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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

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Car-Ma-Tini

When is a martini stirred, not shaken?

A few days ago I was pondering this very question. I couldn’t imagine making a martini without shaking it, hard, over ice until it’s so cold tiny slivers float on the surface when it’s poured into a properly chilled glass. It’s not really just a drink—more like an occasion in a glass, the way all treats should be. It is thus my preference to make any vodka-based drink with a shaker, but I like to think James Bond would have joined me Saturday night for the drink I made that was, well, swirled over ice and then decanted not into the chilled crystal martini glasses I place in the freezer at least thirty minutes before mixing martinis at my house, but a nine ounce plastic cup I unwrapped over a hotel sink.

It’s a very cool hotel—billed as one of the top ten most unusual hotels in the world, not far from the shore of Lake Superior, the Northern Rail Suites is made out of boxcars. Two rows of boxcars line a long, open hallway, the original rust and graffiti decorating the sides. Our boxcar held a bed, a sofa bed, and a bathroom with a lovely shower. On the recommendation of the comforting proprietress, while I was making my drink a pizza delivery van had already been ordered up to bring our dinner; Ten and Thirteen were sprawled out, living the fantasy of being actual boxcar children, our visit to the hotel inspired by the book series they love. At that moment I knew I had everything in the world that I could need—except maybe a working automobile, but I’m getting ahead of my story.

Inside the Northern Rail Suites, our boxcar home.

A month ago I had my car checked over, the alignment done and the oil changed in preparation for summer travels. The first trip was on my own, the second to deliver Thirteen to Spanish language immersion camp, the third to collect him and head north for a few days’ vacation with a friend in Lake Vermillion.

For the three days leading up to our departure to collect Thirteen, I had the impulse to gather him up, then hold him down with one paw and scrub him. Nearly two weeks is the longest we’ve ever been apart and while I was certain he was having a wonderful time, I missed him tremendously. We all did. So it was with light hearts Ten and I set out to reunite. The parent program at camp featured lots of Spanish singing and dancing and I could see by the close proximity of all of the teenaged campers that they had bonded during their time together. Nonetheless, Thirteen was happy to climb into the car beside me and ramble about all he had experienced as we headed north.

Cresting the hill into Duluth is one of the more stunning vistas I’ve seen in a long time. Thirteen gasped, “we’ve reached the top of the world.” Indeed, it did look like that as the town reaching along the shore of Lake Superior twinkled up at us in the sunlight. We spent a couple of happy hours walking along the shoreline; then headed for Two Harbors, Minnesota, and our boxcar.

Late Saturday afternoon we paused in Two Harbors to fill the car with gas. The station was busy with vacationing people, a car at nearly every pump. The gas paid for, I hopped back in, said, “Okay, let’s go be boxcar children!” I turned the key. The car answered, “Rrrrr, Rrr, rrr, rr, click, click, click.”

“Click, click, click.”

“Click.”

There is never a good time for car trouble, but 5:45 p.m. on a Saturday in a tiny harbor town when you’re supposed to be on vacation seems like one of the worst. For a moment inside the car, the jolly bustle of the filling station a world away, we were in that space when life isn’t going according to plan. Even as my heart sank, I knew I needed to keep my spirits lifted so Ten and Thirteen would rally rather than panic. I started thinking, hopped back out of the car and approached the driver at the pump adjacent to mine—did he have jumper cables? He did and he was kind enough to pull his car right up and juice my battery.

While we were starting the car, another man walked over to me and announced he was a Chrysler mechanic, that Chryslers were notorious for battery failure and that I needed to get a new battery right away. He was also on vacation, from Arkansas, and frustrated because he had no tools with him or he’d help me. I thanked both men and we drove out of town to the hotel.

I backed in and left it running while I went in to the lobby. Cyndi, our hostess for the night, had all the answers—a room key, a pizza delivery menu, and assurances that the parts store in town would be open in the morning, her husband would get my car started for me, and she would call ahead so they’d be sure to help me test the battery and the alternator. All would be well.

Armed with reassurances and information, I said thank you maybe one too many times, and I went to get my children, their luggage, and a mini bottle of vodka out of the car. It was Saturday night, our plans had changed and almost just as quickly righted themselves. We had stayed present and open to the possibilities and were rewarded with a festive, comfortable night, a shared experience we’ll always remember and in the morning, just the right help to get us back on the road heading to our next adventure.

The new August moon glimmers and new adventures include the start of school and the first whiffs of fall. I’m feeling grateful this morning because in Minnesota it was only a battery—this week it is the water pump. More adjusting for me; more lessons to learn. May each of your adventures surprise you and resolve with ease, as your heart stays open to the possibilities. Thank you for the journey, Rxo

Yogini Martini Queenie

Shall we have a drink?

The drink in question isn’t, of course, filtered water, spring water, coconut water, a green smoothie, or Perrier, even though I like all of these beverages. It isn’t soda or orange juice or kombucha or green tea, drinks I have tried but haven’t much taste for. So, too, it’s not whiskey or gin and it’s not likely to be wine, beer, or Kahlua. The drink in question will be a vodka martini, a designer martini without vermouth, but with Cointreau, maybe, or ginger liquor or a splash of brandy and a little fruit juice, just a drop to lend sweetness and make it smooth. The vodka in question is flavored Hangar or sometimes another premium brand. The drink in question is shaken, hard, for at least a minute, over ice and strained into a chilled glass. There’s a good chance that I’ve made it myself, blending the flavors until they’re just right at home or at a friend’s house where I’m in charge of the bar, or I’m on a bar stool on a Saturday night next to a drinking buddy, often,like me, another yoga teacher.

I am a yoga teacher. Like most of my colleagues, I trend toward healthy eating, boost my teaching and personal practice with cardiovascular fitness, am concerned about getting enough sleep, and I meditate. I do body work to keep my muscles and joints from aching and take hot baths laced with Epsom salts. I teach purity and non-harming. I have a taste for drinking hard liquor.

And yeah, I get that there’s a bit of a conflict there.

I’m struck, for a moment, by the irony: I am a writer. If you knew me only as a writer, my penchant for martinis would be entirely within character. My father, a writer, drank. He drank a lot. He drank so much that for a long time I rarely drank. That was in my twenties. I was scared that he had passed along some sort of drunken gene to me. I was terrified that to drink would be to activate that gene and lose whatever tenuous control I had in my life.

From thirty-two to thirty-nine, I was either pregnant or nursing or dieting. I didn’t drink much then, either.

I was forty-two the year I did my two-hundred hour yoga teacher training. One night we were walking out to dinner, confessing, along the way, various bad habits. One of my fellow trainees tripped up the group when she allowed that she was having a tough time giving up social smoking. Our teacher, a woman as lithe and smooth as a Vinyasa flow, didn’t miss a step. Instead, she told us a story:

A new yogi goes to his guru. He’s in love with his yoga practice and he wants to take it deeper. But he has a worry. With his lashes lowered toward the floor, he asks his guru, “Will my smoking get in the way of my yoga?” The guru doesn’t scold him for smoking, nor does he admonish him to quit immediately. Instead, he rests his hands comfortably on his knees and looks thoughtfully at his student, “No,” he says softly, “but your yoga might get in the way of your smoking.”

The story is completely accurate. My practice gets in the way of a lot of behaviors I used to take for granted. I find it hard, for example, to think condemning thoughts about the actions of people I don’t know. I resort, often, to believing that everyone has a story and that the person whose behavior I don’t understand simply has a story I don’t know. I take non-harming further by scooping up bugs that come into the house or studio with a cup and a stiff piece of cardboard. I put them outside, even the ones that sting and bite (although I’ll swat a mosquito). I do not eat land animals because I do not want to be a part of that cycle of life and death.

My yoga practice has also gotten in the way of drinking beer and wine. After teacher training, the more I practiced and taught, the more I found a single beer or a glass of wine the night before left me fuzzy, with poor balance, and uncomfortable turning upside down. Drinking became more and more rare—something saved for special occasions when there was no yoga scheduled for the morning.

A couple of years ago I remembered something a friend of mine told me while she was a professional dancer—athletes who drink enjoy vodka because it has no muscle memory. It isn’t, actually, a very accurate statement. Muscle memory is something we cultivate in yoga, the memory in the body for how a pose feels when it’s performed with ease, grace, and freedom. A yogi moves into, holds, and releases the pose with flair and familiarity and the gifts of the practice flow from there. Muscle memory allows the practice to be at once familiar and to grow as we take the pose to a new level or add a new challenge to the practice we already know. Muscle memory is, in part, what keeps the yoga in the body even when the practitioner is off the mat; the result of yoga muscle memory sponsors the way the practice interferes with the bad habits we enjoy when we’re not in class.

Nonetheless, vodka is less likely to cause headaches and hangovers than many other liquors. The way it is processed creates fewer fermentation-related chemicals than other adult beverages. Vodka moves into and through the body—the high is clean and rapid. If you’re careful and don’t overdo, the effects do not last or leave you undone after.

My friend’s words in mind, I bought a pricy bottle and shook lemon-cosmopolitans for my birthday celebration. This wasn’t the cheap vodka and orange juice or the vodka added to sticky-sweet punch that was around in college. This was premium vodka, recommended by a yoga student who owns a restaurant. This was vodka mixed and mastered, enjoyed in a beautiful glass sipped slowly with conversation and delicious snacks. And this, I soon found if I stopped at one (or two), was a drink I could enjoy the evening before.

Recently we were visiting in Decorah, IA. Our hostess invited me to mix a drink with her question, “Shall we have a drink?” She told me then, when we were settled with drinks and snacks, a Sufi saying: I drink to be beside you. A flood of welcome settled over me with the first, heady sip. I was present, beside this woman I admire, and simultaneously connected to so many I love with whom I have grown up and with whom I now look forward to sharing a drink. I sipped, slowly, knowing that night I would enjoy only one martini—there were both a car to drive safely and children to tend—but I knew I would enjoy it with delight. And that night, comfortably, neither practice, not my yoga not my drinking, got in the way of the other.

The cabinet sign outside my studio, Radiant Om Yoga, announces it all.

It’s the last day of spring, the night of the new moon and the eve before mid-summer night’s eve. What delights and lessons will this new season bring? Wishing you a glorious solstice. Thank you, as always, for reading, Rxo.

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