I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: Yoga

Why I Run

IMG_3491

My Latest Obsession

My shoulder hurt too much for Downward Dog. Yoga had been my obsession for the last decade. Child’s Pose had been my refuge when I needed to cry at all the indignities of mid-life: career let-down, the appearance of jowls (jowls?!), the death of my mother, and the growing up of my children. Hand Stand had been my adrenaline rush, which I still hadn’t fully mastered. (Do we ever fully master anything?) I had pretty much let go of other activities and thrown myself into yoga, well at least as much as I could with a family and a full time job plus commute to Manhattan. I got certified to teach and continue to teach one class a week to appreciative middle-aged women, like me.

When it became apparent that I really had an injury – Degenerative Labrum Tear (ahem…aging) and Frozen Shoulder – and needed to practice yoga in a much reduced and more limited way, I wondered what I could do instead? I had run a little bit throughout my life but it was never a passion. I admired others who ran but never seemed to be able to achieve more than 3 miles and was certainly never happy when running.

I started walking. I would walk to Pilates class and back. (About 2 miles round trip). It was January 2018, and I would bundle up. Around March, I wondered if I could run. I ran a block. Literally. One block. Shocked at the huffing and puffing, I decided that no, I couldn’t run. The challenge remained, and so it went for the next 6 months. I added distance to my walks and lengthened the amount of time that I ran. When I did too much, my body let me know and I would have to take a break – never running two days in a row. By the end of last August, I was able to run 3 miles without walking. So, I entered my first 5K race in September. Why not?

My 22-year-old daughter was home at the time and decided to run with me. I told her I was very slow. “Oh Mom, that’s okay. I will stay with you.” We’ll see…I thought. The gun went off and everyone dashed ahead. After all, it was a race! I was left in the dust plodding in the back. My daughter tried to stay with me, but I shooed her ahead. I really didn’t need company for this torture. I thought I was going to die. At about the one-mile mark, the leaders were on their way back to win. I just kept plodding. My goal was to finish. At the two-mile mark, I started passing the walkers. When I saw the finish line, my daughter was cheering. I poured it on, (what was available to pour on) and – sort of – sprinted across the finish line. Under 40 minutes (woo hoo!) and not the last in my age group. Success! I was hooked.

Last Fall, I went for a physical. I hadn’t had one in about five years and was expecting a clean bill of health. Surprisingly to me, my cholesterol was high at 251. She told me to exercise more. Exercise more?! My husband, my friends, and I all laughed. How could I do more than I was doing? Well, Game On. I joined a cheap gym and started adding weight training. (My PT had told me that my upper body was weak, which was why I had the shoulder injury.) I kept up my 3-mile runs through the Winter and ran a second 5K in April, shaving 3 minutes from my time and no longer feeling like I was going to die.

It was like a new relationship. Completely infatuated with the endorphins, my mind wanted to run more than my body could handle. I still find I can’t run two days in a row. So cross-training it is. Weights, Pilates, and yes, Yoga. My shoulder is healed. (P.S. I love yoga after running – it gets everything stretched out.)

I joined a running club in May and started going to weekly running clinics with interval training. It has made a big difference! The camaraderie of other people, the discipline to incorporate speedwork, the chance to run new routes and the inspiration to try longer distances. I’m up to a solid four miles 3x/week and my goal is a 10K this Fall. Plus, I’ll go for my annual physical in October and see what I hope will be a drop in my cholesterol. I’ll keep you posted about that.

Choosing Peace

img_1076-1

Uttanasana

I am at peace with my not being at peace. This sums up how I feel this New Year’s.

Gradually, year over year over year, I have moved away from setting ambitious goals and resolutions and moved toward setting intentions – to choose to be more happy and open to love, to listen to my heart more than to my ego, to see what is good – not what is lacking.

Of course, I still want to have more money, achieve more success, eliminate meat and sugar, be a better citizen of the world, read more books, stop picking my cuticles, throw away stuff, get organized already, be a better mother, and so on. And on. And on.

I am familiar with these goals and make mild progress on them from time to time. Really though, it is exhausting. Bordering on boring.

But when you really stop and ask: what do we want from life? Isn’t it: To feel joy, experience love, reduce suffering.

Peace. Inner peace, if not world peace.

B.K.S. Iyengar says that Uttanasana is “a boon to people who get excited quickly, as it soothes the brain cells. After finishing the pose, one feels calm and cool, the eyes start to glow and the mind feels at peace.” Indeed.

When, at the height of my mid-life anxiety, I would do forward folds in yoga class, I would weep. Turning inward, calming down from my busy busy busy pursuit of not feeling, I would feel. My hamstrings. My breath. My sadness. Of time passing. Of rejections. Of goals not achieved. Yoga class was the only place I would let myself be still, still enough to feel.

Folding forward is private. You can be with your self. Feeling your body, your breath. Just feeling. Just being.

Now, on the other side of my mid-life anxiety, Uttanasana is a pause. A transition. A comforting place to breathe and reflect. Kind of like New Year’s. When I look back on the last year (or years), I see a woman who is happier, more open, more grateful, more able to laugh, more loving.

Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, can we focus on what we do have? What is good, not what is bad.

As this year has ended with great uncertainty about what our world will be like under President-elect Trump, I have to fight against anxiety, anger, panic, despair. It is easy to succumb to the swirl of anxiety.

I will not contribute to negative energy. I resolve to be a force for love, compassion, and positive change.

I will choose peace.

The Mirror

img_1514

Homework

I am in the middle of a yoga training with Colleen Saidman Yee. She has designed thought-full and specific sequences of poses to enhance or mitigate significant emotions and life transitions. All with a goal of achieving peace and confidence in ourselves, in order to be able to say: I Am Enough.

Our assignment this week, among other things, was to look in the mirror, see ourselves, our souls, and say I Love You. When I looked in the mirror, I felt so silly. Who says that?

Why not? Why don’t we give ourselves permission to love ourselves?

It brings up a long buried memory. I am at the wedding of our neighbor. My first wedding. I am about 8, perhaps. I am wearing a fancy dress and my mother did my hair in her favorite way, pulled back into a top-knot. I feel excited and grown up. At the wedding we are chit-chatting with another neighbor who remarks how pretty I look. Feeling confident and pleased, I respond, “I know!” My parents are embarrassed and scold me. One should be modest and humble, not braggy and conceited. The neighbor smiles indulgently and defends me. But the damage is done. A lifelong struggle with how to be in this world begins. Pretty? Smart? Assertive? Confident? Bossy? Slutty? Ambitious? Bitchy? NICE?

It is more socially acceptable to commiserate: I am so busy. I am so tired. I have so many problems. Or to be self-deprecating: I’m too heavy. I’m too thin. I’m too old. I hate my hair. When was the last time someone asked you “How are you?” and you answered: “I am beautiful, healthy, and strong. I like my job. My kids amaze me. My husband loves me.” Well, dammit, that’s how I am. I’m tired of complaining.

Don’t get me wrong. I could complain! My beauty is one of a middle-aged woman now. My wrinkles, age-spots, thinning eyebrows, and jowls (wtf?) shock me. SHOCK! I am not passionate about my job, but it’s interesting. I wish I had more time for yoga, both practicing and teaching. I’ve been hurt. Badly. A lot. I worry about everything. But… I am who I am and I am enough.

What is beauty anyway? We women are encouraged to meet an impossible external standard. Tall, thin, fit, young. Those of us who come close work very hard to get closer to the standard and feel like failures when we don’t. Those of us who don’t come close work very hard to get closer to the standard and feel like failures when we don’t. Or, we give up. As we get older, perhaps we find more peace with who we are and how we look, but our fading looks are a bittersweet reminder of the fleeting impermanence of youth and of life.

We look in the mirror and see our soul shining through our eyes. The same soul from 50 years ago, from 40 years ago, from 30 years ago, from 20 years ago, from 10 years ago. Real beauty is self-acceptance. Self-confidence. Pride. No more wishing to be someone else. No more wishing to be richer, thinner, smarter, nicer, more successful, more popular, more badass, more happy. We are enough.

Besides, it’s not about me anymore. I want my daughter to be happy and to love herself and to know – really know – her value. If I can’t model that kind of love and confidence for me, what makes me think she can do it for her? If my love for myself is a bit tentative and embarrassed and filled with buts and what-if’s, my love for her is fierce.

