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2018: Happy New Year

What does the New Year hold for you?

Ancient peoples tracked the sun and the moon, noted the seasons for planting and harvest, and lived their way into a construct for time that predates but informs our modern calendar. Drawing on a number of organizational creations, Julius Caesar implemented much of the calendar we still live today, including adding his own signature: the New Year would begin January first, the day two high officials began their year-long governing positions. More than a few since have attempted to change that start-date—to March to coincide with the spring or to September to coincide with the harvest. Through all the political tugging and pulling, Julius Caesar’s stamp on when we begin the New Year has prevailed. And so it is that we arrive at the end of one calendar year and launch the next.

And with that brand new calendar full of possibilities, it’s irrepressibly human to want to implement life-improving change.

During the holiday season my gift list took me to the Container Store. It’s one of the happiest shopping places I’ve been because each object makes a promise that if put to use under just the right circumstances, life will be more organized and thus infinitely better. It’s 19,000 square feet of countless mini-resolutions. I came home with, among other things, a magic silicone computer keyboard cleaner that helped me de-stick the keys on the left edge of my laptop where I had, alas, spilled coffee. To be honest, I came home with three of them—one for my immediate use and one each as stocking stuffers for Eighteen and Fifteen.

The reminder of that heart-stopping moment when I tipped the cup onto my computer (it was a lidded cup without much in it, a candy coffee I was treating myself to while writing) lingers in the dimmed segment of lighting behind my keyboard. I was swift in my response, inverting the computer and then racing for napkins to wipe away the spill. For a few days my computer smelled faintly of coffee, not an unwelcome fragrance for a writer, and the impacted keys were sticky. Today it’s an object lesson—my computer turns five this month, is long out of warranty, and makes it possible for me to connect with the world and earn a living. If something disables it, even if that something is me, I’m going to need a replacement immediately. Mental note for the accounting department: start a new computer fund.

And so it begins … it’s easy for the mental notes to turn into life-improving resolutions around money, health, friends, travel, employment, getting rid of stuff, cleaning and fixing the house, losing weight, getting fit, finding a boyfriend. Like the unbroken snow in the backyard or the shiny allure of just the right organizational box at the Container Store, the crisp clean calendar beckons. This is the year I might just get it all right.

Looking for the lessons of 2017, and there were many, I light on a few. I set out to study and learn a lot more about yoga, and I did, completing my 500-hour yoga teacher training and implementing a new kind of preparatory approach to my classes that has been well received. In the course of the hours spent reading, researching, and producing, the travel to trainings, and the workshops I attended and developed, I learned something in my own practice that I am still exploring. It’s a tiny adjustment in my hands in strength-requiring poses like plank (the top of a push-up) wherein I press into the floor using my hand-wrist joints like levers. I don’t yet know the full extent of the strength the maneuver allows me to access, but I know that it changes the experience of the pose in my entire body. It’s a tiny, valuable truth, and I look forward to discovering where it might lead.

I learned, too, that my beloved yoga practice, while it opens all sorts of possibilities for self-improvement and advancement (yoga really is, as my teacher Mona always says, an ancient self-improvement practice for body, mind and spirit), is so comfortable for me in a large part because it allows me to embrace and strengthen my strengths. I am patient; yoga makes me more so. I am flexible; yoga celebrates my range of motion. I am a teacher; I’m so grateful that people come to learn yoga with me.

In writing those practices for my classes, I stumbled into understanding, in 2017, why it’s okay that for years when I’ve started writing in a blank book, I’ve left the first few pages unsullied. I always thought it was to take the pressure off—indeed, as I’ve been cleaning my bookshelves over the past week or so, I’ve discovered a number of blank books starting with three or eight or fifteen pages covered in childish scrawl, the beginning of a novel one of my children sat down to write in a fit of creative passion and abandoned shortly thereafter. I can’t bear to throw these books away—loving the intensity of the resolution it took to start a novel. Nor do I want to use these books, even though they have pages and pages that are unmarked, leaving me uncertain as to what to do with them. So they go on the shelf for now. But in my own favorite blank books, spiral-bound so they sit flat on the desk, especially the ones I use for planning yoga practices, I find that the skipped pages at the beginning are perfect for creating a table of contents. Thus, when the books fill up, I have a way of finding the information therein. And something about leaving those early pages blank does indeed make it much easier to fill up the books—with class plans, lists, notes for my novel, and every other project-launching whim or frenzy that takes over.

