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Slip-Sliding Away

You’ve lost more weight, haven’t you? How’re you doing it?

For Christmas, I bought Fifteen a punching bag. It’s rather enormous, a weighted bag with a water-filled anchor hanging from a seven-foot high punching bag stand. The UPS man had to bring it in two deliveries, kindly trundling in each piece on his hand-truck. I wrapped the boxes in moving blankets, looped bungee cords around them, and left them under the Christmas tree in spite of my usual tradition of not putting out any gifts until Christmas Eve.

The cats promptly turned the boxes into their sofa/look out the window spot, so the joke became that I had gotten him a cat tree. There were other guesses, of course, but I don’t think he actually knew what was in the boxes.

A second-degree black belt, he works out with bags at the TaeKwonDo studio on a regular basis. His delight in his gift was all over his face as he peeled off the moving blankets. His father helped him put the stand together, and by Christmas night he was punching his bag with glee.

In the months since, he has regularly disappeared to the basement to “punch bag.” His workouts include using the hand weights I’ve accumulated over the years and some time on my treadmill. When he’s stuck on homework or some creative endeavor (he’s currently competing in a daily, group poetry contest), off he goes to the basement, and shortly thereafter we hear sounds like giant rodents are scuffling below. Invariably he comes up smiling, sweaty, and with the answers to his writing or homework riddles all sorted out. Recently he said there are two presents that have completely altered his way of life—the laptop computer he received when he was Fourteen, and the punching bag.

I remember it was when I was fifteen that I, too, first learned the pleasures of a regular work out routine. Sure, I had been in disorganized sports, PE, and dance over the years, and I had even done a little running on my own; however, the year I lived with my father in Tucson, Arizona, I swam laps in the swimming pool every day after school. Sixteen times across the pool and back, breast stroke, and I had my mile. Then a dip in the hot tub and I could comfortably walk home, even in January, the mild evening wrapped around me along with my wet towel.

Swimming, running, and then the 80s craze for aerobics kept me active all through high school and college. In grad school I bought an exercise bike and alternated peddle-fests with workout videos, branching into step and Callanetics and adding to my ever-growing Jane Fonda video collection. In addition to feeling strong and lithe and being the best shape and weight I had every enjoyed, I liked physical activity—working out was a pleasure.

I’ve made some goofs along the way, like the enormous weight machine I bought that took up an entire spare bedroom in the house on Long Island. I’ve made countless New Year’s resolutions to get fit or be slim and have broken them quickly. Once I bought a NordicTrack that I loved until I no longer loved it … and I learned to ride an actual bike at 27 and rode vigorously for a while. Then, when I bought my first treadmill in March 2001, it became a fixture in my world and I am a better human being when I walk on it than when I don’t.

That doesn’t mean I’m always in the best shape. So while I’m also a better human and a much better me when I weigh less, eat more, and walk often, I’ve struggled over the years with my weight and my good health. Every time I’ve conquered the battle of the bulge—and cried “never again will I cease working out and eating right”—it’s been by following a sensible, logical plan for exercise and healthy eating, generally adhering strictly to the letter of the plan.

At the beginning of this year I was feeling hopeless. My weight was up well over my “never again” upper limit, my clothes were tight, my treadmill was collecting dust and spider webs, I was suffering from aching hips and sore feet, and I’m quite certain I was eating and drinking in an attempt to ease my broken heart. I had agreed to co-host a winter cleanse through the yoga studio, and while it had sounded like a grand idea, I found I was dreading participating in the fifteen-day eating plan.

I had even told our nutritionist, when we had arranged the presentation of the cleanse to Radiant Om Yoga regulars, that I was a letter-of-the-law girl, that my participation would be to follow her prescription from start to end with no variation from whatever she set down. Closer and closer grew the start date, a safe three weeks after the New Year, and I suddenly couldn’t image doing what she was asking, grocery shopping all over town for specialized ingredients, making my own non-dairy milks, and drinking detox beverages she alluringly called “elixirs” that included ingredients like cranberry concentrate and organic apple cider vinegar. I sent her a note, “I’m overwhelmed.”

I received back the sweetest shore-up email possible bearing the gift of a stream-lined cleanse and an invitation to just keep it simple.

So I did. To my own surprise, I followed the spirit of the cleanse, starting on January 20, and here, 48 days and 14 pounds later, I am still following that spirit. I’ve eaten neither white flour nor white sugar nor potatoes. I’ve excised cheese and many grain-based products and enjoy just a little dairy. I’m back on my treadmill six days a week and I’m feeling fabulous—no joint issues, clothes are fitting better, and people are noticing. Most importantly, I’m noticing—noticing that what works for me is really a blend, a blend of what I know not to do—definite nos—with a healthy dose of embracing the spirit of what I am going to do. And yes, that means that in addition to lots and lots of healthy greens and nuts and seeds, once in a while a martini is a part of the plan.

