RSS Feed

Category Archives: gift

Ad-Venture Capital

Where are you going this time?

Long before there were Minimalists (visit them here) who traveled the world with fifty-one things and before Marie Kondo (http://tidyingup.com) sparked joy with her life-changing magic of tidying up, George Carlin (enjoy the video) famously pinged our devotion to stuff. In his routine he mentions needing a place to store such important items as our “fourth-grade math papers.” I’m guilty of moving school papers of mine that date back to third grade more than 2300 miles over 42 years and through six houses (not to mention storing those same pages with my mother for eons). I’m equally guilty of rarely looking at those papers, although when teaching the boy until recently known as Sixteen, now Seventeen, about taking notes for class a couple of years ago, I reached into my box and found a perfect example of what I was talking about in my philosophy notebook from college.

That specific collection of school papers is corralled into one storage bin. Not so well filed are papers from Seventeen and Thirteen’s school experiences along with files of my first full-time job search, pages of creative writing from before there were computers, and financial records, some dating back thirty years. In the unfortunately accommodating storage area of my basement, it’s all too easy to stack in bins and crates what my mother years ago named “scream boxes”—those collections of things or papers that tumble together into a tangle to be sorted some other time.

Looking through the basement in preparation for this year’s garage sale, I found I’ve got a mix of scream boxes and organized packets. Ignoring these, it felt really good to skim out items from the basement we aren’t using, and set them, along with things from every room in the house, out in the garage at the beginning of May. Strangers came to look over our things and few left without purchasing something. You have really nice stuff, one person told me. “Now, you have really nice stuff,” I smiled back, handing her change and a bag holding her treasures.

The garage sale was the most lucrative I’ve ever had, but of course it’s the human interactions that I remember the most. There was the lady who has recently become a mutual funds investor who started talking to Seventeen, giving him advice about life. In short order they were exchanging email addresses, because investing is something he loves to talk about and he has acquired a surprising wealth of knowledge already, even if he’s still working on accumulating actual wealth. There was Larry who readily dispensed his version of life advice to my son: “Work with this,” he said, pointing to his head, “not with these,” and here he wiggled his fingers.

More than one person asked Seventeen about his accent. Born in Maryland and an Iowan since five and a half, his intonation is sometimes a little surprising, but he doesn’t have an accent. It isn’t the first time, he told me; he’s been asked about it at school.

The most hair-raising and smile-inducing visitor to our garage arrived in a shiny silver Jaguar that likely cost more than will Seventeen’s first year of college. Seventeen and I were leaning out of the garage to gawk at the car as he walked up the drive, “Did I park funny?”

“No,” I told him. “We were just admiring your car.”

Seventeen said something affirmative and enthusiastic in response to which the stranger looked straight at him. “Do you have a driver’s license?”

“Yes.”

“Take it for a spin,” he tossed the keys to Seventeen and added, as an afterthought, “Is that okay Mom?”

Off they went down the driveway together where the Jag’s owner showed Seventeen how to adjust the mirrors. I caught my breath as the big car purred away, my son at the wheel.

“Awww, Mom,” the car’s owner walked back up my drive, “don’t worry. I have plenty of insurance. Every boy should have an opportunity to drive a car like that.”

As his story unfolded, it turned out the owner of the Jag had grown up on a car lot, driving all kinds of luxury vehicles. He had, he said, been driving Jaguars for thirty years.

What seemed like an eternity but likely only a quarter of an hour later, Seventeen brought the car back, grinning from ear-to-ear. The owner, too, looked pleased, having given the kind of gift that stories are made of. He strolled off to climb back into his machine, one of our few customers who left without making any purchases.

For two and a half days our belongings left in the arms of strangers. Reactions around the house were varied—watching from the window Ninety-One said she felt a little like she was being robbed. But when she made her way out into the garage, she found the items there had lost their emotional energy and she was glad to see them go. Seventeen is practical—anything he doesn’t want to take to college should be turned to cash. Thirteen spent a happy hour spreading the contents of scream boxes excised from her room a few years back around the basement, discovered a packet of glitter, and proceeded to sparkle her hair, clothes, and the basement floor. Her contributions to the sale itself were few.

