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On the Road Again

On the Road Again

How was your spring break?

Fifteen and I packed our bags, scratched the kitties’ ears, and headed out on the open road for a Spring Break trip. As I said to someone recently, “I’m the kind of poor that means I can pay for a new dishwasher or go traveling with my daughter, and I’ll pick the latter option every time. It’s easy enough to wash the dishes.” It was sweet and easy to leave dish duty behind, too.

The first stop was Grinnell, Iowa, where the recently opened Hotel Grinnell welcomed us to their boutique accommodations fashioned out of an old junior high. Attention to school-oriented details make the hotel whimsical—an apple on the desk, the black metal furnishings reminiscent of lockers, the paper on the pad lined like lettering pages from elementary school. We enjoyed dinner with Eighteen and while Fifteen took her first official college visit of her brother’s school, I spent downtime in the hotel.


The Hotel Grinnell

Downtime isn’t exactly in my vocabulary. It’s a novel experience. Aside from flooding the single-serve coffee maker trying to heat water for tea, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with myself. I was reminded that easing out of one’s daily routine and relentless to-do lists and detaching from responsibilities aren’t easy tasks. But they’re important, and I left home looking for the right blend of adventure and relaxation.

Some of our hotels were more mainstream than others. In Chesterfield, Missouri, The Courtyard Marriott was on one of those streets that looks like anywhere USA. The next day, when the admissions officer at Washington University suggested that homesick students go to the mall, I thought about why we like and build these streets of plenty—familiarity. Comfort when we’re outside of our comfort zones. But the true delight of the recently renovated Marriott was the chance to spend the evening with an old friend.

The woman I’ll call “Mimi” and I met in graduate school. She was one of two graduate advisors to my teaching preparation group, and later she and I were on a committee together. After graduate school she would be in a position to hire me for a summer gig at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival; we hadn’t seen each other since. At dinner Friday night I was able to remember for her something she said that I have carried with me ever since about her happiness. It was a lovely reunion.

Saturday started with a perspective look at Washington University, St. Louis, where I was ready to enroll by the time we left the admissions talk and headed out on tour. Fifteen was less enchanted, but we agreed the campus was pretty and the school is appealing. We next enjoyed the orchids at the Missouri Botanical Center and walking the grounds on a warmish day. Then it was time for tea.

The London Teahouse had just one table available at 3pm. Pots of tea and a three-tiered tray of delights in the lovely flower-filled Hyde Park room were just right. We left with full tummies and six ounces of “Naughty Vicar” to brew at home. That evening found us in the Tudor-style Seven Gables Inn, a 1926 Irish Inn with framed art on the walls and dark wooden floors in the rooms. Two steep flights of stairs up, we found a delightful room with a view of the courtyard. The Inn had oodles of charm and is in a lovely, walkable neighborhood in St. Louis. We enjoyed ramen for dinner around the corner and snuggled in for the night.

We opted to make the Arch a drive-by as it was starting to snow. We were headed for Memphis, home of the famous Peabody Hotel, where ducks swim in the lobby fountain from 11am to 5pm, and were in time to witness their march to the elevator that carries them to their penthouse suite. The Peabody is not only whimsical, it’s elegant and stylish and the service is without compare. The concierge spent an hour helping us print and submit scholarship application forms for Fifteen’s summer exploration, even making a trip into the dining room to find us with the confirmation email she received.


Always four females and a drake–the ducks spend three months thrilling the crowds at the Peabody and then return to the farm. There is no duck on the menu at the Peabody. 

Memphis was a wonderful surprise—a city that is easy to navigate and brimming with energy. We toured Rhodes College, famous for a number of aspects of the education they offer and frequently atop the list of prettiest campuses in America. It lives up to its reputation. The Memphis Zoo is right across the street, so we headed there after the college to marvel at the animals. Our feet tired, it was a treat to return to our hotel where, in perhaps the swiftest scholarship decision in history, Fifteen found an email rewarding our work the day before with a substantial investment in her summer plans. We celebrated with dessert from the hotel bakery—oh were they good!