I believe fervently that it’s important to set resolutions with kindness—intentions or visualizations for the new chapter seem healthier than the often critical messages of resolutions. However, I’m learning for this New Year that the impulse to make sweeping changes in our lives offers many gifts. We may or may not live our way to the intended goal, but if we stay both grounded and open to the possibilities, we will learn lessons from our inclination to leap into projects and transformations for the better that range from merely fascinating to life changing.

Today’s full super moon feels, to me, like a spot on a transitional timeline that starts with the winter solstice and skips like a stone across the water with stops at Christmas, New Year’s Day, the Chinese New Year, and Groundhog’s Day. Rather than set sights on changes that will revolutionize all of 2018, I’m focusing on this period, giving myself some interesting challenges, and staying open to the discoveries that I don’t even know are possible. Wishing you and yours a safe, happy, healthy, and revealing New Year, that you might discover your own wisdom pebbles and skip them farther over the water than you ever dreamed possible. With all my love, Namaste, Rxo

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Rabbit Reset

Which way shall I turn next?

On the first day of July, tomorrow morning as I’m writing these words, I’ll wake as I usually do, sorting and ordering the activities of the day ahead and filtering out the already dones of yesterday. The small grey kitty that somehow manages to simultaneously curl up into a tight, tiny ball and sprawl across the lion’s share of my bed will stretch and demand attention. At some point the reality that it’s first of the month will swim into focus and I’ll say, out loud, “Rabbit, rabbit.” Thus guaranteed good luck for the coming month, I’ll spring up to face the day.

Of course, there are no guarantees.

But just as finding a penny heads up, as I did yesterday on my own front step, and making a wish when returning the clasp on a necklace to the back of my neck, feel like opportune moments, sticking to the tradition I learned at nine in England feels like it can’t hurt. I rarely miss a month and, having spoken the words out loud, will generally go so far as to post “rabbit, rabbit” as my status on Facebook.

When they were really little, I taught my kids. They think nothing of “Rabbit, rabbit,” as a greeting when they wake. They’ll sleepily say it back. At one point—they were about Four and Seven—I researched the tradition and wrote a theatrical, the script for which surfaced this spring as I was cleaning out boxes in the basement. The scant theories about origins for the practice (and its many variations) wove through a princess tale in which we and every stuffed rabbit in our house all had roles to play. Like a faded old snapshot, the script brought back memories and connection to a sweet long ago.

Saying “Rabbit, rabbit” on July 1st will usher in not just a new month, but the second half of 2017. Just then, I almost wrote the second side, a phrase my yoga students will connect to practice, when a series of poses is complete on the left side, for example, and we get ready to begin the sequence again on the right. There is a balance to it—working the body equally—and there’s a marvel as well, how different one side can be from the other.

For much of the first half of 2017 I felt like I was on a water ride, sliding across a cascade of changes that included Ninety-Two’s health challenges and associated changing care needs and launching my house onto the spring real estate market. In the swirl of May, Eighteen docked at the end of his first year of college and shortly thereafter Fifteen powered through finals and flowed into summer. Whereas I’d been paddling hard, struggling to keep the boat afloat across white water and despite strong undertows, quite suddenly I landed, the oar feeling a little like it was broken off in my hands. The constant, unpredictable motion of the spring stilled.

Honestly, it took a little while for me to recognize and stop padding. I’m still puzzling about where I am. I don’t know if I’m sitting on the beach, my suit itchy with sand, or floating in a gently swirling hot tub. And while there’s always a next storm, I don’t really know if the hatches are securely battened and we’ll be fine or if there’s a ton of shoring up to do to prevent disaster. What I do know is that this is both entirely new and somewhere I’ve been before: at the end of a series of events and plans that were so consuming I couldn’t take time to consider what my world would look like after or precisely what to do next. I may not truly be in the aftermath, maybe we never really are. Yet, there’s a stillness, a chance to reconsider and relaunch. It’s a great time to clean house, physically, metaphorically, metaphysically. And with that in mind, I welcome the opportunity to reset—both for a new month and the second side of this adventure-filled year—and I’ll take all the luck with that I can get. Rabbit, Rabbit!!

