Reflection on one year of yoga

Just about a year ago, I attended my first yoga class.  I did not really know what to expect, but as a long time runner and cyclist, felt like I could handle whatever challenge was thrown at me.  I did not realize, or even expect, that yoga would not only stretch me physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. Maybe that sounds corny, but it is certainly true that while yoga has changed me, its benefits sometimes seem less sustained that I would hope.  This must be an indication that I need to focus on the practice more consistently while also bringing the lessons of the mat to my life.

meditation-poseMy first yoga class was in Three Oaks, at the  Yoga Glow Studio. I did my best to follow the instructions of the teacher who was attentive and patient with me, a new student.  I learned fairly quickly  to respond to the physical cues, and as someone who has some experience with physical demands, I was able to at least be in tune with my body in order to move it in subtle ways. However, the emotional, spiritual, and mental aspect of yoga pushed my boundaries and expectations. Yoga has challenged me to quiet the self-doubt, the noise of every day demands, and the stress of daily life.

I remember a class several months ago that brought me to tears, not because of the physical demands, but rather because the meditation at the end of class forced me to contemplate loss — but from a new perspective.  I thought about how my own experience of loss seems so infinitesimal in the scheme of the universe.  I wondered how I could not be incredibly thankful for the gifts I have been given, for the the opportunity to feel such loss must, in its essence, mean that I have experienced abundance.  Making peace with the present and the now has been my dedication at many classes.  Often, I offer my experience to my family, to seeking confidence, patience, and charity.

In my life away from yoga, I wonder, though, how my dedication works out in the real world of demands — work, family, children.  While I am sitting on my mat, in meditation, dedicating the practice, I feel confident that I will carry that feeling with me all day, and all week, even. However, I know that I fail to bring that with me too many times.  Yoga is making me aware of the distance I have to travel to carry that feeling of peace beyond the mat. I can hope that the work on the mat gives me more reserves for the moments in life  that challenge me.  I know I have a long way to go — that yoga is a process or a road to be on, rather than a destination.

I have also had a couple of months this year when I was not practicing yoga regularly.  I did notice that I was less patient, less resilient, less giving.  I suppose a part of me has always been aware of the connection between the physical and the mental, and my time as a runner has reinforced the positive benefits of exercise.  Yoga is more than just physical exercise, however. The community of practitioners are committed to the philosophy behind the practice, and the conversations I’ve had after class indicate a kinship that exists among those who support each other’s goals both on and off the mat.

Practicing yoga means taking action, but it also means accepting, and letting go — of the negative energy that clouds authentic relationships.  I am trying to work on letting go of that negative force, and I know from reading about those who spend a lifetime in practice that I have much to learn, much to develop.  Yoga has given me a road with many pathways to explore.  I have to be sure to keep focused on putting one foot in front of the other on the road, being patient, being open to the gradual transformation that yoga promises, especially in the moments of letting go.

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Whoa, there!

1017634_10100499644645121_880295589_nNot to be redundant, but Gorilla Girl is amazing.  She has been interested in horses and riding them for a few years now, perhaps because two of her cousins ride, and has been astride a horse only a couple of times previous to Monday.

1013399_10100499616566391_494471862_nGorilla Girl’s first lesson at Spring Creek Equestrian Center was a definite success.  Gorilla Girl didn’t seem shy or nervous, and she was immediately comfortable with AG, the owner and trainer.  AG was patient with Gorilla Girl, explaining how to prepare the horse, groom it, and get it ready to ride.  Gorilla Girl did her part, confidently, and she listened carefully.  When it came time to ride, I expected a quick walk around the arena, but instead, Gorilla Girl spent a good 45-60 minutes astride Smore (a name that struck Gorilla Girl as perfect for her).  I watched in amazement as AG directed GG to ride knees in, toes up, arms out to the side and in front to work on balance.  Gorilla Girl even worked on trotting and slowing her horse.  She practiced standing in the saddle for 20 counts. She held the reins and followed AG’s instructions to a T.

1011071_10100499873232031_200690365_nAfter the ride, GG helped with grooming and putting away her gear. In the midst of the grooming, another larger show horse that had been working out in the area came galloping down the row of stalls, and AG quickly shoved GG and me into the harness stall while the others chased the loose animal into the outdoor area.  It was a bit intimidating to see that horse coming at us, but thankfully, quick thinking and reaction kept everyone safe.

Gorilla Girl’s only complaint about the whole thing was that she didn’t like the feel of Smore’s lips on her hand when she fed Smore the carrot after the ride. AG assured GG that she’ll get used to the horse lips. Gorilla Girl heads back for lesson two on Monday. I hope this doesn’t mean I have to find a second job!

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Monkey Girl: the super kid formerly known as Gorilla Girl

I must have known when I started writing here about Gorilla Girl that she was gifted with talents I could neither imagine nor predict. I’ve noted here her artistic flair, but have continued to stand in awe at her physical strength and agility.

Monkey/Gorilla Girl’s PE report card noted that she is in the 90-100% range for strength and fitness based on her numbers of push ups, sits ups, and her mile run. Her energy is boundless. M/G Girl seems to relish exploring with her physical being, and even though she eschews formalized lessons (I’ve asked often if dance, gymnastics, soccer were things she wanted to sign up for–with a firm no in response each time), she seems to inhabit her body in ways that make her a “natural.” M/G Girl’s energy and spirit of adventurous exploration come from deep within her. She does not need lessons, or structures, at least for now, to hone her skills. Her skill is all play now, as it should be.

M/G Girl has developed this habit of “showing” what she can do — and our pride in her accomplishments is clearly something that she thrives upon.  However, even when we are not there, M/G Girl climbs, swings, runs, jumps, and plays with her big heart beating along to her inner joy.

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Summer rituals: flag day in three oaks

DSC_8426Before the official arrival of summer, in Three Oaks, Michigan, home of the self-proclaimed “Worlds Largest Flag Day Parade,” summer begins with a  bang on or around June 14th.  The solstice, in its more graceful arrival, its lengthening days and the dusk-filled with fireflies, its s’mores round the fire, and its beach tramps, stands opposite the raucous float-filled, tractor belching, parade.

DSC_8472Of course, solstice celebrating druids probably did as much playing and noise making as the citizens here in Three Oaks, so maybe its just my romantic notions of summer solstice that make Flag Day’s antics well — antics.  I am sure our ancestors welcomed summer with as much imbibing and dancing as we modern flag wavers.

Flag Day plans are made well in advance, and I knew months ahead of time that I was in charge of appetizers and a cake (blueberry and strawberry bundt — red, white, and blue).  As we become part of the neighborhood here in Three Oaks, we seem to know that our presence is required on Flag Day.  EE might have been in Greensboro, North Carolina for the New Balance Nationals High Schools Championships with his star runner, but aside from the cost, EE would have missed Flag Day. So, he stayed. And our friends and family visited, and even noted, with some sarcasm, my earlier exhortations to attend this annual event.  Foxy said, “Peggy was quite animated in her description of what happens on Flag Day, so I had to see it.” Maybe to outsiders, Flag Day’s appeal is the quaint small-town parade and neighborhood party. But that’s a good a reason as any to celebrate summer.

Monkey Man at the Flag Day party

Monkey Man at the Flag Day party

Foxy also noted — kids love a parade. Monkey Man and Gorilla Girl, armed with a bucket, collected more candy than on Halloween. Clowns apparently are much less frightening when they are tossing fistfuls of Tootise rolls and bubble gum on the parade route.


My own engagement with Flag Day this year was somewhat less enthusiastic, if only because I had enjoyed the pre-party much too much Saturday night; after a day of dancing in the park, chopping and cooking, and getting fantastically beaten at ping-pong in the barn (all while drinking good beer), it took concerted effort to get to the Parade. I even had to get Foxy to take my place at the bean bag toss game at the party.


I’ve already started planning for next summer, and those plans include NOT imbibing too much the night before the parade — I want to be as perky as these float wavers next year!

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More voices: reflecting on harkness discusison

IMG_0069Now that my grades are turned in, my classroom has been cleaned, and my office packed, I can finally reflect upon the school year that has ended. At some point this year, it was enough to teach each day, come home each night, feed my family, and prepare to do it all again the next day.  It was a year filled with not enough time — strange since all the others have been the same 8765.81 hours.  This one seemed short a few hundred.

When I was a fledgling teacher, my mentors noted often that I was a “reflective” teacher — I think they meant it as a compliment.  They thought I paid attention to what worked and what didn’t, to how each lesson did or dd not fulfill my goals, or reach more of my students.  I still do that, but it seems more in concert with the planning that happens with my colleagues, and with the impromptu discussions that occur with my husband — also a teacher. I don’t necessarily feel that I am reflective about my lessons in the same way as those years ago when years seemed to have enough hours.

This year, however, despite the less than programmatic approach, my students seemed to be willing to go with the flow.  In our discussion model, students are encouraged to begin to monitor their own engagement with each other and text, though the Philips Exeter Harkness discussion method.  They hone skills like making text references to support points or interpretations, using each others names, asking questions, and minimizing interruptions. One of my classes really struggled to manage the balance between boys and girls at the table.  It was the girls who dominated, who steered the discussion, and who had the most to say on any given day.  The boys, it seemed, at first made an effort, but then silently withdrew, allowing the girls to run the show.

One idea behind Harkness is that is is meant to allow students to have a meta view of their habits, and then to make conscious choices that will lead to deeper and richer discussion.  Another idea includes problem solving — finding ways to shift the issues that are preventing the deepest conversation.  The glaring problem of the boys lack of engagement drove us to plan all girls and all boys discussions with the other gender group as observers.

When the girls observed the boys, the gave pointed feedback about numbers of times each boy used another boy’s name, about text, and about insights.  The girls were generous but also demanded more, telling the boys that they needed them to be part of the table for all of them to grow more adept at the structure. When the boys observed the girls, they were practical — perhaps searching for clues that would help them once we returned to the mixed gender discussions.

The class practiced the single gender discussions several times, and then we moved back to the mixed group, to mostly positive results.  Boys were more equally engaged, and seemed to take seriously their responsibility to each other at the table.

Our table geography, no longer limited to boys or girls alone, was richer and more focused, energetic and insightful, when many voices were in the mix.

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The screen door slams

screen door

Summer, according to the calendar, has fully arrived, but the solstice has nothing on the noiser signs of summer.   Our neighbor noted two days ago that he was glad to finally hear our screen door slamming — and that he’d be thrilled to hear it even hundreds of times a day. Even more than the solstice, the screen door shouts out, “Summer!”

Each time the door slams, Monkey Man or Gorilla Girl run to the yard, explore the garden of weeds, dig in the sandbox, or prepare to jump into the pool. Other slams announce the arrival of neighbors coming for an impromptu dinner and conversation. Some slams mean we’ve arrived back from Greenbush, loaded down with delicious beer for the next party.

TF had it quite right when he said the slams are a welcome change from the quiet of the winter and spring, and a harbinger of the unruly energy, and noisy giddiness of summer.

Sometimes when the door slams, I sing in my head, “The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves. Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays.”

Bruce Springsteen seems like summer, too.

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Signs that you might be a successful parent, or at least a subversive one

While driving in the car to therapy, Monkey Man and Gorilla Girl asked me to play Bruce Springsteen on the CD player, specifically “Shackled and Drawn.”

We also sang along to my favorite, “Death to My Hometown.”

I guess Springsteen may be too much of a pop star to qualify as subversive, and how subversive can you be if the President uses your most recent hit after his win on election night? But, still, in “Death to My Hometown,” Springsteen shouts for all to hear —

Send the robber barons straight to hell
The greedy thieves that came around
And ate the flesh of everything they’ve found
Whose crimes have gone unpunished now
Walk the streets as free men now

Pop or not, I’m glad that I can pass on some of my admiration for singing one’s truth out for all to hear to Monkey Man and Gorilla Girl.

Posted in children, class, corporate greed, family, singing | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Trying on jerky pants — or what it’s like to be a 7th grade teacher in February

No way are these guys jerks!

No way are these guys jerks!

On my way to class the other day, I passed a few colleagues on hallway duty in the break between lunch and the start of classes.  One colleague was waving her arms like a traffic cop, desperately attempting to quell the exuberance of a normally sedate 7th grader who was alternating between running and high knees skipping down a very crowded corridor, amid lockers slamming and pre-class chatter. She did not succeed in her mission.

She wailed, “What is wrong with them?  Someone else, a kid I don’t even know, supposedly has a backpack full of snow and ice, and is throwing it randomly as he moves by kids at lockers, in some sort of stealth snow ball fighter game.”

Another hall monitor/traffic cop moaned, “Why is everyone acting so crazy?”

My answer: It’s February, and it’s endless.  Even more, it’s the time when 7th graders try on their jerky pants. Some only experiment long enough to gaze longingly in the mirror, while others wear them indefinitely, so much so that the pants become stiff with grime and that musty and distinctive 7th grade odor.

I don’t mean to suggest that 7th graders are jerks, because they are not.  However, they do find discomfort in this middle ground between childhood and becoming more mature, independent, and responsible. This last gasp of childhood almost requires some questionable behavior, even from the most serious and seemingly mature students, if only to make space for more adult norms. As they try to fit into the new expectations, a whole array of disguises seems at their disposal. Jerky pants seem, however, to be required wearing this month.

I suppose that is the rub — we adults have mostly (ah hem) at least stored away our jerky pants, or donated them to goodwill or something.

My 8th grade colleague suggests that even some of her 8th grade students, this time of year especially, reach into the back of their closets, drag out those jerky pants, and try them on for size.  Hopefully, they will soon realize that have outgrown them, and no one wants to be caught wearing skinny, floody, jerky pants!

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Raiding the cookie jar in 2013

When we were kids, back in the stone age, we’d sneak cookies or whatever snacks we could find around the house.  I suppose all kids do this, and always will.  But there is a new twist to the desires of children for sweet treats. It’s called an ipad, and even the Pope has one.

popeipadmain1Ed’s school gave each teacher an ipad in order to boost technology use (or maybe it was just because the Pope has a twitter feed).  Anyway, Ed downloaded some free apps, like the New Yorker, but he used my Apple ID to do so.  Not really thinking about it, he left the Apple ID logged on the ipad.  Monkey Man is quite the ipad geek, and for a six-year old, he is adept at maneuvering from app to app, and at finding exactly what he wants among what seems to me an indecipherable mess of apps, games, and junk that swim in no particular order on the screen.

After a long day of school, Monkey Man went to the ipad while I started dinner.   I glanced over and wondered what he was doing because  it looked like he was downloading more apps.  Ed confirmed my suspicion, but thought that they must be free, and we continued with dinner preparations.

Later that night, I got a receipt from Apple for $25.00 worth of apps — perfectly reasonable ones for a six-year old: Dora the Explorer app, a PBS Kids app, and a Cars 2 app.  Clearly , Monkey Man knew exactly what he was looking for, made his selections, and purchased with the power of a permanently logged on credit card.

The next day, I told Monkey Man that he couldn’t just buy apps since they cost money, and since generally speaking, buying extras like this requires a job. I was more amused than anything by Monkey Man’s resourcefulness, and his ability to find the apps that he thought he and Gorilla Girl would like, but I still felt the need to remind him of the age-old parents’ lament — money  and/or credit cards do not grow on trees.

Monkey Man’s response to my suggestion that if he wants to buy apps, he’ll have to wait until he has a job was the perfect precursor to the eye-rolling teenager. “Um, I was milk helper today at school.”

His teacher commented that she’ll need to do a lesson on paid vs. unpaid labor soon!

Posted in children, family, humor, motherhood | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

How craigslist connects us in the most unexpected ways

It has been almost a year since I caved into the allure of purchasing expensive in-home exercise equipment.  My aging ankles consigned me to elliptical machines at the gym, but my six-year olds seemed incompatible with an absentee mom, so working out at home seemed to be the answer.   Last winter, we bought an elliptical machine, and Ed assembled it in our bedroom. I used it once, then again, then somehow my determination waned, and the machine loomed there, taunting me with its gigantic fly-wheel, whale sized foot pedals, and highly mechanical workout data reader.  I could not coax or cajole myself into climbing aboard the thing.  Whenever I planned to exercise, I found myself doing something, anything, else. It was like being in some technologized version of a Poe story, haunted by the machine, envisioning walling it up, only to dream of its nightmarish whirring that would send me into madness.

My aversion  was odd, especially since I could easily do 60 minutes on an elliptical at the gym, and in my running days, could even hop on the machine after a longish run.  Even 20 or 30 minutes on the damned machine sitting in my house now seemed like it would require the effort of hiking to the top of Mt. Everest, but without the view or the oxygen deprivation.

I’ve been trying to sell the machine for about a month or so, with no luck.  I guess because it was barely used, I was asking close to what we had paid for it, and on Craigslist, folks are looking for big bargains.  Finally, this week, I had a nibble.  FL and I did some negotiating via email, and came to an agreement, one that I could live with if it meant the evil machine would haunt me no longer.  My purchaser planned to come this morning to pick up the disassembled machine and haul it away in her SUV.

When FL arrived with her brother to help with the heavy lifting, she was drawn to Monkey Man and Gorilla Girl right away.  As I suspected from her name on the email, FL is Asian.  We talked tentatively in the way that strangers chat when first meeting to do business, and then she asked, politely and with great sensitivity,  where GG and MM were from.  I explained that we adopted them from Vietnam, and immediately we were no longer strangers doing business.  We had become members of a community that included the other.

“We are from Vietnam, too.  Our parents left Vietnam in 1975 at the fall of Saigon — we don’t call it Ho Chi Minh City — and moved to Michigan City, initially.”

So began an hour-long discussion of adoption, family, going “home” to Vietnam, meeting other Vietnamese families, food, and coincidences.  Luckily, it took a bit of working together to load the elliptical into the car, so while we worked, we talked.

As I walked to yoga class after FL and KL left, I hoped that we would somehow maintain this connection. Though I am not a believer in fate or things “meant to be,” I am struck by the serendipity of our connection, and I am thankful that FL was brave enough to ask, and that the four of us were trusting enough to share some very personal stories with each other, strangers until this moment.   Monkey Man and Gorilla Girl provided us with the connection that made all four of us reveal pieces of our lives that we would never share with strangers, but this talk felt honest, open, and real.

The challenge now will be to maintain the connection. Does Craigslist have a listing for that?

Posted in children, community, connection, encounters, family, identity, Vietnam | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments