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During the Between

During the Between

What did KatyDid?

After the before and before the after, there’s between. There’s during, too, but during doesn’t pinch the way between does. During is easy to miss, caught up in the doing of it all; between is easy to mess up and a place it’s all too possible to get stuck.

In a world of hurricane travesties, political miasma, raging wildfires, and terrible disease, whining about being wedged in the between isn’t an option. Nevertheless, like Anaïs Nin, I write to “taste life twice.” Even when the moments are bitter, it’s through the retrospective that I can begin to learn something that maybe just maybe makes the next between a little sweeter.

Mid-summer, my Craig’s List ad finally netted a customer for the gorgeous china cabinet in the dining room. I so liked the people who disassembled the whole thing carefully and, with great padding and not inconsiderate effort, loaded it into their truck and drove it away. In the wake of another large item’s exodus from our household, Fifteen opined that it was time to paint the dining room.

Painting the dining room was top of my list when we moved into the house a dozen years ago. The color palate throughout the house made me feel old, but the dining room was by far the worst, beige above the chair rail, mottled deep blue below. We are a family that sits together in the dining room to eat, that hosts small and large dinners, that pushes the table to the side of the room and invites people in for a buffet. Through every occasion, the colors I loathed remained.

Fifteen enjoys removing wallpaper, and that’s where we started, stripping the painted paper that was more plastic than paper from the thirty-inch span below the chair rail. To our dismay, removing the deep blue revealed a hideous bright blue paint that wasn’t fully applied, as though someone thought better of the color only after it was mostly slathered on the wall. To our further dismay, not one but two showing requests beeped onto my phone when we were in the midst of removing the paper, the torn curls all over the floor and sticking to our pants.

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Yikes … during we found blue. Starling (pictured) thought nothing of the open air-return duct. 

During the dining room renovation: Fifteen left for a week away at the National Scholars Institute; Eighteen went to and arrived home from work and took his first solo road trip; I left for a weekend of yoga teacher training; and groups viewing our house were greeted by a “Please pardon the mess” sign.

Our smallest cat, Katy, was fascinated by the air-return opening where I had removed the grill. I blocked it variously with a box, paper, the drop cloth. She pawed at these, determined to inspect the mysterious hole in the wall. A couple of times I scolded her away from it, in the same “angry mommacat tone” that detours her from going into my closet. Then I was painting. The cats paraded through—Leo playing slip-n-slide in the drop cloth plastic, Starling running her usual commentary about all of the unfamiliar activity, and Katy finding any kind of trouble she could, jumping onto the table, inspecting the open paint can, and tearing at the paper covering the air return. I scolded her, turned back to my paint, and wouldn’t have even heard her as she quietly slipped under the paper and into the dark beyond, but turned to look just in time to see her tail disappear.

Just like that, we arrived in the between.

Eighteen’s response, even as I was shining a flashlight into the hole, wondering how far it might go, was to race to the basement to figure out where we could take the ductwork apart. Then he brought a dangle toy, something we use to lure kitties out of the garage. Katy, looking miffed, haughty, and scared as only a not-quite seven-pound cat who thinks she’s in charge can look, reappeared briefly but slipped away when I reached for her. I discovered then the air-return duct dropped down more than a foot, and the pathway in and down was not as large as the opening suggested. As I sat quietly and watched, fishing with the toy and waiting to see if she would get herself out, it became clear to me that she both wanted back out, badly, and hadn’t yet figured out the maneuver that would allow her to escape. Occasionally coming close enough so she was illuminated by the light of the flashlight, she blinked up at me.

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That’s my arm disappearing down the hole to above the elbow.

This cat arrived in our lives a tiny kitten, one of a pair of litters of barn kitties of very young mothers. Early on one mother stopped nursing and the other was making a gallant attempt to feed both broods. We had picked Katy out just a couple of weeks before, but I wasn’t yet expecting the phone call to bring her home until she was eight weeks. “Come get her,” urged the landowner’s voice on the phone, “one died of starvation and an owl got another. I’m worried your kitten won’t survive.”

Armed with kitten formula and kitten litter, we brought her home with trepidation. We named her KatyDid, both because she was as tiny as a bug and because that way when she was naughty we could say, “Who did?” “KatyDid.” Over the years we’ve added the ungrammatical but fun to say, “What did KatyDid?”

And while she only grew up to be tiny in stature, she is large in personality and adventure. Thus it wasn’t a surprise to find myself looking at her delicate face peering up at me, the haughty turned all worry and struggle, especially when the air-conditioning cycled on.

Outwardly I was saying soothing things, to Katy, to Eighteen. Inwardly I was calculating the options—which professional to call, whether to try taking things apart myself, how long she could stay there. I watched her attempt to climb out a couple of times and realized that she needed leverage. “Go to work,” I told Eighteen, who was still contemplating disassembling the ductwork, “I’ve got this.”

“Okay,” he said, his relief at not having to call-in for a feline emergency was palpable. “I was wondering how I was going to explain being late.”

In spite of intense minimalizing, I’ve held on to the children’s building blocks, a wonderful wooden set that gave rise to all manner of temples and sculptures when they were little. I went to the basement and selected enough to build a staircase, remembering that when we had the ductwork cleaned, it had been full of twenty-year-old chunks of wood and other construction debris. I worked each block through the narrow opening and set them up in what I hoped was a staircase for Katy. Soon, I saw her face at the return. And then she was higher, her back paws standing on the block stairs, her front paws clambering for a foothold. She got the paw nearest me up and over the ledge, back into the room. Her other front paw seemed stuck, and after several attempts to squeeze her shoulders through, pushing as if to jump with her back paws, she instead opted to roll her spine out of the opening toward me, freeing her front paw just in time to turn, gain purchase on the floor and struggle her hips and hind legs out of the opening. I reached for her and she ran, so I left her alone, cleared out the blocks and quickly screwed the air return grill back into place. I knew Katy would want to “talk” about her trauma, so I finished painting for the day and took my lunch up stairs. Katy, nearly always affectionate on her own terms, immediately curled up in my lap and stayed for nearly an hour.

The between was over but the during went on longer, through painting above the chair rail and then painting the chair rail itself. With the only very recent arrival of a new rug and a tablecloth, the dining room is finally in the after.

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Ta-dah! After!

The larger between—the one in which we are waiting for the right buyers to walk in and realize that their family’s stories can bloom in the space so that our stories may move elsewhere—carries on.

Living so very much in the large between has been a challenge in many ways, not the least of which is to writing regularly. This story has been waiting for a couple of months, but then again, maybe it was waiting until the rug and tablecloth arrived, just this past weekend. Thank you for connecting with me, with the corn moon that was full recently, and with your own betweens. My favorite part of posting to overneathitall is the way that it closes those gaps between us some. With much love, Rxo

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Overneath It All 2012

What happens when a robin breaks her wing?

The chiropractor told me on my first visit that my shoulder is “acute.” The tightness and stress in my neck, rhomboids, and all manner of tiny muscles that feed into the inners workings of my shoulder plus overuse just before Thanksgiving caused tear-inducing pain. I think of myself as a pain wimp, but according to my doc the shoulder pain I’ve been living with on and off since February would have sent a lot of people over the edge long ago.

Maybe it’s my yoga practice. A couple of years ago I was in a workshop with Doug Swenson and he was answering a question from a participant. She said something like, “I can’t do it on that side, that’s my bad leg.” Doug, small, wiry and strong, shot back, “Then, that’s your teacher leg.”

Our aches and pains do teach us volumes, about what it is to be human and fragile and temporary. That they are object lessons in the making doesn’t make them easier to bear. The pain is one thing; the blues that go with them are quite another.

It’s been a year of aches and pains for me, most of them emotional or energetic. This current shoulder pain aside, my problems are first world problems. In the plus column, I am fed and clothed, I have a roof and a job (well, several), my children are happy, learning and thriving.

Still, pondering the year here at Overneath It All and thinking about writing a review post that might just sound a little like a holiday letter, I sat one recent morning and considered the highs and lows of the year. My word cloud of the 100 most-repeated words in my blog is revealing. I’ve written a lot about my children, about writing, about yoga. No surprise there. I’ve written, apparently, the word “like” many, many times, although I wonder about this because I’m not, like, you know, given to Valley-girl speak. That the word “writing” sits at the foot of it all, a solid foundation, makes my eyes grow wide and I smile. I’ve also written quite a bit about Menards, apparently, and my bank statements confirm I go there to spend money second only to Trader Joe’s on Tuesday mornings.

"Writing," my foundation and what I reach for. It, too, is overneath it all.

“Writing,” my foundation and what I reach for. It, too, is overneath it all.

I feel as though the cloud is incomplete. It doesn’t include the amazing friendships I’ve forged and deepened this year. It doesn’t make mention of a single martini, although I’ve enjoyed more than a few. It doesn’t update the ongoing stories blog posts have touched upon, nor does it project harbingers of what comes next. But it’s a picture of some of it, a snapshot, a place to begin.

At the end of December 2011, I wrote about my visualizations for 2012: This year I’ll be visualizing that published book, more yoga, more writing, happy, growing, engaged children, and yes, more martinis or cups of tea or delicious bites of chocolate, so long as there are friends to enjoy them with. I realized a part or all of these visualizations, although I’ve made less progress on my book than I’d like. And the “growing” part, if you read my last post about Thirteen you already know, has hit a bit of a roadblock. But excellent doctors are working on that. In April I wrote about wishes, specifically the wish for more time. In May I mentioned the garden, rich with sweet snap pea plants. That garden delivered many peas but little else as first weeds and then unbelievable heat took over this summer. I wrote more than once about my car—somehow it continues to chug forward and hold together in spite of itself (knock wood). I mentioned a list of things to do, written when I was five years younger than I am now. One of the undone items I took to heart this fall, and I’m 17 pounds lighter than I was when I wrote that entry. I wrote about the new kittens who are thriving and keep the house alive well past bedtime. For the full blue moon in August, I wrote a line that—and this was a first—a reader actually, kindly, quoted back to me: Breath by breath I rescue myself.

That’s some of what I’ve done this year. I’ve also cried, screamed to release pent-up frustrations while driving, downloaded an inordinate amount of emotional crap to friends who were kind enough to listen, and thumped my pillow more than a few times. I’ve dovetailed alternately between feeling like I was failing whatever test the Universe was hurling my way and feeling like I couldn’t get a break.

And then, the same week that Ten was on stage dancing the Nutcracker role she was destined for, the Party Girl wearing a green dress, I found myself with a sick child (Thirteen), a broken wing and jury duty.

But instead of making everything worse, somehow sitting in a room with a group of randomly selected strangers offered the onset of healing. Like a lingering body pain that teaches us to surrender, rest, and release superhuman expectations of ourselves, jury duty—where this time I did not serve—reminded me to let go, accept what is, and be a little more patient. My reward included completing my civic duty with little overall interruption to my parenting duties and clarity.

The metaphor isn’t hard. We shoulder the world, stand shoulder to shoulder with friends, cry on someone’s shoulder. Shoulder pain refers emotional stresses, burdens in our lives we somehow can’t address or resolve. My shoulder has hurt all through this year and its challenges. It got precipitously worse when I overused it physically, but that corresponded with a particularly heavy moment in my heart. It’s getting better, slowly, with physical care from my talented chiropractor. But I won’t pretend for a moment that it isn’t getting better because when I walked out of jury duty after the second day, I recognized the gift of space—I have space to move, space to manage my own schedule and thoughts, space to parent in, space in my heart, and progressively more space in my shoulder joint. My studio is a welcoming space where I love to work and people arrive every day to further their practice. My home is an evolving space that offers shelter and solace. My yoga creates interior space, my words connective space, my friendships loving space. And 2013? It’s the space of a whole new year, one where I shift beyond the need for rescue and into a larger frontier.

Happy Holidays and thank you for spending this year with Thirteen & Ten & poses & prose & me—I’m giving myself a mini-break from posting. See you around the new moon in January 2013. Much, much, much, much love, Rxo

Regrets Only

Would you maybe like to get a beer sometime?

My list for my next trip to Menards currently reads “door plan.” The doors in question are exterior, facing west, off the yoga studio. In the winter when the wind whips up, in spite of the hulking structure of the Ethan Allen store across the parking lot, the curtains inside the doors billow. Snow blows under and around the door seams. They are so loose in the frames that before a slide bolt was added, I could pull one of them open from the outside, even with the deadbolt fastened.

I’ve requested new exterior doors from my landlord, but until that happens I’ll be shopping for insulation to stem the cold. Last year this quest took me to a whole different section of Menards, my do-it-yourselfer’s paradise. The store is so vast, I explore new areas every time I go. On one visit I asked the woman who was kindly walking me to the section where I found just the tool storage kit I was looking for how far she walked at work every day. Fifteen miles, she told me, without ever leaving the building.

The most complicated project I’ve undertaken thus far was repairing the basement sidewall where a river of water was flooding in every time it rained last spring. I found a how-to video on Youtube, bought the kit of epoxy and ports and various other goos at Menards, and mended the wall. It wasn’t difficult, exactly, but it was labor intensive. And, like any other home-project, it’s 90 percent complete. I have yet to sand the repair and paint it to match the wall.

Every trip to Menards necessitates another trip to Menards. I’ve bought and returned the wrong light bulb (it takes a PhD and a retirement-fund withdrawal these days to purchase light), poorly made keys, a too-big drill bit, and spare parts I picked up just in case. I have also, inevitably, needed to return for a different paintbrush, an additional drop cloth, a roller cover, a new mop head. I am a more-than frequent shopper for storage systems and plant pots. All of these, alongside picture hooks, chocolate truffles, a new DVD, holiday décor, and the best salted peanuts I’ve ever found have ended up in my cart at Menards.

It was nevertheless news to me on my most recent trip that Menards is also a source of potential boyfriends. I’m not entirely sure which aisle they’re stored in—the one who presented himself came to find me where I was considering hanging plant baskets.

I had walked the length of the store, thinking about those fifteen miles, carrying a 45-gallon storage tote in each hand. On the way I said hello to the man in question—he was heading toward the checkout and his blue eyes registered surprise when I greeted him. (I tend to greet everyone, a habit adopted early and held onto, even in New York City.) But then it was only a few minutes later: He rounded the aisle where I was absorbed in the planters pushing a cart. It held two pumpkins and several tubes of caulk. “You’re buying hanging baskets in the fall?”

“They’re on sale.”

He had a soft voice to go with those bright blue eyes, short hair and stubble, or maybe it was close-cropped and intentional, I couldn’t be sure. He stood watching me while I looked at the baskets and the hanging pots. I nattered: “Someone gave me a gift of some spider plants—I own a yoga studio—and, well, I need a different way of housing them.”

“You mean like group classes, that kind of thing?”

“Yep.” I considered him a little more carefully. Fit. Why didn’t I hand him a card?

“The pumpkins,” he indicated his cart, “are a good price too. Out by me they’re charging four or five dollars apiece.”

“I heard it was supposed to be a bad year for pumpkins.”

“There seem to be plenty—the fields are orange.” A pause, and then his next question: “Do you have a lot of fall cleanup to do?”

“Heaps.” I told him, “at least, I suppose I must. I don’t really know what I’m doing. Mostly I think I’ll mow one more time and hope the leaves all blow over to the neighbors’.”

“Live near here?”

I waved my hand vaguely southwest of where we were standing, “In Clive. You?”

“West of Adel.” Wistful.

The day’s to-do list had me heading from Menards downtown to the Hoyt Sherman Place ticket office for Nutcracker tickets, over to my favorite liquor store for spiced pear vodka, and back to an address I’d never been to just north of Drake University where a friend was giving me a file cabinet for the yoga studio in just under an hour. It was time to make off with my hanging baskets. He had more questions:

“What do you like to do for fun?”

I smiled. “I like to think everything I do is fun.” I didn’t add my usual whine—that I just do too much of everything that I do. Instead I held out my hand, “I’m Robin.”

“Brad,” he shook mine in his.

“Nice talking to you,” I smiled, picked up my impossible load that now included three hanging baskets, three pots and the two boxes, and started walking away. That’s when he asked:

“Would you maybe like to get a beer sometime?”

My next breath was like the moment in The Once and Future King right before Arthur tries to pull the sword from the stone. Each of the animals he’s learned from offers wisdom as he approaches his task. I could hear my community in my head: my mother suggesting if I brought him home he might fix things; my children protesting that he wasn’t wearing a pin-striped suit (one of their requirements for any potential suitor); my friends asking, you met this one where?? Then there was the carefree me inclined to say “sure” to any adventure. But it was in a deep still place where I found my reply. “No,” I gave a genuine smile and looked straight at him, “But thank you.”

I’ve driven away from Menards with an eight-foot ladder sticking out of the back of my convertible, the legs wedged behind the front seats. I’ve driven away with the back seat loaded and parts rattling around on the floor. I’ve driven away with items I’ve found that I didn’t need later. I’ve never driven away kicking myself. I did just a little that day.

One of the things I adore about Menards are the wise little sayings, like fortune cookies, in tiny print at the bottom of each page of their advertising circulars. They are required reading on Sundays at our house. And they keep me going back … Today is Thirteen’s half birthday, a full moon, and Hurricane Sandy is pounding my beloved East coast. Here’s a full-moon wish for gentle adventures—thanks, as ever, for witnessing one of mine, Rxo

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