Much of my world is on sale, including these lilies that bloom faithfully each June. They’re on sale because the house they’re in front of is for sale. In that spirit, for the month of July my novel is also on sale, over at Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/516628). If you haven’t enjoyed it yet, maybe some summer reading (half off 7.1–7.31)? xoxo

As serendipity would have it, my twice-rescheduled colonoscopy is Monday. Rather than dreading it, I see it as a part of the overall reset. As we celebrate our nation’s birthday and many have a few days off, it’s not unlike the turn of a new year—a big party with bright lights and lots of festivities, followed by a chance to begin anew. Have you thought about it? Which direction will you turn now? Rxoxo

2016’s Big Finish

Why do you call your son Seventeen?

When John Glenn died earlier this month I felt really sad—another light on this planet extinguished in a year that saw the departure of so many points of light: Prince, Glenn Ifill, Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, Glenn Frey, Alan Rickman, David Bowe, Natalie Cole, Harper Lee, James Alan McPherson, Gary Marshall, Janet Reno, Sharon Jones. There are still more celebrities, of course, and dear ones much closer to home too.

Soft spots for celebrities are as personal as the movies that speak volumes to us or the song that goes onto a perma-this-is-my-story playlist. John Glenn’s departure was more personal to me still—he was a man I was lucky enough to meet on several occasions as my father covered his presidential campaign. Senator Glenn and his wife Annie were gracious and dazzling in person, the authentic embodiment of the way they appeared in media-ready images.

With care but no hesitation, I crafted a status update for Facebook about Senator Glenn’s death. Sharing the obituary a Facebook friend of mine had posted, I added these words: Another amazing hero departs 2016 … I like thinking of you, Senator Glenn—a man I was fortunate enough to meet during the presidential campaign—up among the stars where you belong. Orbit in Peace. A few of my friends responded to my post, adding their own kind words and memories. Our interaction there doesn’t even qualify as a footnote in Glenn’s life, but he clearly made an impact in each of ours, a part of what it can mean to be famous.

For most of us, there’s no formal notification. My father had a student, author John Yount, who quipped that he wanted to open the mail one day to find he’d received a single-line letter: Congratulations! You are now rich and famous. When I ask Google about Mr. Yount, I’m pleased to see his name and his books come right up and pleasantly surprised to note that at 81 he’s alive, presumably retired from an illustrious career as a professor at the University of New Hampshire, where we visited him when I was quite young. Did he arrive at “rich and famous?” Perhaps in certain circles, allows my mother, Ninety-Two, who remembers him. His books were well received critically and, my search reveals, he was heartily praised as an important influence by John Irving, another student of my father’s, another writer who went on to rock the literary world but I remember as underfoot in our house when I was growing up.

I don’t know if I’ve met more famous people than most—rich and famous both evaded my father, but his literary and political activities certainly brought us into contact with more than a few luminaries. It is this fact that I marvel over as I study the Senator Glenn obituaries. With a slight shock I realize that Senator Glenn died on the anniversary of another important celebrity in my life, John Lennon, shot thirty-six years ago when I was living in Tucson with my father. When I went to find him, to tell him the news, my father was visibly moved, shaking his head sadly, “What a world we live in,” he grieved. “What a world.”

Rich and famous must add layers of challenge in today’s age of over-exposure; celebrities live a hyped-up version of the navigation between private and public we each must explore. When I launched OverneathItAll in 2011, it was designed as a challenge to keep me committed to a regular writing task. With plenty of exceptions, I’ve posted somewhere around the full moon and the new moon ever since. Wanting to provide some thin shield of privacy for my family members, I named my children by their ages, just Eight and Eleven at the blog’s debut. Now Fourteen and Seventeen are living larger; with Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat accounts of their own, they’re learning to shape their own public images even as they have become characters in the online version of my life.

My blog has made me neither rich nor famous, but it has consistently connected me to a loving and lovely readership and it’s kept me living the questions through an awful lot of drama and adjustment and changes and transitions. Just when I think, as I sometimes do, that it’s time to give it up, a far-away friend writes to me about something I’ve posted or a new connection arises making me want to double-down. And, as a result of posting consistently, owning a yoga studio, publishing a novel, and perhaps most of all having an unusual name, I Google well. Because I do try to keep my posts kind and true, to be generous on Facebook, and to stay away from Internet vitriol, I been mindful but unconcerned about the wide world of the Internet.

So imagine my surprise when a recent flurry of renegotiating my financial realities hit a pothole with one company that first underwrote and then dropped (and has since reinstated, thank you kindly) a policy for me because I am an author and a blogger and I live in the “limelight.” Moonlight and sunlight, certainly. The sparkle of my children, absolutely. Limelight? That was news to me.img_7567

Wednesday, 12.21, Sunrise, 7:39am; Sunset, 4:48pm. At 4:45am (CST), the sun started its long wintery journey back to the north. The moon was silvery and full just a few days ago. With my peeps home and snuggling in for the winter holiday, some year-end business projects to attend to, and a little time off from yoga teaching, I’m going to hit the pause button here just until January. I bid you and yours a joyful holiday season and a wonderful New Year! As always, thank you for our journey together. Love, Rxo

Anything but Routine

It’s what time?

A couple of weeks ago, in the days before, the battery on the little clock near my treadmill died and the clock, predictably, stopped. Equally predictably, it didn’t much matter. I’m a creature of habit. So long as I’m on my treadmill by 5:30am (alarm: 5:05), I’m back upstairs by 6:20 and while it’s a frenetic twenty-odd minutes, I can get Thirteen’s lunch made and shuttle her to the bus stop by 6:45. Back up the hill and into the garage, the next hour focuses on Sixteen, his departure for high school on a full belly with a lunch box full of leftovers. My own morning routine threads through the minutes in between, and by 8 the day is on schedule and well underway.

I’ve been thinking a shift would come when Thirteen no longer rides her early bus to junior high. But in my imagination, the break would not mean altering the order of things, just the time at which it would all get rolling. I should insert here that I’ve been walking on my treadmill first thing weekday mornings since March 2001. When there have been breaks in the routine, they’ve always been those kind of gaps where something feels a little out of whack all day long.

That doesn’t mean I don’t take a day off once in a while. I did just that last Monday, Sixteen’s first day as a civil servant. Leaving high school early to “serve his country” (as his band director put it while excusing him from the semester final), Sixteen started his new gig as a page in the Iowa Senate. The first day of the legislative term was his first day on the job—a whole new reality of getting up, getting washed and brushed and pressed in his dress clothes and heading east into rush hour traffic to commute from our house in the western suburbs to the gorgeous Iowa Capitol. I opted to lend him my support from the alarm clock on, so skipped the treadmill and was happy to be on hand to wave him out the door.

The next morning, versed in the experience of the day before and knowing that this day two lunches needed to be ready by 6:45 (the food at the Capitol is decent but expensive reports our Page), I woke early enough to hit the treadmill and stretched, turned, and snuggled deeper under the covers. I let the day roll around in my head, thoughts emerging for things that needed attending to, ideas forming, and, when the cacophony of alarms started sounding down the hall, I got up, jotted down my to-do list, and headed to the kitchen for tea. The peeps were out the door with lunches and thermoses, Thirteen complete with her viola and almost warm-enough clothing for the weather, Sixteen on the way to day two of his job.

I stuck to my Tuesday rounds—the grocery store, the bank, the pharmacy, my desk—finding my way onto the treadmill about 3:30 in the afternoon.

On Wednesday, it was 1pm. On Thursday, shortly after 2. Friday, even though the resident civil servant had the day off, I opted to continue my delicious morning lie-in (yes, it feels like sleeping in when I don’t get up until 5:45), and headed to the basement for a walk only after I’d had enough time to digest the delicious breakfast Sixteen and I enjoyed together.

At one point I looked at the clock: the little hand was on the ten and the big hand was on the two, in the classic formation of clocks and watches for sale. My first thought was the clock had stopped again—didn’t I just replace that battery I wondered? Could it have been already depleted or from a bad batch? Had I put it in backwards? It took a few steps for me to realize, no, wait, it really was ten minutes after ten. And with that dawning of understanding came delight. Too often in the past when the routine changed, I had let my treadmill time or other things important to me go in favor of the to-do list or, even more likely, meeting everyone else’s needs. But this week I didn’t do that. I walked, instead, every day, including Saturday when I never do, and hit 18 miles for the week. And even though the time never correlated with my internal idea of when I should walk, it worked. I found myself looking forward to my walk, whatever time it happened.

Another week and the timetable hasn’t gotten any less topsy-turvy. Walking around the clock still feels a bit off to me, but I’m pleased that I’ve embraced the shift and prioritized the time anyway. I started walking first thing in the morning years ago because it’s important. But in the literature surrounding just about any self-care practice, that is always the advice: do X first. Want to build a good exercise or meditation habit? Interested in drinking lemon water in the morning or getting organized for a successful day? Trying to write a novel? No matter what you’re hoping to accomplish the advice is always the same: do it first thing in the morning. The reality is I can only do one thing first thing, so I am learning to prioritize the activities in a day that are important to me. With twenty-four hours available each day, selecting how I will best live them is what’s important. Rather than routine or schedule, I’m subscribing to rhythm and liking all the possibilities of each moment24 hours

The full Wolf Moon of January shines all over the world—if it’s not behind the snow clouds. Hoping wherever you are, you and yours are safe and warm and digging your own new year’s rhythm. Thanks for attending my journey with me, xoR

The Count

How’re your cats?

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

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

IMG_5541

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Vertical Hold

What are you reading these days?

[[Author’s note: This is probably more essay than blog post. Posting here anyhow … with thanks to my writing circle who challenged me to write into this more. We’ll see, for now here’s Part II, or thoughts to follow “The Door to Everywhere.”]]

When I was little we had an enormous color television set that stood on the floor. You had to cross the floor to change the channel, adjust the color, or turn the volume up. There were four channels and occasionally reception through an enormous antenna on the roof caused a snowy picture or rapid scrolling, black lines crossing the screen, necessitating adjustment of the vertical hold.

My mother gave my brother and me a television account, seven hours a week each. We had to read the TV Guide and select what we would watch ahead of time. I liked Captain Kangaroo in the mornings and when I snuck a peek in the evening, I thought perhaps he was also Walter Cronkite, no longer dressed in his signature red coat, back to deliver the evening news my parents consumed along with their cocktails every night.

Saturday mornings we must have somehow combined our hours, because I remember settling in with cereal bowls to watch cartoons. I liked the antics of Bugs Bunny the best, but it is the misadventures of Wile E Coyote I remember—how he would freeze in midair, eyes enormous before dropping legions down a canyon or look with sudden awareness at the item he was holding, something explosive, then look at the camera with full knowledge of what was about to happen. His ears might droop a little, but powerless to do anything about it, we’d wait for the inevitable, boom. It always made sense to my trusting mind that in the next frame, or maybe the one after that, he would return unscathed.

There are moments in life that feel just like that. Once I was navigating the overcrowded evening streets of Taipei, a metropolis that truly never sleeps, with a friend who had been living in Asia after college. We started across a street just as a car started barreling toward us. Maybe she was across faster than I was, but I jumped in the air, alarm on my face, my feet peddling while I hovered without moving forward—just like the Coyote right before he would be smacked by an oncoming Mack truck. Somehow I started to move (cue a whoosh sound with a little puff of cartoon smoke behind me) and made it safely to the other side of the busy street. When I got there, breathlessly, I said, “I felt like a character in a cartoon just then.” My friend laughed, “You looked just like one.”

More recently an ice storm coated the streets, sidewalks and trees of our community. I was on my way home from a late meeting, one of the only cars on the road. I got to my street, a one-block suburban circle that leads up the hill to my house, turned, and fifteen feet up the hill stopped, sliding sideways. Backing down and making a run for it netted me a whole twenty feet, and I determined that I wasn’t going to make it up the hill until the city had treated my street.

I slid back onto the more mainly road where traction was somewhat possible and saw a treatment truck go by. I thought to go and see if other circles in the neighborhood were being treated, figuring I could wait until they did mine, and found the truck two streets over. I pulled over to the curb to watch him start up the street and stop, wheels spinning. As soon as the driver took his foot off the gas the truck paused, totally still, and then started to slide at an angle right back down the hill. I watched him try and try again, getting no further than I had in his enormous six-wheeled truck with flashing lights and a bed full of ice melt.

It was no more successful when he turned around and tried backing up the hill, spreading his treatment mixture ahead of his own back tires. I couldn’t see the driver’s face, but the whole truck, each time momentum stopped and before it started to slide, had that Coyote-like expression, in the dark, the icy rain still falling and freezing all around us.

