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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 SquirrelSeeks 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.
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!
Dinner was almost over when Peter said, “Just so you know, I’m putting the knives in the dishwasher with the points up. They get cleaner that way and don’t get rust marks. I want you to be aware and careful when you are emptying the dishwasher.”
My last sip of wine almost came out my nose. “Uh, when I empty the dishwasher?” I choked out the words.
“Well on the infrequent time, I just want you to be safe”, he answered, almost seriously. I kept laughing.
I’m not good at emptying the dishwasher, so it’s not often on my “to-do” list. I have an uncontrollable urge to put things away in different spots. It’s not like our kitchen is gigantic, but it would be nice to put things away without moving my feet.
I’m curious as to why egg cups are by the bowls and not next to the coffee cups. Who started that trend?
I’m also not sure why the soup ladle needs to go in the same place every time. It might be a good idea to mix the utensil drawers up so that we can discover things that may have been ignored or forgotten.
More often than not, when the ladle, can opener, flashlight, or some other gadget goes missing, my response to “Where did you put it?” is, “I believe it’s on your side of the bed.” At times, finding the aforementioned is like looking for buried treasure.
Whenever I’m off on an excursion for more than three days, I make a treasure hunt for Peter. I usually leave the first clue on his pillow so he gets it just before going to bed. The rule is no looking for clue #2 until the next morning, he can think about the next hiding place but no looking until the following day. The bounty at the end is often my return.
An example is “While you are watching Law and Order tomorrow night, someone is watching you.” There is a bust of my great grandmother next to the tv chair, there’s also a photo of me on the stairway wall, in clear view of said chair. Hmmm, where could the clue be? Under? Behind? (Okay, that was an easy one.)
The goal is to make sure the clues lead him around the house.
It’s my way of keeping Peter safe.
It’s a way for me to say, “I’m thinking of you”, “Be observant”, “Be comfortable looking at things differently”, “Keep your mind active.”
That’s what being safe means to me. It’s feeling cared for, being attentive, having the freedom to look at things differently, it’s giving permission to laugh.
Fear is the opposite of safety. Fear is feeling ignored, it’s a hesitancy to look beyond what is right in front of us, in case we are wrong. Fear is taking ourselves too seriously.
I end most yoga classes with a Loving-Kindness mantra “May we all be happy, healthy and safe, at ease in our bodies and at home in the world.”
My sister and I, along with seven other women, took an introductory class on using a chainsaw at Merck Forest last weekend. David Birdsall, the instructor was excellent. Clear, calm, and patient.
While in the woods, he demonstrated felling four trees in a precise, focused, and safe manner. What struck me was his reminder to be aware, not only of the machine, but of the surroundings.
What is happening in the nearby trees? What could happen when this one falls? Where am I going to be? How will the fallen tree be removed? How will the removal leave those trees left standing?
There was a lot of information to process, safety concerns, saw mechanics, understanding the physics of tension and compression on fallen branches, to name a few.
He said it was like learning to drive a car. With practice, actions become automatic, but just like driving it’s important to maintain awareness.
There is nothing we do that doesn’t require the same skill set, even in a yoga practice.
Am I moving into a shape safely? What is happening physically, when I move from one pose to another? Am I fighting gravity or working with it? Am I on auto-pilot? Am I aware of every movement as I’m doing it?
The awareness that we build in our practice, allows us to channel that focus into everything we do, whether operating a chain saw or driving a Subaru. The ability to stay calm, relaxed, and steady makes facing new challenges easier.
Incidentally, a hardhat with ear protection makes using a blender much more pleasant. Maybe that’s just me and my ears.
Namaste- PJs, a helmet, and a smoothie start a great day.