Dear girl, you are enough.

Praying for Peace, Again and Again and Again

abstract-peace-sign-2-david-g-paul

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

We’ve been praying for peace for a long time. Since the beginning of time. Over and over again.

When I was a freshman in high school, I struggled with World Civ (and got my worst grade ever, thanks a lot Ms. B.). I just couldn’t wrap my head around the dates and the names and the significant facts. It was dry, boring, irrelevant, to me. I remember my mother exclaiming, “Really? But it’s so interesting! Just think of it. People like you and me living thousands of years ago. Isn’t that amazing?” Yep, mom, as usual, you were right. It just took me a while to get there. You were the age I am now when you said that. It IS amazing. Truly awesome. People like you and me. Living thousands of years ago. Praying for peace.

Elusive peace.

This weekend, I dragged myself to yoga. Exhausted. Sad. It’s the place where I feel peace. I had to go.  As we joined our energy, our breath, our sadness, our hope, our yoga teacher offered her tears and this prayer, from Vedic texts, ancient sacred texts, probably from 1,000 BC or older. I cried at our collective sadness and hope. We’ve been doing this a long time. Praying for peace. May it be.

 

May there be always joy and happiness for everyone.

May the earth be ruled by righteous rulers and in a right way.

May there be welfare for animals and the men and women of wisdom.

May the entire Universe be Love and Peace.

May the rains fall in proper times.

May the earth bear healthy grains.

May this land never know any agitation.

May the men and women of wisdom be always fearless, in their thoughts, in their words, in their actions.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

Peace Peace Peace

Image: Abstract Peace Sign 2 by David G. Paul

What Can I Do?

lake-ripples-rose-rotzler

Ever-Widening Circles of Love

The news is bad. Frightening. Each new crisis pushes yesterday’s crisis below the surface. What about the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram 2 years ago? How are they doing? What about Ray Rice’s wife, Janay Palmer? I heard she was pregnant with their second  child due this Fall. I wonder how she is doing. Is she happy? Is she safe? I wonder.

After skimming (I seem no longer able to read, really read) the latest awful and bizarre highlights from the newspaper, I get hit with an onslaught of more of the same awful and bizarre highlights on my Facebook feed, peppered with articulate and impassioned rants from a variety of people I respect and read. I wonder how I can add value to the fast and furious conversation. It moves too quickly for me to react thought-fully. They are too smart. I am too sad and overwhelmed. I understand why the rants are interspersed with pet videos and yoga poses. Really, how much despair can a person take?

After Orlando. Feeling a mixture of anguish, outrage, and numbness. The most eloquent post popped up. Simple. Not long. “How do we end the hate?”

Well, that’s it, isn’t it? It’s not about terrorism, gun control, or cogent posts. It’s deeper than that. I shut off my phone and reflected. What can I do? Really. I am one person. Busy busy busy in my world. What can I do? Differently. I am not an activist. I am not particularly authoritative about lots of political facts and policy implications. I am quiet. Sensitive. A mother, a marketing executive, a yoga teacher. What can I do?

And then I remembered. My new year’s “resolution.” The one I forgot around January 25th. Greet each person with enthusiasm and joy. Curiosity. Love. That’s it. Simple, right? Look them in the eye, welcome them into my world and open my heart to them.

But it’s not simple. I forget. I get annoyed. I get anxious. I get overwhelmed. I snap. I send off a vibe of “I’m busy busy busy! Leave me alone!” Or worse, I get judgmental. I’m so judgmental. And competitive. You know. I’m more important than you. Or I’m better than you. Or I’m smarter than you. Or I’m more right than you. Ugh! It’s exhausting. And not true. So. Not. True. Being judgmental is a sign that you need to prop yourself up. I don’t need to do that any more. I am good enough.

So, like a meditation practice, when I notice that I’ve forgotten and gone off in some unintended direction, I bring myself back. Maybe gently. More likely with frustration. And greet each person with enthusiasm and joy. Curiosity. Love. Especially my family. They get the brunt of my bad behavior. And maybe, just maybe, if I act with more love and less hate, then maybe, just maybe, the people in my life will also act with more love and less hate. And maybe, just maybe, like water rippling into ever widening circles, there will be a little more love and a little less hate.

That is what I can do.

Image Credit: Lake Ripples by Rosemary Craig

Panic or Exhilaration? Your Choice.

b5

Viparita Dandasana

When I wrote my previous post, I was on a yoga HIGH. So high that I glossed over the moment where I almost had a panic attack. Almost. But didn’t. Maybe that’s why I was so exhilarated?

I’m not prone to panic attacks, so this was unusual, but I do tend to be anxious. Spend a few minutes in my brain around 2:17 am or 8:01 am or 3:33 pm or 9:15 pm and you’d be anxious also. It’s a constant struggle, alternating between worry that I am not good enough, fear that something bad will happen, and fantasizing about an unrealistic future.  It goes something like this:

What if I get fired? I wonder if I could make a living with writing, teaching, and Reiki? What if we lost the house? My husband would leave me. Where would I live? Would I stay in New York or move somewhere else? Back to D.C.? Why isn’t my father answering the phone? What if he is dead? How am I going to deal with the house and all his stuff when he dies? I want to be near the kids. My son thinks I love my daughter more than I love him. I am a terrible mother. How could I let that happen? Dammit. I need sleep! So I don’t lose my job. I’m breathing in. I’m breathing out. Try chanting. Abahu purusakaram. I forgot to water the plants.

And so on. However, after years of therapy and years of yoga, I’ve discovered a secret. For me, anxiety is a habit, a go-to emotion that I can change, not a disability that is inherent in my nature. It’s a learned response based on my upbringing and how my parents dealt with their anxiety and enabled my anxiety. It’s gotten me out of stuff I didn’t want to do and gotten other people to take care of me. And, let’s face it, anxiety is a terrific motivator! (If it doesn’t paralyze you.) We all have anxiety. It’s what we do with it that can make the difference between living a circumspect life versus a more open and courageous life. My biggest fear is that I will die regretting that I didn’t do more. Well, no, my biggest fear is that I will lose a child. And that is the worst anxiety that grips me at 2:17 am.

Back to my almost panic attack. After we worked on lifting our ankles and stretching our armpits, among other things, we did some back-bending poses. Back-bending poses alleviate depression and are exhilarating, though they can increase anxiety. I was a textbook case on Monday. We did a pose, similar to the one pictured above, where we used the chair to support and encourage lengthening and flexibility in the back, opening our chest, throat, and neck.   With a more familiar teacher and class, I might have stopped myself.

Sometimes, you need to get out of your comfort zone and do something different. Hear differently. See differently.

The teacher looked at me as I was wiggling my way into the chair, oh-so-cautiously preparing for the pose. (Frankly I was procrastinating.) He said he thought it might be good for my neck, providing a stretch, not a compression (as in headstand, which I currently don’t do). I was skeptical. And afraid, but proceeded. I got into the pose, and gently let my head lean backwards. My neck, throat, and heart open. Exposed.

That’s when the panic arose.

Whoa! My head is heavy. Body scan. Does this hurt? I don’t think so. But it should hurt! Breath tightens, fear arises. Is it okay? Body scan. Does this hurt? I don’t think so. But it should hurt! Breath tightens, fear arises. Can I get out of the pose? When can I get out of the pose? What if I can’t get out of the pose? Breath tightens, fear arises. Should I ask for help? He’s busy helping other students. Maybe I should get out of the pose. I need help! Breath tightens, fear arises. God Damn Iyengar Yoga. Why do they hold poses for so long? Body scan. Hmmm, maybe it doesn’t hurt. Breathe. I’m breathing in. I’m breathing out. Oh! I think I just felt my ear open up a bit. No, I must get out of this pose. Now! I’m going to regret this tomorrow. What if I really hurt myself? Breathe. Oh! I just felt my neck release. When is this pose going to end? How am I going to lift my head out of this pose without hurting myself? I must get out of this pose. Now! Breathe. I’m breathing in. I’m breathing out. Oh! My neck released some more. Phew. Pose is over. I am not doing it again. There’s no fucking way I’m doing this again. But. How about that. Hmmm. I did it!

