices we make for our health or something as simple as a yoga pose, trusting our gut is never wrong. Seriously, never. People will try to tell you otherwise, just as my well-intentioned teacher tried to convince me I gave the wrong answer all those years ago. The best yoga teacher in the world is not able to be in my body and tell me what I feel.

But here’s the thing: life teaches us not to. We are conditioned early on to rely on our brain, our analysis, our common sense far more than our “gut instincts.” We are told our decisions “don’t make sense” and are therefore wrong. As a recovering anorexic, I spent years conditioning myself to ignore my body’s cues of hunger and fullness, and instead would constantly calculate exactly how few calories and how much exercise I needed to stay small. Isn’t it ironic that it was literally my gut, my stomach, that I deadened all responses from? Isn’t it ironic I learned to hate everything about my belly? It took intense therapy and years of yoga practice to bring me back to me. To my instincts, to my body, to my life. And yet I still have moments of doubt.

So, the answer is simple–trust your gut–and the process isn’t easy at all. Find a practice that helps you drop into the stillness of your breath–meditation, yoga, tai-chi. Something. Dare to get beyond the busyness of your brain and see what’s really going on. Don’t worry so much about making sense but instead tap into your senses. It takes practice and bit of courage and I can’t imagine living any other way.

Now, when I slip into the bathroom before each yoga class, you can bet I’m not standing in Mountain Pose. I hang forward in Ragdoll, feet grounding, legs strong, feeling the ebb and flow of my breath until I’m ready to walk into my class and teach. Connected to something greater.

Namaste’, mofos. Be kind to each other and I’ll see you next week.

 

 

 

 

Three Things, Issue Three

It’s not that I hate summer, but I find August to be draining. Send help. And fans.

SOMETHING I’M LISTENING TO: GEORGE CLINTON AND PARLIAMENT FUNKADELIC

Okay, full disclosure: I have not been spending a lot of time listening to George Clinton recently. Truth be told, my current playlist is almost exclusively newer music. That said, I’m a big believer in paying homage to those pioneers who paved the way for others. George Clinton is one of those legendary pioneers.

He was already old when I was young, so when I saw he was coming back to town this summer, I messaged my friend and told him we had go. George Clinton tours endlessly, but you just never know these days. (Moral of the story: buy those concert tickets!) I have always been a funky girl, all the way back to my formative roots listening to The Jackson 5 and Marvin Gaye. The Isley Brothers was my first real concert at what is now Seattle’s Key Arena and Prince was my main man from pre-Purple Rain days to now. I had heard Clinton’s shows were extravagant, fantastic funk-fests and I was ready.

We got to the venue just as Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic took the stage. No opener, just straight up Godfather of Funk from the get-go. And there he was, centerstage, draped in some sort of appropriately regal white robe. I didn’t recognize the song, but it didn’t matter. Clinton was the conductor, a grand master of ceremonies, around which a full stage of musicians jammed. Horns, guitars, backup singers, keyboards, rappers–never fewer than a dozen people on stage. It was a loud, glorious spectacle to behold. I turned to my friend and excitedly yelled into his ear, “It’s just gonna be a two-hour jam session!” And it was, mostly. The crowd was wonderfully diverse and danced like fools, dripping with sweat. It was a happy place and we all knew we were witnessing something special. Clinton had a chair onstage and he frequently sat back and enjoyed the youngin’s in his band take over without a break in the action or drop in energy.

And then the solos happened.

Am I the only one who dreads long, extended solos in the middle of a concert? Is it because I’m not a musician? Because for as long as I can remember, I’ve hated that moment in a show where the drummer/guitarist/pianist/trombonist takes it away and showcases Their Stuff. I understand that it gives the rest of the band a break and I appreciate that. I also appreciate musicians and their talent. I really do. But lord oh mighty. These solos seemed endless. I knew going in that George and P-Funk play for nearly two and a half hours, non-stop. That’s a lot. I get it. My feet hurt, too. But to spend at least thirty minutes of that set on solos–guitar, singers, drums, horns–seemed to bring the funky energy to a dead halt. I began to fantasize about leaving early and getting home and in bed by midnight. And just when it sounded like a solo was winding down and I got my hopes up–NO! It kept going. And going. I was tired and sad, but he hadn’t played Atomic Dog yet, so I was held hostage. We were all held hostage.

Also, encores. A few artists these days are eschewing formal encores and instead playing a wonderfully long and fantastic set and saying goodbye without the requisite clapping and cajoling with the band going offstage and then oh look! here they are again and yay they’ll play their big hit now and we’ll all leave satisfied. I support that trend. Clinton and his band did go off and come back again with his fabulous Parliament Funkadelic and play Atomic Dog. And yeah, in the end I was glad I made it through the solos and sore feet and finally got the chance to experience this Rock and Roll Hall of Famer in his element. I may have even put Atomic Dog on my current playlist.

 SOMETHING I’M COOKING: NOTHING, EXCEPT POPSICLES

I mean, is anyone actually cooking during this heat? When I see the weather forecast with nothing but mid-80’s and 90’s for the foreseeable future, I stock up on salad greens, fruit, yogurt and ready-made proteins like rotisserie chicken and marinated shrimp. Simple, healthy, easy meals with zero cooking required. Maybe even some cold rice noodle salads with peanut sauce and marinated cucumbers. But yeah, I don’t turn on the oven when the house is already registering 80 degrees. But when I was out shopping for said hot-weather items I thought about a sweet, cool treat that wouldn’t be problematic like ice cream but still hit the spot. I thought of popsicles. When I got to the frozen food aisle, I loved the fact that there were so many non-dairy frozen fruit bar varieties. Every imaginable fruit, simply made, refreshing as hell. I brought home two boxes of Outshine popsicles–watermelon and coconut.

No one else in this house will have anything to do with coconut, so I tried that one first. It was delicious, creamy and coconutty, but with the addition of strands of coconut meat. Now, I don’t mind the texture of coconut like some folks do, but in a popsicle? Not the greatest. I was hoping for something straight-up smooth and instead I kept having to chew the coconut and pull it out of my teeth. I loved the flavor though, and the thought of “creamy coconut and lime” flew through my brain and out the other side. I reeled that thought back in and did a little research. How easy would it be to make my very own coconut-lime popsicles? Very, very easy, it turns out. So easy, in fact, that I’ll save you the effort of having to click on a link and tell you right here that all it takes is a can of coconut milk, 1/4 cup of fresh lime juice, about a teaspoon or so of lime zest, 1/4 cup of sugar and a pinch of salt. Blend it all up in a blender, don’t even bother to strain it and pour the whole mess into your popsicle molds.(This makes about six popsicles.) SO GOOD. And no annoying strands of coconut messing with your refreshment. As it frequently happens, I’m now obsessed with my latest endeavor and am dreaming up all manner of homemade popsicles. I even ordered additional molds so I can try a bunch of different flavors without waiting to eat up the others. Coming up: banana-cardamom. I expect it to be epic.

 SOMETHING I’M DOING: GETTING “GOOD” AT YOGA

Yeah, this is something I hear a lot. “If I just keep practicing, one day I’ll be good at yoga.”

WHAT DOES THIS EVEN MEAN?

A few months ago, I saw a meme circulating around social media that said “You know your yoga is working when your life gets better, not when your yoga gets better.”  I wholeheartedly agree.

I have had a regular yoga practice for nearly twenty years. In that time, I’ve sought after advanced poses, achieved them, lost them, mourned them and never found them again. My life did not suffer because I couldn’t find my balance again in crow or handstand. But has my life improved because of my yoga practice? Oh hell yes.

Yoga is a relationship between my body and myself. It asks me to see myself as I am, not as how I pretend to be or how others tell me I am. When our Kardashian-obsessed culture tells me that I should feel ashamed and apologetic for my softer, rounder body, my yoga practice shows me everything this fantastic body is capable of and I laugh in the face of shame. It has shifted my relationship with my belly, my gut, from one of disgust to one of respect and admiration. I now trust and listen to those wise “gut feelings”. When I still hear the endless loops of labels others have placed on me–timid, fearful, not-athletic–my yoga practice bears witness to my unshakeable courage and strength. I stand taller. I walk into rooms confident, regardless of whether I’ve gained or lost five or more pounds.

My yoga practice is working because I understand that there’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide on my mat. Sometimes it’s joyous, other times, weepy. But in the end, I see myself as I am in brilliant honesty, warts and all. It helps me process complex emotions and hopefully holds me accountable for my own shit, rather than project it onto the people I love most. It reminds me that we are all broken and beautiful in a myriad of ways.

Because of all this, I wish everyone had a yoga practice. Yeah, you’ll get stronger and more flexible. You might never get into full splits or Lotus or Bound Extended Flying Squirrel Pose (I made that one up) but I’d wager a good amount of money that you’ll wake up one day in a better life.

See you next week, beauties.

 

Three Things, Issue Two

Are these the dog days of summer? I’m pretty sure they are. Beware of cranky writers and yoga teachers.

SOMETHING I’M LISTENING TO: BULLY

Never underestimate the power of having young adult spawn to keep you current on all the latest and greatest. Case in point: Bully. It was about two years ago when my (then college-aged) kid told me about this four-piece, alt-rock, grunge-tinged, in-your-face band out of Nashville. He had caught one of their shows at the iconic Arlene’s Grocery in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and gave me the clear directive to “not miss them” if they came to Seattle. Lo and behold, a few months later I was near the front of the room at the 200-capacity Barboza in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. I walked out after Bully’s hour-long set, ears a-blaze and a newly-minted fan. Lucky for us–two years later–last week it happened again. Freshly signed to Seattle’s Sub Pop records, Bully came to town to play a one-off show at Ballard’s teeny-tiny Sunset Tavern. First, let me tell you about The Sunset: it’s like in high school where that one house had the basement where all the really cool kids who were musicians and misfits would hang out and have legendary parties that you were never really invited to but inevitably always heard about afterwards. That’s The Sunset. Complete with a mirrored disco ball and a tiki bar tucked in the back of the low-ceilinged intimate space, it is one of the best places to see live music in Seattle. Every time I’m at The Sunset, I feel like I’m at a secret show that no one else knows about (well, besides the hundred or so other lucky folks) and I swear Eddie Vedder brushed by me at a La Luz show there.

Okay, but Bully. Fantastic. Led by lead singer/guitarist/chief songwriter, Alicia Bognanno, Bully is exactly what we need right now. They’re loud and raw with a bit of smirk and sneer without being dour. In today’s pop-culture climate oversaturated with the preening likes of Ariana Grandes and Katy Perrys, Bognanno is a breath of fresh air. Beautifully unselfconscious with a voice that careens from sweetly melodic to a hair-raising growl of a scream that would make Dave Grohl envious, she leads Bully like a boss. And she’s brilliant, too. Holding a bachelor of science degree in audio engineering, Bognanno went on to intern at Steve Albini’s Chicago recording studio, Electrical Audio, and managed to make a helluva impression on Albini. Bully was born shortly thereafter and the rest is history. Upon hearing the news of their Sub Pop signing, I got really excited. The bands on Sub Pop’s label come from all over the world, but once they’re a Sub Pop band, I immediately grant them honorary Seattle band status. I hope this means we’ll be seeing a lot more of Bully around here. They mentioned that they’ll be returning in February to promote their new release and my fingers are crossed that they’ll play at an all-ages venue. Your young daughter needs to see Bully. Your young son, too. You need to see Bully. We all need to see Bully. Come out to see Bully in February and I’ll buy you a drink. Promise.

SOMETHING I’M COOKING: FRANGIPANE

I’m a writer. I love words and they way they sound and roll off my tongue. Some words I say over and over and over again because it’s so much fun to do. Just ask my family. Frangipane is one of those words. Frangipane, frangipane, frangipane.

Frangipane is basically a fancy way to describe anything (usually a dessert) made or flavored with almonds. Most summers, when I find myself with an embarrassment of fresh raspberries and I’ve made enough freezer jam to withstand a zombie apocalypse, Raspberry Frangipane Cake is one of my go-to desserts. I’ve often thought if I were to open my bakery one day, Raspberry Frangipane Cake would be a star attraction. Simple to make, it is a moist, dense single-layer cake made with fresh raspberries and almond paste. Don’t let the almond paste scare you off. You’ll find it tucked away on a lower shelf in the aisle sporting flour, sugar and spices. Look for the cans of ready-made pie filling. DON’T EVER BUY READY-MADE PIE FILLING. But look around there, and you’ll likely find a little can or box of almond paste. Once you’ve recovered from the sticker shock, buy it anyway and go home and make Raspberry Frangipane Cake. You’ll find the recipe here. Use a cheese grater to grate the almond paste before mixing it into the butter. Then, write me and tell me how your life will never be the same again after your frangipane experience. You’re welcome.

SOMETHING I’M DOING: TRANSITIONS

Ugh. Transitions. People arriving, people leaving, births, deaths, graduations, moving from here to there, there to here and back again. Life is one big transition. And transitions can be a bitch.

This is where my yoga really comes in handy. In the style of yoga I predominately teach and practice–vinyasa–we move smoothly from one position to another. Well, at least that’s the plan. It takes practice (show up) and awareness (pay attention) but the payoff is huge. At the end of the day (or month, or year or longer) we develop a practice that is less herky-jerky and more fluid and breath-focused. We pay attention to the space between the poses, the transitions, and we notice our reactions, our habits, our impulses. And yeah, most of us want to get from here to there just as fast as possible. It’s like we believe the holy grail of happiness lies in that next pose, that next phase, that next rung on the ladder, that job, that house–anywhere but in the space between. So we rush and stumble and get sloppy and careless in our attempt to grasp the next thing. SLOW DOWN, I often implore my classes, especially those classes filled with yogis who know just enough to get a little mindless. Watch where you’re going, I remind them, but be here now. Like, right here, in between the poses, muscles shaking, sweat dripping. I know it’s uncomfortable, but do it anyway.

Me, I have a daughter headed off to college. I have an empty nest waiting for me. I have a son who came home, moved to the east coast, quit a job, got his old job back, came home for a hot minute and flew the coop again. The Mister flew off to Puerto Rico for a movie, flew back home and left again. He came home this past Friday, six weeks later. I feel like I’m at a crossroads, a place between here and there. A place rife with potential for learning and growth, if I can just pay attention. “What are you going to do now?” friends like to ask me. I’m not sure, I tell them. My yoga practice has taught me to be okay with this discomfort. I’m strong enough to tolerate a little squirming in that place between, in that land of not-knowing. But one thing I do know: I’ll pay attention and when that next rung of the ladder comes, I’ll be ready.

Seriously, though. I’ll buy you a drink at the Bully show.

 

Three Things, Issue One

After a whirlwind of a week, this first deadline snuck up on me like Prius in a parking lot. There is something to be said for self-imposed, public deadlines. They work. Welcome to my first three things.

SOMETHING I’M LISTENING TO: !!!

It was a brutal hit to my pride when I realized this band has been around for twenty years without my knowledge. It hurt. I was humbled. Granted, I was deep in the throes of childbirth and child rearing about the time they came on to the scene, but still. How could I have not known? I guess the most important thing is that I know now, before they died or broke up and it was too late. Anyhow, the band is called !!!. That’s right, three exclamation points. Also known as Chk Chk Chk, which is pretty much how you pronounce their name. Who needs vowels when you have three monosyllabic sounds anyhow? So, this band blew my mind. I first heard a few of their songs on KEXP and it was just enough to convince me to buy a ticket to see them at the Crocodile last month. They’ve been described as “dance punk” but there’s a huge funk element that supersedes any hardcore punk leanings. I’ve been to many shows at the Croc and can’t recall a band that came out of the gate with such ferocity and kept the capacity crowd dancing out of their minds from beginning to end. It was sweaty. It was funky. It was a blast. Much of this was courtesy of !!!’s lead singer, Nic Offer, who is like the delightfully awkward lovechild of Prince and Elaine Benes from Seinfeld. Quirky, jerky, hip-thrust, shorts-clad, curly-haired-mop-head of a singer who was once referred to as “sex on a stick” by another blogger after seeing !!! perform at SXSW. Suffice it to say, I was smitten and have been fantasizing ever since about having his baby. (Oh, calm down.) The band was tighter than tight, my feet hurt, my face hurt and I can’t wait to see them again and again and again. I went home and immediately downloaded their most recent release, “Shake The Shudder” and subsequently tumbled down the rabbit hole of their impressive music catalog. You should, too. !!! will make you dance and be happy.

SOMETHING I’M COOKING: POPOVERS

That’s right. Popovers. When was the last time you thought about popovers? Have you ever thought about popovers? My memory of popovers was jogged by a recent episode of The Great British Baking Show, which, if you haven’t ever watched, you need to go do that right now. Anyhow, the challenge was Yorkshire Pudding. What the hell is Yorkshire Pudding anyway? It’s definitely not a pudding as we know it, but it may have come from Yorkshire as it is decidedly British in origin. Basically, it’s a popover. As the contestants were taking their “puddings” out of the oven, I was transported back to my childhood’s fond memories of the popovers my sister, Juli, would occasionally make for dinner. They were special–eggy and craggy, nearly hollow but with a most delicious crisp on the outside. Not a muffin, not a dinner roll, but a popover. Traditionally Yorkshire Pudding is served alongside roast beef, but I can’t remember what my family ate them with. I just remember I loved those popovers. So yeah, naturally I had to make them myself. I found a recipe from Ina Garten, who insisted popovers were insanely easy to make, and you know what? She was right. Eggs, milk, butter, flour, muffin tin, thirty minutes and you’ve got popovers that rival your sister’s from days gone by. Now I’ve got a ziplock bag of popovers I’m not sure what to do with, but I’m imagining a quick zap in the microwave to warm them slightly, then filled with a spot of homemade raspberry jam and you’ve got breakfast. I know they are best eaten right away out of the oven, but I can only do so much.

SOMETHING I’M DOING: FELDENKRAIS

I love bodies. I love all bodies. Not just chiseled, muscled bodies, but seriously, ALL BODIES. Soft bodies, broken bodies, crooked bodies, round bodies, gangly-coltish bodies, disciplined bodies, stiff bodies–all of them. I’ve been teaching yoga for over a dozen years and I see every one of these on a regular basis. The variations of the human body never cease to amaze me. And you know, none of us are a perfect specimen. (Sorry.) I was reminded of this recently when I was forced to address a stiff, puffy knee of mine. Remember that “Dem Bones” song? About the knee bone being connected to the thigh bone, etc.? Through my years as a yoga teacher, I’ve come to learn that when a part of our body is unhappy and achy, it’s very often because we’re moving another corresponding part of our body in a funky way that reverberates that funk all the way up or down and creates havoc. Or at least a bit of pain. My crackerjack physical therapist incorporates much of the Feldenkrais method of movement therapy. In a nutshell, she is teaching me how to to move and walk in a brand new way. Guys, it is so hard! Connecting my brain and my muscles to make teeny, tiny but ridiculously important changes in my daily movement has been one of the most challenging things I’ve had to do lately. A few dozen Sun Salutations right now would be far less physically taxing than rotating my right hip externally while rotating my right ankle internally as I sit here typing. I’m not even kidding. But like I’m fond of saying in my yoga classes–it’s hard. Do it anyway. So I’m doing the hard things. Because even though I’m not opposed to a cortisone shot here and there to alleviate a bit of discomfort now and then, these bones of mine need to carry me through at least a few more decades. If I can facilitate that by learning how to better move my wackadoodle skeleton and muscles, so be it. The good news is my knee is responding favorably, even after just a couple of weeks of therapy. It takes time, effort and consistency, though, and that sorta sucks.

So there you go, kids. My first three things. Now go download some !!!, dance around the house like nobody’s watching, cook something delightful that reminds you (in a good way) of your childhood and move that miraculous bag of bones of yours in a mindful way. See you next week.

Blackberry Pie

Today, this was my completely impulsive grocery store purchase. I hadn’t eaten one of these fruit pies in decades. Maybe I was feeling a bit nostalgic, with my youngest daughter set to graduate high school next month and my son recently moved to New York City to start a fancy-pants job at Sports Illustrated. Transitions, time passing, mortality musings–you know, all those slippery slopes we navigate if we’re lucky enough to live this long.

I bought just one, even though I think they were ridiculously priced at three for a dollar or something like that. I didn’t read the nutritional label because I already knew there was nothing redeeming there. Once home, I broke a little corner piece off the end and watched the thick, purple filling seep out of its pastry shell. A lovely, deep, eggplanty shade of fruity ooze. I took a bite and was surprised at how identical it tasted to my memory of it. It was perfect. I thought of my best friend in junior high. Kathy Peterson’s house was always stocked with boxes and boxes of delicious treats. After school snacks at Kathy’s usually meant crunchy, old-fashioned donuts from the day-old bakery shop across from the bowling alley. Hostess pies, Ding-Dongs and Twinkies lined the shelves of her garage pantry. Also, she had a garage pantry! All of this seemed magical to me. I lived in a home where nearly everything was made from scratch–it was cheaper and more economical back then and we didn’t have the budget for such extravagancies. I coveted those glamorous, brightly-wrapped, over-processed, sweeter-than-sweet delicacies as if they were the finest European confections.

The Peterson metabolism obviously burned much higher and faster than my sluggish Jansen one did, and I marveled at Kathy’s ability to maintain her svelte, adolescent figure even amongst such thrilling baked goods. She would match me, donut to donut, washing them down with a big glass of whole milk and even follow up with a can of (name brand!) coca-cola (also stocked in her garage!) and never seem to gain an ounce. In the end, she broke up with me in eighth grade via a handwritten note that read, “I can’t be your best friend anymore.”

Of course, I was devastated and confused and heartbroken as only a freshly dumped 14-year-old girl would be. Kathy and I never spoke again and I never learned exactly why she couldn’t be my friend any longer. I imagined it was because of my weird brother or I had mistakenly shorted her of her half of our newspaper delivery collections or I just wasn’t cool enough. Or maybe our metabolisms simply weren’t compatible. I hear that happens sometimes.

And you know, it turned out okay in the end. I grew up to learn that Hostess pies and cupcakes generally sucked compared to homemade ones. I grew to appreciate my own strange family living without a garage pantry. I learned a few choice words written on a note and left in a locker can change a life, eventually for the better.

And today I understand that a seemingly random blackberry pie, impulsively added to a grocery cart on a Friday morning can be more than just a nutritionally deficient lunch: it can also be a delicious portal to the past. 18033292_10155242243718267_5664747387553034022_n

Hallelujah, indeed

I was in my early thirties and my mom was still giving me an Easter basket.

My extended family of siblings and nieces and nephews had gathered at my eldest sister’s property in Redmond for our annual Easter egg hunt and my mom, with an index finger pressed to her lips to ensure secrecy, beckoned me to her bedroom. “Don’t tell anyone,” she admonished as she handed me a wicker basket filled with plastic grass and Cadbury eggs. I giggled. I was the youngest of seven and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy a bit of preferential “baby of the family” treatment now and then.

Easter used to be a big deal. I am the daughter and granddaughter of Lutheran ministers and understood the significance of the holiday in Christian theology. As a young girl, Easter Sunday meant big, formal dinners with relatives we rarely saw. Ham, scalloped potatoes, asparagus. Rhubarb pie, if we were lucky. The Saturday evening before Easter was always spent curled over mugs of vinegar-scented egg dye, creating colorful hard-boiled eggs in pastel hues. As we got older and my siblings had their own babies, the holiday moved north to Redmond, to my sister’s five acres in the woods. She spent hours of effort planning, stuffing and hiding dozens upon dozens of plastic eggs throughout the flora and fauna. The egg hunt was a production of grandest proportions and afterward we’d gather for another feast–less formal by now and punctuated by happy shrieks from babies and toddlers–but no less magnificent.

By the time my kids were born, the five acres had been sold and the annual egg hunt pretty much retired. The Mister and I spent a decade or so doggedly attending church at a progressive Lutheran congregation nearby. I had a close friendship with the pastor who confided in me that in clergy circles “Holy Week” (the week between Palm Sunday and Easter) was widely regarded as “Hell Week” due to its demands on church leaders. For a few years, I did the whole shebang–smudge of ash on my forehead on Ash Wednesday, congregational soup suppers during Lent, waving palm fronds on on Palm Sunday. And then, after a less-ambitious egg hunt in our surburban yard, we’d drag our kids to the Easter Sunday service. The normally half-empty worship sanctuary now bursting at the seams with the C & E parishioners, or “Chreasters”–those folks who only step into a church on Christmas and Easter. It wasn’t long before our family decided to skip the crowded holiday service altogether and enjoy our deviled eggs by ourselves.

I made a valiant attempt to keep the Easter train chugging. I offered to host a big dinner at my house, but by now most of my sibling’s families were grown and moving on to other traditions. Last year, with my son in Philadelphia and myself in Portland at a writing workshop, I bemoaned the fact that Easter was, in fact, dead. “It’s not like we ever really did anything to celebrate,” my daughter said. Ugh. That made me sad.

So, this Easter, with my kids now 22 and 18, there will be no baskets filled with fake grass. (The cats always ate that stuff anyway, and we’d find it, well…you know, later.) I completely understand my mom’s insistence that I still got a basket, even when I probably shouldn’t have. It’s that last-gasp-grasp to cling to the way things were. Honoring traditions that perhaps have been worn hollow. Wanting to halt the passage of time. A desire to keep our kids (and maybe ourselves, too) just as they were, as opposed to embracing who they are now. I get that. Holy Jesus and Mary, I totally get that.

Instead of ham, there will be salmon on the grill. Green beans and smashed potatoes. Homemade peanut butter eggs and bags of the only candy that counts on Easter–those little Cadbury eggs with pastel-colored crunchy shells.

Hallelujah. Happy Easter.

Tea And Trump(ets)

I taught my yoga class this morning, choking back raw emotion as I said a few opening words and invited the yogis to set their intention for today’s practice. An hour later, “I needed that, thank you” was what I heard. It was etched on our faces. We all needed that.

After class, I drove into Snohomish, the quaint little farming town I live just up the hill from. I love this town–main street lined with antique shops and stores smelling of cinnamon with wreaths made from twigs and gingham. My soul needed soothing so I headed to the tea shop to replenish my stash of chai. I parked and began walking to where I remembered it being, but found an organic soap store instead. Puzzled, I walked a bit further and then stopped into an ice cream parlor to ask if the tea shop was still in business. “Oh, yes. They moved. Just down the street.”

Relieved that I would soon have my fresh chai, I headed east down First Street. Sure enough, there it was. I stepped into the shop and breathed in a big whiff of the herbally-spicy-earthy bouquet from the clear glass jars of tea lining the walls of the tiny space. “Welcome,” I heard someone shout from the back room before a young man dressed in a red plaid shirt, jeans and a belt buckle the size of my palm emerged to greet me. He reached up and cradled the jar of chai in his arm, asking me how much I wanted when my gaze traveled up to his red baseball hat. “Make America Great Again” was emblazoned across the front. My stomach dropped.

“How’s your day going today?” the young man cheerfully asked me. I gulped and a million words and questions flooded my brain, arguments and accusations, but what came out of my mouth instead was “Well. You know. Okay.” I watched him carefully weigh out my twelve ounces of chai, even giving me a little bit extra for good measure. All his movements seeming to go in super slow motion. The little sticker he placed on the front of the bag, the way his calloused fingers slid the ziplock shut. I imagined him living nearby in the valley, maybe on a farm with cows and horses and hay and guns. He handed me my bag of tea and smiled at me and thanked me for coming in. He wished me a good day. I thanked him, and left.

I walked slowly back to my car, thinking about my interaction with that young man who undoubtedly cast his vote for Donald Trump and celebrated last night’s victory. I thought of how kind and polite he was to me, a middle-aged white woman. And then I thought of my Muslim friend in her hijab and her teenaged black sons, or my trans brother or my Indian nephew-in-law or any of my many immigrant yoga peeps–all of whom work tirelessly to make their world a better place–and I wondered how different this interaction in a tiny tea shop in Snohomish would have been.

Maybe not different at all. But honestly, I didn’t believe that.

Had Hillary been elected last night, I had no illusions of unicorns and rainbows. It was no magic pill. I knew that a huge percentage of disenfranchised Americans had been given voice and validation through Trump’s candidacy. To think that Hillary would be elected and those angry people would go back into the woodwork would be naive. I knew it would take hard work to heal the wounds, to listen to dissident voices, to come together, even a little bit.

The sides have changed, but the same is true today. Hillary’s supporters aren’t going away. Those of us that voted for Hillary are half the population. Our ideals, our diversity, our values are here to stay. The shock is wearing off and we are slowly but surely gathering strength to stand up tall and use our voices for good. Make no mistake, we are here to stay.

My Muslim friend said today she is afraid. She admits she often chooses to wear berets to cover her head, in fear of retribution of being identified as Muslim with her traditional head scarf. I wished I had had the words and foresight to have had a conversation with that young man in the Trump hat at the tea shop today. I would have told him about my friend and her sons and her fear and would have asked him what he thought about that. “How’s your day going today?” I would have told him I was worried and sad.

We have so much work to do. I hope we can start the conversation.

For Love Or Punishment

She walked into my class, a middle-aged suburban mom and a familiar face, but tonight with two kids in tow. One, a tall, lanky teenage girl, maybe 14 or 15, complete with those coltish legs that don’t always work quite right. And two, a boy about twelve who pushed in with arms crossed tight at his chest, shoulders rounded and a scowl as deep as Scrooge’s. He shuffled loudly over to the space directed by his mom and dropped a rolled-up yoga mat on the floor with a thud.