On Facebook and at home, it’s become a ritual to report my numbers—at post time 14 pounds lost, 33 books sold. I’m proud of my accomplishments thus far and grateful, as ever, to you for coming along on the journey with me. I’ll be away for the new moon in March, but I’m quite certain I’ll have stories to share when I return. Watch for another off-schedule blog post from me soon. Happy full worm moon, a few happily warmer days late. Namaste, Rxo

Leo (left) and Starling (right) under the Christmas tree and in front of the mysterious blanket-wrapped package.

Leo (left) and Starling (right) under the Christmas tree and in front of the mysterious blanket-wrapped package.

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Gatekeepers

Gatekeepers

Have you ever thought about self-publishing?

On Redbird Farm I learned early: If the gate is closed when you go through it, leave it closed. If the gate is open when you go through it, leave it open. That was the first rule. The second was equally important: Family members open and close gates.

This makes infinite sense when the farm manager, in our case my mother, has made decisions about where the livestock may and may not be. A gate left open allows animals to pass from the lower pasture into the upper pasture, but if the farrier is coming to snip and shape the horses’ hooves, then they are likely already rounded up and kept in the bull pen directly behind the barn in preparation for his visit. Family members know the combinations for the locks and can be held responsible in the event that a closed gate blows open and the livestock get out. Guests should never be put into this position.

While my mother was running the farm, my father—a well-published author—was teaching in the creative writing program at the University of Iowa. Every few years there would be a flurry of communications with people in New York in advance of a new book being published. Dad had an agent who found publishers for his manuscripts, placed excerpts in journals and magazines, and oversaw the transition from loose-leaf typed pages to galleys to proofs. Each version of the book would arrive for my father’s approval, and eventually he would fly off to New York for a publication party. A reading in one of the UI’s auditoriums from the new book would generally follow, with another party, and there might be visiting author gigs or signings at local bookstores.

Once I remember going the Manhattan with my father to see a publisher. To my delight, they heaped free books upon me, brand new children’s chapter books I had never seen before. We were taken out to eat as well, and that meal may have been when I first tasted lobster. The publishing world of New York seemed very glamorous and miles and miles from the farm in Iowa where a poorly secured gate nearly always meant a wild chase for animals in search of greener pastures.

I would follow my father’s footsteps into the academy, where “publish or perish” dominated the promotional status of my graduate studies professors. I have been told that the arrival of computers meant a proliferation both in the number of journals available and in the length of the articles academics were submitting. Some were slower to adopt: “Word processors are like a movie of words,” scoffed one of my professors, a poet. As an academic myself, I was happy to spend the majority of my career at an institution that valued teaching first, committee work/community service to the college second, and publishing third. Nonetheless, when I landed my first essay, a piece of my master’s thesis entitled “Rusty Water, Icy Hills,” in a now-defunct journal called Iowa Woman, the thrill made me feel like I could fly. Holding the acceptance letter in both hands, I rejoiced, “I’m going to be published,” hopping what felt like a foot off the ground and hovering there, the hang-time of a published author.

I’ve had pieces accepted since and the thrill has never gone away. I’ve also been, for the last sixteen years, a part of the editorial process. Although computers have greatly automated publication (my father’s first books would have been typed in triplicate by a typing pool, the copies comparison-read against his original, the type eventually painstakingly set by a typesetter, reviewed and re-reviewed by editors, and eventually pasted up, printed and bound), there are still a number of eyes that pass over writing on its way to the press. Or at least there often are and often the writing is better, cleaner, neater for it. Plus, there’s the very real approbation that if an agent represents you, a publisher signs your work, and a team of people mobilize to publish, package, print and market your book, you’ve aced a number of tests, passing through the gates of all of those keepers to acceptance. You’re a real writer.

In the era during which I grew up, self-publishing options were dismissed as “vanity presses.” Any self-respecting writer got rejections from established publications and venerable publishing houses until that day, that miraculous day, when someone said, “yes.” The gatekeepers, the publishing overlords, opened the gate and the author strolled, stormed, or snuck through to the greener pasture beyond.

So when I first finished Throwing Like a Girl, I posted to this blog the one-page summary <https://overneathitall.com/2011/04/23/writing-like-a-girl/> I dutifully wrote, meaning to begin querying agents and small publishers, hoping someone would open the gate. That was about five months before I opened my own yoga studio, an ambitious space in an unlikely shopping plaza.

Nobody told me I could or should open a yoga studio. I saved money, worked with a realtor, a lawyer and an accountant, wrote a business plan, leased a space, oversaw the build-out, engaged instructors, promoted the opening, and threw open the doors. There was more to it, of course, but the point is from start to finish while there were plenty of hurdles, I was my own gatekeeper.

So while I dismissed the idea of self-publishing for many years, one day it dawned on me. I opened the gate to Radiant Om Yoga. I did not do it, however, without the belief that people would come. The beautiful yoginis and yogis and dancers who come to practice supported me and are the reason the studio thrives. But someone had to open the gate, and that someone was me.

And so it is that when my son wrote a novella, Zephyr’s Crossing, I was happy to help him publish because I was proud of his efforts and because I wanted to learn the mechanism for self-publishing. I had come to understand—why not self-publish? Why not put my work out into the world myself? What have I got to lose?

The answer: absolutely nothing. Opening the gate to Throwing Like a Girl is actually an opportunity to go through the gate myself, to put the book out into the reading pasture and to release myself to work on the next project—there are three calling to me. And so, with much editing and the kind reading by many of my dearest friends, I am pleased to announce the world premiere of my first novel, Throwing Like a Girl. If you’re so inclined, you may find it on here on Smashwords.throwing efile

This February full moon, a trusted friend tells me, is about getting clear with what you want, what you really, really want. A big part of what I want, I am. I am a writer and here, world, is my book. Thank you for being a part of and encouraging my journey, xoR

Break-Through

Break-Through

What did the crazy cat family do this time?

When I was a little girl, we had sheep that roamed the fields of Redbird Farm. To keep them safe from wild dogs and other predators, we would round them up, especially during lambing season, and bring them into the fold. Along the way we acquired a gorgeous white goat named Cauliflower, who took her charge so purposefully that bringing the sheep in at night ceased to be a strenuous human task. After a while, my parents thought it would be a good idea to breed Cauliflower and in the casual way that animals arrive and depart in the country, we acquired Billy, a shaggy orangy-brown goat with wide horns and an impish attitude. Cauliflower wanted nothing to do with Billy and hated being penned up with him. She tried every way she could to escape and return to her sheep scattered on the hillside, but she found herself stuck in a pen with him.

One day, a single ewe—something one hardly ever sees—came scurrying past the house on her way to the barn. A few minutes later she returned with Cauliflower—the message that the goat was needed by the flock somehow urgently communicated. My parents went out to investigate and found a wild dog stalking the sheep.

From then on, Cauliflower and Billy were allowed to work the sheep together, but one impish goat plus one very good one means that the sheep will be kept in a flock, but they’ll also be shown how to escape every pen, every enclosure, every field. Neighbors called from all around to let us know, “your sheep are over here eating my lawn; your goats are eating my shrubs,” and off my mother would go, often as not on horseback, to herd the animals home again.

Cauliflower and Billy were eventually replaced by Sunshine and Diane, pretty dark brown goats with white blazes who were worthless as herders but specialized in costing us money by eating specialty shrubs across the road at the neighbors’. We gave up goats, after that, opting instead for a capable if slightly insane border collie named Moss.

What I didn’t understand as a child that I know painfully well now is that as the person making the decisions about the animals, there is a tremendous responsibility involved. And when it all goes wrong, it’s awful. When I was little the farm animals came and went, some tragically, some to the table, some without ever becoming part of the family or pet-like. Even then, some of pets that lived in our houses and cuddled with us and relied on us to bring them food and attention felt far more like members of the family. Today that is even more true. The situation when the family members aren’t getting along feels significantly more dire: you can’t so easily farm them out elsewhere.

In “Fur Flurry,” https://overneathitall.com/2014/08/09/fur-flurry/, I wrote about the catastrophe in our household. We attempted to resolve it, with heavy, heavy hearts, by delivering Charcoal back to the shelter from whence he came. Brave Twelve, who felt she had discovered and chosen the magnificent beast as a tiny kitten, went with me to return him. I kept thinking “no deposit, no return,” but I was encouraged by a number of voices that let me know that they, too, had at one time or another had to part with a beloved pet because animals or animals and people in their households hadn’t been living in harmony.

