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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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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

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

What to feed the baby next?

Maybe I was a little ahead of the throngs, but when I strolled into his high school one morning recently, based on Thirteen’s reports, I expected to push through knuckle-dragging linebackers and towering hair-obsessed damsels. These larger-than-life characters populate Thirteen’s subconscious and often come visiting in the middle of the night, when he has a bad dream. And just as we did when he was younger, he tells me what happened in the dream and then we put it in a bubble and blow it away.

Walking through the hallway I saw, simply, teenagers: teenagers with backpacks; teenagers eating the last of their breakfasts; sleepy teenagers; teenagers with dyed hair trying to figure out who they are. I arrived at my son’s classroom where he was calculating problems on a worksheet just behind two of these behemoths; they were greeting him warmly. I presented Thirteen with his forgotten lunch. He played it cool: “Oh, yeah, I guess I might need that.” And then I saw what he sees—mini adults with iPhones and swagger, a foot or more taller than he is, shouldering their overweight backpacks and the world with apparent ease. And then he did what he often does and leaned the top of his head toward me for a kiss. The peck and the lunch delivered, I left him to his work.

Thirteen’s lunch contains the same thing every day of the week: half a turkey, lettuce and cheese sandwich; an apple and a full-sized carrot; something crunchy like pretzels or popcorn; a water bottle and a tiny treat. With little variation I’ve been making this lunch for him since second grade when he decided he really couldn’t abide school cafeteria food. Ten takes her lunch too: a mini whole-wheat bagel with cream cheese, applesauce, popcorn or goldfish, a clementine, a carrot and a treat. With so much predictability and so little variation in menu, you would think making these lunches would be automatic. Instead, it’s ten minutes of my morning when I can’t really think about anything else—just get those lunches made, packed into their insulated lunch sacks, the water bottles filled, and don’t forget the ice blocks. Too often I don’t get started until there are just a few minutes before the arrival of the first bus, so I rush and risk switching the items between lunch packs or leaving out the ice blocks completely.

I’ve said it so many times that I’ve worn a groove in the record, but from the second they were born, feeding my children has been the most stressful part of being their mother. I’ve been a tyrant about sugar, insisted on whole grains, and won’t let them drink soda except as a special treat. Hard candy has been virtually outlawed, they don’t chew gum, and their approved sweets are rationed. If a fruit or vegetable can replace a crunchy snack, we go that route.

“But Mommy,” Thirteen will remind me, only half joking, “my friends all drink Mountain Dew and they’re enormous.”

He’s right. They are. This is the year that boys begin to grow and reach towering heights. Thirteen’s friends over the summer bypassed their parents in height, and they weigh, in some cases, nearly twice his 78 pounds. How can I not second-guess what I feed him? Whether I feed him enough? What to make for dinner?

This summer the chorus of questioners became larger. My reassurances that his growth spurt was bound to happen trailed off in favor of

It was a long morning …

consulting with the pediatrician, an endocrinologist, and his geneticist. And so we found ourselves in a clinic room, Thirteen plugged into an IV, for a series of blood tests to determine whether his body is making appropriate amounts of the hormones he needs. The test took four and a half hours, from start to finish, and involved medications, needles, ten timed blood draws, and a frightening injection of insulin during which he became dopey, sweaty, and limp. We will wait three weeks before we have results.

While we wait (and wait and wait), I remain grateful to the geneticist who assures me that just like Thirteen’s array of early-childhood issues, his health now is related to his own body chemistry, not something I may or may not have done as his mother. I am grateful, too, to another mother who reminds me that eating healthily builds a disease-proof body. I am grateful that I have two children who eat well when they’re hungry and don’t overeat.

I have always known that Thirteen would not be an overly large man, but walking back through the high school hallway on my way to my car, I was arrested by MEN and WOMEN in black and white tiles announcing the student restrooms. I didn’t see men and women when I looked around; Thirteen, waiting for those hormones to kick in whether spontaneously or with medical intervention, must see them everywhere he looks.

The full frosty moon shines on us all at the end of November. Wishing you a lively month ahead filled with the sweetest of delights. Thanks, as always, for sharing my journey, Rxo

Insight Vision

What do you see when you turn out the light?

My glasses are the last thing I take off at night. With or without the light, there’s very little I can see clearly without them. I can make out the numbers my alarm clock projects onto the ceiling—they’re large enough and glow red—but I cannot read the clock itself. If one of my children should come into my room, I will know who it is by voice before I will by sight.

The summer I was fifteen and learning to drive, I convinced my parents that I needed to see the eye doctor. No one in my immediate family had any trouble seeing at a distance and my mother was genuinely surprised when the doctor wrote out a prescription for glasses. I wasn’t. I had been surreptitiously trying on my friends’ glasses at school for some time. Lifting them on and off my face, I knew even if the prescription was wrong, there was something in the power of those prescriptive lenses that I needed.

I got my driver’s license before my glasses were ready. My eye doctor signed a waiver that my vision was 20/40, the legal limit for driving without corrective lenses. After years of driving into Iowa City from our farm ten miles outside of town for school and related activities, my parents were all too happy to hand over the car keys. And so it was that the first week of junior year, my driver’s license newly minted, I was allowed to drive myself to West High School.

Each morning there was heavy August fog so thick that corrective lenses wouldn’t have done me any favors. I drove timidly, eyes fixed on the edge of a road barely illuminated by my headlights. I finally reached my school with relief. Later, I would confidently make the ten-mile highway drive from the family farm in eleven and a half minutes, listening to country music loud, the only station that came in on the AM radio.

Having survived those first few trips, I drove downtown after school, found parking, and went into the optometry store to try on my new glasses.

I couldn’t believe my eyes.

I could see individual leaves at the tops of trees, outlined against the sky. I could see strands of hair on people’s heads. In school I could see the teachers’ instructions written on the board, previously just squiggly lines of white on a black field. I recognized people’s faces down the hall and saw wildlife far away. I knew I had been longing to see better; I had no idea the clarity I had been missing.

Over the next few years, my eyesight grew progressively worse. By the time I graduated from college, the vision I had without correction was closer to legally blind than legally able to drive. In the thirty years since I got that first pair of glasses, the steady decline finally slowed and even reversed ever so slightly. Then about three years ago my optometrist started to mutter about bifocals.

I filled the prescription early this spring when the glasses I had were all but worn out. I wish I could write that my transition to progressive lenses was as smooth and life changing as those first glasses. Life changing, maybe, but not because suddenly I can see with new clarity. Progressive lenses have sweet spots, different parts of the lens are designed for the eye to gaze through specific to the wearer’s distance from a given object. I am learning to look, not simply with my eyes, but by moving my whole head, pointing my nose at the spot where I wish to focus. If I slide my eyes to the left or right, my peripheral vision is blurry; and unless I tip my chin all the way into my breastbone, my feet are always fuzzy. When I vacuum, never a favorite activity, the floor at my feet roils like I’m standing on a fun-house mirror.

One day on my mat, I take my glasses off for Balasana, Child’s Pose. A deep forward fold, kneeling and dropping the hips back against the heels and the forehead to the mat, Child’s Pose is a resting place, a generative beginning for yoga practice or a breather in the middle of a challenging practice. The glasses I wear are extremely light and they fit without moving so that I can wear them while I practice or teach, but this day I start with them off and leave them perched on a yoga block next to my mat. It’s terrifying, this practice I usually love; I am surrounded by nothing more than vague shapes. I do okay, though, not falling, until it’s time for a headstand. This pose I cannot manage without clear focus, a place to hold with my eyes as I invert my world.

There’s a reason that each yoga pose has a prescribed gaze or focal point, in Sanskrit a Drishti. For balance poses, whether balancing on the feet, hands or head, the eyes find and hold a softly focused Drishti to assist with balance. In other poses, the Drishti is designed to deepen the pose, adding challenge or guiding the pose to a new level of intensity. Drishti translates as vision or insight, and it is the gaze of learning or understanding, connecting via focused eyes to both the world in which we practice and greater understanding within.

Whether the lights are on or off, I can’t see without my glasses. At some moments, even after a month or more with my new lenses, I wonder if I can see with my glasses. I think about the lessons of Drishti, the importance of focusing the gaze specifically to match a pose, and I begin to see my glasses as offering me that lesson. Seeing is, like so many poses and practices, best done one focus point at a time, in the light and the dark. And if I look carefully at thought or child or the individual leaves on a tree, I will see simply and with acuity.

The Pink Full Moon rises on April 6, also—appropriately for this Easter weekend—called the Egg Moon. In our household, we’re off to see the Wizard—Ballet Des Moines’ production of The Wizard of Oz, in which Nine will dance the part of a child of Emerald City. Wishing you and yours a beautiful spring celebration and solid chocolate bunnies, Rxo

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