Ho boy.

I went about setting up my mat, every so often glancing over at the family and others entering the class. Easily a third of the class does not speak English as their first language. This is the beauty and the challenge of teaching at the Y. One or two new faces and many familiar ones. I noticed the boy, now sitting slumped on his mat, still scowling, directing his glare at me as if I was the enemy.

Maybe tonight I was. For him anyway.

That’s okay, I thought. I’m not afraid of you, your darkness. Here, I hold space for you and all that you are.

I once had a student tell me he brought his adolescent son to yoga as part of his punishment for misbehaving. I cringed and told him I never wanted anyone to think of yoga as punishment.

Yoga is anything but a punishment.

I wondered what motivated the mom to bring her two defiant children to a yoga class. I hoped it wasn’t punishment. Perhaps her partner was away and she really needed the class and couldn’t leave the kids at home. Maybe she thought it would be good for the boy. Was he on the autism spectrum? I had no idea, but I tried to give them all the benefit of doubt.

Hold space. Come as you are.

The class began and I assured everyone all they really had to do was make themselves present and breathe. So simple, I said. But not easy at all. I mentioned something about recognizing what you can control and what you cannot. I reminded them that, with practice, our reactions are usually within our control. Right then, the scowling boy rose up on his knees and shot daggers out of his eyes at me. I smiled back.

Holding space. Not afraid.

Anytime I have kids–especially teenagers–in the class, my intention is to let them know I see them but never fuss over them. No adjustments. I let them be. I encourage the parents–especially doting mothers–to let them be, too. How clearly I remember being that awkward adolescent. How I craved adult attention like I craved ice cream but never, ever wanted anyone to draw attention to me.

See me see me see me let me be let me be let me be see me see me see me let me be let me be let me be love me.

The class was fine. The boy mostly stood on his mat, glowering, attempting a few poses but doing very little. I demo’ed for the ones who would not understand my words but could mimic my body. Heels down, see? Like this, not this, right?

Visual, auditory, kinesthetic. Show me tell me touch me.

Those who don’t hear a word I say until I say their name and look directly at them. See me. Know me.

I was in the fitness office before my class when my tall, slender, dark-haired friend stopped in to greet me. I ate too much Nutella, she told me, so I’m banging out the cardio before your class to get rid of it.

I cringed again. I asked my friend what if. What if instead of treating our bodies as something that constantly needed “fixing”, we could simply accept the ebb and flow of life and trust that, with a little mindfulness, everything would get back to where it needed to be? What if exercise was not a punishment, not a penance to pay for bad behavior but instead, a loving and natural thing we did? What if eating more Nutella than we had intended was not something we felt ashamed about, but just something that happened every once in awhile?

Our bodies are meant to move. I save my shame for shameful things, like lying and stealing and murder.

These bodies of ours are fantastically engineered specimens of muscle and bone and fat and blood and breath that work best when we move and lift and challenge them so that we get and stay strong and flexible. To exercise is to love them, not to punish them or try to fix all the perceived wrongs we see in them.

I looked at my friend and I knew she wasn’t buying it. She hopped on the elliptical to sweat out her indiscretion.

At the end of class, the book I read from flipped open to a passage about love. I read it aloud to the roomful of sweaty, resting yogis. About how all the lessons are love. Not just about love but the lessons themselves are love. This yoga is love. Our bodies, love. You, me. All love.

What if?

Namaste and bow and out the door. I tried to catch the eye of the sullen boy before he left, but he was gone before I had a chance. The enemy wanted to give him a smile.

Simple. So simple. Hold space. Love.

My Evening With Prince

I was driving south on I-5, dressed in my purple and blue paisley hippie-dippy-flowy blouse and knee-high black boots that laced up to there when traffic slowed to a stop. Damn, I thought. I had places to be. The Showbox, specifically. Prince was in town, for cryin’ out loud, and I swore I could smell him from my little red Prius, stuck at a standstill on the Ship Canal Bridge. (Just for the record, I’ve always imagined Prince smelling of exotic musk and spice with just a hint of patchouli.)

My phone rang. It was my college kid. “Hey, I’m on my way to the Prince show!” I exclaimed. We share this deep love of music and live shows, my kids and I, so although the college kid retorted with some snarky comment about the price of my ticket being almost as much as a ticket to Coachella, I could tell he was excited for me. “Yeah, I’m just gonna get a good spot up in one of the bars,” I told him. “There’s good sight-lines to the stage from there.”

“WHAT? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” he seemed to shout. “You pay that much money to see this artist you loved all your life and you’re gonna just go sit up in the bar somewhere? You’re nuts.”

It’s not the first time he’s told me this. The nuts part, I mean.

I mumbled something about being old and my feet maybe hurting and finally conceded he might have a point. “We’ll see,” I said. Traffic began moving again, so we said goodbye and hung up.

The line to the Showbox snaked around the corner but I felt pleased with my place in the queue. Once inside, I made a beeline to the bathroom and then the bar. “A double,” I ordered, knowing I would be nursing this one and only drink for the night. There was no way I would be relinquishing my spot in the crowd once I had hunkered down.

Hearing my college kid’s voice in my head, I stepped down from the bar onto the floor in front of the stage. Surprisingly, only a smattering of fans had assembled there. A single microphone, bathed in a beam of purple spotlight, stood not more than twenty feet from where I landed. Oh, holy hell, I thought, imagining Prince’s face at that microphone in such close proximity to mine. Barking dogs be damned. I wasn’t moving. This is why I do yoga. Strength and endurance to ensure I was eye-to-eye with The Purple One.

I took a picture of the microphone onstage to send to my college kid, hoping he was proud that his mom had made a good choice.

A good choice, indeed. I wish I could adequately describe for you the majesty of that night. The power of Prince’s performance. And yes, the thrill of locking eyes with the man who had supplied the soundtrack to my life, decade after decade, as he sang and smirked and hip-swiveled his way through the electrifying set that night.

I would have paid a thousand dollars for that experience.

It was that kid of mine, no longer in college, who first texted me the news about a death at Paisley Park Studios yesterday morning. There was no other mention of it anywhere on the internet, but within a half an hour, Prince’s passing was confirmed.

I haven’t really cried yet. It hasn’t begun to sink in. All the tributes, the non-stop Prince playlists, the social media posts–they’re nice and all, but I can’t take it in like that. Not yet anyway. It feels personal and my grief needs a personal place in which to be processed. I’m not quite sure where or how, but maybe this–this writing, is a start.

The day after the show, I thanked my kid for reminding me of what was important. For the metaphorical bitch-slap he handed me in the middle of I-5 that afternoon. For the lesson that life is not meant to be lived sitting back in the bar, but instead, front and center to whatever it is that makes your toes curl.

As I wrote this, I searched for that photo I took–the one of the microphone bathed in a single purple spotlight, but couldn’t find it. I imagine it was out-of-focus and I had deleted it without giving it a second thought. But I did find this one–my knee-high boots that laced up to there from that extraordinary night three years ago.

The very ones that got me out of the bar and took me not more than twenty feet from the man who supplied the soundtrack to my life.downsized_0418131655 (1)

Tend Your Garden

It’s springtime, baby. My favorite season, my birthday season, that season when the morning air is filled with the heady scent of hope and possibility and growing things. And lilacs. Oh, the lilacs!

And here’s the thing–for me, this spring, this year, in fact, is all about the fertilizer. “Bloom where you are planted” is from a passage in the Bible that, while it’s fine idea, I think is overly simplistic. Because sometimes you need to move to find more light, more shade, a new job, a better relationship. And anyone who admires flowers and trees and green things that grow knows that the most verdant, most showy, most beautiful gardens require a generous amount of fertilizer. Fertilizer and weeding. Sometimes a lot of weeding.

So it is with you and me. Bloom where you are planted, but mix in a wheelbarrow full of the finest, richest fertilizer you can find. I’ve come to realize the fertilizer I’ve been relying on just doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s expired and isn’t helping me to grow at all and honestly, maybe never did. And yeah, weed your garden. Remove the boulders, the prickly vines that stab you when you least expect it. And when you bloom–because with this much care you surely will–don’t look around at the other tulips and lilacs and snapdragons and ask them if it’s okay with them that you do. You don’t need permission and you certainly don’t need their approval.

I’m getting my first load of fresh fertilizer in Portland next weekend. In a room full of temporary strangers and two remarkable women. I’m not sure what to expect, but I guarantee I’ll be shoveling as much of that shit into the back of my little red Prius as I can and driving back home to jumpstart a remarkable growing season.

Happy Spring Equinox…tell me, how will your garden grow?FullSizeRender

She Is Five Years Old

She is five years old. A reluctant kindergartener in the midst of a rocky start in this loud world of public school. She loves her teacher–a young and gentle woman with a soothing voice and a soft, curvy body pressed into snug dresses like Joan Harris on Mad Men.

She isn’t sure if she should smile or not. Truth is, she doesn’t really feel like it, but the photographer–a jovial man smelling of cigarettes and Old Spice—calls her “sweetheart” and cajoles her into a tentative smile anyway. She hates the way he calls her sweetheart. He clicks the shutter just after her expression wanes. It feels uncomfortable when people tell her to smile. People are always telling her to smile.

Her fashion is what really matters, though. The natty navy blue double-knit jumpsuit with the full-length zipper running from neck to belly. It’s her favorite outfit. She especially loves the blue and white striped t-shirt that seems to be custom made to wear with the jumpsuit. The pant legs with a subtle flare, stopping just shy of the bottom of the ankles, exposing her sturdy work boots. An acquisition from JC Penney, these boots are fantastic. Smooth tan leather with hefty lug soles and round, red laces. “Why do you wear BOY shoes?” the girls ask her, causing her cheeks to grow hot and red. Because they are fantastic, she thinks.

Her picture is taken and she slides from the stool and stands with her classmates at the back of the line. All she knows is that she wants to go home to her favorite things: her mom, her dog, Trinka, her room where she disappears into books and no one tells her to smile.FullSizeRender 10.21.36 PM

The Space Between

It was a full ten days before Halloween when I stopped by my friendly neighborhood Fred Meyer store to check out their collection of Halloween decorations. For those not from the Northwest, Fred Meyer is the most delightful store in the world. The epitome of One Stop Shopping. You can buy motor oil, a sofa, new lacy panties, a hanging flower basket, brisket, brussel sprouts and a fifth of whisky and have it all rung up on one receipt. It’s fabulous. Even Dave Grohl recently waxed nostalgic about his memories of Fred Meyer when he lived here. Anyhow. I made my way over to the seasonal section only to find the remnants of the Halloween stuff pushed out into the aisles like yesterday’s garbage and the shelves that had previously held costumes and skulls and bloody corpses were now home to reindeer and snow globes and tree skirts. It was October 21, for cryin’ out loud! I don’t know about you, but I don’t do Christmas in the fall and I sure as hell don’t do Christmas before Halloween.

As much as I’ve heard that the guy who runs Costco is a really swell dude, I don’t believe for a hot minute that he simply wants us to have extended, good tidings when Costco debuts all their Christmas merchandise in August. Apparently, all those years growing up we didn’t spend nearly enough money between Thanksgiving and Christmas. So, enter the “Christmas Creep”–when all the stores haul out the ho-ho-ho’s and the fa-la-la’s earlier and earlier each year.

I think of it as losing the space between Halloween and Christmas. Sorry, Thanksgiving. Hey November, you were a lovely month back in the day.

Not long after my disappointing Fred Meyer visit, I found myself sitting in a near-empty auditorium at my daughter’s high school. The Wind Ensemble performs a special Halloween concert every year and I like to get there early to secure my special secluded seat at the far end of the very back row, stage right. As I sat, I glanced around and noticed a smattering of other parents already in their seats. Almost without exception, each one with with their face buried in their phone. Scrolling, swiping, typing. My phone was in my purse and I defiantly resisted pulling it out and joining them. Instead, I watched them. Smugly. I looked up into the ceiling where the stage lights hung. I closed my eyes and took deep breaths. I watched as younger siblings came in, dressed in full Halloween regalia, their excitement over the impending holiday written all over their squiggly bodies.

And I thought about the space between when we take our seat and when the show begins.

In my yoga classes, I see it, too. Students rushing to get to the next pose, as if I had a timer to clock the fastest Sun Salutation. Slow down, I say. Find your feet. Feel your foundation. Then, inevitably, as we hold our Warrior 2’s and thighs begin a-tinglin’ and shoulders begin a-twitchin’, I see it again. Let’s get out of this pose, their eyes seem to shout. Take a breath, I remind them. Be here now, because the next pose, the next hour, the next day or the next year you might like even less.

The space between one pose and the next. Slow down. Pay attention. Find your breath.

At the end of yoga class, we lie back in savasana, or corpse pose, to rest and release. We drop our physical practice and drop our breath deep into our bellies again. Observe your breath, I tell them. Notice the space between the inhale and exhale–those tiny pauses at the top and bottom of each cycle of breath. The space between one thought and the next lengthens. When we come out of savasana, we feel better, clearer, almost as if a wand full of magical unicorn goodness has been waved over our prone bodies.

The space between one thought and the next. In meditation, we practice making that space longer. We work towards dwelling in “no mind.” I’ve been in that space before. Believe me, it’s nice there. .

Maybe you’ve been behind the same mini-van I’ve been behind–you know, that one with the video screen attached to the back of the front seats? Nearly always with Dora The Explorer or Frozen in brilliant technicolor for the preschoolers in the back? The space between leaving and arriving. Are we there yet are we there yet are we there yet? I get it, I have two kids, too. When they were little, car trips were filled with conversation and arguments, a lot of cranky crying, a few naps–if we were lucky–and occasionally, that magical sighting of a deer sneaking out of the woods on the side of the road. Or a shooting star streaking across the black sky. A hot air balloon hovering just above the corn field.

The space between here and there. You know what lives there? Opportunity. Presence. Magic.

It was just over ten years ago when I walked into the nursing home and sat alone at my mother’s bedside as she lay dying. It’s really happening, I remember thinking. She was on her way out of this world and I made myself as present as possible. I sat beside her and watched the rise and fall of her chest and witnessed the space between her breaths growing longer and longer. Every once in awhile, I was sure she had taken her last, only to be surprised by the next. Until there wasn’t a next. Stillness. Peace. Grief. Her transition into death no less sacred than the birth of my children.

The space between the last breath and no breath. Between life and death. Let me tell you, it’s not easy to be there, but really important that we are.

The space between the dead of night and the light of day. Those hours when our darkest demons and ferocious fears take on a life of their own. Full of the what-if’s and what-now’s, the would-of’s and should-of’s thundering in my brain. Mindlessly, I reach for my phone, telling myself it’s just to check the time. One tap and I’ve opened up Facebook then Twitter then Instagram. Searching for something to drown out the dark, I scroll and swipe. But I never find what I’m looking for. I roll onto my back and join my index finger and thumb together on each hand, in Gyan Mudra. I breathe and soften into the dark, into that space between monkey mind and welcome sleep.

I was in yoga teacher training when I first learned about “holding space” for another person. The simple art of being present with a person in the midst of their experience–be it full of grief or joy or whatever it looks like–and hold that sacred space for them. As yoga teachers, we were encouraged to teach a class without any expectation of what anyone’s experience might be and without feeling pressure to change it to better suit our needs. What that looks like is a yoga class filled with people experiencing intense physical challenge, others processing emotional pain, some simply there to stretch their muscles for the next triathlon, a few ecstatic physical breakthroughs and everything in between. It isn’t my place to tell the class, collectively, what their practice should look or feel like. I am there to simply guide and hold space for their practice.

I think of this when I sit with a friend. Can I take in and witness their words and emotions without thinking ahead to my response? Without my impatient mind straining to brainstorm a solution? Can I be present without reacting? Allowing the space between thoughts and language and emotion to land and simply be.

The space between their words and mine. Why do I rush to fill the blank space? Fear, usually.

The space between this and that. Between where we are now and where we’d like to be. That uncomfortable space of unknowing, between who we are today and who we hope to become. How many less-than-stellar decisions have been made because we couldn’t bear to simply sit in the space between now and the future?

Back to the here and now, I’m intent on simply being in this space between now and later. The rainy days and muddy trails, the shades of grey that seem to define each day. I look up at the trees in my woods, most with just a few scant leaves still clinging to their branches. They’re not in a hurry. These trees and the dirt and the ferns all seem to say, “Let’s slow down here for a bit to rest. Spring will be here soon enough.” The space between rest and growth.

So, I’ll soak up the preparations for Thanksgiving without much nod to Christmas, although I’ll admit to already having purchased our annual Advent calendars from Trader Joe’s. I love Advent calendars–the mindful countdown to Christmas, the sweet anticipation accompanied by a little chocolate behind each door. And when the Christmas frenzy reaches a fever pitch, I’ll take time to sit and let my eyes grow unfocused on the gleam of the tree lights. There’s no rush. It will come. It always does.

Whether we are being pushed and prodded by retailers into Christmas in August, or we choose to obliterate the space between here and there by sticking our face in our phone, or numbing out the space between grief and healing with our distraction of choice–it’s always our choice. Like I always tell my kids, make good choices. Be here now.

What’s your hurry?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For The Love Of Fluevogs

I’ve never considered myself a material girl. Matter of fact, the people I enjoy least in this world are those caught up in accumulating stuff. I don’t pine for fancy cars (okay, so maaaaaybe a Tesla, just a teeny, tiny bit) or collect fancy handbags or covet shiny gems or watches. I don’t even need a big, fancy house.

But John Fluevog shoes make me weak in the knees.

I was a newly-minted 21-year-old the first time I pressed my nose against the window of the John Fluevog shoe store in downtown Seattle. How could I not do a double-take as my eyes caught sight of such beauties? Pointy-toed pumps and lace-ups, leopard prints and pony-skin spats, boots of rich leather with laces and buttons up to here and there. I remember gasping in awe as I took in the bounty. These weren’t Nordstrom shoes–oh no–they were in a class of their own. Edgy and artsy, with a firm nod to rock n’ roll. It wasn’t a stretch to imagine my favorite punk and New Wave musicians sporting the latest ‘Vogs. I gingerly tip-toed into the store, trying not to be noticed, yearning to get a glimpse of the price tag on these exquisite creations.

I got a glimpse, all right. And a one-way kick in the ass back to reality.

There was no conceivable way a young woman like me, working hard at her modest-paying entry level job, could spend that kind of money on shoes, no matter how exceptional and perfect they were. I was a club kid, spending several nights a week taking in the Seattle music scene, my few extra dollars mostly going towards cheap well drinks on ladies nights and a jug of Carlo Rossi chablis I kept stowed in my fridge. My mod, spiky, punk rock hairstyle came free of charge, compliments of my work as a hair model with a Seattle salon that kept me in crimson highlights and the latest 80’s ‘do. I’d scour vintage clothing shops with names like Retro Viva and Fritzi Ritz to find inexpensive oversized coats and a pair of cream-colored leather stiletto pumps, circa 19-something-fabulous, that I wore to shreds and then had resoled. The bulk of my clothing I sewed myself, fashioning sassy mini skirts from remnant yards of velvet found on sale tables. I loved fashion. I loved rock ‘n roll. And I loved cool shoes.

John Fluevog shoes were like the beautiful boy in the band who never noticed me and I knew I would never get to kiss. I’d walk past and sigh, maybe pause for a moment to take in all the pretty, but then keep on moving.

My love affair with shoes was not a new relationship. As a young girl, back to school time always meant a special trip to the Buster Brown store in downtown Tacoma. A special store for special girls with special feet like mine–namely, wide. My favorite saddle shoes, in chocolate brown and tan suede leather. Or maybe the brick red t-straps, with little eyelit cutouts near the toe. Each September, a perfect pair went home with me and spent their first night snuggled up and tucked in alongside me in bed.

Time marched on and I fell in love and found a career and spent less time at the clubs and more time with my cat and my boyfriend in my fashionable studio apartment at the base of Queen Anne Hill. Less time at the clubs meant even less need for trendy, spendy clothes. John Fluevog and his shoes slowly faded from my memory. Much like that beautiful boy in the band who never noticed me.

Decades whizzed by with careers and houses, babies and toddlers, Little League and gymnastics, aging parents and family pets, yoga and unfortunate mom jeans. I’m a yoga teacher. I live in flip-flops, leggings and sneakers in the suburbs. What need would I have for stunning, European-styled John Fluevog shoes? And shouldn’t the yogi in me somehow be shunning the need for such material excess?

Oh yeah. There’s that. Well, maybe I should be, but along the way I’ve also been learning how to shun the “shoulds” and embrace that spiky-haired, edgy, punk rock girl I left behind and buried somewhere in that Mercury Villager mini van. That girl who loved fashion and music and the darkness of a club where she could go and disappear into the black, immersing herself in the hum and thrum of music and vibration. That girl who could seriously rock some ‘Vogs at long last.

I believe the core of who we are never really leaves, but instead, changes shape and shifts to accommodate the life we are living.

Kids grow up, move out and move on. If you’ve lost yourself in the cacophony of child-rearing, you best hold on to your hat when you wake up Monday morning and find yourself with a couple empty bedrooms and no one to fix breakfast for but yourself. I recommend knocking on the door of that old you, that forgotten girl who loved music or horses or painting or architecture or botany and catch up. She’s still in you, you know. She is. Just waiting to bust out.

It was my girl–my artistic muse at the time, Amanda Palmer, who flashed the memory of Fluevogs back into my brain. A photo shoot, with Amanda posing on a stairwell, in gothic, vintage clothing and on her feet–well, let’s just say it was perfection. The style–the wonderful Elizabeth, a high-heeled, buckled mary jane, with architectural heels inspired by the ball and claw furniture legs of the 18th century. Holy cow, I thought, those shoes! I was only one of many followers gobsmacked by her soles and she nonchalantly responded, “Fluevog” when asked of their origins.

Fluevog! Like hearing the name–after so many years–of that beautiful boy in the band who always seemed just out of reality’s grasp. I remembered. I sighed. I went to the internet.

Oh, sweet, sweet internet! No longer did I need to muster up the courage to step into a brick-and-mortar store to eye the object of my affection. There they were, an entire website, resplendent with boots and lace-ups and sandals of the most high, artistic design. I trolled, I drooled, I coveted and I conspired with that spiky-haired girl I had lost track of so many eons ago to bring a pair of Fluevogs into my world. At last.

It was a crisp November morning when I took my college kid out to breakfast at a hipster cafe on Capitol Hill. He had come home for Thanksgiving and we were spending a little time in the city before I had to drop him off at the light rail station to catch a train to the airport. My mission to the Fluevog store was coyly cloaked in a suggestion to make a quick visit to Pike Place Market before heading back to Arizona. “Here, let me park the car and you can get out and run down to the market. Grab a coffee and I’ll meet you back here in about thirty minutes,” I told my kid, my heart pounding in anticipation of what I was about to do. He took off down the street and I stepped across the threshold of John Fluevog Shoes for only the second time in my long life.

This was not an impulsive purchase. I am not that kind of girl.

The air seemed different inside The Store. I sucked my breath in sharply each time I passed a pair of ‘Vogs that caught my eye. I picked them up like the finest china and brought the leather to my nose and inhaled. Oh, sweet Jesus. On the soles of every shoe was something different–an etching, a quotation, some sort of unique marker that only the wearer would know, like having fancy panties on under a pair of shabby jeans. The Mollie Johnson, a moderate-heel, lace-up mary jane, was the object of my affection, the chosen one, my raison d’être. Nervously, I asked the salesperson if I could try them on.

They didn’t have my size.

As the wind began to suck out of my sails, the clerk suggested I try on the pair they did have, a half-size smaller than I thought I needed, but in a different color. Just to check and make sure. (Fluevogs, for all their wonderfulness, are notoriously inconsistent with sizing.) Eureka! They fit and I was able to order the color and size I needed from their Portland store. I wasn’t able to walk out with shoes in hand, but then again, anticipation is one of my most favorite feelings. I was excitedly filling out my shipping information when my college kid came striding in the door. My mission, exposed. He rolled his eyes and asked something about why couldn’t he get nice shoes and then asked which ones I had purchased. I showed him the display pair and he promptly turned them over to check the price. “I cannot believe you’re spending THAT MUCH MONEY on a pair of SHOES!” he exclaimed. Once out of the store, my college kid immediately phoned The Mister to tell him exactly what I, his apparently frivolous/ridiculous/spoiled/excessive/unworthy mother, had done.

For cryin’ out loud, settle down.

And for once in my life, I had done something that didn’t make sense. Something that felt a little risky, a little crazy, and a lot out of character for my suburban-yoga-teacher-mom self. Something that also felt liberating and affirming to that forgotten, edgy, punk rock girl I was getting acquainted with again after so many years.

In a few days, the shoes arrived in a big red box. Breathlessly, I had waited for them, knowing I had to sign for the delivery when it came. Opening a Fluevog box is worthy of a little pomp and circumstance, if you ask me. I carefully set it down and cut the packing tape along the seams. Inside, a beautiful blue box, reminiscent of Tiffany’s, but so much better. Tucked within the box, a hand-written note of thanks from the store of origin, random little hard candies, a shoe horn, Fluevog buttons and stickers and a sweet little drawstring bag to store them in. I pressed the exquisite Mollie Johnsons to my nose, inhaling the rich, leather scent. Beautiful. Stunning. At last.

It probably shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that I slept with those shoes that first night, just as I did with those Buster Brown suede saddle shoes so many years ago. Our king-size bed had ample room for me, The Mister and my Fluevogs. After that, I stored my ‘Vogs separate from all my other shoes, in their own box, tucked away in their little drawstring bag, right under my bed.

Three years have passed since I popped my Fluevog cherry with those mary janes. Since then, I allow myself one pair of ‘Vogs a year. I’ve become savvy to their sales, checking the website regularly and taking note of favorites. Even on sale, it is not a purchase I make haphazardly. I am not that kind of girl. My latest acquisition, a pair of black suede Chelsea boots for fall. With little hints of turquoise peaking through the black elastic goring at the ankle, and my own little secret inlaid in the sole.

I often fantasize about working at John Fluevog one day when I tire of teaching so many yoga classes. Spending my time amongst these splendid soles, each one, a work of art and design. And how I would notice the folks who pressed their noses to the window, inexplicably drawn to these shoes, but too timid to approach, telling themselves they are too expensive, too frivolous to consider. I’d smile at them, understanding completely, and invite them in to look around. Try something on. Dream a little. Save your nickels and dimes and never, ever dismiss those things that imprint so profoundly upon your memory, your life, your soul.

I don’t consider myself a material girl. But I do believe in the power of A Thing–a thing that may very well look like meticulously crafted, edgy and artistically inspired leather shoes–to remind us of the person we were, perhaps the person we’ve forgotten, and reacquaints us to the person we’ve been all along.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost In The Fog

I walked with the fog and the incoming tide this morning. The fog so thick at times I could only see a hundred or so feet in front of me. There is a magic to being lost. Our senses kick in. We pay attention to what is right in front of us. Presence. Freaking out only makes us more disoriented. So we slow down and pay attention. We’ll find our way. And the sun comes out.FullSizeRender

On Death, Revisited

I have lost three friends in less than three months.

All women, all my age. Each one, leaving far too soon, before I was done saying the things I needed to say to them and doing the things I needed to do with them. Each dying under different circumstances, but does that really matter? Whether you die from disease or a self-inflicted bullet to the head, you’re just as dead. No one’s coming back.

A text came in late last night, just before the stroke of midnight. The buzz of my phone woke me up. Squinting, I tried to make out the words. She’s dead, my friend wrote. I reached for my glasses, so sure that I had misread the text in my grogginess and farsightedness. She’s dead. The words now clear and unmistakeable. I didn’t cry last night, because it didn’t seem real. I didn’t sleep much, either.

Early today, I escaped to the cool darkness of the woods with Max. There I cried, off and on, walking and trudging and making sure my bouts of tears weren’t witnessed by anyone else. Wanting, above all else, to avoid that awkward explanation of why I was upset. What’s wrong? they ask. I needed to be alone in the woods with my grief. Today was going to be a day of compartmentalization, I decided. I had yoga classes to teach and I had grief to attend to. Today, they needed to be separate. Predictably, the woods opened up their sighing arms and wrapped me in their cover.

Inexplicably and powerfully, I was drawn to this woman. I don’t think she’s interested in having fans, our mutual friend told me early on when I shared with him my attraction to this person. I didn’t want to be a fan, I wanted to be a friend. To soak up her knowledge, because she was far, far smarter than the whole bunch of us combined. An old soul, who’s depths defied any chance of plumbing. She was bitingly funny and sarcastic and loved her loved ones as fiercely as I’ve ever seen. Not just a patron of the arts, but an avid, rabid supporter of everything from punk rock to blues and soul, fashion, design and all manners of visual art. A defender of the marginalized, she was outspoken and fearless in her beliefs. She made me think deeper and care more about the world and the social injustices happening every day. I learned from her, absorbed from her. I became a better person because of her.

And I worried about her. I worried when she seemed to disappear from Facebook and asked other friends to check up on her. Her physical challenges were not for the fainthearted, and she wasn’t one to sugarcoat her struggles. She’d disappear and then be back. Gee, I think you’re swell, she’d write, and I’d breathe a deep sigh of relief. I just need to know you’re here, I told her in my last message.

Please tell me she’s not gone.

The last words she wrote to me was on my birthday. She called me “sweet and fierce” and we talked about squeezing each other tight and cooking together in her kitchen in New Orleans where she’d pour me champagne and cook collard greens. I planned on that, counted on that, couldn’t wait for the chance to do that.