In three days we easily divested ourselves of any number of things we no longer use, with a healthy balance going to charity and resale shops over the next two weeks. The experience offered so many gifts: the house feels lighter, brighter, and more welcoming, easier to navigate and to consider what’s still here; I spent a weekend in my garage with Seventeen, enjoying his company at the beginning of what is his last summer at home before he leaves for college; and we put into the bank a tidy sum toward our summer family adventure, the memories from which are sure to be much more precious and important than any knickknack or unused bowl.

IMG_6468

The delight of a list on which everything is crossed off! This one represents hundreds of items donated, retired, or recycled … and my exploration of the plural of trellis shortly after I worked the broken pieces of ours off the house and down to the curb.

May is a month like December, a whirl of activities, concerts, recitals, and endings. There’s a big commencement in our world—Seventeen’s graduation from high school this weekend. So while May took me away from writing as much as I’d like to, it is presenting me with plenty to write about. Look for the inevitable post about my graduate soon and thank you, as ever, for sharing the journey with me, Rxo

Advertisements

Aquarius Calling

What is your favorite song?

Google “music and memory research” and there are one hundred sixty-four million hits. But there is perhaps no more immediate proof that certain musical pieces from the past deliver a memory wallop than that moment when a song you’re not expecting starts playing on the radio. The most recent song to stir my memory banks made me smile: “Kiss You All Over,” by Exile. A number one hit in 1978, the synth-pop success never struck me as a particularly good song then. This week when I heard it while driving through the early spring sunshine, the convertible top down and the wind ruffling my hair, my reaction was: “Oh, I love this song.” And I turned up the volume.

In 1978 I had an avocado green touch-tone slimline phone with an extra-long cord in my room. Although not a dedicated teenline, it was a second number at the farm (I’ll always remember these digits: 319.683.2656 (of course don’t call them now—they may belong to someone else)), so it felt like mine. I was not allowed to be on it after 9pm and no one in those days called anyone before 9am, unless it was an emergency or a work/school-related matter. But who called whom after school was an important social register, and I looked forward to hearing that phone ring.

My longest-standing friendship is nearly the length of my lifetime, and it began when a girl finally arrived, after four sons, at the farm adjacent to ours to the west. My mother gave her mother my crib, and since we could talk we’ve said we were crib sisters. Because the district line scrolled weirdly right through our property, my friend and her brothers attended the country school system; my brother and I went into town. Nonetheless, we saw each other weekends and spent much of the un-air-conditioned hot, humid Iowa summers cooling off by floating together in inner tubes on our pond.

My friend—I’m going to call her Aquarius—spent many a night at my house. We’d go to my room and listen to music and sometimes we browsed the phone book. Young people who had their very own phone lines were often identified in the phone book under their parents’ listing as “teenline.” That meant if you dialed such a number you were likely ringing the phone of a teenager in his or her room. If anyone was going to answer, it would be the teen. There were no answering machines, no caller ID, no hold button or call waiting, but there would be a busy signal if the person were already on the line. In those days, you dialed the number and you got the person or you didn’t.

I feel a little chagrined to confess that Aquarius and I found a great deal of delight in making crank calls, specifically to teenlines. We took turns, dialing the numbers, waiting with a catch in our breath for the phone on the other end to ring, hoping that someone would answer. We’d say something we were certain was tremendously provocative, listen for the reaction and then hang up and laugh, our hearts racing.

One night Aquarius, who I suspect is still far braver than I, called a teenline and waited. When a male voice answered, she dropped her line on him. I don’t remember what she said, but the response she got was not an angry slam; it was a groggy, “What?” She looked at me with big eyes and then kinda shrugged and said, simply, “Hi.”

She had caught the attention of our call recipient and they begin to talk. His name was Kurt, and he was a college student, living at home for the summer. Just junior high girls, we were thrilled to talk to this older guy who seemed content to while away some time chatting. We handed the phone back and forth, laughing and talking for some time.

It was not the last time we would call Kurt. The next time we were armed with a list of questions. For years I had the canary yellow legal pages on which we wrote his answers in green ink. Even though I can see the pages like a snapshot, other than his first name, the only thing I can remember is that his favorite song, he said, was “Kiss You All Over.”

Was it really? Or was it just what was playing over and over and over and over on top-40 radio? Aquarius and I listened the next time we heard the song—with five older rock-n-roll brothers between us, we couldn’t imagine a guy who would pick such a schmaltzy pop song as his favorite. But we decided we liked it because Kurt did.