The next morning we were off to Graceland. One former Memphis resident told me, before we left, “Well, you can skip Graceland.” Another said, “Of course, you’ve got to go to Graceland.” I’ve been in the latter camp ever since Paul Simon released his album of the same name; if Paul Simon wanted to see Graceland, so did I. Fifteen and I had listened to a wonderful collection of Elvis songs between St. Louis and Memphis. She observed that the songs were short and catchy and nice to listen to. We were ready to learn all about Elvis.


“For reasons I cannot explain/some part of me wants to see Graceland”

And we were truly panicked, for about fifteen minutes, when it seemed we were stuck in the hotel parking garage. And then we were unbearably happy throughout the tour where Fifteen’s favorite room was the jungle room, complete with shag carpet on the ceiling. Looking up at the mirrors on the staircase ceiling, she said, “If Eighteen is an eighties teen-film star, then I’m a seventies girl through and through.”

“Really?” I asked, “Why is that?”

“You raised me on Abba!” Did I mention that we both loved Elvis’ sparkle-studded jumpsuits and his flashy cars?

We left Graceland with sparkling pen key chains and a sense that we were definitely on an adventure. Even as the impetus of our trip was glancing forward, beginning the conversation around Fifteen’s college journey, more than one stop was a glance back. Lambert’s Café (the home of the throwed rolls, where we caught a roll but did not stay for lunch), was a feature from a family car trip when I was six. Hot Springs, Arkansas, has stayed in my mind ever since I saw billboards for it on a graduate school trip to visit a college friend in Little Rock. Every day was just the right combination of travel, hotel, exploration, and, yes, downtime.

Some of our adventures were decidedly less planned. We didn’t plan, for example, to go to the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, but we found that it fit nicely into our itinerary and offered a fascinating look at the history that I lived and came just before Fifteen’s arrival on this planet (the story of how we all met William Jefferson Clinton in our pajamas is family lore). We didn’t plan, until we walked out of our tour of the Clinton library, to find the perfect place for cappuccino and ice cream, but we found that, too. Nor did we plan, between Memphis and Arkansas, to set foot in Mississippi, bringing the total states I have yet to visit in my lifetime down to eight. But after Graceland, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to drive ten minutes south and dine at a surprisingly good rapidly expanding fresh-food chain called Newk’s.


Hard to photograph but wonderful to explore!

Some of the sweetest moments of travel are those unplanned surprises. Sometimes the surprises are significantly less sweet as when we were headed north from our Mississippi lunch, just slowing to merge onto one highway from another, and suddenly saw a mattress launch from the back of a trailer and flip high into the air heading for our lane. It was one of those moments when everything slows down, and I could categorize the responses in my brain. I watched the mattress lift up and flip, considered its possible landing trajectories, and was able to swerve just enough so that it landed inches to my left and I didn’t collide with the car on my right. The people towing the trailer had reacted swiftly, too, pulling right off the road to retrieve their bed. The people to my right gave way, slowed, and navigated the emergency such that no one was hurt (although I suspect the mattress suffered some road rash). My daughter heard me hurl the F-bomb for the first time in her life, and we shook and nervously chattered for the next ten miles. After that, it became an excellent story—that time we nearly got killed by a mattress—and something of a nightmare as I have rehashed the event and the what-ifs more than once both waking and sleeping.

It was an unplanned event of our trip and life in general that my phone rang one evening with the distressing news that a very good friend’s purse had been stolen. I was distraught that she had been so violated and dismayed to think of the hassles she would have in securing her identity and attempting to replace the contents, both valuable and invaluable. She was distraught because she was on cat duty during our absence and her means of access to our house were in her purse. Oh, yes, that’s a problem.

I wonder now if thieves have any regard for the ripple effect of stealing one woman’s purse? In this (as, I would suspect most) case, police are involved in the crime report, insurance agents in the property claim, the business outside of which the burglary took place in securing their premises for their patrons, the banker officers and credit managers in safeguarding her identity, and on and on. For just my piece of the experience, as we traveled, I had to ask my back-up cat care friend to step in. When it turned out there was no key in my lockbox, I reached out to the neighbor with a house key, but she texted back from her spring break in France. Finally I sent a key overnight via FedEx, all to be certain that my four-footeds would be fed. Again, once the anxiety settled, we ended up with a good story from the road.