I can’t do that now.

I know I’m not alone in my grief. I know many have suffered more profound losses. I know that. But I’m tired of this shit. I’ve run out of philosophical musings to explain away the pain.

Out in the woods today, I remembered something my daughter’s gymnastic coach often said: Life is good, but not fair at all.

I always loved the blunt truth of that statement. Life is good, for the most part, but it’s not fair at all that I’ve lost three friends since Memorial Day. It’s not fair to me and it’s not fair to anyone. It’s not fair that we lost another shining star.

Go hug your friends and tell them you love them. It’s best not to wait.

A Rose By Any Other Name

Her name was Rose, but she was anything but a delicate flower. Red-haired and feisty, the Rose I knew was stronger than dirt.

She was the first person to love my children, outside of family. That distinction alone puts her in pretty rarified air, if you ask me. It was 1997 and my three-year-old son needed a preschool and he wasn’t about to let me leave his sights. Snohomish Cooperative Preschool seemed like the perfect fit–laid-back and easy going, with an emphasis on learning through play. Even better, they told me I could stay with my son as long as I needed to. (Turns out, I needed to. For awhile. Like the first six months or so. Guess what, though? He’s in college now. Hey, things worked out.) But the real selling point to this preschool was the woman with the warm smile who quietly knelt down on one knee, extended her hand and greeted my son with “Hello, my name is Miss Rose.”

Miss Rose was my children’s preschool teacher and I liked her right away, and so did my son. That was no small feat. My son was thoughtful and reserved. He liked to stay back, observing situations, getting a feel for folks before diving right in. After all, he was his mama’s boy and I understood his need to take his time. Rose, too, seemed to instinctively understand this and within weeks had won my son over with her genuine warmth. That first year of preschool was like a breath of fresh air. Three times a week I was able to step out of the isolation of being a stay-at-home mom with my first child and into the little house on Fifth Street and feel supported. We spent two hours each day with Miss Rose and other moms, other kids and even a “parent advisor” who, you know–would give us parents advice. We’d giddily gather together in the mornings for circle time, singing songs and learning each other’s names. The kids would be let loose after that, free to roam, perhaps to the sensory table that might be filled with sand and dinosaurs or maybe water and tugboats that day. Or maybe escape to the dress-up room where preschoolers magically morphed into knights and princesses and lions and tigers. She was an artist at heart and had a charm for nudging out creativity from all our kids. I didn’t worry about my kid learning to read in preschool, but some parents did. Those parents challenged Miss Rose and would push her to incorporate more structured learning (worksheets, anyone?) in the midst of this magical, cooperative, imaginative preschool. I thought they were insane. After she left teaching, Rose once told me that it wasn’t the kids that forced her out, but having to deal with the incessant drama of some of the parents. She stood her ground, though, citing studies linking play and curiosity to higher intelligence and success later in school.

All I knew was that anyone who dedicated their life to nurturing the bright imaginations of preschoolers was an angel in my book. I knew this partly by the way I would come home and collapse into the sofa in exhaustion while my son ate his lunch after spending those two hours in what sometimes felt like an introvert’s hell. Kids are noisy. A bunch of kids in a little house are hella noisy. My son and I would wearily retreat to our quiet place afterwards but always looked forward to returning. Once my daughter was born, I made sure she was on the list to enroll in Rose’s toddler group just as soon as she was able.

That preschool was where I went and looked forward to hearing Miss Rose tell me, “I know, me too. It’s going to be okay. You’re doing a good job.”

And although she was an angel in my eyes, I knew she wasn’t perfect. I knew this because she was honest and forthright and told us how she struggled raising two teenagers. Us more newly-minted parents listened with revered awe, not even able to imagine our little cherubs ever growing up and giving us eye-rolls and stinky socks to deal with. Over the five years I spent with my two kids under Miss Rose’s wing, she and I got to know each other pretty well. Sometimes, after a glass of wine or two, her New York accent got a little looser, a little thicker and the wise-crackin’ Rose I loved most emerged. She was an artist and loved music and books and children and animals. I can still hear her voice as Rose would cock her head and say, “You know, I always knew there was something I liked about you, Tracie.” We shared stories and secrets and laughed until our eyes filled with tears.

Miss Rose loved my children, and my family and I loved her.

We lost touch with each other for a bit in between then and now. I got busy with two kids in public school, baseball and gymnastics. Years passed when she and I only exchanged a random Christmas card here and there, but we always kept each other’s email handy.  I learned that she had left the preschool. I began teaching yoga and Rose came to my classes for awhile. She told me how yoga helped her connect back with herself and how she always felt better in her body afterwards.  When I began writing more in earnest, Rose read my blogs and would comment, telling me how my words affected her. And because we had kept in casual touch with each other, she learned about the yoga retreat I was getting ready to lead.

I had booked a big, rustic cabin in the woods of Leavenworth for that weekend in late September. I was in uncharted territory, branching out from simply teaching my classes to hosting a full-fledged weekend retreat with a group of twelve. Rose surprised me when she emailed me, expressing interest in coming along. “This is just what I need for ME,” she told me triumphantly. I was thrilled. We assembled our group there in the woods, new yoga students as well as veteran yogis, dear friends and friends of friends. Rose even invited two of her pals from Portland, whose reservations officially sold-out my retreat a month in advance. I knew I was working, with my Yoga Teacher Hat firmly on, but I felt enveloped in love. Rose and I, especially, talked about how that weekend retreat resurrected our friendship. I couldn’t have been happier.

After the retreat, she and I got together once or twice for coffee and chatted about our kids, our lives and our passions we needed to pursue before it got too late. I remember laughing again until our eyes filled with tears. I remember leaving and going home feeling filled up. I remember Rose telling me, “I know, me too. You’re doing a good job.”

I didn’t hear from Rose for awhile. She was on Facebook, but rarely. I saw a cryptic message on her page that said, “You and your family are in our prayers.” I wondered what it meant, but time passed and I didn’t call her.

It was nearly the end of  the labyrinth walk I was facilitating right after New Year’s this year when I saw someone walking down the hallway. My annoyance at having someone come with only ten minutes left in the event immediately turned to joy when I realized it was Rose. I sprung up from my chair and skipped down the hall to greet her, squeezing her tightly in a hug. “I am so, so glad to see you!” I breathed into her ear, only to draw back and see that she was crying. “I have lung cancer,” she told me, “And I don’t know why I’m crying.”

(Just for the record, I think if you have cancer, you can cry just as much as you need to.)

She apologized for being emotional, which I immediately told her was silly. An optimistic doctor’s appointment earlier in the day had resulted in unexpected bad news and she needed the quiet meditation of the labyrinth to help her process everything. She went in as I sat outside, reeling from the news she had just shared.

And I hated myself for not calling her earlier.

Thirty-five minutes later, Rose emerged from the candlelit room, markedly peaceful. “That was just what I needed,” she stated and we made plans to have lunch very soon.

Lunch happened just a few weeks after. Rose strode into the cafe, looking strong and glowing. It was a beautiful, sunny winter afternoon. We hugged, we ate and her New York accent became looser and stronger and we laughed until we had tears in our eyes. “I feel great,” she told me. Her prognosis wasn’t especially good, but she wasn’t ready to die. Oh hell no, she laughed. And I believed her. I told her how sorry I was that I hadn’t called her sooner and she assured me it was a two-way street. She had been busy, anyway, beating this cancer back. Two and a half hours later, we stepped outside on the sidewalk and hugged. Mortality flashed in my mind for a split second before I assured myself I’d see her again. “See you soon!” we chimed.

Rose and I texted back and forth a few times. We made plans and then had to cancel due to her chemotherapy appointments. She talked about her hip hurting and I worried what that meant. A week or two passed and she told me the cancer had spread but that she and her husband were planning a trip to Belize and that she’d get in touch with me when they returned. She teased that maybe I could join them for a drink on the beach in Central America. She sounded like herself, but her texts became more confusing. And worried what that meant.

I don’t know what happens when we die, but I do know that we are energy and we feel energy of the people and places around us. Rose had been on my mind since late last week and I had picked up my phone to text her several times, only to put it down again, feeling like something wasn’t quite right and worried that I would say the wrong thing. I wanted one more lunch, one more hug. Selfishly, I yearned to laugh with her until our eyes filled with tears and I would hear her New York accent tell me, “I know, me too.”

My friend Rose died Monday evening, surrounded by her family, just as she wanted. Her daughter said Louis Armstrong was playing and she passed without fear or pain. I have never lost a friend as close as Rose, someone who loved my children and who my children loved in those tender, formative, magical preschool years. Several people have told me that Rose wouldn’t want me to be sad. But I don’t know about that. And even though I know they told me that with the best intentions and love, I feel like if we have mattered in this world, if we have made an impact, if our leaving means we leave the planet that much darker, well then, I think I should be sad. I think Rose would want me to be sad. Not forever. But for now.

The world lost a mighty good one this time. A bright star, a wonderful mother and wife, a loyal friend, a feisty redhead who appreciated art and love and the brilliant, fiery potential in all of us.

Rose, you did a magnificent job.

 

Twenty Questions (At Least)

“But why even ask the question in the first place?” she asked me, her voice inching higher and tinged with irritation. The same irritation that I recognized in mine.

“What?” I shot back, incredulous at her question. “Why the hell not?

The truth was, I was as frustrated with myself as I was with my three friends right then. A post-yoga discussion during our relaxing, fun-filled weekend at the Oregon Coast had turned a little edgy corner, all thanks to my navigation. Four women, each one of us with backgrounds as diverse as the next, plopped down on the sofas and began thumbing through the fashion and style magazines on the coffee table. The midwest-bred, salt-of-the-earth mom and Crossfitter. The saucy, smart-assed Newfie, embarking on a new life in a new place, dealing with aging parents. The well-traveled, well-heeled, up-for-anything loyal Albertan who brought us all together. Oh, and me. The conversation that afternoon had started out light, to match the mood. We chatted about manicures and pedicures and massages and things to wear and things to eat and things not to eat. But before I knew it, my trigger had been pulled.

Kaboom.

It was a comment about dieting. I felt the trigger as soon as it went off and even said to my friend, “Wow. Just you saying that takes me down a dark, dark rabbit hole.” My reaction, stemming from years steeped in compulsive dieting, anorexia, body dysmorphia and general hatred of myself and my body, even while looking outwardly “perfect.”  I felt squirmy inside, as though I wanted to bolt and go think by myself. But I didn’t. I stayed, my legs curled under me on the sofa and dug in deeper. I started asking questions of my friends. Questions about why do we feel the need to be “pretty” and whose standards are we measuring our “prettiness” by? Why do you feel better with polished fingernails? Or wearing a smaller size jeans? Who determines that? And do you really think most men sit around and spend an hour talking about their weight and their clothes and their body hair? And why is that?

My frustration rose as I could tell each friend was taking my questions personally. My intention was for us all to think bigger, globally, as women and think deeper, beyond what the stock answers are. Instead I heard them assure me that their husbands care a lot about their own bodies and fitness and that they would never tell them–their partners, to go put on makeup or go on a diet. Sigh. I knew I was failing. And I realized my friends were taking it personally because I had taken it personally in the first place. I couldn’t help but wish I had one of my siblings there to articulate my point better. Because I was sure they could.

We got up to get ready to head into the artsy-fartsy shops of Cannon Beach. There was a part of me fighting back tears. A part of me felt alone. That very same part of me that fought back tears in elementary school, engaging in a friendly, teacher-moderated debate about the McGovern-Nixon presidential race decades earlier. Me, a proud Democrat, against them, the whole rest of the class, very, very pro-Nixon Republicans. All of us, too young to really know what we were saying, but instead parroting back arguments we had heard around the dinner table from our parents. It didn’t matter. I felt frustrated and alone and wanted to dash out of the classroom and cry in the bathroom. “Why won’t they just think?” I remember sobbing to myself. They teased me when my candidate lost the election that year. (Okay, so I know I eventually got sweet revenge, but still…)

I never shared that story with my parents because I was too embarrassed. I like to think they would have been proud.

Back shopping in Cannon Beach, I eventually separated from the rest of my friends and went off to explore on my own. As I browsed through the shells and t-shirts and sunglasses in the gift shops, I heard my friend’s voice in my head, over and over again. “But why even ask the question?”

Why? Because I can’t not ask the question.

Along with a love for music and art and good cooking, my parents instilled in us the impetus to ask “Why?” I still have the “Question Authority” button my father gave me when I was a teenager. Get a group of my siblings together for dinner and the conversation will be peppered with discussions about politics, religion, the environment and social justice. Luckily, we all share pretty much the same philosophies on the big topics, so there aren’t arguments as much as deep dives into “Why?” I listen, I contribute a little and I learn a lot. When we have our annual extended family vacation in La Push, our nightly beach fire is always accompanied by the requisite “Campfire Questions.” It’s never enough to simply answer the question. “Why do you think that?” will always be a follow-up. As a lovestruck young woman, I spent a holiday or two with my new boyfriend’s family and delighted in the fact that everyone just drank and laughed and talked about guns. No thinking at all. My infatuation lasted less than one year before I realized how much I missed my comparatively sober, provocative kin.

It can be exhausting, this thinking and questioning and connecting the dots stuff.

So I do yoga, which gets me out of my head and into my body. I take long hikes in the woods and look up at the sky and feel small and inconsequential. My friends remind me to let loose and have fun. I go see live music that is full of pure energy and art and big feels. I give my brain a break.

But to not ask the question is to not be true to me.

Having been a writer all my life, I am an observer. I watch and I wonder why. Truthfully, it consumes me. About a year ago, I watched a video of Amanda Palmer giving a talk about writing to writers at Grub Street, a leading literary arts center in Boston. I had poured myself a cup of coffee on a Friday morning and settled in for her 30-minute presentation. Within the first five minutes, I was crying. She was describing me. She knew me. That kid who always wondered “why” and thought too much and felt so separate from everyone else felt understood and seen as I watched her speak. (You can watch the whole thing here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OHsxLy1_lU )

This is how she began:

“If you are a writer or any kind of artist, this may be a familiar story. Do you remember when, as a kid, you were outside on a field trip, maybe even in a literal field let’s say, on a day-long journey with teachers and students? Outside of the usual rhythms of school life and recess and the lunchroom and familiar spaces. And you found yourself straying from the topics and the tasks at hand. And you made discoveries and connections, wandering off with your own imagination and you were excited with your discoveries in those moments in a new space and maybe you held them up proudly, saying, “Did you ever notice that this looks like this? That the shapes on this leaf look like the cracks in this puddle of ice look like the veins on the back of my hand look like the pattern on the back of her sweater?”…Connecting the dots between things. And maybe you thought it. And maybe you had the impulse to say it out loud and if you said it, you may have been encouraged. You may have delighted and amused those around you, or you may have been discouraged. And you may have been told, calmly, “This is not the time for that. ….this is time to get back in line and answer the correct questions.” But your urge was to connect the dots…”

Later that evening, my three friends and I skipped across the sandy beach, giggling and frolicking like toddlers, taking turns challenging and then holding each other up in handstands only to watch each other crumble to the sand, laughing until we cried. Not thinking too much. Settling into our four (borrowed) chairs to watch the rosy sunset over the Pacific Ocean, I felt nothing but warmth from our quirky quartet, each equally bemused by the fact that we all somehow wound up together on this beach in Oregon on this early autumn weekend. When we returned to the chairs back to the fire pit we had borrowed them from, a young couple was sitting there. The woman looked at us and smiled. “We’ve been watching you the whole time. It’s so great to see four women laughing together and having the time of your life.” We agreed. It was pretty spectacular.

At the house after dark, one of my pals and I laid on our backs on the deck, watching for shooting stars in the clear sky. “You were pretty feisty earlier. Provocative. Like you were trying to get a rise out of us,” she commented. “Yep.” I agreed, “I was. I just always want to think deeper. Ask more questions. Wonder why. I got frustrated, for sure. Maybe it wasn’t the time or the place.”

And maybe it wasn’t. I’m okay with that.

I returned home Monday evening exhausted. Having fun and asking questions all weekend long is hard work. I remembered that I had a writing workshop the following Saturday and quickly went online to double check the details. I shook my head  and laughed as I read the title: “Asking The Right Questions: Self-Inquiry In Memoirs.”

I’m thinking that might just be the right time and place.

Cannon Beach 2014

 

 

 

 

 

Life Is Hard. Do It Anyway.

So, I’m a yoga teacher. At the end of every class I like to read a little something while my peeps rest in savasana. Give them some words to chew on and digest into their stretchy, sweaty bodies to send them out the door rejuvenated. Sometimes it’s a poem or a quote that seems appropriate, but mostly I read from this book of daily meditations that I discovered way back in the day when I was a freshly-minted teacher. I’ll often have a specific reading picked out to suit the theme or mood of the class, but my most favorite way to choose is to simply flip the book open to a random page and read the first thing I see. I like to think of myself as a pretty straight-shootin’, meat-and-potatoes kind of yoga teacher and not a woo-woo kind of yoga teacher, but this thing I do is definitely my way of throwing it out to the Universe. I do this, and more times than not, someone will approach me after class and ask how I knew to read exactly what they needed to hear.

It’s kinda fun that way.

I’d been teaching a lot throughout the summer, using this random methodology to pick my meditation reading and the most annoying thing kept happening. Every stinkin’ time I flipped to a page, it opened to the same day, the same reading. I’d glance at it quickly and decide I didn’t like it, it didn’t fit, it just wasn’t right and move on. Damn worn-out book, I’d think. Maybe it’s time I get a new copy of this thing. I’d then flip to another page and trust that that one was the one the Universe meant me to read. It seemed to work.

Last Monday evening I was tucking my yogis into savasana for the night and damn if that very same reading didn’t pop open in my hands. What the hell, I thought. Might as well read it.

It’s not at all unusual for me to read a passage from this book and feel that it resonates with something I’m going through in my life. After all, these meditations address that universal life slog we all deal with. Sometimes I’ll even get a little teary in the eyes or a bit lumpy in the throat as I read words that I see myself in. But Monday was, well…different.

So, I’m a yoga teacher but I’m also a writer. Writing is what I have always done since my earliest memories, and yet I’ve managed to dance and duck and weave around it for the better part of my life. And even though in recent years I had been freshly inspired and had faithfully pounded out essays and blog posts with some regularity, the hard truth of the matter was that now I was a writer who had stopped writing. I just stopped. As if I had pulled up on the emergency brake, turned off the headlights and killed the engine. Bam. Not moving.

Four months, eight days, two hours, nineteen minutes. That’s how long it had been since my last blog post.

I spent many hours trying to figure out why. Writers are a neurotic bunch, after all, and I fit right in. Not good enough? Hmmm…maybe, sometimes, for sure, but that’s not it. No more stories to tell? Oh hell no. I mean, sure, writer’s block happens, but I still have a few tales left to share. No time? C’mon, now. I’ve got one kid in college and another in high school who I don’t see for twelve hours of the day. I’ve got more time now than ever.

Scared?

Well now. You might be getting warmer.

Tired?

Oh. Yes.

Scared and tired.

The reading I had been avoiding for weeks went something like this: “At some point in the journey, we may become tired, weary and confused. Homesick. All the mountains, the scenery, the food, the people, the experiences just don’t do it for us anymore. We want to go home. What am I doing here? we wonder. Nothing worthwhile is happening. Yet another part of us knows the truth and whispers, Yes, something is happening, something worthwhile.”

My college-journalist son often chides me for the time and emotion I spend when I write. A 1000-word essay can easily take hours and I emerge from the office, tear-stained and spent. I get it. Some writing, like journalistic reporting, is factual, straight-up and concise. Deadlines are stressful–absolutely, but the emotional mining isn’t quite the same. The stuff I do feels like therapy. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s scary. And even though I have shed multiple layers of gunk over the past few years in my writing, I know I have only just begun. And like therapy, sometimes we just don’t have it in us. Our energy is shot. That Greek dude, Socrates, said “The unexamined life is not worth living” and while I am totally onboard with that philosophy, it’s hard as fuck sometimes.

It’s hard. Do it anyway.

That’s something else I tell my yogis. Who said it was easy? Yoga is hard and so very worthwhile and you usually feel better afterwards. Show up and do it. And don’t be so surprised when it’s hard.

My breakthrough in my writing happened when I saw an artist bare her naked soul. Honest and raw and courageous. I witnessed this soul-baring and then I watched what happened. Her audience connected with her. They shouted back, “Me, too! That’s my story, too!” and the dots were connected, one by one. That relationship between an artist and her audience was forged through her stripping away of layers. It was inspiring. It was after that that I went home and wrote. And wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote about my experiences, my friends, my family. What it was like growing up as me. What hurt me, my thoughts, my fears. I stripped myself as naked as I possibly could at that moment.

A few of my essays were published and I gained a bigger audience and I immediately heard a chorus of, “Me, too!” It touched me. Deeply. It gave me confidence, affirmation. I finally felt as though I was stepping into what I had been destined to do all my life. Damn, it felt good.

And then I stopped. Cut the engine. Stalled out. Wondered if I needed to cover up a bit. I couldn’t escape the vulnerable chill of feeling exposed.

Over the summer, I had a conversation with one of my siblings. We were riding the ferry across Puget Sound on a brilliant July afternoon, talking about my writing and musing over why I wasn’t anymore and I told them I thought it was odd that very few of my family members would ever comment on my essays. “It mostly makes me kind of sad,” I said, “But there is a part of me that wonders if they think my writing sucks.” I come from a very educated bunch, you see, and even though I really don’t want to say I’m the “dumb one”, sometimes I feel like the dumb one. “The thing is,” my sibling went on to tell me, “We all know you as you, our sister. You, the writer, we relate to differently.” There is a span of nearly two decades between me and my oldest sibling. It goes without saying that my experiences in our family might differ dramatically from some of theirs. I get that. And even if they took issue with any of my stories, no one ever told me I was wrong or suggested it didn’t happen. For that, I am grateful. Another close friend of mine confided to me that they felt caught off-guard when they saw themselves described in my essays. What I had written wasn’t derogatory, so hadn’t given it much thought. Honestly, I was that girl who always dreamt about some cute boy with a guitar writing a catchy love song about me. I mean, who wouldn’t? (“Alison” by Elvis Costello, “Jenny 8675309” by whoever that was…the list could go on.) As long as what I wrote wasn’t nasty and I didn’t name names, I figured I had free rein. What I didn’t realize is that reading about yourself in someone else’s words is not unlike walking past the storefront window, catching your reflection by surprise. It’s not that you look bad, it’s just that you weren’t expecting to see yourself that way.

It’s hard. Writing is hard. Telling your story is hard. Stripping down to your bare soul is bloody hard. Do it anyway.

I’m learning as I go. I know there is more to write, more to absorb, more to describe, more to feel, more to share. Yes, I get scared. As I peel back the layers and tell my stories, it can get messy. I never intend to have my writing be harmful or hurtful to others, and yet I know that can still happen. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, for sure. And yes, I get tired. The journey seems never ending and I want to go home. As each layer is peeled away, more fresh, sensitive flesh is exposed. Sometimes it sucks and sometimes it hurts and it would be so much easier to make popcorn and cozy up to the “The Bachelor.” But then I’d wake up the next morning a bit bloated and realize that I managed to avoid myself for yet another day, another night, another week. Another month. The comfort of home is so enticing. My fuzzy socks, the purring kitties on my lap, the glass of wine in my hand. Home is good and home is comfort, but it’s time I get out more. I have more stories to tell.

The reading continued: “You’ve only seen a little of what life has to offer. You’re about to walk through a door. Now that your heart is open, you’ll see, touch and know even more of life’s wonders. It’s the reward for where you’ve been. Keep feeling your feelings and trusting your guidance. Let the magic begin.”

I finally read those pesky words out loud to my peaceful, resting yogis Monday night. I finally read those words out loud to myself. I had to pause between sentences to make sure my voice didn’t catch. I am so not a woo-woo kind of yoga teacher, I like to tell myself. But Monday night, that crazy Universe brought me the very message I had been needing to hear.

Don’t stop now. Walk through the door.

I know. It’s hard. Don’t be so surprised.

Do it anyway.

 

(Excerpted from “Journey To The Heart” by Melody Beattie)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ch-ch-ch-changes

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them–that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. ~ Lao Tzu 

It always amazes me how much can change in just a few weeks.

Out here in the wet, temperate Pacific Northwest, the woods tell the story of constant change. Having been sidelined from my weekly forays into the trees near my home by a mysterious and nagging hip injury, it had been several weeks since my last hike. After spending most of yesterday feeling like an old woman hobbled by wincing pain, barely able to meander in and around a grocery store–let alone even think about a hike–this morning I awoke completely pain-free.

I called the dog and took off for the trailhead.

Suddenly voluptuous and verdant, the woods greeted me in an explosion of green. The trails now narrow with lush foliage, punctuated by tiny lavender, white and yellow blooms. They would likely be considered weeds in a more contained setting. But here in the wild, they provided brilliant pops of contrasting color amidst the emerald leaves. Immediately I began taking pictures on my old workhorse of a dumb phone, wanting so badly to capture the splendor I was in. I spend many, many hours on these trails year-round, and yet this morning my heart pounded with joy and exhilaration like it was my very first thrill ride. I couldn’t believe the beauty.

And the scent! Like a thick perfume of spring. Of growth and possibility. Dirt and flowers and rain. If I could, I would bottle that shit and make a fortune.

I walked steadily, paying attention to any soreness or pain that might crop up. Nothing. Up hills and down hills, over roots and footbridges with missing steps and around giant puddles of mud and downed branches that blocked my path. I felt great and had to remind myself to take it easy.

Balance. Yin and yang.

“It is awful to grow old,” was a refrain heard frequently from my mother. I remember feeling sad when she would say that, wishing I could take her pain away, knowing I was powerless to do so. I vowed to never say that to my children.

My chiropractor recently told me I shouldn’t run any more. A few short months ago his words would have left me dejected. Today, I have a new perspective. I don’t need to run or race or prove anything to anybody. Slowing down my pace affords me the time to pay attention.

As I trudged up the last hill I was filled with simple joy. This. This is all I really need. To be able to walk without pain. My feet, not on concrete or sidewalks, but connected with dirt and grass and rocks. Wild bunnies and chipmunks scooting across our path, birdsong in the air and my lungs filled with this breath of spring.

Simple.

As much as I practice yoga and as much as I practice staying present in my life, I am still an expert catastrophizer. Prone to believing whatever I am feeling today I will be destined to feel forever. I sat behind the steering wheel of my car yesterday after limping through the store and watched as people crossed the parking lot. Old people, much older and less conditioned than I. All of them seeming to skip sprightly across the crosswalk as I watched from my car, bitter and resentful.

“I’m a yoga teacher, for cryin’ out loud!” I screamed to myself, frustrated with my pain and injury. Starting to wonder if my mother’s words were prophecy. Wanting to hit something or at least cry, but instead choking it back. I know that any pity party of mine is best kept short and sweet.

Back in the woods, with its ever-changing landscape, I learn a lesson again. A lesson of patience and grace and simplicity. Reminding me that the only constant in this life is change. Life gets hard and then it gets better. Over and over again. The woods turn quietly inward and brown and then explode with lush life. Predictably. Comfortingly. Brilliantly.

And so it is with me. And you. Growing older is not awful, I tell myself, but rather a privilege afforded to some.

The lucky ones.

 

 

Peach Margarita Sunset Valentine

“The feeling of friendship is like that of being comfortably filled with roast beef; love like being enlivened with champagne”  ~ Samuel Johnson

It is my favorite Valentine’s Day memory.

There was no passionate lover, no heart-shaped box of chocolates, no Hallmark greeting card and certainly no red roses to speak of.

Instead, it was an unseasonably warm February day coupled with a pair of old friends, a rustic cabin, peach margaritas and a dock on a lake at sunset.

I was 21 years old and freshly separated from my first true love. I remember wondering how I would ever feel loved again, with all the overblown angst that you might expect from a young woman whose heart had been unceremoniously ripped out and shredded. Valentine’s Day seemed like a bad joke that year, one that perhaps I was better off forgetting. But with all the pink hearts and sappy love songs assailing me at every store, television commercial and radio station, the fact that I was officially un-loved that Valentine’s Day was hard to escape.

Jenny and I had been best friends since ninth grade. I credit her for saving my life. No, really. At a very dark time in my adolescence, Jenny came along and picked me up. We bonded over Elton John and horses, laughed about our crazy families and dreamt pie-in-the-sky dreams together. Partners in crime in every sense of the phrase, including knowing things about each other that no one else does, or ever should. We were pretty much inseparable through high school and TV school and for a bit beyond before first loves and other challenges would pull us apart. I always missed Jenny during those gaps, the way you miss that one person who “gets” you like no one else.

It was after such a gap in our friendship that we had made plans to get together on this Valentine’s Day. Brilliant blue skies had greeted me that morning and by afternoon the sun had warmed the temperature to a balmy 65 degrees. Coats and jackets and sweaters were flung aside to expose our pasty winter skin to the sun. With both of us between jobs and school and boyfriends, this February 14th seem to offer the perfect blank slate of a day to share and forget about this contrived holiday of love. Naturally, our first stop was the liquor store where we debated over margarita flavors. Finally settling on peach, we were in agreement that whatever we chose, it needed to be strong and fruity. Just like us.

At the time, Jenny lived in a quaint cabin on American Lake, just south of Tacoma. Surrounded by trees and pine scent, it seemed completely remote without being too detached from civilization. I worried about her out there, living alone in the woods with her cats and guinea pigs, but Jenny was nothing if not stubbornly independent. Her independence a stark contrast to my lack thereof, still living with my mom just a few miles away. I was late bloomer in more ways than one.

Arriving at her place in the afternoon, we immediately got to the task of blending margaritas. We used the entire bottle of mix and then some and filled a pitcher with the peachy-tequila goodness. Glasses and pitcher in hand, we carefully made our way through the woods to the dock that spanned out into American Lake. And there we sat, for hours on that February 14th, drinking and laughing and watching the sun go down on that surprise of a sunny day until the evening chill reminded us it was still winter, compelling us back to the cabin.

Perhaps the beauty of that Valentine’s Day was in it’s simplicity. Two pals on the cusp of their lives, reconnected over peach margaritas. Jenny and I sat at the end of the dock, our legs dangling off the edge, our feet occasionally dipping into the icy waters of American Lake. The lake, glassy and still, reflecting the brilliant orange-y pink of the sunset on it’s surface. We talked about dumb boys and cute boys and boys in bands. We shared our dreams for our future and plans for tomorrow. And there was silence. Silence as we listened to croaking bullfrogs and the lazy lap-lap-lap of the water on the shoreline. Silence that never needed to be filled by words, but instead was understood implicitly.

Leaving later that evening, I don’t remember there being anything remarkable about that day, other than having shared it with a dear friend. Never would I have imagined it standing out in my memory as brilliantly as it has. Little did I know that in just a few months I would meet another cute, brooding boy who would crush my heart but wind up being my best friend decades later. A year after that, meeting the boy who would be my Mister, and after that, settling into my career in television. But there was always something about that warm, winter day that has stayed with me–the naive idealism of our youth, hopelessly optimistic, ridiculously romantic and the ability to drink an entire pitcher of peach margaritas with no ill effect.

Oh, and that boyfriend who dumped me? Presently a full-bearded mountain man who worships Ted Nugent and whose Facebook profile features an impressive collection of shotguns. (Mom, you were right all along.)

Jenny and I recently got together to celebrate her birthday over Thai food and cocktails. Just one, each. No pitcher of peach margaritas but instead a civilized pear martini and something else with ingredients so refined and rare I can’t even remember the name. The drinks have changed and we’ve grown older but there is still talk about dumb boys and cute boys and boys in bands. We laugh about our crazy families and share pie-in-the-sky dreams. I still worry about her. Facebook, with all it’s drawbacks, has kept us connected.

Each year about this time, when I start seeing the hearts and flowers and chocolates and diamonds, promising me that these are the symbols of true love, I remind myself of that afternoon on the dock on American Lake. An afternoon where friendship and love was defined simply by the comfortable silence between two dear friends.

 

 

 

Of Rituals, Tradition And The Twelfth Day Of Christmas

I woke up this morning and realized it was the twelfth day of Christmas.

It was early, just past 7:00AM, and everyone was still tucked in their beds on this sunny Sunday morning, peacefully snoozing away. I quietly got up and made a fresh pot of coffee, fetched the Sunday paper and decided today was the day I would take our Christmas tree down.

I’ve always been surprised by how many people can’t get their tree down fast enough come December 26th. And it never seems as though there is much significance to putting away the decorations, but rather a sense of haste to “get it all out of the way so life can get back to normal again.”

What is normal anyway? And why the rush to get there?

I am not an especially religious person, but I grew up with a father and grandfather who were both Lutheran ministers. And though my liberal, non-traditional upbringing with my pastor-father was not filled with scripture readings or echoes of “Praise, Jesus!” throughout the house, we always kept our (real) Christmas tree up throughout the entire twelve days of Christmas. This year, especially, I noticed people on Facebook counting down the twelve days of Christmas beginning on December 14. WTF? Here’s my little lesson on the Christian calendar, folks: Christmas Day is not the twelfth day of Christmas! Christmas Day is the first day of Christmas. The season of Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and all those days and weeks leading up to Christmas is a time of waiting and anticipation. It is Advent. (Being a bit of an anticipation junkie myself, I have always loved Advent the best.) When my kids were little and we actually attended a local Lutheran church regularly, I loved that we were not even allowed to sing Christmas carols before December 24! And then, at the magical Christmas Eve candlelight service, as we belted out “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful”, what normally would feel so worn-out from hearing it piped into every store and commercial soundtrack, felt fresh and new and full of vibrant energy.

That period of Advent when we didn’t sing Christmas carols in church always felt a bit like a fast. The discipline, the tradition, the adherence to something greater than our commercialized world felt significant. And those first few verses of those carols sung on December 24th tasted like the first bite of delicious, solid food after four weeks of abstinence. It felt meaningful.

So, today, January 5th, is the twelfth day of Christmas. And the tree can come down.

We got our Christmas tree a bit later than normal this year. My college kid son had expressed an interest in going with us to the tree farm to chop down our tree, and since his holiday break began earlier this year, we agreed to wait.

I woke up on our designated tree-chopping day with a 102 degree fever. Ugh.

After swallowing a handful of Tylenol and wrapped up in layers of scarves and gloves and fleece, I climbed into the back of The Mister’s van to make the family trek to Arlington to the Christmas tree farm. True to tradition, our tree–the perfect tree–was waiting for us. It called us to it, as it always does. It was a huge, full, majestic specimen of tree, much larger than we’ve had recently. Its branches sturdy enough to withstand the weight of the hundreds of bear ornaments it would be expected to support. Once home, The Mister commenced with the lights and by that evening, it was ready to begin decorating.

Unfortunately, I was not.

Still feverish and barely able to remain vertical for any length of time, I knew this year had to be different. While I am typically the one to choreograph the hanging of bears and balls, arranging everything just so, this year I had to let go. Surrender. Stay in bed.

Let’s just say it was not a smooth transition. (I’ll save you the gory details.)

The Mister and the kids gamely tackled the task. Later that evening, I peeked in to see our beautiful tree transformed into our magnificent bear tree, with virtually no help from me. It was both reassuring and bittersweet. The following week, as my fever broke and I felt better, I finished the tree with its flourish of ribbon woven throughout its branches. I stood back and paused and took it all in. Gorgeous and stately and sparkly and full of love and tradition, just like always. Go figure…Christmas would be happening after all.

In the peace and quiet of this Sunday morning, as I began to disrobe our tree, I realized how important it was for me to do this, this undressing. I’ve always noticed a contrast in emotion from the giddy excitement of hanging the first ornaments versus taking everything down. Sometimes when I un-decorate, I feel sad. Sometimes a sense of relief. Other times it feels much like any other task or chore. But today, on this twelfth day of Christmas, I was filled with peace. Joy, even. You see, I had missed out on that ritual of unwrapping each bear and hanging it just so. Of remembering where each ornament had come from and from whom. Today, there was no sense of haste or need to put it all away to get back to normal. Today was about carefully tucking everything back into it’s rightful spot, safely, securely and with as much love and reverence as I would have had I took everything out all those weeks back. It was about noticing each bear–the old, tattered ones, the fragile glass ones, the big soft ones that had been seated just so back on the inner branches. It was about noticing the ornaments that aren’t bears–the dinosaurs and baseballs and the random Canadian moose. Recognizing that our tree today, with its growing diversity of ornaments, is now a more brilliant expression of our family. I smiled as I thought of my kids hanging these ornaments without me hovering over them, directing and choreographing. I smiled and laughed at my unwillingness sometimes to let go.

And I thought about ritual.

We don’t attend church regularly anymore, but when we did, what I loved most about it was the importance of ritual and tradition. Of following a calendar and practices and singing hymns that always seemed a bit out of step with our fast-paced, consumeristic world.

Here’s the thing, though: Rituals aren’t sexy. They aren’t necessarily exciting, although I suppose they could be, if you chose carefully. Rituals can be annoying and inconvenient and boring. Like leaving the tree up one or two more days even though the Boy Scouts conveniently offered to pick my discarded tree up from the curb on Saturday. Like getting up and spending thirty minutes on my yoga mat rather than mindlessly checking Facebook updates. Rituals can suck and are hard, but we do them anyway. That’s the point, right?

Rituals ask us to slow down and pay attention. To pay homage to what is important to us. This morning, I was struck by the current lack of ritual in my life. And I wondered how much richer and more centered my life might feel if I were to incorporate more mindful ritual into each day? Things like taking five minutes to meditate, to sit in silence with my breath, first thing in the morning. Of unrolling my yoga mat, not just in the classes I teach, but in my own personal practice and moving my body with my breath just for myself. And the discipline of sitting my butt in the chair and writing. Every day. Maybe it’s fifty words. Maybe it’s 5000. How much is not nearly as important as the simple act of doing it. I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, but I am a fan of living intentionally. My intention for 2014 is to bring these rituals back into my life on a daily basis. It won’t be easy, this much I know for sure. But hopefully, through these simple acts of mindful discipline, my days will feel richer, more purposeful and less chaotic. Rituals can give us a soft place to fall. A place that feels like home when everything else around us is dark and disconnected.

The past few days when I’ve driven down my street after dark, I’ve noticed our house is the only house still with its Christmas lights on, blazing its red and white lights into the darkness. I’ve noticed my neighbor’s darkened houses and I’m tempted to ask them, “Don’t you know it’s still Christmas?”

Today is the twelfth day of Christmas. Tomorrow is Epiphany. Merry Christmas. May the New Year bring you a meaningful, intentional and brilliant life through whatever rituals you choose.

 

 

 

Ordinary Hero

 

It was a nondescript storefront in an industrial part of southeast Portland, home to the Independent Publishing Resource Center, or IPRC. A few cars lined the street, but I was able to easily find a parking spot right in front. It was a quiet Thursday night in December, dark and rainy and cold, much better suited for staying in cuddled up with a hot beverage and a warm blanket than being here.

Unless here was where your hero was showing up. Tonight.

Trust me, when you get the chance to thank your hero, you should take it.

Amanda Palmer is a rockstar-activist-blogger-ukulele-slayer-musical-raconteur-extraordinaire. Go ahead and google her and you’ll have material for days. She is not everyone’s cup of tea. But she is most definitely mine.

It is Amanda Palmer who inspired me the most this year.

You see, I was a writer who had stopped writing.

I’ve heard it said that when you are fulfilling that part of you that you were put here on earth to do–your destiny, be it art or teaching or cooking or inventing or driving a bus, life is good. Sure, the bumps in the road are still there, but somehow smoother. The path ahead a bit clearer and things just feel, well…right. Or at least more right than wrong. But when you’re not–when you’re running away from that voice inside you that says “Here! This is who you are!”–no amount of success or money or love will make it right.

I was a writer who had stopped writing but had managed to run away and fill my life with good, successful things. A career in television, a marriage and a couple of kids and most recently, teaching yoga. All wonderful accomplishments in their own right, but distractions all the same. I am a writer in my bones, this I know for sure. But somewhere along the way, I had lost my voice. I had turned away from my stories, convinced that they weren’t true or interesting or nice or relevant. I told myself there were other writers so much better than me, so why bother?

Amanda Palmer shows me what an authentic, courageous artist looks like. Raw, tear-stained and defiantly truthful. Witty and ironic and powerfully connected to her audience. Unapologetic and brazen and nowhere near perfect. And when she sucks in her breath through her teeth only to explode out unadulterated emotion in her exhale, it is powerful. She is not the best singer or piano player in the world but she is the best artist to tell her stories and so she must.

I grew up in a household where we were taught to be pleasant and to not make a fuss. Things that were hard and painful and ugly weren’t talked about but instead swept under a rug in hopes that they might disappear, or at least be forgotten. I was a nice girl and ashamed of my not-so-nice stories that I grew up with. Stories about a brother who’s uncontrolled rage lashed out at me in threats and attacks. About wishing he would die and then, when he did a few years ago, feeling a deep sense of guilty relief that my twelve-year-old self had so desperately prayed for. About parents, who, for as wonderful as they were, were unable to keep me safe. Stories about being fourteen and feeling so horribly alone and lost that I locked myself in the bathroom of my house to unsuccessfully slit my wrists and then wondered why no one bothered to ask about the bandages later. About feeling invisible. Stories about starving myself into anorexia in an effort to gain control–any control–over a life that had spun so wildly out of control. And about how lines and lines of cocaine in nightclub bathrooms quickly became my best friend and secret diet helper.

These are not nice stories. But they are mine.

In the months after discovering Amanda Palmer, I began to write more. It wasn’t always nice, but it was always my truth, my stories, my experiences. I became braver. Essays of mine got published. People shared their stories with me and told me how my stories impacted them.

And when I needed a dose of bravery, a nudge towards nakedness, a little more truth, all I had to do was read Amanda’s blog. Her detractors are as vocal and cruel as her fans are loyal. Amanda would respond to her haters, vulnerably admitting how much their harsh words cut her to her core and yet she didn’t back down. She didn’t make herself smaller or her voice softer or her stories nicer. She didn’t stop writing.

I know I am not the best writer in the world, but I am the best writer of my stories. No one else can tell my stories the way I can and therefore, I must.

Finally, I was a writer who was writing again. And the road got smoother, the bumps less bumpier and nothing felt better, more right, than emerging from an afternoon of bleeding out words and sentences and truth and pain and love on to my keyboard and into my blog. I don’t know where my writing will take me, but I know I will always write. I am a writer in my bones. My voice–my writer’s voice–an immeasurable gift given back to me through the gutsy example of Amanda Palmer.

Back in Portland at the IPRC, my music-guru-bestie, Ray and I walked into the unassuming print shop where Amanda would be stopping by soon. More like strolling into an intimate cocktail party than arriving at a concert venue, Ray and I nonchalantly hung out among the printing presses with our glasses of Shiraz and waited.

And then there she was.

My eyes widened in excitement as I mouthed “she’s here” to Ray, his glance back at me silently imploring me to stay cool. Amanda cruised through the several dozen party patrons like it was no big deal and really, it wasn’t. She was smaller than I had imagined. After all, Amanda Palmer, The Artist, has always seemed larger than life. She struck up conversations with people here and there and circulated about, relaxed and chatty. I stood back and watched for a bit, not wanting to seem like too much of a fan girl, knowing full well that every person in the room was exactly that. I leaned over to Ray and whispered in his ear “God, I am so in love!” And I was, complete with fluttery butterflies in my lower belly, absolutely besotted by this casual, red-headed, wonderful hero of mine.

Finally, Ray and I moved closer to where Amanda was hanging out. She turned to us and I introduced myself and asked if I could give her hug. I told her “thank you” but didn’t elaborate. You see, I had written my thanks in a note that I handed to her, worried that I wouldn’t be able to clearly express myself in the heat of the moment. We talked for a bit more and I asked for a photo. Amanda draped her arms around my neck and there she and I stood, cheek-to-cheek, for what seemed like an eternity. A wonderful eternity. Me and my hero. Ordinary. Like it was no big deal.

The rest of the night was magical. Amanda, standing two feet in front of me, watching the opening band. The stage, no more than a simple riser, mere feet from me. Once onstage, Amanda switched from keyboard to ukulele, taking requests, as loose and casual as if she had been sitting in my living room. That’s exactly how it felt. Intimate and personal and remarkable in every imaginable way.

Close to midnight on that cold and rainy Thursday night in Portland, Amanda sang her last song. I could have stayed there all night, swept up in the brilliant dream of it all. Ray and I lingered for a bit longer as Amanda hung out and signed and took photos with everyone. It was hard to leave.

Imagine that sweet luxuriousness of waking up from the most delicious of dreams. Only this time, it really happened.

Over breakfast the next morning, I admitted to Ray that a teensy, tiny part of me had felt disappointed that Amanda and I hadn’t walked out of that print shop as best friends. After all, I do tend to have a fairly active imagination. Thankfully, he didn’t laugh, but simply looked at me and said, “Yeah, you know, that might have been just a little unrealistic.”

I know. But still.

Amanda Palmer is who inspired me the most this year. I call her my hero and she is, for she gave me back my writer’s voice. A gift beyond measure.

A hero in the most extraordinarily ordinary way. 20131212_204509

 

 

 

 

Autopilot

Day ten: How do you turn off your autopilot?

Oh, this is a topic I speak about quite frequently in my yoga classes. I see it all the time–long-time yogis who have a strong physical practice show up and tune out. And I totally get it. It feels good to feel like you know what you’re doing. When the teacher cues Warrior 2, you know exactly what to do. I’ve got this, you think. And you do.

But it could be so much better.

I do it, too. Whether it’s ordering the exact same thing at the same restaurant every time or taking the exact same route home or practicing my Sun Salutations precisely the way I have for the past ten years, I, too, get stuck on autopilot. Autopilot is a byproduct of our hyper-busy lives. We’re always looking for efficiency and proficiency. How can we do it fast and well?

Slow the fuck down, I say.

When I’m teaching a class and see a bunch of autopilot lights on, I slow everything down. Transitions from one pose to another feel like moving through sweet, thick honey. No more is it about simply making the shape of the pose because we know exactly what the shape should look like, but instead it’s about the journey. The sweet journey as we feel our hips move from square to open and how that translates into our feet. Connecting the four corners of one foot before we even think about lifting the other. Taking three breaths to move from downward facing dog to high plank.

Sweet, not dull.

And when we do this, when we slow everything down and be so very present, stuff comes up. Augh! This sucks! Why can’t we just do it like we always do? This is hard! My muscles are shaking! I just want it to be over with!

I get it. I really do.

But what if we just let that be and do it anyway?

Whether it’s the meal you’re eating or the road trip you’re taking or the Christmas shopping in the chaotic mall you’re doing–slow down and pay attention. Notice that moment when you hit autopilot and cruise mindlessly through your dinner, your travels, your errands, your yoga practice, your conversations with people you love. Notice and turn it off. Open your eyes and connect with something. The way your meal has been artistically plated, the subtle change in topography as you head north or south or east or west, the smile that the weary clerk in the department store gives you, the way your quadriceps warm and buzz and tingle with energy in that long Warrior 2 hold, the unique color of your friend’s eyes as you talk about your day.

Sweet, not dull.

And sure, there are times when life demands that we move efficiently and proficiently through our tasks. But probably not as often as we think it does.

Like so much in life, it’s a simple choice we make.

I don’t know about you, but I’m dismantling my autopilot button. I’m yanking those wires out. I can’t think of any better way to guarantee my 2014 will be sweet, not dull.

The Unbearable Rightness Of Being

Day eight’s question is: What went right this year?

Seriously?

Everything.

I’m here, right? I’m pretty darn healthy with two exceptionally healthy, thriving and delightful kids. Overwhelmingly, most of my friends are healthy and those that are dealing with treatable issues have really good insurance. My dog, Max, is doing well, if just a bit neurotic.

Everything went well this year.

Ask anyone who has received a cancer diagnosis or is challenged with any variety of chronic, debilitating illness and they will tell you that good health is the most valuable asset you can have.

I have my health. I have work that is fulfilling and meaningful. I have passion in my life. Sometimes even unbridled-spine-tingling-curl-your-toes-kind-of-passion. Passion felt for many different things and people.

Was this year perfect?

Hell no.

Stuff happened. Mishaps. Misunderstandings. Missteps. Missed connections.

No matter what, if you look for perfection as satisfaction, as evidence that things are going well, you will be sorely disappointed.

But how about this:

Perfectly imperfect, I like to say.

Beautifully human.

Deeply flawed, in the most magnificent way.

This I believe: We are here to pay attention and learn. We are here to stumble and fall and get back up again. We say the wrong thing at the wrong time and then we go back and say we are so, so sorry. We look into each other’s eyes and see that perfect imperfection in each other and what do we do?

We give each other grace.

Everything went right.

 

Selfie

Day seven: Post your favorite selfie of 2013.

Are you kidding me? Honestly, I think this prompt is stupid. And sure, I get that maybe they’re trying to give us a day off from writing, but c’mon! If this challenge is about creativity and such, I’m not sure how posting your favorite selfie of the year is helping to cultivate that.

So, I did this. I drew my own selfie. I’m not going to say I am not an artist, because I believe we are all artists in our soul. Adulthood, mainstream education, creepy people in our lives and society at large may have squelched many of our beliefs in our own creativity, but we all are creative beings. Artists. But I will say that drawing is not my usual medium.

I love pastels, by the way. My love affair with pastels goes so far back in my childhood that I don’t recall a time in my life that I didn’t love pastels. Their smell, the way they feel in my hands, the smooth way they feel going down on the paper and how delightfully messy my fingers and hands get when I work with them–it’s all rather spine-tingling to me.

So, here I am. Half straight hair, half curly because sometimes I curl it and feel like a wild child. Full of color because that’s me. Big, bold abstract lines that sometimes messily blend into everything else. Kinda like life.

Send me yours. I dare you.

photo

Hug Me

Day six: What precious things have you gathered this year?

Hugs. I gathered hugs.

I grew up in a reserved family with Northern European roots that didn’t show a whole lot of physical affection. Hugging, therefore, was an acquired skill that I had to learn on my own. As a teenager, a lot of my friends became huggers and I adapted quite nicely. I learned how to give and receive. Admittedly, it was awkward at first. But being a bit of a tactile-sensory-junkie, I secretly fell in love with it.

One of my very best friends is The Best Hugger In The World. Yes, she even puts that hugging saint, Amma, to shame. (Side note: Amma, now currently embroiled in controversy, fyi, with allegations of abuse and cultish behavior. But I digress…) When my friend, Kris, gives you a hug it is as though time stops. And really, it sorta does. It was overwhelming to experience at first, especially for someone like me who was not born into hugging naturally. But again, I am proud to say I quickly adapted. Kris is one of those people who teaches you how to be an exceptional friend through her exceptional example. And her hugs are legendary. Anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of a Kris Hug can attest to this. She envelopes you in her arms and holds you tight. Not just for a moment, but for as long as it takes for her to inhale and absorb the very essence of you into her being. Because this is just the way she is. Exceptional. If you’re lucky, you might even get a kiss on the cheek. This year was a very good year for collecting Kris Hugs. Though she lives far, far away up in the frigid Canadian hinterlands, I was fortunate enough to spend time with her on three separate occasions in 2013. You can imagine how many hugs were gathered in that time. (Lots.)

I gathered hugs from a friend from long ago. A friend I hadn’t seen in decades. You know how those reunion hugs can sometimes seem a bit perfunctory and rote? Yeah, this wasn’t like that. This was the kind of hug that managed to dissolve nearly 30 years of separation in it’s midst. Just like that. One of those kind of hugs that immediately takes the edge off any nerves and anxiety. And here’s the thing–my friend from long ago is now one of my closest friends in the here and now and the hugs haven’t diminished. Not a bit. (I think he may have taken a workshop from Kris.)

Neil Gaiman gave me a hug. He gave me a hug at 1:00 in the morning on a Wednesday in Seattle. He’s a rather famous author, you see, and I went to listen to him read from his latest book. I waited in line for hours. Hours. I was the second to the last person in line at 1:00 in the morning and he had been signing books for as many hours as I had been in line. It was finally my turn to meet him and he was as gracious and present and wonderful as if it were 1:00 in the afternoon and he had just enjoyed a delightful lunch with a cup of tea and a quick nap. Neil Gaiman gives wonderful hugs. Not I’m-a-famous-person-and-I’m-tired-and-I-just-want-to-go-to-bed-hugs. Neil Gaiman gives long, tight, meaningful hugs. Even at 1:00AM. I cried. Just a little.

My college kid actually gives me hugs now that he spends most of the year living away from home. He, too, not a completely natural hugger. It must be in the genes. But he’s learning, just as I did. He knows he is required to give me hugs now. Not all the time, for crying out loud. But certainly when he comes home to visit and when he leaves again. Those leaving hugs are tough. For me anyway. He acts like it’s no big deal but I like to think his Mom Hugs are pretty important to him.

And then there are the many hugs from my yoga peeps. Hugs gathered after they share with me their struggles and breakthroughs and breakdowns. Hugs of relief. Hugs of grief and the mystery of not knowing what might come next. Hugs of gratitude and joy. A hug just to say “Hey, great class!” Other hugs coupled with tears in each of our eyes. The kind of hugs that make me walk out of class and sit in my car for a spell, allowing the emotion and experience and their words to wash over and fully land in me. Each one, a unique gem and each one never taken for granted.

I expect to collect at least one more meaningful hug this year. Next week I’ll be meeting my hero, Amanda Palmer, in Portland. She just happens to be married to Neil Gaiman. Word on the street is that she gives The Best Hugs In The World. I hope she knows she’s got some pretty high standards to meet.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

 

 

 

Risky Business

Day Five: What risks did you take in 2013?

Let’s be clear: I am not a natural risk taker.

But I am a big believer in getting out of my comfort zones.

I lived my life out loud this year, louder than I ever have before. With that, came doing things that felt risky to me. Even if the only “risk” was feeling a bit squirmy and uncomfortable. Truth is, I didn’t exactly jump out of any planes this year.

Deciding to lead my first yoga retreat would likely go at the top of my “risks” list. I have taught yoga for nearly a decade and my teaching feeds me in many ways. I don’t always bound out of bed each day, excited to share a rousing round of Sun Salutations with everyone, but I do walk out of every class feeling more grounded, more inspired and more fulfilled than when I walked in. Teaching yoga is definitely a two-way street–the teacher feeds the students but in turn, the students inspire me as well. This year felt like the right time to focus on expanding my teaching and yet I didn’t feel called to take on additional weekly classes. Self-preservation has become a necessity.

Retreats seemed like the most obvious choice. But this choice required me to put my business hat on. I am not an avid businesswoman.

Finding a location, deciding whether to have it in a completely private venue or simply use space and resources in a resort already set up to do such things was the first order of business. With a little searching I discovered a wonderful and private woodsy lodge in Leavenworth, just east of our Cascade mountains. It was large and rustic, but comfortably appointed. Not too far of a drive for most and early enough in the fall to avoid any chance of snow in the pass. My niece, a card-carrying foodie at heart, agreed to take the leap with me and come along as our chef. I took a deep breath, signed the contract and booked the lodge. Gah!

The next month was all about the money. What to charge was positively mind-boggling for this non-businesswoman. Computing deposits, food costs, expenses and whether it was for a private or shared room made my head hurt. Fortunately, The Mister stepped in with his yellow legal pad and helped hammer out the numbers.

Promotion came next. Fliers printed. Announcements made. I felt like a saleswoman. I guess I kinda was. Really, I just wanted to teach some yoga.

I got a handful of rooms booked right away. Enough for me to exhale, just a little. Hey, maybe this little enterprise might actually work, I thought. For like a second until a brand new flood of doubts filled my mind. I kept talking about it, writing about it, spreading my own little retreat cheer to anyone who might listen. A few more rooms booked. I took a breath. By August, I was fairly confident that I would at least break even on this risk. Another exhale.

About a month before the retreat, I sold my last bed. This was really happening! All along, it blew my mind that these folks would actually dedicate their hard-earned money and time to spend a weekend with me! I was immensely honored and tickled pink. It felt good. I began planning our practices and talking about food with my niece.

I walked into the lodge on that Friday of our retreat for the very first time, fingers firmly crossed. I had seen plenty of photos online, but nothing really comes close to the real thing. I was not disappointed. More  breathing.

Twelve women, ranging in age from thirty-something to seventy showed up. I knew most of them, but not all. A few had come on the recommendation of a friend. Most practiced yoga, but several were wet-behind-the-ears beginners. Our practice room was snug but adequate, a beautiful, giant stone fireplace the focal point.

By Saturday evening, the whole bunch of us sat gathered informally around the giant, weathered kitchen table, drinking wine, sharing stories and laughing. So much laughing. New friends were made, old friendships rekindled and me, in the midst of it all, feeling like the luckiest girl in the world. Sunday morning brought our last practice of the weekend followed by a scrumptious Sunday brunch. Bags packed, we gathered at the lodge’s front door and hugged our goodbyes.

Such strong, inspiring, divergent women and so much connection. No drama. Twelve arriving as strangers, all leaving feeling a part of a community, even if just for this one weekend.

I learned a lot. What worked well, what didn’t. It might not have been a free-fall airplane jump, but at times, it felt a lot like it to me.

In the end, however, my biggest lesson was about trust. Daring to trust my instincts and trust my abilities to do my job well. Trust that I have something of value to offer people that might make their life better. Even if for just a weekend.

This decidedly non-risktaking, non-businesswoman is currently planning more retreats. One by the water, for sure. Maybe Whidbey Island next. Perhaps more with a themed focus. Writing and yoga. Baking and yoga. Hiking and yoga. Or just yoga and yoga. Taking these things that fuel my passions and sharing them with whomever is interested. Creating community on a deeper level, if just for a few days.

I took that leap. I took a risk.

I landed on my feet. And it was good.

 

 

 

 

On Grief And Grieving

Day Four: What have you lost? What are you grieving?

This year, thankfully, was not a year of loss. Friends and family, both human and furry, stayed relatively healthy and alive. Friendships were only strengthened, not lost. For all of this, I am grateful.

But I began thinking about grief. About death and dying. It’s something I began worrying about at a very early age.

My mom had me, the youngest “oopsy” of seven children, when she was 45. My dad was 43. (One of friends recently exclaimed, “It’s amazing that you don’t have Downs Syndrome!” We laughed. Hard. It’s true, it is amazing.) I never knew a time when I didn’t feel horribly self-conscious about having older parents. In elementary school I remember noticing that some of my friend’s parents seemed closer in age to my older siblings than they did my parents. At night, I would lie in bed and recite the only prayer I knew…”Now I lay me down to sleep…” and every night I would finish my prayer by saying “and may mom and dad live for many, many, many, many, many, many more years to come.” Early on, I would count the “manys” I said on my fingers, making sure I never said less than the night before. Later, I would inevitably drift off to sleep in the middle of the “manys” and neglect to say “amen” and wake up worried that perhaps my prayer didn’t count.

I might be wrong, but I just can’t imagine my own kids having this preoccupation with my potential death. At least I hope they don’t.

My mother knew grief early on, as a young adult. She lost her only sibling, her sister, to suicide when they were in their early twenties, on the cusp of their lives. She never spoke to me about it. I remember thumbing through an old photo album and coming across the newspaper clipping when I was twelve years old. Not many years after her sister’s death, she lost her first husband, Scott, in the war. As a young girl, I used to sit at our piano in our living room, painstakingly plunking out tunes from the beginning piano book. I recall the one morning that I was playing and singing “My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean.” Suddenly, my mom appeared from down the hallway, her eyes red and swollen, her voice imploring me to stop. Please. Stop. Just stop. She was crying and angry. But she never told me why. Later, I figured it out on my own. Scott was my mother’s bonnie.

Learning how much loss and grief my own mother had endured was my first understanding of just how unfair life could be.

I had lost all my grandparents by the time I was in middle school. Both sets had lived with us in the attached mother-in-law apartment that we had on our house, but I didn’t have deep relationships with them. Plus, they just seemed “old” to me. In my immature mind, it simply made sense that they died. I don’t remember being terribly sad at all.

My prayers must have paid off, because my parents did live for many, many more years to come. Through serious car accidents and heart attacks and congestive heart failure, both lived long enough to see me, their youngest child, get married and have my first child. It was when my son, Evan, was about two years old when my father became ill.

I always remember being amazed that my dad lived for as long as he did. He was a chain-smoker with chronic health conditions and did not take good care of himself by any stretch of the imagination. But if there was one quality he did have, it was chutzpah. My dad was pretty feisty.

I was in my early thirties when my dad became ill. Within a month of his illness, he was placed in hospice care. An inoperable blood clot in his heart, they said. “Are you sure you can’t do something more?”  he would ask the doctors. You see, my dad really wanted to live to see the year 2000. It was 1997. The morning that he died, I was on my StairMaster, dutifully getting my workout in. The phone had rang, but I let it go to the answering machine. It was the hospice center. “Your dad is showing signs that he is close to death,” they said. An hour later, I called them back and asked what they meant by that. What exactly were the signs? For some inexplicable reason, I had to know.

The Mister, my son and I got to the center as soon as we could, but it was too late. My dad was gone. No family member had been by his side when he took he last breath and I believe he wanted it that way. Stubbornly independent until the bitter end. A hospice angel asked me if I would like to see him and I said yes, I did. I walked into the room and saw what they said was my father, but I looked at him and immediately thought, “Wait…no, that’s not my dad.” I didn’t linger. I turned and walked out, more sure than ever that our physical body is simply a vessel of tissue and bone to house our soul.

My dad had left the building hours prior.

Driving home from the hospice center I gazed out the car window. It was a drippy, dreary day in March, one of those late winter days when it seems that spring will never come again. Here it was, I thought to myself. My first significant death. My first significant experience with grief. I was fully in it’s midst. My most vivid memory is being so struck by the fact that life went on. That cars and people buzzed by, distracted by their own lives and their concerns and yet I wanted to shout at them, “The world has changed today! My daddy died! Everything is different! Pay attention, will you?” But I knew it was of no use. Intellectually, I knew that death and dying happened daily, hourly, minute-by-minute even. But emotionally I couldn’t believe that life went on, seemingly unscathed, when mine would never be the same again.

The month prior to my dad’s death, I had studied up on it, as I always tended to do. I wanted to be prepared. I wanted to know exactly how to grieve, and then to do it well. I read books about the stages of grief and about the process of death. I got this, I thought. No surprises.

We had my dad’s memorial service a month after his death so that all my siblings would be able to attend. It was held at my childhood church, the church my father had been the choir director and organist at for as long as I could remember. For days leading up to the service I urgently prayed “please please please please please don’t let me cry.” For to cry–to really weep–would show a complete loss of control. I would not be grieving well at all. Grieving well meant I would be the dutiful daughter sitting on the church pew with a single tear, carefully rolling down her cheek, dabbing it delicately with a tissue. This time, my prayers were not answered. For as soon as the opening strains of “A Mightly Fortress” rang out in the sanctuary, I was a mess. A snotty, teary, weepy, sniffling, hiccuping, beautiful mess of a daughter grieving the loss of her father. It wasn’t until a year later that I understood that that was just as it should have been.

I had grieved very well, indeed.

On the evening of that March day that my father died, I stood at my bedroom window. The grey and rainy skies had finally parted to shine the final beams of sunlight on to the day. I stood at the window as The Mister played trains with Evan downstairs. Dinner was simmering on the stove. I felt spent and tired and sad and alone, like I never had before. I looked out the window and then saw a flash of color rise up into the sky. My eyes focused and I saw that it was a red mylar heart-shaped balloon with the words “I love you” printed on it. It rose up into the dusky sky right before me. I looked out the window and saw the balloon and I knew. I just knew.

I know, Dad. Thanks. I love you, too.

 

 

 

 

 

Heart, What Do You Need?

Day three: Heart, what do you need?

I need you to open me. Not just figuratively, either. But I need you to literally drop back into scary backbends in your yoga practice and have faith. I need you to practice physically opening me up and then remembering that come what may, you’ll be okay. I know, I know–sometimes you lose your foundation and collapse. But here’s the thing…you’ve always gotten back up again. Do you remember those years when you protected me so fiercely? You tried so hard to convince others you were tough and untouchable. Always in control. Unflappable. You did it well, I must say. You fooled so many for so long. But do you remember how you felt late at night, alone with your grip so tight around me? I was squeezed so tightly I thought I might die. That worried me because I know you better than anyone else. You are a girl of big, big feels. And those feels start in me, your heart. Those big feels of love and surrender, of trust and forgiveness. They live here, in me. You are at your best when I can relax and feel those feels, both big and small. Sure, it’s scary. But it will be okay. If you protect me too much, if you squeeze me too tightly, you’ll miss out. Life will become nothing but shades of grey, rather than the brilliant rainbow of feels you love so much. Those brilliant feels fuel your writing. You know that. They make you feel alive.

Remember how exhilarating it feels when you come up out of a deep back bend in your yoga practice? How you are breathless and light-headed and almost feel drugged in the very best way possible? Do that more. Go deeper. Go to that edge where you feel you just might bite it, but then feel your legs support my opening and go back deeper. Do it again and again and again and trust. And then trust some more.

Open. Feel. Trust. In that order.

That’s what I need.

Nourishment

Day Two asks “What made your soul feel nourished this year?”

Some might imagine my answer would be “yoga.” And while there is much goodness derived from my yoga practice, it is not my go-to place when I need care and feeding of my spirit.

My soul is nourished in the woods. Connecting my feet to the earth–not just sidewalks and concrete, but real dirt and grass and rocks–brings me back to my center faster than any other practice, yoga included.

I like to refer to it as “my park.” Eighty-four acres of woods and trails and ball fields and playgrounds. It is nearly the size of Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. I can walk to my park from my house in less than five minutes and immediately be immersed in nature. I know every inch by heart, every trail, every hideout, every nook and cranny in my park. I am there weekly–sometimes daily–throughout all four seasons of the year. Each season teaches me an important life lesson. I witness growth and death and learn when to stand tall and turn my face up to the the sun and when it’s best to huddle into shade and wait.

Right now, in December, I have my park to myself. Rarely will I encounter another human on the trails once the days turn cold and steely grey. Fewer yet when the rain pours and the woods sing out their wet, percussive chorus. Two years ago, after a substantial snowfall, Max and I trudged our way to the the trailhead only to be greeted by what I can imagine Narnia might look like. Trees heavy with snow, bending deeply, craning their weary necks over the trail. The snow, nature’s sound proofing, creating a pristine and silent landscape. Max and I made our way carefully through the trail to the park. Silent. White. Magical. That winter day remains one of my fondest memories.

Come Memorial Day, however, I’ll have more visitors to my park. As the sun shines longer and the earth slowly warms, more and more folks venture into my park. I try to be a gracious hostess, smiling as I pass other dog owners and noticing the Pony League baseball games on early spring evenings. By August, my park is in it’s full summer glory, with farmer’s markets and splash parks and outdoor movie nights. I’ll still visit my park in August, but I am more discrete as to when. Early mornings and dusky evenings in August suit me just fine.

And then, as if on cue, come the day after Labor Day my park returns to me. Oh sure, there are still plenty of visitors during our glorious Indian summers but these visitors are a fickle bunch. The wind begins to blow and the skies begin to threaten and they race back to their homes and cars in a blink of an eye. My secret is safe with me, I think to myself. For it’s during this transition into autumn that my park teaches me my most important lessons. Lessons about not holding on too tightly. About letting go. Bending without breaking. Learning that even as we let go and lose certain things, those things–be they people or ideas or thoughts or memories–will stay with us forever, but in new ways. I learn that these things are tilled into the soil of our soul to help fertilize new growth. Nothing is wasted. The good, the beautiful, the painful and the dark, muddy muck of our lives…all of it as valuable as gold.

My park nourishes my soul. My spirit, my creativity, my words come to life in the woods.

If I see you there, I promise to greet you with a smile. I’ll do my best to be a gracious hostess.

Expansiveness

“Describe your year in one word.”

Expansive.

Expansive in experiences, in relationships and in thought.  Expanding in every direction imaginable, and a few not imagined.

It’s been a transitional year. One kid off at college in Arizona and another entering into high school. Neither needing their mom so much in a day-to-day, hands-on caring sort of way. Both most definitely still needing their mom in other, less clearly defined ways. But at the end of the day, the landscape of my days has changed pretty significantly from even just a few years ago. I have a lot more discretionary time.

I look at every transition as an opportunity to either expand or contract. Contracting conjures up an image of fear, perhaps taking protective measures, of drawing within. Saying no. Contracting is something I know well. It tends to be my first impulse.

This was a year of saying yes. Hell yes, even!

Saying yes didn’t come easily. It usually doesn’t for me. Looking retrospectively at my year, however, I realized that I have zero regrets about anything I said yes to. None. Zilch. Nada.

This year I expanded and said yes to relationships. The friendships I already had were deepened. Meaningful conversations shared equal time with deep, deep belly laughs. I said yes to spending time with the people I love, even when my natural instinct was to stay safe at home in my pajamas. I said yes even when my conservative financial side asked if I could afford it. What I discovered along the way was what I really couldn’t afford was continuing to say no.

I said yes to re-discovering old connections. Relationships that had formed their roots decades prior but managed to shoot off in opposite directions, as life frequently does. Soul connections. These are the people I look in their eyes and see home in. Reconnecting with someone from my past was scary. So many expectations, how could I not be disappointed? How could they not be disappointed? And yet, all those worries faded away with the first hug of our reunion. Like a deep, audible sigh, exhaling and softening into what was always meant to be. A relationship priceless beyond measure.

And the experiences. So many experiences! My passion for live music fully indulged and expanded upon in ways I could not have possibly imagined. Saying yes to music I initially said no to and walking away changed. Finding myself eye-to-eye with Prince at an intimate club show in the spring, feeling every bit a starry-eyed teenager again. Not every show was great, but every show was worthwhile.

I went to the races. Twice. Car races. Drag races. Vibrational-thrill-through-every-cell-in-your-body-races. Exhilarating and excessive and surprising and ultimately life-affirming races. Make no mistake–I first said no. I did. But then I said yes and never looked back.

Finally getting a passport opened up a vast field of expansive possibilities. Traveling to the breathtakingly beautiful west coast of Vancouver Island and Tofino. Seeing bears and whales and eagles and experiencing the best ferry ride ever there and back. My passport was my ticket to Vancouver, BC where I spent an exhausting, giddy weekend with my teenage daughter chasing the biggest boy band in the world all over that stunning city. Expanding beyond borders, both real and self-imposed.

My yoga expanded this year as well. Following a few years in the wilderness without a clear teacher or direction, my teacher appeared on my path. My practice changed and deepened in ways that didn’t necessarily mean more advanced asanas. My teacher, the perfect mentor for me right now, always inspiring and leading with integrity, kindness and through impeccable example. She is the perfect balance of sthira/sukham, strength and softness. I am a better yogi, more respecting of and accountable for myself. I am a clearer, more skilled teacher because of her.

My business expanded considerably as I organized and hosted my very first yoga retreat in September. A brilliant group of twelve women gathered with me in Leavenworth to practice yoga, eat fabulous food and be in community with each other, most of whom had never met beforehand. It was wonderfully relaxed and meaningful and I felt like the luckiest yoga teacher in the world to have spent this time with these yogis. Taking this leap was easily one of the scariest things I did this year. A risk that gave back to me in ways I am so deeply grateful for.

And through all these expansive experiences, my writing has become more prolific and more honest. For the first time, I became a published writer. The feedback I’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive. My readers now expand across continents, beyond my wildest dreams. Writing–what I was born to do, what I feel in my bones—a place of validation and fulfillment and yes, frustration. Blocks happen. When those blocks happen, expansion stops and patience and presence step in to weather the storm. And through it all, I learn and grow and pay attention.

When I teach yoga, I will often remind my class that transitions ask us to pay attention. To be present. Each transition, each breath, be it in a Sun Salutation or in your life is an opportunity to either expand or contract. To either say yes or say no.

What will you say?

I say yes.

Hummingbird And Tree

When she thinks of him, she thinks of a hummingbird.

Ethereal.

Iridescent red and green, with wings beating so rapidly they almost seem invisible, as if they risk being dissolved into the atmosphere. Never really stopping, but instead hovering mid-air, just long enough to sip the required amount of nectar needed to sustain him until the next adventure. He moves so quickly that she sometimes fears losing sight of him, lest he fly off and disappear without warning. That happened once and she can’t fathom having it happen again.

Spending time with him is an exercise in continuous motion. He is attracted to speed and expressions of energy. Combustion. Racing, punk rock, vibrational thrill felt deep in his bones.

“Keep moving,” he advises her. “The more you move, the more you see. The more you see, the more you experience. The more experiences you have, the fuller the life you will have.”

She can’t argue his point.

She, however, is like a tree. Tall and strong. With roots so deep and grounded that at times she feels immovable. If she’s not careful, her ropey roots wrap and entwine themselves around her feet and keep her from growing. Keeping her heavy and making it impossible for her to feel the exhilaration of lift-off, of the wind beneath her wings.

She learns from him.

“I have a hard time being present in my life,” the hummingbird buzzes. “I avoid pain. Emotional pain.”

As much as she learns and grows and delights in his ability to fly free and experience life, she, the tree, has wisdom to impart as well.

She wants to show the hummingbird how to be still enough to be present. How to feel his feet on the ground–really on the ground–connected and alive. Not so solidly on the ground that he becomes immovable. But connected enough so that he can fearlessly lean back, heart wide open, and know that he will be safe. For as much exhilaration as there is in flying high, she knows the intoxicating sensation that comes from dropping back into the unknown. Trusting fate. Pausing enough to hear the voice of the universe. Her roots keep her safe, of this she is certain. Pain is not always inevitable, she wants to tell him, but it is a most powerful teacher.

Don’t worry. You are safe.

She wants to teach him how to slow his rapid hummingbird heart rate down enough to take one deep breath. And then another. And one more after that. Every now and then she glimpses a moment of stillness in his eyes. Eyes that reflect back the depth of his soul–his struggles, his joys, his fears. She wants to soak it in, that fleeting moment of presence with him. Stay here, she whispers.

But then he’s off again. Flying.

“Come with me,” he laughs as his diaphanous wings beat an impossible rhythm.

Throughout it all, she smiles. She remembers the day that he flew into her life and trusts that they are here to learn from each other. Trusting in their improvisational dance of give-and-take. The hummingbird taking rest and solace in the tree’s sturdy branches. The tree, brave and open enough to feel the vibrational whir of the hummingbird, spurring her on to new heights.

A divine partnership as delightful as it is unlikely.

 

 

 

The Light In Me (What I Mean When I Say Namaste)

She stood in front us, nervously shifting from one foot to another. Jamie was her name, no more than twenty-something, and we, an eclectic group of thirty or so yoga teacher trainees, sat on the hardwood floor of the warm, sunny yoga studio with rapt attention and waited for her to speak. Haltingly, she began.

“What I love about teaching yoga is…” Jamie stopped and fumbled with her words a bit. Her answer, I don’t even remember. She bit her lip, visibly squirming in the spotlight.

“And what scares me the most about teaching yoga is…” This time she didn’t even finish, but instead bent over at the waist and covered her face in her hands. Doubled over, she began sobbing. Big, painful sobs that hinted at a young life lived in struggle and darkness. Of never being enough. Her pain was palpable. We blinked back at her, some with tears in our eyes, urging her to continue.

And I saw myself in her shadows.

I had already been teaching yoga for several years by the time I took this teacher training.  I took this training because I wanted to transition from standing in front of my classes as a yoga teacher to being truly present and being seen in front of my classes as myself. This was the place to learn how to do that. We gathered that Saturday in June and had a short group practice to warm up and get us grounded. And then the real training commenced.

“Here’s your assignment,” my teacher announced. “Each of you will come up here and state your name, your age, where you live. Then, you’ll tell us the one thing you love most about teaching yoga, and the one thing that scares you the most about teaching yoga. Stand squarely on your feet, arms by your sides and connect with us. If we buy it, you pass and you sit down. If we don’t, you stay up there until we do.”

Holy crap.

“Who wants to go first?”

My hand shot up immediately as if it had a mind of it’s own. I knew what sitting and waiting to be called on would be like. I wouldn’t be able to relax and be present for everyone else’s exercise because I’d be too caught up in formulating exactly what I wanted to say. Let me go first and let’s get it over with. I stood and began.

“What I love most about teaching yoga is that moment when the lightbulb goes off in my student’s eyes. When someone realizes they can do something they never thought possible. What scares me the most about teaching yoga is the possibility of someone getting hurt in my class.”

I finished and looked out into the sea of eyes. I could see my teacher thinking for a moment before shook her head. Not passing. Not buying it, she said. She told me to turn around to face the wall, take time to breathe and turn around and try it again when I was ready.

I restated my name and my age and my statements. I waited.

“Better” my teacher nodded. “But this time, turn around and face us and simply breathe. Breathe until you get every single person in this room breathing with you. Breathe and connect and really see each and every one of us.”

Oh hell.

So I did. In silence, except for our collective breath, we connected. Breath and eyes. Eyes and breath. I stood, just as myself and let myself be seen. I looked back and made my gaze move methodically from person to person to person. I saw them. And that very moment, that moment of courageously standing in front of a roomful of yoga teachers, most of whom were strangers to me, and simply breathing together, present in that moment…that very moment has remained one of my most powerful teacher training moments ever. I passed. I heard someone whisper “wow” as I sat down. Yup. My thought exactly.

Wow.

Jamie had stood up and taken her turn about mid-way through the bunch. Some had come up armed with schtick and jokes. Others with well-rehearsed yoga-speak. Bullshit we would claim, clearly yet kindly. One or two passed on their first try, standing in front of us naked and real. But that was the exception. And when Jamie came up and stumbled and broke down, I felt like a fraud. She told her story of struggling with eating disorders. Of hating her body. Of how yoga had begun to bring her back to herself. She was telling my story, too.

What scared me the most about teaching yoga? Oh sure, I always worry about safety in my classes, then and now. But honestly?

That I am not enough.

A big part of me wanted to raise my hand and ask if I could have a do-over. Wait, wait, I would say. I get it now. I wasn’t being completely real. Jamie’s bold undressing had taught me a lesson:

We see each other in our shadows. If we dare to look.

“Namaste” is how I close each and every class I teach. Right before I say “namaste” I also say “the light in me sees the light in each one of you.” It is my loose translation of what the word namaste means. As cynical as I can be about the modern world of yoga, I don’t utter that closing word lightly. I once had a friend who would greet me every stinkin’ time he saw me with the word “namaste,” as if it was the only possible greeting I would understand now that I was a yoga teacher. Or maybe because he thought his saying it made him more erudite. It never felt authentic coming from him and it drove me crazy. Namaste is not something I say because it’s cool or expected or just the thing yoga teachers say. Before I say it with and to my class, I draw my thumbs to my forehead and then bow and bring my hands to my heart. I sit up, open my eyes and what I see back is priceless. A group of yogis, having been led through a powerful physical practice and then allowed to rest and have the practice land. The faces that look back at me are beautiful, eyes full of light and love. It is, by far, my most favorite part of teaching.

And I mean it when I say it.

I see the light in my students as they try something new. I see it when they smile and laugh as they topple over in ardha chandrasana and natarajasana. I see it when they fall to their knees into child’s pose to catch their breath rather than struggle mindlessly through just to keep up. I see it when they come into class thinking they can’t and leave knowing that they can.

Brilliant, beautiful light.

But I see their shadows, too. The shadows that creep into tears during savasana. The shadow of doubt that keeps them from taking one more deep breath or taking their feet off the ground. The shadow of insecurity as their hands reassuringly feel for ribs and hipbones as we lie on the floor. The shadow that tells them “you are not enough.”

And I see myself in their shadows as well, just as I saw myself in Jamie’s that June afternoon.

Back at the teacher training, we had a morning practice the following day. The thirty-plus of us coupled with another thirty or so regular students at the 9:30 class made for a completely full room. I was in the very front row, mere inches from the wall right before me and squeezed cozily in side-to-side between my fellow trainees. As I kicked my leg back into natarajasana, my outstretched palm left a drippy, sweaty hand mark on the front wall. I felt good and light and powerful through the practice. And then, as we took our final twist on our backs before savasana, emotion bubbled up into my throat. Well, okay, I thought. No biggie. This had happened before–a release, a wonderful by-product of the practice. But it didn’t end there. As I lay on my back, trying to relax and release, the sobs backed up in my chest. I draped my towel over my eyes in an effort to be discreet. Oh please oh please oh please don’t let this turn into those big, gulping, gasping sobs in this, a quietly peaceful room of meditating yogis. Thankfully, I managed to get through without too much of a display.

As I gathered my mat and towel and water bottle before the break, another well-intentioned yogi invited me to join her for lunch. I had packed some food in a cooler and had plans to eat by myself at a nearby park. As I graciously declined her invitation I felt my feelings beginning to swirl and bubble again. As soon as I got out of my car, the floodgates opened. The tears flowed, mingling with the sweat from my practice. I kicked off my flip-flops and plopped down in the thick grass in the middle of the empty urban park on a magnificent, early summer afternoon and sobbed. And sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.

Something was being released. Shadows, no doubt.

I remember talking about what our bodies hold onto and how they release emotions with my massage therapist once. She said “You know how sometimes you get a release and it feels new, like it was something from the fight you just had last night with your husband? And then sometimes you feel a release in your tissues and it feels old, ancient even. Like it’s some antique shit that just had to come out right then and there.”

I understood. What was being released that sunny afternoon after that powerful practice was older than dirt. Old, awful shadows of my youth, much like Jamie’s. The shadows that danced and twirled and teased with their taunts of “not enough, not enough, not ever enough!” Shadows that had to go. Quite simply, they had to exit to make room for light. The yoga practice that morning had helped facilitate that exit.

The light in me sees the light in you. Namaste. And guess what? I see myself in your shadows, too. If we’re brave enough, we will see each other there, in each, in both shadow and light.

Jamie went on with her teacher training and became a powerful teacher in her own right. She and I are yoga acquaintances and casual Facebook friends. She shares candidly and frequently about her journey through her shadows into her light and I am proud of her, much like I would be of a little sister. I saw myself in her shadows. I fought many of the same demons as she. And now I revel in the light that she is finally seeing in herself.

And then I wondered. Do you see your light? Do you really? 

I remember Jamie standing in front of our class, covered in shadow. Immersed in darkness. The rest of us looked back at her and witnessed the sheer beauty of a breakdown and breakthrough. Through her darkness the light shone brightly. We all saw that. But I think it took Jamie awhile to see it in herself.

The next time you are in a yoga class and the teacher says that word, namaste, promise me this: Pause. Just pause and take a breath and acknowledge that shining, gorgeous, other-worldly spark in yourself. You are more than something that needs to be improved and worked on and worked out and fixed and proven to yourself or someone else. Matter of fact, you aren’t that at all.

Enough. You are enough.

Namaste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eleven Big Things I Learned On Summer Vacation (About Inspiration And Art)

“To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

 

1.  Go see. Go do. But mostly, just go.  And don’t think too much about it. You know those invitations from friends and family to events and activities that sound completely crazy and unappealing and not at all what you’d choose yourself? Just do it. Do it with an open mind and open eyes. Inspiration often comes in surprising forms, and usually not on your living room sofa. Usually. So get out and live. Now would be good.

 

2.  Let yourself be drawn to that which you love. And don’t think too much about it. I have a very dear friend with whom I frequent all sorts of artsy-fartsy-edgy kinds of events. He’s a dude who rocks a very masculine vibe, but at a recent art show we went to, he kept going up to touch and admire all the textile art. The felted bags and hats, the intricately embroidered wall hangings–he loved it all. Our culture might suggest (or shout, even) that men aren’t the ones to work with textiles and fabric and thread, but I say who the hell cares? If you love it, do it.

 

3.  Provoke. “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” Hell yes. I remember being a young adult, somewhere in my twenties, seeing Pablo Picasso’s famous painting, “Guernica” for the very first time. It is a black and white depiction of war, full of stark, powerful, painful images. Not at all comforting or pretty. I remember being drawn into it’s depths, taking it all in and wanting to weep. I knew then and there that I had to have that painting in my home. I’ve had a beautifully framed reproduction of “Guernica” in my family room for years now. Life is messy and wonderful and hard and heartbreaking and complex. Let your art reflect the complexity of this life we have. And don’t apologize for it when others push back in response. Because they will. Listen to their feedback and allow them their reaction and remember that they are entitled to their interpretation as much as you are entitled to your expression. Commit to being provocative and let go of your overwhelming need to be liked.

 

4.  Tell your truth. Oh hell, that sounds like such a yoga thing to say, but I have to say it. Your experience is your experience, so whether you share it through writing or music or sculpture or dance, let your truth shine through. Telling your truth can and will be upsetting to some, such as family members or friends who might have a different take on things. That’s okay. Be strong and know that even though others will disagree, telling what is true for you is a huge part of being a powerful artist. It’s a huge part of being a powerful human being.

 

5.  Be authentic. Again, another potential yoga-speak pitfall. But I really mean it. So, here’s the thing: I went to see a lovely singer-songwriter perform not long ago. She is a local girl done good, having found lots of success in the mainstream music scene. It was her last performance on her (long) tour, in her hometown, with a sold-out crowd of adoring fans. And at what should have been an extraordinary homecoming performance, she phoned it in. Seriously. I felt as though she was regurgitating every “you guys are amazing!” and every anecdotal story from each and every previous show on her tour. There was nothing unique, or special or in-the-moment real about her performance. I left the show feeling flat. Nothing. It sucked. I’ve been to enough performances of musicians who present themselves stark and nekkid onstage, with infectious energy and a true connection with their audience to know just how magnificent that feels when it happens. It’s almost as if you are being sucked into their crazy-energy-vortex. Be that. Learn to know how to tell when you’re just going through the motions for motions sake and then stop. Just stop. Share yourself. Your wonderful, flawed, messed-up, convoluted self. And watch what happens.

 

6.  Forget about the money.  Let’s face it. The term “starving artist” is ubiquitous for a reason. It’s bloody hard to make a living as a writer, a painter, a musician, a dancer. But beware of tailoring your art to the masses. Beware of thinking “I’m going to write about what people want to hear” or any derivation thereof. That is the kiss of death as an artist, in my opinion. Write about you and your life and how it made you feel. Paint that canvas with big, messy feels pouring out all over it. Sing the song that pisses off your mother but makes your voice crack with emotion every stinkin’ time. The minute an artist begins creating with the intention of being “successful” is the minute his work looks/sounds/reads as contrived. And it cheats your audience out of connecting with you.

 

7.  Know who your (real) friends are.  And then spend time with them. Your real friends are those people who make time to see you. They don’t tell you what you want to hear, but they do tell you the truth–kindly. Compassionately. Learn the difference between the people who just want to suck your energy for themselves and those you walk away from feeling nourished. And then do the same for them. Your true friends love you because of your quirks and flaws and idiosyncrasies, not in spite of them. Treasure those people. Bring them brownies. I mean it.

 

8.  Take time to be still. Every day if possible. Five minutes will do. Sit with your breath. Don’t freak out when this seems impossible, just do it.

 

9. Observe. Watch. Listen. Repeat.  My textile-loving-masculine-art-and-music-partner-in-crime doesn’t necessarily consider himself an artist, but I think otherwise. He’s always commenting about what he’s noticed in the people around him. Not in a judgmental, “I-can’t-believe-she-wore-that” sort of way, but in a matter-of-fact, objective manner. Almost as though he weaves and constructs stories around what he sees and hears. That’s what artists do. We watch. We listen. We process. And then we express. Do that. Bring a notebook if necessary.

 

10. Make mistakes. This isn’t news. Almost every writing/artist inspiration book will tell you this. Write poorly. Paint badly. Screw the hell up. And then stick a cork in the pie-hole of your inner critic. Know that doing things poorly is an integral step on the way to doing things well. So don’t try to skip over it because you’ll just have to go back and do it anyway. You don’t have to share all your crappy art, but you know what? It’s okay if you do. Be flawed, be messy, be yourself. Some of my most favorite recent books I’ve read are written in a way that would make any English professor scream. Not proper in any way, shape or form. But they are real.

 

11.  Show up. Simple. Not easy. Show up in your life, with your friends, in your relationships, in your world, with yourself, in your art. Just show the hell up.

  

Upward Facing Girl

 

The morning’s steady rain was both sweet and ironic.

We had just spent four days on the northwest Washington coast with nary a drop of precipitation. If you are familiar with that area of the Olympic Peninsula, then you know just how unusual that is. It tends to be, well…moist.

I like the rain. Just not on vacation. But now, back from the coast with a brain full of jumbled thoughts, complicated feelings and operating on a fitful night’s sleep, heading out with the dog into the drippy woods seemed like the perfect welcome home.

A steady rain in the summer woods is different than in the fall or winter. With a thick canopy of foliage overhead, much of the trail doesn’t even get wet. Once in the trees, I took my hood down. I listened to the raindrops as we made our way through. Not unlike the waves rolling in and out on the coast, the drops built a soothing wall of ambient sound. White noise. My brain began to clear.

And I began to think about backbends. Because I do that sort of thing.

Some people’s bodies just naturally lend themselves to backbending. Most–including mine–do not. Through years of yoga practice, I have developed the strong legs and core that are necessary for bending backwards but it can still feel scary. Dropping back into the unknown, heart and belly exposed and lifted—vulnerable–to be sure. It’s bloody uncomfortable but I do it anyway. I do it anyway because I know what lies ahead of me after I come up. Exhilaration. An unmistakable head rush. Feeling affirmation that I have built a strong enough foundation in my practice, in my legs, in opening my chest, in my core to support falling backwards, heart open, into the unknown.

It is heady stuff.

And much like yoga, opening up into the unknown in life requires the same sort of foundation. When we’re young and unsure, dropping back into the ether is risky. Without that sense of grounding, identity, and confidence, exposing our hearts and belly bare to the sky (or others) will likely land us in a messy, shuddering heap if we’re not careful. I know this to be true. I’ve been there.

Boom! It hurts like hell.

One of my most favorite poses is called Wild Thing. Camatkarasana for you Sanskrit junkies. But I prefer to call it Wild Thing. It’s not for beginners because it requires both upper and lower body strength, flexibility and keen body awareness. You are supported mostly on one arm and one leg and drop fearlessly backwards into a beautiful, dancer-like arc. I often cue my classes to “go back, go back, go back, fearlessly go back as if you might just bite it!” When I’m in the pose, I remember to press through my supporting leg and tuck my tailbone under to extend through my spine. I draw my core inwards and squeeze through my shoulder blades to support my heart lifting up. And at the last moment, I drop my head back.

I exhale. God, it’s good stuff.

Back on the trail, the dog and I are in the park now, away from the protective trees and exposed more to the steadily increasing rain. Even the park rangers are inside today. My hood is still off, my hair now plastered to my head like a skull cap, stringy and wet.

I don’t care.

I run in the rain because it makes me feel alive. My entire body is soaked to the skin, my feet making a squish-squash-squish sound as I stride. This is how I choose to live my life now. Not as an unsure young girl, afraid of looking foolish, drawing inward and self-conscious. Today, I insist on bending backwards because it reminds me of just how strong I am. Strong enough in my foundation to play that tenuous edge of comfortable discomfort. Gamble a little. Strong enough to risk exposing my open heart to the sky and to others.

Strong enough to live out loud. Come what may.

Once back home, I towel off my dog, who, just twelve hours earlier, had been freshly shampooed and brushed when I picked him up from the boarders. Now, he is a beautiful, sopping mess. His freckled white legs now grey, his belly caked with mud and bramble. I look in his eyes and see reflected back joy.

Pure joy. Exhilaration.

And that’s all I need.

images

 

Smart Cookies

It was a seemingly innocuous enough Facebook update:

Dear friends,

If you are capable of complex, critical thinking, I love you.

If you aren’t, I still like you well enough, but I probably won’t bring you homemade baked goods.

Love, 

Trix

I wrote it in response to my frustration with our culture’s tendency to rush to judgment, to get emotionally swept up in whatever media firestorm of the moment is blazing, to succumb to knee-jerk reactions to events in our world without taking time to think more deeply, ask thoughtful questions and form our own opinion. Social media these days seems to only exasperate the mob-mentality of the moment. We “like” or retweet quotes, platitudes, opinions of others and adorable kitten photos in a click of a mouse. And sure, I like to see the things and causes my friends are connected to, even if it’s just a forwarded post. But some days I troll the depths of my Facebook feed, ravenously hungry for an original thought, a humorous anecdote of an experience, an honest expression of how someone’s day has been–even if it’s been awful–only to log off minutes later, still hungry for something of substance. I’m not talking about great writing–just something real, not re-hashed. Tell me how you feel. Tell me how the news has made you sad/mad/happy/afraid. Tell me why. And then tell me more.

I didn’t mean for my Facebook post to stir up controversy.

Shortly after I posted my proclamation, I began to hear from friends.

“Hey, I am capable! Send me a cheesecake!”

“You’ve never brought me homemade baked goods…does that mean you think I’m stupid?”

“You love me! Can I have brownies?”

Holy hell. What did I get myself into?

So I started to think about it. And I started to think of my Facebook friends and beyond, some of whom I know very well and some of whom I’ve never met but whose musings and postings never fail to provoke me. They nudge me into deeper thinking, encourage me to educate myself about a cause, an event, a person, a film, music, etc. Maybe introduce me to something I never knew existed before, perhaps a new way of looking at an old idea. I love these friends. I don’t always agree with them, either. But that’s okay. I love that my circle of friends includes people of many faiths, many beliefs, many political persuasions, varied tastes in music and sports and food and yoga. I love that we don’t have to agree.

I love thoughtful, provocative, passionate people.

I want to send you homemade baked goods.

No, really, I do.

I’m going to ask for something in exchange, however. Not much, but simply a paragraph. Email it to me, along with your shipping address. A paragraph comprised of just a few sentences or many. In the paragraph, tell me about something you believe in deeply. Your conviction. It could be about world events, politics, religion, yoga, science, art or whatever. Hell, it could be about unicorns, for all I care. Tell me why you believe what you believe and what life experiences shaped your beliefs. Tell me how you came to feel the way you feel. It doesn’t need to be somber, but I do want you to take this seriously. So, if you believe in unicorns, for god’s sake, be earnest about unicorns! But don’t tell me that you believe what you believe simply because you’ve always been told that’s the way it is. Or because it’s easy. Or because someone on Facebook said you should. Think for a moment. And then think deeper.

And here’s the thing…your paragraph won’t be graded or judged. I don’t have to agree with what you write. Your writing doesn’t have to be brilliant, or even that well written at all. I’ll even try to overlook spelling errors. (That’s a big one for me, so do your best. Spell check, baby.)

But I do want to hear from you. I really, really do.

I am a cynic at heart, so my expectations are low. I realize everyone is busy in their busy lives and sometimes one more thing seems like one more thing too many. A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog about my propensity to hoard greeting cards. (You can read it here) I asked everyone to help me let go of some of my many greeting cards that I keep wrapped in a plastic bag in the back of a filing cabinet in my office. All I asked for was a mailing address and, in turn, I would send you a card in the mail with a handwritten sentiment inside. I’d write a little about what our friendship means to me. Who doesn’t like getting a card in the mail? Apparently, a lot of folks. Out of all the people who read my blog, I received addresses for maybe a dozen. Maybe.

And now I’m asking for more than an address, I’m asking you to think and express and write. Just a little. Are you game?

After I read your email, I will send you homemade baked goods. I can’t tell you what exactly, but I can tell you that I am a kick-ass baker. Seriously. I will send you a half-dozen or so homemade cookies, or brownies, or sweet bread. (I can’t cater to allergies at all, so if you are vegan or gluten-intolerant or have issues with nuts, or anything along those lines, I’m sorry but I just can’t get that specialized. I’d be happy to send you a card, though. Got plenty of those left.) I’ll box it all up and send it your way for you to enjoy with a tall glass of milk or a lovely flute of champagne.

This is my way of expressing my appreciation to the provocative thinkers in my life, virtual or otherwise.

So, surprise me. Provoke me. Challenge me to think about something in a brand new way. Tell me what makes you you. Exceed my low expectations and write it all down and email it to me at [email protected]. Type “Smart Cookies” in your subject line and include your shipping address. If you are in Canada, it may be months before your package arrives. You Canadians probably already know that.

I’m setting a deadline for this challenge because I think we all work more productively with one. I’d like all paragraphs emailed to me by Monday, August 12th. That gives you three weeks. Three entire weeks to write a few or more thoughtful sentences in exchange for homemade baked goods. I’ll start mailing the sweets out mid-August.

I think that’s a reasonable exchange, don’t you?

Flag Cake (And The Utter Importance Of It)

It was the last week of June, 1995.

My life had changed dramatically over the last twelve months. My son, Evan, had been born in July of 1994 and after several long months of struggle as I transitioned from a hip, cool career gal to a new stay-at-home mom, I was at last feeling the rough edges of my new life beginning to smooth out. It was a welcomed change. I didn’t enjoy feeling as though I was on a runaway train that I could not control and that was exactly how I had experienced those first months of motherhood. Exhausted, clueless, often teary and without a clear map of how to navigate this strange, new terrain. As I approached my son’s first birthday, I finally felt as though I could breathe again.

With The Mister often away working long hours in the glamorous movie business, Evan and I had finally found our groove. A mother-son bond formed and strengthened. He loved being in the baby backpack and I needed to return to regular exercise. We each got what we needed through our nightly strolls through our neighborhood. Narrow streets with no sidewalks and busy traffic made our trek somewhat dicey, but we always managed to wind up near a vacant lot at the very end of a quiet lane. Overgrown with weeds and bramble and framed by a barbed wire fence, this lot was home to several horses. Evan and I looked forward to our visits and occasionally enticed the horses closer with carrots to share. Extending a curious hand to touch their velvety noses, Evan would squeal in delight. Being with the horses grounded me, as they always have, and reminded me of who I was before I was a mom.

First birthday preparations were well underway that last week of June when I awoke one night with a fire in my belly. And not a good fire, mind you. This was trouble. I spent the next several hours throwing up in the bathroom, wondering what in the world I had done to bring on this stomach bug. Finally, by the afternoon of the next day I was feeling slightly better, enough to manage eating some bland Malt O’ Meal. I went to bed that evening, still exhausted but determined that I would awaken fresh and healthy the next morning.

Not so much.

Instead, I was roused fully awake from my fitful sleep as a deep, searing pain blasted through my gut. I stumbled to the bathroom again, thinking perhaps the Malt O’ Meal had been a poor choice. I tried to vomit, but to no avail. I was sweating and shivering uncontrollably and suddenly felt as though a heavy curtain of blackness was encroaching from all directions. I sat down on the toilet seat, put my head between my legs and yelled to The Mister to call 911. It was not a decision so much as it was instinct.

The paramedics arrived quickly. As they gathered around my huddled, fetal-positioned lump in my bed I remembered wishing I had made myself a bit more presentable. Three strapping, quintessentially handsome paramedics, all focused on me. Ashen, grey, sweaty me. They asked me questions as they assessed the situation and recommended I go to the hospital. In the aid car. Wait…what? What do I do with Evan? Although Evan had begun to eat more solid food, he was still nursing regularly. He needed me, despite The Mister’s insistence that he would take care of things. How the hell could this be happening? The sun was just beginning to rise on a brilliant summer morning as the ambulance motored down I-405 with me in the back.

Admitted to the hospital and shot up with morphine, the testing began. Blood tests, scans, questions. And then more questions. More tests. And a whole lot of laying around on a gurney in curtained cubicles, busy hallways and deserted radiology rooms. Doped up on pain killers with a fever climbing steadily higher by the hour, I floated in and out of lucidity.

Once tucked away in my own room, my OB/GYN popped in to check on me. All the testing had been inconclusive, she told me. And although they originally suspected appendicitis, the symptoms I was presenting didn’t exactly match up. They wanted to look inside and see if they could figure out what was going on. I heard the word “surgery” come out of her mouth and remember thinking just get this nightmare over with. Do whatever the fuck you need to do I imagined telling her. “Okay” is more likely what I managed to croak out.

It was 7:00PM by the time I was prepped and ready to be sliced open. I had been at the hospital for thirteen hours.

About two hours later in the recovery room, groggy from the anesthesia, I saw the surgeon’s face first. Appendicitis, indeed, he told me. My little, useless appendix had managed to burst open and spew it’s inflamed poison throughout my body, hence the high fever. Lovely, I thought. But for the first time in 48 hours, the pain in my gut was gone.

One of my first visitors after surgery was my sister, Jaylynne, and her family. The look of sheer, uncensored horror on my sister’s face as she laid eyes on me was what I remember the most. Hell warmed over, corpse-like, pallid, and possibly even cadaverous were all apt descriptions of my appearance. Apparently, it was a bit shocking. My young nephews hid nervously behind their parents, occasionally stealing a glance of their now ghastly Auntie Tracie. They didn’t stay long. My OB/GYN stopped by shortly after. “You gave us quite a scare,” she told me, as if I had orchestrated this whole episode myself for my own amusement. “It was a little touch and go there for awhile.”

Holy hell…did I nearly die?

Death aside, I was in the hospital for five days. Hooked up with an impressive array of IV’s and drainage tubes, I was pumped full of painkillers and powerful antibiotics. I had been nursing Evan regularly at least three times a day when I got sick and now my breast milk was effectively poisoned for the foreseeable future. When I expressed my concern about my ability to continue breastfeeding, my surgeon guffawed and told me to “let it go” and that my son was old enough to do without. And although there was some truth to what he said, he failed to recognize the implications of recovering from surgery on the same floor as pediatrics while speed-weening my baby. My hormones reacted impulsively to the sound of crying babies down the hall. Night after night, I was awakened by my hospital gown soaked with useless breast milk–not only wildly uncomfortable but also a vivid reminder of being separated from my son. My physical recovery paled in comparison to the emotional wrench of being away from Evan.

Those five, long days in the hospital were not without some silver linings, however. My dad would visit me every evening after supper. Honestly, I think he liked having somewhere to go and nurses to flirt with. Ambling in with his cane and nonchalant nature, he would pull up a chair and sit beside me for an hour or so. He was a man of few words, so conversation didn’t extend much beyond perfunctory small talk. But he would bring me stacks of magazines–People and Woman’s Day and Better Homes and Gardens–undoubtedly curated and chosen with my mom’s guidance. It was just a few years later when my dad passed away and those evenings spent with him were like gold to me. Expressing emotion did not come easily for my dad and I have no memory of him telling me he loved me. But his predictable, quiet presence by my side as I lay in my hospital bed spoke volumes.

Enter the flag cake. Finally.

It was the end of June, you see, about a week before the 4th of July, so the magazines my dad dropped off were filled with red, white and blue party ideas. Inevitably, there was the Cool-Whip advertisement that included the recipe for a festive flag cake. Made from a box, frosted with Cool-Whip and festooned with an assortment of berries to resemble the stars and stripes on a flag, this cake became an obsession of mine. As my hospital days wore on my doctors began to speculate as to when they would spring me from this sterile prison. The holiday was quickly approaching and became my benchmark of freedom. “We’d really like to get you home before the long holiday weekend,” they would tease. They would leave my room and I’d turn back to my magazine, find the page with the flag cake and imagine being at home at last, cake in the oven, berries at the ready. The flag cake sustained me.

I am not a particularly patriotic person.

But as time trudged on, the idea of this flag cake began to take on a much greater meaning. Freedom, in the sense of being sprung from my labyrinth of tubes and 2:00AM blood pressure checks. The simple pleasure of going to sleep and waking up in my own bed. Having been fed solely through my IV bag of glucose for nearly a week, the simple yet sensual pleasure of preparing and eating real food again sent shivers of excitement down my spine. And after months of feeling utterly overwhelmed with the expectations of being a new mom, the freedom to walk into my son’s bedroom and lift him out of his crib sounded nothing short of heavenly.

The flag cake became a metaphor for all that I hold dear. Stripped of the busyness of life and forced to simply be, that which I hold dear became crystal clear. Health, family, friends. Love.

Really, it’s all about love.

On July 3, 1995, my doctors sprung me from the joint. Wheeled out like an invalid in a wheelchair, my precious magazines stacked in my lap, I remember telling The Mister something about the importance of keeping this recipe for a flag cake that I had come across. “You’re not seriously considering making a cake tomorrow, are you?” he asked. Of course not.

I am not a particularly patriotic person and anyone who knows me knows that I abhor the 4th of July. By nature, I am not a flag-waving, rah-rah kind of girl. Between the hot-dog-and-pie eating contests and the thousands of dollars of explosives that get blown into thin air, I see most Independence Day celebrations full of excess and waste and gluttony. I hate the noise, I hate the garbage that inevitably winds up in my trees and yard. My dog is a mess. I can’t wait for it to be over. But you can bet on that following July 4th, 1996, there was a box-mix-Cool-Whip-frosted flag cake on the table in my kitchen. A new tradition with brand new significance. Moving through various incarnations–from homemade cakes and cream cheese frostings replacing the Cool-Whip and boxed mix version to an off year where the berries had a strange but uncanny resemblance to chihuahua faces–it is always there. The ubiquitous, metaphorical flag cake. This year, layered peanut-butter Nanaimo bars replaced the traditional flag cake. The meaning, however, remains the same:

Freedom. Independence. Health. Love. Simplicity.

A long walk down a quiet lane to feed carrots to horses.

No loud booms required.

(And here, because I love music and because I saw this band just a few weeks ago and because the lead singer is hella cute and because I agree that every day should be a holiday…)

Lean Out (Adventures In Leaning Heavily To One Side Of Life)

“We are not hammock people!” she proclaimed, not long after the start of our Tofino weekend. This comment, coming on the heels of more than one less-than-graceful entry and subsequent exit from said hammock, slung invitingly between two heavy beams on the deck of the rental house on the coast of Vancouver Island. She being Sandy, the straight-shootin’-wise-crackin’-tough-as-nails chick from Newfoundland. It wasn’t an unreasonable observation.

But after returning from a boozy afternoon on the beach, our travel mugs now drained dry, and having inhaled as much salty sea air and admired as many scruffy, tattooed young surfer boys as we could muster, a nice, relaxing swing in the hammock seemed to make perfect sense to me.

Alone on the deck, I began by gingerly lowering my hips as close to the center of the hammock as possible. Leaning back slightly, my legs swung up next, quickly positioning into the center of the hammock, coordinated by a swift rotation of my upper body onto the pillow. Ahhhhhh, I thought. There. Perfect. No sooner had I relaxed into the gentle sway of the swing when Kris, the mastermind behind this weekend, threw open the double doors of the deck and decided to join me. “No, no, no, no, no!” I began to plead, knowing full well that the fine balance I had just achieved was soon to be disrupted. Sure enough, as soon as she sat down on the hammock, it began to tilt. Not expecting it, I went with the tilt to the point of no return and the hammock handily flipped the both of us out onto the deck. We landed in a heap, laughing so hard it was tough to breathe, let alone talk. I managed to gasp that I was done and started to move away from the swing. “No way!” Kris insisted, as she refused to let me leave. We tried again, carefully coordinating movements, only to have me begin to list heavily to one side again. “What the hell are you doing, Jansen?!!” was the last thing I heard before we hit the deck once again, this time the both of us lapsing into the out-of-control-silent laugh, inevitably peeing our respective pants. Third time’s a charm, we thought, as we clambered back into the hammock and voila! Balance was struck and there we swung, heads and feet on opposite sides of the swing, wiping the sweet tears of laughter from our eyes.

It was a weekend of leaning heavily to one side of life. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately.

I am a yogi and a yoga teacher, and the practice of yoga has a lot to do with finding balance. Equanimity. Balance in our bodies, our minds, our souls. For me, balance usually equals optimum health. All systems working in concert with one another, no disequilibrium. And when I’m there–in balance–there’s no doubt. It feels good. But what I’ve come to recently discover is that allowing myself to swing (at times, wildly) out of balance has it’s perks as well.

I believe it’s when we lean heavily to one side of life that life often tastes the very sweetest.

Many yogis out there would beg to differ. They advocate strict discipline–in practice, in diet, in sexuality, in study, in lifestyle. Discipline, in general, is not a bad thing at all. To achieve certain goals, balanced discipline is a must. But I come from a background of disordered eating, a self-imposed prison of rules and regulations. I spent years with friends and family complimenting me endlessly about “how disciplined” I was. How “good” I was. Little did they know, I was stuck in a hell of my own making.

I remember telling boyfriends I couldn’t eat dinner (or anything, for that matter) later than three in the afternoon. That I had to finish all of my prescribed exercises before going out, sometimes taking hours to complete. Even after I had clawed my way back from the depths of anorexia and exercise obsession, I still conducted my life in a very careful, measured way. I cared too much about how others saw me, and far too little about how I felt about myself. I didn’t try new things for fear of looking foolish. “I only do things that I do well,” I remember smugly telling people. It was a sad defense conjured up to keep me from being in situations where I felt or looked uncomfortable in any way. Having babies and young kids only made me more careful. God forbid if the other suburban mothers in my playgroup saw my house a mess, or my child eating a less-than-balanced snack. Being a mom was always a good reason not to go out, not to explore new things, to stay status-quo. Was my life balanced? Yeah, pretty much. Kinda. Sorta. But as the kids grew up and built lives of their own, I was left with, well…myself. Balanced, careful, safe ME.

And then I remembered that wasn’t me at all.

These past nine months have been an exercise in leaning heavily to one side of life. It began in earnest back last September when I threw caution to the wind and bought myself a ticket and a hotel room on the spur of the moment to see Amanda Palmer in Portland. By myself. Only to drive back and a day later bribe my way into her sold-out show in Seattle. I saw more live music–lots of it–most of it loud and edgy and crazy fun. I bought clothes just to go out in. I stayed out past my bedtime and got up to teach yoga with my ears still ringing and a smile on my face from the show that ended just hours prior. I bought a very expensive ticket to see Prince in a tiny club and have never regretted it. Was it within my balanced budget? Definitely not. But I knew the price of the ticket wouldn’t be the difference between my family eating and not. I began saying “yes” a hellava lot more.

Trust me, life is sweet on the edge. But you do need to know how to get back.

Extra sleep, regular yoga, gallons more water and ample fresh vegetables all bring me back to balance, both physically and mentally. And that’s important. My daughter’s riding instructor once wisely said “you need to go out of balance to find your balance.” I know this to be true. It’s not unlike working your “edge” in a yoga pose–holding back, staying safe and ruled by fear that you might get hurt or look foolish won’t make you stronger–but it will usually keep you safe and fearful. Dipping your toes into the unknown of a pose, that outer edge, that place that’s a bit (or a lot) uncomfortable–that’s the sweet spot. That’s where we grow and that’s where we see our true self, even our true strength reflected back to us. Certainly there’s a measured risk of physical injury, or more likely a bruised ego, but what’s the alternative? Is it worth it to hold back? Conversely, having a practice that is constantly pushing, striving and over-efforting won’t get you what you’re looking for either. Sthira sukham asana is what we call it in yoga-speak. Steady and strong. To find it, however, we sometimes need to lean out over our edge.

Back in Tofino, moderation was in moderation. If there had been any visions of mindful meditations and salad cleanses, they were quickly dashed upon arrival. Six women, brought together by our mutual friend, Kris. Most of us arriving as strangers and leaving as soul sisters. We stayed up far too late, drank far too much and laughed until our stomachs hurt. We did have salad one day for lunch, but otherwise it was a magnificent melange of whatever was rustled up from the generously stocked fridge. Cheese, crackers, shrimp, chocolate, tequila and barbecued pork, to name a few. Bacon and mimosas for breakfast. Back on the ferry home Monday afternoon, I glanced at my reflection in a mirror and saw a woman who had spent three days leaning heavily to one side of life. But what my bleary eyes lacked in clarity, they certainly made up for in spirit. My heart, not visible, but full to bursting with the sweetness of a life lived out loud.

“We are not hammock people!” Sandy had insisted. But I don’t know that I agree. I say bring on the swinging hammock of life and let yourself lean heavily to one side. You might very well get flipped to the ground in a messy, tumbling heap. You may very well look foolish. I sure hope you’re laughing.

And at least you’ve found your edge.

Mama Mia

When I was a young girl, I thought my mother looked like Elizabeth Taylor. In my eyes, she was beautiful. Tall and dark-haired with long legs and regal, tapered fingers, perfect for playing concertos on the piano or plucking out bluegrass on a banjo, both of which she did at one point in her life. Not so much, though, after I was born.

I wish she could have seen herself as I saw her.

My mom had pain in her life–far, far too much pain than seemed fair and right for one person to endure. From her sister’s suicide when they were both young adults, poised to take the world by storm, to her first husband’s tragic death in the war, to her best friend’s fatal illness right after retirement, I believe my mom’s heart became broken beyond repair. Still, she managed to raise seven children, complete with a full menagerie of critters running about, not to mention two sets of grandparents living with us at various intervals. It was a busy life and one in which she would often be so exhausted that she would retire to her bedroom at the end of an especially taxing day and cry. I remember feeling helpless. I remember hoping it wasn’t me that made her cry.

She was an artist, in every sense of the word. A brilliant artist, in fact, who majored in art at the University of Washington and graduated summa cum laude, an accomplishment she held onto with great pride. Our house was peppered with her paintings–watercolors, mostly, but also a beautiful oil painting of a nude that hung in my father’s office. Later on, she created fanciful wallhangings from textiles and embroidery, countless quilts that she stitched by hand and unique pottery tiles and bowls that still grace the corners of my house. You see, having her art surround me is my way of keeping her near.

As she grew old in the final years of her life, my siblings and I gathered together one afternoon and pulled out her portfolios of paintings, drawings and sketches that had been squirreled away in a storage locker for years. We drew numbers like a lottery, and went around one by one, each picking a favorite piece to keep. This went on for hours. Some of the art we had seen before, but much of it we had not. All of us left that afternoon in awe of the sheer scope of our mother’s talent. I visited her not long after and told her how much I admired her and how priceless it was to have her artwork with me. Not surprisingly, she rolled her eyes a bit and poo-pooed my compliment. She never thought she was good enough.

I wish she could have seen herself as I saw her.

My mother was a passionate woman. Passionate about music and art and politics and social justice. I think her passion overwhelmed her. Having been raised by two stoic parents back in the day where women were expected to be demure and proper, I don’t think she knew what to do with her passion, how to let it out. I wonder if she was afraid of losing control.

When I was a teenager and young adult, I scared her with my passion. Not content to keep my heady emotions tucked away, I would cry and yell and laugh loudly and frequently. Sometimes she looked visibly startled by my outbursts and would plead with me to “calm down.” Inevitably, I would shout “no!” and tell her how good it felt to let it out, how normal it was to show emotion. She warned me about being too angry, (people won’t like you) too happy, (you’re asking for something bad to happen) too in love (they won’t love you back.) I didn’t heed her motherly advice. I came to live out loud, I would say.

You see, I feel in italics and think in capitals.

My passion is a gift from my mother.

Towards the end of her life, having languished in a slow and painful physical decline, I remember sitting with her by her bedside. I would regale her with stories of my life, my children’s activities and amusing things that I encountered day-to-day. And she would lie there, listening intently, sharing in my pride about my kid’s accomplishments, never scolding me for bragging too much about them. And she would gaze at me, as only a mother can. Her eyes full of a lifetime of nurturing, of pain and heartache, of pride and joy. Of passion passed from mother to daughter.

There is nothing like the way a mother’s eyes light up when she sees her children. No friend, no lover, no child will ever look at you the way your mother does.

It’s been seven years since my mom died and I miss her every day. I feel her with me, the way her spirit tilts the picture frames on the walls, causing me to stop and pay attention and go over and straighten them, maybe pausing to appreciate the art held within the glass and frame. The way she reappears, sometimes with her mom, my Granny Ann, as fluttering butterflies in the summer. I miss having her in my children’s lives, wishing they could have known the younger, more vibrant grandma she was before they were born.

But most of all, I miss the way her eyes lit up when I walked into the room. No one will ever look at you the way your mother does. I miss that most of all.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Scan 131320000

Where’s Waldo: My quest to hug my hero

he·ro
/ˈhi(ə)rō/
Noun
A person who is admired for courage or noble qualities.

It’s like this, you guys: We all need heroes.

Heroes come in many forms and often change as we grow through different stages and take on new challenges. A hero can be a parent, a teacher, a child, a friend. A hero can be someone we know well or someone we’ve never met but admire for their accomplishments. I’ve had spiritual heroes, literary heroes, yoga heroes and heroes that are a part of my daily life. It’s a uniquely human trait to need to have others in our life to guide us, inspire us and light our path. I believe having heroes is a vital piece of continuing to evolve into the best me I can be.

There is a famous saying, “Never meet your heroes.” I’ve thought a lot about that quote these last few weeks. Let me tell you why.

Last Sunday night I was exhausted. Exhausted from my week of life as usual–teaching ten yoga classes, taxiing daughter to and fro, managing my business, dealing with an upcoming remodel, a kid coming home from college, a leaky water heater, and the standard day-to-day neurosis of each member of our animal menagerie.

And then there was Amanda Palmer. You see, Amanda Palmer is my hero.

She was in town last week to host a series of private “house parties” as part of her Kickstarter campaign that she successfully launched about a year ago–six months before I even knew her name. For a tidy sum of $5000, you could get Amanda at your house, ukulele in hand, and for a few hours, hang out together. She’d play some songs or you could go bowling together or do jello shots off her naked body…really, she was up for about anything. Mostly though, people bought these packages and then asked friends to pitch in $100 each and have a great party with about fifty guests. And Amanda Palmer. Lest you think this was a ridiculous sum of money to spend, let me tell you these packages sold out completely.

Amanda Palmer’s fans are like that.

Truth be told, I have a Twitter account mostly to follow Amanda Palmer. She is a voracious tweeter, honestly sharing intimate details of her life with her followers, asking for help, engaging in debates and generally just connecting with her community. Her fans love her for her transparency, for her willingness to be boldly human and emotionally naked. She is my hero because through her art, her music and her writing, she has guided me back to my writer’s voice. A voice that I thought had been lost for good. A voice that I was afraid to speak. She shows me what creating courageously looks like. She reminds me that ultimately, art should provoke, come what may.

So there I was, lounging about on my bed on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, still in my sweaty running tights, mascara smeared into raccoon eyes, waiting for my new bronzy toenail polish to dry and thinking about baking a rhubarb upside down cake when I decided browse through my Twitter feed on my Kindle. I knew Amanda was in town, so I wondered if there were any new updates. There was. Lo and behold, I saw that she had just tagged herself at Lowell Riverfront Park. Holy hell batman.

This is ten minutes from my house. No lie.

I quickly wrangled Max the dog, waved wildly at the Mister outside mowing the lawn and shouted “I know where she is!” as I jumped into the car and hightailed it down to the river. The entire time I’m driving I’m enacting various scenarios in my head. I practice acting all casual as I run into Amanda on the trail. I rehearse what I’ll say to her. I imagine her falling in love with my dog. I wonder if she’ll mind that I haven’t showered today. I decide she wouldn’t. Finally though, I park, get out and ask my sixth sense which direction she might be. We head left, we walk, Max poops, we walk. It’s a beautiful, warm spring evening. After walking for about fifteen minutes, I begin to doubt my intuition and turn around. We amble around a bit more, hang out by the parking lot, practice looking casual and such some more. Finally, I decide to drive down to the playground at the north end of the trail. As I’m passing by a footbridge that crosses the railroad, I see two people climbing the steps of the bridge and something tells me it’s her.

Always trust that gut feeling.

I drive towards the playground and then turn around and head back again. I pull over to the side of the street because I am frantically texting my college kid in Arizona. He’s gamely giving me Twitter updates seeing as my phone is not of the smart variety. I wanted to make sure she hadn’t moved on to another location, another town. He makes some comment about me being somewhat “stalkerish.” I ignore his comment and look up from my phone and BAM! There she is. The two people I had seen crossing the footbridge are now heading towards me and one of them is her. Without a doubt. She’s walking with a guy and I recognize her immediately…her clothes, her scarf, her gesticulating, her gait. And suddenly, my kid’s words come to fruition–I feel like a stalker. Just like that, I’m no longer casually running into My Hero Amanda on a riverfront trail with my lovable dog Max, but now I’m sitting in my red Prius, trying to track her down. Holy shit. My mind spins into hyperdrive and I cannot figure out how to make this work and not look like a crazy lady. But there she is. Amanda Palmer. Strolling down a rural, two-lane road that I’ve driven down thousands of times. Ten minutes from my house.

I freak out. I panic. I react. I don’t want to be that crazy lady, that overzealous fangirl. Suddenly, I don’t want to meet my hero. Not this way. I can’t.

As they get closer, I worry that I’m looking suspicious. Stalkerish. I do a u-turn before they get to where I am parked and head back towards the playground. In my wildest dreams, I imagine them walking all the way back to the park where I can once again, casually run into Amanda, (“oh hey, Amanda”) walking my dog. I get out and Max and I venture back up the street in their direction, but sure enough, they’re gone.

And I wasn’t about to cruise slowly around each residential street, looking for her. Honestly, I considered it for a hot minute, but I didn’t do it. I do have some limits to my crazy.

I drive home, still exhilarated from being so close to my hero, fighting back feelings of remorse that I lacked the balls to actually meet her.

The next day, Thursday, Amanda tweets that she is hiking Mount Index. I could be there in an hour, I think. My friend texts me that my impulse to hike Mount Index “sounds reasonable.” Suddenly, though, I am convinced there is nothing reasonable at all about it and I stay home. Later that evening, Amanda’s playing bike polo at a park on Capitol Hill. On Friday, she tweets that she is heading south to Portland for another house party. Oh, Portland! My magical, beloved, home-away-from-home. It was in Portland that I first saw Amanda perform. A piece of my heart lives in Portland. Not even an hour later, she tweets that two tickets to her Portland house party have become available. My heart leaps. I can afford them! I could do it! Here’s my proverbial second chance! Except for one, small detail. I can’t. I had a responsibility that I couldn’t, in good conscience, get out of. I’d probably have to lie to make it work and bad karma would haunt me forever. I imagine the inevitability of perishing in a gruesome accident on the way there because of bad karma. And just like that, my heart lands with a thud to the pit of my belly. Fuck.

And it didn’t make me feel any better that all the tweets coming out of that Portland party that night told of an extraordinarily intimate, amazing, life-affirming and healing gathering. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Saturday Amanda drove back to Seattle, stopping in Olympia and tweeted “Where’s a good place to eat? Also, who needs a hug?” Gah!!! I am ninety minutes away. My emotions are ragged, my nerves are shot. Palpable regret is settling in. She does another house party in Seattle, hangs out blogging in a cafe on Sunday, goes offline for her birthday and finally leaves for San Francisco on Wednesday before heading back home to Boston. Done and done.

Hormones, fatigue and regret plagued me. Unbeknownst to me, Tuesday’s topic in our Livestrong cancer support group that I help facilitate was “heroes.” My face crumbled and I let out a deep sigh. I told my story to the group. I wondered for a moment if they would laugh at me, a grown-ass woman, chasing down this crazy-rock-star-hero of mine, maybe even tell me to “grow up and get a life.” But they didn’t. They listened, we laughed, I cried and we talked. Heroes are important, we agreed. No matter what they look like to anyone else.

My head has been full of all the woulda-coulda-shoulda’s from that week. Regrets, I have a few. I know now what I would do if I could do it all over again. On that sunny Wednesday evening, sitting in my car on the side of the street, with my hero walking towards me, I would simply get out and walk up to her. I would ask if I could give her a hug and likely crumple into a blubbering, emotional mess, perhaps even lapsing into the ugly cry. And you know what? I don’t think she would mind. Matter of fact, I know she wouldn’t. I would tell her how her music and art has inspired me to write again. To get published, even. How I am learning to be bare-assed-naked in my writing, in my relationships, in my life. And how I am living out loud, provocatively, come what may. And then I would remind her to never, ever stop speaking her voice, despite her detractors.

And I would say “thank you.”

I just want to tell her “thank you.”

And maybe…just maybe, Amanda Palmer would fall in love with my dog.

Tracie’s Yoga Flow Playlist ~ April 2013

Deep Alpha 8 Hz: Pt. 3……………………..Steven Halpern

Everything In It’s Place……………………Radiohead

We Could Forever…………………………..Bonobo

Let The Groove Get In………………………Justin Timberlake

White Noise (featuring AlunaGeorge)………….Disclosure

Sacrilege…………………………………Yeah Yeah Yeahs

100 Eyes………………………………….Beats Antique

Don’t Hold The Wall………………………..Justin Timberlake

Madness…………………………………..Muse

The Nest………………………………….Jherek Bischoff

Mad World…………………………………Gary Jules

Video Games……………………………….Amanda Palmer

Music for Sleep (Pt. 11)……………………Steven Halpern

Punk, Passion and the Pit

It is not for the faint of heart.

As soon as the music starts, it commences. Right in front of the stage, they start to circle, predominantly men, some young enough to be my sons, others obviously of my own generation. A few actually skip and march to the music, (it’s rather charming) gradually building speed, while some burst into the crowd with a decisive, airborne body slam. It is the mosh pit at a punk rock show in a gritty downtown Seattle nightclub. There’s a palpable sense of losing control in the melee, of trusting others to push your body back into the fold, a kind of chaotic give-and-take. And I am there, in my black leather jacket and Amanda Palmer-esque-knee-high-lace-up boots, standing just on the periphery of the pit, smiling.

There’s something about punk rock I’ve always loved. It’s visceral and raw–pure, unadulterated emotion expressed in high-octane guitar chords and turbo-charged drum beats. It is loud and not at all politically correct. I feel it in my chest, in my throat, in my gut. It lands in me like a musical face-plant. That part of me that craves physicality, that loves the intensity of a vigorous, sweaty yoga practice, a lung-wrenching uphill sprint or the burn of pushing out one last leg press is the part of me that understands punk rock. It’s not pretty, but it is unmistakably real.

I am at the show with my friend, Punk Rock Boy. He, decidedly in his element; me, learning to soften and relax just outside of mine. At one point, I turn and ask him if there’s a part of him that wants to be in there, in the fray, in the frenzied soup of bodies colliding. He smiles and his eyes take on a far-away glaze, obviously remembering. “Yeah,” he says. “I do. But that would mean I’d have to take off my glasses and figure out where to put them. And then be prepared for an elbow to the face.” And what at first sounds hard to imagine as being pleasurable, I completely understand.

Ever since I was a young girl, I understood that my body has a need to discharge, to release pent-up stress from muscles and tissues. The first time I experienced this was as a tennis-playing adolescent. Fed up with my (what I believed to be at the time) idiotic family, I would furiously pedal my bike up to the elementary school, my racket balanced across the handlebars, and spend hours hitting tennis balls against the wall. Over and over and over again. Forehand, forehand, backhand, lob. The satisfying “plunk” of the ball hitting the sweet spot on the strings, the resounding “thwack” of the ball against the bricks. I’d return home afterwards, spent, calm, and centered. My solitary tennis rallies saved my teenage years.

I became a runner not long after. The meditative rhythm of my breath, the burn in my quadriceps, the familiar and lovely tingle and twitch in my muscles afterwards. The feeling as if I had discovered how to access my own personal pressure valve, turned the screw, and released the steam. And then later, with yoga. Remembering how I fell head over heels in love with the intensity of a heated power yoga class. I craved the sweat that would run like rivers from every pore on my body. I loved the intimacy of practicing mat-to-mat with perfect strangers, sharing our breath, our energy, our heat. Yoga became my punk rock mosh pit.

Love it or hate it, punk rock is filled with passion. Pure, physical passion. I love that.

Many years ago I attended a neighborhood Pampered Chef party where the host asked the question, “What is your passion?” The question made it’s way around the group of about 20 women, most of us with young families and predictably busy lives. I was frantically compiling my list in my head (yoga, art, writing, music, etc.) while I saw one woman after another shrug their shoulders and say “I dunno…my family? My children?” When it came my turn to speak, the words on my list tumbled out of my mouth. I was a little breathless when I stopped and saw everyone staring at me, dumbfounded and speechless. “What?” I asked. “Did I forget my children? My husband? Because obviously I love my family, but there’s just so much more.” Afterwards, one of the women told me what I had shared had made her stop and think about her life. Somewhere in the midst of creating a life and a family, she had forgotten herself.

I have a feeling that happens a lot. No, I know it does. Losing sight of passion, of what brings us to life.

As spring has sprung, I find myself in the midst of my own personal re-birth. For me, it’s about music and art and writing and expression. It’s about surrounding myself with people and artists who aren’t afraid. Being present for someone’s bare-assed nekkidness, be it in the form of music or writing, or even in a simple shared conversation, is sometimes startling. My first instinct is to react. And then I watch myself soften around those edges, those edges right outside my comfort zone. Witnessing another person’s passion, seeing another’s (metaphorical) nekkidness inspires my own. It gives me permission and courage. It is intoxicating.

Surprisingly, the show ends way before I am ready. Honestly, I don’t want to leave. The crowd files out on to the sidewalk, Seattle’s skyline twinkling in the background, the smell of sweat and smoke and spring all mingling into a potent, thick potpourri. It’s 1:00AM, far past my bedtime and my energy is buzzing. Punk Rock Boy and I make our way to our cars, discussing the music, the band, the experience. “Thanks for coming out,” he tells me. He knows this was outside my comfort zone. It was not for the faint of heart. I’m still smiling.

Let spring bring you anew. What fires you up? What makes your body and spirit feel alive?

Tell me, what does your personal punk rock mosh pit look like?

Old Shoes

Slowly but surely it has become clear to me that my beloved trail running shoes are not long for this life. I bought them just over a year ago, a pair of silver and purple Sauconys with lime green accents, pretty enough to wear proudly but with robust enough treads to protect my delicate feet from the sharp and pointy rocks I often meander over. I rarely run on pavement anymore, so my choices for shoes are limited. When I found these Saucony trail runners, I was a happy camper.

Today, my trail runners are no longer so pretty, but instead a mottled and muddy grey. There is a point on each shoe where my little toes are beginning to rub away at the mesh upper, as if to protest their confinement in these worn and smelly kicks. Although once somewhat water-resistant, now anytime my foot lands in a murky puddle, (which is more often than not) the cold water quickly seeps into my socks and onto my skin. Sporting a permanent crust of mud and grass around their soles, they never lay foot inside the house. Instead, they live happily in the garage, just outside the door, always at the ready for our next adventure.

I don’t track my mileage exactly, but I imagine these friends have carried me well over a hundred miles over the course of this year. They have kept me from slipping on frosty, icy trails and helped me leap over occasional downed branches and trees. Over the past summer, when rain was oddly rare and the trails turned to an unfamiliar dust, my Sauconys took on a unique sandy-beige appearance, much like the fatigues soldiers wear in the desert.

I imagine anyone who is a runner understands this sadness over retiring a beloved pair of shoes. There is a trust, a warm expectation that these pieces of rubber and nylon will get us through to where we need to go. They are there with us when we exceed our expectations and when we meet our goals. They are there with us when we just can’t go any further, and they are there for us the very next day when we realize we that we most certainly can. As a yogi, I feel similarly about my yoga mat. Even though I often pine for a new mat in a prettier color or a stickier surface, I look at my well-seasoned Manduka as a trusted confidant. The idea of having to go through the break-in process of a new one is just too much to bear.

These inanimate objects sometimes seem to carry a surprisingly heavy emotional load.

A woman in one of my yoga classes once remarked about the mat she was using. I was teaching in a church, and would bring a suitcase full of yoga mats for the students to use. Most of the mats were newly purchased, but the suitcase also included a couple of my own personal mats that I had added to the bunch. One day after class, this woman was rolling up her mat and mentioned to me that it had felt “different.” She told me how she usually always used the same mat from my collection, but this time had picked the blue one. She told me how it seemed to be full of spirit, almost like it had a story to tell. Looking at her skeptically, I cocked one eyebrow and said, “Did you know that that one was the very first yoga mat I ever owned?” She didn’t, of course, and we laughed about the mysterious way things can sometimes touch us.

I look at my shoes and I know their days are numbered. Like so many other wonderful things, the same model is no longer available. The new and improved item that Saucony offers seems too flashy, too fancy, too high-tech for such a gritty, muck-slogging workhorse of a trail runner. I suppose I will succumb and order a pair before too long, begrudgingly moving on, knowing that the health of my feet and my habit of running depends on good, supportive shoes.

And when that happens, I won’t immediately toss my old friends in the trash. No, they will likely relocate to the shelves in the garage where we keep our old sneakers, the ones in which we mow the lawn and rake the leaves. Like a retired racehorse, turned out to pasture to rest and remember it’s glory days, full of stories to tell and spirit to impart.

Just for awhile, you see, until it’s time to say a final goodbye.

P1110272

 

My Teacher, Myself

Utthita hasta padangusthasana. Extended hand to big toe posture. Take away the fancy Sanskrit words and it basically means standing on one leg with the other leg extended out in front at about ninety degrees, preferably holding on to the big toe of the lifted leg with a couple of fingers. And there I was on a Friday night, in the very front row of a packed ballroom at the Seattle Sheraton, practicing with about three hundred of my closest yoga pals. All of us there for a three-day intensive workshop with one of the yoga world’s biggest rockstars. And my leg wouldn’t lift more than six inches off the ground.

The Rockstar had a microphone headset on, his amplified voice booming from all four corners of the huge room. Because of that, you never really knew if he was in the farthest reaches of the ballroom or standing directly right behind you.

“What a bunch of lazy yogis we have here tonight!” his voice mocked, “Some of you can’t seem to lift your leg more than a few inches off the floor! Lift it higher!”

Crap! I thought. He’s talking about me. He sees me flailing and failing. I suck. What the hell am I doing here? Why is this so hard?

My breath was not deep and even, but stilted and way too fast. I began to feel nauseous and then sparkly stars started to flash in my vision. I was either going to throw up or pass out, or both, none of which I could fathom doing in the front row of a packed room of hundreds of yogis. I dropped into child’s pose, my head spinning with thoughts of ending my yoga teaching career right then and there. After a minute or so, I got back on my feet and rejoined the group, only to feel weak and woozy once again. Finally, I left, carefully navigating my way through the sweaty bodies packed in like sardines, mat-to-mat, mere inches apart. As I pushed open the double doors of the ballroom, I was met with a whoosh of cool air and a hint of relief. Hurriedly, I stumbled my way to the restroom, still thinking I might toss my cookies at any point along the way. I sat down and held my throbbing head in my hands and wondered what the hell was I going to do now.

I hadn’t eaten since the morning. It was now after 7:00pm and my body was rebelling. Nervous about spending three days in an intensive, sweaty yoga practice with my revered teacher, The Rockstar, I hadn’t been able to think about eating, much less do it. It was a stupid move on my part and now I was suffering the consequences. Not only did I suck, but now I was kicking myself for being so ill-prepared. After ten minutes or so, I got up and splashed cold water on my face and decided to go back in the room.

I opened the huge doors of the ballroom, the class now halfway through the triangle series, the air thick with sweat. As I slid myself self between the bodies, attempting to make my way back to my mat, I looked up and saw The Rockstar a few feet from me. Our eyes met for a moment and rather than warmly smile, he seemed to smirk at me, almost as if he knew what a mockery of a yogi I was. I felt ashamed and defeated. I finished that evening’s practice, sick, sweaty and spent.

It wasn’t but a year or two after I had begun doing yoga that I found The Rockstar. His first book was my yoga bible, translating this powerful physical practice into something that resonated deeply within me. I could do this practice, I felt successful and inspired. I began taking classes at one of his affiliate studios in the area and fell even more deeply in love. I began to pepper my own classes with The Rockstar’s catchy inspirational quips and quotes. I took workshops and teacher trainings at the affiliate studio and finally spent nearly a year as an apprentice there, assisting and team teaching twice a week with my local mentors, both of whom had been mentored by The Rockstar himself. After my apprenticeship, I was told that if I had aspirations to teach at this studio, I would be expected to go through The Rockstar’s own teacher trainings. Each training at a cost of about $3000, not including travel. Being somewhat sensible and financially conservative, with two kids at home, this was not in my budget. And yet it never ceased to amaze me just how many people’s budgets it did fit into. His trainings always sold out, year after year, some people taking them over and over again. There were waiting lists and more programs added, new trainings debuted, and yet more waiting lists to get in. The Rockstar is undeniably charismatic, making it easy to follow him, easy to fall into the web of his extensive community. At first, all I wanted was to be one of those flocking to his week-long “transformational” trainings. Not only did I want to drink the Kool-Aid, I wanted to learn how to serve it, too.

But something changed.

Back at the weekend intensive bright and early Saturday morning, we began with a guided seated meditation. Normally, I like guided meditation. But this day, The Rockstar’s voice, nasally and as annoying as fingernails on a chalkboard, began to grate on my nerves. As he told us to bring our awareness to our lumbar spine I wanted to scream, “Shut the fuck up!” Wait, wait–I told myself, this is your yoga, Tracie. Focus on your breath, what you can control, release what you cannot. A sense of calm would return momentarily and then the ache that was beginning to spring up in my right hip would take over. Let it go. Breathe. Every once in awhile The Rockstar stopped talking entirely and the room filled with sweet, absolute silence. Ahhhhhhh. Only to be shattered a moment later with that voice again. I made it through the hour, albeit somewhat disgruntled.

The rest of the day was filled with sweaty yoga practices broken up with group discussions and journaling. I had eaten a good breakfast and packed a healthy lunch, so my body was wholly on board again. In the afternoon, The Rockstar began the group discussion on the subject of “perception.” Namely, people’s perceptions of us and why we really shouldn’t care too much. Their perceptions are their projections, and certainly are not always indicative of the truth. (Or “our truth” as The Rockstar likes to say.) He opened the discussion up to the group, asking us to share our perceptions of him. I’d seen him do this in previous workshops and I’d always thought it to be a bit odd. In the past, I had quickly admonished myself for my cynicism, but this Saturday found me barely containing my eye rolls. It seemed to become an exercise in ego-stroking, gushing compliments:

“Rockstar, you seem so chill.”

“Rockstar, my perception of you is that you are powerful beyond words.”

“Rockstar, you seem to transcend any limitations that get in your way.”

And on and on it went. As I sat there listening, I concocted an elaborate fantasy about standing up at the microphone and saying, “Rockstar, you seem like an arrogant asshole who mocked me like a bully when I was struggling last night.” I imagined myself actually doing that and then having a swarm of Rockstar bodyguards swoop out of the woodwork and efficiently sweep me out of the room, like his own private Secret Service agents. I would be immediately banished from the cult workshop, never to be seen or heard from again. In the end, I had neither the guts or the gumption to do it, but the thought of it made me smile.

The ten hour day concluded with The Rockstar’s signature two-hour hip opening practice. Been there, done that, poured out buckets of tears and snot in a heaving mess in the process of doing it in the past. This time it was predictably intense and grueling, but different. I felt strong and capable, not weepy. Appropriately wrung-out, we laid on our backs for savasana. A collective exhalation followed by silence, then the opening notes of The Beatles “Let It Be” rang out from the speakers. I felt good and centered and couldn’t wait to go home. The song came to an end and silence returned, only to be broken by random sobs of many of the yogis laying prone around the floor of the grand ballroom.

Huh. I thought to myself, completely dry-eyed and composed. Something had changed.

The next day was Sunday, Mother’s Day. The Mister was out of town, and although my two kids were old enough to be left alone to their own devices, I chose not to go back to the final day of the workshop. Instead, I slept in, relishing the familiar soreness of muscles having been stretched and strengthened in good ways. I read the Sunday paper with a big cup of coffee. And I knew I would likely never go back to another one of The Rockstar’s trainings again.

I blamed The Rockstar for months afterwards. I said that he had changed, that he had become egotistical and driven to greed by his own exploding popularity. I stopped taking classes at his affiliate studio, not wanting to be bathed in his inspirational quotes anymore, predictably parroted back by the teachers there. I missed having a “yoga home,” a place where I felt fed and challenged and known. I missed my friends there. But most of all, I felt as if I was out in the wilderness on my own, trying to find my direction, no longer under the protective wing of my mentor teachers.

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” ~ Buddhist proverb

We probably all have known a career college student or two–perhaps we ourselves were such a student–who was reluctant to leave the comfortable confines of their professors and place of learning. I understand that. It feels good to be led by a trusted mentor, to be watched over and guided down the “right” paths. If I had questions, I had someone to ask. If I had doubts, I had a community of support who would hold me up. It feels safe. But there comes a time to move on.

A full year passed by after that weekend workshop with The Rockstar and I was still wondering where my next teacher was. I’m ready! I thought to myself. So appear already, will ya?

And look…there I was.

What had changed was not so much The Rockstar. He was still doing what he had been doing all along. But I had begun to hear him through different ears and see him through different eyes.

I had changed.

It took awhile for me to realize that at some point in our journey, eventually we must look at ourselves in the mirror and see all that needs to be seen. To understand that within each one of us sits all the wisdom, all the guidance, all the nurturing that we need. That we, ourselves, can be the trusted teacher for ourselves. After all, I am my own guru, or so the t-shirt that I often wear proudly proclaims.

This is not to say that I know it all, for that will never happen. But I know enough. Enough to stand up and lead myself. Enough to call “bullshit” on something that isn’t right for me. Sometimes it’s scary. Sometimes it feels like living without a safety net. And although I have moved on from The Rockstar as my guide, I value the lessons that I learned from him. I may not be living under the protective wing of a mentor any longer, but I still keep a small but trusted circle of friends and family close. Simply by nature of their breadth and depth of knowledge of various subjects and life in general, they guide me to live more fully and fearlessly when I have my doubts. Oddly enough, only a few of them are in the yoga world. And so far, none have asked me for $3000 to share their wisdom with me.

So, instead of drinking Kool-Aid, I’ll take a rich, red wine, thank you. Make it a generous pour of Shiraz or a nice Malbec, and let’s share it together around a campfire, or a messy kitchen table, or in the back of a funky restaurant. Let’s tell each other of the great books we’ve read and the movies that made us cry. And let’s not talk about yoga so much, or even at all, but instead let’s share our big ideas of how we might change our small world.

It’s about time. I am my own guru, my own teacher, my own guide.

And so are you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carousel Of Life

There I was, slowly rolling my Prius through the suburban shopping center, sucking on my “thank-god-it’s-Friday” double tall latte. Running errands, feeling worse than I had hoped, still brain-fogged from my week battling back an annoying virus. A white-haired older woman stepped out from Staples, a stack of papers clutched to her chest. I recognized her immediately. She was Marie, one of my beloved seniors from my YogaStretch class. I hadn’t seen her in well over a year and I figured she wouldn’t recognize me as I stopped to let her cross the street. As soon as she stepped off the curb, however, our eyes met and her face brightened like the sun. There, in the middle of the street in this busy suburban shopping center, spry but eighty-something Marie nearly sprinted over to my car. Smiling broadly, I rolled down my window and she leaned in to give me a tight, warm hug as I kissed her cheek. She told me of her dear husband, now nearing the end of his life.

“I’m so tired,” she sighed, as she has been his caretaker during his long illness. “It’s time.”

In her arms she clutched the sheet music for “Carousel.”

“Oh, how I love Richard Rogers,” she confessed, speaking of the composer. “So talented and clever.”

In the prime of her life, Marie had been a professional violist in New York City. A beautiful, smart and gracious woman, she and I had connected over our shared love of music. I had burned CD’s of the music I would play in my yoga classes for her. I loved watching her in class as she closed her eyes and tilted her head slightly, obviously immersed more in the music than the yoga.

Sometimes we find our soul sisters in the most unexpected places.

Today, Marie’s eyes sparkled as she told me how her husband once starred in the stage show of “Carousel” in New York. She was a violist in the orchestra pit, their daughter, a violinist, performing with them, a true family affair. She talked about what a wonderful time in her life that was. Marie looked down at the music she held and laughed about how old it looked.

“More like well-loved,” I told her.

“I decided I would play ‘Carousel’ for my husband for Valentine’s Day this year. I thought it would be such a nice thing to do for him. I know he would like it.” Marie said, deliberately not saying what we both understood: That this would most likely be their last Valentine’s Day together.

And there we were. In the middle of the street in a busy suburban shopping center. A beautiful white-haired eighty-something woman, in the midst of walking through a most difficult life transition, leaning in to hug me, her yoga teacher, in my car. Traffic politely diverting around us, almost as though they sensed enough not to honk or be too annoyed with this odd and inconvenient reunion.

We could have talked forever, because soul sisters are like that. But instead she stroked my hair and said she would be on her way. I told her to come back to yoga soon and to be careful crossing the rest of the street. Marie looked at me and smiled, not unlike the way I remember my own mom smiling at me.

You are my good omen!” she declared, just as she turned to leave.

I hope she knows she is that for me, too. That, and so very much more.

Marie, this is for you:

 

New Year, Same Me

I seriously hate New Year’s. It comes in second only to the Fourth of July as my most despised holiday. Traditionally, a time to look back at the year ending and determine where we’ve screwed up and fallen short and then make a hollow pledge to be somehow “better” as of January first. And then there’s the parties. Even in my younger, wilder days, going out on New Year’s was what everyone else did. The few times that I spent the evening at a club with friends, it was underwhelming at best, and full of desperation at worst. I’d much rather pour myself a glass of pink champagne in the comfort of my own home and go to bed.

I am nothing if not introspective, perhaps, even, to a fault. My “inner life” is pretty darn active. I spend a lot of time in my head. I watch and observe a lot. As a writer, this is an important skill to hone. For myself, personally, it can sometimes drive me crazy. But inevitably, what it does create is a life that is lived with eyes wide open. Not a perfect life, mind you, devoid of mistakes and regrets and unfortunate fateful interference, but one that is pretty damn deliberate. The life that I live is one that I have chosen and created. And here’s the thing:

I am exactly the person that I want to be. 

New Year’s Day is no longer a day on which I berate myself for being less than exactly who I am. Trust me, I spent decades doing just that. A quick glance in any of the volumes of journals I kept as a younger woman is clear evidence of this. “Get off your fat ass and exercise, fatso!” was not an unusual entry. (And this, when my percentage of body fat hovered in the single digits.) Do better! Be more! Weigh less! Stop screwing around and accomplish something! My New Year’s resolutions weren’t exactly full of compassion, but rather a means to shame myself into being “better.”

Shaming doesn’t work. At least not for long.

Once I began teaching yoga and became immersed in the greater yoga community, no one talked about New Year’s resolutions any more. The wording cleverly changed to New Year’s intentions. Granted, it is a kinder word, one that is not necessarily attached to results. Breaking an intention is a bit more nebulous than breaking a resolution, you see. Failure is more vague. But after spending so many years talking about intentions in New Year’s Day yoga workshops, I’ve come to realize it is just one more way to tell ourselves that we are not enough as we are. And I think that’s bullshit.

(Now, I’m not talking about those folks who careen through life like a train wreck. Those people who allow their life to sweep them up like an out-of-control tsunami and deposit them hither and yon along the shoreline, only to wake up and wonder how the hell they got there. Obviously, those folks could benefit from a bit more introspection. Obviously.)

Most of us are not like that. Most of us have dreams and goals and ideals and some of us reach them and many of us do not. We mess up, make bad choices, take too long before making better ones. We get depressed and spend a few days (or more) brooding and eating Cheetos and feeling sorry for ourselves. At our core, though, we are kind and loving. We are human and flawed. And far too many of us get so embroiled and invested in our imperfections that we fail to recognize the sheer beauty of the variegated composite that our imperfections create. Just take a look at the headlines on any women’s magazine cover in January: “New Year, New YOU!” A well-known manufacturer of yoga clothes has their “inspirational” manifesto printed on their shopping bags. Quotes like “Do it now, do it now, do it now!” and “Do one thing a day that scares you” are not inherently bad ideas, but quite frankly, reading them all exhausts me. “Be better! Do more!” This is our battle cry.

I don’t do that anymore.

Not doing that anymore does not translate to life of apathy and ennui, mind you. It translates to a life embraced and lived fully, without feeling like I am somehow perpetually falling short. A life of radical and unadulterated self-acceptance.

It’s a good way to live.

So on this first day of 2013 I will tell you exactly how I will continue to live my life:

I will spend time with people who embrace me because of my quirks and idiosyncrasies, not just in spite of them. I will be kind. I will create things that only I can create. I will see lots and lots and lots of live music with friends who are provocative and make me smile. I will play my ukulele badly and sing loudly. I will allow myself be drawn to whatever mysteriously draws me in. I will spend time with teachers who inspire, rather than berate. I will look in the mirror and see beauty and life and then look at others and see the same. I will cry when I need to. I will love the people in my life and tell them so. I will say yes to that which delights me and I will say no, without guilt, to that which does not. I will drink red wine in the winter and tequila in the summer, and at times, too much of each. I will screw up royally and fall far, far short of perfection. A lot. And then I will forgive myself. And I will forgive others.

Go ahead, call it intention, hell–even call it a resolution, but to me, it’s just me.

And I am exactly the person that I want to be.

Fuck yes.

 

 

 

 

 

Mercy, Grace, And Faith

I have nearly 500 Christmas songs in my i-Tunes library. I-Tunes’ convenient math tells me if I were to begin playing Christmas songs when I awoke in the morning and continued to play them all day long, no song would repeat for over 24 hours. That’s a lot of Christmas music. I like Christmas music, usually. I prefer it on the more classical and jazzy side and in a typical year, I will turn it on sometime after Thanksgiving and keep it on all the way up to December 26th.

This year, I’ve listened to maybe a couple dozen of those songs.

My Christmas spirit is elusive this season.

My kids are no longer little, and although they still revel in the traditions of decorating our gingerbread house and our Christmas morning sourdough pancakes, they don’t have that wide-eyed wonder and giddy excitement like they used to. They want for much less, but what they want costs much more. Luckily, we have a nine-year-old dog, Max, who delights in the chaos of Christmas morning unwrapping as much as a toddler, so there’s that. Max makes us laugh.

I’m not depressed, but all the ho-ho-ho’s and the joy-to-the-world’s out there seem a tad forced this year.

So much loss.

Even before the Connecticut shootings and the Portland shootings, a young father of two in my neighborhood suffered a massive heart attack and died. I didn’t know him, but many of my friends and neighbors did. My community grieves. A close friend of mine was one of the first to arrive and perform CPR on him until the paramedics arrived. She is a registered nurse, so she knew the odds were stacked against them, but still. The sadness. Another family in Bothell had their two parents killed as a tree tumbled down on them as they drove across Stevens Pass. A family I didn’t know, but perhaps have bumped into at Starbucks or at the Y.

I am searching for grace.

I refuse to begin Christmas preparations before Thanksgiving, stubbornly attempting to “live in the moment,” much to the chagrin of eager retailers competing for my cash. The consequence of this decision means that I am sometimes thrust into the throngs of frenzied shoppers in the third week of December. This year, more than ever, I noticed their faces. Faces of fellow shoppers, glum and stressed. Faces pressed into their handheld electronic devices, oblivious to the other beings beside them. Few smile, if they even meet your eyes at all. Everyone rushing and distracted and unhappy, or so it seems. Where is grace?

At the end of my yoga classes, I always read a short passage or meditation as my class lays prone in savasana. The week following the Connecticut shootings, I read the traditional Buddhist “lovingkindness” (or metta) meditation. Anything else seemed, well…stupid. I asked my class to breathe in faith and breathe out doubt. What I say in my classes is often what I need to hear, too.

My faith is shot. Done. Dead. Nonexistent.

Breathe in faith, breathe out doubt. Breathe in love, breathe out fear.

The only time I was ever involved in organized religion was at a church where we were encouraged to sit with our doubt. To question our faith. We learned to not be afraid of asking the hard questions. As a daughter of two intellectuals with a father who was both a pastor and a professor, this made me happy. I ask why a lot. I like things that make sense. I often say in my classes that faith is that place of “knowing without knowing.” It is not a place that I go to easily.

Right now, it seems so very far away.

Today I stood alone in my kitchen, preparing our traditional Christmas cheeseball, i-Pod on loud, shuffling through anything but Christmas music. “Mercy” by Dave Matthews came on. I stopped in my tracks and cried. No, I bawled. Today, the lyrics seemed eerily prophetic and sadly appropriate:

“Mercy, will we overcome this? Have we come too far to turn it around?”

Lately, much of my solace and inspiration comes through music. (Just not Christmas music.) Sometimes in the most unexpected places. Artists expressing sorrow and rage, helplessness and strength. This week I read Amanda Palmer’s blog and her reaction to so much violence. She and her band will be performing Prince’s “Purple Rain” in it’s entirety on New Year’s Eve in New York City, and thus has been spending a great deal of time with the material. She posted the lyrics to Prince’s classic party song “Let’s Go Crazy” with a surprisingly inspirational twist:

“…And if the elevator tries to bring you down, go crazy—punch a higher floor”

Huh. Punch a higher floor.

I’m searching for grace. I’m fresh out of faith. I surely don’t have any answers.

But as I sit here on the eve of Christmas Eve with the gingerbread house decorated and my family accounted for and peppermint shortbread ready for the oven, this much I can do:

I can punch a higher floor. And go from there.

 

 

Tracie’s Yoga Flow Playlist ~ December 2012

My yoga mixes are always a compilation of what I’m currently listening to. So here ya go…not necessarily mainstream, but definitely fabulous!

 

Opening the Gates…………………………………………….Drala

Bugs……………………………………………………………..O’Death

Superstylin’…………………………………………………….Groove Armada

The Brother of the Mayor of Bridgewater ……………….World Inferno Friendship Society

Dance Little Sister……………………………………………Terence Trent D’Arby

In My Bones…………………………………………………..Groove Armada

Supermodel……………………………………………………The Few Moments

Hoodoo Voodoo Gal…………………………………………Izzy Cox

Get Him Back…………………………………………………Fiona Apple

Eyes (Jherek Bischoff & David Byrne) ………………….Jherek Bischoff

Daddy………………………………………………………….Izzy Cox

Buried Heart………………………………………………….Izzy Cox

Wait……………………………………………………………M83

Passing By……………………………………………………..Zero 7

You Are My Satellite ………………………………………..Relaxation Meditation Yoga Music

Candlelit

It is clear to me that I have not been lighting enough candles.

These are some of the darkest days of the year, and I live in one of the darkest corners of the globe, the Pacific Northwest. Lately it seems that I find myself closing the blinds in my house just minutes after I have opened them. And on some days, the light at noon seems barely brighter than that at dusk.

It’s so easy to let myself become shrouded in this blanket of darkness.

I am a native Northwesterner. I am more comfortable with this darkness than I am with non-stop sunshine and light. That said, balance is good. I get outside regularly, even in the cold and rain. Not just outside running errands in and out of the grey and bleak strip malls of suburbia, but really outside. To move and breathe in the woods, or near the water. Nature teaches me a lot about life. About the ebb and flow of light and dark, about the importance of balancing growth and rest. To know when to let go, and when it’s right to hang on for dear life. Sometimes I wonder if the trees feel sad at the lack of light in these dark days of winter. Instead, I imagine they are grateful for the rest.

Until recently, whenever I awoke in the middle of the night, unable to sleep with a restless mind, I would simply close my eyes again, deepen my breath and watch my breath begin to take me out of my “monkey mind” and back into peace. I wouldn’t always fall right back asleep, but there was stillness, a resting place. Now, my Kindle sits at the ready on my nightstand. If sleep eludes me at 3:00 AM, I often roll over and grab my tablet, turn on it’s bright display and check Facebook or Twitter to see if anyone else is up with me. With me, but not really with me. Virtual company. I need to stop doing that. I need to learn again to rest within that darkness, that stillness. To simply be.

I need to light more candles. I need to build a fire in the fireplace and feel the warm of it’s flames. I need to balance the darkness with light.

My favorite people on this earth are those who are comfortable with their own darkness. We share our shadow stories and make each other lighter in the process. These people are like stunning works of art, of contrast and light, of joy and sorrow. It’s important to have people in my life who bring light to it, but not in an artificial, “rah-rah-cheerleader” type of way, parroting back mindless platitudes that they got off a Facebook page. Those folks are as harsh and annoying as the overhead fluorescent lights in an office building. Flat and artificial. The people who bring light into my life are simply those who give me hope. Those who will sit with me in the silent darkness and whose mere presence brings comfort and light. I need to spend time with these people, not to wallow deeper into the dark, but to know that none of us are alone, even when the light is dim.

I will light more candles.

And I will remember the people I miss. The ones I am separated from either by death or circumstance. I will take time to miss them and perhaps even cry. In those tears, I will honor their presence in my life and see the flame of the candle as a symbol of the light they brought to it.

“Remember,” the Irish peasants say, “that the darkest hour of all is the hour before day.”

The darkest days are still ahead of us. What will you do? Will you succumb to the artificially lit frenzy that is part of our consumerist gospel? Shop online in the middle of the night when you need rest? Or will you shroud yourself in the darkness and withdraw from the light completely? Retreat from what little light you have like a recluse?

Me, I will light more candles.

Balancing darkness with light.

 

 

 

 

 

Starved

“I’m sorry I haven’t been in class lately,” the young woman said as I rolled up my yoga mat, “But my sister-in-law just had a baby. The baby was born weighing just three pounds, so I was there visiting.”

“Wow,” I replied, “Three pounds? Premature?”

“Yeah,” the young woman went on. “The mom, my sister-in-law, has an eating disorder. She’s anorexic.”

Boom went my heart as it dropped to my feet. Another one.

“I’ve dabbled a bit myself, you know” the woman continued haltingly, as if she was describing a hobby, like painting with watercolors or French cooking.

“With anorexia?” I asked.

“No” she paused and visibly squirmed. “The other one.”

“Bulimia?” I asked, saying the word out loud that she was unable to voice.

“Yeah.” She looked at her feet, shame palpable.

And so it goes. Far more often than I’d care to acknowledge. Women, young and not-so-young, telling stories of starving, bingeing, purging, hating, grasping for control. Of anything and everything.

It’s my story, too.

From the time I was seventeen until my late twenties, my life was consumed with not consuming. Food, that is. It began innocuously enough–the latest diet, the newest exercise, just ten more pounds, just one size smaller. That magical, mystical number attained whereupon I was sure Happiness would reside. It never did. Happiness never lived at any of those numbers.

My home life was an ever-changing landscape of controlled and not-so-controlled chaos mixed in with happy memories. I had two parents whom I knew loved me, and six older siblings. By the time I was in my late teens, however, it was only my brother, Chris, and I living at home. Chris was four years older than me and had struggled through his childhood and teenage years with undiagnosed learning disabilities and delinquency. In and out of juvenile detention, crippled by his raging anger, and resentful towards me most of all, or so it seemed. He scared and threatened me regularly. At the end of the day, I really just wanted my big brother to accept me. When I was sixteen, he violently blew up at my mom and wound up sending me to the ER when he lobbed a mug full of hot coffee at my face, resulting in a bloody mess of cuts and burns. He challenged my parents to no end, and deflected much time, attention and resources away from the rest of the family. The breaking point finally came one night when I overheard him sharing his detailed plan with his buddies of how he would kill both me and my mom. He was going to get a gun and shoot us dead. I remember his friends trying to dissuade him and saying that it was a ridiculous idea. Chris insisted it would work.

Visibly shaking, I told my parents what I had heard.

Within weeks, my mom and I had moved out of my childhood home.  For the first time in years, I didn’t fall asleep wondering if I would wake up or not. For once, I felt safe. Well, sort of.

The numbers game began soon after. The counting, the measuring, the label reading, the constant weighing. If 1000 calories a day helped me lose weight, then why wouldn’t 800 be better? As time went on, I finally settled on 300 calories as my bare bones minimum….a little bit of cottage cheese, steamed broccoli, one little steamed red potato. I was clever, as most anorexics are. I added exercise to the equation and was delighted with the results. Religiously, for years, I did 1000 leg lifts each and every night–500 with straight legs, followed by 500 pulling my knees into my chest. Night after night, day after day. If I was too tired and collapsed into bed without doing them, my guilt and shame overcame my laziness and I eventually rolled out of bed  to complete my assignment so I could fall asleep peacefully. But sleeping became tricky, too. All the fat and cushioning had melted off my bones, leaving my hip bones to press uncomfortably into the mattress as I tried to sleep. And then there was the open sore on my tailbone. Thousands of repetitive leg lifts had taken it’s toll and left me with an open wound on my tailbone. The flesh had been worn away down to the bone. It became infected and painful. Finally, I went to see my father’s dermatologist for help. I told him what I was doing and he told me to try running instead.

So I did. In addition to the 1000 leg lifts, of course.

Running was magic. The weight dripped off me like water.

At nineteen, I fell in love with Tim, my first serious boyfriend. Head over heels but brimming with insecurity, I loved him completely and worried about losing him to someone skinnier and prettier than me. So I kept it up. I often made him wait downstairs as I finished my 1000 leg lifts before we would go out for the evening. I watched him eat countless pizzas late at night, just me and my diet Pepsi. He didn’t seem to mind. I knew he liked having a skinny girlfriend that didn’t eat. I was cute and inexpensive.

It went on like this for years. Me, in control, for once in my life. I felt powerful and beautiful and utterly miserable all at once. The frequent “Oh, you’re sooooo skinny” comments only fueled my resolve. Always living in fear of letting my guard down for that one fatal slip-up, that bite of cake, that taste of pasta, the shame of weakness and then the inevitable punishment. Punishment for my gluttony could be 500 extra leg lifts, or sometimes an additional hour of running. It wasn’t unusual for me to run up and down the staircase of our townhouse, like a crazed hamster on a wheel. Up and down and up and down and up and down until I had successfully paid my penance.

I was sick and had no idea. No one else did, either. Anorexia was a new word in our vocabulary and many hadn’t learned it yet.

The regimen of control exhausted me. Food was the enemy and being around it made me anxious. Tim and I broke up after a couple of years which catapulted me into diet pills and my lowest weight ever. I frequently felt light-headed and nauseous and if I got even a small scratch, it took weeks to heal. But the fear of gaining weight was much bigger than the exhaustion. My days were spent planning and exercising and my nights were spent hanging out in rock n’ roll nightclubs with my friends. The music, the energy, the darkness of the clubs wrapped around me like a security blanket. It was my only escape from the daytime crazy, this controlled prison of my own creation. Plus, I danced a lot, which burned calories. It was a win-win relationship.

I moved out on my own to a different city, started my career and began my real, adult life. Even so, I made sure my mom knew to never, ever tell Chris where I was living. That fear was still present and real. It may not have been rational, but it was cellular. It lived within me. Dreams about him coming back to kill me and the rest of my family were frequent. Horrible, terrifying, life-like dreams where I would awaken crying, sure that he had killed everyone but me. I didn’t see my brother for years, but the fear of him was always just under the surface.

I was lucky. You abuse your body long enough and eventually it stops cooperating. For many anorexics, that often means organ failure with sometimes permanent and fatal consequences. For me, it meant that what was working for so many years simply stopped. I met a boy who loved me unconditionally and who liked to eat at the best restaurants in Seattle and wanted me to eat, too. I couldn’t keep up the façade any longer. And frankly, I was tired. I gained weight. I went to counseling. I won’t lie–it was a big challenge to reconcile my old, controlled and measured self with this new me. Newly in love and rounder, I struggled mightily with body image. I would lie awake in bed and feel my hip bones and count my ribs, making sure that I still could. Just like the fear of my brother, the frantic need to control always right below the surface.

Yoga brought me back to my body.

Not overnight, but over years of practice. Showing up on my mat, feeling worthless and awkward and always leaving somehow lighter. Little by little, bit by bit, my body began to feel less like an enemy I was up against and more like home. A good home, one that isn’t always perfect and shiny, or exactly as I imagined, but one that feels familiar and warm. I learned to move and breathe again, without punishing myself. I learned to lay still in savasana without running my hands up and down and over my bones like I wanted to, just to make sure.

I learned to be me. And I learned to love me. Wild, uncontrolled, unpredictable and unmeasurable me.

Chris died a few years ago. Even though he spent several Thanksgivings at my house, I could never breathe well until he walked out the door at the end of the evening. He was a grown man and treated me kindly during those later years, but the fear never really left. My fear may not have been rational, but it lived within me. I wished he could have told me he was sorry for all the hell he caused in my life growing up, but he didn’t. I like to think that he was sorry, but simply couldn’t find the words. We all stumble through this life.

The young woman I was talking to that day went on to tell me how yoga was helping her to finally accept her body and make peace with herself. At this weight, or that weight, be it heavier or lighter. She told me how she was determined to not pass this crazy on to her young daughter. We each had tears in our eyes as we shared our stories. The same story, just different players. A need to control, a need to be loved, a need to be at some imagined version of perfect so that we can finally, at last, be happy. But happiness doesn’t live there. It lives here, in this body, in this life, just as we are. We just need to look.

She turned and walked to the door to leave. “I’ll see you tomorrow at noon,” she said, smiling through her tears.

“Yes you will,” I said. “One breath at a time.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exposed

She is susceptible to swooning. Falling in love easily with people, places, and ideas, even amidst a lifetime of prophetic warnings from her mother. “Don’t get too attached,” her mother would caution, “Don’t let them see how much you care. Guard your heart, your feelings, your deepest desires because once they see them, they will break you to pieces.” She chose to live otherwise, her heart not tucked away in a velvet-lined vaulted box, but for all to see, right there on her sleeve. It wasn’t always pretty. Bloodied and tattered, vulnerable and yet still beating. Like a broken bone, each break knitting itself back together to create a vital organ even stronger than before. Exposed to the elements, her heart forms a patina, tarnished but beautiful as it displays a history of a passionate life lived wide open. Not without fear, but with the intuitive knowing that there is no other way. Still, late at night, she sometimes tells herself she doesn’t care, her mother’s cautionary tale whispering in her ear. Morning breaks and sheds it’s light on her sleeve again. Scarred but still beating, again she chooses otherwise.

Vaulted Heart

His heart he wears not on his sleeve, but instead locks it safely away in a vault-like box. The box is heavy and lined in a deep red velvet to absorb the blood that inevitably seeps from the shattered pieces. He doesn’t want to see the stains. His life and his memories an amalgam of grey, broken stones and glittery diamonds and pearls. Tucked away deeply in the creases of the rich fabric, he often reaches for the jewels only to draw out cold, heavy rocks. The contents of the box–his shadows and light, his heart, his blood and tears–are not for public consumption. Carefully, he closes the lid and hides the key, sometimes even from himself. The box, like a treasure chest of open wounds and thick scars, blessed joy and messy pain, for his eyes only.


Come As You Are

It’s not as if I have a sign outside my yoga classes that says, “Make sure you have your cell phone with you at all times.”

You see, in my perfect world, no one would ever bring a cell phone into a yoga class. In my perfect world, everyone would show up five minutes before class, stay completely present in their breath for the entire time, enjoy a full savasana and float blissfully out of my class, completely in love with yoga and the world around them. No one in class would ever fart, or laugh too loudly, or snore in savasana. In my perfect world.

Which, by the way, does not exist.

A few months ago, a whirlwind of controversy erupted in the yoga world over a blog written by a yoga teacher who complained of being fired from her job at a large social media company because she flashed a disapproving glare when a student could not ignore her cell phone during a yoga class. (This was after she was told by her superiors that students were allowed to have phones in class.) Crying foul, and in the process creating her very own fifteen minutes of fame, this teacher also went on to make some pretty snarky and disparaging remarks about this same student being unable to sit still for “even a short meditation.”

Hmmmm…judgy much?

If there is one thing I have learned over the eight years I’ve spent teaching yoga, it’s this: We are all tripping and stumbling our way down the very same path. The very same one. My path is not on a higher elevation than yours just because I happen to practice and teach yoga, nor is yours far more beautiful and right than mine because of what you happen to believe. Seriously, folks, it’s the same damn path.

Currently, I teach my yoga classes exclusively at a local Y. I love my Y classes, I love the diversity of the members, I love my colleagues, I love the room I teach in. But let’s face it, it’s a gym, not a yoga studio. When I began teaching yoga nearly a decade ago, my intention was this:  To bring yoga to those who would never step into a yoga studio. Throughout my career, I have taught at corporate offices, in churches, in school gymnasiums, on grassy lawns, and in beautiful, sexy yoga studios. A few years ago, I was at a place in my life where I wanted to focus my teaching in one place, to establish a home base. It didn’t take long before I realized that teaching at the Y helped me stay true to my initial intention. And while preaching to the choir is very nice, it simply doesn’t bring me the fulfillment I am looking for as a yoga teacher.

Here’s the thing–I want to meet people where they are.

And where most of us are is a busy, plugged-in, over-scheduled world. We are juggling jobs and kids, stress and aging, grief and worry, feeling uncomfortable in our own skin and sometimes scared to take that first step. Most of us are not yoga teachers. Most of us do not have a regular meditation practice. Most of us are not reflected in the images of What Yoga Looks Like in Yoga Journal or in the Lululemon ads. When I teach a class, my primary goal is to create a safe place for all people to explore the practice of yoga, just as they are. No fancy pants, no chanting required. And sometimes, yes, that means a random cell phone ringing in the middle of class.

Lest you think that my classes are an exercise in uncontrolled chaos, I will assure you I do have boundaries. If someone answers their cell phone and begins a conversation during class, (which almost never happens…almost) I will quietly ask them to take their business outside the room. If someone is visually or vocally disruptive to others around them, I will go over to them with a smile and remind them to draw their focus inward. God help me if I ever shoot daggers from my eyes towards someone who is distracted, antsy, or somehow otherwise not “in their yoga.” Who hasn’t been in that place at some time in a yoga class? Is it my job to shame them into behaving better? I sincerely hope not.

With the popularity of yoga increasing by leaps and bounds in the Western world, controversy follows. There are folks who want rules and guidelines and rigidity and dogma. To hell with that, I say. Come to my class solely for the physical exercise and screw yogic philosophy and you will get a powerful physical practice for your muscles and bones. Come to my class because you’re a teenage girl and it’s cool to do yoga and you will get an hour of great breathing and stretching and strong triceps. Come to my class because you love the playlists and you will hear great music, both familiar and new. Come to my class because you want to connect with your spirit, a deeper pull, the voice of the universe, and guess what? You can get that, too. We can all get what we need, side by side, breathing and moving and sweating together. Just as we are.

It is not my job to tell you why to come to yoga or to rattle off my rules for how to practice.  It is my job to greet you with a smile, to keep you safe but challenged, to give you permission to fall flat on your face, (literally and metaphorically) and encourage you to laugh about it afterwards. Yes, of course, it is also my job to create an environment conducive to practicing, with minimal distractions. But if you happen to reach for your cell phone on that morning that your kids are sick, or your husband is traveling, or you’re expecting news from your doctor, know that I get it. And know that I’m glad you showed up, in your imperfect, messy self.

Seriously, just show up.

(And here you go, music fans…this is the theme song for all my classes. Plus it features a really young Dave Grohl on drums, so I kinda like it.)

 

 

Scruff Of The Neck

The bulk of my junior and senior high school years were spent flying under the radar. Quietly sitting in the back of classrooms, getting good-to-average grades, rarely raising my hand, staying out of trouble, with just enough good friends to keep me happy and sane. English and literature and creative writing classes immersed me in my element and helped me navigate my typical teenage angst. They also helped me believe there was one thing I could do well–write.

Mr. Masters was my ninth-grade English teacher. He was also a family friend with charisma to spare. Tall and lanky, always sporting thick, black-rimmed eye glasses and a booming voice that could be heard two classrooms over. He was at once popular and feared for his strict classroom protocol and undeniably passionate about teaching us gawky, floundering teenagers the beauty of writing. He had high expectations of all his students, but delivered his lessons with firm kindness. I loved him as my ninth-grade English teacher and he openly praised my writing.

I was a junior in high school when Mr. Masters and I met up again in his Greek Mythology class. When Mr. Masters learned that I was going to be in his class again, he was thrilled. He often spoke about the “brilliant Jansens” that I was born of, my older siblings leaving a legacy of creativity that suddenly felt more like a curse than a compliment. Not so fast, I thought to myself. How dare he lump me in with my sisters and call me brilliant? Who was he to say who I was? Wanting to be seen as my own, unique person and not just as my sister’s sister, I rebelled.

Greek Mythology left me nothing but flat and confused. Sixteen years old and a bright and voracious reader, I tried reading Homer’s Odyssey and the Iliad and I simply Did. Not. Get. It. Stereotypically adolescent, I immediately deemed it “stupid” and “useless” and gave up. Perfect, I thought. See? Who’s so brilliant now, I smugly asked myself. This was all fitting in perfectly with my Grand Plan. I was determined to fail Greek Mythology. Brilliant Jansen, my ass.

When I bothered to show up to class, I acted apathetic and bored. Mr. Masters had an entire class of juniors to contend with, but I knew my behavior was getting under his skin. This made me even happier. I failed test after test, gave up reading any of the assignments and quietly bided my time in the back of the classroom. The end of the semester drew near and our final assignment from which most of our grade would be computed was an essay. We needed to write an essay on our choice of Greek God. I rolled my eyes and barely contained my disgust. I decided not to do it.

The essay deadline came and went without a paper from me. Mr. Masters noticed this and gave me an extension. The extended deadline came and went and still, no “brilliant Jansen” essay. Obviously exasperated, he asked me to stay after class one day. Sitting knee-to-knee across from one another, he looked me in the eye and asked me what was wrong. “I just don’t like Greek Mythology” I shrugged. “I see,” he countered. “What do you like then?” I began to tell him all about my passion for music, about finding a sense of belonging with the rock n’ roll bands I was hanging out with, about learning how to mix sound and lights for shows. “Okay. Write about that then,” he said. “Tell me, in your words, why you love it so much and what you’re learning. I want to know.”

Crap.

Mr. Masters had called my bluff and it worked. A few days later, my essay was on his desk. He gave me an “A” on my paper and I (barely) passed the class with a “C-.” It made me mad and frustrated and confused and happy all at once. I had failed miserably at failing Greek Mythology.

Years later, Mr. Masters officiated at my sister’s wedding. After the ceremony he sought me out and asked me, “Are you writing? You need to be writing, you know.” I told him, no, I wasn’t writing, but told him about all the other success I was having, how I was studying television production and looking forward to getting my career started. It was several years after that when I saw him again. I was working at a Seattle television station, I proudly told him and he asked me “But are you able to write?” I sheepishly mentioned a monthly entertainment piece I wrote, edited, and voiced for the station. Mr. Masters nodded, and urged, “Yes, but you need to write more. Tell them you need to write more.”

As I moved on professionally into film and video post production, and then on to having a family and then on to becoming a yoga instructor, Mr. Master’s voice remained annoyingly and persistently present. Occasionally, one of my sisters would report back that she had recently spoken with him. “How is he doing?” I would ask. “Fine,” my sister would reply, and then inevitably, “He wanted to know if you were writing.” Of course he did. Time after time, year after year, without fail. Was I writing? And if I wasn’t, why the hell not?

It takes a village to raise a child, the old African proverb says. Frankly, I’m not convinced it always takes an entire village. Sometimes, I believe all it takes is one, trusted and passionate teacher/coach/mentor who truly sees the potential in an awkward teen, who takes hold of her by the scruff of the neck–like a mama cat with her kitten–and refuses to let go. The very same way Mr. Masters took hold of me way back in that ill-fated Greek Mythology class at Clover Park High School all those many years ago.

And now I know if, by chance, he asks again “Are you writing?” I can smile at him and proudly say “Yes. Thanks to you. I am finally writing.”

 

 

 

 

 

Outside The C-Zone With Amanda

It was Monday morning when The Mister announced, “It feels like she’s moved in with us.” She being Amanda Palmer, my latest obsession, er….inspiration.

I was coming off a weekend of deep stretching that had nothing to do with yoga and everything to do with comfort zones. My energy buzzing higher than I can remember in recent years, even decades. Spurred on by a friend (whom I affectionately re