Yogini Again-y

This is an actual asana (position). It's one of my favorites. Now c'mon people - why did it take me a week and the purchase of a book to force myself onto the floor to do this - knowing I would feel better?

I really dislike being a cliché, but, yes, I’m just another middle-aged woman with a bunch of bad habits who thinks yoga is going to rescue me from myself.

There are worse delusions.

A few years ago, I regularly practiced a very lazy form of hatha yoga. My reward was a flexibility that surprised doctors and which I took for granted. I have long attributed yoga as being the reason I am not in a wheelchair. As my neurosurgeon said, “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.”

Well. I didn’t.

In April of 2007, I was in a car wreck that looked to be minor. There was $400 damage to my car and $32,000 (and counting) damage to my body. The first six months were lost in a miasma of pain and medical appointments – orthopedist, podiatrist, chiropractor, physical therapist, massage therapist. There were pain pills, outpatient surgeries, a walker, crutches, surgical shoes, ice packs, steroids and much complaining. Yoga was impossible when simply getting out of bed or up out of a chair exhausted my physical reserves.

The acute phase of my injuries passed and I thought I had reached a point where I could return to yoga class.

The yoga class I attended at the time of the car accident barely meets the definition. It is terminally a beginner class – ideal for out-of-shape Westerners with no interest in the mental aspects of yoga. I began attending this class when the woman who introduced me to yoga retired from teaching. I miss her still. She, too, didn’t press us too far outside our western sensibilities, but she did gently push us into more challenging poses and did discuss how our brains could become as flexible as our bodies if we paid strict attention to our breath, the position of our bodies, and our attitude towards the world.

Shiva Rea doing what I could almost, but not quite, do at the peak of my practice.

I was intrigued enough that I studied on my own and practiced on my own. Most yoga folks will tell you that a formal class is indispensible, but that daily home practice is just as necessary.

I’ve done neither for the better part of three years. I tried to return to class, but ongoing problems with my foot and hip made formal class a debacle. On one occasion it took the instructor and a classmate to get me up off the floor. More importantly, my return to class resulted in a return to pain. A cardinal rule in yoga practice is Do No Hurt – the very antithesis of no pain, no gain.

Still. I should have done what I could at home. There was much I could have done without pain. I should have stayed in the formal class – sitting out the poses that stressed my injured foot and hip. I should have done things differently. But I was appalled at how much I had lost and embarrassed at needing help with poses I’d been doing for years. Vanity will always get us in trouble.

This is why a formal class is indispensable – it keeps you motivated and humble. The closest I’ve come to yoga at home is to push aside my unitard in search of a pair of leggings to wear to bed. Foolish me.

This past December I had what I hope is my final foot surgery. Unlike the previous two surgeries, this one seems to have taken – the pain is finally gone and my foot works like a foot should.

Due in part to the novel about India I just finished, I’ve been feeling like a back-slidden yogini. [And, yes, I do hate that word for its pretentiousness, but I have no other to use.]

More importantly, I’m about as flexible as a potato chip and everything hurts. I’ve lost a lot of ground in three years.

I could do this - and do it well. It's a lot easier than it looks and my back feels so good during the pose.

It’s been hard to get started. I have the books. I have the mat. I have the DVDs and audio tapes. I have the unitard. That formal class still meets every Tuesday. That vanity thing again. I have to start over from the very beginning. Lie on the floor, arms and legs gently flexed and relaxed. Breathe in. Breathe out. Push your spine flat to the floor. Hold. Release. Remember to breathe.

I’ve been mentally preparing myself for a return to regular yoga practice. Mentally was as far as I got. I simply could not force myself to get up and lay on the floor to begin despite the fact that under normal circumstances yoga has always, ALWAYS, been an activity of deep contentment – even as a beginner, especially as a beginner. There was a time I rushed to the mat to begin the descent into the pleasure of a united brain and body.

I am very aware of the mind/body split. I can get lost in what Diane Ackerman terms Deep Play – a time when my brain behaves like a Ferrari – effortless coasting at high speed and cornering like a dream. I can get lost in the physical sensations of hard work while gardening or working on the house – reveling in muscle fiber stretching, relaxing and increasing. Yoga joins those two states of being.

I could not, cannot, understand my reticence to begin practice again. I did everything except get on the mat and begin. I suppose discovering how debilitated I’ve become was part of it. Part of it could be sheer laziness. Mostly it is chagrin. I didn’t do what I knew I should.

Today, I went to the book store to escape the humidity of this hot, stormy afternoon. I ended up in the yoga section, squatting on the floor, cursing the pain in my hip and the ache in my back. I was looking for the Holy Grail of DVDs or books. I looked at the jacket of each offering trying to decide if this particular one would have the phrase or the image I needed to get me on the mat. All the while I told myself the problem was a lack of discipline and no book, no DVD was going to provide the impetus I needed.

After struggling to get up off the floor, I walked over to the café with B.K.S. Iyengar’s Yoga Wisdom & Practice. Iyengar is credited with creating the yoga renaissance of the past few decades. It’s a beautiful book of lithe bodies, gorgeous symmetry, the power of simple words that sound stupid to people who haven’t experienced the mind/body fusion of yoga.

It turns out I was wrong. In spite of the balance in the checkbook, I bought the book. Just looking at those strong, flexible bodies, or perhaps it was the expenditure of money, provided the impetus to begin. I came home, dragged out the DVD most appropriate for a beginner, put on the unitard and made it through 28 minutes of a 40 minute program. I’m pleased I listened to my body and stopped when I should.

I feel good. My hip aches far less than it did. As I moved from seated positions to standing ones and back again, each successive rise from the floor was easier. By the end of the 28 minutes, it was hard to understand how it was I’d had so much trouble getting off the floor at the bookstore.

I expect to continue.

Below is Shiva Rea who is pushes a type of yoga called Vinyasa Flow Yoga. It’s a beautiful dance-like form. I don’t expect to ever be this good, but . . .

Epically Bad Movies

It's bad. Very bad. Phenomenally bad.

Contrary to what it may seem like given this post and yesterday’s, I rarely go to the theater to see a movie.

About twenty years ago, I endured a bad string of movies for which I paid the insane ticket price, $3.50 at the time, to see dreck. On top of paying to have my intelligence and artistic sensibilities insulted, I was subjected to a freezing cold room, too-loud audio, brutally uncomfortable seats and an American public who think the Constitution supports a God-given right to be rude, boorish, and loud.

That string of bad movies coincided with the rise of VCRs and premium movie channels. Twenty years later, I only go to the theater if it’s a movie I think must be seen on a big screen or if it’s one that’s creating a lot of buzz and I want to see what folks are yammering on about.

A few years ago it was Pirates of the Caribbean. Not even the loin quivering effect of Depp’s eyeliner could overcome the physical miseries of the theater. It was July. It was brutally hot and I went, in part, to escape the heat. The theater was cold enough to raise penguins. Completely miserable, I pulled my arms out of my sleeves and huddled under my t-shirt in the feeble warmth of much-laundered cotton. I eventually brought my knees up under the t-shirt, wrapped my arms around my knees, gripped my sandaled toes and hunkered down to ride out the movie. I resembled ET sitting in the bicycle basket.

And while I shivered, my teeth aching with the bass of too-loud Surround Sound, I resisted the urge, in part because I would have to extricate myself from the t-shirt, to pummel the people sitting near me who talked, one to another, and on cell phones. Who were up and down like popping kernels of corn. Who did not disappoint my opinion that we need to have a presidentially appointed Etiquette Czar.

I didn’t step foot in a theater until We Are Marshall was released. This movie was filmed in the town I work in and told the story of the aftermath of the 1970 plane crash that killed Marshall University’s football team along with many civic leaders. The theater in question was a new one and everyone I knew talked about how nice and how comfortable it was. I was dubious, but it turned out to be true. We Are Marshall was a disappointment, but the theater was a delight.

So about once or twice a year now, I’ll go see a movie. I figured Friday’s viewing of Babies was 2010’s offering. However, last night I was charged with taking five teenage girls to see Grown Ups starring Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Salma Hayek, Kevin James, David Spade, and Rob Schneider. I had no illusions the movie would be an artistic triumph. But given what was spent on the payroll, I figured the movie would at least be mildly entertaining. I fervently hoped Adam Sandler’s penchant to play the same obnoxious character over and over again would be squashed.

I have never, and I do mean never, seen such an inept movie. The acting was bad, the script was worse, the jokes too tired to even limp through the movie. I think I was supposed to be amused and heart-warmed by the foibles of the American family that, though buffeted about by the winds of change, manage to hang onto the core values immortalized by Norman Rockwell.

There were fart jokes, boob jokes, and pee jokes. Tired clichés. Slapstick comedy in a lake house somewhere in mid-America with Salma Hayek traipsing through all the scenes in designer clothes, cleavage, and stiletto heels except for one scene in which it appeared she was wearing a cheerleading costume made of newspaper. The only saving quality was that Adam Sandler did play a different role than his usual one – one so bad that his usual obnoxiousness might have been preferable. 

It was as if they tried a mash up of The Big Chill, Porkies, and On Golden Pond

It was so very bad.

Here’s how bad it was: even the teenagers didn’t like it.

The theater, however, was quite comfortable.

Babies (The Movie)

I have been wild about babies since I wasn’t much older than one. The first time I can remember succumbing to the baby-powder scented, wide-eyed allure of an infant I was 8. Ever since, if you put me within 10 feet of an infant, I have to pluck them from whatever is holding them – people, infant carriers, car seats, cribs, playpens – and nuzzle. I kiss their heads, suck their toes, and engage in a modified Vulcan-mind-lock.

It’s an addiction.

While any child under the age of two will do, I’m especially fond of the 4-5 month old vintages. These small creatures are perfection. They’ve been on the road of life long enough to be able to hold their head up and laugh. They’re also so not so jaded as to fuss about the slavish attentions of someone they’ve never seen in all of their 150 days of existence.

A baby of that vintage is perfectly content to sit on a lap and look adorable for hours at a time. More than just looking adorable, they are – little puff balls of baby fat and smiles earnestly focusing on the fascination of ordinary life. There is no other time in life, other than under the effect of hallucinatory mushrooms, when a balled up sticky note or empty potato chip bag holds the secrets of the universe and must be examined with care.

I come from a long line of baby addicts and now I work with them. No 12-step program for us. We are unabashed in our cootchie-cootchie-coos. We gawk at babies on the street, talk to them in elevators, and rustle them into our laps at any given opportunity.

While it may be true we baby addicts are primarily women, the premier Baby Whisperer is my father. I can routinely charm any baby under the age of 8 months or so, but Dad can have any child under the age of 5 performing at the utmost cutest within a few minutes. He’s the Pied Piper of Little Ones. I’ve seen him convince a complete stranger into dancing at the Bob Evans before the drink orders are filled. At my son’s 6th grade chorus performance, Dad so wound up a toddler in the audience my mother put him in time-out. “Conrad,” she said, “You’re going to get her in trouble.”

A month or so ago, I read the review for the movie Babies. Lord, I was excited.

It’s a movie with almost no dialogue that follows four babies – one each from San Francisco, Tokyo, Namibia, and Mongolia. My inner anthropologist joined forces with my baby addict. 79 minutes of unabashed baby gawking and cultural differences.

I was beginning to despair that the movie would never be shown in my neck of the woods. It did arrive and a fellow addict and I went to see it last night. Besides big screen images of utter cuteness, the movie did a fine job of showing the universal timeline of infant development juxtaposed against differential child rearing practices. For a long time now, I’ve been decrying my need for grandchildren. Well. It’s at fever pitch now.

During the viewing, I was catapulted back in time to my son’s first year of life. I watched those four babies torment a cat, have a tantrum, learn to say mama and struggle to stay awake all the while remembering parts of Chef Boy ‘R Mine’s infanthood that I hadn’t thought about in years.

Not everyone is going to be charmed by this move. Some will be appalled. A larger subsection will be bored, but if you think babies are the pinnacle of perfection you’ll be delighted. The cinematography is spectacular and the scenery is no slouch, but the babies steal the show.


There are cities people talk about as if they have a soul – New York, New Orleans, Paris, Budapest – collections of stone and steel that set the heart to yearning when distanced for too long.

Dirty, crowded, crime-ridden, expensive – those who have bonded with the stone and the steel love the metrapole morning breath and all. They love it not just because it is home and all the folks of home live there, but because the city itself is a member of the family.

Mumbai, I think, is one of those cities.

A few years ago I read Gregory David Roberts’s novel Shantaram and my interest in Mumbai was piqued. Now I’m reading Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games and I have a full-blown crush on Mumbai. In both novels, the city is as much a character as any of the people in the thousand pages of narrative.

Shantaram idealized the city and people, yet showed both warts and all. Sacred Games has a much less heavy hand. Roberts’s is trying to seduce us with Mumbai; Chandra is coy.  Still, both portray Mumbai as the raandi with the heart of gold.

Over the years, I’ve fallen deeply in love with places because of a book; places I’d never seen. Early on it was Cornwall and London; later St. Petersburg and Geneva. With those great cities, I fell in love with them as they were a century or two ago. This Mumbai  affair is for the Mumbai of now.

Of the cities I’ve mentioned, I did get to see London, but my time there was too short and the opportunities to explore too limited. I left astounded that I liked the modern city and not just the ancient one that lived in my head. I didn’t fall in love with New York until after I’d visited, but now I can read novels set in the city and they’re richer, fuller. 

I have a yearning to visit Mumbai – a city that will make my heart simultaneously soar and break.  I can’t foresee the when or the how of Mumbai and I meeting, but I can daydream in the vivid colors, scents and textures that are India in general, and Mumbai in particular.

Well, Ain’t This Just a Fine Mess

Bear with me, folks. 

I don’t know why, but all of a sudden I am not happy with my blog layout and design.  It seems like everybody I know is re-doing their blog which got me to looking critically at mine.  One thing led to another and I started fooling around with some new templates.  Did some housecleaning.  Zapped some widgets.  Flirted with a footer.  I can’t predict what the blog will look like when you read this and it may look different if you decide to re-read it.

With any luck, I’ll be done with this peer-pressure foolishness and leave well enough alone.  I’ve identified what I want in a template and, for the moment, a wordpress hosted blog doesn’t offer one that makes me happy.

Just call me a malcontent.

The photo is of the Queen Anne’s Lace outside the fence.  QAL has always been one of my favorite wildflowers and this is proving to be one really good year for the wild carrot.  They’re tall, they’re beautiful, and they’re sturdy. 

Between fooling with templates and custom backgrounds, I looked up the legend of the plant’s common name.  Boy, was I wrong.  I had the wrong Anne and thus the wrong King which made my surmising the reason for the “drop of blood” in the center all wrong.  All wrong.  As wrong as the templates I keep test driving.

Cold Tub

Sun Worshipping, Yet Vigilant Willy

In 2002, The Ex and I bought a hot tub, er. . . I mean spa. We had always wanted one, but after we installed the fence to corral puppies, the perfect alcove was created. It would have been a crime not to put a hot tub spa in that spot.

One of The Ex’s most annoying and most redeeming qualities was that he shopped things to death. Except for one notorious car deal, I don’t think we ever paid one cent more than rock bottom on any major purchase. He was legendary in his wrangling which was not limited to just the major purchases. The guys at Firestone still talk about him and his fist full of coupons and competitors’ advertisements. He felt a failure if he paid more than $10 for an oil change.

We schlepped all over three states and the entire internet looking at hot tubs spas. In the course of comparison shopping, we were informed that the cool kids refer to them not as hot tubs but spas. Hot tubs are large vats of hot water. Spas are mini-vacation experiences that involve jets. The number of jets determines how much you get to swagger at the convention of Cool Kids with Spas.

I was pretty sure that standing around in showrooms peering at molded acrylic wasn’t the best way to determine the suitability of any one hot tub spa. I got in them and sat down. Sometimes they had water in them, sometimes not. Through trial error we determined the features we were willing to pay for and the ones we wouldn’t tolerate at any price. We then narrowed brands. Then price. Then swagger.

Finally, we ordered the damn thing. Finally, it arrived.

During the shopping phase, I was quick to say that it was primarily for The Ex. He had always wanted one. When we went on vacation, he gravitated to the nearest hot tub spa and soaked for hours at a time. Hot tubs Spas contented him in a way I never did.

I liked them well enough, but after twenty minutes or so I’d had enough.

Well. We got one. Here. At the house. Bathing suits optional. Privacy guaranteed. Open at any time of the day.


The spa boasts 57 (I think) jets. I fell in love with each and every one of them, but particularly the configuration of five that massage my back in just the right spots. My back that had ached for 20 years, ached much less. My stress levels plummeted. It was all good if pruney-skinned.

Even in winter, particularly in winter, I loved to sink inch, by inch, into the hot, steamy, bubbling water. As long as it was warmer than -10F, it wasn’t too cold to dash naked from the family room to the spa.

The biggest pain was lifting the cover. It was a good sized and, particularly with an inch or two of snow sitting on the cover, getting the cover off could be challenging.

We invested in a lifter – a metal contraption that works on the principle of torque. With one hand, I could rock the cover open or closed. It was better than all good.

I started most days and finished nearly every day with a good soak. I particularly loved morning coffee. That little alcove just the perfect size gets morning sun. After dark, I would turn the underwater light on and sip wine while pretending to be one of the idle rich I was genetically predestined to be but which, through a cruel twist of fate, was not.

During the cool days of spring and fall, Willy and I discovered that sitting on the cover was the perfect solution to wanting to be outside but it being too cold to be outside. The cover absorbed and retained heat from the water beneath and the sun above – the top was 10F warmer than any other place outside. He and I clocked a lot of hours sprawled on the cover.

When the heat of summer hit, I would turn the temp down to lukewarm. Mid-day soaks were still out of the question, but mornings and nights were wondrous.

Vapor barrier, styrofoam and the sweat of my brow.

The cover, and the spa, are now nearly 8 years old. Last year, the cover began disintegrating. The vapor barrier split and peeled. Covers, I learned, are nothing more than steel reinforced Styrofoam. The foam waterlogged. Slowly, as the wet summer of 2009 dragged on, it became more and more difficult and finally impossible to lift the cover.

I kept hoping that if it would quit raining long enough, the cover would dry out and I could Mickey Mouse a temporary vapor barrier that would last me until I could get the money together for a new cover. Styrofoam is more costly than I would have thought possible. Nothing doing. Once the thing waterlogged there was no drying it out.

This weekend, my brain fried by the heat, I decided to wrassle that cover off and at least use the spa as a miniature swimming pool. I figured I’d have to use a boat load of chemicals to keep the algae at bay and still have to drain it regularly, but it seemed like a good idea. There would be no jets and no nifty underwater light as there’s no way to operate the thing without the heater running. I’m not about to pay Appalachian Power to heat the already too hot great outdoors. Stupid design.

Stupid Thing

Wrassling the cover doesn’t begin to describe it. Two 8x4x3” panels of high-density, waterlogged foam hinged together and wrapped in a tasteful brown vinyl nestled in a perfect little alcove are a bitch.

The hacksaw was useless and I figured I didn’t need to be poised over 3 feet of bacterial infested water with power tools. It came down to me, a bread knife, and a pair of pinking shears.

It was ugly. After nearly concussing myself, coming close to stabbing my thigh and almost lopping off a finger, I managed to get one of the panels off the spa and into the yard WHERE IT WOULD NOT BUDGE.

I pushed. I pulled. I prayed.

All this in 95F with 90% humidity.

I had a tantrum and kicked the damn thing. Evidently, I kicked it in just the right spot and the foam cracked like the shell of a hardboiled egg.

The second panel was a lot easier.

After all that, it took the rest of the day to get the spa to cycle completely through the start-up phase of pump priming and whatnot. I was fixin’ to have another tantrum when the pump finally started to pump, the jets began to bubble and the digital readout informed me the 9 month-old water was 76F.

I drained that puppy and cleaned it between attacks of heat stroke. Had I not been able to get it to start up, I was going to take a sledgehammer to the thing, haul it out in pieces and install a $10 kiddie pool from the K-Mart. But it did start and Plan A is being executed.

Oh, Lord, it's cold...mmmmmm

Today, I am finally filling it. In an hour or so, I expect to slip inch by inch into icy water as the sun slips over the hillside and the solar lights begin to flicker on. While it’s possible I’ll opt for a glass of wine, it’s probably a surer bet I’ll be nursing a mug of hot coffee. One of the more gruesome aspects of this heat wave is that my caffeine levels are well below normal.

The cold tub spa will soon be open and I am thankful for small mercies.