As Fifteen read and I drove along, watching for signs of spring, I mused about perspective—maybe it’s an obvious truth that all over the world there are people going about what they do, earnestly, some with bold ambitions and the best of intentions, some with selfish inclinations and the most harmful of results. Travel brings us face-to-face with all of it—the big and the small, the luxurious and the necessary, the markers of the past, the fulfilled intentions and goals, the way our actions reverberate in the world, and the surprises and how we handle them.


Just the car for our next road trip!

If you’ve read all the way to the end, thank you—we made it home without further incident, with another happy reunion with a dear friend, and without, yet, a college of choice. The laundry done and folded, the cats soothed, Fifteen was ready to pack the car and head out again. The next great family college-search road trip will likely be summer 2018. I, for one, can’t wait! Happy Spring Equinox, with all my love, Rxo


Fitbit GO!

Fitbit GO!

How many steps have you walked today?

The first week that I wore my Fitbit, a graduation gift from my son for, he sweetly said, getting him through his public school experience, I walked a marathon without actually trying. My idea was that I’d walk as far as I normally do, a regular week, and see what my totals looked like. I did not anticipate that around my kitchen prepping for a party, for example, I can easily put in three miles. I knew the long, rambling walks I often enjoy outdoors with my friend would add up, but nonetheless it was a surprise when the email popped into my inbox celebrating my first marathon. It gave me confidence.

Could I, at 50, set my sights on walking the Des Moines Half-Marathon in October? Seventeen will be home for fall break from school. Fresh from summiting Harney Peak (7,242 feet) in South Dakota and cresting 10,000 feet in the Rockies in Colorado (we made it above the snowline in July), he feels physically ready for anything and is willing to walk with me. I’m less certain.


Sioux Falls SD

IMG_6646 (1)

With infinite patience, my Fitbit prods me along. If I’m sitting still for the first fifty minutes of an hour, Fitbit will silently vibrate, a signal it’s time to move. When I cross 10,000 steps for the day, something I accomplish most but not every day, it celebrates on my wrist, treating me to electronic stars and fireworks. I’ve done that thing that people do at the end of the day, just a few hundred or even a couple thousand steps out, walked around and around and up and down and back and forth, just to see the light display. Fitbit and I can then go to sleep happy.


The view from 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains

Sleep, however, is another matter all together. The goal set on my Fitbit is for seven full hours of sleep. From mid-May to late June, Fitbit recorded only a few such nights. The others fell short by as much as two hours. But, I reason, I’ve rarely in my life slept a full night. More alarming to me is the number of times I wake fully up. I understand that being restless and even waking—as I do to check the time and listen for the quiet in my house—are a part of a full night’s sleep. But waking up and staying awake, that awful experience when the mind spins up into action and going back to sleep seems impossible, these are all recorded by Fitbit, the electronic that wakes faithfully when I do and records my restless moments. Per the record on my phone, I was sleeping less and less, midnight worrying more and more.

And then an amazing thing happened. My peeps and I went on vacation. The first week I still wasn’t sleeping deeply, but we were having a blast. Each day we looked back on the day’s events and nominated a wonder—the falls of Sioux Falls, SD, where we played in the lingering sunset just a few days after Solstice; the Badlands, hot and full of colors and tourists, prairie dogs and a single noble big-horned sheep curled on his rocky perch surveying all that spread below him; Harney Peak, in the Black Hills, which we hiked a bit haphazardly, not really clear at the onset what we were in for. Truthfully, I’m not fully in the Harney Peak camp, having thought there might be nothing so wonder-filled as the experience of driving through the Needles and walking past the Cathedral Spires, craggy eroded granite pillars that reminded me of standing stones in Britain.

Experiencing absolute darkness—so dark it’s impossible to differentiate between eyes


Mount Rushmore behind two future presidents (?). Love the cloud formation above the carvings—reminds me of Nomade, the sculpture in Des Moines.

open and closed—deep underground at Jewel Cave was another big moment, as was visiting Mount Rushmore. The buttes of eastern Wyoming made for conversation-provoking scenery as we drove through, and I gave some wonder points to the excellent pizza restaurant we discovered in downtown Lusk, WY. It’s the kind of place I would visit again were it not 660 miles from home.