It was with considerable, albeit perhaps short-sighted, surprise that we found the problems didn’t end with Charcoal’s departure. Our two older kitties, companions for six years, had discovered each other’s weaknesses and continued to bait each other, hissing and chasing. The smaller kitty, Katy, who had been persecuted by Charcoal for her position as Alpha kitty, got to the point where she would not go to the basement to use the litter boxes, where she would not pass one of the other two kitties without hissing or growling, and where she was spending as much time as she could curled up in a tight knot on Ninety’s bed, where she wasn’t entirely welcome. Neither feline nor human could approach her easily and the more cross she became, the more times she broke training, the more cat fights erupted in the middle of the night, the more crazed I felt by the stress of it all.

Isolation for Katy was the most logical solution: Back to the laundry room with litter box, cat tree, food and water she went.pjk breaks %22ground%22

And then I had an idea. Katy used to be in my room at night, long before all of the chaos began, behind the door she exclusively was allowed through (https://overneathitall.com/2014/01/14/the-door-to-everywhere-2/). She would come in during the evening, sleep on my bed, and asked to be let out in the morning. Before the troubles began, she was totally trustworthy. I have never wanted to keep her there all the time; however, because I didn’t want a litter box in my bedroom. And once Katy felt imperiled, she could no longer be trusted. But the laundry room and my bedroom share a wall. What if she had a cat access through the wall, could keep her kitty accouterments in the laundry room and come for socialization with me at night as she used to? It still wouldn’t be perfect solution, but, I reasoned, it would stem the stress and Katy wouldn’t be as lonely. All it meant was we would have to break the house a little … and with high hopes that we were
building a passageway to peace, that’s exactly what we did.Katy 2 Katy framed peek-a-boo breakthroughpassage other side

 

 

 

 

 

Ninety often says, “People don’t stay done.” I’m thinking animals (pets) don’t seem to either, but I hope this is a solution of sorts. Certainly my stress level over the issue has diminished … for now. Katy’s been sleeping on my bed, purring and cuddling a lot, and the other two cats stop at my door and look in. I hope one day we’ll be able to reunite the felines. Maybe a full moon in the spring? Meanwhile, happy full November moon … with love & gratitude for the journey, Rxo

Fur Flurry

Fur Flurry

Can you write about it?

Whenever I mention my cats, invariably the person I’m talking to asks: how many do you have? I’ve been told if you have to hold up fingers rather than announce out loud how many cats you own, you have too many. Even so, I’ll always hold my fingers straight up when asked, my thumb clearly crossing my palm so there’s no mistake. Four. Up until recently it didn’t really feel like we had too many.

Our alpha cat was born in a barn and full-grown weighs all of six pounds. She’s a clever cat, springy and swift. She arrived in our lives in early June, six years ago following the March death of Max, a beautiful black boy who found refuge in my mother’s garage from the flood water of 1993. I believe that cats appear energetically, filling a vacuum left by another’s departure. Keep your eyes and ears open, and your kitty will appear. So it was that I knew exactly what to do just a few days after Max’s companion Molly died of a broken heart at the end of the same summer (she was only five). I took the vet up on his invitation—we have kittens in the back when you’re ready—and we welcomed Leo to the family.

With considerable more thought and purpose, we adopted the kittens, Charcoal and Starling, four years later. They are now, of course, full-grown, but as with all young things, they seem somehow newer and fresher than Katy and Leo. The idea was that cats taken two at a time meant there wouldn’t be an odd-cat out. And with four laps in the house, everyone would have someone to snuggle.

And for a while it was the best of plans and all was well. Fifteen and Twelve were in kitty heaven. The kitties more or less sorted themselves out—Leo has always loved Fifteen the most. The females bonded with me but made the rounds, even enchanting my dog-person mother, Eighty-Nine. Charcoal was something of a floater and he bewildered us, bloating terribly for a while, but at last growing into a sleek large blue-grey cat with the smug look of a feline who has swallowed a delicious mouse.

As it turns out, not one of the four is an automatic lap cat, leaping up to curl on your thighs the moment you sit down. But any one of them might settle in close while we’re reading or working, and they provide plenty of entertainment.

During the darkest days of this past winter, Charcoal realized what neither Starling nor Leo knew: he was more than twice the size of alpha-girl Katy. And he began to stalk her. Katy took to sleeping high on Twelve’s dresser or hiding in my room with me, where she was the only cat allowed because she is smart enough to ask when she needs to go out. In spite of calming collars, liberal doses of herbal relaxing drops, and infusing the air with happy kitty pheromones, the stalking turned into chasing. As winter melted, the trouble between the two grew more and more tempestuous, such that one day I followed the flying fur into the laundry room and found Katy treed up the window screen, blood dripping from her chin where Charcoal’s claw had caught it, her urine streaking the window.

