Blog Posts

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.

Countdown

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.

Resolving not to be more resolute.

My New Year’s resolution is not to write about New Year’s resolutions. It’s a habit I’m trying to break. In the past I’ve attempted to explain why I think it’s a stupid tradition, and ended up coming across as a person who was unable to commit to anything more difficult than making a daily to-do list.

The truth is I’m too much of a chicken to make plans for improving my life. Announcing them to friends and family would bad enough, but to myself? How could I live with the shame of failure?

Does vowing to eat more healthily mean no more pizza or pop tarts for breakfast?

Does getting more exercise mean I have to keep up with my almost 91 year old mother?

Does drink less box wine mean I will have to spend more than $5.00 on a bottle of wine?

As Mom will attest, I don’t like to be told what to do, least of all by myself. I expect too much out of me as it is.

With that said, I’m stretching my legs as I head to the kitchen. As I pop a Hersey’s Kiss into my mouth and add some ice to my wine glass, I’ll cross off “write a blog” on my to-do list.

Namaste- resolutions are so passé.

Talking with God By God

Sometimes I pray, sometimes I wish on falling stars, and sometimes I throw spilled salt over my shoulder.

I don’t say “God bless you” when someone sneezes. Peter doesn’t either. We cleared that up while driving from Telluride, CO to Vermont. We were newly coupled so it was a getting-to-know-you-kind-of-a-big-deal-thing. We both prefer to say, “Quit it!” or “Whoa-wah!” after either of us sneezes.

Why do we say God Bless You? Do we really believe that we are saving the life of the sneezer by keeping the devil away or is it some sort of familial or social habit?

Do people get hurt feelings if no one says Gesundheit? Is a sneeze a statement like “It sure is beautiful outside today”, and it would be rude not to respond?

I have a friend (the bless you type) who’s uncomfortable about taking yoga classes. She feels it’s like praying to false idols. Periodic chanting may have something to do with that. Another friend is more hesitant because the music and some of the words bother her.  I admit some of the music can be weird and hearing someone speak Sanskrit with a heavy Vermont or New York accent may seem a bit much, but perhaps it’s just distracting.

Here’s the deal. Yoga gives us an opportunity to quiet our minds so that God can come in for a chat. By God (and not BY God spoken emphatically like a true Vermonter) I mean the God of Our Devotion; it may be our faith, our own inner power, or the universe itself, whomever or whatever inspires us to be kinder, gentler, more responsive and attentive, forgiving people.

God of our Devotion (GOOD): “I’ll talk and you listen”.

Mind: “I can’t hear anything”

GOOD: “Stop talking.”

Mind: “I think we are chanting to an elephant.”

GOOD: “I don’t care what’s going on, just stop talking.”

Mind: “I can’t hear anything but the sound of my own breath.”

GOOD: “Now we are getting somewhere.”

The great thing about a yoga class is you don’t have to discuss it after. You don’t need to admit that you recited the Lord’s Prayer or “Star light star bright, first star I see tonight” instead of an invocation to Ganesh ( the elephant statue). You can ignore the music and the chants and count your breaths. My average is 12 a minute and am aiming for 10. Why? No idea except it calms me down.

What else do we say like “Bless you” without thinking about it. “Have a nice day” or “That was great, let’s do it again soon”, might come to mind.

Say God Bless if it makes you feel better but don’t do it for me. If the empty space is too much, say something like “How about that pollen count!”

Namaste, must be dust mites it’s too late for hay.

 

TMI

Yesterday I woke up to a rumbling stomach. Actually, rumbling isn’t the word, it was more like a grinding, pinging, can’t-find-third-gear feeling. The next three hours were like going through a colonoscopy prep, minus having to drink gallons of a lemon-lime concoction.

No headache, no fever, just losing my guts.

Once I could wander around the house without being four feet from the bathroom, I started cleaning out the icebox. Maybe the hummus I had at 8:30 the night before was off. (What was I thinking? Oreos at night are the way to go. Carrots and hummus? Who do I think I am?)

The leftover butternut squash from last week was NOT going to turn into soup. The black bananas were NOT going to become bread. The red salad dressing, bought on the spur of the moment, was NOT going to remind me of my childhood.

That purge led me to the pantry. Protein powder with a “best by” date of 2012? Out. Tapioca from 2008? Out. Pickled walnuts? You don’t even want to know how old that jar was.

After the flurry of pretend housekeeping, I took a walk down to the labyrinth where GA and now, 18-year-old Spooky, are buried. They are six feet apart. Peter set it up so the lawnmower can still do it’s job, however it’s a fitting placement for the cairns.

It took 7 years for Spooky to leave her studio apartment in my office and join GA and me on the bedroom floor for the nightly ritual of ending the day. I sat in between them with arms outstretched in order to reach and pat them both. Now they are enjoying each other’s company in the field, socially, physically, and comfortably distant.

I don’t think it was the spoiled tahini as much as the grief churning inside me, that got my engine sputtering and back firing. When we hold feelings in, try to keep control or suck it up, we end up flooding the engine. Mentally and philosophically, I know this. I also know that we need to allow ourselves some time to feel discomfort.

My friend Jo sent me this this morning.

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” Khalil Gibran

Sorrow, weeping, and discomfort remind us to think further …deeper. What we had is no longer and that’s sad, however, rather than bemoaning the loss it helps to appreciate the past with delight and appreciation.

Oreos help too.

Namaste- remembering days of animals at play.

It’s time for the lowdown.

Here’s the skinny. I started this blog to build up a massive audience of potential supporters for a memoir I’ve been working on, Virtuous Sinner: Made in Vermont. I’m proud to say that over the past 2 1/2 years I now have about 15 followers. Seriously only half of them are related to me, so this is huge.

Here’s what my new, kind friend Katie McKenna wrote: “Once I picked up Virtuous Sinner I didn’t want to put it down. Alexandra Langstaff charms you with her honesty, humor, self-awareness, and joyful insights. Langstaff invites you into her family, community and life with the kind of generosity that is usually reserved for old friends. Reading this memoir felt like having a conversation at a dinner party that I never wanted to end!”

Just so you know, Katie wrote the incredible book, How to Get Run Over by a Truck, a few years back. To say I’m delighted by her endorsement is an understatement. There’s a surreal fog in my head, although that could be due to celebrating with box wine.

I didn’t know Katie when I supported her campaign to get her book written a few years ago.The title and story were intriguing. As it turns out, the book is funny, horrifying, and inspirational. More importantly it offers a perspective on how one deals with a crazy situation without going…crazy. As kismet would have it, a friend who was editing my words 8 months ago said, “I wonder if your stories will have any relevance outside the boundaries of the 05251 zip code? Maybe my friend Katie, in NY would read it, I bet she’d get a chuckle.” I was psyched to have a reader from the big city take a look, and then the pandemic hit. That’s also when I put two and two together. “Oh, that Katie!

As the months went by and the manuscript was complete, I decided to send a message to Katie. (The worst thing that could happen would be no response, and how bad is that really?) I sent her my elevator pitch “A not quite cosmopolitan but not quite clueless, hotdog eating yoga teacher shares memories of folly, foolishness and forgiveness, beginning in the ‘60s in a small town in southern Vermont.”

It was a ballsy move, one that I’m still recovering from. But that is what writing and living is all about it’s doing what you love and then having the conviction to follow through with whatever it is you want to follow through with, sometimes we fail, miss the mark, or embarrass ourselves. Other times we succeed.

My stories are not recipes to change one’s life, they are stories to remind us that we each have experiences and thoughts that help explain our place in the world. Many of us don’t wear our successes or failures on our sleeves like hearts, but sometimes, when we do, it can free us up and allow us to make connections we never dreamed of.

Making connections is the essence of living. It doesn’t mean you have to become friends, followers or fans, it means you can show compassion, generosity and support.

Here’s another skinny. Katie is not the first person I have written to (out of the blue) with little expectation of a response. A year and a half ago I wrote David Sedaris. I had read a few of his articles in the New Yorker, however, when I picked up Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk and loved it, I thought “Oh that David!”

As he has said, he didn’t have to jump through hoops to build a social platform (something that is essential in the book world these days) things just happened. That sounded good to me.

I wrote to ask if it was still possible to attract readers without gathering email addresses and followers, if so I’d certainly appreciate any advice he might have to offer. I ended by telling him how delighted I was to read his words because they sounded as if I’d written them.

Oh brother. 

Apparently, David responds to all letters. My handwritten note complete with a cartoon on the back of the envelope must have got lost in the mail. That’s okay, after Katie’s endorsement, a response from David would just be gilding the lily!

Namaste- Here’s to people who make your day!