The next few days were all things Rockies, experienced in Estes Park and Boulder. Stepping in snow on July 1 is certainly a novel experience. What’s more, Fitbit celebrated with me as three days that week I walked more than nine miles. Since it doesn’t adjust for difficulty or altitude, it had no idea how tough some of those mountain miles were.

After a week of sleeping in unfamiliar beds, we arrived at the welcoming home of dear friends and one-time Iowa City neighbors. We enjoyed a lovely reunion and a delightful dinner. I could barely keep my eyes open at nine and my hostess sent me off to sleep. It comes as a surprise to me now, as I look at the data, that Fitbit recorded a particularly wakeful night. What I remember is sinking into the embrace of the perfect bed, sleeping a long time, and dreaming deeply and meaningfully about past events in the way that feels like my subconscious taking them out, sorting and ordering them, and then folding them neatly and putting them away. Perhaps Fitbit interpreted all of this unpacking and packing as restlessness. What that sleep launched has been a series of nights, including one more hotel stay on our trip (wonders in Denver never ceased) and arriving home after a grueling day’s drive, Denver to Des Moines, that have been increasingly better and better. I’ve slept deeply, woke rested, and seen fewer and fewer red and blue lines in Fitbit’s recording of my sleep, indicating that I’m still and peaceful most of most nights.


Perfect cappuccino!!


Brunch with these two at the Brown Palace Hotel


White & dark chocolate fountain

Can I walk a half-marathon in a few months’ time? I can sign up, train, adjust my shoes, keep my toenails short, and see how it goes. As I blend the information from my electronic friend with what I know about being an active human, I am struck by the truth that rest is not just important but something we need to train for as well. Maybe that’s true for most things: whether it’s having fun, sleeping well, entertaining, working effectively, getting organized, or walking far—whatever our ambitions we need to train. A good night’s sleep encourages the next night’s good sleep. Ten thousand steps turn into 13.1 miles. The effects compound.

Fourteen recently used up a pile of gift cards and bought herself a Fitbit. From my perspective, the best result of this is that once an hour she comes strolling through the house, getting her 250 steps but leaving her room and checking in regularly with the rest of us. Thank you for checking in with me—Happy full July moon, Rxo


Outdoor xylophones in Estes Park, CO. So much fun!

Bright Eyes

Bright Eyes

How was your trip?

The Big Apple Circus is a one-ring spectacular famed for taking excellent care of their animal and human performers. When Thirteen and Sixteen were just about Two and barely Five, we drove from our urban home in Bethesda to rural Maryland where the circus was performing in their tent, erected in a vast field. It was a late-afternoon into the evening performance and I remember the worries: would they stay awake? Was it too much money to spend on tickets for people so young? Would they enjoy the performance? Would the clowns scare them? What would they eat for dinner? About half-way through the evening, when Five was sitting on his father’s lap and Two was on mine, so that each of them could see better over the heads in front of us, they were leaning forward, eyes wide, completely absorbed. Tears sprang to my eyes and I thought, sometimes, sometimes as a parent you get to get it completely right.

Intrepid travelers

Intrepid travelers

I felt the same way over and over again touring Spain with my teenagers this summer. Two weeks took us to Madrid, Córdoba,

Sixteen and Thirteen at the Alhambra

Sixteen and Thirteen at the Alhambra

Granada, Barcelona, Valencia, and back to Madrid. We marveled at some of the most visited tourism sites in Spain, including the Alhambra and the Sagrada Familia, and enjoyed the markets, the grocery stores, and hanging laundry on the line out of our apartment window. We learned about hotel rooms where you have to insert the key card in the slot just inside the door to make the electricity work and sometimes struggled to find wifi as reliable as that which we are used to. We rode in taxis, buses, trains, shuttles, and even a Spanish airplane, and we walked in the surprise summer heat wave so much that Sixteen came home five pounds lighter in spite of eating every wonderful thing imaginable and ice cream nearly every afternoon around five or six. (My treat was sangria, almost every night with dinner. Yum.)

