Friday, December 20, 2019

Periodopausal


When my daughter got her period a few years ago she introduced me to an app called Clue. It tracks your period. You input your symptoms (happy, headache, ovulation, tender breasts), your mood (happy, sensitive, sad, PMS) and your flow (light, medium, heavy, spotting). The majority of my friends report by the hundreds of days when their last period was. The word on the street is that, once you don't get your period for a full year you are officially in menopause.

I still get my period every month but I've noticed my period has changed drastically in the last several months and so I've reengaged with my Clue App to see if I can get a handle on what's coming. This past month my period lasted for thirteen days. I only had one or two heavy days and the rest were just spotting. Annoying and unpredictable spotting. So I'm not in menopause yet, but I am definitely perimenopausal or periodopausal as I have started to think about it.

I get irritated with the constant drip system that has become my body. I hear myself complaining to my family, "Oh my GOOOD. I still have my period!" It must get old, hearing crazy Laura go on again about how many days it's been. I'm know I'm not unique or special. I am totally aware of the fact that, at age 51, I am in good company with lots of other women who experience a similar period surprise party every month, never knowing exactly what to expect.

There is a part of me that feels grateful to still get my period. I get to share the period supply closet with my daughter and it makes me feel like I'm still kind of young. My period is familiar. I've been experiencing it every month for over thirty-five years. The other day at dinner my daughter, complaining of her own period woes said, "Mom, if I live to age 95 like GeeGee, if you calculate all the days of my periods, it comes to twelve years. I will have bled for twelve whole years of my life." That's a lot of bleeding.

My period has not always been thirteen days. I have a feeling that it will slowly start to creep back down until it disappears entirely. So what's all this complaining about? What's the lesson? I'm  attached to my period. I am holding on tight to this natural process that I've experienced for the majority of my life.  While it comes out as a complaint, when I look back and think about it, I can detect excitement and satisfaction, "I still HAVE it!" vs "I still have it!"

When my daughter got her period I wrote her a letter. I bought her eight different boxes of pads and panty liners. I bought her special padded period panties and I cried as I told her how much I loved her and always would. Getting the period is a big deal. And not getting it is a big deal too.

There should be a ritual for this moment. I wonder what it should be. It should be a ritual moment acknowledging this twelve years of periods in our lives. I don't know what it is yet, but I know it should be special, it should be something that feels like saying hello and goodbye at the same time. And, if you want to know what the ritual is, you can always come to one of our Put Some Claws in Your Pause retreats. 


Saturday, December 7, 2019

A Little Help from my Friends

A few blocks from my house, there is an abandoned boat in Lake Washington. It has been there for several weeks. I can see the boat from where I am sitting now, leaning slightly more towards shore than it was yesterday. It's raining, but not enough to raise the level of the lake and maybe help that poor boat off of the land where it ran aground.

Everyday I walk my dog to that boat to look at its status. There were several days when the boat first ran aground the the owner made attempts to move the boat. One day, very early in the morning, the man who I'm assuming was the captain of the little ship, put on a wet suit and waded out to the boat. I watched him climb aboard to do some kind of boat related fixing. Another day I saw a little raft and some big white barrels, but no man. Some days I'd see him sitting in his purple car in the parking lot, motor running, watching the boat. For a time there was a generator and I could see water being pumped out of the hull.

My family teases me about my obsession with this boat. My daughter Lucia rolls her eyes as she tells my partner Nancy, "I heard about the boat again on the way home from shopping." I am obsessed. I think about that boat everyday. But why? Last week I did a writing exercise designed to tap into our subconscious thoughts to try to explore my overwhelming interest in the boat and I uncovered a few things.

I'm worried. I'm so worried about that man who is sitting on the sidelines just watching as his boat tilts a little more everyday. There is a big pile of debris on the shore--tools, a  bike, a blue tarp, random pieces of wood, different lengths of rope---abandoned from the attempts to right the boat in the water. Has the man moved away and left all that stuff along with his boat or will he be back when he has another idea? I worry about the geese and the coots and the cormorants, and the turtles and otters who hang out there. Is this trash slowly infiltrating their habitat?

If this man has abandoned hope, why? I think it's because he needs help. He made a mistake. He took his boat into waters that were too shallow and he got stuck and now the man needs help. When I am down by the boat, watching it, waiting for something to happen-- the man to reappear, the coast guard to come help, a miracle of heavy, heavy rain---I hear people walking by and commenting: "This is a disaster." "If we were in North Seattle, this boat would be gone by now." I cannot believe how irresponsible this boat owner is." But even when the man was there, working on saving his boat for many days in a row, he was alone. None of the passersby, including me, reached out to the man and asked, "How can I help?" I feel bad for not offering help, even just checking in with the man. I saw him as a problem, unrelated to me and I watched like a voyeur, waiting for someone else to be the one to help, waiting for him to figure it out. This is not what I want for my community or my planet. It's so sad to think about this little microcosm of our world-- his boat, not my problem.

I understand now that sadness is where the root of my obsession lies. I am heartbroken at the aloneness of this man and his boat. I cannot believe that, in this community of boat owners and people who live along the lake (including me!), there has not been a groundswell of energy and support, a little group of boat movers, like the Amish barn raisers, who gather together to give a big literal or figurative community push to save the little boat.

It's pouring now and I wonder if the rain will help the man and his boat. I haven't seen him in several days. There have been lots of comments on our neighborhood blog about what to do about the damn boat. Call the police, some people say. Call the mayor.  I finally piped in yesterday adding that I think the man needs help. I hope the man reappears to save his boat one last time. If he does, I will ask him if he needs help.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Mahjong


Since I started educating myself about menopause and trying to spread some positivity about this next chapter, I've been gifted with countless links from friends and family relating to menopause: the latest medical research, tropical retreats and programs for women in their fifties, ways to replenish estrogen, and humorous anecdotes about hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms.

One of the things I've learned is that it is important to establish practices in our forties and fifties that will minimize the cognitive decline that comes in our sixties and seventies. There is a recent correlation between Alzheimers and the decrease in estrogen so obviously women my age are concerned! What can we do to stay sharp and maintain our current mental, physical and emotional health?

We know that intellectual stimulation and human interaction are two important factors in staving off cognitive decline. If we start now, in our forties and fifties, the practices will be set and we won't have to start from scratch when we are sixty or seventy. If we wait, it's harder to introduce the brain to new habits. Once the decline starts, it's very difficult to introduce these preventive practices.

I'm in a rare and very fortunate position in my life right now. Having just sold my business, I have time to follow different curiosities and learn new things. I've had time to read and contemplate some of this menopause research more thoroughly. And, unlike before when I read something and tabled it until I had more time, now, like a mouse following cheese, I have time to follow one thought to another. I have time to create some practices that will help me as I get older.

One of my friends in New Orleans recently told me that her seventy-eight-year-old mother plays Mahjong three times a week and is fit as a fiddle mentally. My daughter Lucia is reading the Joy Luck Club and told me that Mahjong is a big part of the story, and so, as I tend to do, I took these two Mahjong references as a sign that learning Mahjong was an important part of my path.

I searched online and found that they teach both Chinese and American (also referred to as Jewish) Mahjong at the senior center near my house. I called and found out that even though I'm only fifty-one, I would be welcome there. I imagined a big room with multiple tables, like a poker salon, but when I got there it was just me and two other women, not even enough to make a full table of four. Suzanna and Louise gave me an extensive private lesson including the Chinese words for all the suits and numbers. Eventually a few more women joined in so we had a rotating table of four with the experienced players helping the newcomers.

Mahjong was hard. Learning the different parts--- The Winds, Dragons, and other symbols as well as learning the Chinese characters and sounds felt a little like taking piano at age forty-five-- like I was trying to dig new neural pathways with a shovel, but what I really needed was a back hoe.

I had moments of self-consciousness for myself as I sat with these five senior citizens. Was it weird that I was going to the senior center way before I was a senior? At one point all of the women were talking about how to use their Medicare benefits to pay for Silver Sneakers and I felt like a total imposter. I was the youngest by twenty-years in our little party of six. And I was the dumbest. All of the seventy-somethings used Chinese for the numbers and suits while I stuck to awkward English descriptions for each tile.

The feeling I had during my two hours of Mahjong with these lovely elders was one of presence and ease. These women modeled for me the true sense of just being. I (even though I don't actually have a job to go to!) am still heavily burdened by the idea that I am supposed to be doing something important, that I am supposed to be working towards becoming something. But what? I'm sure all of the women around the table have duties and responsibilities-- family, homes, maybe even jobs.

I had to wonder, was it the twenty years of life these women had on me? Had they experienced life -- kids growing up and moving away, deaths, illnesses and other experiences of grief, loss and aging-- that, in some amazing way, opened up a clear path to their pure expression of  joy and presence?

I don't know. I'm still learning about menopause and aging. New research is always happening and the jury is out as to whether injecting estrogen directly into the brain is going to be the cure for cognitive decline for us women. I'm thankful for that little two-hour window of Mahjong where I got to learn a new game that might curb my own loss of mental acuity, but more importantly, I'm grateful for the chance to witness the bigger picture-- the potential for joy and presence in the years to come.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Little Otters in the Lake


This morning when the whole house was fast asleep and there was just enough light to feel like it was actually morning, I dragged Freckles out of his soft, warm dog bed into the drizzle and walked down to the lake. When I got to the boat launch at the end of our street there was one car parking and a young woman got out to walk down to the shore. I noticed her because there were no other cars or people. I wondered if she'd had a long, hard night, if she was sad because someone had died, if she had a big decision to make and needed to look at the clarity of the lake to find some answers.

I let Freckles off his leash so he could wander and, just as I did, I noticed a huge splash in the lake. I looked towards the young woman to see if she'd noticed but she was in her own world, quietly staring towards the boats in the marina. I started my walk south and soon saw a pair of otters. I've been seeing a lot of otters these days and I wondered if maybe that splash had been an otter or two splashing their tails at the same time.

As I walked, I saw no fewer than nine otters, a record for me. "This is a sign," I thought to myself, and I made a mental note to look up the symbolism of river otters. Further down the path I ran into my neighbor and his standard poodle. I mentioned how many otters I'd seen that morning and he said, "Did you see the beaver?" He told me that the beavers had a dam over in Seward Park and often swam north around this time in the morning. That explained the splash. Beavers are much bigger than otters. I was so excited to learn about this presence in my favorite lake. I'd have something new to watch for on my morning walks.

When I got home from my walk I dried Freckles' paws and immediately went to research otters. Otters represents the inner child, celebrating joy in the simple things, the freedom to do what our instincts tell us to do. I love the concept of spirit animals, or totems, because they help explain the magic of the universe. Why I'd been drawn to go out into the dark, drizzly morning today made sense. It was to see all those amazing otters and the lone splashing beaver. And seeing all the otters today made me contemplate "why now?" when normally I catch a glimpse of one or two once every fourth or fifth walk.

Since selling my business, I have been trying to live in the land of simply "being." I've tried to listen to my heart's desire. When I read about otters representing the inner child, I reviewed where I've been and what I've done with my time in the last month. I've painted pictures, sewn a Christmas stocking for my dog, made a pine cone wreath, baked multiple loaves of bread and several cakes, repotted plants, and done my writing practice almost every day. I have been listening to my instincts, doing things that bring me joy. Seeing the otters this morning affirmed this path I am on and gave me a great sense of connection to the wonders of the universe.

I couldn't help but look up the symbolism for the beaver. The beaver totem represents persistence in work, an invitation to vigilantly work on a task or project until it is done. This makes sense, that I only saw the "tail end" of the beaver; only glimpsed the aftermath of it's big tail splashing. I'm not in the productivity mode to get things done and make things happen. Right now, I'm in otter-mode, connecting with my inner child and finding joy.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

What am I worth?


For the first time in my adult life I am in the position of not having a "real job." I am on a chosen hiatus from being fully defined by my job. I am incredibly lucky. I have savings and an infinitely supportive partner who will help financially shepherd me through this time of not generating much income.

What I find though, is that instead of luxuriating in this newfound spare time, I am, at times, filled with a sense of unworthiness. I was raised to believe that my value came from working hard, and a lot. In my family making a lot of money was never the big thing, but being busy, having something to do, gave us value and stature. Growing up in the United States I've learned that having money gives me power, authority and respect. So here I am with lots of free time and no cash flow. My default, patterned brain goes to the idea that I am a loser, but the part of my brain that I've been working over the last decade to strengthen, the here and now brain, says that feeling unworthy is a just a construct.

This feeling has inspired me to explore what worth means to me. I've read about it, written about it, meditated on it. What does worth mean to me? It means having a sense of place and purpose in the world. Does it relate to busy-ness? Not really. I'm beginning to understand that, for me, it relates more to a sense of connection with people and the universe around me. Does it relate to income? A little. I want to be able to carry my weight in my household. But more than income, it relates to a different kind of fullness- a fullness in my heart and mind. Are the things I do everyday bringing me joy? Are they bringing me, and maybe others, closer to a feeling of connection with the universe?

I don't have the answers to these questions. These unknowns are where my curiosity lies right now. I'm going to keep exploring and imagining. I do know that being in this place of "perceived emptiness" (e.g. no job) is hard. I am swimming upstream against a flood of beliefs that are deeply grooved into our society and my brain. Everyday is a new challenge and another step towards understanding what brings me joy, heals my heart, and deepens my sense of connection to the world around me.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Risk-taking


My daughter Lucia started high school this year. I think I understood in theory that things would change, but I don't think I fully understood the reality of how having a high schooler would look. It's all good for her, the risks she's taking. I commend her for trying new things. She got her nose pierced (with full permission). She's taking bus and light rail all over the city. She's going to parties and football games and staying after school to eat Ezell's Chicken with friends.

She's keeping up her grades and doing her extracurriculars as well, so what am I afraid of? Sometimes I find myself going down a rabbit hole of all the bad things that could happen to her-- at a party, a football game, on the bus--- but then she comes home and tells me about her day (sometimes a little, sometimes a lot), and I see that she's still there. She's still the same person, growing and changing within all of these new experiences she's living. She is living her life and the risks she's taking will help her learn the things she needs to learn as she travels her life path.

Where does this fear come from? As I've contemplated why I revert into that fear place with Lucia, I recognize that the human brain has a negativity bias so there is a tendency to go to the worst case scenario, but I also look at my own comfort with risk-taking. Right now I am in a place in my life, a transition not unlike Lucia's. I've sold my business and am taking time to explore my own future path. Lots of ideas come up-- different classes I want to teach, publications I wish to write for, retreats I'd like to both attend and lead. In trying new things, branching out and taking risks to do things that I haven't done before, I am deeply in touch with the fear.  In trying these new things, I am often ragingly uncomfortable, sometimes out of body.

Risk-taking is scary. And hard. It involves tapping into a part of the brain that, for me and many people, would rather stay hidden, behind the scenes. There is intense vulnerability in stepping out and trying something new, whether it is a new outfit, a new friend, a new social activity or a new job. It means walking through a sea of internal tumult and diving head-long into the unknown. Everyday I do this a little bit. I sit in the discomfort and work on new ideas or write something I hope will be publishable. This experience has given me a new perspective about the fortitude and perseverance risk-taking involves. And it's given me new respect and admiration for my brave, strong teenage daughter who is navigating this risk-taking in a different way. This one's for you Lucia. I'm so proud of you.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Is Menopause Really the Final Frontier?


Last night I was having wine with a friend who was launched into menopause very suddenly because she went through radiation. She didn't have the slow (oftentimes years-long slow) decrease in the frequency of her period. It was one month there, and then gone. She was surprised by her experience of not menstruating any more. "I thought when I stopped getting my period it would be so amazing" she said, "I thought I would be so happy to be done with thinking about it." But the reality, she shared, was that having no period has been no big deal, that she can barely remember what it was like to have her period and the inconvenience of it. Our other friend shared that it's been 220 days since her last period. We spent a LOT of time talking about our periods. The topic comes up every time I hang out with women my age.

I've always believed that getting my period is a powerful and magical thing. I've conveyed this belief to my daughter and tried to make her proud and vocal about her period and all of the inconveniences that come with it. I never wanted her to feel any shame or secrecy about this natural body function. The existence of the physiological function of menstruation enables us to become pregnant which is both a good thing, and sometimes not such a good thing. But nevertheless, there is power in the period.

We're taught as women that once we reach menopause (aka no longer menstruating) that we're moving into the final frontier. I always envisioned this final frontier as a kind of death, in part because the menstruating super power ceases to exist. But now that I'm there, it doesn't feel like the final frontier at all. I'm considering a third career. I'm fully engaged in becoming a better, more present, loving, involved partner and parent, and my creative juices are flowing like never before (even though my period is flowing very irregularly).

It's got me thinking-- what are we missing by putting so much focus on the period. Yes, we need to claim it-- to advocate for health insurance to pay for the tampons and pads that we have to pay for every month, to appeal to the FDA to support medications that really help with PMS, to educate our young girls about this superpower-- but when it's gone, we get new superpowers right?

I want to focus on that. What are the new superpowers that come with the final frontier? The end of the period? This is an invitation to all of you women out there who are in the final frontier. Please write me back and share with me what your new superpowers are. I'll compile them and share. Let's all walk boldly into this final frontier........


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Mrs. Putnam

My mom, still of the newspaper age, just sent me a clipping from the Hyde Park Herald, the weekly from the neighborhood where I grew up in Chicago. The clipping was an obituary for Maryann Putnam, my high school geometry teacher.  Mrs. Putnam had a thick New York accent. She wore denim every day--- denim vest and skirt set, denim jumper, denim slacks and jacket. Mrs. Putnam had dyed black hair, wore large framed classes and was always covered in chalk. Even though my friends and I teased her, she thought we were funny and I knew she loved us.

During our senior year when my girlfriends and I needed to create a service project to graduate, we formed a group called the Pink Ladies. It was 1986 and we were playing off the girl gang from the movie Grease. Mrs. Putnam readily agreed to be our club sponsor and we'd meet with her regularly to talk about what we were up to. In reality, we didn't do anything except talk about what we might do if we actually could get our act together-- tutoring, food bank collection, school clean up. Our biggest accomplishment that year was singing back up for a Rockabilly band that played in the school cafeteria during dances.

Mrs. Putnam's obituary said that she was 95 when she died. That means that she was in her early sixties when she was my teacher, just ten years older than I am now. It's been so long since I've thought about Mrs. Putnam but as I read her obituary, the image of her in her denim skirt and vest, standing outside her classroom door came into my mind as clearly as if it was yesterday. I can see her face--- pale next to her dyed black hair, partially hidden behind her big glasses--- smiling out at me with a hint of irritation as I walk by her, gabbing with my friends to get to our desks in class.

We were so annoying in high school-- especially to Mrs. Putnam. We made fun of her chalk covered clothes and her white roots growing under her black hair, of her big glasses and sensible shoes. But we loved her too because we knew that she loved us. Despite the Pink Ladies' profound lack of organization and productivity, she believed in us. She accepted the fact that, as seniors, not kids but not yet adults, we were doing the best we could to get our shit together. When I look back at it now I think she felt like our envisioning was enough for that moment in our lives. The process of thinking about what we were going to do, of talking about it, dreaming about it, was important, even if we didn't bring our ideas to fruition.

Those times with Mrs. Putnam, sitting in her chalk covered classroom during lunch, were incubator moments. Mrs. Putnam listened to us. She humored us and gave us her time and attention. As the mother of a teenage girl myself, I know how scatterbrained that species can be. I know how disorganized and chaotic their lives are. Being a teenager is wholly about transitioning- from child to adult.  I was surprised how affected I was to hear of Mrs. Putnam's death and I was so glad to know that she lived many happy years beyond her tenure as my math teacher. She deserved it. What Mrs. Putnam gave us, gave me those thirty-three years ago, was a quiet place to land for a moment or two during the maelstrom of my senior year in high school. Thank you Mrs. Putnam. I hope you knew that, despite my attitude and the fact that I was too self-absorbed during those years to tell you, I was (and am) grateful for your presence in my life.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Black Tank Suit


About fifteen years ago I was at a hotel in Palm Springs at a yoga teacher training. There were dozens of tight little bodies, yoga bodies swarming around the vast patio which was home to several pools and hot tubs. I was sitting on a beach chair reading when a woman, somewhere between 50-60, walked by me. On her average, healthy body, she wore a very simple black tank suit. At the time, as a body-conscious, never good enough, 35-year-old yoga teacher, I thought to myself, “I want to look like that when I’m 50.”  But her body wasn’t amazing. She wasn’t that different from me now. It wasn’t that I wanted to look like her when I’m 50, it was that I wanted to be like her. The woman in the simple black tank suit exuded confidence and she was unapologetic about her age, her body, and her place at the pool.

Now I am fifty. It’s been many years since I’ve felt like I was young. I recognize that I will never again be viewed as young. I am getting older, grayer, more wrinkly. I am in a stage of life where I should be grateful and happy for my wellness. I have lost one parent and have friends who have also lost parents, spouses, even children.  But still some days I lament my changing body and skin. I waste precious time trying to stay young instead of leaning into the next phase of life.


A few months ago, right after I turned 50, my partner Nancy and I took a vacation to Mexico. We were on a beautiful, very remote island and I was up early. There were only a few people on the beach and it was the perfect moment for a walk. Normally when I walk on the beach I put on a blouse or some shorts but I hadn’t brought anything with me from the hotel room. I was wearing a really simple black tank suit, just like the woman in Palm Springs. I was a strong, able-bodied, fifty- year-old woman. I decided to walk the beach in just my simple black tank suit.


As I meandered, unencumbered by any extra clothes or hat or even sunglasses, I was reminded of my grandmother. Every year we’d go to Florida with my grandparents and my Nana would spend hours each morning trolling the beach for shells. She always wore a simple black tank suit. My Nana was a great companion to me and a fierce ally. I thought Nana was the most beautiful, glamorous woman in the world---whether she was fully dressed in a black turtleneck and white slacks in her fourteenth floor apartment on the Northside of Chicago or in a tank suit on the beach in Sarasota, Florida. As my sisters and I splashed in the ocean waves in front of the condo every morning, like clockwork, we’d see Nana walking towards us, her silhouette with the sun behind her, eyes down towards the sand, bending down periodically to pick up a shell. She’d stroll with her head down until she heard splashing and our voices yelling her name to look at us in the water. Only then would she look up from the beach with her beautiful sun-kissed skin and cat eye sunglasses and smile.


Nana owned that simple black tank suit. Her sixty-year-old body and leathered skin were so beautiful and perfect to me. Like the woman by the pool, it was her presence that embodied the beauty. As a fifty-year-old woman, I now understand that that presence, the ability to embody whatever body we inhabit, is the product of a life lived and the wisdom that comes from all of life’s lessons.


Wisdom comes with age. For me it has come from many struggles and the heartbreaks in my life, the unexpected changes in my body and the painstaking decisions I had to make in my forties that brought me to this new frontier. Somewhere along the way things shifted and I became wiser. I stepped into this wisdom  It happens to all of us. My simple black tank suit tells a story of the wise women before me who inspired me to recognize and embody this wisdom when my turn came. 


Sunday, October 13, 2019

Seeking Stress

I recently sold my business, a yoga studio in Capitol Hill, Seattle’s busiest neighborhood. I’ve had that business for eighteen years. It  went from three employees to twenty. From one location to two locations. And back down to one location with two spaces. 


It took me a couple of years to finally decide that selling the business was what I actually wanted to do. With the influence during the last few years of things like social media, yoga for dogs, goats, babies, thousands of new teachers flooding the market every year, I decided that I didn’t want to play the game anymore. I’d lost my competitive mojo. 


I loved running that business, but during those eighteen years, I was on all the time! Even when I went on vacation I brought my laptop. I checked my emails, stayed in contact. I was always the one who got called at 5:45am when the 6am teacher forgot their keys or overslept or had a migraine. When the studio had a break in, I was the one called. When a student complained about a teacher or a teacher complained about a student, I was the mediator. I worried every month about the bottom line-- rent, payroll, taxes, inventory, supplies. I had a method to managing the madness and I had support from my staff, but I was stressed and busy all the time. I didn’t realize how utterly hijacked by stress I was until I sold the business and surrendered all of that responsibility. 


It’s been two weeks since I officially stepped down from being the owner of my business--- now someone else’s business and here’s what I notice:


  • I keep waiting for something to happen.
  • I’m still worried I’m forgetting to do something.
  • I feel like I have somewhere I need to be.
  • I still set my alarm for 6am every morning.


Here’s the thing-- I don’t have another job. I’m taking a sabbatical to write and explore and figure out what I want to do next. What I realized this morning when I was writing was that, though I've let go of the responsibilities associated with stress, my body still seems to be seeking it out. My body is searching for it, like my phone searches for wifi service at the airport, roaming around until there is a connection.


The reality is that I don’t have somewhere to be. I’m not forgetting to do something. I’m doing what I want to be doing and no one is waiting for me to do something else. But my body is still programmed for stress. It’s still searching for that connection to the familiar buzz that I get when I’m stressed. It’s weird. I notice it clearly every time it happens. I feel a little surge of adrenaline and I start to worry or check my phone. And then, almost as quickly, I realize that I’m okay. I don’t need to make that stress connection because there is no stress. It’s intense and a little disorienting. I wonder how long it will take to reprogram my body and mind, to feel fully that I have let go of that stress, that those patterned brain surges are just old habits.


Whenever I do get the call to stress and I recognize that it is not real, I feel free, elated, like I’ve won Powerball. I have a moment of celebration that I don’t have to follow that stress. Instead I can walk the dog or bake a cake or clean my desk. I didn’t realize how truly stressed I was until I became not stressed. I don’t know how long this detox will take, but I’m not worried because every time I get that after-feeling it’s like a gift, a moment to truly appreciate how grateful I am to be here now.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Hello Turtle.

My friend Kate told me that one of the ways you can identify your spirit animal is if it appears to you frequently. For years my spirit animal has been the Great Blue Heron. Everyday when I walk on Lake Washington near my house I  make it a point to see a Great Blue Heron. Usually one just appears like she's been waiting for me, but in the last few months I've not seen herons as frequently. Last month I was feeling particularly stressed and I took a walk. I got it in my head that I would feel better if I just saw a heron. But there were no herons in the usual places. In a desperate effort to find one, I walked seven miles (3 miles more than I usually walk). I finally found a heron but my stress level did not diminish. I'd simply traded in the stress that I started with for a new stress to find a heron!

Lately on my walks I've been seeing lots of turtles. Turtles are prolific in Seward Park and I often see them but I don't usually stop and look at them. They frequently dot the rocks between my house and the park, but I usually just notice and continue walking. Today it seemed that every rock, and submerged tree I looked at had a turtle or two sitting in wait for me to notice them.

That's when it dawned on me that maybe my spirit animal has changed. When I got home from my walk I looked up the symbolism of a turtle spirit animal and learned that when a turtle spirit animal appears to you it is time to slow down. The turtle totem offers an invitation to stay focused on one's goals, but to take it slow and steady. For me, one who does most things at warp speed, this is a new approach, and a welcome invitation.

Having looked up my Turtle spirit animal definition, I needed to look up the symbolism of the Great Blue Heron to remind myself of what I might be leaving behind. The Great Blue Heron symbolizes self-determination and self-reliance. The indication for those who carry this totem is to follow their unique wisdom and path.

All day I've been thinking about the significance of this shift. For years I have been working hard to connect with my intuition, to make my own voice the strongest in forging my true path. And for most of this time the Great Blue Heron has been appearing to me.  I love the Great Blue Heron and I felt kind of sad that, for whatever reason, the Turtle now seemed to be replacing the Heron. But the truth is that at this time in my life I do feel more connected to my intuition and my path feels grounded in my own truth. Though I'm sad to leave the Heron, it makes sense that I am being visited by the Turtle-- invited to slow down, quiet down, and stop racing.

Not everyone in my life believes in the symbolism of spirit animals. I get it. It's not based in biology or psychology or physics. It's possible that spirit animals act as a kind of placebo-- offering meaning and context to a situation one is already experiencing. That works for me. The Heron and the Turtle and all the other spirit animals that visit us help connect us to the big picture, they offer explanation outside of our own heads. They remind us that there is wisdom everywhere if we look for it.

Monday, September 16, 2019

From freedom to liberation


A few days ago my 14-year old daughter Lucia went to deliver a shirt she was selling to a friend of her's in a neighborhood north of our's. To make money Lucia has started an Instagram account selling clothes she no longer wears. She's slowing building her business and I'm proud of her efforts. After delivering the shirt and collecting payment, Lucia took a JUMP bike home, $12 burning a hole in her pocket. I can't lie. I was relieved that she made it home without me dictating directions to her ( and without a helmet!) I tried to play it cool and not ask too many questions about her adventure and the whole day went by without any detail of her solo voyage.

But yesterday morning when we were eating breakfast Lucia said, "Mom it was so crazy yesterday. I was riding home from Camille's-- I had money, a JUMP bike, Google Maps and my Orca card. I could have gone anywhere."
"Wow," I said, "How did that feel?"
"Great!" she said.
I felt happy for her. What an amazing milestone in life, to figure out something momentous like that, to consciously recognize that freedom. Last night when we were saying good night Lucia brought up that feeling of freedom again. "Mom," she said, "I could have really gone anywhere. I mean, I didn't have a charger, but I could have just stopped at someone's house if my phone died and asked to borrow one."

Lucia had so much joy, so much energy in the recognition that she could make her own decisions, point herself in whatever direction she wanted, and get there! She had everything figured out. I tried to think back and think if I had ever experienced that clear moment of freedom in my own life. I remember once after my sophomore year in college, taking my mom's Suburban from Chicago to St. Louis in the middle of the night without telling her. I had to collect a bunch of stuff I'd left in my college apartment before I went away to Spain for the year. I remember driving with my sister Katherine and my friend Meredith all night. I remember arriving back in Chicago at dawn, trying to make it home before my mother would detect the car gone. I remember that moment, feeling free, like I was doing something insane and wild and out of my norm.

When we get older we don't have such keen moments of recognizing our freedom. After a certain point, we do mostly make our own decisions. We drive cars. We have jobs to make money. But there are moments that we experience newfound freedoms as we get older. There are obvious examples--- like leaving an unsatisfying job or a relationship. There is the bittersweet freedom of watching our children grow away from us. There is freedom in downsizing our space or our wardrobes.

The sweetness of freedom that Lucia experienced for the first time on that JUMP bike is probably a once-in-a-lifetime Ah-Ha moment. And I know Lucia will keep experiencing new moments of freedom throughout her life. When I think about it, I can identify lots of little moments where I felt free from fill in the blank.  But the freedom I'm feeling now feels more similar to what I heard Lucia describing-- a freedom to do something, go somewhere. What I'm experiencing in my life right now is liberation from perfection. During my 20s, 30s and 40s I tried desperately to meet some external expectation of perfection. Now, in my fifties, I feel free to be supremely imperfect. This newfound liberation from perfection is inspiring. I feel energized and excited. Thanks for helping connect the dots Lucia.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Freckles

I recently cashed in all of my work credit card points to buy a ticket to Oakland to get my sister's dog. I bought a stupidly expensive and impractical ticket leaving Friday, returning Saturday to meet a deep need I didn't fully understand. I just knew that I wanted to bring Freckles the dog into my life.

I arrived around 7pm on Friday with enough time to hang with Freckles and my sister, collect his bed and a few of his belongings, stuff him into a too-small soft travel kennel, and get on a noon flight Saturday. When I arrived in Seattle I freed Freckles from the too-small kennel and we headed for light rail. I planned to walk the mile and change to my house but Freckles was simply too tired so we got on the bus. When we got home Freckles, severely overweight and out of shape, was limping and exhausted. So, I did what any good dog owner would do-- I gave him a long bath. That night we had the biggest thunder and lightening storm in recent history and Freckles spent his first night squeezed between me and my partner Nancy with Nancy holding her hands over his ears and me rubbing his fat tushy. It was a really hard day and night for Freckles, but he woke up the next morning ready to start the day anew with a walk and few naps between morning and evening meals.

This is a strange time in life. My daughter is in high school and it feels like she's in college. I never see her and when I do, it's fleeting and unfocused. But I know she's happy and doing what she's supposed to do. I've been doing my job for close to twenty years, a whole generation of my life. The yoga studio mostly runs itself and I have time to explore new creative and spiritual passions. Why, in this time of newfound freedom do I want a dog?

Today I went on a walk with Freckles. Then I brought him to a meeting. Then he came to the studio with me. Then the bank. He's sitting right here as I type this.  The obvious answer to why I chose to bring Freckles into my life is to fill a void, to refocus my need to take care of someone and to be in charge. And there is that. But there's also the pure joy that comes from my new little sidekick who simply is exactly who he is. He doesn't look at his phone when we take a walk. He isn't distracted by work or friends or money. Seeing Freckles live every moment like he does is just what I need. In this time of constant change and the potential to get highjacked by things I have no control over, it helps to check in with the energy Freckles brings. It's not that complicated, his eyes tell me-- some food, a walk, maybe a nap, more food, and a good night's rest. Then do it all again tomorrow. Thanks Freckles.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Happy Tears

One of my students Carie told me recently that happy tears flow from the outside corners of the eyes and sad tears flow from the inside of the eyes. We'd been talking about how crying is such a great release, a natural producer of oxytocin. It's why kids always seem so blissed out after a temper tantrum-- it's because all of that crying has given them a flood of the happiness hormone.

I love learning things like that little factoid Carie shared. To be honest, I don't even really care if it's true that happy tears come from the outside corner of the eyes and sad tears come from the inside of the eyes. If I think too hard about whether it is actually a proven fact, I'll start to contemplate duct location and eye anatomy and that takes the romance right out of the concept. So I'm just going with it.

My friend Kate and I facilitate an annual retreat-- Put Some Claws in Your Pause-- honoring the amazing passage into menopause and we always finish the weekend with a recitation of a poem called Santiago by David Whyte. Santiago is a heartbreakingly beautiful recounting of the emotional and spiritual journey of The Camino de Santiago, a 500 mile pilgrimage through Spain and France. Kate cries every time she reads Santiago.


When Carie shared that little fact about tears, an image of Kate popped into my mind. I could imagine her sitting in a circle surrounded by ten other menopausal-aged women facilitating the final moments of our retreat. Smiling out to the group, Kate begins the poem and as she reads, through a steady stream of tears, she uses the index fingers of each hand to gently wipe the tears from the outside corners of her eyes under her glasses. And when the poem is over Kate takes off her glasses and does one big wipe of each eye, clearing away the tears. There is a brief silence as the poem settles in the space around the room and then Kate smiles big.  The joy is palpable and we all smile back at her. Those are some happy tears.



Thursday, May 30, 2019

Doing "nothing"


Last week I was lying on my daughter Lucia's bed before saying goodnight. It's my favorite time with her these days. At fourteen most of her waking hours are focused on separating from me and I am grateful for a few minutes of being needed and wanted like the old days. Lucia and I were talking about about school, work, her friends and summer plans and it felt like the conversation had reached its natural end. I was getting ready to kiss her goodnight when she started talking again. "Mom, " she said, "the other day I was reading a book about Hamilton which was really boring and I just started staring out into space..... I realized that I never do that. I'm always at school or at soccer or vocal jazz or piano or I'm on my phone or with other people. I'm never just doing nothing."

Inside I felt broken-hearted. The state of existence these days is to be on all the time. I felt for Lucia and her peers who, with the presence of cell phones, are really mired in the culture of always being tuned in. The pressure to be doing something all the time is so intense and there is very little opportunity to tune out. But I didn't tell her that, I just asked, "How did that feel?"

"Great!" she said.

We talked a little bit about finding ways to get to that place in the future, making time to just be instead of always doing, and then we said goodnight. I struggle as a parent to help Lucia find balance and in helping her, I become aware of my own imbalance, my increasing inability to find comfort in the existence of just being.

The next day I practiced yoga. I went to class and from the moment I settled into Savasana at the beginning of class to wait for the Frani to turn on the lights to begin,  I was there. I was just being. I felt a swell of gratitude for this feeling and the presence of this practice in my life. Yoga is a lot of things and it means something different for everyone. For me these days yoga is a respite from the "doing," a haven from technology and chores and to-do-lists. It is a sanctuary of openness and grace. It's a reminder that underneath all of the things I do to be me, I'm still alive and vibrant and filled with energy. It's a gift. I hope you feel it too.

Party-Style Twists

Last week I wore my hair down with two twists, one on each side of my middle part. Because of my cowlick, I couldn't get the twists e...