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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.

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Sioux Falls SD

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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.

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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

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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.

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Perfect cappuccino!!

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Brunch with these two at the Brown Palace Hotel

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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

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

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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

Accidental Angels

Accidental Angels

How do you feel about flying?

The strangers I select never know the important role they play for me—or do they? Is it their energy that draws me to name them as my angels? My hairstylist, the talented Kim who quarterly takes me from shaggy to coiffed and quips easily my greys are “natural highlights,” gave me the notion of angels in the air. During one appointment she handed me the gift of her technique for feeling more certain on airplanes: Look around and select someone to be your angel. For longer flights, maybe more than one.

Kim’s is a practice I’ve adopted and adapted; I choose upwards of four people and always make sure to name at least one person who I’m certain would annoy me were it not for his or her purpose in keeping me safe. If there are children getting ready to board, they are always additional angels, particularly tiny ones. I peruse the crowd at the gate in those moments that routinely stretch way out before boarding and name them silently in my head: man with a mustache in a red shirt, lady reading an oversized hardcover, attractive twenty-year-old with the French manicure and a carryon too many, harried looking Asian mother with two pig-tailed daughters.

As a child, I flew easily and all over, crossing the Atlantic unaccompanied five times by the age my daughter is now. Eleven looks stricken when I mention this. She loves home, and boarding school would not be a good fit. Her brother, Fourteen, grins broadly at the notion and suggests, “All the good books happen at fancy boarding schools. Send me.” “Hogwarts,” I disappoint him, “is not an option.”

I still flew regularly after I returned to American junior high. My father’s wanderlust took us to a variety of destinations in America and Europe. I flew back and forth to college, even as I became a confident and happy driver of distances short and long.

Then, in 1989, a DC-10 en route from Denver to Chicago crash landed in Sioux City, IA. Although historically the handling of the engine malfunction that preceded the crash and the quick-thinking response of the crew are lauded, the televised footage of the wreckage that included sections of the busted apart plane smoldering in a cornfield caused an unease to descend on me regarding flying. It didn’t stop me—I still flew regularly from my first real job on Long Island to my Iowa home, to the Caribbean, and even all the way from Kennedy Airport to Taiwan to visit, in 1992, the friend who claimed she would not come home to the United States until someone came to visit her.

Several Caribbean adventures, a couple of tours of Europe, and a move to Bethesda, MD, later, I flew up to Long Island from DC with a four-month baby bump. It was November 1998. The trip was uneventful; the visit nice. I didn’t know it then, but I wouldn’t again step foot inside an airplane for some time.

At first it was happenstance—while mommy friends flew everywhere with their newborns, my baby’s medical challenges kept me close to doctors and specialists for the first year of his life. We drove when we opted to visit grandparents, but it was most comfortable to stay home. As the baby grew and then his sister joined the fold, flying en famille seemed daunting to me. The rise in incidents and the ever-increasing cost of air travel versus the ease and flexibility of putting a family of four with diaper bags, car seats, portable cribs and more in the Volvo station wagon meant car travel won out in my planning every time. If I was aware that I was working around a gnawing fear, I let it be without close examination.

Then, in 2004 I needed to travel to Des Moines on a house hunting expedition. It would mark a number of firsts—some surprising for a thirty-nine year old woman. It would be the first time I had left Five and Two for more than a single night. It would be the first time I had ever rented a car or checked into a hotel on my own. And it would be my first time on an airplane in six years.

It was that flight that started me on the collection of practices I routinely employ to make flying feel comfortable to this day. Stepping onto the plane, I paused that day, put my hand on the outside of the actual plane itself and thought hard about pressing into that hand, turning on my heels and walking the other way. Instead I gave the plane a little pat and made my way to my seat. Luggage stowed and seatbelt secured, I thought, if I prayed, I would pray right now. That didn’t feel genuine, so I whispered the Sanskrit Invocation to Patanjoli under my breath. It’s what we used to begin each class at my studio in Bethesda, and I loved the ancient rich feel of it rolling through my mouth. Deep, steady yoga breathing followed until right before the plane started to taxi, at which point I dove into the book I was reading, strategically started ahead of time such that I was already absorbed by the plot.

Several incident-free journeys later, a family vacation to San Diego meant I had a choice—I could be the mother who transmitted my fear of flying to my children, by then Seven and Four, or I could be the mother my sterling friend Rachel advised me to be: The one who stowed her fear and showed her children the possibilities flying allowed.

I still touched the outside of the plane. I still found my breath and chanted in Sanskrit. But I did not look anxiously at the flight attendants’ faces searching for signs of the unusual as I had so many times before. “Whee,” I said, when the plane rolled over bumps. And in glow of delight and amazement in my children’s faces, I almost believed it.

Flying with my children made flying alone easier. Still, I hadn’t done that much of it when I was off to New York for a long weekend in 2011. It was during my pretrip haircut that Kim shared her angel strategy. In the early morning quiet at the gate, I gazed at the slowly assembling crowd. There were people blowing on coffee cups and people studying their electronics. Scattered around the gate area were several people in unusually bright colors, with elaborate, stagy hairdos and bulky musical instrument cases. In spite of being spread out, they were clearly a group and I elected each of them an angel.

Only near the end of my flight, during which the gentleman across the aisle from me and I had been chatting affably, did I put the pieces together. He was KC and the shimmering people who were seated randomly through the plane dozing were the Sunshine Band.