There were speed bumps, naturally, like the flight to Madrid that left Atlanta nearly five hours late, in part because Sixteen was held at the gate while the Delta employees struggled to figure out what had become of his suitcase. We each took our turns feeling grumpy and out of sorts, and there were a few scary what-will-we-eat moments, like the free tapa that was a dish of batter-fried fish, complete with their heads. But most of the time the trip was charmed, and even things that might try our patience around home, like waiting in line nearly two hours for train tickets, became interesting as we considered how we would ask for what we wanted in Spanish when it was our turn.rowing

We stayed in apartments in Madrid and Barcelona. In Madrid, especially, it made us feel like locals, on the residential side of the most beautiful Parque del Retiro, where Sixteen ably rowed us around the lake and a turn around any corner brought us to another glorious fountain.



The cathedral in Córdoba and the Alhambra in Granada were inspiring. But the flamenco trio we lucked into in Córdoba and the sales women in the tourist shop who knocked a few Euro cents off Thirteen’s purchase when they saw she was paying herself were the delights we couldn’t anticipate, just enjoy as they occurred. It was with real pleasure, too, that we navigated the country without a car of our own, settling in to read and write and daydream or nap during our journeys from place to place.

It’s been forty years since I saw Barcelona. In the taxi from the airport I was stunned—the joyful creativity of the architecture clicked into place, the landscape of my dreams making sense after all these years. Top that with sitting in the café where Picasso sat with his friends, and I couldn’t have been any happier.

Picasso was here!

Picasso was here!

If it was hard to leave Barcelona, it was with pure bliss that we splashed in the Mediterranean Sea. And the day following may have been the most charmed of all—back to Madrid by train, the perfect paella, twentieth-century art at the Sofia Reina museum, and an upgrade on our birthday-gift last-night rooms at the Airport Hilton to the elegant and massive Presidential Suite.

We planned and saved for this trip for two years. To work for such a trip, enjoy it fully and then arrive home is to set the last period on a chapter. That is, all except the telling about it afterwards and the distilling of all that we learned—the gifts of travel. These include the valuable lesson of setting a goal and making it happen; the intrigue of being plunged into a foreign culture and noting the similarities and differences; the opening the door on the world to my children; the contrast of a technological developmental arc that’s different from the one we’re used to; and the opportunity to be completely present, somewhere new and unknown. Here at home, it almost seems like a fantasy already.

Back home on my treadmill, confused like a newborn about day and night by jetlag, I rubbed my eyes, not comprehending how it was that the credits for the show that I had just finished could be in Spanish. Were my electronics playing tricks on me? I noticed the same phenomenon the next day and it was then I realized that no, it was not a trick. Those Spanish credits rolled every time, right at the end of the broadcast, but I had never watched all the way to the end before. And at that moment I realized that bright eyes, eyes that can see the familiar in new light, are among the greatest gifts of travel, alongside renewed and replenished hope for the future and my faith that all will be well.

My hand is healing, and it felt great not to drag my computer around Spain, but it’s wonderful to be writing again. Thanks for your understanding that life’s events mandated a break from OverneathItAll. Full and new moons have come and gone since I last posted, but the crescent moon hung huge and low in the western sky last night and I’m celebrating summer along with you. Thank you, as ever, for sharing a bit of my journey. Namaste, Rxo

... paella!

… paella!

Salad, Sangria ...

Salad, Sangria …

Gaudi, oh how did you ever think of this?

Gaudi, oh how did you ever think of this?

One of the soaring windows of the Sagrada Familia

One of the soaring windows of the Sagrada Familia

The Alhambra

The Alhambra

Parco del Retiro

Parco del Retiro

Wicked Good

Wicked Good

Well, we can’t all come and go by bubble. Whose invention was that, the Wizard’s?

From the moment our feet first stepped onto the street labeled Broadway, Twelve’s eyes were enormous. When she’s excited she makes a noise at that register that causes dogs to bark, which might be recorded as “Squeeee,” except the squ- is silent. Her pace quickened and her grip on my arm tightened. “I’m on Broadway. I’m actually on Broadway and going to see a real Broadway show.”

