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!

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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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?

Halloween Misery Part 1

1965 was the year I was going to win first place at the church Halloween party. I dressed as a secret agent complete with trench coat and briefcase. The plastic mask was a woman with a fedora and dark glasses. It’s quite possible that a cigarette was smoldering between her red lips. Agent 99 of “Get Smart” was my heroine. She was the real brains of the show. Maxwell Smart was a goofball. Although she was a brunette, we were one and the same.

My real life nemesis was Lisette. Despite being a year younger than me, she had won first place two years in a row. Her mother made an elaborate Heidi of the Alps outfit the year I was a cow. Her Little Bo Peep costume won against my brother’s hand-me-down gorilla suit. I don’t know what the judges were thinking.

This year I remained confident as we marched around the parish house; that is, until Lisette floated into the room in mounds of tulle. The child bride, fashionably late, with veil and corsage did it again. She walked off with my prize.

I was astounded and horrified. “How could a stupid old bride win ?” I whined. “Don’t the judges know that a secret agent will help save the world? What’s a bride going to do?”

Years later I’m still complaining.

During a recent period of painful childhood reminiscing Mom said I seemed to have tough time with Halloween. “One year I brought home a nurses outfit complete with a cape and medical bag. You broke into tears.” Apparently I didn’t think nurses were that essential to saving the world either.

In part, Yoga Sutra 1:33 asks us to be happy for other people’s happiness. Jealousy only hurts the self. It’s not always easy to do when that self is 58 much less 7 years old.

Successful friends, acquaintances and competitors work at it. Nothing in life comes easy no matter what we think. Everything we do takes practice, commitment and hard work. Some of us work harder than others.

How many times did Lisette and her mother prick their fingers sewing on seed pearls? How many hours did someone spend crafting a story? How many yoga classes does another take each week? What does one give up in order to succeed or be happy? What am I not giving up?

I have no doubt that many brides and nurses have helped save mankind much more than me. I rejoice in their happiness and success when I’m not coming off of a candy corn high. Many of them have in fact saved my world.

Namaste- about Halloween there’s more to say.

How you say?

The first time is at MacDonald’s in Greenwich, NY. Dee and I are heading to Saratoga for some higher state taxed shopping. We pull in for a cup of joe.

“You have to use an accent when ordering” she commands. The challenge reaches deep into my soul, the soul of a secret agent.

Quickly I run through possibilities, Miss Jane Hathaway from “The Beverly Hillbillies”, the Swedish chef from the Muppets, Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne? So many options. I play it safe as a Pepe Le Peu. “Pleazzze, donnez-moi, Errrrr, how you say coffee garcon.” Mission obviously accomplished as Dee tries not to wet her pants laughing.

A few years later while shopping in a town with lower tax rates, Dee requires a coke with crushed ice. As I pull up to the intercom she instructs, “Use an accent.”

Like Jason Bourne or James Bond, there are some assignments you can’t turn down. It’s in our blood.

My brain goes into tactic mode. A foreign person or tv star? Relative or people we know? I opt for the voice of an Irish woman who spent the last 20 years in the Italian part of Scotland.

Gosh I’m good.

Mission is successful as I notice Dee squirming not to laugh. She presses the dollar bill and dime on my leg.

“You have to keep it going” she says while trying to regain control.

“Hey, I’m a professional” I whisper back.

As we pull up to the window a sweet, cherub faced boy says “Here is your drink”. He gives me a look that says “You don’t sound like me, you are from elsewhere, I’m going to make you feel AOK.” His evident kindness causes me to drop my guard and the dime.

“Ach and begorrah mien leibchen”, I say moving to the German side of my beloved Scotland.

“Just leave it, don’t worry, it happens all the time” he says.

“Nay I’ll find the wee coin” I reply followed by “Ow f*ck”, in an undeniable Vermont accent as I hit my head against the door. Cherub boy looks slightly confused. I should have said “feck”.

“You broke character” Dee says, unnecessarily as we drive away. Like I didn’t know.

Using accents at the drive through is like practicing arm balances in yoga class. It’s setting an intention, focusing, and giving it all you’ve got. It’s accepting a challenge. Sometimes you nail it and sometimes you don’t.

Life is filled with challenges, ones we ask of ourselves, ones asked by others and some that just appear. The remedy is to do our best, be kind to ourselves and to others, be forgiving. Find delight and laughter in all of our experiences.

A botched or aborted mission doesn’t equate to failure. It is a source of information for the next assignment. Focus and attention take practice on and off the mat. Sometimes you need to imagine yourself balancing with ease or speaking in someone else’s native tongue. It’s setting an intention. Keep at it.

Namaste- this post will self destruct in 30 seconds eh?

Tag Sales

I used to like old things. I bought a light brown, beaded sweater at a church rummage sale and wore it for years. I’m wearing it in most photos taken in the ’70’s. I would never buy it now, even for a couple of dollars. The color isn’t really brown or tan, it’s more like the color of Georgia’s physical reaction after I added old vegetable and faro soup to her dog food mix. 

My father and I went to tag and rummage sales when I was putting together my first apartment. That was fun because he paid for everything and I felt like an only child. It’s not like Had, Dee and I vied for Hopper’s attention, (that’s what we called him…another story) but more so that we vied for making him laugh. Having him alone meant he was a captive audience.
Hopper was 22 when his ship was hit by Kamikazes in WW2. He spent one and a half years in the hospital recovering. Some of that time he was in the psych ward because no one knew or believed that pilots were intentionally killing themselves in order to kill others. The government had a part in that.

He was 90% disabled. His right leg was fused at the knee. Excellent for kicking but not so good for running bases in a game of kickball. His left arm was reshaped into a curve. I think the elbow joint was removed. No muscle left, just skin and bones. Although Hopper had long fingers, the ones on his hurt arm were incredibly thin and incongruous with his body. He was lucky. Born a lefty, as a young boy in school, he was forced to become a righty. 
We never really noticed that he was physically different from anyone else. He was just Hopper. His dry sense of humor was his greatest gift if I say so myself.

Every morning we heard him sing “Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I’ve got this wonderful feeling, everything’s coming my way”, along with a pause after each step up the steep stairs. Funny now, not funny when I was a teenager. 

I had a tag sale a while after Hopper died. I was married, divorced and remarried at that time. It included a few ancient kitchen items bought from tag sales past but mainly books. As I spread them out I noticed the titles. 

“Creating Your Own Wedding Vows”

“When to Call it Quits”

“How to be Your Own Best Friend”

“Weddings For the Second Time”

“Children After Forty”

“Tantric Sex”

“Our Bodies, Our Selves”

“Oh my gosh” I said to Dee. “This is the history of my whole f*cking life!”
“Maybe you should display them in alphabetical order so no one notices”, she advised.
Dee is pretty funny. Funny as a crutch as Hopper often said.

Here I was bemoaning that fact that strangers could pass judgment on my life because of my old books. In all the years spent with Hopper I never heard him wonder if people were judging him for how he looked.

Dee owns a consignment store filled with old stuff. People bring in all kinds of things. Are the consigners ever embarrassed at unloading old collections? Do they pretend the junk belonged to a relative so they themselves aren’t pegged as crack pots? 

What did one crack pot say to the cracked pot? “I know you are but what am I?”

 I know Hopper finds that funny.