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I haven’t had such famous angels since, but I’ve elected angels a-plenty each leg I fly. So it was a surprise to me last Saturday when my peeps and I, on our way for a summer vacation in California, were already comfortably seated in our row, luggage stowed, and nary an angel selected. I had been so happily occupied in the Minneapolis airport, enjoying a meal, purchasing chocolates, and arriving at the gate just in time to waltz on board, that I hadn’t scanned the folks at the gate to spot my angels. I looked at my peeps, Fourteen and Eleven, and we were laughing as we so often are, easily and freely. Then I knew: I had brought my angels with me. There is nothing accidental about them, but in their company I soar high and fearlessly.

At the full moon, I gave myself a posting break for this new moon … and then this post virtually wrote itself on the journey out to vacation in Napa, where by the magic of the Internet I can post even without my own computer. So here it is, celebrating all that is good about summer, not the least of which is family summer travel. When we return, the whirl of the new school year begins, but for now we’re relaxed and happy under the new August moon—called by various cultures the Sturgeon, Fruit, Dog Days’, Dispute or Woman’s Moon. With love & thanks for flying with me, 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

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

I’m a Little Teapot

What are you looking at?

I feel a little sheepish. I’m holding a single-serving teapot, warm and heavy with tea, above my head peering at the manufacturer’s mark underneath. I can’t quite make it out, so I set the teapot back on the table and look at my questioner.

“I was trying to figure out who makes this teapot. It’s amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Dressed in a solid tee-shirt and jeans, the proprietor of the Red Stone Inn crosses the breakfast room to look at a teapot he’s seen a hundred times. Another customer looks at the same model on his table. They are waiting to see why the nondescript white china has caught my attention. I show him:

“Do you see? It’s the perfect pot because it has a hole just below the lip of the spout, so the tea doesn’t spill when you pour it.” I’ve already ascertained that it also has an interior strainer, making it suitable for loose tea. Then I tip the teapot and we watch tea strain into my cup, the tea that comes through the hole in the spout joining easily with the tea that flows over the spout, neither coming too fast nor too slow, such that the tea really pours.

“I never noticed that before.” The inn’s host, Asian with just a trace of an accent, had been sleepy the afternoon before when I checked in. This morning he is lively, chatty, circulating through the sunny breakfast room. “All this time, I never noticed.”

“Well, I’ve never seen anything like it,” I tell him, “so I was looking to see out who makes it. I’d like to buy one.”

“Probably hotel china company,” he says.

The Red Stone Inn in Dubuque, IA, is the first stop on my five-day walkabout. I’ve taken advantage of one of those rare collisions in time when the reason I was supposed to be away from home, and thus have covered childcare and teaching responsibilities for the week, has fallen through and I’ve decided it’s an invitation to get out of town. Home to many of Dubuque’s transient weeklong IBM employees, the Red Stone was once a grand mansion, now a charming Victorian inn with fourteen suites. Breakfast is included and I am, according to the proprietor, his one true guest.

I’ve made Dubuque my first stop so that I can take a yoga class at Twisted Root Yoga with the amazing Coleen. We overlapped in teacher training briefly—her dynamic energy has been calling me to practice ever since. Arriving Monday evening after kissing Ten and Thirteen goodbye, cleaning the studio bathrooms, and teaching my own classes, I am not disappointed by one minute on my mat with Coleen. Our entire practice is geared toward and culminates with headstand, followed by a blissful Savasana (final relaxation) and a peaceful twenty-minute seated practice.

I’m well rested and up in a timely fashion to take myself on to my next destination, Milwaukee, with a stop for another class in Madison. By the end of my sojourn, I will have refreshed my own practice taking five classes in four different studios, connected with some extraordinary teachers, and enjoyed the surprising jewel that is the city of Milwaukee, a mini-mighty good time by Lake Michigan. I’ll wend my way to Iowa City where I will teach a two-day Poses & Prose workshop, the impetus for being on the road in the first place, even if I’m taking rather a long route to arrive there.

I don’t yet know, sitting at breakfast in the Red Stone Inn, what delights await or that the whole tenor of my trip will wrap around the twin gifts of companionship from strangers and rediscovering my own inner stillness. But that last part is already starting to dawn on me, as I relish lingering over my tea at the same time I’m looking forward to gazing out of the windshield, nothing to do but drive.

The host spends a long time helping one of his businessmen make just the right cup of coffee to go. He’s the final IBM employee to leave and I’m alone, tipping my teapot over my cup for the last wash of tea. Again, I marvel at the perfectly engineered pot.

“You may have that one.” I look up to see the Red Stone’s host—and I’m assuming from the conversation he’s had with others at breakfast about painting and plantings, manager, perhaps even owner—watching me watch my tea. “I never noticed that before. You showed me something new. You should take it, like a present.”

I check my impulse to say that I couldn’t possibly. Receiving this gift graciously opens me to receiving all of the gifts of my trip—amazing classes, beautiful views, the delights of the century-old Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee, conversations with surprising people, and the gift I learn to give myself, what my Asian host at the inn, if I may be so bold as to presume he is Chinese, might call Wu Wei, the art of not doing.

One of the many surprises in Milwaukee: the Bastille Days festival complete with a 42-foot Eiffel Tower.

With gratitude, I carry the little pot away, tuck it safely among my things, and head off for the open road.

Ten days late for the new moon or a few days early for the full? Either way, apologies as this blog post refused to write itself and thus I worked at it in snippets around the topsy-turvy schedule of the summer. As always, thanks ever-so for reading! xoR

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