Our seats in the Gershwin Theater were three escalators up. There isn’t much of a lobby in most Broadway Theaters I’ve been to, and while this one isn’t an exception, it is the largest house in all of Broadway, with 1933 seats. When we arrived at ours in the first balcony, just high enough that we could see the splendor of everything, nearly every other seat was full. A mechanical dragon with glowing red eyes spread its wings across the top of the curtain, hanging over the audience, and the curtain, with the Emerald City shimmering green at the center of the map wavered ever so slightly. When that same curtain rose revealing Munchkinland, Twelve’s jaw dropped.

Wicked is a perfect musical for a girls’ weekend in New York. With its strong messages about friendship and sisterhood and animal sanctity and what it means to be different and that the real story isn’t always what it seems, it kept us on the edges of our seats from beginning to end. We loved the monkeys that really flew, the dragon that came to life at dramatic moments, the smoke, the voices, the orchestra, the lights, and the tidy allusions to the original Wizard of Oz story that Twelve will dance in here in Des Moines in just two weeks’ time. But perhaps my favorite line (aside from the spiteful, It seems the artichoke is steamed) came when Glinda questions the very green Elphaba about her broomstick. Elphaba hurls back, “Well we can’t all come and go by bubble.”

And while it’s true that we travel neither by enormous shimmery soap bubbles as sets down the movie Glinda to the awe of the munchkins nor by mechanical clockwork pendulum spewing bubbles as brought our matinee Glinda to the stage, when Elphaba spat those words at her friend I thought to myself, yes, we sort of can.
Because my trip to New York with Twelve was such a charmed experience that we might as well have been traveling by bubble. Cozy together we visited friends on Long Island and then tucked into the Brooklyn apartment of a friend of thirty-five years. Gretchen and I were put together by our fathers, colleagues in the English Department at the University of Arizona. And while we both resisted the notion that we could be set up as friends, from the moment we met we were the best of buddies. All these years later we have both those early ties and an evolution of our friendship that we cherish. To my unending delight, my peeps love Gretchen as much as I do and vice versa, so she made her own version of Squeee when I floated the idea of a spring break trip to see her.

Whether on the subway or in the snow that fell in earnest on New York City on the first day of spring, at tea at Alice’s Tea Cup or having a mini-hand spa at Soapology, connecting with still more friends in an Irish pub or stepping out to purchase green bagels and finding ourselves cheering for a St. Patrick’s Day parade, it felt to me exactly like we were coming and going by bubble. Some moments we pursued specific plans, others we floated along, from one mystical land to another. But it wasn’t the Wizard’s invention that moved us from place to place and it wasn’t limited to spring break magic … the bubble I traverse the world in is a bubble of love.

Pictures from the trip follow below. The new moon rose when we were enjoying New York on the spring equinox complete with several inches of wet, slushy snow. Nonetheless, spring IS springing, even though it may not always be in the most obvious manner. Happy Spring wherever you are & whatever your weather. As ever, thank you for reading, Rxoxo

Our mad tea party at Alice's Tea Cup

Our mad tea party at Alice’s Tea Cup

central park snow

Central Park forsythia & snow

we used to drink soda and eat pizza

My lovely friend–our beverage choices have changed a little from the old day when soda was a treat.

black and white cookie

The best black & white cookie in Manhattan!


We found McNulty’s, the shop from which my mother has been ordering her tea and coffee for sixty years.

soapology spa

At Soapology we had a mini-hand spa.

soapology workers

The Soapology women. On the left, a Russian lyric soprano. On the right, an Israeli software engineer.

green bagel

A green bagel–another first!

New Directions

New Directions

Have you ever heard of “resistant starch?”

July was a month of mini-breaks: a long weekend in Omaha, two nights on the road delivering my peeps to camp, a working weekend at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, and a much-anticipated return to very near the boundary waters in Minnesota after I collected my camping peeps. As I nearly always do, for each of the trips I packed a work bag—overdue editing, financial papers I’ve been wanting to scrutinize, letters to write, my computer with its infinite access to concepts and things to read, two books because I might finish one.