That night I ended up parking my car a solid half-mile from my house and navigating the icy pavements by walking on yoga blankets I had in my trunk. I’d put one down, walk across it, spread the second one as best I could, step onto it, turn around pick up the last one, and inch forward. I could walk safely on the grassy surfaces, but my trek crossed a parking lot, a slew of driveways, and one major street. By the time I reached the bottom of my circle, I had ice coated on my glasses and in my hair and I was exhausted. I thought, if I’m going to fall, it’s going to happen up this hill close to home. I tried to redouble my care.

Years of yoga and I fall well. That night one tiny misstep, my foot half on the blanket half on the icy pavement, and I went down fast—no time to look helplessly at the camera—curling into myself and landing on my right hip and shoulder. Normally I would stay down after a fall, allowing the adrenaline to subside, but heart pumping I got up knowing it was too cold to stay on the ground. I was two driveways away from my own safe house.

The next day’s weather wasn’t much better. Eleven and Fourteen had delayed openings at school, the people I was supposed to meet with opted to stay home, and I inched my way downtown to see my chiropractor who brought mobility to my stiffening shoulder. That evening, on the sofa enjoying a fire and the surety of having everyone at home, I thought it might be nice to read a book.

I don’t remember learning to read, but I remember reading just about every book in my junior high’s library, some of them many times. I consumed books, like my children do, opting to read over just about any other activity, even sometimes those seven hours of television. My appetite continued through college, when I would use reading to relax, especially during finals week. Then in graduate school I spent three years not finishing books because there was always more to read. But I regained my reading pace as a professor, surrounded in various English departments by colleagues who always were reading and recommending something new.

Novels, memoirs, and academic treatises gave way to Moo, Baa, La La La and Goodnight Gorilla when Fourteen was born. I read to him constantly and it wasn’t long before he would toddle his way to me, a book offered with a beseeching look. We would stop everything and read, one book over and over or a stack that seemed to appear as he crawled into my lap. My own reading pace slowed considerably, not to a dead stop but to an agonizingly slow pace, maybe a book every month or two. Television and Internet screen time took over as my drugs of choice.

Today I read a lot—editing materials and email messages and business-related items—and I don’t read much at all. I still have the habit of buying books—I’m rarely able to finish a library book in the three weeks allotted for me—and starting them. They tend to lie around with a torn scrap of paper marking the first chapter or, worse, open, their spines creasing to keep my place. Momentum lost, I’ll clean them up two or three or eight weeks after I’ve started reading them and put them on the shelf next to all of the other “must reads.”

The hankering to read that started on the sofa the day I was resting has turned into a full-blown impetus. As a part of this year’s visualization process, I kept coming up against this image of books not just organized and waiting to be read, although that’s a part of it, but actually reading books, consuming them like I used to, like I watch my children do every day after school, without a thought.

At the same time, I kept seeing explosions and fireworks, alarm and beauty, cartoon character style. Cartoon characters have a plan, often foolhardy, but they set about it with resolve. I drew a picture—order written in the cursive fuse of a rocket, a stick-person rendering of me hanging onto the rocket called chaos, the ascent, explosion, and subsequent fireworks lighting up the sky. Such events can be beautiful, breathtaking, and damaging; there’s a chance of getting scalded by falling embers or dirtied by ashes as they tumble, not to mention the perilous fall back to earth. When I looked at my drawing, what I could see was an image of me coping through the ups and downs. It’s a start but not ultimately a good visualization because it doesn’t promote the life that I want.

What I crave right now is ordered space, a concept that in my mind means I’ll be able to pick up those waiting books and read, put them down to attend to the next thing—or hold on as the inevitable chaos explodes, like I did just this week when the hydraulic system in my car’s transmission failed—but come back to the books sooner and read some more. Ordered space means that although life is chaotic and sometimes explosive, there will be a firmament that’s truly firm for me to stand on, manage the chaos, shelter through the explosions, and settle back without too much lingering ash or danger from falling embers. Ordered space is my visualization for this new year, represented by a line-drawing box, the inside a place to find order, the outside chaos held mostly at bay. Ordered space equals organized time and organized time includes time in my account to indulge in activities that give me joy, like reading on the sofa with my peeps.visualization

Makes sense, doesn’t it, that I’m reading Everything That Remains, a memoir by Minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus. Happy New Moon, Happy Wood Horse Year (Eleven’s year), Happy Groundhog Day, a day that marks my eighth anniversary as a yoga teacher. Wishing you warmth and the solid belief that spring will spring wherever you may be. With love, as always, Rxo

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