Monday, August 14, 2017

4 planes, 3 airports, 28 hours, a flood warning, a bunch of squished frogs, and one really good friend

Tomorrow my good friend Vanessa officially turns 50 years old. She's about a year and a half ahead of me and about a year and a half behind my partner Nancy. Last summer when we were in New York, Vanessa told us to save the date for her 50th- August 2017.

A few months ago when Vanessa finally let us know that the official date of her party would be August 12th, I had to tell her that I couldn't come. Because of existing summer travel, I couldn't leave until Friday and The SweatBox was starting a big renovation the following Monday so I had to be back by Sunday. Vanessa lives in Manhattan and her party would be at her weekend house in upstate New York. It was just too far and convoluted to figure out a way to get there and go to the party leaving Friday and returning Sunday.

Since I don't really feel inclined to have a big party for my 50th, I felt okay telling Vanessa that I couldn't go, but it quickly became apparent that this was not a big party and she really only wanted a handful of good, old friends to come. So, at the last minute we decided that I would surprise Vanessa and go. Nancy used her ridiculously good travel planning skills and got me a ticket. We'd fly via Detroit into Newburgh and rent a car to Vanessa's, only about 45 minutes from Newburgh. I thought it was perfect. We'd avoid New York City traffic and airports and be in and out for the party with no trouble.

Our flight on Friday left at 6am and we planned that I'd park my car at the airport so I could go straight to the studio on Sunday night when I landed (Nancy would stay an extra day). On Friday, we got up at 3:45am and made it through parking and security with no problems. Our flight from Seattle to Detroit took off without a hitch. So far so good.

Once we got to Detroit, we learned that our flight to Newburgh would be an hour late (that's after the planned 2 hour layover). That delay went from one to two to three hours, leaving us in the Detroit airport for 5 1/2 hours. We made the best of it. We wandered, ate snacks, drank Prosecco, people watched. Nancy spoke to Vanessa multiple times, pretending she was traveling alone, stranded solo in Detroit.

By the time we landed in Newburgh there was a full on rainstorm and our phones were sending out emergency warnings for a flash flood. We'd planned to be at Vanessa's by 6pm but by now it was already after 9pm. We followed the Google Maps voice until we were a mile away, at which point I climbed in the back seat to hide for our arrival and we lost service all together. Nancy kept screaming because she was running over errant frogs hopping across the wet country roads. I, prone to motion sickness, was lying on the suitcase with my windows rolled down, offering very little help to poor Nancy. Exhausted, hungry, driving in unfamiliar territory without street lights or cell service, we basically guessed the last one thousand yards to Vanessa's driveway. But we finally made it. Nancy got out first and went into the house and I stumbled in five minutes after, a rumpled, wet, nauseated surprise.

We stayed up late that first night catching up, grateful and excited to be together. We woke up early the next day to set up for the party. It was so great to be there, and Vanessa was so happy! The party was an all day affair around the pool, then the dining room table on the deck, then the pool again, then the fire pit and back inside for second dinner at 1am. It was an epic party.

The next morning, fully sated from the day of fun and eager to get to the studio to set up,  I took our rental car back to Newburgh for a 2pm flight. Mechanical problems turned the 2pm flight turned into 5pm. I missed my connection in Detroit and my 7pm arrival to Seattle turned into midnight. This morning when I went to the studio at 5am with 4 hours of sleep and airplane hair, I calculated my time traveling to Vanessa's party-- 28 hours- 14 there, 14 back. The time I was actually at Vanessa's house was about 38 hours and I slept 12 of those. I can't believe I'm saying this, but it was totally worth it.

Happy Birthday Vanessa!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Crashing waves

My two sisters and I are less than two years apart. Katherine and I are twins and Amy is twenty-one months younger. When we were kids we rotated in different duos within our trio. Although we each had our own bedrooms, we often migrated for periods of time to one of our sister's rooms. Sometimes Katherine and I would share a bedroom, sometimes me and Amy, and sometimes Katherine and Amy. Though we fought like all siblings, I remember more good times than bad with my sisters. We grew up in the 1970s when grown ups, at least our grown ups, were sowing their wild oats, finding themselves, letting us kids figure out how to entertain ourselves with minimal adult supervision.

We ran in a neighborhood pack on the South side of Chicago. Our posse-- Christa, Regan, Joby, Frouwkje--with the periodic inclusion of other neighborhood kids, had a regular weekend garage sale on the corner of 57th and Harper in front of Powell's  Bookstore. We'd take the books out of the free box and label them with nickel, dime and quarter price tags and add that to old sheets, kitchen utensils and toys from our respective houses. The police once gave us a warning for selling pillow cases with block labeling "PROPERTY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO" that we'd grabbed from our linen closet.

In many ways our childhood was fantastic. I have great sadness that my daughter doesn't have the freedom to be wild and unaccounted for in the ways I was. But those years were also chaotic and sometimes unsafe and my sisters and I developed a tight bond, one that has lasted into adulthood. But just like our room swapping as kids, we've gone through lots of different relational incarnations with each other.

There have been times when Katherine and I were really close and Amy wasn't deep in the mix. Katherine and Amy have had times of connection and I've been on the outside and Amy and I bond deeply one month and find more distance others. We all live in different states now, so there are very few times when the three of us are all together in one room. Our interactions are mostly via phone calls, email and text.

But every summer we all get together. The sisters, our parents, and the grandkids. Those are amazing times, uproariously funny times. And because we're not familiar with the intensity anymore, they almost always make us a little bit crazy. A few weeks ago we all gathered in Michigan for a reunion. Toward the end of the seven days, I was feeling the familiar frustration that comes from being together intensely. I think Katherine and Amy were feeling it too. Right before dinner when the Lake Michigan waves are high and strong, Katherine and Amy said they were going down to the lake. At the last minute I decided to join them.

Riding the energy of an intense day, we walked down to the lake in relative silence. I felt tense, a familiar upset feeling from finding myself back in that hijacked anxious state that I get when I see myself repeating old familial patterns. I felt like throwing a tantrum or beating the shit out of someone. As we crested the dunes to the lake, we could see that the waves were higher than they'd been all week. There were only two other people on the whole beach.

Within seconds we had all dropped our towels and were running into the waves. We've been diving into those waves our whole lives and the joy we felt as we plunged headfirst into them was visceral. We emerged, bathing suits askew from the force of the water, hair wildly placed in ridiculous sandy combovers, laughing hysterically at ourselves and each other. It was the laughter that I only have with my sisters. The waves beat the shit out of us. For twenty minutes we dove in and the lake spit us out. And then, as if in silent agreement, Katherine walked towards the shore and Amy and I followed. We gathered ourselves into our towels, slipped on our sandals and, bathing suit bottoms filled with sand, walked home for dinner.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Family Yoga

Last week I spent seven days with my family at a house in Michigan. It was my little family-- Nancy  and Lucia (12),  our 12-year old niece Kaye, my sister Amy, her husband Ben and their seven-year-old Sam, my sister Katherine and her two boys, Joe (15 1/2) and Sean (14), my mom (76) and stepfather (89).

All families are intense and dysfunction in their own special ways. My family is no different. Depending on the year and the individual states of mind among all of the kids and parents, different combinations of people work well and others not so well on our family trips. There are always good times, lots of laughing, game playing, teasing, cooking and eating on our family trips, but there's also a collective tension that builds. By the end, even though we all love each other, we're ready to say goodbye.

This morning as we were cleaning up our rental house, I was washing the dishes and broke a vase. When I told my mom, she said, "Oh God, that's a fancy one. It's an Aalto!" I had no idea what an Aalto was, but I was quickly schooled. Yes, indeed it was a fancy one. "The Aalto Littala" to be specific, retailing for $175 at MOMA.

So the end of my trip was punctuated by bullshit-- texting the owner about replacing a vase that we used for 4 days for flowers that died. I spent fifteen minutes stewing in my room between attempts to find the Aalto Littala on sale, but eventually there was nothing I could do but let it go. A broken glass vase cannot be pieced back together, no matter how many ways you try.

As we left the vacation rental I was stewing. The broken vase compounded by the build up of tension from lots of family time made me feel manic and a little bit violent. As we started the two-hour drive from Michigan to Midway airport in Chicago, I tried to redirect my energy by thinking about all of the great moments we had together. One of my favorite was an impromptu poolside yoga class with my fourteen year old nephew Sean, his 15 year old brother Joe, Lucia and Kaye (12), Nancy, my mom and my two sisters.

We only had beach towels, no mats, and it was 8pm, the end of a full day of swimming, tennis and a huge dinner. But somehow it happened. Nancy and Lucia are used to family yoga; we do it often. But I was truly surprised that anyone else joined in. My nephew Sean was the biggest shocker. Sean is an extreme athlete. He's a trampolinist, a wild flipping scooterer, the kind of kid who jumps off roofs without batting an eye. A few months ago, while jumping off of a roof onto a trampoline doing a triple flip, Sean broke his neck and had surgery to fuse two of his cervical vertebrae. In addition to his recent injury, Sean is also a quintessential teen, spending most of his time on his phone and in his room.

So when I asked Sean to join he said, "Sure, I'll try," I was floored. I started the class quickly so that nothing would distract him away from doing yoga. The class lasted about 40 minutes and was very low key. Sean did every posture and stayed seemingly present the whole time (no phone, eyes closed, snickering undetectable).  I can still his face in final Savasana-- peaceful, quiet, beautiful. I can picture the faces of everyone in my family that evening. I have these moments often at the studio when I look around the room after a class and see my students recalibrating, integrating all of the information from the class. It's why I love my job. It's a gift to me to see the peace that comes to people when they slow down, take away the bullshit, and breathe new life into their bodies. I'm not sure when my family will get together again, but until we do,  I'll so grateful to have the image of their beautiful post-yoga faces to remember.

Friday, July 7, 2017


A few weeks ago, I was paired with Betty at Adaptive Yoga.  Betty does not use a wheelchair; she has full use of her whole body, but she likes the class.  In adaptive yoga, volunteers like me facilitate movement for people who have limited mobility. Often we do hip openers by moving the legs from bent to straight to bent again. Or we rotate the leg right and left in circles to bring some lubrication to the hip joints.

I offered to help Betty move her legs because, even if you can move your legs on your own, it often feels really good to surrender and let someone else do it for you. Like many people, Betty had a hard time relinquishing control in this exercise.  In fact, she did the opposite of relaxing into the movement.

A few things to know about Betty. She is little, maybe 4 feet 10 inches. And she's old, a surprisingly young, and strong 92 years old. And, she always wears a royal blue sweatsuit.  As I tried to help Betty through the hip circles (and she resisted) I couldn't get over how strong her little 92-year-old legs were. Betty was married to her husband for 68 years and he died last year. She started yoga as a way to keep busy, and healthy. She also started wearing magnetic bracelets and anklets to help channel energy that would help her back pain. She got that idea from the suggestion of a vendor at the mall.

As a yoga teacher, I am surrounded all the time by people who are pretty open-minded. But these people are in their 20s or 30s or 40s. When I was a kid, we used to visit my grandmother in the Drexel Home in South Chicago. Sometimes our school would go to do crafts and sing songs with the old people who lived there. I always loved the visits with my class and with my family. My grandmother and the other residents were always so appreciative. Old people have experienced so much more life and loss than the rest of us that they are simply wiser. What a gift it was to spend time, doing yoga no less, with this special nonagenarian!

As the class came to an end and everyone was getting comfortable in Savasana, the teacher Nicole came over to Betty to ask her if she needed anything. Betty's eyes were already closed and her face emanated pure bliss. Her little blue sweatsuit-clad body was perfect as it was.  I looked down at her, watching her chest rise and fall with her breath, her anklets and bracelets slack on her ankles and wrists. "She's amazing," I thought to myself. Nicole and I shared a smile of appreciation for this beautiful soul before she moved on to check on the other students.

When I went home that night, I was, as I almost always am after Adaptive Yoga, jolly, excited, at peace, all at the same time. My heart was full of Betty, of all her goodness-- her open-mindedness, her faith in healing, her ability to be honest about managing the loss of her husband, her perseverance get herself to finally let go at the end of class. Gifts really do come in all sorts of packages.  Thank you Betty!

Thursday, July 6, 2017


Last week we went out on a motor boat on Lake Washington. The temperature peaked at 93 degrees and after hanging at the lake in the heat of the day, we were all excited to hop aboard our friend Andrea's motor boat and get some wind in our hair. Though it was very hot, it was also choppy on the lake and it seemed that every boat and jet ski registered in the greater Seattle area was out for a spin.

I'm prone to motion sickness. When we travel abroad, I alway pack a perscription anti-nausea, but I rarely take it when we're just on the lake. A few weeks ago we went out on the same boat and I was just fine. But last week, I found that I could barely hold on. A few times I jumped into the water to get off the rocking vessel. That provided a temporary solution but the seasickness came right back as soon as I got back on the boat.

Andrea offered to take us on a longer tour, all the way from south of Seward Park to the 520 bridge. Not wanting to be a pooper, I agreed but about halfway in I realized that I couldn't do it. Head between my knees, I told Nancy I was a goner. She told Andrea who graciously complied with this last minute change of plans. We made a B-Line for the west side of the lake so we could turn back and head to the moorage near our house.

I was okay when the boat was speeding, but as soon as we slowed down to pack up our stuff and get ready to dock, the seasickness came back in a furious wave. Andrea suggested she bring the boat a bit closer in so I could swim the 50 yards to shore. Desperate to escape the nausea, I jumped at the opportunity. I've actually followed this protocol before. Several years ago when Nancy and I were kayaking in Belize, I had to abort mission and swim the last leg of our trip because the rocking of the sea waves beneath the kayak was too much for me.

Still very queasy, I leapt from the nose of the boat into the lake. The waves were big, my stomach was inside out, and the lake bottom was nowhere near my toes. I panicked. Even though I was a competitive swimmer for over 15 years, I often forget my skills in open water and lose my calm. I turned over onto my back and treaded water. I tried to take little sips of air, but I couldn't catch a full breath.  I wasn't okay. "Laura, are you alright?!!!" Nancy yelled from the boat. Not wanting to scare Lucia who standing right behind Nancy, I made a face gesture indicating that no, I was not okay. I was literally over my head. I didn't know how to get control. I needed help.

Nancy threw me a life preserver. I managed to wrangle it onto my body and I dog paddled to shore. As I climbed out onto the wall, I could see people sitting up on their towels, on paddle boards, in boats looking at me, wondering if I was okay, trying to figure out what the spectacle of the woman jumping off the boat and needing a life preserver was all about. I didn't care.  I was simply relieved to be safely on land.

In my younger days, I would have died of embarrassment to demonstrate such weakness, such vulnerability. I might have tried to power through somehow, attempt to override my nausea or deny my panic, but these days I am older and wiser. I know that, try as I might, I am not invincible. I am a human being with frailties, fears, and limits. And life is not in my control. The conditions that day on the lake brought me to my knees and I needed help. The only way to take care of myself, on the boat and in the lake, was to admit my weaknesses, to ask for help.

I resist showing my vulnerabilities. I like to be in control. I often find myself in conflict because I can't just admit that I'm scared or hurt or overwhelmed. It's unlikely, but possible, that I could have drowned had I not asked for help that day on the lake. It's one of the great ironies of life, that admitting our weaknesses makes us stronger. It brings us closer to other people because we show up fully, vulnerabilities and all. The experience on the lake was a gift, a reminder that asking for help is a good thing, a necessary part of life.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Goo Goo Gaa Gaa

I've just finished listening to Esther Perel's new podcast, "Where Should We Begin." It's seven episodes of couples therapy, each episode a different couple. In one episode, Perel has one member of the couple blindfold herself and the other member speak only in French. Perel reminds the couple, and all of us listening to the podcast, that most humans are non-verbal for at least the first 18 months of our lives. Prior to speaking, we communicated through our bodies. Our first language is non-verbal;  body language. When we were pre-verbal, we could tell our parents if we were happy, sad, curious, hungry, in pain, constipated, hot or cold with our bodies.

As a hyper-verbal person, this is an important reminder. I often get caught up in the intellectualization of an experience because I am quick to attach words to it. How would I describe that?, I often find myself thinking in the middle of a feeling.

As a yoga student and teacher, I am in the unique position to reconnect and more deeply connect with my first language, the body. The other day before class, I shared this idea-- try to notice what language you are using to experience your yoga practice. To be able to be in a posture and just feel it instead of attaching words is a gift. The words usually come with judgement or analysis, thoughts that take us off the path to becoming more connected with our true selves. Feeling, through the body, on the other hand, is where true healing and liberation can happen.

When I was twenty I lived in Spain for a year. I flew home from Madrid via Kennedy Airport. I remember, as I waited in the terminal for my connection to O'Hare, how disoriented I felt.  It had been so long since I'd spoken English regularly that I couldn't remember certain words. So when I think about the 20 or 30 or 50 years we live speaking a language other than the one we were born with, it makes sense that rediscovering our body language would be challenging. It might feel at times impossible.

The couple who wore the blindfold and spoke French were trying to reconnect with one another by experiencing each other as different people with the idea that, seeing each other in this new way would enable them to see each other more completely. They were opening the door to that idea that we are never just one way. How we act most of the time is not who we are all of the time.

Yoga opens that door too. I'm shy and guarded and a little bit worried all the time, but that's not all I am.  Yoga gives me the opportunity to take a break from seeing only that, from being only that. The experience of yoga is hard to put into words. Right, because it's in the body.

Friday, June 9, 2017

You're the best!

In my little family, we have a frequent saying around the house. "You're the best!", I will say to Lucia when, in search for her black leggings in the dryer, unsolicited, she brings the whole load of laundry up from the basement. When either Nancy or I bring the other coffee in bed, the act is always met with "You're the best."  Sometimes when we're hurrying out the door to school,  Nancy will yell, "Lu, you're the best!" giving some props and support for another hard day of sixth grade.

This morning Lucia had three tests before fourth period and was losing it a little bit. Nancy was mediating a very difficult case that would likely go well into the evening hours. As I ran around the kitchen doing breakfast things, they sat at opposite ends of the kitchen counter with their laptops open, scrawling notes-- Lucia for her science test and Nancy for her case.

My day ahead involved a tapestry of lots of little things all over town--- I had to go deal with a heat glitch at the studio; I needed to go down to the Seattle Department of Transportation to get a truck permit for an upcoming project; I had to meet the landscaper at the rental house; I wanted to get the first draft of the newsletter written; and I was on a mission to replace two evergreen clematis that recently died. I was a little stressed about getting it all done.

About a year ago, I started writing daily messages on a little kitchen chalkboard. I try to get Nancy and Lu to come up with ideas, and sometimes they are good sports, but usually it's me. As I looked across as these two dear souls, working hard, stressing hard, as I scurried to get all the ducks in a row for my own day, the message of the day popped into my head clear as rain. "Your best is the best." I scratched it onto the board and propped it on the counter so they could both see. "Your best is the BEST!" I screamed, rejoicing at the pure truth of it, hoping it would bring some ease to the furrowed brows hovering over the four eyes across from me.

"Good one," Nancy said, "did you make that up?"
"Yes!" I exclaimed.
"Mom, if I get an JS [that's an F] on my health test, it's not the best, it's a JS" Lucia groaned, punctuating her sentence with a grand roll of her eyes.

Needless to say, Lucia didn't get an JS, but if she had, and if she'd done her best, I would still have given her the house standard, "You're the best!" because I believe it. It sounds simple because it is simple. Doing our own personal best is all we have in each of our little galaxies. Finding it--our personal best-- is the journey every day. It's trying our hardest and being present to whatever it is we are doing, whether it's being a lawyer, memorizing sixth grade geology, or making time for all the moving pieces of life. Try hard. Engage. Face the challenge. Do your best.