A bad situation became worse when Leo, who had always been a loving companion toward Katy, sleeping hip-to-hip especially when the temperatures dipped, joined the chase and took a chunk out of Katy’s ankle. Katy resorted to cowering in the laundry room, rarely venturing out, and crawling behind the washer to relieve herself.

Putting all of this down on paper makes me wonder how we let the situation go this far. When you’re a practicing writer, more than one person will ask, when things are dim, whether you’re writing about them. “I will,” I usually reply. However, I don’t keep a journal, and in truth writing this story now only makes me cringe. If someone sat at my desk at the studio and poured out such a horror to me, I’d gently say, “You can’t live like that. Can you find a new home for one of the kitties?”

But, of course, our own problems are never so easily resolved. In my family, we all love all four of these beasts. I am determined to involve my children in deciding the outcome, just as I did in the adoptions of Charcoal and Starling. Thus when Leo attacked Katy while the peeps were at camp, I did what I had been loathe to do: I bought a litter box and a purr pad and moved Katy into the laundry room in comfort, her door shut to the other cats. I took her to the vet to have her wound and stress levels evaluated. The vet was clear—keeping them separate was the only option besides getting rid of the principal aggressor. She also counseled making sure Katy had plenty of love and attention so she wouldn’t feel she was being punished and suggested after a while we try putting Charcoal away to see if Katy could reintroduce to the other two.

The peeps and I added one more piece—when they got home from camp, we built an outdoor kitty pen, a little larger than 7’ by 12’, out of chicken wire and fence posts and lots and lots of zipties. It has a roof to keep the cats from climbing out, stones lining the bottom so they won’t dig under, and a cat door installed through the aging screen in the sunroom we have always called “the East House.”leo pen

Leo (all black) and Starling investigate their little corner of the great outdoors.

Leo (all black) and Starling investigate their little corner of the great outdoors.

So far, the boys adore the pen, asking to go out first thing in the morning and staying there much of the day. Starling stands two feet out, two feet in, watching. One recent morning Katy had her first turn in the pen, co-existing mostly peacefully with Leo, although she made it clear she has not forgiven him and hissed if he got too close. After time with dirt under their paws and fresh air in their noses, everyone has been sleeping soundly at night.

As I ponder the options and watch the situation unfold, I recall reading once that pets teach us unconditional love—not just how to receive it, but how to give it. Unconditional love sometimes requires the hardest choices, as I have experienced over and over again when I’ve taken pets to the vet to be euthanized. I’m beginning to see that such incredibly hard lessons of love and loss may also include separation, and the anticipation of giving up a cat—although I intellectually admit it is the logical next step—brings up the hurt of lost friends, lost loves, lost places, lost talents and enthusiasms, lost times, lost opportunities. Perhaps experiencing separation from a pet—someone we’ve taken on to love, care for and protect—preps us for the separations we must face from other humans, breakups, empty nests, loss of friendship. Learning to live through such losses in our lives may well be another of the generosities that our pets give us, but it is one I am having a terrible time receiving.

I just now learned from the wilds of the Internet that today, August 8, is International Cat Day. The full moon shines on Sunday. This post goes out in honor of both—with my gratitude, as ever, for this forum in which I keep living the questions in poses & prose. Namaste, Rxo 

Napping together, Leo & Charcoal.

Napping together, Leo & Charcoal.

Katy in happier times ...

Katy in happier times …

Accounting Basics

What’s the take-away?

Before I opened Radiant Om Yoga, I started saving money. All the income I earned teaching private yoga lessons in my house and teaching community classes in the back of a church sanctuary and on the beautiful but hard cement floor of a local events center went into a savings account earmarked for the studio. As my vision of the studio b

Tools of a very different trade than mine.

Tools of a very different trade than mine.

ecame clearer, I enrolled in an online accounting class.

I never imagined that I would do my own accounting, but I wanted to be sure I understood enough so I’d be able to understand my accountant. I worked through double entry accounting 101 online in good time and I remember this: whatever figure is on the debit side of the accounting square has to equal a figure on the credit side.

At the studio we keep a hand-written ledger of sales broken into categories—class sales, merchandise and sales tax—on a fairly regular basis I enter all of the data into QuickBooks, which balances the columns for me. If I’m off, once a quarter the lovely and talented Trisha arrives at the studio for our two-hour accounting appointment and she deftly repairs any errors or oversights I may have created. The system works.

At tax time Trisha provides me with a tax planner, and all I have to do is fill in the numbers and organize my data. However, I too often find myself behind in my data entry, so taxes require a marathon of QuickBooks work, invoice corralling, and mileage calculations. To my delight, prepping for 2013 taxes was easier than 2012, and it’s no surprise that I determined 2014 would be better still.

When I mentioned this to my business confident, the lovely and talented Susan—a photographer with whom
I meet regularly to discuss small business life—she commiserated. She, too, has tons of financial upkeep with her business and she, too, often lets it slide in favor of just about anything else. We decided that we can support each other by setting aside time to meet at her house and do our financial duties together.

It is one of the truths of a small business owner that there’s a heap of work that needs to get done and usually it’s all accomplished alone. In owning a yoga studio, teaching classes, and writing and editing, I’m holding others accountable, but who’s keeping me in line? Sometimes it’s really hard to be my best self, to remember why I do what I do and to find the joy in it when all I see is a list of things to do. Sometimes that list looks not like work but like drudgery, a one-way energy drain. When I’m feeling that way, like it’s really hard to be the boss, to be in charge all the time, and to feel like there’s no one who’s looking over my shoulder, I tend to long for the days of being a student when my work was assigned, due, delivered and evaluated. My teachers were my authorities, giving me opportunities to learn with the comfortable rubric of the classroom setting. In the various jobs I had with bosses, whether or not I agreed with company policy, someone else was making the rules. And there’s a comfort in that—a place in the natural order of things.

At our first meeting, sitting with Susan another company CEO (chief everything officer) and doing our bookkeeping together, drinking lovingly frothed chai in her pleasant open kitchen, the entire experience was painless. We could quip to one another about the things that we were discovering, the systems we have or don’t have in place, and the way the numbers make our eyes blur. In spite of the chatter, we marched through a significant amount of work in two hours’ time. We have another date for more of the same next week.

Self-employed for fifteen years, I’ve come to live with the morass on some level. I’ve also learned that I’m not an island and I continue to rely on compatible authority figures. My authority figures may not be directly above me in the traditional sense, but seeking out and putting people into positions of authority is essential. I have not always understood that there are two sides to that equation—that the person in the position of authority is gaining as much as giving. But every healthy relationship has give and take on both sides, energy exchanging from one person to another. Susan shapes time and hosts me in her kitchen where we both can work, and Trisha literally hold me accountable to my bookkeeping. In return, I hold space and time for Susan and I pay Trisha monthly. The debits and credits are balanced.

Wishing you many lovely May flowers and balanced books in this full flower moon. Thanks, as ever, for reading, Rxo

 

The Door to Everywhere

The Door to Everywhere

What will my visualization be for this year?

A few years ago I would have been panicked when January First arrived before I’d had opportunity to evaluate my world and make New Year’s Resolutions. That’s no longer a problem and not simply because I’ve given up resolutions in favor of visualizations. It’s no longer a problem because I now see the time from the Solstice to the Chinese New Year as a period of transition, an easing through the end of one period and the beginning of new energies.

This year, as happens once every nineteen years, the first of January was also a new moon. The new moon is an auspicious time for beginning anew. This January will lengthen under two new moons, and not just any two new moons, two supermoons.

Supermoons, my friends at Earth & Sky explain patiently, are the moments when the moon in its orbit is closest to the earth. There will be three full supermoons this year in June, July and August, and two new supermoons, both in January. The scientific name is perigee new or full moon, with perigee meaning “near earth.” To the gentle observer, supermoons look really big and close and, as with all moons, that’s true wherever on our planet you are.

In wonderful contrast, the full moon this month, falling on January 15, will be a micro moon, as far away in its orbit as it can be.

Bringing the question back to earth, what shall be done with this whoosh of new beginnings energy?

I’m just starting to see. Of course, there are the standards: lose-weight-exercise-more-eat-better-save-money-cultivate-less-stress-be-an-attentive-mommy-shrewd-business-owner-happy-yogini. I might add that sleeping regular hours would help immeasurably. Each of these is a given alongside writing more and worrying less. Still I know better than to make resolutions around basic quality of life improvements most of us can embrace.

Last’s year’s visualization was an open door. Most days I drew the icon in the steam on my shower door before I stepped through into the towel waiting on the other side. That my shower door swings both ways is a perfect metaphor for the door I visualized—sometimes it opened to the way home, sometimes into my business, sometimes into the world.

Doors ended up being a very big part of 2013: in January, I financed my house in my own name, so for the very first time I now own some 54 interior and exterior doors and doorways, including garage, pantry, and closets. A short while later I added a four-door car to my fleet, making Eleven and Fourteen more independent as they leap from the car to head off to the bus, dance, or Taekwondo.

Some interesting personal and professional doors opened for me as well, but the one that is most significant for me came along sometime in mid-December. It started with a very real need to invent a door—an interior door that could be closed to cats but open at the same time. I considered a basic screen door, but at least one of my cats climbs screens and would ruin a screen door in record time. The problem lies in wanting to keep the cats out of my bedroom—there is a mysterious spot on the carpet only in my room where they seem to feel they need to pee—but wanting cool air in summer and warm air in winter to circulate through the door. With the solid door closed, my room rarely gets above 60 degrees in winter and is often colder.

I found metal cutouts at Menards, on sale in the garden department and thought—if I could build a door, I could use those as panels. Then I thought of my friend David, a creative carpenter, and challenged him to the task.

I also asked him if he could solve a problem with my oven, and he gave me the name of a talented electrician. As is so often the case, I had a laundry list of small chores for an electrician, so we met and went through the list and he gave me a most reasonable estimate and we set a date for the work.

It’s no surprise that the one item on the list that wasn’t truly a repair, but rather an opportunity to fix a gross mistake in the original wiring of my house, had to do with doors. Both three-way switches for the dining room light were behind dining room doors. That meant to turn the lights on or off or to access the dimmer, you had to walk all the way into the dining room, swing the door away from the wall, and activate the switch. The talented electrician moved the switches to the stairwells that hug either side of the dining room, and now the lights can be accessed without hassle. It’s one of those things that has bugged me since the day I moved in here (nine—gasp—years ago), and now every time I need to turn on or off a light, it is with both ease and the total delight of having fixed something that was all wrong.

The novelty of the accessible switches hasn’t worn off one morning when we are hustling out the door to the bus and the world beckoning beyond. I reach over Eleven, sprawled on the stairs to put on her shoes, to click the switch for the dining room light off and smile to myself, “I made that happen. I did that.” Surveying the out-the-door-to-the-day scene in front of me, I find the thought expanding, “I am doing this, all of it.” I look up at my new door, a piece of art that makes me smile every time I see it, and the feeling deepens, “I can do this …  yes, not always perfectly, but I can do this. I can do precisely what I’m doing.” Peeps in tow, I walk through the door to contentment, ready for the everywhere that lies beyond.

The micro full moon rises over us tomorrow, 1.15. I hope you are warm and enjoying cozy winter activities. Part II of this post, along soon, aims to answer the question about my visualization for 2014. See you soon, with much love, Rxo

ps. I’m so enamored of my new door, I can’t stop adding pictures of it. It’s hard to photograph well, but it’s beautiful!

Beggars Can Be Choosers

Beggars Can Be Choosers

How was your Halloween?

In what strikes any transplant to the greater Des Moines, Iowa, metropolitan area as the oddest possible tradition, we trick-or-treat here on the night before Halloween. The practice, the local newspaper explains every year, began sixty or seventy years ago in an effort to safeguard the well being of children going door-to-door. Dressed in costume and sticking to the sanctioned hours of six to eight p.m., children ring the doorbell and chorus “Trick-or-treat” when the resident arrives. Traditionalists will then ask, “Do you have a joke for me?” And easily or haltingly, the children will issue gentle jokes in exchange for candy treats.

“Why didn’t the skeleton cross the road?” The child might ask.

“I don’t know,” parries the resident, standing with candy bowl in hand.

“It didn’t have the guts!”

Or:

“What do you call a cow with no legs?”

“Hmmm, haven’t got a clue,” shrugs the candy bearer.

“Ground beef!”

Our first Iowa Halloween, Fourteen and Eleven were Six and Three. Three wanted to dress as “a sparkly star.” Her brother wanted to be Harry Potter. I made him a black satin cape with a red lining he still finds occasion to wear. Three’s star costume, fringy, silver lame fabric hot glued to fourteen-inch star cut-outs, stuffed like cushions and worn sandwich board style over the shoulders, hangs over the top of my office door.

I make my children Halloween costumes every year because it’s something I remember my mother doing for me. Neither of us is a practiced seamstress, but either one of us can haul out the sewing machine and make a costume or sew a long seam to turn brocade into a tablecloth or remnants into a curtain. Over the years I’ve made Eleven a cat suit, a squirrel costume, a sparkly ballerina dress, a vampire cape, and a fairy costume (with three different gossamer fabrics and several pieces, it was by far the most complex). Fourteen has also been a squirrel, and he has needed a Jedi robe to be Yoda, repurposed to dress as Luke Skywalker a couple of years later, the Harry Potter cape, and a Lego costume, which we made out of a cardboard box adored with flat-bottomed plastic bowls as six Lego studs. That was a particularly cool costume, but nearly impossible to wear. It was quickly smashed when he donned it for the Halloween event at his school.

This year when it was time to sew Eleven’s Athena costume, I found the sewing machine heaped with items to be donated to Goodwill and quite dusty, testament to just how often I use it. It takes some doing for me to remember what I know about sewing, and I always feel I could do better—leaving more time for basting and fitting the costume, for example. Then I tell myself it’s a costume and needs only to hold together as such and sew away. When the costume was finished, Eleven’s squeals of delight and the joy she took in wearing it to her school’s dance—Monster Mash—and out for Beggars’ Night, were hugely gratifying.

Eleven dressed as Athena, goddess of wisdom. Yes, yes she is.

Eleven dressed as Athena, goddess of wisdom. Yes, yes she is.

Beggars’ Night. Traditionally the night before Halloween, observing Beggars’ Night means that when we actually arrive on Halloween, the festivities are over. For all of the talk there is about how we hurry into the holidays and merchants start merchandizing earlier and earlier (not just talk—a local department store this year had Christmas trees up and decorations for sale the Thursday after Labor Day), our very own community rushes the holiday by twenty-four hours. Even after nine years, this still takes me by surprise.

Nonetheless, Halloween is a fairly easy holiday: Purchase candy—I bought full-sized candy bars this year in varieties that should we have leftovers Eleven, with her new braces, can eat; put together a costume; enjoy going door-to-door. We’ve generally carved pumpkins and this year we made just one: Eleven carved “BOO” in big letters on her jack-o-lantern with some amount of assistance. “Aren’t you going to carve one?” she had asked me at the grocery store, selecting the biggest pumpkin she could carry. I gave myself permission, “No, not this year.” I knew that getting hers done would involve effort by me and I thought, why not simplify? I don’t need to carve a pumpkin this year even though in other years creating an ornate design in a pumpkin has been one of my pleasures.

As a mother, giving myself permission to change up what we’ve always done for holidays isn’t always easy. There’s a voice in my brain that tells me I should be creating traditions for my children, things they’ll remember and recreate in their adult lives. I remember a pile of homesick teenagers, freshmen in college, hanging out in the hallway outside my friend’s dorm room, just as our first semester was closing in on finals. Taking a break from studying, we longingly described our familial holiday traditions. We each shared things that we cherished the most.

That Christmas at home it was well below zero and icy when I got off the plane dressed impractically in high heals and a wool skirt. My luggage didn’t make it and I spent most of the break housesitting for family friends, wearing borrowed clothing. With changing family dynamics and my own struggles to reconcile who I was learning to be at college with who I was at home, nothing about my first Christmas home from college was like any other Christmas. Still, I was home for the holidays and the experience had all of the magic and comfort I needed.

So while other years I have dressed in costume, carved a pumpkin, even organized a children’s costume parade, this year I didn’t. I didn’t dress up. I didn’t make a pumpkin. I didn’t save, clean and roast the seeds from Eleven’s pumpkin. I didn’t haul out the Halloween decorations or play scary music or suspend ghosts made from sheets across the front door or turn the garage into a spider web. All of these are things I have done in the past. I did, however, go along on Beggars’ Night while Eleven and two friends ran from house to house filling their treat buckets and Fourteen stayed at home to dole out candy. I did say, “Yes, please,” when neighbors circled around a bonfire enjoying the mild October night and greeting trick-or-treaters offered me a glass of wine for the trek around the neighborhood. I did marvel that I had off from work a rare Wednesday evening and that fact granted me a little freedom I could thoroughly enjoy. I did learn, or maybe relearn, that even if we don’t do what we did last year, even if we don’t have a checklist to follow, and even if we simplify our observance of a holiday, we can celebrate because we’re together, because the spirit of the holiday will carry us, and because with less shoulds and items on a to do list there will be more opportunities for freedom and fun.

And I did have the best Halloween I can remember.

This post comes out as Mercury moves out of retrograde, as the November Beaver moon approaches the quarter mark, and as my magnificent friend and sometimes writing date Kim does me the great honor of publishing my words on her blog, my first guest post ever. Should you wish to read it, find “Plus One” here: http://attorneymediate.wordpress.com/2013/11/10/guest-blog-plus-one-by-robin-bourjaily/ Thanks, as ever & always, for sharing my journey. Namaste, Rxo

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