On the second of these trips, the one where I was determined to have a “sort it all out” big picture meeting with myself, I couldn’t face spreading out all of the list snippets and partially formed goals on my hotel bed as I had envisioned spending the afternoon. It was past six when I arrived at the historic and lovely St. James Hotel in Redwing, MN, after a stormy day of driving and an emotional hour of settling my peeps into camp, Twelve away from home for the first time. I told myself I’d do it in the morning and took my legal pad to the hotel bar where I wrote a journal entry, most of a blog post and started a birthday letter to my pen pal of thirty years. That, for me, is sitting still.

In the morning I brought breakfast from downstairs up to bed and spread open the newspaper I had discovered outside my door. I skimmed through the news, read the funnies, and got thoroughly engrossed in an article about resilience training.

Referencing the work of The Chemistry of Joy author Henry Emmons, MD, the article explained resilience training helps people live through difficult times by attending to the needs of body, mind and spirit. It sounded to me a lot like yoga and to be sure, the article mentioned mind-body connecting practices like yoga and meditation as helpful in boosting our resilience.

The idea dovetailed with a physical concept I’d been thinking about since the first trip nine days before, resistant starch. I read the term “resistant starch” in a food column I was proofreading early one morning and thought, I’ve never heard of that before. Garbanzo beans, one of my all-time favorite foods, contain resistant starch, starch that I learned essentially resists digestion until it reaches the intestinal system where it helps to feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Cold cooked potatoes have resistant starch, hot potatoes do not. Cashews, another favorite, are loaded with resistant starch. Naturally, once I started looking on the Internet, there was a ton of information about this trendy topic and plenty of lists of foods to try.

On the drive home from Redwing, I started to see resilient and resistant as a pair, and they bumped around together in my brain. I wanted to pull over and look up their origins to see if they were from a common root. They are not, although they both trace back to Latin. Resistant is from the Latin re- “against” plus sistere “take a stand, stand firm.” Resilient stems from re- “back” plus salire “to jump, leap.”

In much more recent usage, resilience adds the sense of having the power of recovery. Thus, if we’re not able to resist and we get dragged through something awful, our resilience comes to the fore and we bounce back. Or at least that’s how I decided it should all work if I’m practicing regularly and eating well.

These two concepts were frontiers for me—new ways to examine what I eat and what I do and how such behaviors interact and bolster me. In one way they confirm what I already know; in another way they clarify, expand and even challenge my thinking. As the miles rolled by and the work in my bag stayed frustratingly unfinished, my brain got to riff between the ideas, blending them and pondering and wondering.

And it is then I stumbled upon the next understanding. My expectations are foolish; there’s no extra time when I travel. In some ways there’s less time because nothing is routine. Particularly as a parent, I find my awareness and attention absorbed by when and where and what to eat, how to sleep, and finding our destinations. Time is allotted to going the distance. But precisely because traveling energies are different, maybe more basic to survival, there is also more room in the brain to absorb and engineer new ideas, to refurbish old thinking. I can travel in my thoughts, reaching my own frontiers and adding concepts, not just bookmarking them for later. On the road, I think them through. Such mental discoveries, I decided looking at the summer greens of Minnesota, are one of the tremendous benefits of travel, even when getting things crossed off the list doesn’t happen.

The new moon rose a couple of days ago—the last moon cycle presiding over this summer’s fun. Hope you’re enjoying whatever you are doing. As ever, thanks for coming along on my journey with me, Rxo 

Fifteen and Twelve jumping off the dock into the welcoming waters of Lake Vermillion.

Fifteen and Twelve jumping off the dock into the welcoming waters of Lake Vermillion.

Timed Travel

Why Spain?

My daughter, Eleven, makes and sells Garnet Granola. Packaged in brown craft paper bags with labels listing the contents, the granola sells well at the yoga studio. It’s like an on-going bake sale, an entrepreneurial enterprise I encourage because eleven-year-olds can’t find much work and she wants to earn money. The granola, adapted from a recipe I first encountered pregnant with her and staying in an inn in Eason, Pennsylvania, is studded with nuts and dried cherry and cranberry garnets. It’s delicious. Her client base has been encouraging and a few have asked, “What’s she raising money for?”

The newest batch of Garnet Granola and the granola company's CEO.

The newest batch of Garnet Granola and the granola company’s CEO.

“We’re saving for a trip to Spain.”

Mostly this elicits stories from well-traveled yogis who have trotted many regions of the globe, but last week someone asked, “Why Spain?” There isn’t really a short answer, I want to tell her; it’s this:

The first apartment in Barcelona was a deep green cave, rooms end-to-end with next to no natural light. We only stayed there a few weeks, and then we moved to a sunny place where I had a little room all my own. I wore a tartan skirt to school and stood on the corner of the street every morning playing cat’s cradle with my mother until the van marked Uniroyal in red letters pulled up and drove me to school. I feel like we sat on tires loose in the back, but as I fashion the snapshots of memory into something like a narrative, I don’t really know if the tire part is the story as it was or the story as I want to tell it.

I was eight years old, in third grade in an English-speaking private school in Spain. My father was on sabbatical, working on a novel and getting in touch with his inner Hemingway. The rest of us went along for the adventure. My brother adjusted the best, opting to stay through the end of high school, coming home summers and long holiday breaks. For me Spain was not a good fit—I missed my cat, my friends, my Iowa life. Maybe as a result of never settling in, I have very few solid memories of the time in Spain, a time that was meant to be a whole school year but ending early for my mother and me—we returned to the Iowa farm in January.

What I do remember intrigues me and I like to take the memories out and examine them. I can remember the markets and shopping to make paella. I can remember the vendors who sold tiny figurines for Christmas crèches. I can remember some of the extraordinary Gaudi architecture, sandcastles in bright colors dotting the city. I have an image of the beach in Sitges, a memory of wearing an orange wool poncho and clogs, and I can still taste the charred artichokes that came out of a huge fireplace grill in the restaurant high on a hill where we dined several times. As I remember one item, one smell, one flash, I am gratified when another follows. And even though I know I did not want to be living in that foreign world, the memories are not unhappy ones.

Although my earliest exposure to a foreign language was this immersion, I can manage basics in both French and Italian but speak next to no Spanish. Living there, I got practiced enough at saying, “No hablo español” that Spanish speakers didn’t always believe me and would jabber rapid-fire in my direction. As an adult, I’m disappointed I don’t know Spanish. So I am delighted that Eleven and Fourteen have each been studying Spanish since they were six. This summer they’re off to Spanish language camp, where they can immerse in language and learning. But next summer we’re heading to Spain, or at least I really, really hope we are.

I’ll turn fifty in August 2015, and two years ago when my junior high friends were visiting for a few days, we talked about how we should celebrate fifty together. One woman lives with her family in Marseilles, another in Washington, DC. The fourth comrade is in Hong Kong—Spain seemed like a natural choice. We put a pin in the conversation—let’s try, we said.

Then Fourteen came home last year talking about a school trip that would take him to Spain and France this June. He pondered it, the expense, the realities of being far, far from home. When Fourteen was born, I started setting aside a dollar a day for him. After a couple of months, I put him in his stroller and off we wheeled to the bank where I opened a savings account in his name. Every month I made a deposit and I started to do the same when Eleven arrived. Eventually those savings accounts were turned into CDs with the idea that the money would fund that school trip or similar big-ticket luxury item. So here was the opportunity.

When he realized the Spain trip overlapped with the very much closer Simpson Jazz Camp in Indianola, IA, he hesitated: “I don’t want to miss Jazz camp. I got so much out of it.” I was a little puzzled—six days of trumpet versus seventeen in Europe, but I simply said, “You know, I’d really like it if your first European experience was with me.”

“I want to go to Europe first with you too,” the words tumbled.

“You, Eleven, me. Let’s all three go to Spain together when I turn fifty.”

And just like that the dream trip to Spain became a real goal. We wish to spend a week or so traveling and a week sitting still, ideally in a house somewhere, a grand rendezvous with my friends and their families. I look forward to making new memories with my peeps and wonder if anything I see, hear, smell, eat or experience will refresh my memories of the country where I once lived.

I’m dropping change in jars and we’re saving the profits from Eleven’s growing granola business, any extra bit tucked away. Given the choice between a night out and cooking one more family meal, I’m trying to take the less expensive route so that this dream trip with my darlings can really happen. Thanks, as always, for tuning in! Namaste & much love & happy new March (spring soon!) moon, Rxo

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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