Friday, December 19, 2008

The real status: the one I don't put on FB

I don't think I've ever been so tired in all my life. I wake up every morning, marveling at how tired I am, and just dragging my ass to the coffee pot for sustenance. And this coming from a Morning Person. What up? Part of me worries that I am depressed or that I'm feeling my age or something. Another part of me resists the temptation to pop a pill to just get through the day and the frustrations of a job that has passed its shelf-life for me. Then there's the stress of Joe's business in this economy and keeping everything afloat and covering the tuition and never feeling like I have a moment to do nothing. Except when I'm at yoga. That's when I feel some space and the support of my friends. I can ride on that high for a few days, then invariably will crash out (generally in the morning, when the energy is low). The mania of swinging between these extremes is exhausting too, so I'm looking for a middle path. But the serious and true exhaustion and anxiety of this economic time is real and deep for us. I alternate between ignoring the anxiety or being possessed by the anxiety - I know there is a better way. And if I weren't so dang tired, I could probably access that better way!

And shit, I forgot to mention the whole issue of my sister's possible cancer diagnosis and shortened life expectancy. Right, there's also that.

So for me, this Christmas feels like the hardest one I've ever had. I am so looking forward to some total, 100% down-time this weekend to think and feel without running around and doing and fixing and leading... I truly want some Xmas spirit. Santa, help me out here!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Great Big Glittering Party

My sister Carla is in the intensive care unit, has been since last Wednesday night when she blacked out after getting out of her car. She'd been having, apparently, severe headaches for about 7-8 weeks. These were not ordinary headaches by any stretch of the imagination, though I suppose if you'd never had a migraine, you might think that's what they were about. But no, these would come out of nowhere, like a bolt of lightning, and come on blindingly strong. To the point where she'd be awakened from her sleep by the pain, then have to feel her way along the hallway walls to the bathroom, too dizzy to stand on her own, fumbling for ineffectual tylenol. They were working with her doctors to figure out what it was. Then the black-out came and she wound up in the emergency room.

Where they did a battery of neurological tests and discovered the headaches were caused by a back-up of cerebrospinal fluid in her skull caused in turn by an obstruction at her brain stem, a mass of something. Two days ago they installed a drain on the right side of her skull to relieve the pressure of the backed-up fluid. They're testing the fluid to see what it might contain that could indicate what is happening in there.

All of the possibilities are bad. They've mentioned multiple sclerosis, lymphoma, glioma. The glioma is what they keep coming back to. Of course, I've googled and read everything I could find about glioma - none of it is good. All of it is bleak.

After a few hours at the hospital Friday afternoon with my dad, keeping Carla company, doing what we could to keep her spirits up, I found myself out with friends at a club, listening to music and dazzled by the sparkle of the holiday decor and the conviviality of everyone in attendance. And it struck me, as the music washed over me, as I leaned into the sound of everyone singing lyrics they knew by heart, their voices louder than the singer's on stage, that life is a glittering amazing party that we are so privileged to attend. It's so easy to forget how remarkable is the body we walk around in, how sweet the friendships and food and colors and everything else. And it breaks my heart, absolutely and utterly, that my baby sister might have to leave this party early.

Carlita's prognosis, at least right now, is bad. Because it's the weekend, we are in a holding pattern. And in the absence of information, she is terrified, and we all breathe, trying to go moment to moment until we know something for sure. And when we know something for sure, we will keep breathing, moment to moment, figuring out this new situation as we go.

Meanwhile, the party is still going on and we are all of us, even Carla, still there. Every breath, be grateful.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Talking 'bout my generation: OBAMA!

As my old friend Scott wrote on my Facebook, "we were born for this" -- the "this" being this historic moment of electing Barack Obama to the office of President of the United States of America.

And how true it is! He is our age after all, those of us turning 46 and 47 this year and next, product of the same time, the same late 60s/early 70s melting pot of music and neighborhoods, the same post-Civil Rights era feeling of one-ness. How well I remember walking with my parents for civil rights, protesting in the streets as a child, holding up handmade signs for peace, for farmworker protection. What a triumphant moment it is now, to see the impact of the people on the office of the Presidency. A proud moment, too.

And I can't stop thinking, either, about television's contribution to this moment. From "The West Wing" to President Palmer on "24," we have been laying the groundwork for this new era in the public imagination for some time, building the hope for a government we can believe in, for leadership that truly inspires and connects.

President-elect Obama is so right: "This is our moment." Let's seize it, people, our time to re-make the country as we know it should be.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Happiness: the name of the game

After a really amazing weekend -- attended the OYou! event in San Francisco with my best friends, spent the night, hung out more on Sunday, I feel a little bit dizzy with all of the possibilities, with the feeling that something BIG is coming, a really big change that we all need and that we're all a part of creating. All of the old forms no longer serve, it's a new time calling for new ways. I've been feeling a little bit crazy from this feeling, honestly, but also overjoyed.

I started reading "Happier" by Tal Ben-Shahar yesterday. I can't remember exactly what drove me to Amazon to search for this title, but anyway, there it was in the mailbox yesterday, Used: Like New, with some yellow highlighting throughout.

I've long thought that happiness was the whole point of everything, that it's the state that we are all striving for all of the time. In my youth (!) I think that there was a romantic obsession with melancholy, with misery that demonstrated how smart you were. Only stupid people were happy. And who the hell wants to be stupid. I don't know exactly where I learned that, but I clearly am not the only one. I still know some people clinging to that old way.

Probably my weekend really helped prepare me to read this book "Happier." I felt like I was on vacation, even though I was in my hometown, 20 miles from my present home, in the same city where I spend 5 days a week. The difference was that I was completely engrossed in activities with people I love, for long stretches of time, with no obligations to be anywhere or please anyone but ourselves. No too-heavy thought of the future, just the sweet Indian Summer air and the company of friends. And a Sunday morning, lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, replaying my dreams and listening to my friends' breathing. Motionless, thought-full.

So I'm really working on it now, being happier. As Aristotle apparently said, "Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence." It's now my whole aim, stay tuned for details.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The worst product ever...

Before our three-week vacation, as I ticked down my (obsessive) prep list, I picked up a new mascara at Long's. I wanted to replace the expensive Dr. Hauschka's mascara I had been using, which was not tested on animals and did not contain cancer-causing chemicals, but which had the unfortunate regular tendency of turning me into Alice Cooper. Figuring I'd just buy something, whatever, hoping it wasn't too poisonous, I managed to buy the worst product ever manufactured: Cover Girl Marathon Waterproof Mascara Hydrofuge.

OK, so the Cover Girl mascara didn't give me Alice Cooper stripes down my face (not a good look at my age) if I so much as teared up over something. But amazingly I managed to swing from one extreme - a gloppy mascara that wouldn't stay on - to the other - a mascara that wouldn't come off. The Cover Girl mascara stayed on my lashes, no kidding, for a week. No amount of make-up remover would get it off. In a panic , I asked my esthetician for help. She soaked my lashes with four different products, then painstakingly cleaned each individual eyelash (or so it felt) before the stuff was off me. I think it took her 40 minutes in total to get me free of the hydrofuge...

Of course, I had to look the mascara up. Cover Girl Marathon is not specifically listed in the Skindeep Safe Cosmetics Database, but every other Cover Girl mascara in the database ranks a 7 out of 10 for toxicity (the one exception is a 5, moderate hazard). I'm not even sure if it's right to put something this toxic in the trash - should I try taking it to the local household hazardous waste drop-off point?

I should really know better than to just grab something off the shelf, but it still pisses me off that I have to worry about cancer-causation when I'm just trying to doll up my eyes. And of course, I should be able to figure out - duh - that if something is waterproof and called "Marathon," it's gotta be chemicals, and probably nasty ones, that make it so.

And "hydrofuge"? A zoological term, mostly, referring to structures on animals that shed water. Whatever...

Now my eyes are au naturel for a few days, while I let my lashes recover from their recent armature. If anybody has a suggestion of a good product which won't kill me, I'd love to hear it!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Genius pastime for a 4-hour train ride...

While we were on vacation, Joe and I got to talking about geography, pretty natural given that on a single bike ride, he and his buddies went from Italy to Switzerland and back again. We wondered how many countries we could name, and how many there actually are in the world.

Given who and how we are, we turned this into a game and challenged our friends Alicia and Paul, as we were travelling by train from Milan to Rome (about 4 1/2 hours), to list as many countries as we could. And of course, since I never travel without a notebook and multiple writing implements, I was able to equip our little foursome with all requisite supplies. Pencils and pens in hand, we set to work, first individually, then by couple, compiling and de-duping our lists. This exercise was completely engrossing, probably much to the amusement of our fellow passengers, and genuinely kept us thinking, whispering, chattering and laughing for hours.

Finally we alternated reading a country from our lists, cancelled out the ones we had in common, and got points for countries that the other team neglected to list. Like so:

Completely low-tech, completely fun.

The final tally? Alicia and Paul came up with 19 that we didn't have on our list, and we had 36 they didn't have. We continued our fun by discussing our varying strategies for moving up, down, and across the globe. Alicia drew highly inaccurate maps, while I think I benefited from years of work in international development (former USSR and Southeast Asia), and from an obsession with diving (Caribbean, South Pacific).

But all 4 of us missed a lot and fell FAR short of the 193 or 245 countries/entities (depends) that Wiki lists. Our ignorance was generally pretty gaping when it came to Africa and the Middle East, but that's pretty easily remedied with an atlas and some time now that we know about it.

For a complete list of countries, go here: But if you want to take on the geeky challenge that we so enjoyed, you might want to wait to check it out. So much fun!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Six Books I Read on Vacation

One of the great things about long plane rides and vacations is how many books I can go through. The only negative, really, is that I generally buy more while on the road, resulting in an even heavier suitcase. Flipside: I love searching for books while abroad. It's definitely one of the highlights for me to find something great to read in a special, Euro- or other edition. Yes, more literary gluttony.

So, the 6 titles I ate while on the road, all 6 of which are at right in my 2008 Books list:

- Namako by Linda Watanabe McFerrin. Ok, I admit that I bought this book at snooty Book Passage because I liked the physical book itself. Nice heavy handcut pages and a lovely cover. I enjoyed the story, was thoroughly transported. Enjoyed the inclusion of a lot of Japanese words.

- You Don't Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem. Lethem is one of my favorites ever since Scott gave me Fortress of Solitude a few years ago. Adore him. This book was a quick read, engrossing, finished it on the train back from Venice. Light fare.

- Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin. I've read this book multiple times since I first ate it as a teenager, poolside, during one of our weeks-long family sojourns at my beloved Grover Hot Springs. Since I've renewed my commitment to sci-fi/fantasy, I decided to re-read. The story holds up to time and age, and I particularly appreciate the element of balance and responsibility that binds the wizards in the story.

- The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson. Winterson is a gem. There were many passages that I starred and made notes about in the front and back of the book, just delighted with her language, driven to tears by some of her imagery. The end fell apart a little for me, but a highly recommended read. Extremely creative, multiple story lines looping through each other.

- The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. Also a quick read, I appreciated the form of the story, and loved the perspective.

- Run by Ann Patchett. Patchett has been a favorite ever since Bel Canto, which riveted me. I've also read Magician's Assistant, and think she's great. Run is a delightful book, made me cry literally buckets - such a moving creation!


Best breakfast ever!

OK, maybe it doesn't look it, but seriously, this was the best thing I ever ate for breakfast in my WHOLE life! How not to love an egg-y Italian croissant filled with pistachio cream?

Yes, I know it looks like it's disturbingly stuffed with that freezer-case guacamole (believe me, I heard an earful as I was devouring it, from my breakfast companions). Take my word for it, though: as a devoted pistachiarian, this treat was just the kick-start my morning needed. No nutty pistachio gelato I ate on the trip even came close to satisfying my particular need for that delectable flavor. Add to the croissant a doppio espresso, and the meal was complete.

Given the many ridiculous internet-access problems I had in the second half of my vacation, I'm going to be posting a bunch of stuff now that I'm home, not in sequence, but just as the stories occur to me.

In the meantime, I'm just going to re-live for a few moments the creamy excellence of that croissant. Yum!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Day 12, Bormio, and I am not a nice person

It feels like we have been on vacation for a long time, which I suppose really is true as Day 12 winds to a close. There have been many adventures along the way. Some highlights:

- crossing over the Alpes from Bourg d'Oisans to Bolzano: an epic drive (5 hours, HAH);

- the charming town of Bolzano on a Friday night, the streets packed with people, illuminated so that it looked like a movie set: completely unreal;

- the Ice Man exhibit in Bolzano and being able to view the mummy a second time, longer, without the crowds;

- riding bikes around Bolzano with Joe;

- going to Venice on Monday by train with Joe and Pete, stumbling around in a daze and wondering whether Italians can possibly say No to any decorative element (as for churches, so for clothes);

- coming over the Stelvio Pass yesterday to Bormio, a charming town in a high Alpine valley.

That said, I am also not feeling like a nice person. Struggling with the long days of bike-widowhood (what did I think would happen?), and with being in close quarters with a group for an extended period. Everything is fine, but I am expending considerable energy on *not* screaming, snapping, speaking my whole mind, crying, gnashing my giant teeth.

Everything is fine and still I wonder when I get the vacation with my husband, where I don't have to share him with a sport that takes him away for 5 - 10 hours at a time.

That said, I am going to go read a book and watch the clouds get snagged on the huge peaks towering all around this village.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Grenoble, Day 1

Aaaah, vacation day one: woke up at 7:30, went off strolling in search of breakfast, was quickly reminded that in France Sunday is Sunday, nowhere for a coffee in the blocks surrounding our hotel, returned to hotel for breakfast in a room filled with cigarette smoke, French tourists and, inexplicably, priests.

Later on, took in the views from The Bastille, which we reached via the Peripherique. Realized that our hotel in smack in the middle of the old part of town, charming, delightful.

Quite cold here, although we were spared the rain that chilled us yesterday. Spent the entire day really doing nothing: strolling, looking at things, laughing at each other, eating - exactly what vacation is supposed to be about.

And it's only Day 1!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Observations while flying

Friday September 12, 2008
US Airways, San Francisco to Philadelphia

If you bought everything in the SkyMall catalog, would your life be better? Virtually every product in it offers some genius solution to life’s everyday little problems, every page featuring at least one absolutely revolutionary item with the potential to change your reality… SERIOUSLY!

Flight attendants who call me “hon” when they ask to take away my trash. Making me wonder about these very American endearments and how much I love the hons, sweeties, dears, darlins. I am trying to remember if French offers as many random endearments to strangers. I’ll be listening for this over the next week.

Write to Eric Monkhouse about listening to his grooves while flying – super cool! Except that I really need better headphones! And a longer lived battery in my laptop.

Why is it that the moment we were checked in, that we had our coffee, that I’d paid the $8.99 to TMobile for a day wireless pass, that the god damn headache that’s been plaguing me for three days just vanished?? The Imitrex at 4:30 this morning did little to dull or mask the pain. The several Vicodin I took yesterday and the day before just barely got me through the day, always still that dull throb just above and behind my left eye. As soon as I was on vacation, free, I was giddy and no more headache. Is it all me? Is it just my own creation, the physical form that my stress takes, the way it takes my entire head in its grip and squeezes?

The man next to me from San Francisco to Philadelphia has terrible halitosis. I am spending most of the flight with my nostrils inclined to the right.

For Joe, vacation starts the moment we’re on the plane, because that’s the point at which we no longer have control, the point at which only someone else can fuck it up for us. For me, it’s the moment the bags are checked and I’m cruising the airport with only my carry-on – ready for adventure!

And how fucking awesome is it to be wireless at the airport, checking in with friends on Facebook in a public space. LOVE IT. Those people who want to leave technology behind on vacation, more power to you. For me, the real delight is in being able to use it for what I want to use it for – bullshit chatting with friends, looking things up, connecting the dots, writing down what I think – such a welcome break from the more usual work-related slog… Such a treat to have a chance to think at all, to be a passenger.

We’re only a few hours into a really long travel day, but I am reminded as I sit here in my tiny airplane seat of how much I love traveling, how much I love going to new places, how much I love leaving the trappings of my “normal” life behind!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

One more day til vacation!

I'll be writing a lot while on vacation in France and Italy, starting tomorrow, so stay tuned...

The lead-up to this vacation has been brutal. Seems like it's always brutal to get out of the office for some rest, but this time has been worse than ever. Going on Day #2 with this migraine - not a good way to start, but I'm optimistic. If I go back to my earlier thinking about migraines, this one really is about being caught between two things/thoughts/modes: working like hell so that I can totally let it go for three entire weeks. Of course there are other factors, but it's my fervent wish that by tomorrow morning, when I've finally started to let go of work, that the headache's grip will do the same.

Super smarty: I'm having our IT person change my password on Monday, to effectively lock me out of work email. This worked so well last time - looking forward to finding out my new password on October 3.

This last day will be about making a list and checking it twice, ensuring that everyone is clear on what they're doing while I'm gone, that everyone else knows who's doing what... My last hurrah for the month of September!

There have definitely been points in the past two weeks where I've thought about how, in my original plan, September 11 was going to be my really-real last day, the day on which I ended this phase and moved on. I still enjoy the drama of the imagery (blowing up the edifice of my former life), but I'm keeping the planes aloft and buildings standing for a while longer...

I'll be posting info about my trip later for anyone who wants to follow me around. Can't wait to be in France on Saturday, and so looking forward to that first cup of coffee in a cafe on Sunday morning. Will I have a croissant or a pain au chocolat?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Literary gluttony

For whatever reason, I remembered the other night that it's possible to buy, in one fell swoop, the complete collection of Penguin Classic paperbacks. Which of course led me to Amazon, where the set of more than 1,000 classics of literature is available for just under $8,000.

The first review of the set is written by Kathryn Gursky, who was profiled in the NY Times in 2005 after her husband bought her this collection to replace the personal library she lost in a house fire:
Now THAT, my friends, is a birthday present!

I know it's silly, but it seems like it would be so cool to have all your books be so matchy-matchy, same height spines lined up across however many shelves it would take to store them all. Not to mention how wonderful to actually own a library -- books which you haven't read yet, that are just waiting for you to take them down and discover them. Aaaaaah.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Palin: now I know...

Ok, this settles it, from Matier & Ross in the SF Chronicle about how Sarah Palin supports the practice of "hunters" shooting wolves from airplanes, to protect caribou:

Wolves aren't the only item on Palin's list. She's also taken on the federal government over polar bears, suing the Interior Department on Alaska's behalf in reaction to the feds' decision to list the animals as threatened.

She believes the listing will cripple oil and gas development in sensitive areas - and, in any case, says the enviro argument that global warming threatens to wipe out the polar bears' habitat is a crock.


Sunday, August 31, 2008

Really don't know about this...

OK, I know the bear -- shot by her dad -- speaks volumes to Sarah Palin's cred as an Alaskan, but this whole thing is bothering me...

It just feels like such disgraceful pandering, to select a woman for the ticket with so little experience, the self-proclaimed hockey mom who came to public office through the PTA.

Yes, it's great for a woman to be on the ticket, but was there really no other woman qualified to occupy the seat?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The perpetual optimism of the migraine-sufferer

Goes a little like this.
Maybe this is just a headache and if I just (choose one or more):

- have a cup of coffee
- don't have a cup of coffee
- eat something
- drink some water
- sleep
- wear dark glasses
- swallow some ibuprofen
- other nonsense, fill in the blank

then it'll go away and not turn into that same, tired crap with the potential to ruin three or more days of my life.
Such optimism, so endearing and so ridiculous! You get so tired of having migraines, of feeling like shit, of drugging yourself through them, that you'll believe anything, try like hell to resist going there again.

The downside to such optimism is that point that arrives hours later, when you realize that none of the sweet little over-the-counter half-measures have done anything to stop it from coming, that in fact the delay means the migraine is worse, has its claws in deeper, and that it'll take longer for the drugs to kick in and kick its ass.

With migraines, optimism is for suckers. From now, as long as there is supply, have pills, will swallow. I'll sort out what it *really* was later.

Down the hatch!

Sitting still

"Ariane is sitting still," according to my Facebook page this morning. But as I've been variously sitting, picking, cooking, cleaning, posting shit to Facebook, messing around on the internet, and walking back and forth in my house, it has occurred to me that I have a very weird definition of what it means to sit still.

In today's case, I suppose sitting still means staying put, not leaving the house, not having a quick breakfast on a Sunday morning then dashing out for yoga at 8:30. It means not having a plan that involves running around in the car. It has meant, instead, that I've just been here for the past few hours doing whatever I wanted without thinking about its implications on the rest of the day... This is the activity that Joe and I call "beetle-ing," just going from task to task in the house, getting caught up in the flow from thing to thing organically [named after the time Joe was walking from the lawn to the shed for a rake, but then noticed that something else needed attention, and an hour later remembered the rake, and on his way to go get it noticed a beetle, stopped in contemplation of its movement, twenty minutes later remembered the rake, and so the whole afternoon went by. Beetling by nature is relaxing and thoroughly satisfying.]

So if today's sitting still means celebrating the bounty of the garden by picking a huge bowl of tomatoes and starting sauce on the stove, so be it. If it means watching Cherry Poppin' Daddies videos for a while on youtube, so be it. Uploading photos to flickr, watching the robot-vacuum on its rounds, listening to music loud, same-same.

Truth: I'm fried from a work-event yesterday that had me up at 4am (after not sleeping so I wouldn't miss the unusually-early alarm), at Lake Merritt by 5:30 am, largely on-deck until 6:45 pm, not home until 7:15 pm. So it's no wonder about the sitting still. But I also realize how little time I spend inside of the home that my hard-ass work pays for, so it's about time for some just kickin' it at my address. I need a steady week or two of exactly this kinda sitting still, but will settle for this sunny day.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Trying to get out, getting sucked back in...

I am on track to make some really big shifts and am really marveling at how strong resistance is. I'm not surprised, really -- maybe I'm just impressed by how much force can be marshalled.

Laura said the other night that when you start to feel veiled and contracted, then come back to center, plug in and re-expand from there. Really trying to keep those words in front of me.

I am definitely feeling veiled 5 days a week, asked to keep the truth to myself, operating at the margins of what I think is correct. And chafing at the necessity. Losing sleep, trying to keep the [inevitable?] migraine at bay. Pulled in multiple directions, which makes me think of the migraine as the result of this seismic break in my awareness -- the fault-line that is building pressure. And building pressure, and building pressure, fed by holding back, not releasing the bottled-up thoughts and feelings in words. If I always acted according to my code -- i.e., only do what you want to do, don't do what you don't want to do -- then I wonder if I would stop having these mind-splitting headaches? Heavy...

Anyway, the thing that's totally ridiculous and irritating is that all I want is just to be done, to move on, to get on with it, and that the situation has actually gotten worse rather than better since I announced my intention to change. I need to take a breather, come back to center, figure out what I need to say, then expand back out in full confidence of that truth and SAY IT. I'm done spinning at someone else's behest, just to keep her company.

Thanks, Laura. I needed that.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Only in San Francisco is it possible to have Seasonal Affective Disorder all summer long. Instead of shorts and swimming weather, summer in the city feels like the coldest part of the whole year. I knew this growing up, having to leave the warm sunny Castro for school in the gloom of the Stonestown/SF State area. But now that I live in Marin and commute to work just off Van Ness 5 days a week, I've upped the extremes and make a daily journey from summer to winter, back to summer again. As a native it feels disloyal to say it, but jeez the weather in San Francisco really makes it suck.

Since I just spent a minute or two reading about SAD (love you,!!), I now know that it's a form of depression that affects most people in fall and winter as the days get shorter and the weather gets colder. The symptoms of the most typical form, winter-onset SAD, include:
  • Depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of energy
  • Social withdrawal
  • Oversleeping
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating and processing information
This explains volumes about the population here, the reliance on caffeine, the dominance of pasta. The problem is that we all have this all summer long, then fall comes and we kick into the opposite gear of everyone else in the country since September and October offer the most beautiful and exhilarating weather of the year. Which might explain why this place is so different, why people here are so different. It takes creativity and ingenuity to survive the annual cold when we want hot, so that when everyone else is winding down and getting ready for a long winter's nap, we are just getting started.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

People are awesome

I generally think the people who work at Blockbuster are watching jealously as evolution passes them by, but turns out they're delightful like the rest of us. Who there took the time to cut out Obama's face and apply him over Indy's? Those guys have mad skills developed from years of D & D and Magic cards. So nice to see them applying them in this way!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Getting back to running

Since high school, a piece of my identity was wrapped up in running. From the very first time as a sophomore that I felt the satisfaction of being able to run a mile without wanting to die, through competing cross country, through my 20s and 30s, running felt like part of who I was. In some ways the running contributed to the Good. In high school certainly, it was the avenue through which I created a sense of independence and strength for myself, and through which I secured uninterrupted and unsupervised time away from my mother and with my friends, plumbing the depths of who I was... In combination with learning to write, running help build me into the person I was at that age.

Over time though, it seemed to become another way in which I pushed myself. By the time I was starting my 44th year, I decided to knock it off - just stop cold-turkey, quit running altogether. I ran only a couple of times after that -- one notable time out of sheer exhilaration the morning after Kenny's last regular Friday night Anusara class, completely powered by my joy at how much fun that was.

In combination with yoga, running was a funny thing. Everything I'd stretch in yoga, I'd subsequently contract when running. I found that I was progressing in neither arena, since I'd do this very careful doling out of energy. If I was going to a hard class, I'd do a short run. If I was doing a long run, I'd skip class. Ended up feeling pretty stuck.

Plus, the running was supporting a self-image that I was trying to relinquish -- a kind of hard-ness, toughness, that I felt wasn't serving me.

For better or ill, I gave it up completely. It's been interesting.

Actually, it's been really easy, but I have missed it.

So this morning when I started running, just 'cause I felt like it, it was really fun. The feeling came back to me -- how much I love it, how different it is, even when moving along exactly the same path in the woods, from walking, how much more my senses take in.

Now that I've had a chance to feel what it's like not to do it at all, to give up that push, I'm coming back to it, differently, without the push, just for the joy of it. Balancing it with yoga, I think, will be less challenging now that I've had a solid year and a half of yoga and have built my practice up to a different platform. We'll see what happens. It'll be different for me to not take a "training" mentality toward running, not to choose a goal or race and push toward it. That may come later, but for now, I'm just going to do a little every day and see if I can keep it all in balance.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Things 6, 7 and 8

Almost immediately after my last post, I realized that I'd lied. Really it was six things, if I included the pair of sandals at right, (except in red, of course). Super comfy, make me feel like I'm 8 again, walking through the world with nary a care. They should last me forever, or at least a long time...

I don't think I've opened the floodgates or anything, but I did order Things 7 and 8 last night, used from Amazon. Since I'm re-reading Dune (again) and really thoroughly enjoying it, I've realized how big a science-fiction geek I really am. And what a thoroughly under-read science-fiction geek I am.

So on their way to me, are a primo 1972 edition of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs -- which doesn't seem like science fiction, but is -- and War of the Words by H. G. Wells. Can't wait to get these and eat them up with my eyes. Each book, including shipping, about $10.

The not-shopping is still going well. Actually, as I continue along with this, I think it's less about the not-shop that it is about the thought-shop. Still working on it...

Monday, July 28, 2008

The five things I've bought since Mexico

When we got back from Mexico at the beginning of June, I was all shopped out. I was overwhelmed by possessions after being on retreat and living out of a suitcase for a couple of weeks. Plus, I felt like I'd spent a lot of money on the vacation and it was time to reel things in. I declared a total moratorium on shopping through the end of the month. That's through the end of June, just a couple of weeks.

The interesting thing is that once I got out of the habit of buying stuff, it's gotten harder and harder to spend money on stuff. Just not that into it.

Since we got back, I've bought all of 5 things. This may not interest anyone but me, but I think it's fascinating that I can actually count them. Before this hiatus on the spendies, I couldn't count the number of times I cracked my wallet and purchased more stuff.

For the record, here're my five things:

1. replacement brushes for the robot-vacuum. Love the Roomba!
2. the SodaClub soda maker.
3. a new stainless steel water bottle, from a Canadian company, cool shape.
4. two magazines, InStyle and Yoga Journal (counting these two as one item).
5. a pair of yoga pants.

I could tell a story about each one of them, but will confine myself to two. The soda maker RULES, since now I'm not buying imported bubbly water in glass bottles (ridiculous to ship water from Italy) and can have bubbly water from the tap. Genius! The yoga pants I felt I had to buy since my stupid new stainless steel bottle (#3 above, not so crazy about it now) leaked all over the pants I'd brought to wear to yoga. Seriously, those wet pants were ridiculous.

So two thoughts I'm having about all this. Shopping -- the endless hunt for new stuff -- is a self-reinforcing habit. When you stop doing it, the taste for it fades. Maybe that's what it's like to give up sugar (I am so not going there). Thought #2 is that for years, we didn't have anything, no money, no ease, no basics. So for the past couple of years, now that we have some money & ease, I've been responding to the lack of scarcity by accumulating stuff. And now that I've been at the accumulation for a couple of years, woah, I feel oppressed by it and need to stop. But damn it if it isn't whole lot easier to stop buying stuff when you suddenly realize that you have everything.

It's not as though I've become ascetic in any way. We have seen plenty of movies and eaten delicious food in restaurants on many occasions since the End of Shopping As I Knew It began. But what I love about those expenditures is that they're just experiences, not things. They are just time and taste buds and the company of friends. So much more satisfying than a bunch of new stuff.

Friday, July 25, 2008

On the other hand,

If it weren't for these two, I don't know what I'd do.

Presenting: a little Garage Sale Rock & Roll, keeping me laughing even now...


I think I wrote earlier that this is the year of balance for me. An interesting outcome of my finding-center/finding balance orientation is the huge shifts that are coming out of it. First clarity, then ease, then a gentle rancorless flow into change. The change can be enormous and risky and yet feel completely natural, the next logical step in the progression...

I took a lot of heat last night from various parties (who shall remain nameless), about having become a complete and utter stereotype, with small exceptions. Here's my list of perceived faults:

- Prius driver
- compounded by the Obama sticker on the back
- practitioner of yoga
- eater of organic food
- inhabitant of Marin County

Apparently, I get some points for tattoos, but not enough to lift me out of the particularly shameful demographic I now represent. Another saving grace is my continued consumption of animal products. If I were vegan, I'd be completely f*ed.

Apparently, I have lost my edge.

Which means, strangely enough, that I have succeeded.

The edge was such a defining point for so long, and yet such a totally artificial and silly construct. And I fully recognize how absurd the combination of labels above can look, at the same time that I recognize how meaningless they are, given who I am inside, where I come from, how my mind works. Sure, dismiss me -- soft, Marin County do-gooder -- that's fine with me. All of what I'm doing feels absolutely natural to me, easy, rancorless.

I'm happier now than I've ever been. Think maybe it has something to do with losing the edge?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Caring isn't enough, be willing to change

These two things may not be related, but just 'cause it suits me I'm going to pretend they are. My parents got back yesterday morning from an Alaskan cruise. My mother told the story last night of a canoe paddle they took to a glacier, which has apparently receded tremendously in the past couple of years. She and my father were so impressed by the size of the glacier and yet shocked at how far it had receded. That damn global warming.

It seems like in the very next breath, we were talking about hybrid cars, how they're going to sell my father's car since he can no longer see well enough to drive, and trade my mother's car in for a hybrid. So of course I had to brag about my current gas mileage (49.3) and how I've gotten there.

Just repeating the lesson from the last post: the good gas mileage requires recalibrating your driving techniques, going slower, trading in Speed Racer for pokey, Sunday smell-the-flowers driver. To illustrate it to my parents last night, I said you had to be willing to drive in the right-most lane up Waldo Grade.

Oh no, my mother responded immediately, I can't possibly drive in the right lane up that hill. No way. I used to have to when we had that goddamn Volkswagen Camper, but no way, not anymore...

Which has made me reflect on something that of course I already knew, that we all already know, but bears remembering.

It just isn't enough to care about how shitty things are, to talk about global warming, or to buy stuff or a car that will have less impact. We need to go farther than that and be willing to change our personal habits. Buying and driving the hybrid car -- ok, that's great, it definitely reduces impact, but it's just the tip of the iceberg (so to speak). Why is it important to have an identity as a person who drives fast, who is zippy, has umph? I suffer from this too (check out my coffee addiction, and nostalgia for the brief period during which I was hyperthyroid).

We have to be willing to make what might seem like personal sacrifices -- give up the zippy frame of reference, quit buying so much crap, focus on what matters inside. Seriously, it's so much better for all of us, on the inside and the outside, right this minute and for the future, to make the more significant, personal change to slow down, slow down, slow down.

Sure, buy the car, then take that impact and expand it out bigger.

Monday, July 14, 2008

It's a crappy picture, but makes a point

I had to pull over to take this photo with my phone - which explains its crappiness. I was delighted by the symmetry: an average of 49.2 miles per gallon, and 492 miles to that particular tank-full of gas. By the time I filled up later that day, I had driven 500+ miles since my last visit to the gas station.

The good news, I suppose, is that
I have really improved my gas mileage in the Prius. I learned some tips from Rochelle and Steve on how to go farther on less -- essentially the tips boil down to: drive like a granny, be willing to be annoying. I am obsessed with the power meter, and coast wherever possible, give it only as much gas it required to run off the battery.

More good news is that compared to a "regular" car that gets something like 20 miles to the gallon, over the 500 miles I drove I emitted far less carbon dioxide. Thanks to the carbon footprint calculator on, I know that rather than 500 pounds of CO2, my driving released "only" 208 into the atmosphere.

But it's pretty hard to feel great about 208 pounds of CO2 or 500 miles in just a week and a half. :(

Clearly something needs to change!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

5 Weekly Gallons of the Good Stuff

A cool little combination cafe-bike store opened up in our neighborhood recently (* The owner is a local guy who also coaches the Terra Linda High mountain bike team. We went over there initially a few months ago just to check it out and were blown away by how cool the spot is. It's a funny little corner between the 7-11 and the laundromat that used to house a video rental store (VHS and Beta, way before DVDs), then a mail-order spice business. Bikes and Beans is our favorite use of the space by far.

The day we first checked the place out I asked if I could have the coffee grounds. So now we pick up a 5-gallon bucket a week of used espresso and drip. It's become a new ritual of our Sunday afternoons, and has had the very beneficial effect of driving us to yard-work for a couple of hours.

Here's how it works. I get home from yoga, Joe from his ride; we grab the dog, the clean bucket and our coffee cups and stroll to the corner. Justin brews us up some delicious coffee (from De La Paz Coffee in San Francisco, www., yum!) and we swap out the full bucket for the empty one, then make our way home. I sit on the stoop, drink coffee and get the used coffee ready for prime-time: with both hands, crushing the espresso pods, dumping out and shredding the paper filters. Meanwhile Joe's mowing the lawn or weeding or trimming. We flip the existing pile and layer in the coffee and new stuff, and generally marvel at the worms at the top of the pile, the heat at the center, and how much things have broken down since the last weekend. The apricots, for example, that we put in two weeks ago, are 100% gone. Love that!

There's so much about this activity that I love. There's the connection to the cafe, the elimination of the coffee from the waste stream and returning it to earth. There's the walking there with our coffee cups, and balancing everything + Jasper on our way back, and the meditative process of prepping the coffee for the pile. There's the amazing fragrance and heat of the pile as we turn it, the stages of decomposition we witness and the surprises like the baby praying mantis we pulled out of there today or the little alligator lizard hunting worms that we saw. It's such a simple little thing and so deeply, deeply satisfying.

And in a few months, we'll have gorgeous very coffee-looking soil to add back to our garden beds and feed the next season's crop of lettuce and flowers. When I asked for the coffee grounds, I only imagined it would be a great addition to our compost. What I ended up getting is a regular serving of peaceful simple pleasure every Sunday, a coffee high that I coast on for days.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Correction to the stats in green burial post

OK, maybe I should have checked first, but whatever - here's the corrected stats, courtesy of It's entirely possible that I wrote them down wrong. At any rate, they're still pretty mind-boggling:

What’s Buried Along with our Loved Ones in U.S. Cemeteries Every Year

  • 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid
  • 90,272 tons of steel (caskets)
  • 2,700 tons of copper and bronze (caskets)
  • 1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete (vaults)
  • 14,000 tons of steel (vaults)
  • 30-plus million board feet of hardwoods (much tropical; caskets)
Source: Mary Woodsen, Greensprings Natural Cemetery FAQ, March, 2007;

A Green End to a Green Life

Today we visited Fernwood Cemetery in Mill Valley, one of the country's handful of green cemeteries. Green burial is so simple - no embalming fluid, no concrete vault, no elaborate grounds. You're simply put in the earth, either in a shroud, a pine box or a wicker casket, on a hillside - no chemicals, no bulldozers. The graves are dug by hand - takes 5 guys a few hours. When the land is "full," it will be turned over to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, whose lands are adjacent to the cemetery, and put back into permanent parkland. For now, it's being restored, eucalyptus trees removed, native plants reintroduced.

I haven't independently confirmed these stats, but this is what we learned in the presentation before our tour of the grounds.

In one year, in the US, conventional burials result in the burying of:

- 30 million tons of hardwood
- 104 tons of steel
- 2,700 tons of copper/bronze
- 1.6 million tons of concrete
- 827,000 gallons of embalming fluid

This is every single year. The figures on cremation are equally disturbing. Again, I haven't doublechecked this on my own, but we heard that the energy required to burn up one body could power a car for 4,300 miles. If that's true, it's crazy!

For me, the only option I can consider for the disposition of my dead body is one that allows me to be returned to the earth, to be composted. For this reason, I'm very seriously considering buying a plot ahead of time - one I could share with Joe, in the shadow of Mt. Tam. There is a lot more to learn about this subject, but I was tremendously excited to think that I really could find a way to actually decompose, feed the earth, in a way consistent with my values and how I live my life.

For more info about green burial, go to:
For more info on Fernwood Cemetery,

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Quittin' Time

Two messages in one hour -- a text from LT that he quit his miserable job and a voice mail from JA that he bailed out of a criterium -- have me thinking hard about quitting and all of the baggage attached to it.

In LT's case, thank goodness he quit that job. Even though he doesn't have anything lined up, I am all for it since I support him taking a stand for himself, being able to draw a line and walk away from a job and a boss that were actually taking him down. I'm sure he'll find something else, less aligned with his interests but also - chances are good -- less abusive and dysfunctional. Hurray for quitting! Out with the bad, in with the good...

In JA's case, my first reaction to his quitting was negative -- especially 'cause his voice mail said, "I am becoming a quitter!!" Ouch, a quitter. There's so much bad attached to quitter that I reacted to that, instead of listening all the way through. He was being dropped, he would've been cut, he wasn't feeling that great, and it was over 100 degrees. So hurray for this quitting, too: for recognizing when the situation is not working out and putting an end to the misery!

And then I was reminded that two women from my immersion quit their jobs not long after we completed the course and that, when I heard the news, I was completely elated for them. They'd liberated themselves, were now off traveling and having adventures, taking chances and enjoying life. Such an inspiration.

So really, all enculturation aside, quitting isn't bad. In fact, like everything else, quitting is good, an expression of clarity about the self and what it needs or doesn't need, wants or doesn't want. There is so much duty forced on all of us, so much that we continue to do even if we hate it because we don't want to be quitters -- how silly this is. We should do want we want to do, and not do what we don't. We are in control of our lives and should exercise our right to quit whenever it's right for us.

Hate your job? Quit it! Hate your life situation? Change it! We're completely in charge except when we forget that we are and hand that power over to someone else.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Freedom and Sixpence

Forty-fourth birthday tattoo,
a present to myself to remind me always
that Freedom is what I care about most

I read W. Somerset Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence years ago, but re-read it over the weekend, as part of an overall devoration of his work this year (see 2008 Books at right) kicked off by reading The Painted Veil last year after seeing the movie version with Ed Norton, Jr. Somerset Maugham has a delightful way with words!

And with lead characters. In the case of Moon and Sixpence, I loved Strickland, his take on Gauguin, and how he crashes through life untouched by the opinions of others, locked in his own battle. Like a character in Ayn Rand, Strickland is a big man - brutal, remorseless, genius. And entirely free.

Which is why I love these books and characters so much.

In his introduction to the novel, Robert Calder writes,
Freedom, here seen as essential to creativity, was a fundamental concern of Maugham throughout his ninety-one years. 'The main thing I've always asked of life,' he said in old age, 'is freedom. Outer and inner freedom, both in my way of living and my way of writing.'
We should all take a memo. Not that we have to be quite so extremely bastardly as Strickland, but we should work tirelessly to free ourselves from false dichotomies that obscure the only real option -- to be 100% ourselves. Apparently the title of the novel derives from a critique of an earlier Somerset Maugham protagonist (Philip Carey, Of Human Bondage), that "like so many young men he was so busy yearning for the moon that he never saw the sixpence at his feet." With Strickland, it's not an either/or, damn it, but the moon and sixpence.


Sunday, June 8, 2008

Delicious Midnight Tears

While we were in Mexico, the absolutely gorgeous and fragrant Miltoniopsis Echo Bay 'Midnight Tears' opened. This is the first time we've seen these blooms, having bought the plant really small at the Orchid Society show at Fort Mason, San Francisco, in February of 2007.

Our patience and continuous care have certainly paid off. If only I could capture the fragrance and share it here - an intense, rose-like smell.

So after a year and three months of weekly watering, here are these lovely flowers for a few weeks. Orchids are incredible this way -- the pay-off is so enormous, the flowers just so extravagant, that it's worth waiting a year or so before seeing them again. Lovely!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Criminals with cold symptoms

I got to sign the pseudoephredine log book at Long's Drugs today, which was a small yet still annoying price to pay for the 10-pack of Aleve D they were holding behind the counter. I woke up this morning with such a head cold. The new-ish, "daytime formula" over-the-counter cold remedies make me crazy, so I had to queue up at the pharmacy, hand over my ID and sign the book, testifying that I am aware that nefarious uses of pseudoephredrine are punishable by law.

Since I've signed this book at other pharmacies, or done it electronically (Walgreen's, Montecito Shopping Center), I am familiar with this procedure. I have to talk myself down every time, that I'm not doing anything wrong, that I'm not going to get in trouble. It's really so lame that meth cookers have created a requirement that regular pill users like me have to write our names in the book.

I remember this creeping up on me, suddenly realizing when the OTC allergy pills I'd relied on for years were now making me jumpy, that something good had changed into something mediocre. Here's why:
Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005, which classified all nonprescription pseudoephedrine (PSE), ephedrine (EPH), and phenylpropanolamantine (PPA) products as "scheduled listed chemical products." The law required a log entry for sales of more than 60 mg of PSE and required the customer to show a federal- or state-issued photo ID.
Yes, meth is an epidemic and definitely needs to be shut down. But I do wonder how successful this change is in reducing the meth-idemic. I have been seeing a lot of anti-meth messaging in English and Spanish just in the past few months, which would seem to indicate that since passage of the law in 05, things have perhaps not improved.

But they should be doing a better job on the log-book thing. It's amazing that during my entire transaction, as the monosyllabic pharmacist was ringing up my pills and vitamin water and pencil leads, the book was left open for my review. I read every line of the page I signed, all the names, addresses, signatures and drugs of choice of dozens of criminals with cold/allergy symptoms just looking for some relief. That lack of privacy just doesn't seem right. I mean, I don't care if the government knows I have a cold, but do my neighbors need to?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Interesting Bird Week

The past three days have been filled with bird encounters. None of them have anything to do with the vermilion flycatcher pictured above -- I just included him since we saw so many of them in Oaxaca and frankly, this post bums me out so much that I needed something pretty to start with. Onward:

- Monday evening after yoga I caught, with the help of Julie and Trixie and the support of other yogis and folks in the parking lot, an injured female mallard. It took a fair amount of coaxing and Luna bar and strategizing before I finally had her in my hands. She had a badly injured, most likely broken, right wing and some serious pecking. I drove her, wrapped in a sarong that Julie pulled out of the back of her car, to the Humane Society and handed her off. She was pretty calm, but let's just say that she doesn't like cars. I still have to follow up with Wildcare to see what happened to her; my suspicion is that she wasn't fix-able and was probably euthanized.

- Tuesday morning while hiking in the woods with Jasper a hawk flew low across the path right in front of me, with a rat in its talons. Probably a red-shoulder, judging from its size and tail feathers, really weighed down by its prey. Sweet!

- Wednesday evening coming home after yoga I startled a robin in our yard who then proceeded to fly straight into the window. Its neck broke on impact. I scooped it up and it died in my hand.

So now it's Thursday and I'm hoping for better avian interactions - no more deaths, please.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Stepping Gingerly Back In

After an absence of 11 days, here is what I notice:

- that my email is filled with advertisements, enticements to shop on-line for everything from shoes to water filters. When I see it all at once, I really feel its impact, and so I've set about unsubscribing from many lists.

- that some political candidates send altogether too much mail. Of the more-than-week's-worth of snail-mail that the USPS dropped on my doorstep on Saturday, at least 50% was from candidates for state assembly. Since I voted absentee before leaving on vacation, I recycled them with impunity, even ferocity. New personal eco-vow: not voting for candidates who flood my mailbox with their crap. [Ojala que Obama no lo haga!]

Interestingly, one of the first topics at the yoga retreat, in one of Ann's classes, was pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses, the pulling in of the focus. One of the actions I am taking now, to support my own pratyahara -- and by this I mean minimizing the distractions that fritter my attention and calm -- is reducing the number of times I'm solicited and highjacked by a commercial announcement. I don't expect I'll ever unplug myself completely -- that, for me, is like giving up coffee, WHY? Especially since for me, as I explained to those who griped at me for spending time on my laptop checking email and writing while on vacation, being plugged-in keeps me connected to the people and issues I care about most.

So the way I'm choosing is to be really vigilant about how I'm connected, to only let in what needs to be on my radar, what supports my continued expansion. Sorry, Athleta, the terry beach-dress doesn't make the cut!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Market Day in Tlacolula

Keep in mind as you look at these photos that it was about 80 degrees out. The blue tarps strung over the Sunday market in Tlacolula, just down the highway from Teotitlan del Valle, kept the sun off, but sometimes created an absolutely stifling cloud of grilling-meat smoke combined with mangoes in the heat. Joe got involved in stringing the tarps up, since his superior height (compared to the average Zapotec local) offered such an advantage. In the first photo, Peggy and I pose in the typical aprons that all the women wear over their clothes (I should have bought the one that Peg has on, since OF COURSE the poinsettia is native to Oaxaca!).

Since I didn't want to offend, I photographed the women on the sneak, mostly from the side or back - but all of them sport the apron, the ribbons in the braids, the rebozos or big babushka-style head scarves. I had to pause while cruising the market, just to soak it all in - the insane color-overload rendered me speechless.

And then there were the turkeys...

Oaxaca, city impressions

We had the smarts to schedule a few days in Oaxaca City and one more on the end, book-ending our 7 day yoga retreat in Teotitlan del Valle. There are many things to see in the city, and we jumped in with both feet.

On Thursday, May 22nd, our flight landed at 8am. We hopped in a combi ($12, no taxis at the airport) and were taken directly to the sweet Casa de los Milagros (see separate post for details on that). We met up with our friends Peggy, Jim and Michelle at the Milagros. After a delicious breakfast (fresh yogurt and homemade granola, rife with pumpkin seeds, amaranth, pecans, then the open-faced delicious quesillo sandwich whose name I now cannot remember), we strolled down to CafĂ© Nuevo Mundo on Calle Bravo for some “real” coffee. As a rule, Mexican brewed coffee is really weak. We San Franciscans needed the depth of an espresso to kick-start our morning.

At Nuevo Mundo they make particularly beautiful and delicious mochas with the characteristic cinnamon-rich Oaxacan chocolate. Sweet!

From there we ambled down to the ethnobotanical garden for a two-hour English language tour with guide Carol Turkenik.* I was a little nervous about the tour – two hours in the hot sun on our first morning, in English – but we learned so much. It was in many ways the perfect start to our Oaxacan vacation, since we really got to see the biodiversity of Oaxaca and understand its role as the most diverse place in Mexico, itself one of the most biodiverse places on earth. Everything good – ok, except coffee and tea – originated in Oaxaca, our guide would have us believe, or at least everything that we eat every single day: chocolate, chiles, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, squash, things which were unknown to the so-called Old World. Impossible to imagine the cuisine of India or Thailand without the spicy kick of peppers and yet how far and wide these plants traveled to create those distinctive flavors.

From the ethnobotanical garden, we wandered through a few museums and the markets. Amazing! It’s hard not to be totally sensorily overloaded – the color, the smells, the abundance of fruit and vegetables, the fabulous tlayudas (why don’t we have these oversized, thin corn tortillas at home?), the quesillo stands, the many mole y chocolate stores where they’ll grind the cocoa beans and add sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, nuts to your specifications. And everywhere the older women in traditional dress, the hair braided with bright ribbons tied together at the bottom, colorful aprons over their dresses, rebozos draped over their shoulders or heads. The baskets of toasted crickets with garlic (chapulinas).

I myself was a bit of colorful abundance, drawing stares and comments for my tattoos. One old lady in the Zocalo, startingly shorter than me, stroked my arm and said, “Como ropa,” “like clothes.” Joe was entertained by observing people’s reactions to me, although this made me a little uncomfortable, shades of my childhood experiences in Mexico, when my parents would make me walk alone in front of them down the street, tickled by the reactions to the guera.

* Carol Turkenik is the author of a little guidebook, "Oaxaca Tips," available around Oaxaca, or from me. I'd love to loan it to you, if you're going!

La Casa de los Milagros, Oaxaca, Mexico

Somehow we managed to stay in the most beautiful place in Oaxaca. Thank goodness for the internet!

La Casa de los Milagros is family-owned, a three-room bed and breakfast located close enough to the center to be convenient to everything, yet far enough away that it’s removed from the hustle and bustle. The owners, Adriana and Rene, are charming and accommodating. The breakfast in the morning in lovely and delicious.

I think what I loved most, besides the owners and the way the place is painted and decorated, is that they hand you the keys. We – that is, Joe and me, Peggy and Jim, and the woman who occupied the third room – could let ourselves in and out at our pleasure. At night, it was our house, the owners and staff live and sleep elsewhere, so that we really had the feeling that it was our place to come home to.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

On Retreat from Retreat

Strange as it may seem, this morning -- skipping class while Joe is in bed reading a book -- is the first time on this retreat that I have felt like I was on retreat! The days are busy with yoga class: 2 1/2 hours in the morning (which seriously feels too long to me), then breakfast, then an excursion, then 1 1/2 hours of yoga at 5, then dinner. The day can pass in a blur. A delicious blur, but a blur nonetheless.

It's gorgeous here and quiet at Casa Sagrada in Teotitlan del Valle this morning. Quiet is not really an apt description of the place, but right now all I can hear is birds. Generally it's a chorus of goats, turkeys, donkeys, dogs, birds. At night there's a bird we've dubbed the smoke alarm bird, since it gives a single piercing cry, then pauses, then another, then pauses, then just when you think it has flown off, another single piercing cry... And of course there is the sound of work during the day layered on top of the animals, and music at night.

Given that this is a group activity, the retreat, it is hard to get a moment alone to quietly consider all of the inputs. I laid awake most of last night plotting out my blog posts, which made me feel as though I was observing my experience in addition to having it -- which I like. In short order, I'll start writing and loading them, which will create not exactly a real-time record, but a record nonetheless.

So I'm musing on whether this is the right kind of retreat for me in future. It's been challenging to get the kind of yoga practice in that my body needs, since the level of the other students is so mixed (some appear not to know sun salutations?), and I am generally challenged by group activities. The trip has been enormously beneficial to me in other ways - some new friends, some deeper friends, and a long immersion in this place and in Spanish, which brings me back to something so central in myself. Right now I am so enjoying the morning sun on the bougainvillea (bugambilia, so much easier in Spanish!) and the silence while everyone else is in practice. More soon!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Victory for Love

What a sweet, sweet day -- the California Supreme Court overturned a voter ban on same-sex marriage, saying:
In light of the fundamental nature of the substantive rights embodied in the right to marry — and their central importance to an individual’s opportunity to live a happy, meaningful, and satisfying life as a full member of society — the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all individuals and couples, without regard to their sexual orientation.
Thank you, wonderful California, for this victory in the name of Love!

I write this post with tears streaming down my face, absolutely filled-to-bursting with joy about this. My amazing boss Jeanne Rizzo, one of the plaintiffs in the case, reacted like this:

Jeanie Rizzo, one of the plaintiffs, called Pali Cooper, her partner of 19 years, and asked, "Pali, will you marry me?"

"This is a very historic day. This is just such freedom for us," Rizzo said. "This is a message that says all of us are entitled to human dignity."

Hurray for happiness, hurray for freedom, hurray for love! Three cheers to Gavin Newsom and to all those people who hungered too long for this fundamental, inalienable right! Blessings on San Francisco for leading the way!

To all those people supporting the ballot measure in November that would overturn the Court's decision, let your hearts out of their cages, let them grow two sizes at least!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Earth Needs You to Work Less!

A great article in this month's Fast Company provides environmental reasons to work less. About time!

The United States leads the world in two categories: work and waste. American employees put in more hours and take fewer vacations than just about anyone else in the industrialized world, and our individual ecological "footprints" are much larger.

Coincidence? I think not. The way we work drives our habits of consumption and waste. The more we work, the more we drive, the more energy we burn, the more styrofoam to-go containers we use. At the end of the day, we're so tired, we devour more takeout and TV, often falling asleep in front of the latter. If we want to accelerate the recent trend of reducing waste, it may be time to consider the radical step of, well, relaxing more, consuming less, and living fuller lives.

If we worked less, our productivity would go up apparently and we'd consume less energy, not to mention that we'd probably be better human beings. That last bit can only contribute to improving quality of life right now and for successive generations. Check out the whole article at

I am ALL for this, and will be adding this 32-hour maximum work-week to my personal goals for the near future. Somebody's got to lead the way on this!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

First Principle: Open Wide and Say "Aaaaaaah"

The words of the teacher echo through the week. It was Danielle who said, "Open to Grace means staying open to life, to whatever comes. It doesn't mean you need to know HOW, it just means you say YES."

Monday, April 21, 2008

Hanuman Jayanti!

I've been wearing an image of Hanuman around my neck for a few months, wanting to hold close his qualities of service and devotion. I love the stories of Hanuman, how far he'll jump, how big or how small he'll make himself, all in service to Rama.

Service is big for me, and has been something I've been thinking about a lot lately -- how am I in service and to what?

Certainly, in my work, I am of service, being that my job is in the non-profit sector. I do very much appreciate that what I do every day contributes in some way to making the world a better place down the line. And since I began volunteering at WildCare in San Rafael, I am savoring that service every single week.

The rub comes when that work-service is not in service to my own self.

Last Friday, I busted my a** setting up an event for my job, violating my own boundaries by doing work that wasn't mine to do. I pushed myself for twelve straight hours, physically and mentally, didn't sit down, didn't have time to eat, was the last to leave. On Saturday, I was a wreck, so tired that all I wanted to do was cry, picked a fight with my beloved, felt nauseous, had no energy to do what I wanted.

Then I remembered.

In about hour 5 of the over-work day, while engaged in some menial task, I heard something land on the ground near my feet. I looked down and there was Hanuman, slipped free from his chain, sitting between my arches. I put him in my pocket and kept moving.

Hanuman's super-human feats are powered by love and devotion. He is never tired, no task is too great, because his love and devotion are bigger than anything else. Of course it helps that he has super-human powers! :)

Was I moving mountains out of love and devotion? Nope, I was head-down, doing what needed doing, in a furious race against time, blind to the notion of service. Had I paid attention, taken a moment to consider Hanuman as I picked him up off the floor, perhaps I could have re-oriented myself, saved myself from having to pick me up off the floor the next day.

Again I'm asking myself what am I in service to and how do I best serve? My best service is conscious, chosen, grounded in love and devotion. I didn't chose on Friday and the end-result is suffering. This is not what Hanuman is about. Service is joy-full. If I keep my eye on joy, then I can make a better choice next time around.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Praise, some words about

A colleague observed me in a meeting, uncomfortable at being praised in front of the entire staff. It made her feel sad that I had my head down and couldn't accept the praise. She would have preferred me with head up, smiling, taking it all in. Her conclusion was that I didn't somehow feel I deserved the praise, and that, for her, was sad.

The truth, for me, was the praise felt excessive and I was embarrassed. I don't have a problem accepting praise, I said; it's just when the praise seems so far out of scale with the actual accomplishment that I start to squirm. I love the spotlight, believe me, and like all creatures I like to be recognized when I've made a contribution or done something great.

In reflecting a bit more about my response to praise, I realized that I have two very different sets of reactions to it. In yoga, when a teacher praises me, I feel good, I take it in, I expand more -- I deeply feel it and it resonates for hours, even days. I'll go home and say to Joe, "Laura praised me tonight," and walk a little taller. It creates a stable platform of confidence that allows me to try more new things.

At work when a colleague praises me, I am generally bothered.

Last night in yoga, the answer came to me. And it came to me in the form of the dolphin image above.

People get so excited at dolphin shows when the dolphins jump out the water on cue, interact with people, follow commands. Aren't they so cute and amazing? This has always struck me as wrong-headed somehow. A dolphin is so intelligent, has so much wild potential, that to praise it for demonstrating the simplest of its capabilities is such a diminishment of its full individual value. That has always seemed so sad to me, that we measure its worth in such a small way.

When I'm in class, practicing, and receive praise, I drink it in because I'm actually working, pushing, stretching, expanding my own limits. I'm actually trying, so the praise matches my effort, rewards it. At work, the things I'm generally praised for are such a tiny fraction of what I'm capable of, and I don't feel I really have to try as I'm producing them. They're easy, no stretch, no expansion. This is why the praise feels excessive to me, when my colleagues heap it on for something I could have done with my eyes closed. That may sound arrogant, but I think it's important and true for me, a serious sign that I need to jump out of the performance pool and realize some of that bigger potential.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Katherine Powell Cohen rules!

My beloved friend Katherine sent me a copy of the email she sent to the SFPD. I am reprinting here without her permission, but I'm sure she won't mind. I so so so appreciate her for taking the time to write and send this letter!

From: Katherine Powell <>
Date: April 9, 2008 11:36:45 P.M. PDT
Subject: Call for Apology

Dear SFPD:

It was with shock and shame, as a San Franciscan and an American, that I saw footage on ABC 7 news of a San Francisco police officer engaging in hooliganism today. As a citizen, I call for a public apology by Commissioner Fong and tangible evidence that the officer be educated on the basic tenets of the U.S. Constitution, and be punished.

After torchbearer Majora Carter waved a small Tibetan flag, which was confiscated by a Chinese Olympics official, an SF police officer shoved Ms Carter from behind as she finished her leg of the relay. Ms Carter is a respected environmentalist who has done much for the greater good, and her action today was dignified. Regardless of Ms Carter's respected status in our community, and aside from the fact that her gesture was a graceful statement, the police officer's action was an affront to the American people and a disgrace to the city of San Francisco. The freedom to express one's convictions, especially in support of an oppressed people, is one of the factors that makes the United States a beacon of democracy. The Chinese official, by snatching the flag from Ms Carter, only emphasized the contrast between Chinese government, and the U.S. government's great populist foundation. In the next minutes, the offending officer showed ignorance of American values by behaving even worse than the Chinese official.

Katherine Powell Cohen, Ph.D.
Hurray for Katherine!!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A reminder about political leaders

Yesterday morning brought a brilliant blue sky, perfect spring conditions in San Francisco. Gorgeous. I crossed the Golden Gate early, to miss the impact of the Burmese monks who'd be massing and walking around 9. There was something in the air: today was the day, the big day that San Francisco would be center stage, hosting the biggest protest for Tibetan freedom.

I'd awakened still unsure of where the right place to be was for me -- should I go to work and do the all-day meeting with my boss on how to augment the benefit package for the staff; or should I add my body to the non-violent masses along the waterfront. Ultimately, I decided that I would work to create some good in a more immediate way yesterday, so I went to the office. Wearing white, in support of the Tibetan people, as we'd been ask to do for the protest. And wearing my prayer scarf and really holding them in my thoughts.

As staff arrived, there was something in the air for them, too. The television was rolled out, and people kept an eye on what was happening. One of us was getting fairly constant texts and had friends along the waterfront, who were relaying information. I went into my meeting and worked, tv in the background, muted. Between conversations about how we could provide better benefits, I'd look over and react to the heavy police presence, the changed route, the total suppression of free speech.

There was a burst of activity when Adrienne and Shannon realized that the relay was on Van Ness and Bush and they ran down to see it. Shannon ran alongside chanting "Free Tibet" until Broadway, and then walked back.

All evening long I couldn't shake, still can't, a deep feeling of disappointment and one of shame: here was a golden opportunity, side-stepped, for political goals out of step with the 10,000 people in the street.

Thank you to Supervisor Peskin for summing it up:

Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, a vocal critic of Newsom's administration, was equally unhappy, as was the local ACLU chapter.

"Gavin Newsom runs San Francisco the way the premier of China runs his country - secrecy, lies, misinformation, lack of transparency and manipulating the populace," Peskin said. "He did it so China can report they had a great torch run."

What a shame!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

San Franciscan pride, hmmmm

My boss kindly said to me yesterday, "I know this whole question of Tibetan freedom is deep for you, close to your heart, so if you need to take the day off on Wednesday to go protest the Chinese torch relay, I'm fine with that." [That, right there, is an example of how wonderful she is and how lucky I am.]

My reply surprised me a little. Really, I told her, that issue is very deep for me. I was stunned when the Chinese government referred to Dalai Lama as the "scum of buddhism" and accused him of fomenting terrorism.

But there's something else that has been driving me more. And that is, that as a San Franciscan, I feel it is my right, my privilege, my heritage, my duty to Stand Up in these situations. I was profoundly offended by the idea that the mayor was setting up Designated Free Speech Zones, as if the entire country weren't a designated free speech zone and as if San Francisco by definition wasn't the freest free speech zone in the entire world. If not here, then where??

Right now San Francisco is training a crucial spotlight on the issue of Chinese treatment of Tibetan people and culture. And San Franciscans and friends are turning up in droves. Just last night I attended a vigil with thousands of people, standing for hours in a cold wind, together on the issue of peace, self-determination and TRUTH.

For me as a San Franciscan, not being a part of the activities this week is akin to missing an earthquake. Maybe only San Franciscans can understand this visceral need to feel a part of big social changes, huge (sometimes cataclysmic) shifts in seemingly immovable tectonic plates. I don't think it's any surprise, really, that this area is so creative, so free -- our geology requires it!

Grateful again to have been raised here. Grateful again for what the city represents and for how it can come together in support of freedom for all.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Clear Seeing, Calm Abiding

I had the great pleasure of practicing at YogaTree in San Francisco yesterday, with Darcy Lyon and a room full of delightful people including my beloved friend Trixie. Before we began the practice, Darcy set the theme to get us aligned. She spoke of the twin pillars of our practice: clear seeing & calm abiding. To me this meant lining up two aspects: developing the ability to truly see -- i.e., not just see everything as what's happening to me -- and the quiet wisdom to consider, peacefully, what is unfolding, then act. Slowing the mind down, thoughtfully.

To illustrate the theme, Darcy re-told the story of Julio Diaz which appeared on NPR Friday morning, and which you can read and listen to here:

Simply put, Julio was able to see past what was happening to him and saw instead what might be motivating his mugger and where that mugger's life was heading. His compassion for the teenager completely changes the situation, probably completely changes the kid's entire life.

As Julio says at the end of the story, "I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It's as simple as it gets in this complicated world."

Seeing so clearly, then acting quietly and thoughtfully from that seeing, has the potential to shift everything.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Every moment, be grateful

Yesterday evening's yoga teacher is not my favorite. I am put off by her very serious followers and by the tone of her classes -- plus, I always think she talks too much. And that's odd: when I consider that statement, I realize that some teachers whom I adore also talk a lot. It most likely goes back to that tone I mentioned earlier.

Nevertheless, she does, among the many things she says over the course of an hour and a half, sometimes come out with complete gems, such as the title of this post.

What would it be like to remember, in every moment, to be grateful?

I'm going to try this and see what happens. My guess is that it'll force me into the present, since gratitude seems like a Now activity. I'm grateful in THIS moment, for THIS moment, not hung up on past or future, where I generally get caught. What a way, also, to accept what comes, to embrace what comes, even if it's an email that would normally get my hackles up or another interruption of my train of thought while I'm at work...

Every moment,
Be Grateful


Friday, March 14, 2008

The question of vulnerability

I spent 26 weeks working with a coach in 2007, during my self-proclaimed Year of Me. I became interested in coaching mostly because I recognized that I could do a better job of communicating at work, and was particularly interested in working with Ian Blei because he starts from the enneagram. I'd recently done an enneagram test and found that I liked it as a way of understanding my own and other's reactions and styles. Ian is phenomenal, and I got so much out of the process.

The main thing that Ian showed me from the very beginning is that I had/have a tremendous fear of vulnerability, to the point that I created a carapace around myself, an impermeable and indiscriminate suit of armor. I could go on for hours about why, but that's not the point. Paradoxically, it turns out that letting down my guard and being vulnerable, actually makes me more successful at work and elsewhere. This was reinforced for me lately by something in "The Power of Now":

Until there is surrender, unconscious role-playing constitutes a large part of human interaction. In surrender, you no longer need ego defenses and false masks. You become very simple, very real. “That’s dangerous,” says the ego. “You’ll get hurt. You’ll become vulnerable.” What the ego doesn’t know, of course, is that only through the letting go of resistance, through becoming “vulnerable,” can you discover your true and essential invulnerability.

But I am stunned by the ways in which I continue to perpetuate the "hard" outer shell - which has been coming back to me lately when I consider people's reactions to things I say, which I think are funny but which it appears they interpret as evidence of my mean-ness. I am thinking, in particular, about certain snarky comments I've made of late about Joe's chronic coughing and divorce. I've had the impression, from things people have responded, that they think I am without compassion for him, without love, when honestly nothing is farther from the truth.

So I'm reflecting on my pattern of hard and snarky speech which is at odds with how I want to be in the world, and which really is a throw-back to the armor and the fear of vulnerability. More work to do!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Resting in the Heart

This morning's theme in yoga was that the earth is to the hips as the heart is to the mind, that you let your hips rest into the grounding of the earth and let your mind rest into the grounding of the heart - and from there the opening happens. Or as Ulrika said last Sunday, evolution happens, on its own, without forcing.

So for the most solid handstand I have ever felt, what was required this morning was that profound resting into the focal point of the heart, pouring my entire focus into it. Then came the straight, up-and-down power of the alignment - bam! I felt strength like I never have before in the pose, ease amidst the focus, and wow - super bonus! - solidity.

I don't remember having a single thought at all while I was upside down. I can only remember the sight of my hands and the floor between my hands, and the happy feeling of being totally lined up.

As usual, the physical practice is only the beginning. That happy feeling of being physically lined up is the same feeling I want all the time - especially off the mat. Especially at work. Especially when things or people feel challenging. If I rest into the heart at those times, hips into the earth, what evolution might be possible?