How Much Wood Can a Woodchuck Stack

I’d never survive on a chain gang. I can only do about 20 minutes of manual labor before I have an overwhelming need to lie down and read my book. It’s not that I’m lazy or physically lacking, I just don’t care for long stints of repetitive activity.

Stacking wood and grating cheese come to mind.

3 years ago I decided to count the logs as I looked at the pile dropped in the middle of the driveway.

It took me a couple of afternoons at 20 minutes a pop. 

There are 540 pieces in a cord of wood.

2 years ago there was no way I was getting into the garage until 2 cord were stacked. Back to counting. Looks like we got a couple of fat cords the total was 1084.

Last year as soon as 3 cords were unloaded we got 8 inches of snow. No garage and no plowing until they got moved. This was manual labor at its worst. It had to be a rush job so I allowed myself to be shamed into longer stretches by Honey Bun.

In order to get through this I relied on the old yoga adage of “Be in the Moment”.

I became an automaton.  I didn’t need to count. I needed to do my job. I mean I needed to just “be”.

I focused on the smell of the wood, the snow melting into my gloves, and the numbness of my fingers. It turns out that I have trouble keeping track of the tally when I can’t stop when I need to.  At least I could count all the bruises on my arms, legs and feet.

I wouldn’t necessarily say being in the moment made it any more palatable but at least I didn’t lie down on the job and pull everyone down with me.

This year as the first cord was dropped I decided that it’s okay to count while being in the moment. Any yogi knows that counting your breath can be helpful in class, why not off the mat?

Off and out I went.

When the kid arrived about 30 minutes later with the second load, I proudly said “I’ve stacked 100 logs!”

He looked a little blank.

“Did you know there are 540 logs in a cord?” I continued.

Still blank.

“One year I counted 1084 in two cords!” I added hoping to get some sort of response.

“It’s not that I’m checking up on you or anything”, I added lamely.

“That’s weird” he said as he pulled the lever and the second cord dropped onto the first.

“NOOOOOOOOOOO!” I said to myself. Now the two cords were one big one. I really wanted to test the 540 hypothesis but then again I can work with 1084. Not to worry, one more cord to come and I’ll make sure to keep it separate.

The next day Sister Dee was at the house kindly taking care of Georgia the dog. As I drove up she was stacking wood. I could feel slight panic in my chest.

“Nine, ten!”, she announced as I got out of the car.

“Are you sure” I asked tentatively.

“Pretty sure. Brother Had helped earlier, not sure if he counted” she added.

Okay I still have one untouched cord to go. 

Yesterday I was up to 310. By my visual estimation the tally was going to be spot on again. No sooner had I gone inside to glance at my book when two friends arrived dressed like professional stackers in red and green plaid jackets. 

“We’re here to help!”, they announced proudly.

I wasn’t sure how to go about asking them to count logs so I casually said, “Did you know there are 540 logs in a cord?” 

I hoped for “Oh wow! That’s so cool what are you up to now?”

Instead I got,“Oh man, don’t tell us that”.

That was it. No solid counting data this year but at least I can get my car into the garage.

Time to make quesadillas for dinner. I bought pre-shredded cheese.

Namaste, no more wood to stack hooray!

Photo Shoot

“I like this one” Dee said; “You look like a realtor.”

“You mean I look professional, trustworthy, conscientious…?”

“Well sort of”, she replied.

My friend is a photographer and he posts photos on line to promote his new business. I saw one that made my heart stop. Many of his do but this one caught me.

I only know the subject peripherally. He’s a business man and a good one, however, I’ve never seen the twinkle, that I’m sure his family and friends know well, in real life or on camera before. A handsome, smiling man in a suit made me grin.

Maybe the photographer could capture something in me that few people have ever seen or noticed before:

Professionalism, trustworthiness, compassion, patience, forgiveness, or understanding. Are those looks that can be captured?

Dee said she can always tell when I think someone is full of sh*t because one eye gets funny.

“Quit smirking” means Mom knows what I was thinking.

Honeybun leaves the room quietly when I get a certain look.

I’m not sure what those looks look like.

I should have brushed my hair.

I should have put on makeup.

I should have made Dee come with me. She could have of given instructions: “Look happy, sad, mad, irritated, scared, unsure, confident.”

I should have made all of those faces so I could see what others see.

Instead I laughed at the camera because I had no choice. I laughed at me because I’m funny. Here I am at a photo shoot pretending I know why I’m here.

“Can I put your picture on my website?”, my friend asked after.

“Only if I look really good. Not that I’m vain but… I don’t want people to think I think I should be getting my picture taken…I mean it may seem I’m being …ah…whatever.”

“Do you want to check it out first?”, he asked kindly.

“Yeah, that would be good.”

The next day my grandmother and I looked through old knitting books.

“I had a beautiful Norwegian sweater like this once. Such intricacies in the patterns” she mused.

“Look at this one! Get a load of the model!” I said somewhat unkindly.

“Speaking of which let me show you the photos from the shoot”

“Oh, lovely!”, she said while looking at the file.

I smiled to myself.

“Look at the colors!”

I smiled again. Maybe she could see that one of my eyes is more green than blue.

“It looks like a difficult pattern.”

Wait? What?

She assumed we were still discussing knitting patterns and was referring to the shirt I was wearing.

Now that I think about it, I never really noticed that before. It’s a nice shirt. It would make a great sweater.

Laryngitis

I got laryngitis the day after I got fired. It was a first for both experiences. My eyes felt reptilian. The combination of hysterical tears, laughter and glugging had done me in. Honeybun prodded me out of bed, “Come on. You need to go to the Unemployment Office, let’s get this over with”.

We stopped at his sister’s market store on the way to get some coffee. She welcomed us with her ever-present smile and exclaimed “I can’t believe it, you have a day off…together for once!”

“Looks like there will be many of them” I croaked, “I got cast out, crushed, canned.”“She also lost her voice” Honeybun added.

Sister Robin rummaged through her bag and pulled out a well-worn book held together with a rubber band. “This book explains all the reasons for ailments and injuries. Let’s see… ‘Laryngitis: too angry to speak, resentful of authority, frustration at not being listened too’” she read. That just about nailed how I felt.

“It’s important that you tell yourself positive affirmations to help get through this.” she advised.

“Like how fricken lucky I am not to have so many unpaid days off?” I asked sourly. “Not exactly” she replied cautiously.

The Unemployment Office was packed. I wondered how many others had the inability to speak clearly. I tried to remember all of the things I was instructed to bring up according to the Human Resources Department. Severance pay, insurance, personal days? I felt a blurry membrane cover my eyes and brain.

When called I entered the cubicle filled with figurines, postcards and souvenirs.  The woman behind the desk was quite the collector and she looked remarkably like my ex mother-in-law.  Unfortunately no posters of positive affirmations on the walls.

“How much did you make in a day?” She asked without looking up. (The woman behind the desk was the splitting image of my ex- mother-in-law.)

“Uh, I’m not sure.” I answered dimly.

“A week?” She sighed.

“I’m on salary…uh…was.”

“We need the weekly figure before taxes” she sighed again.

“Is a salary based on 52 weeks exactly? Some of the time I took off wasn’t paid so it may be more like 50 weeks. Do you have a calculator?” I asked meekly.

She pulled a solar powered calculator out of her pocketbook. Good God, even I had an electric one on my desk in my old office.

“You’ll receive around $200 per week but not until your vacation time is up which is in 5 day intervals unless you want to appear in front of the board. In that case you fill out paperwork for 3 to 4 weeks, go on job searches, which you don’t legally have to do. Even then you will get denied” she said officiously.

I had no idea what she was talking about.

“In other words I should come back in a few weeks? “I’m sorry, I’ve never done this before” I said weakly. If my eyes glazed over any more I wouldn’t be able to shut them. Some hotshot I was. After decades in the ski industry, eventually overseeing 200 employees and a million dollar budget, I couldn’t understand how to go on the dole.

Tears and a wavering voice did the trick. The iceberg of a woman started to melt. “Okay honey, I’ll hold your paperwork and you come back here April 27” she soothed.

April 27, when the hell is that? I hope it isn’t during our trip to Florida.

Then again that vacation may have to be put on hold. I thanked her as I slunk out of her cubicle.

I woke up the next morning with much clearer eyes and voice. During the night I decided to turn the part time kid’s creative dance classes I taught into a full time job. Figuring out the intricacies of the unemployment system was not in the plan. I practiced positive affirmations.

“I shed the skin of my old life.”

“I’m calm.”“I’m my best boss.”

“I create my own happiness.”

Sometimes events that appear to ruin our lives do just the opposite. Twenty years ago, through Hullabaloo Danceshop, I found my voice. Yoga has helped me keep it.

Namaste- Affirmations and Transformation are here to stay.

July 6, 2018

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Here We Are.

“Well here we are”, said Mom as we drove out of the driveway on Monday morning at 5am.

“What does that mean?”, chortled Dee from the back seat. Hysteria set in. I should have gone to the bathroom one more time before getting behind the wheel. We were on our way to Kentucky to see Mom’s sisters.

To say it was a command performance negates the fact that the 3 of us get along beautifully, but performance it was. Mom wanted to go and we wanted to be with her. Northerners, (in our family) have to perform for the Southerners at times. More like we need to prove the Northern relatives aren’t a bunch of dimwits, and power comes in numbers.

We have a hard time sitting and talking but we appreciate good stores and good food. Southern stores, Southern food.

We had our roles to play. Mom was the Big Sister (BS). Dee was the advisor (A). I was the driver (D).

The Advisor bucked up the Big Sister and the Driver spoke when spoken to.

“You are the BS, you call the shots”, reminded A.

“Wait…does that mean I get to call the shots with you?” asked D.

“Turn left for the mall”, said BS and A.

Funny how short that conversation was.

When the discussion got political,

“Not going there”, said A.

“Preaching to the choir”, added D.

“I wonder if it was wise to bring the girls”, thought BS.

“You are going to take off that awful jean jacket before we go to the party aren’t you?”, asked Sister T.

D nodded and wondered if her dress, without the jacket, would make her look fat. (Yup.)

A smirked.

BS ignored it all.

“I want chicken for dinner “, announced A.

“Not KFC I hope”, said the Southerner.

“Of course not”, said A, D and BS.

Luckily our cuz suggested a place started by the Colonel’s ex-partner. His contribution to the secret recipe may have included cooking the chicken until it was bone dry but it sure was good.

BS showed a sense of humor, diplomacy and kindness throughout.

A exhibited an uncanny ability to set up challenges. “Hey D, how many times can you include the word kale into the conversation”.

D focused on not having anxiety attacks while driving on 4 lane highway cloverleafs.

BS and D equate their ability to keep relatively calm due to yoga. A got it from osmosis. (Power in numbers.)

So what if you have nothing to talk about besides your children or kale?

So what if your outfit isn’t quite right?

So what if your dinner isn’t up to snuff?

So what if your flight gets cancelled and you are stuck at the Philadelphia airport?

Things happen and then then they are over.

Life is funny, I mean really funny.

When you take a moment to analyze impatience, insults, or irritation, you can always find humor.

Would you rather laugh or cry?

Here we are, but not forever.

Make the most of every moment.

Namaste- our Southern relatives are AOK!

hush puppies

Friends Shmends

They say you can’t pick your family but you can pick your friends. I’m not so sure about that.

I really, really, really wanted to be friends with the guy running the conference I attended last year. He was funny, intelligent and had some great information to share. I was pretty sure he’d notice the same things about me.

Nope.

Through the week the obvious lack of connection with me was disappointing. Minimal eye contact and a sense of impatience during discussions was obvious.

I closed up, slumped, grimaced and sulked. It didn’t help.

I was dismayed and hurt. Then I got pissed.

Who the f*ck did he think he was?

The painful physical and emotional sensations reminded me of a tumultuous break up 30 years ago as well as the time my “best friend” made me cry in front of our 7th grade class.

It wasn’t pleasant then or now.

After many hours of yoga and energy work I’m learning I can control how I respond in situations that aren’t going as planned. I can only offer my true self, take what I need, aim for understanding and hope for the best.

Academically and philosophically Speaker Man has a lot to offer. So as any “enlightened” person would do, I checked in with the family of girls living inside my heart and we decided to go back for more a year later.

“Okay everyone, it’s time to walk the talk”, said Big Girl.

“Is it possible he was in a bad relationship before and things will be different this time because I have a nice smile?”, asked Middle Girl.

“Nah, I bet he still acts like a dick”, growled Little Girl.

“Hey, watch it you”, Big and Medium said at the same time.

For days LG sat quietly although it wasn’t easy for her. She was pretty certain the guy hadn’t changed much.

“No one knows what’s going on in another person’s head”, BG announced after a few, slightly uncomfortable days passed.

“Maybe he is attracted to me and wants to maintain a professional distance “, added MG hopefully.

“Nah, he’s just irritated that we aren’t oohing and ahhing over everything he says”, groused LG.

“Hey, knock it off”, admonished BG and MG.

BG continued, “Let’s get the most we can out of this and let go of feelings of sadness and rejection”.

“I’m game”, agreed MG, “some relationships aren’t meant to be. Can you imagine my initials if I stayed with that loser boyfriend? A.S.P.”!

LG took a bit more time to respond. “Okay. This whole thing makes me sad but not as much as you guys make me happy”.

I picked my family. I also picked the best out of a person who didn’t want to be picked as a friend. No loss, more gained.

Namaste- maybe I’ll friend him on Facebook what the hay!

Friends

 

Assuming makes one an….,

I have a scrap box. It’s more convenient than a scrapbook. Just toss in clippings, photos, a 1/2 filled baby book. Had still has his completed one. Dee is saving her unmarked one for my nieces Who or Loo. Evidently baby books weren’t a high priority.

I’m pretty good at culling through bookshelves and closets but this box is staying intact and current, and will be until I’m dead and gone. My nieces will be fascinated to read that Dewey and I played guitar for the Garden Club when we were in 5th grade. They will wonder why I was wearing a dirndl.

A few decades back the local paper had a front page photo of an adorable, smiling, child forming her first snowplow on skis. Her tips are being held together by a faceless woman, showing a fair bit of her lumbar spine. In the ’80s, short jackets were the most popular and impractical of ski school uniforms.

The caption read “Young skier enjoying the delights of winter, instructed by Alexandra Smith, age 30”. Not only was my rear end named but it was aged incorrectly. I was 29 for another 10 months.

During that time I hung out with the big girls, the ones in their thirties. I was considered the youngster of the group, so always got great advice. My boss and good friend Doji said “When you’re in your 20’s people always ask you what you’re going to do with your life. In your 30’s they figure you know. After that it doesn’t matter”.

What a relief to know that in 10 months I would know…something…maybe. Let’s not rush it.

At 3am when I have nothing better to do, I flip through my mental rolodex of Questionable Behavior and Situations for something to dwell on.

So far I’ve found Rear End listed under the letters R, A, B and C.

Why did the reporter put a name and age to a body part and not to the star of the shoot? No matter how I spin it I can’t come up with a positive reason for her naming my ass. How many people said, “I’d know that butt anywhere”? Was it said in a funny or mean way? I wonder if it was a passive aggressive thing. Then again maybe she had nothing to do with it.

I’ll never know.

Through yoga I realize we don’t have control over how people view or feel about us. We do have control over assuming we know what people are thinking. And we all know what happens when we assume.

We also have control whether or not we care what others think.

What if  Who or Loo, chuck out the scrap box without looking at it once my ashes are floating around? What if I remain a memory as the aunt who stops by, says hello and immediately checks their frig for leftovers?

I’ll never know.

What I do know is that I save clippings (for now) to remind me that I am a participant of this world. Perhaps it’s a reminder that I love my family, I love to to teach, I love to ponder. And I love to laugh. It’s all in the box.

I saved an envelope sent to me by my aunt in the ’60s. It was addressed to Alexander Braddersnitch, Dorset, VT!

I wonder if the postmaster said “I always knew Alexandra Bradish Smith was a Russian”.

Then again I’ll never know.

Namaste- the cat’s in the box and wants to play.

Ski Teacher

Acorns Keep Fallin’ On My Head

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow. Rumour has it the origins of this proverb come from England. Big things can come from small beginnings. Everyone knows that.

Well not everyone. I read a guest blogger’s post on a VIY (very important yogi’s) website. The author described the massive amount of acorns she noticed while walking amongst the maple trees. Maybe it was a typo.

Nope.

The fact that she brought it up again at the end of the essay made it clear that she wasn’t aware that maple trees don’t drop acorns.

”This can’t be right”, I said to myself and Georgia.

“Where was the editor? How could someone let this misinformation slip past?”

I got so worked up that I felt sick. I think I made the dog sick too with my pacing and ranting.

When I met with my dear mental health guide a few days later, yes days, I was still in a tizzy.

”Are you upset at the content or method of delivery?”, she asked.

”Both”,  I barked.

”This woman had the opportunity to reach thousands of people but no one checked to see if she was going to sound like an idiot doing so.”

”You sound judgmental,” she said without judgment.

With a slow and steady breath I managed to respond with ”Well, yes, I guess I am” rather than retort with “Am not”.

I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to cry or feel shame so I chose neither. (That’s a first.)

So this is what being judgmental is all about.

All this time I thought it was when you read a book by its cover.

I didn’t feel judgmental but I did feel

-jealous because the author was on this massive platform,

-admiration because she went through the process to do so,

-irritation at the lack of attention to nature facts,

-protective of this person who had no editing support.

Talk about a can of mixed nuts and emotions. No wonder I felt sick.

Feed a cold, starve a fever.

Feed judgment, starve empathy.

Today, my other mental health advisor, Bliss said, ”Einstein said ’Those who have the privilege to know have the duty to act’”.

Good point.  Should I have sent a comment or correction?

Maybe.

Then again who am I, Euell Gibbons?

Namaste- wild hickory nuts taste like hay.

PS – All spelling and grammatical errors are due to poor editing and me pretending to be a Brit.

Acorns

Beauty is in the Eye of…oh whatever.

The cosmetic store was pretty empty. Apparently I’m one of the few in need of some makeup help today. My friend Nadia’s teenage daughter recommended a bronzer as something to use throughout the day to touch things up. God knows I need something.

The young saleswoman who pulled the short straw came over to offer assistance.

“I’m looking for a bronzer”, I said with authority.

She took me over to a section that didn’t look any different from the one in front of us, just different containers. She handed me a Kindergarten sized crayon. I started applying it to my cheeks. “Whoa, this is a bit dark”, I murmured.

“You don’t put it on your cheeks, you draw a number 3 from the middle of your forehead, out to your ear, back into the cheekbone and back out and around your chin on both sides of your face. You accentuate where you want contour and definition.”

This takes paint by numbers to a new level.

“I’m not sure that I want to define anything. I just want to look…uh…(pretty, perky, pulled together?)…uh…more consistent.” She walked me to another area. How was she choosing our path? Why don’t I ask her? It’s like when the salesperson says “That color makes your eyes pop!”.

Why? How?

I recently read that when going for a make-over you should find someone with your coloring and age. I wish I’d known that when I got the last one. He was an attractive, young, African American, gay man. The only thing we had in common was that we were both wearing shoes.

I don’t think I was clear enough about that fact that I don’t wear much makeup generally, have no reason to, and tend to forget what goes where. It was more like a 40 year old’s rite of passage. He was quite pleasant though and deserved his sizable commission.

Yoga encourages us to accept ourselves and that takes steady and consistent practice. Change and impermanence is a given. Physical abilities, appearances and attitudes can be altered in a second. Anyone who has slipped on the ice knows that, especially if you land on your face.

Practice means we work to control thoughts in our minds that feed impatience, irritation and irritability. Sometimes we need help, kind words from a friend, advice from a mentor, palette recommendations from a makeup artist.

A new shade of lipstick allows the mind to say “Okay the color looks great. Now can we focus on what comes out of your mouth not what goes on it?”.

Applying bronzer takes practice. Applying patience, calmness,  and kindness is, frankly, easier.

Reminder to self: You are not a beautiful, teenage redhead.

Namaste- I think pink is the shade of the day!

 

 

 

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Word Play

I called Mom to wish her a pleasant journey. She and Dee are heading south for a short vacation.

“Have a great time near the sea while I watch for school cancellations”, I said.

“Oh I’m sure we will. I love you. Behave yourself”, she replied.

“I love you too. Bye.”

Wait? What?

I called her right back.

“Did you say behave yourself?”

“Well, yes I guess I did.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”

“Okay…bye”

“Bye.”

I called Dee immediately and asked where Mom was.

“In the kitchen eating toast, why?”

“She told me to behave myself.”

“Yeah, I heard that. Sure am glad she didn’t say that to me.”

I called Had seconds later.

“You won’t believe what Mom said to me.”

I told him.

“I’ve never heard her utter those words before”, he spoke soberly.

I’m not sure if his intention was to make me feel better or not. Dee’s response needs no explanation.

Although Mom’s advise was out of character it obviously hit home.

Do I need to be reminded to act properly? To not throw a hissy fit in public?

Behaving is about accepting what is happening and doing whatever it takes to calm things down, internally and externally. It’s learning how to not push buttons, our own and those of others.

We can find the most inane things to get furious about, fastening a bracelet, opening up a jam jar, remaining in a Yin pose for hours.

The practice of yoga reminds us that we are human beings trying to do our best.

When we feel strong, steady, patient and calm, things are okay.

When our balance is off, the teacher or music bugs us, or we can’t stop checking the time, things aren’t so good. We misbehave and have inner tantrums. We gripe, grouse and grumble.

An anagram for yourself is “lose fury”.

Maybe Mom was reminding me through word play to behave if I feel slighted, irritated or ignored, let it go, lose fury.

Funny we aren’t much of a word play family…I wonder why Dee and Had didn’t need a reminder?

Namaste- “sane mat” by the way!

Phoney Phone Calls

Had works at the local ski area.

During the busy holiday times, when Dee and I aren’t working as hard as he is, we take turns calling him with phoney phone calls. It was her idea, a way to lighten up his harried day.

Her best:

“We have reservations for Christmas vacation, can you give me directions from Chicago to Vermont?”

When he lists off highway numbers and exits she looses it. If he was serious then he is an excellent customer service representative. If he knew it was Dee then he’s a good brother playing along.

My best:

“Hello may I help you?”

“Yes. Do you do birthday parties?

“Uh, What?”

“I have 10 four year old kids and I’d love to do a skiing birthday party.”

(Pause from Had….a long pause…. ) “Perhaps I can connect you with marketing…”

“It would be great if you could wear a costume, something with antlers,” I add.

(Pause from Had. Choking sounds from me.)

“Okay Alexandra…”

I laughed so hard and long that I thought he hung up.

He was just patiently waiting for me to get over myself.

Had started this family practice, back in the 60’s, when he and the boy next door enacted mini dramas over the phone to some poor chump, before caller ID.

“Hey Joe, meet me behind Russel’s store in town. I’ve got the stuff.” (BND whispers.)

(Had shoots off a cap gun.)

“Ahhh, they got me!”

(Hang up phone.)

Sometimes the gun needed more than one pull of the trigger to produce the desired effect. Still, it was impressive.

While in college I made a tape to play once my father picked up the phone. I didn’t trust myself to keep a straight face or voice.

“Hello, is this Charlie Smith? (Pause- allowing him to respond.)

“If you can name this tune in 7 notes you will win a Ford Pinto!”

(I play the first 7 notes of “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” on my Casio calculator.)

As expected he guesses the song in about 3 notes because he sings it every morning.

“Oh What a Beautiful Morning!” , he yells. (Song keeps playing.)

“ I said Oh What a Beatiful….” (He’s cut off)

“I’m sorry, time’s up. It was “Oh What a Beautiful Morning”. Better luck next time”

I hit the stop button and hang up.

I have to thank Dee, Had, Hopper and the boy next door for inspiration, ideas, and the ability to prank and graciously be pranked to this day.

Unfortunately phoney phone calls aren’t the innocent fun they started out as. Now most are methods for scamming and stealing.

Ahimsa, the second Yama means non stealing. It doesn’t refer solely to robbing stores, taking things that don’t belong to us or taking advantage of the elderly. Nor is it just wasting someone’s time complaining, boasting, or being late. It includes the taking of ideas.

Theft brings sadness, confusion, anger, envy and frustration.

Fortunately it is easily remedied by giving credit where credit is due.

Show respect, honor and gratitude for those who inspire you. Maybe it’s a teaching technique, business advice, an idea, a joke or good deed.

Be a borrower and a lender of thoughts and ideas. Be a giver of credit. If we practice this there is no need for theft.

Namaste… is your refrigerator running?