Lookin’ for Trouble

The majority of the time I enjoy whatever I’m doing at the moment. Writing, reading, eating, drawing, and watching rabbits play in the yard is easy. 

It takes a little more effort to find something positive when getting a colonoscopy, replacing a dental crown, grating cheese, or taking a stand up paddle board yoga class.

The pond was about 3 feet deep so any fear of drowning was minimized. However, I don’t like unexpected falls, and watching others attempt to stand on their heads and then joyously flop into the water was disconcerting.

How am I supposed to know where to put my feet? Doing yoga in a bathing suit is obscene. Does she even see me floating away? Did he just blow his nose into the water?

My discomfort became so out of control that I decided to hate the teacher. I wasn’t going to listen to anything she said. I lay down on my back, under the hot sun and pretended to meditate. It isn’t easy to hang your legs or arms in the water when the damn thing is so wide.

There’s a good possibility that the teacher was ignoring me because I was ignoring her. Yoga is about being present and comfortable with where you are. Maybe she thought I was content and tranquil, spread out on my board like a beach towel.

Eventually I rolled over onto my stomach and sneered and jeered at my reflection “If you are lookin’ for trouble, you’ve come to the right spot”.

It was actually quite alarming to see how unsavory and disagreeable I looked. I was an amalgamation of Captain Hook, Gollum, and Harry Callahan. I’m quite the actor.

Looking for trouble is looking for attention but not knowing how to get it. It’s easier to complain than it is to get down to the crux of the matter, and that’s often unmet needs. When the ego gets in the way, admitting to being “needy” is like choking on a mouthful of pond water.

If I asked for help, I’d appear incompetent or …gasp…needy. She should realize that I’m in panic mode here. What kind of professional fails to notice that a student who is constantly looking at her watch is insecure, embarrassed, and way out of her comfort zone?

We all have a part of us that knows better. It’s the voice of reason, so muffled by self righteous indignation over perceived slights and mistreatment, that all we hear is static in our ears. Or in my case increasingly evident tinnitus. Indignation is rarely righteous. It’s looking for trouble rather than looking for a modicum of help or contentment.

Maybe I don’t have to do what she says, maybe I will be the instructor instead. How would I teach a big baby, scaredy-cat like me?

This is what I would say,

“Are you at ease in water? The first time I did this, I was mortified at my lack of balance. I find the best way to start is just by sitting still and focusing on the movement of the board. Notice how a slight shift of weight affects your breath, in turn notice how your breath affects the board’s movement. You know what? My grandmother had a swim suit very similar to the one you’re wearing. I’m so glad that style has returned! Can I explain what I mean about the angle of the blade again?”

By the time class ended, I glided along effortlessly back to the dock, dry as a bone.

The next time you feel really aggravated, look in the mirror, and in your toughest voice, ask yourself if you are looking for trouble and then channel Clint Eastwood and add “Go ahead, make my day”. The absurdity of your words just might throw you off balance enough to listen to reason.

Picture Perfect

I have a tough time taking food photos. We have poor lighting in the kitchen. Every dish looks the same and not very enticing.

The lighting outside is much better, but the bear, bobcat, deer, porcupine, bald eagle, and coydog don’t hang around long enough for me to take their picture, much less find the right button on my phone.

I can count on the rabbits though. They are naturals in front of a camera. They look straight at you, show profiles, and repeat action shots, almost as if auditioning for a feature role in a film, over and over again.

This morning before outdoor aerial yoga class, while hanging upside down, I took a video. The canopy of cedars above me seemed to reach the branches of the  trees lining the Southern Vermont Art Center walkway, about forty feet away. 

The view was surreal. I filmed looking straight ahead, and then panned up to where I was hanging, to the sky above. When I went to play back the video, it self-corrected and turned the upside down clip right side up. What the heck? (There are many sites that advise one how to correct upside down videos, but not many on how to keep things topsy turvy.)

Sometimes we want to change our perspective, our attitude, or thoughts, but obstacles get in the way.

How can I look at things from all sides when the other sides are ridiculous? How can I maintain positivity when it rains every day? How can I think like a real entrepreneur and take publicity photos while upside down only to have the daggone clip not cooperate?

It comes down to sincerity, diligence, and patience.

Do we really want to change? Can we take the time to figure out how to do so? Can we let go of the need for immediate satisfaction or success?

I marvel at those who have beautiful and interesting posts on social media. If I really want to join that talented pool, I’ll need to reread “Social Media for Dummies”. No skimming this time.

Namaste- picture perfect? Not today!

Damn it! I’m still not the best.

There comes a time when the facts are clear. Today was yet another one of those times.

I am not the best.

In the old days a tennis ladder was a way to encourage us to play officially against kids we wouldn’t normally play against, and to work on our game. It was also a tactic to keep us from constantly enjoying each other’s company while lobbing balls over the fence, to irritate the golfers.

The names of anyone interested in participating were written on cardboard tags hung on metal hooks on a triangular shaped board. The original pyramid was set by drawing names at random, after which you could challenge one or two people above you to play a match. If you won, you took their spot, and everyone else under, dropped down a peg.

Most of us knew who the better players were. There was usually a big gap in skill level between the McNealus clan and anyone else, however it didn’t matter…much. We were all equal when it came to getting yelled at.

Before my sister Dee grew taller than 36 inches, I could count on challenging her, taking her place, and staying there. Those days are long gone.

I received an email the other week announcing a new ladder, a grownup ladder. I’m not very competitive. I get uncomfortable with too much seriousness, focus, aptitude, skill, determination, or dedication.

Then again, maybe I am too competitive, and a sore loser and don’t want to play anymore if I get creamed too often. I signed up (without telling my sister) and decided to investigate my reactions.

Needless to say, after two rounds I hold the place of honor at the bottom of the board.

Some say “With age, comes wisdom“. I say with age comes the maturity to say to someone, “I accept the fact that you just cleaned my clock, and I’m okay with it.”

Often we don’t put ourselves in challenging situations because we know (or assume) we will lose or look ridiculous. Sometimes we should, so someone can say, “If that bozo signed up, I should too.” We might inspire someone to step back out onto the court, enter a competition, write a book, or take a weird yoga class.

We are all the best at something. Sometimes we want others to know what that is. Sometimes we don’t know what that is ourselves. Sometimes, that something is being able to say to another, “You are the best.”

Road Trips are different when you aren’t 20.

Peter and I just got back from a road trip to Florida. We had 3 beautiful days of 90 degree weather with my grandmother. We sweated and complained about the heat. It was wonderful.

Surrounding that time we had 8 days of full on driving. We made 6 overnight stops, got a $128 speeding ticket, and a cracked windshield. 

Peter did 97% of the driving. My 3% was 2 hours in the wrong direction in Georgia, 3 days in the Florida neighborhood, and an hour and 15 minutes from Troy, NY to Dorset.

Peter likes to drive, or used to. I like to navigate, or used to. I had my notepads, book and knitting with me but enjoying those pleasant pastimes is unfair to the driver,  unless you are on an airplane.

I felt it was important for me to have the same blurry eyes as Peter at the end of the day. Actually mine may have been worse because I had to keep peeking at the speedometer without moving my head.

The days of AAA trip-ticks are long gone, just as is the simple beltway around Washington, D.C.

I followed the directions diligently via my Ipad and her voice announcing up and coming exit ramps. (Funny she never said a word when I was headed towards Macon, GA rather than Jacksonville, FL. Maybe she didn’t think I would listen.)

The problem with navigating with Google Maps was not the fear that we would end up driving off a pier, more so that when she said 1300 miles to your destination, she wasn’t kidding. Your arrival time may vary by a few moments (unless you get pulled over) but the miles stay basically the same. There’s nothing you can do about it.

There were many moments when I thought this was the stupidest idea ever. I wondered how many times I had crossed and uncrossed my legs. How much longer did we have to listen to Classic Comedians and hits of the 1940’s? Who knew that NPR runs out of new stories?

I was caught in the present. Here, folded into a car that used to be comfortable.

There was nothing I could do but sit. I had no control over the situation, except imagine ditching  the car and jumping on a plane.

I became resigned to our (my) predicament. That’s the first step when dealing with uncomfortable situations, accepting that that is what it is, uncomfortable.

The second step is choosing how to react. Admittedly, at first, I sighed a lot, then I made up better scenarios, “Let’s pretend we are just leaving the house and are going to Albany. Once we get there we will turn around and come home. We can have lunch. I’m in the mood for a hotdog, two actually. Then we’ll just drive back to Albany!” That was better than saying, “In 2 hours we will have 4 more hours to go.”

There are situations much worse than willing the time to go by on a road trip. My friend Katie McKenna got run over by a truck. She had no choice but to accept the passage of hours, days, weeks, months, if not years, in bed, before her body would heal itself and she’d be ready for a driving excursion.

We can control how our mind works but we can’t control the passage of time, just as we can’t control the sudden appearance of a police car or the trajectory of a flying pebble.

Often the idea of letting go, or giving up, brings negative connotations, like one is weak or helpless.

Maybe we need some new phrases to work with, like “Donate your control” or “Take a break from the driver’s seat.” (Of course that’s easy for me to say.) The point is, we all will eventually arrive at our destination points. Sometimes it’s just not a scenic route.

I must say I saw an awful lot of Golden Doodles and Labra-Doodles catching the wind from back seat windows on Route 95. Rumor has it that dogs have a different concept of time than we do. They are either with their humans or they aren’t.

On the next trip I’m going to pretend I’m a dog. “Yippee: Road Trip! We are all together, what fun!”, and leave it at that.

Namaste, buckle up, we’re taking the bumpy way!

April fools again.

April in Vermont is both predictable, and full of surprises.

The cement hard, dirt roads of winter turn into muddy, rutted, bogs overnight.

The small glaciers on the sides of the driveway, left by the plow truck, disappear leaving piles of gravel and scraped up sod.

With the appearance of snow drops, crocus and daffodils, come t-shirts, shorts, and tick spray.

The sun, the warmth, returning birds and the show of lilac buds are reminders that “YES! Once again spring is here! It’s the  fourth month of the year, just like normal”.

And then it snows. What a surprise.

Today we’re having a freak snowstorm, although there is nothing freakish about it. Just like taxes, April snow can’t be avoided.

The best thing about it is we know it won’t last long, despite the fact that this dusting is turning into inches as I stare out the window. The earth has been warming up. This snow is like butter on toast, it’s going to disappear pretty quickly. (It’s a scientific fact I think.)

Here’s the yoga thing, it’s accepting what is happening here and now, knowing that things may get better or may get worse. Although I can’t see the yellow of the daffodils any more, by tomorrow they will have survived this onslaught, or maybe there will be an ice storm next and all the green stems will snap in half. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

Knowing things may get better is hopefulness, it’s having faith. Knowing things may get worse is acceptance. Maybe that’s the key, Hopeful Faithful Acceptance.

If we can practice the ability to stay calm on the mat, realizing that nothing, even discomfort in a shape, lasts forever, it can help us do the same off the mat, staring out the window, watching the crocus fully disappear.

Namaste, I’ll bet this snow is gone by May!

Sometimes you read the darnedest things.

I was looking through my bookshelves, searching for anything other than a cookbook. I’m getting tired of coming up with new recipes. I like to cook, but gee whiz, someone please bring me a pizza.

Tucked next to The Winnie the Pooh Cookbook was a book of Zen writings. Among the Haiku, prayers, and bits of wisdom, I found this American Indian saying,

“When you arise in the morning give thanks for the morning light. Give thanks for life and strength. Give thanks for your food. And give thanks for the joy of living. And if perchance you see no reason to give thanks, rest assured the fault is yours.”

Wait. WHAT?

Shouldn’t there be an exclamation point at the end, a smiley face, or a winking emoji? It seems a bit harsh.

It brings to mind a prayer my aunt cross-stitched for her sister, Mom, in 1952. It used to hang in the bedroom I shared with my sister Dee, until we both agreed it was too spooky, and hung it in a closet.

“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

Wait. WHAT?

We might die in the night? Our souls will be taken from us? Is this supposed to be soothing?

Perhaps that’s the point, maybe we aren’t supposed to be soothed all the time. Instead, we need to be reminded to take some responsibility for how we live in this world. Simply put, be thankful for something. Let God or the universe keep our souls pure and constant, no matter where we are.

It might be a good idea to keep a sense of goodness, compassion, and tranquility (just in case) whether or not we believe in reincarnation, or that our souls will live on for eternity in heaven.

If we can’t find the energy to come up with a recipe or a reason to be thankful, it’s our own darned fault. Sometimes realizing that is enough.

Namaste-making slow cooked pork with O.J.


I’ve read that writing a book is like giving birth. I’m going to assume the author was referring to the conception and gestation period of a sperm whale rather than a human. The former takes up to 480 days, the latter takes 280.

Yeah, 16 months feels about right.

Then again, the African elephant takes 680 days, and chances are that’s not including courtship.

Because I haven’t given birth to a human or an elephant, I can only imagine the similarities.

As your due date nears, you may feel sluggish and awkward, but then you get bursts of euphoria, “I’m having a baby!” It becomes so evident to people far and near, that one would have to be an invertebrate not to notice.

More obviously, you have created something from a seed, literally and figuratively. You spent months trying to do the right thing and once the child is born, you love it as much as you can because no one else will love it as much as you.

In addition, you recognize things you might have done wrong, you accept that not everyone will appreciate the sheer brilliance of your creation, and you accept that once the little darling is out in the world, you will have no more control.

The difference between giving birth and writing a book is simple. Once a child is born, you can’t stop thinking and worrying about her. Once a book is published, you have to stop thinking and worrying about him.

As a childless author, I have the luxury to continue on writing in my merry way. I can let go of attachment to my first born and focus on courtship for the next one, before a new gestation period arises. Another bonus is I can pick a new inseminator as the mood strikes me, a lot of people I know don’t have that option.

So expect a few weeks of new motherhood bliss from me, once this late delivery arrives. Yes, I will have copies of my book in my arms for you to coo over, but be assured that I will eventually settle down.

Namaste- letting go means I have more to say.