So many years later the song ends and I’m pulling into my destination, awash in memories of Aquarius and farm summers and innovations like push-button phone pads that my children wouldn’t even see as technology. I’m not aware of anything even similar to crank calling in their world, although I supposed “friending” or “following” someone you don’t know might give you a similar opportunity for the thrill of touching a stranger. Then again, today such interactions are discouraged because you don’t know who’s on the other end of the connection or where in the world they might be or whether they are who they say they are. And even though neither one of dials into their favorite station on a clock radio in their room, as I did endlessly during my teenaged years, I am certain, that the music they listen to today will be the music that evokes the Oh yeah, I remember when that happened memories they will cherish a few miles down the road.

Happy new April moon—it’s time to sow seeds, metaphorical and actual. What seeds are you planting? With much love, Rxo

IMG_4327

The seeds we are sowing this spring will arrive in surprising and mysterious and colorful ways, sometimes when we least expect them. Yes—this farm girl knows tulips come from fall bulbs not spring seeds, but these tulips were a gift from a friend I met at the most ill-imagined, uncomfortable party ever. The party was thirteen years ago; the friendship is as strong as ever. 

Go Ask Alice

Go Ask Alice

Who needs Wonderland?

IMG_6045

Thirteen, a Cheshire Cat in the recent junior high production of Alice in Wonderland

 

One school year we left the farm and moved into town—my parents rented a ranch house on a little-traveled street in a neighborhood where I had school friends within walking distance. The house showed every sign of being a flower child, complete with a car port, shag carpet and avocado green appliances. That year, one of my prized possessions was a plastic record player, orange, that I could carry around when it was folded like a brief case. I would set it up, plug it in, and play full-sized LPs, either Terry Jacks’ Seasons in the Sun or a complete recording of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The latter was four records, the unabridged text, and took about three hours to listen to all the way through. I listened over and over until I could recite the story line-for-line from just about any starting point in the book.

Alice was one of my childhood heroines, more friend than literary character. Just as I felt with Dorothy’s Oz, I never fully bought into the “it was all a dream” framework of the story. Wonderland was real to me, the intro and ending added, I was certain, to appease adult sensibilities.

A few years later my seventh grade Language Arts teacher, Mrs. Ostrem, would forbid us from ending our work with any intimation that the foregoing had been a dream. It was, she instructed, an authorial cop out. If we asked her about Dorothy or Alice, I don’t remember her response. But hers was one of those lessons that taught me to compartmentalize—I loved the stories I had always loved even as I worked to discern the literary merit of crafting a fantasy world that held sway without the dream device.

At the end of her romp through Wonderland, Alice—grown back to her right size that is enormous in comparison to the creatures who wish her beheaded—stands up to them all and asserts, “You’re nothing but a pack of cards.” In the traditional John Tenniel illustration of this moment, Alice stands sideways, her head ducking, her hands raised against a flurry of playing cards that are ineffectually leaping at her even as a menagerie of animals scurries out from under her feet. In the next moments her sister is brushing leaves from Alice’s hair saying, “My, what a long sleep you’ve had!”

That illustration came to mind again and again as February, launched by a broken ignition coil, turned into March: the barrage of pesky cards kept flying at me. While I refuse to complete a financial tally, by the time the injured-reserve list included the washer, a toppled pine in the backyard, the vacuum, the radon-abatement system, and Cooper the squirrel, we had also been derailed by stomach flu, bronchitis, and worrisome maladies in the extended family.

In the depth of it all, even though I could barely catch my breath to do so, the time arrived to share the news with the Radiant Om Yoga community that ROY will close this year. There is no good time to deliver disappointing news, and with life already spinning through an unpleasant Wonderland, the timing felt destabilizing at best. The email (click here if you’d like to read it) went out and another barrage of reaction ensued. Holding space for everyone to respond, I thought: Who needs Wonderland?