That’s when the exhilaration arose.

There is new research released recently that studied the brains of people undergoing stress and anxiety. The brains of highly resilient people were demonstrated to acknowledge the stress and anxiety but to dampen the response. Those who were not resilient, who succumbed to the panic, didn’t respond to the anxiety and the stress until it was too late. Breathing became difficult and they overreacted, making the situation worse. One conclusion is that through mindful breathing exercises, you can become more tuned into your reactions and more able to control your response without overreacting.

Breathe. Feel. Feel fear. Feel panic. Feel exhilaration. Feel love. Feel joy. Breathe.

Photo Credit:  Viparita Dandasana by Bobby Clennell

 

Lift Your Ankles!

downward-facing-dog-lovetta-reyes-cairo

Expand Your Heart

I decided to spend today’s holiday at my office even though it was closed. I have been very anxious about my workload as I more enthusiastically embrace a strategic role that involves interacting with high level decision-makers, not easy for an INFJ who would really be very happy quietly thinking by myself, at least most of the time. It was a good decision. The office was empty and I was able to concentrate and prepare for an upcoming meeting. After 4 hours, which was the equivalent of about 104 hours of a regular day filled with meetings and distracting emails, I decided to balance the day with a yoga class at The Inyengar Institute, a studio that is not particularly convenient so I don’t go very often. It is not my “home” studio and I don’t know the students nor the teachers. It took some coaxing to get myself there.

It was a Level 2 class. You’d think by now, after all these years of practicing yoga and teaching yoga, I’d have advanced to at least a Level 3. But it seems that the more yoga I do, the more I’m aware of how much I can still learn from a Level 1 or Level 2 class. And how unwilling I now am to overdo it in a more advanced class and get hurt.

The class was filled with Manhattan yogi’s. But that doesn’t mean what you might think. They weren’t young, athletic, competitive, flexible. They were Iyengar yogi’s, which are a slightly different breed, mainly older. Perhaps wiser, because they’ve dealt with injury. There were a variety of body types and abilities. What struck me was that everyone stood straight, looked you in the eye, and was welcoming. Iyengar yogi’s. A good bunch.

The teacher, a thoughtful and inspiring Matt Dreyfus, greeted me, listened to me share my physical ailments and quietly observed my anxiety and tension and physical pain. He made sure I was safe the entire class, all while keeping track of about 30 other students.

Class began. A completely normal Iyengar class. Who knows when the completely normal class that might be ho hum for one person feels transformational for another? We chanted. So slowly that the OM reverberated through my body. We started working on poses. In Iyengar Yoga, (unlike Vinyasa where you move and flow dance-like from pose to pose with the breath), you hold poses, using props, and building toward a peak pose. It is perhaps boring. The endless and precise instruction. Or it can be exhilarating. Today it was exhilarating. Matt implored us to lift our ankles! We explored the subtle movements that this entailed. We watched him lift his ankles. We laughed at the absurdity of lifting your ankles. And then we felt how different we felt when we lifted our ankles. How our legs became longer. How our spine became longer. How our chest, our heart, expanded. How our breath moved more freely. Wow.

Then we worked on back-bends, those heart-openers that alleviate depression and remind you that it’s good to be alive. Helpful when so many are dying. We worked with the chair. I found myself slightly panicking. Worried about my neck. Worried I might fall. I breathed into my fear. And felt my neck relax. Exhilarated that I did it.

It reminded me of the power of yoga. When you change your body – Stand up straight! Lift your ankles! Stretch you armpits! Expand your chest! Feel your heart! Soften you eyes and your tongue! – you change your mind. The worries of the day-to-day seem petty when compared to the vastness, the divinity of humanity.

Matt spoke about the purpose of yoga. Most of us are so absorbed in our thoughts and attach great importance to them: worrying, fantasizing, planning, hoping, regretting, wanting. Always wanting. With yoga, we focus on the breath and bring attention to the poses which allows us to take a break from all that chatter in our minds. When we can pause and find stillness, we can begin to observe all those crazy thoughts and begin to realize that they are just thoughts. They are not real. They are biased by our experiences.

He encouraged us to feel spacious. Larger than ourselves, larger than our thoughts. When you feel spacious and larger than just you, you feel connected to others and are more able to stand straight, make eye contact, and be welcoming to all. You take your yoga off the mat and into your world. A little bit closer to Martin Luther King’s dream of freedom for all.

Drawing:  Downward Facing Dog by Lovetta Reyes-Cairo

Sankalpa

heart-of-gold-2-shannon-grissom

May I Be Open

Thank God Christmas is over! Too much food, too many people, too much to do. The austerity of cold and bracing January beckons. Hunker down and resolve to achieve. After all, disciplined effort is where I excel.

Funny though, how all those years of new year’s resolutions haven’t made me happier. I am still the same person at my core. Intense, curious, anxious, becoming happier, more relaxed, more generous and loving and confident. My cuticle-picking has improved slightly. (Good God, I remember resolving to not pick my nails back in college. I’m DONE with that resolution!) I don’t need to lose weight (disciplined effort is where I excel), and I’ve cut out all the meat I’m going to cut out.

So, what’s on deck for 2016? Goals? Teach more yoga! Become a Reiki Master! Take my blog to the next level! Meditate, every day! Learn to sing a new song every month! Write more thank you notes! Yes, good goals. I will work towards them. But they are still outward-facing, achievement-oriented goals with tasks attached.

What if, instead of deprivational lifestyle changes or ambitious goals that imply I am not good enough or have not achieved enough, I started with the premise that I am good enough? Just as I am? Perfect in my imperfection? What would I do?

What if you are good enough, just as you are? What would you do?

Maybe I would smile more. Laugh more. Be more open and inviting to other people. Worry and complain less. Judge less. Compete less. Say Thank You more. Forgive.

Maybe I wouldn’t need to gossip or provoke other people to gossip in order to feel good about myself. Maybe I could simply accept other people for who they are and where they are on their journey, right now, instead of wishing they were different or would change. Because maybe they are good enough just as they are. Imperfectly perfect.

What a relief!

There is a fragile moment of choice before acting. It’s a choice between being open and shutting down. Making eye contact or looking straight ahead. Saying yes or saying no. Choosing to scorn with judgment or empathize with compassion. We rely on habitual patterns of behavior and thought and expectations of what we should do or should think. But what if, at that moment of choice before acting, I checked in with my heart and gut and listened. Choosing compassion, honesty, joy, love. To decide to do the right thing, for me, not the expected thing.

There is a girl. She is painfully introverted and socially awkward. I see her walking in her bubble with her earbuds. She’s odd. Perhaps her parents are odd. It’s easy to judge, to laugh, to scorn. I’ve been that girl. With the odd parents. Afraid to make eye contact. Hoping no one notices me. They will think I’m weird! Maybe they are dangerous! How much happier I would have been if I had worried less, feared less, and smiled more, greeting my fellow humans with openness. When I put myself in her shoes, I want to smile and wave, somehow convey to her that she is okay. But she looks down and I keep my safe distance.

There is a yoga concept, Sankalpa. It means to make a promise to yourself. To resolve to act. Act on your most innermost desire, according to your life purpose. It honors that you are imperfectly perfect just as you are. That you will make mistakes. Like meditation and yoga, you will come back to the breath and try again. While it might involve breaking a negative habit, like nail-picking, or creating a new habit, like meditating daily, it comes from a deeper place of resolve from within, to love and be your best you. You need to be very still and listen to your soul to determine your sankalpa.

So, this year, instead of wishing I were something other than I am, I will pause in that fragile moment. Remember that I have a choice. I will listen to me, not what I think others expect. I will reach out to others more and worry about myself less.

Perhaps, just perhaps, it is as simple as what my friend posted about what she has learned from her dog. (Thank you Kirsten.)

Life Lessons from Beau

Wake up each morning convinced it’s going to be the best day EVER. Become giddy with excitement each time someone you love enters the room. Go for as many walks as possible. But don’t growl at the cat, because that’s not nice.

Oh, and when I forget, I will be kind. Kind to myself, kind to others, kind to my family. (It’s so easy to forget to be kind to one’s family – when really, we should greet them with giddy excitement every time we see them, like Beau.) And when I forget, I will try again.

Credit:  Heart of Gold 2, by Shannon Grissom

Comfort Food

IMG_2257

Jangled

I’m a little jangled right now. My son started his first day of 11th grade, which I dealt with by feeling overwhelmed with stress on the work front. My daughter leaves tomorrow for her second year of college, which leaves me feeling excited, proud, melancholy, and old. Less stressful than Year 1, but still emotional. I took a too-hard, too-crowded, too-much-rap-music (wtf?) yoga class, which made me angry and tearful: My hip is cranky; who are these people who CAN do this class? Clearly I am getting too old. Maybe I will just sing and knit and get fat. Yowza!

Jangled.

Thursday night, I dreamt that my pet parakeet had a new water dispenser and I realized that she could drown in it if I didn’t watch over her at all times. Do you think I am worried about my children? As our pediatrician counseled us at baby-proofing stage, only half-joking: “Never let them out of your sight.”

Friday night, I dreamt that my hair suddenly was much grayer. I wondered if I should begin to color it, debating between being my authentic self and not wanting to look too old. Do you think I am worried about aging? Who IS that woman in the mirror and what did she do with my 35-year-old self?

When doing some back-to-school errands with my daughter, someone made a strange turn at an intersection. I thought about my son beginning to drive and was overcome with the dangers of driving and the fear of losing them to an accident. Which would be devastating.  Which led me to musing at how wonderful both my children are. Precious, good, honest, empathetic, better than me, better than my husband. How is it possible that these two amazing human beings are my children? Which led me me to tears at a stop light. Praying that they survive the dangers of everyday living.  Overcome with love and gratitude.

Jangled.

Clearly, I am in need of some comfort food. The problem is that traditional comfort foods (Macaroni and Cheese, Oreos and Milk, Pot Roast with Gravy) are too rich. I don’t enjoy these foods. I feel too guilty.  And too full.  For me, comfort food is simple and easy, includes favorite childhood foods, can be eaten in large quantities, and is healthily guilt-free.

When I was a little girl, we had a neighbor with an extensive garden who would let me eat tomatoes warm off the vine. They were perhaps the most delicious food ever. I never tire of good tomatoes but am usually frustrated that they never live up to my memory of those garden tomatoes.  Every summer, my mother would make a simple salad of tomatoes and avocado.  She must be one of the first people who put together a simple composed salad without any lettuce. Who needs lettuce!

The local tomatoes have been pretty good this summer. And, ballerina-eating-trick: you can eat vast quantities of tomatoes without incurring a lot of calories. No need for lettuce, the tomatoes form a delicious base for salads and require minimal dressing. While I don’t eat very much meat any more, I do love chicken and indulge in it occasionally.  This is one of my favorite go-to salads and is what I had for lunch on this day of mixed and jangled emotions.

Grilled Chicken Salad with Yogurt Vinaigrette

  • 1 small grilled chicken breast
  • ½ cup leftover brown rice
  • ½ beefsteak tomato
  • ½ avocado
  • Corn, cut from 1 leftover cob (I always make extra corn on the cob for leftovers)

Dice everything into roughly equal sized small pieces. If you are OCD, like me, you can even make sure that you have the same number of pieces of each ingredient, insuring that each bite has a little bit of everything.

Yogurt Vinaigrette

  • 2 Tablespoons plain greek yogurt (ballerina-eating-trick: Replace some fats with plain greek yogurt. Adds tang and has fewer calories and fat. I use plain greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise on sandwiches.)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar

Whisk together and spoon over salad.

1 large salad for lunch – good for jangled nerves, especially if you share the salad with your college-bound daughter.

Striving For Contentment

IMG_0747

Summer Vacation

We have done some variation on the family beach trip every year. My daughter is 19 and my son is 16. That’s a lot of memory-making. Each year we bring the previous years with us, hanging on to our favorite experiences and recreating what we can of those good times. Each year, though, we are a little different, a little older, a little shifted in a new direction. Last year’s trip, or that really fun one from years ago, cannot be recreated. Each year builds on the past and is a bridge to the next year.

The week always puts the kids growth and maturation into sharp – shocking – relief. Remembering a year ago, or five years ago, stuns me. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was sitting in the shade of an umbrella with an infant son and a bright little girl? Now I am going for long walks with my daughter, a beautiful young woman who amazes me with her bright light. Listening to her sort out her thoughts and aspirations. Counseling her when I can, but mainly listening and loving her, in awe of her humanity.

It’s humbling to have lived through 53 summers. I feel every one of them this year, each making me who I am – the quiet and sensible one who occasionally surprises everyone by dashing spontaneously into the ocean – not the funny one, not the gregarious one. A little sad, a little more relaxed than I was as a young woman, but a little more urgent about not wasting time. After all, how many more summer beach trips will we have together?

When I travel, I make a point of taking a yoga class at a local studio. No matter where I go, I feel at home in a yoga studio. The rituals are the same. Take off your shoes. Set up your mat. Breathe. Move into the familiar poses. Listen to the teacher. I usually hear something in a new way from a different teacher as I listen to my body. Be. Me. This particular beach vacation morning, I knew I needed the grounded familiarity of yoga and snuck off to a class. The studio had Angel Cards. I had never experienced Angel Cards before. I figured it would be fun and was mildly curious as to what I would get. You close your eyes and reach into the bowl and pick a card. What would it be? Wisdom, Birth, Healing? Something powerful and inspirational I was sure. I closed my eyes, stirred the cards, and picked one. Contentment. Contentment? Contentment?! Boring. I laughed and said, “Well, that was not the card I was expecting.” The teacher wisely said, “It usually isn’t.” Indeed.

But, that’s my work. Especially on vacation. How can I be content? Happy with what is instead of unhappy with what isn’t. How can I appreciate where we are right now and not wish for it to be different, longer, more joyful and not dread the end of vacation and the return to another busy busy busy school year and the constant challenge of work.

My 16-year-old son, who likes to stay up late and sleep in, made a firm determination that he wanted to see the sun rise while on vacation. The youngest of the extended family group sharing the beach house this year, he was the one who had (perhaps) most changed, at least in obvious ways, shifting from boy to young man in the last year and taking his place with the men of the family. The first morning, he came down to the porch around 6:45 and learned that you can’t see the sun rise from our porch view. He took some photos on his phone but was teased that he must have taken these photos at noon because the day was already so bright.

He set his ambition with more commitment. He researched the time of sunrise. 6:42 am. We discussed whether this meant the sun would emerge at 6:42 or whether the sun would be fully above the horizon at 6:42. We shared some stories of sunrise watching and sunset watching, considering the benefits of each. He resolved that he would get up at 5:30 so as not to miss a speck of the dawn. I insisted that that was too early, but he was quite adamant. His plan was set. Everyone wished him well and went to bed, pretty sure none of us would be joining him at 5:30 and pretty sure he would not emerge that early either.

Around 6:20 am, I jolted awake, the slight shift in light through the window rousing me. I tiptoed out of bed and down the stairs to get him. He was already gone! Really? Proud and excited, I gazed out from the porch and saw a slender figure in the distance sitting on the beach. He had made it. I headed down the stairs and over the dunes toward that lone figure. When I got there, we knowingly smiled at each other, sharing in the quiet beauty of the moment. The clouds at the horizon were gray, purple, pink, orange, the light gently spreading across the expanse. We gazed. And waited. Waited and waited. Like watching a pot of water prepare to boil. We waited some more. The clouds were heating up with a burning glow. You could see where the spot would be. We gazed and stared and waited some more. Finally – suddenly – the crescent sun peeked above the clouds. Then steadily and quickly rose. There it was! A new day, new hope, new beginnings. I did a sun salutation dance and babbled on about how this was the real meaning of “awesome.” But my son put it best, using a word I had never heard him say before. Majestic. The rising of the sun was majestic.

Filled with awe and love, how could I not be content?

Another vacation, another year is behind us. It was an important week. A week of growth and love and sadness and nostalgia and intimacy and connection and hope. With glimmers of an elusive contentment. It was the kind of week that builds memories as we all grow older by another year.

Photo Credit:  Aidan Murphy

%d bloggers like this: