The Ice-breaker Everyone (I) Hates

It’s recommended when meeting new people, and old friends, to ask personal questions. It’s easy, everyone loves talking about themselves. It gives you something to discuss other than the weather. Unless of course you’re learning a new language, then weather discussions are advised.

Questions are good not only because they show you’re an interested and curious listener, but also because it makes the person responding feel interesting. That’s a nice thing to do for someone. It breaks the ice. (No pun intended if your discussion is about global warming en francais.)

I like when people ask me why I like teaching and telling stories.

It gives me the opportunity to tell more stories and watch eyes glaze over.

I don’t like the question “ Who is the greatest inspiration in your life?” That one leaves me speechless and makes my eyes blur.

Too many choices: Public figures, family members, fictional characters, spiritual leaders, philanthropic artists, teachers, babysitters…is this a test?

Will I be judged by my response?

Anyone who knows anything knows you should select someone who is universally important (to show worldliness) or someone familial (to show appreciation), then again one may do the latter to stay in the good books.

Speaking of which, what if my inspiration is Eloise who lives in the Plaza Hotel with her dog, Weenie, rather than Jane Eyre who lives in Moor House with ghosts? Does that mean I’m more precocious than principled ?

As a yoga teacher maybe I should choose Pantanjali, the compiler of the Yoga Sutras, or Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom, art, language and music?

Because I’m a woman should it be a woman?

I know a lot of great female teachers and athletes but my pal John was the most talented ski instructor I ever worked with.

He spent a good deal of his career working with children and training others to do the same. One of his jokes I’ll never forget, still gets a roar of approval with a group of 10 or 50 year olds.

“Three moles were trudging in line through an underground tunnel, making their way to Farmer Smith’s cellar, where all kinds of treats were stored.

The first mole said, ‘I smell sugar’.

The second mole said, ‘I smell honey’.

The third mole said ‘All’s I smell is molasses’.”

He taught me the importance of humor in teaching and in learning.

He expanded my appreciation of making the strange familiar and the familiar strange.

He showed me that sometimes the best teachers are not physically the best in their field.

He exemplified a person who was committed to doing and sharing what he loved.

I can’t think of any better qualities in a ski teacher, a yoga teacher, or any teacher.

I can’t think of any better qualities in a human being that would inspire or influence me more.

Well there you have it. Next question?

Namaste- the ice broke today

Thriving Like a Lilac

“I have a lilac here that isn’t happy. It came from your old farm years ago and has never bloomed” said my sister-in-law.

“How did it end up at your house?” I asked.

“No idea. Do you want it?

“Definitely.”

That first year the lilac bush was so happy to be back on familiar turf that it grew a beautiful head of purple hair, and has done so each subsequent spring.

The soil down the road wasn’t making the shrub happy. It probably wanted to pull itself out by the roots and head back home but couldn’t. It had to wait.

As humans we’re lucky, we can get up and move, even if only into the next room. We need to be in the right place to bloom, surrounded by old friends and familiar spaces or perhaps on a yoga mat surrounded by new friends in foreign places.The thing is we can grow most anywhere but to truly blossom we need to find contentment.

What nutrients do we need? If they aren’t directly underfoot it may be time to re-assess. Do we have to pull ourselves up by the root straps or can we simply begin to notice our physical, emotional and spiritual self. How are we reacting to our circumstances?

In yoga philosophy, svadhyaya (self study), the fourth Niyama, or observance, encourages us to question our sensations, emotions, and thoughts. During our physical asana practice we can notice what arises when we fall out of balance in ardha chandrasana (half moon pose). What happens off the mat when our lives feel unbalanced? Embarrassment, frustration, anger?

Are our roots bound in malnourished soil? How can we find contentment despite standing on rocky ground?

Maybe we need a backhoe or maybe it’s as simple as taking a deep breath and becoming aware of habits and assumptions.

Namaste- the scent in the air is sweet today.

The Scheme of Life

I like watching the ticker tape at the bottom of the tv screen on potential snow days. Over the past 50 years the increasing amount of time it takes to go through the alphabetical list is impressive yet also irritating. If you see Helping Hands Preschool you have about 11 minutes before the D’s come back around. Eleven minutes of anticipation and then relief or resignation-

A. “DORSET HAS NO SCHOOL TODAY! Maybe I’ll clean the house.”

or

B. “Ah f*ck.”

On days when I prefer to stay in bed until the last minute I go to the school closings list on the VPR app on my iPad.

It’s fast and most often reliable. Today even though it’s coming down pretty steadily outside, only BBA is closed and one other is on a delayed opening. Delayed openings at preschools mean I get the kids soon after they arrive rather than a couple of hours later for some high energy creative movement. The teachers are often very thankful.

I know I’ll have my work cut out for me. No school yesterday, late start today means ten seconds of mixed emotions-

A. “Oh well, at least I’ll get paid for some crazy Hullabaloo today.”

and

B. “Ah f*ck.”

Wait! What’s this? (New email message received.)

“Hi Alexandra, we have a delayed opening this morning but due to our Valentines Day party we won’t be having Hullabaloo.”

Three seconds of confusion and outrage-

A. “Is the VPR list incorrect? Did they just this second decide to delay?”

then

B. “The nerve!”

Since when did a Valentines Day party trump rollicking sessions of Hullabaloo?

Mom’s response; “Sooner or later we find out where we fit in the scheme of life”.

Namaste, my ego needs a snow day!

Who hates Secret Santa? I do.

The week before drawing names for “Secret Santa” was hell during most of my elementary school years. The week after was worse.

Drawing a name out of a hat left too much to chance. What if I got Heidi who recently hated me because I told Robert to push her out of the middle swing at recess; or Arnold who eats raw onions and stands in the hall while the rest of us recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Why does it have to be secret and random? Why can’t we just give presents to people we know like us and aren’t weird?

Once names are drawn you go through a week of :

Teasing, “If you tell me who you got I’ll tell you…just kidding”.

Taunting, “I heard Tony got your name and switched with Matthew”.

Lies, “Your Secret Santa really likes you A LOT!”

In 5th grade everyone knows the best present from a SS is a Book of Lifesavers, next up, a Fuzzy Wuzzy Bear Soap. The more you wash, the less fuzzy it gets. I’m pretty sure there’s a prize deep inside if you practice good hygiene regularly for a couple of weeks. I can count at least 6 times I’ve wrapped up the old stand-by, Silly Putty.

When it was my turn, the package I received had the right size and weight; it smelled of orange, lime, cherry and lemon. It had to be Lifesavers, I deduced to myself with a smirk.

Wrong.

There’s a reason Mom said “wipe that smirk off your face” repeatedly as we grew up. It signaled oncoming disaster for the smirker.

Inside was a bar of soap decorated with sequins and ribbons adhered by stick pins. My disappointment transformed quickly into, what I hope,was an expression of surprise and delight. (Tact and an appreciation for creativity were concepts I was slowly working on.)

Last week an unwrapped box of “Christmas Mugs for Two” was in my mailbox. “For a Special Friend” was written oddly on a Post-It note. If I wrote with a pencil using my teeth I could replicate it.

It looked suspiciously like a SS gift.

What does it say about me to immediately assume it was from Pen and no one else, my stepfather, who died 2 1/2 years ago?

I studied the outside before opening it. I have no special friends. This must be a mistake. Maybe it’s something awful in a nice box, like an ear or anthrax.

I texted my sister:

“Did you send this? Check out the message.” (Photo attached).

“Nope. Watching Hallmark Christmas Shows.”

“Should I open it?”, I wrote.

“Dunno”, she replied.

I held a towel over my nose and mouth and opened the box carefully.

Wow! Two nice mugs inside just like the picture on the outside.

“Who the f*ck?”, I asked myself, all night long.

The next morning I wrote Sister Dee, “It was Brother Had! He left the gift!” I teased.

She immediately called and asked how I knew.

“He sounded funny when I asked him. He’s the best at pranks.” I taunted.

I continued on, “Okay, I know it wasn’t him I just wanted to trick you into confessing. The initials VATC on the note have me stumped. I looked it up and it’s a company in Florida- Video Awareness Technology and Consulting.”

“Interesting. I looked it up as well and it was the Vermont Attorneys Title Corporations”, she said patiently.

She continued, “Who’s been to a lawyer lately?”.

“Me. I just did my will, and by the way you’re responsible for burning my journals.”

There was a deep sigh on her end.

“Who just sold her 9 year old consignment business and had some stuff leftover?”

“Oh my gosh! I knew it was you!” I lied.

Perhaps the best presents are those that show you are present. It takes time to decorate a bar of soap as it does to plan a prank.

Just knowing that you are in someone’s thoughts and that they are in yours is better than some old Fuzzy Wuzzy.

Namaste – Happy 2019 from anta-Say

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!

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

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