And then the answer came: I do. Because making a point of attending Alice in Wonderland in which my Thirteen played one of a chorus of Cheshire Cats, once for dress rehearsal with my mother and again on closing night, being able to make painted-rose cupcakes for the IMG_6059concession stand, having the wherewithal to remember to purchase real roses for my actress, and being granted the escape of a couple of hours of live theater are what it’s all about. As there were junior high students at the production helm, they chose to blast “Welcome to Wonderland” before and after the show. My ears picked up just enough of the gist: Welcome to Wonderland/This is your new address/You’ll love it more or less/…Everyday it’s something new/Problems up the old wazoo/…Life can be fantastic every minute/For as long as you can just stay in it/…Welcome to Wonderland. And I thought, Yup. Theme song, and added it to my playlist. And no, I’d like to tell Mrs. Ostrem, none of it—not the weird, worrisome, disappointing, nor delightful—has been a dream.

Happy full moon—can it be spring already? Wishing March is marching along with gusto wherever this finds you. Thanks, as ever, for reading, xoR

February, Have Mercy

Hey, Robin, have you got bats in your belfry?

When I arrived at home between teaching a yoga class and driving Thirteen to Wednesday night dance, I had about thirty-five minutes to scramble dinner together, serve and eat, and head back out the door. My mother, Ninety-one, sat across the kitchen island from me brimming with a story. “We had a small incident,” she started, “you can see the cats are still riled up over it.” I looked where she was looking and welled up with concern—had there been a really bad cat fight? The peace among them is tenuous. But that worry didn’t wash with the reality that all three cats were sitting sentry near the hearth.

“What happened?”

“There was a squirrel around the fireplace; it sounded like it was underneath. It’s gone now, but it made a terrible racket.” Our smallest kitty, Katie, was sitting with her shoulder pressed against the hearth, Leo was peeking out from under the philodendrons, and Starling was at attention on her watching perch, the corner of the sofa. “You see?” Ninety-one indicated, “they think it’s still there.”

For the past year or so I’ve been hearing squirrels too close to my head in my office, a four-season room that juts out from the side of the house. Understandably, Ninety-one and Sixteen had concluded that the squirrel near the fireplace had somehow worked its way from that discrete roof through the walls to the fireplace. I walked over to investigate.

All it took was a touch to the handle of the fireplace door for the frightened squirrel to kick up a ruckus. I jumped back, “The squirrel isn’t gone, Mom, it’s very much still there.” She came closer to listen and we both heard the squirrel, thoroughly distressed, skittering around within. “He’s on top of the fireplace. He must have fallen down the chimney.”

Our fireplace is in fact a wood-burning stove with a two-story metal tube chimney that ascends with two bends around Thirteen’s closet. You’d never know from the outside where it looks like we have a large, rectangular chimney. From the inside what you see is a solid glass door.

The squirrel’s renewed chattering sent the cats scampering in every direction, so I did the only thing I could think of at that moment, shut off the light, finished dinner, and took Thirteen to dance. Driving away I just kept shaking my head, “how is there a squirrel in my chimney?”

Tired, scared, maybe dazed, the squirrel made no more noise until morning. In the meantime, I left two increasingly panicked messages on the machine of the company that installed the fireplace and woke from a dream in which the squirrel had morphed into a rabbit that I somehow managed to catch and then tame. In my waking mind, there was no scenario that I could imagine in which the story had a happy ending.

The next morning connected me with Wade of Critter Control. Wade arrived with nets and gloves, a tarp and a long pole. He told me he retrieves five or six squirrels a year from fireplaces. Sometimes he even lowers a special rope down the chimney, a rope he’s knotted every foot, and, he reported, most of the squirrels find their way out.

But the set up of my stove and chimney gave Wade pause. A series of baffles direct the smoke into the chimney; there is no flue. Usually, he explained to me, he’d hold the net in place, open the flue, and out would drop the squirrel. But in my fireplace we ran a distinct risk that the squirrel would bolt. Into my house. He shook his head, giving himself a less than fifty percent chance of catching the squirrel, maybe.

“I hate to say it, but we may just have to let him die in there.” Wade was managing my expectations, but he must have seen how distressed I looked, because then he presented his idea. “What I’m thinking is that maybe we can help him save himself. I’m going to drop this part of the baffle. I don’t know as I’ll be able to put it back right after. I’m going to drop this down and put a trap in. Maybe he’ll come down on his own.”

It seemed as good a plan as any. I must have looked hopeful when I said, “Oh, can we try that, please?”

So Wade set the trap, showing me precisely how it worked and how much food he was loading it with. Then we surveyed the squirrel issues on the outside of my house and he set some traps there as well and outlined a plan to seal the vents where they’ve been getting in. It was at this point that my neighbor, seeing the Critter Control van in my driveway, came over to inquire about bats. He, too, was nonplussed to learn that a squirrel could end up in the chimney.

Giving me his card and writing out a handsome bill for the visit, Wade said: “If you see the trap is sprung, you just call me. I’ll come get him.”

The squirrel was quiet and I alternately worried off and on all though another night that he was dead or barely living. On Friday I waited until the morning bustle was over and then I went to investigate. The trap was sprung. I peered in with a flashlight—all I could see was my squirrel’s tail—he was curled so deep in the trap. I danced to my phone to call Wade. Less than forty-eight hours after Cooper—the squirrel I only allowed myself to name once he was freed—had his fall down my chimney, he was released to live happily in the country north of Bondurant, and Wade was my new hero.

Cooper

Cooper in his trap awaiting transport to his new life. 

Stories from real life aren’t always so neat and even this happy ending has two tags. The first is why I named him Cooper—no, not because he was cooped up. I wanted to name him Alice, because the line from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland kept playing in my head: Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, because she had plenty of time to look about her as she went down and wonder what was going to happen next. But everyone had been saying “he,” about our squirrel and while we have no confirmation, a gender change didn’t seem in order. Then I thought of Alice Cooper, certainly a boy, and made a little mental leap so that Cooper the squirrel had a fitting name.

The last piece is a different tangent, but in some ways the most important part. Shortly after Wade came to collect Cooper, Sixteen and I picked up a few items at our local HyVee grocery store. In the express lane we were behind an elderly lady with a wispy cloud of white hair. She was paying for her groceries when I set our grapes on the counter. The sight of them made her stop and reach for my grapes: “Don’t those look nice,” she said, her fingers lightly touching the bag. “I didn’t see those.” She returned to her transaction and after stood watching the grapes go on the scale and into a bag.

“Would you like me to get you some of those grapes after I finish this order?” The cashier inquired kindly. I sent my son, “Sixteen, can you pick out some grapes for this lady?” He was around the corner in a flash and back just as quickly, “These okay?” The lady looked pleased. “Put them on my order,” I told the cashier. “Oh, no, you don’t have to do that,” the elderly lady said. “It’s my pleasure,” I told her, “my treat today.” The cashier put the grapes in her cart and smiled at me. Sixteen said to me, as we walked out, “That was nice.” I leaned toward him, my heart open and full, “I am happy I was able to do something in honor of Cooper and Wade and all the people and critters who have done the right thing today.”

This month … this month has been a roiling challenge from the beginning. Mechanical things have failed, members of my family have been ill, my house hasn’t been a fortress (there were even ants, ANTS, in my basement last night), and of course my heart is still sad about Bugsy (The Bugsy Blues) … I am ever grateful for the gifts of kindness, compassion, and safe squirrel removal, for the connection this blog gives me to you, and so much more. A special tip of my chapeau to SGW who celebrated her birthday recently. A shout-out to each of you who so lovingly read my words and extra gratitude when you let me know how they touch you. Thank you for sharing my journey and inviting me to be a part of yours, Rxo

The Count

How’re your cats?

Our black kitty, Leo, has one essential job: loving Sixteen. He does it willingly and well, sleeping on his bed or in his doorway when Sixteen is asleep, curled on his favorite perch atop Sixteen’s desk when he’s doing schoolwork. He seems to know about when Sixteen will arrive home and emerges from his afternoon nap ten or fifteen minutes ahead of time to sit by the front window and watch.

With Sixteen at the center of Leo’s world, Leo is merely observant of the rest of us. He almost never makes a noise, so somewhere along the line family stories about Leo’s limited vocabulary have evolved. Leo does count everyone in the household, but since he clearly cannot count very high, we decided it goes like this: Sixteen is One. Ninety-One, Thirteen, and I are each Not One. Starling, whom Leo tolerates and who idolizes Leo like he’s the captain of the football team, is White-Like-Me. Katy, who once was Leo’s bestie but is now most certainly a mouse-like beasty, to be tolerated some days and hunted with vengeance on others, is Gray-Not-Like-Me. (That said, considerable gains have been achieved in the overall peace among the three in our household, a far cry from where we were a little over a year ago when we were at an all-time unharmonious low.)

IMG_5541

Starling gazing at Leo, both kitties looking just a little like the calendar we enjoyed last year.

Like Leo, I have an affection for counting, reckoning. Unlike Leo, I have considerably more numbers at my disposal and I thoroughly enjoy rifling through them. As a words person, I am not expected, perhaps, to love numbers, but I do. I like the way they quantify things; I like the way they help me know where I stand. I often think in numbers and patterns, perhaps the reason I am good at puzzles and proofreading (negative space, negative numbers, and vast quantities, however, can undo me mentally faster than about anything).

I’ve been thinking about numbers recently—trying to figure out their appeal. It may have something to do with the way the brain can feel so settled if the numbers are right. A simple example: In my dryer, there are three wool balls that tumble with the wet clothes, cutting down on static, softening the clothes, and eliminating the need for softener or dryer sheets. When I pull clothes out of the dryer, there’s satisfaction in seeing all three balls resting in the empty dryer, awaiting the next load. When one gets tangled inside a sheet or works its way up the leg of a pair of pajamas, which happens quite often, it takes a little extra work to paw through the clean clothes and find the dryer ball. Sometimes only two stay, the third hiding successfully enough so I won’t find it until I’m folding the pile of laundry on my bed. And then there’s that feeling that something is amiss, until the third dryer ball is returned to its place with the others. Click. Something moves into place in my brain and—this may be part of the magic of knowing the right number—I don’t have to think about it any more.

I also like numbers when they do quirky things, like palindromes on my car’s odometer and that moment when there are 2 minutes 34 second (234) left in the walk on my treadmill and I’ve journeyed 2.34 miles. These moments don’t last with the satisfying thunk of the third dryer ball returning home, but they sweeten the breath of the moment when I take time to notice them.

I thought I might celebrate last year’s big birthday, 50, by writing a Fifty Things I’ve Learned in Fifty Years blog post. I know people who have celebrated such big birthdays by playing 50 holes of golf or riding 50 miles on their bicycle. Sixteen wisely talked me out of the Fifty Lesson list, and I’m glad he did. Because just as I appreciate knowing numbers, I appreciate the mutable quality of not counting. So fifty came and went, was celebrated variously, but it took considerable pressure off not to mark it fifty ways.

So it is with the reset in seasons. The New Year may start on January 1, but isn’t it nicer, for example, to take a transitional period from around the Solstice to around the Chinese New Year to move into the messages and lessons of winter? Spring seems to turn a little more quickly, but there aren’t many places that will flip from winter to spring on the equinox. At such times, the number becomes a benchmark, a reminder to stop and notice where you are and what you’re doing rather than a directive to make a distinct and abrupt change.

And so it seems with numbers, as with so many things, there is a balance. The checkbook, balanced to the penny. The budget? Rounder numbers with wiggle room, ideally based on less so that there will be more. Three hundred sixty-five days in a year? All good. But it takes 365.24 days for the earth to travel around the sun. It’s fascinating to me that the roman calendar, lunar based, simply left off any counting of the days in between December and March. When Julius Cesar proposed the Julian/sun-based calendar, he addressed several issues, including the problem of leap year. Today’s calendar not only has months and days for every day, but once every four years we add a day to align the calendar with the seasons. Elegant or clumsy, this year we get an extra day—and isn’t this a gift—to count on.

Happy New Moon! It’s a bright cold beginning to great things. Thanks for being a reader I can count on! love, Rxo

Family Matters

How do you find out about your ancestors?

Thirteen asked me a few days ago about her heritage. How would she, she wanted to know, go about drawing a family tree? We talked a little bit about the family members who have completed genealogy studies—and then I asked her: what’s your interest? “I just want to know where I come from.”

Hers is a good and fundamental need to know. In part, I’m certain, she’s hoping there’s an exotic ancestor or a drop or two of royal blood in our past. And I suppose, if just about anyone traced back far enough, there would be both princes and pirates in some part of the family bloodline.

Our ancestry is mostly European, mostly western, with one significant branch of the family arriving just about the turn of the last century from Lebanon. My light-haired, blue-eyed children don’t look it, but they are one-eighth Lebanese.

My extended family isn’t awfully close and those drops of blood meant little when I was growing up. I had no bloodline connection to my most interactive grandparent, Norma Bourjaily, nor to my Aunt Eileen, married to my father’s younger brother—my Unca Paul (https://overneathitall.com/2014/06/)—for sixty-six years. But this remarkable woman, a tiny dynamo, was a relative life force in my world. It is her life I remember today, celebrating her memory in light of her death late last month.

Unca Paul & Aunt Eileen, taken by another wonderful relative, Uncle Hale.

Unca Paul & Aunt Eileen, taken by another wonderful relative, Uncle Hale.

My Aunt was 96 when she died—the math reveals that I met her for the first time when she was my age today, 50. It was my first visit to their big house full of treasures in Yellow Springs, Ohio, but it would not be nearly the last. My Aunt and Uncle lived halfway from our Iowa home to the East Coast; so, they were the logical stopover any time we drove East. As a college student I was guilty of calling just a day or two before I would be arriving, of bringing friends or—once—a springer spaniel with me with even less notice, and of arriving late and leaving early. Nonetheless, with steadfast good humor, my Aunt always had a freshly made bed, clean towels, and a delicious meal awaiting my arrival. In the mornings, after our visit and breakfast, she would bustle around her kitchen in order to send me off with extras—a banana and a muffin, a bottle of water, a baggie of trail mix. If my adult cousins were in town, they would be summoned for my visit. Each time I would promise that the next time I’d stay longer or arrive at a decent hour. And off I would go, destined to repeat the pattern over and over.

My Aunt’s care packages sometimes included treasures: family photos; gifts for the folks at home; and once, the Pre-Columbian figure my blood paternal grandmother, a woman I never met but from whom I inherited both writing and yoga, wore around her neck for years. In my current mood of clearing out, I ponder especially the items that I will keep for my children. The most important, I believe, are the things that will connect them to their history, a sense of who they are. So although it’s not a piece I can picture myself wearing, the stone woman sticks alongside copies for each of them of my grandmother’s book. I am especially grateful to my Aunt for sharing this little figure with me.

Remembering—the kind of time travel our minds allow—is another gift. My Aunt, long before her mental acuity was compromised, had memory slips when she talked. Stretching for a word but not wanting to stall in the middle of a thought, she would replace the word with a charming little hmmm or the phrase “kind of thing.” If the word truly escaped her, she would put these together, “It’s a hmmm kind of thing.” And somehow, I like to think because we were related, I would always know precisely what she was talking about.

It felt odd to me to miss posting on the last full super moon, when there was a lunar eclipse no less. Driving my mother in the convertible to see easily the eclipse, conveniently timed in the 9pm hour, I saw neighbors out watching. The moon is my favorite rock, and that night it felt really good to celebrate its majesty in community with so many people. And somehow it was okay skipping that particular post, just as it feels really good now to sit across from Sixteen at a coffee shop, writing in celebration of my dear departed Aunt and a whole new cycle of the moon. Happy new moon—on our way to the Hunter’s or Travel moon. Thanks, as ever, for sharing the journey with me, Rxo

Birthday Mala

Birthday Mala
What's better than a question mark!?

What’s better than a question mark!?

Who’s sending you all of these?

My first Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog) in nearly three months was Sunday, July 12, eight weeks after hand surgery on the index finger knuckle of my left hand (please see https://overneathitall.com/2015/05/07/hand-le-this/ and https://overneathitall.com/2015/05/18/my-ten-cents/). I was warm from thirty easy minutes on my treadmill, my hand tender and still puffy. I took myself through Surya Namaskar (a salute to the sun), ten straightforward poses that might be taught in an intro to yoga class. I took myself through a second. When I completed the third, I thought of BKS Iyengar, who told my teacher: three poses make a practice. Three rounds of Surya Namaskar. In spite of the uncertainty and pain in my hand, I felt really good, ready for my day.

(In English, a basic sun salutation starts standing tall. Lift your arms and fold all the way forward, lift your torso to a flat back, your hands sliding up your shins, bring your hands back to the floor and step or hop back to plank (top of a pushup), then lower your heart to the floor. Lift that heart in a small backbend. Soften out and lift your hips to an upside down V, that’s downward facing dog, the pose from which I was restricted both pre- and post surgery (no weight-bearing on my hand). Step or hop forward, create the half lift, soften back to forward fold and sweep your hands to the sky, coming back to mountain pose standing straight and tall, hands at your sides.)

The next day, I walked again on my treadmill, and then again I did three more sun salutations. And three more the day after that. I was feeling shaky in my plank, lowering my heart to the floor meant dropping to my knees first, and I could barely hold downward facing dog, the pain making my hand wobble. But I couldn’t get over how good this simple practice made me feel—centered and thoughtful, able to scoop my cat onto my shoulders (she waits for me right outside the door of the room where my treadmill is) and head up to cheerfully greet the day.

I consulted the calendar and realized I had gotten lucky. By the time I had started it was less than fifty days before my fiftieth birthday, so I couldn’t complete a challenge like fifty yoga poses in fifty days. But with the right math, there was enough time for a Mala. Mala is the Sanskrit for garland, and the traditional practice is 108 rounds of Surya Namaskar (albeit with more jumping and ramped up versions of my plank and backbend). My calendar showed that three-per-day six-days-a-week would get me to the Friday before my birthday. It seemed an auspicious way to move toward that big five-oh and rehabilitate my hand all at the same time.

What started out choppy and challenging became smoother. I added in a hop. I lowered down more easily each day. I was re-gathering strength and flexibility. I started to practice more fully with my yoga classes, too, encouraging my body to move in ways that were at once familiar and refreshing. I felt, too, some of the benefits of the “yoga marathon,” what we sometimes call the 108 practice when it’s performed all at once time. My daily practice was connecting my days, which often feel disjointed, giving them a comforting unity. The challenge to complete the Mala was all that kept me going at first, but soon I found the practice so compelling that the few times I did not get up and go right to my treadmill, I made the time later in the day.

At the end of the fourth week, four postcards arrived in my mailbox. They were each different, colorful and wonderful art, each addressed in lively different colored markers, each decorated in the part where you’d write a note with a two-inch letter. H, A, P, and P arrived all in a clump, and I set them next to my bed with an unconfirmed suspicion about who the sender might be.

The next day came Y, and it was time to share the goodness. I arrayed the postcards, picture side up, for each of my family members. Then I flipped them one by one, spelling out H-A-P-P-Y. Indeed, this gift was making me exceedingly happy. I posed with the Y for my Facebook profile picture, sharing my excitement with my online world.

When 5 and –th appeared next, Thirteen helped me put up a string in our kitchen where I attached the letters that had come so far. Each day I got excited about checking the mail; each day there was a new delight or a new mystery—where was T, what would come after the comma—unfolded.

In the basement in the mornings, I kept to my Mala; upstairs in the afternoons I hung more postcards on my garland.

The last week of my Surya Namaskar practice I started counting down in my head—only eighteen more, then fifteen, twelve, nine … I thought at nine about polishing them off in one go—I have done 108 in one session a number of times—but decided it was more important to stick to the pattern I had set for myself. After not quite six weeks I could reliably lower down from my toes, jump into plank, and lift from my backbend to downward facing dog without lowering through the middle. Still, three sun salutations felt measured and right, a practice I had and could sustain, even if afterwards I sometimes worked in another pose.

The final N of my name arrived two days before my birthday. A package came, too, from the number one suspect. The N postcard announced that it wasn’t the end, in tiny letters scrunched to the side of my address. What could be left?

My fiftieth birthday was a Sunday. I woke at nearly my normal too-early time; the house was dark and quiet. I thought about turning over and going back to sleep, but something urged me out of bed. I soft-footed my way down to the treadmill, realized that I couldn’t lie to it and punched in 50 when it asked my age, walked for 35 minutes at 3.8 mph and a 1.5% grade, walked my cool down, peeled off my socks and stepped onto my mat. Lifting my hands over my head, I folded to the earth. Three rounds of Surya Namaskar and I was on my way upstairs, a new garland and a new half-century ahead of me.

The complete garland--so beautiful I can't bear to take it down!

The complete garland–so beautiful I can’t bear to take it down!

The day after my birthday, the final postcard, an exclamation mark composed of books, arrived. In tiny print on two of the books, the masterpiece is signed, “Love from, Diana.” Thank you, thank you to the Lady with the Magic Van—your magic extends far beyond your vehicle. I love the way my birthday Malas linked the time before and the time after. Just like the phases of the moon bring me back to you, dear reader, at the same time they move us all forward. Happy full sturgeon moon, Rxo

%d bloggers like this: