Tuesday, December 19, 2017

I Get By With a Little Help from My Chair

Chair yoga home practice. 2017.

This piece originally appeared on the iShine Yoga Blog, here
I went through a long bout with chronic migraines and fatigue last year. It was near the end of yoga teacher training and I was low energy. As part of our training we tried various types of yoga classes and we were introduced to a glorious yoga prop---the chair.

The old friend instantly engulfed me in a steady hug filled with quiet strength. Long-time friends are comfortable, supportive, and OK to lean on from time to time.
It’s not natural for me to ask for help, to rest. I want to do it all on my own, not having to rely on others.
"You just call on me brother, when you need a hand. We all need somebody to lean on." 
~Bill Withers
 I overheard a student telling another teacher the last class was really hard. The teacher replied, “But how did you feel at the end of practice?”

The chair practice was grounding and peaceful. With the support of a chair I was able to relax and drop into my breath, my body awareness heightened. I’m 6’3” and the “right” way to do a yoga asana (pose) is not always the same for me as someone who is 5’3”, our body structures and flexibility are all different. I explored warrior asanas more deeply than I’d ever been. I could hold the poses longer and build strength. My alignment felt on point.

Like an unspoken glance between sisters, the chair understood exactly what my body needed in a pose. I stopped thinking about what my body couldn’t do and instead noticed what my body was able to do in the moment and how strong I was.

You don’t have to be on a mat or standing or have Gumby flexibility to do yoga; you just have to breathe.

I regularly interact with people intimidated by yoga classes in studio due to injuries, lost flexibility and balance, or low stamina from a recent injury or illness. I want yoga to be accessible to every body so we can all experience the endless benefits of yoga. I thought back to my friend that brought steadiness and ease to my practice, the chair.

Mandatory chair yoga with family. Thanksgiving 2017.
I hope fellow yogis and yoginis like the one below will come and take a seat with me.
"Three years ago I fell and had to overcome some difficult injuries. After a long rehab I couldn’t bring myself to start exercising. Several months ago I developed sciatica. After it resolved I decided to try yoga in an attempt to ward off a recurrence.
This is one of the best decisions I have made. While my strength and balance are lacking, I see improvements in my flexibility and overall feeling of wellness. When Amber told me about her class on chair yoga I knew it would be perfect for my needs. I hope to gain strength and improve my balance. This will enhance my yoga practice. I feel like a new person in mind, body and soul since starting yoga. I am looking forward to beginning the chair yoga class!"
~ Anne Beasley
Asking for help reveals strength, not weakness. Sometimes you just need a friend to help you on your way.

B.K.S. Iyengar defines a yoga prop as, “any object that helps stretch, strengthen, relax, or improve the alignment of the body.”

Over time we may rely on our chair friend less and less, but will know it is always there if we need it.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Last Second Anniversary at the Outer Banks

My love, Troy, told me he wants to take me to the Outer Banks for our two year anniversary. I was ecstatic; it’s on my bucket list and everything wild and remote about it intrigues me. We planned to go in October, the start of offseason, to avoid the crowds. The next day he curiously asked me if it’s ok if he takes three hours of kite surfing lessons every day on our “anniversary” trip. My initial reaction was not pleasant, I wanted undivided anniversary attention. Then I paused for a moment. Three hours a day... Naps, reading, meditation, beach walks, yoga galore! Game on. I replied, “Sure babe! Please do, I know how much you’ve been wanting to do those.” Cough.

We had a 1:00 pm target departure time on a Thursday. Actual departure: 2:30 pm. Someone (cough Troy cough) needed to squeeze in four errands. I meditated patiently in our chair hammock with visions of the beach until Troy was ready to pack up the car. I made my way to the garage and suspiciously peered in the car. I asked, “Babe, why did you pack fishing rods, a cast net, a fish net, and a tackle box for our, “anniversary” trip?”  Troy logically responds, “In case there is no wind when I’m supposed to go kite surfing.” Sigh.

We hit the road, alternating who napped. I proclaimed that this is our first vacation together just the two of us. We started our phone detox, turning off our ringers. I began asking Troy all the questions from the Ungame, a learning/communication game of conversation that claims to foster listening skills as well as self-expression. I randomly received this game alongside an essential oil diffuser in the mail, addressed to me, three years ago. The sender remains unknown. I’m not sure who could possibly think I need to listen or express myself better… as Troy turned to me and exclaimed, “You aren’t answering any of the questions, and I’m answering all of them.” We agree to go away together just the two of us once a quarter for quality one on one time, perhaps without the Ungame.

The food options leading up to the outer banks are not plentiful. Word of advice; eat before you get to the two hours remaining countdown. We settled for shrimp pineapple fajitas and guacamole from a Mexican restaurant.

After seven hours of joyful self-expression and pineapple delight, we arrived at our treehouse room in Buxton, NC. It was charming with light catchers in the windows, eclectic artwork, and trinkets like sea glass in every nook. On the second floor alongside the trees, you could hear birds chirping and the breeze enveloped the room. Fifteen feet away from the treehouse was the boat of Ty Luckett, owner of Kitehatteras.net. Troy was originally going to take lessons from Ty, but unfortunately his mother passed.

Day one of the Outer Banks, I dropped Troy off for kite surfing camp with the gentlemen from Outer Banks Kiting. Troy was so excited and cute, wrapped up in his wet suit.

Phone detox day two. I found myself opening my phone and catching myself about to scan emails or Facebook, a mindless habit. I forced myself to put the phone down.

I made my way to the back porch of the treehouse, wrapped in a fuzzy blanket, no responsibilities, with all the time in the world (three hours to be exact) to just be. It was drizzling, but not enough to leave my peaceful back porch oasis. Just being and not doing is hard. I had to release all the guilt that came up from not being productive. I mused that all the drama that seemed so monumental back home and at work really didn’t matter at all as I was tucked away in the sound in another part of the world.

I started yoga on the back porch, letting my body flow into whatever asanas (poses) called to me. Afterwards I jotted down a new class sequence to teach when I got back home. I journaled. I wrote. The three hours passed quickly and it was time to pick up my big kid.

Troy was ecstatic about his day, bouncing around excitedly. He drove his SUV onto the beach and we stopped to leisurely walk along, picking up sea shells. 

To think these all these shells grew from a tiny particle. I started to toss the broken shells back and paused. I looked hard at those pieces, really looked, and saw something different. I developed a protective fury for the seashell population. Everyone throws back the shells that are chipped and cracked, the broken pieces, only keeping and cherishing the seemingly perfect crustaceans. Just because you aren’t the same as you started, doesn’t mean you aren’t beautiful. How do you define whole anyways? Who wants perfect ridges like manicured lawns or vacuum strokes on a carpet? I developed a fondness for the wild and irregular shell pieces. There were 50 broken shells to one whole everywhere I looked. Rounded edges smooth from the sea water battering---holding strong despite the continuous beatings. Sharp edges still fresh from a break that will smooth over many years. Beautiful colors, the purple called to me. Troy just looked at me with a bemused expression and held his hands out to hold pieces for me as I raged on about the shell injustice.

When we went to leave the beach, Troy had to dig sand out from behind the tires. Letting air out of the tires to ride on the beach is legit.

We stopped at a muffin joint and picked up fresh baked pecan butterscotch scones and fresh squeezed orange juice. Ahh vacation. We proceeded back to the treehouse and gave each other deep tissue massages (well, mine was really more Swedish, let’s be real) and fell into the most wonderful nap. That night we went to the Watermen’s Bar & Grill at REAL Watersports for grub, live music, and views of kite surfers. We had the guactail filled with crab meat, shrimp, and guac. It was humongous. Topped off with a seafood plater of Mahi, crab cake, shrimp, black beans, and cole slaw I grew sleepy.

Outer banks day two. I woke up and went to write about my dream in my dream journal. I turned to a new page and found a note from my love saying I am his dream come true. This guy, swoon. He said he wrote it months ago for me to find. I guess I need to dream more.

After picking up our scones and fresh OJ, I dropped off Troy at his adult camp and went to a local yoga class. I loved how we didn’t always flow, we would turn our feet to the back of the mat and do the sequence on the other side. I went to the back porch and wrote another yoga class sequence for when I returned home. I picked up Troy and we grabbed a quinoa burger and ahi tuna from Bro’s.

We stopped to see the famous lighthouse and pick up our beach driving permit before proceeding onward to the Ocracoke island ferry. 

After the ferry ride, we ventured to the Hammock Hills Nature Trail in the Maritime forest. The mosquitoes were no joke, they went through my yoga pants with a bug spray cover. Troy attacked me with the DEET mosquito repellent, not satisfied with my all natural essential oil spray. We saw the coolest tree roots intertwined. I have a tree root fetish, I am fascinated in how the trees communicate and help each other out underground. 

Troy then took me to see the wild ponies, but they had 800 layers of fence in between me and the horses so I couldn’t love on them. Is a horse nuzzle too much to ask for around these parts? 

I went on to read in my OBX guide that every time a human approaches, feeds, or touches a wild horse, they have to take the horse out of the wild for the protection of the horse and others. They are actually quite dangerous as they aren’t tame or trained and can bite and kick and they can become deathly ill if they eat anything off their mild and native diet of sea grass and oats, acorns, and persimmons. A horse recently died from eating watermelon rind a vacationer fed it!

We at dinner at Dajio and it was so bloody good. They use local ingredients from scratch and had a straw-less summer poster up. We feasted on oysters and spotted sea trout, root vegetable medley, succotash, clam chowder with mushrooms, and jalapeno corn bread. Days like that are why I call myself a semi-vegan/pescatarian. We stopped at 1718, Ocracoke Island’s first brewery. They had only been open for six days. 

Bellies full, we made our way back to the ferry and fell into a deep slumber.

Outer Banks day three we slept in and awoke to a beautiful day. The sun was out! The sun was out! We picked up our scones and mango smoothies and headed to Ace Hardware to buy a tire pressure gauge capable of reading below 20 pounds, a tow strap, and a shovel. The cashier asked us if we had a board. We looked at him questioningly. He replied, “Sir, did you even read your permit?” We bought a board. 

We met the coolest guy at Ace Hardware. He was shouting from the rooftops about celebrating the 62nd anniversary of escaping the Vietnam War prison he was held captive in for a year! a wave of gratitude flowed over me. I wanted to envelope him in a hug.

We ventured to Shelly “island”. It’s, well, shelly. There were so many seashells. It was astounding. 

I had to force myself to stop picking up seashells because every footstep I found so many beautiful ones. We pumped up our paddleboards and ventured into the ocean. 

It was such a blast having waves come unexpectedly from behind and surfing. After paddling and surfing the gentle waves for a while, I had a migraine aura visitor and laid down on my board. I sleepily lifted my head to ask Troy what he was doing. His eyes frantically darted from side to side and he replied, “Have you ever heard of the term, “Apex Predator?” This area is known to be the most shark infested area of the Outer Banks. Remember the guy that didn’t want to come paddle-boarding with us here because he said he didn’t want to be part of the big fish eats the little fish game?” I chuckled and laid my head back down on the board. We eventually made our way back to the beach and headed out.

We had fresh caught red drum for lunch and it was decadent. I was a little disappointed that all of the restaurants at the Outer Banks had so many disposables; plates, cups, ughhhh. Even when dining in, we’d get our scone on a disposable plastic plate. I expected them to be more eco and earth conscious being remote. Eating semi-vegan/pescatarian was a little challenging. Cheese wasn’t always listed, but it came on everything. But most places had salads, vegetables, and fruits so I was golden.

I went with Troy to the last day of his adult camp to watch him kite surf into the sunset and take pics. It was impressive to say the least, so many variables.  He got some really long runs ins, at one time almost disappearing into the horizon. He was a shredding handsome fool (Troy made me type that).

On recommendation from multiple locals, we went to Ketch 55 for our anniversary dinner. I talked about all the sea shells we found excitedly to the folks at the bar. James, one of the kite surfing trainers, said he never took seashells because a local in Hawaii told him it was bad luck not to leave things as you found them. Well drat. I thought regrettably back to the huge bucket of shells in our car and sighed.

A local at the bar exclaimed, “You will never have another second anniversary” and his comment really stuck with me. We had the most decadent pesto-crusted grouper and sweet pea cous cous. Best food we had on the entire trip. The kite surfing trainers from Outer Banks Kiting and locals at the bar had an apple pie turnover sent to our table and the entire restaurant sang us happy anniversary. It was so warm, unexpected, and memorable. Those are the kind of memories I want to create for others. We joined Jay (the owner of Outer Banks Kiting), Larry (local fisherman), Danny (owner of Dizzy’s ice cream trucks), and the bartender Joni to one up each other with tall tales (mine clearly the tallest).

The next morning we packed up the car, walked the Avon Pier, and then took one last beach stroll. I left most of the shells there. We (ok I) skipped and danced in the wild winds on the beach, twirling around exuberantly, all 6’3’’ of me.

Until next time OBX, until next time.

Friday, May 12, 2017

11 Time Savers that are Hurting Us.

This piece originally appeared on elephant journal, here

Did you ever have one of those deciding moments, a sinking realization that you’ve learned too much and there’s no going back to how you were living prior to that knowledge?

During my apprenticeship with elephant journal, one thing kept standing out to me—what is popular is not always what is the most important.

Like great journalists, I need to doggedly search for the truth and facts and not take anything at face value. This caused me to start questioning my daily way of life. I agreed to a challenge of not using any disposable cups for several months. Sounds easy, right?

One day, I forgot my stainless-steel tumbler, and I purposely didn’t get carryout at a local restaurant to avoid the waste. But it was to no avail. They brought me water in a plastic cup to my dine-in table, and I cringed when they proceeded to bring my food on a paper plate, as well. I stared on in horror as the server threw my disdainful cup away and grabbed a new plastic cup to leach chemicals into my refill.

That weekend we attended a charity dinner, and I watched in dismay as 250 hard plastic plates that could pass for fine china in my own cabinet were thrown into large trash bins after the meal.

Now that I was mindful of it and paying attention, it was incredulousness how much waste I created every time we went outside of our home for a meal or social outing. I am just one person, but when I started envisioning how many disposable items are used in just one hour across the world, I started to feel ill.

I don’t want to challenge the way it’s always been done; I want to challenge the way we’ve done it for the past 50 years or so and how it’s impacting ourselves, our communities, and our Earth.

Red flags for me are hearing the words popular, convenient, easy, or free.

A lot of truth and research is staring us in the face, but we have been blindly turning away.

We work so hard to afford the finer things in life and maintain them, but are those the very things that are hurting us? When I sat down and really thought about how we’re living, I came up with 11 ways of life I’m working to make the exception instead of the norm, saving some money along the way. We can survive without all of these things, but with them, the Earth won’t:

1. Processed, frozen, packaged, and fast foods. I just threw up a little bit in my mouth. I don’t want to eat anything with 25 ingredients on the label that I can’t even pronounce. I like to call this faux food. Let’s bring cooking locally-grown whole foods back.

2. Microwaves. With an increase in the consumption of frozen and processed foods comes an increase in microwave use. Microwaves change the chemical structure of food, and that sh*t just isn’t natural. Microwaves damage the nutritional value of food; steaming is much better. I am also a huge advocate of the toaster oven or a rice cooker.

You can plan ahead to defrost and it only takes just a few more minutes to heat up food. I store dish towels in our spotless microwave, but if you can’t quit it, at least stand in a different room when it’s running so you don’t absorb as many electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) linked to cancer and other health issues—we get enough of those EMFs from our cell phones and Wi-Fi!

3. Coffee and energy drinks. I am down with coffee in moderation for a jump start in the morning, but when multiple cups are required, I have to re-evaluate why I’m so tired in the first place. We’ve known since we were little tykes that we need eight hours of sleep a night. My personal average is six. Long-term consequences of insufficient sleep are not good. I don’t need obesity and cardiovascular disease in my life.

4. Medication. The body heals itself during sleep, and food nourishes the body. We’ve all listened to the 80 side-effects rattled off when medications are advertised and shook our heads. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for medication. Other times, it may just take a few more days to let the body heal itself rather than popping a pill.

5. Disposable plates, bowls, cups, and cutlery. One party with a few dozen people creates bags of garbage. The amount of garbage daily collected from amusement parks, concerts, and sporting events is astounding. Think of all the bridal showers, baby showers, and birthday parties going on at any given moment.

We use an old silverware set for parties and just throw them in the dishwasher after. I’m bringing cloth napkins back in 2017. We make our coffee and tea at home and save some serious change and to-go cups. That $4 a day for a coffee quickly adds up to $120 a month.

6. To-go boxes. A new socially awkward thing I’m going to start doing is keeping a glass Pyrex bowl in my satchel when I go out to eat for the leftovers. I would rather look at the bemused expressions on my friends’ faces than yet another carryout box that will end up in an overflowing landfill.

7. We put produce in plastic bags.  Whatever did people do prior to 1960? I want to avoid the risk of the migration of any chemicals from the plastic into the food. I put my fruits and veggies right into my reusable bags and for the little and loose guys like okra I put those in mesh bags oranges come in. I always kick myself when I forget my bags at home, and I’ve been known to leave my full cart at the checkout line to run out to my car and grab them.

8. Bottled drinks. Plastic chemicals can seep into what we drink. I now try my best to plan for my day and bring my own water. I carry a stainless steel, glass, or porcelain cup with me. Plastic is off the chain, don’t get me wrong. It was originally invented to create a material that would replace elephant ivory so the beautiful creatures would stop being poached. But there is too much of a good thing when we go to extremes. There are humongous garbage patches filled with plastic in our oceans and plastic pieces end up in the wildlife’s stomachs. The animals can’t take their kids to the doctor to get X-rayed to see they swallowed a G.I. Joe figurine or a bottle cap.

9. Social media for our primary news source. We are relying on a haphazard scroll through a newsfeed to know what’s going on in the world. You are what you eat, how you cook it, and what you read! Let’s bring the Sunday paper back full of independent journalism that is working to protect the interest of the public. I need to be mindful of not just settling for what’s going viral on the web, but seeking out solid reporters to stay informed like they have at The New York Times or The Washington Post. I want to ensure I’m drawing my opinions from facts. And let’s be real, we all miss the Sunday Comics.

10. Online shopping with direct shipping. That one-click purchase and two-day free shipping is enticing; the struggle is real for me on this one. I was pleasantly surprised when I ran into a local store this week and got a free tote bag with my in-store purchase, and I met a cool chick in line and struck up a conversation about the meaning of her tattoo that became my mantra for the day. Shopping local is eco-friendly and strengthens the economy of your community. Support your neighbors.

11. Weed killers and pesticides. While these quickly kill weeds and insects in the short term, what are we slowly poisoning long term? Let’s check out crop rotations from days of old and natural remedies for weeds like boiling water, vinegar, or some elbow grease.

We seem to have this need for speed and insist on intervening. New inventions have come out over the years that were touted to be time savers, and we excitedly adopted them because they were convenient (for us). Study after study comes out about how bad processed foods are for us, how we need more sleep, and how plastic and chemicals are bad. As new information came out on their effects, it was too late—we were hooked. It’s like we would be inconveniencing ourselves to do what’s healthy and ignored the research.

Despite all of the new technology to go faster, when’s the last time we said to ourselves, “Dang, I have so much time and money.” If you ask someone how they are doing, most will respond, “I’m so busy.” Let’s rethink this whole alleged convenience thing. Perhaps having to wash a few plates instead of throwing away a paper plate isn’t the problem.

If we don’t need to buy all of these convenient and disposable items, maybe we won’t have to work quite so hard and will have more time in the long run. And I’ll wager we’ll be sick less and have more energy if we cook more at home with local produce and get more sleep.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Medicating Migraines With No Relief? Try This.

This piece originally appeared on elephant journal, here.

I am now a firm believer that our body is trying to tell us something when we have distressing physical symptoms—and it is in our best interest to find out what that something is.

Not listening has significant consequences.

I have had a few bouts with my old foe—chronic migraines—but the most recent was debilitating. The migraines were constant for six months and I experienced auras with scattered spots the majority of the day.

Every morning I woke up, hopeful, searching my eyes to see if the dreaded spots were still there. I took naps in my car in the parking garage at work, because I felt feverish and my eyelids were so heavy with fatigue. I felt helpless and didn’t see any options.

When I reached a breaking point, my doctor suggested I go on leave from my demanding corporate job to focus on my health. I felt shameful for letting everyone down at the time, but it’s the best decision I could have made. Some surprising things happened to not just my health, but my life along the way. I realize now that you can’t help anyone else until you fix yourself.

I wasn’t doing anyone any good by being a shell of myself.

I had already tried all of the natural remedies I could find in an attempt to eliminate any possible migraine triggers. I exercised, slept like a bear in hibernation, had weekly acupuncture, chiropractic care, deep-tissue massages—and ate a whole food diet of organic fruits, vegetables, legumes, and wild caught fish.

Hasta la vista processed foods and alcohol. I quit the juice (coffee) and even my delightful green tea. Thank heaven for herbal teas. I stopped eating lunchmeat—RIP turkey sandwiches. I dramatically cut back on chocolate. We replaced every fluorescent bulb in the house.

I wanted the migraines gone and as quickly as possible, but I wasn’t willing to medicate. I tried medication in the past and it didn’t help keep my migraines at bay long-term. I now don’t believe in hiding symptoms without addressing the root cause.

I underwent a series of tests with a doctor that practiced integrative medicine. We uncovered that I was deficient in Vitamin D and my Epstein-Barr (EPV) virus was active. I invested in Vitamin D and zinc whole food supplements. We added in some riboflavin and magnesium—common antidotes for migraines—for good measure. By using whole food supplements, it could take four to six weeks before I would see results. In the meantime, I continued on my quest for the root cause.

A few things happened that pointed to stress as the primary trigger for my migraines. My integrative doctor informed me that I was constantly in a state of fight or flight mode. My pupils were dilated. My lip or nose twitched regularly. My monkey mind was out of control, playing out ridiculous scenario after scenario.

After acupuncture, my entire body felt relieved. My migraine aura would often clear when doing yoga—and then quickly return. When I went on leave, a good friend bought me three sessions with a psychotherapist and made me promise I would try them before I decided whether I would return to my corporate job or quit.

We focused my treatment plan on yoga, meditation, and therapy to develop coping mechanisms for stress. By addressing the stress, I could decrease my anxiety, calm down my nervous system, increase my serotonin and dopamine counts, decrease my fatigue, and improve my concentration.

When I was tired, I slept. My body ruled the roost.

Life doesn’t stop and you go on living despite (or in spite of) the migraines. I started a dog walking company that allowed me flexibility in my day should a migraine hit. This was a low-stress venture. I still got to meet new people and had the perk of getting to be outside and playing with dogs.

The migraines spurred an entirely different path for me.

My career decisions were made out of practicality and for financial reasons. I clambered up the corporate ladder. I had stopped dreaming somewhere along the way. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my migraines were like a flashing light (literally and figuratively), letting me know it was time to leave the sensible job and move toward my purpose. That sensible job was making me sick—it wasn’t right for me.

My migraines gave me the push I needed to pursue my passions and not a dollar sign.

As my leave was coming to a close and it was decision time, my decision was made for me. The company I worked for let everyone on leave go, along with hundreds of other employees. I now had a severance package that seemed like a gift to start me on my way. A thank you for working yourself to the bone. We are going to use it to travel and start a SUP yoga company. At the same time, a friend was opening a yoga studio and needed a studio manager.

The universe always seems to provide, if we just get out of the way.

I redefined success for myself and it was no longer climbing the corporate ladder. I now was focused on my health and passion to help others—human and animal.

I now meditate every morning to calm myself at the start of the day. I do yoga. I’ll teach yoga in a few months when I’m certified—to help others manage stress. I write. I cook. I walk dogs. I hike in nature. I’ve slowed down and listen to my intuition. I spend time with friends and family. I set boundaries so I can remain healthy. I realize I always have choices. And I’m happy.

It took my body six months to heal. Most things in nature heal themselves, if we give them enough time.

Initially—I didn’t pay attention to the signs of chronic stress so that I could increase self-care or address the underlying causes of the stress. If you get migraines, you may not have the same causes I did, but don’t give up finding yours. We are not our migraines; we are people overcoming our migraines.

The next time my body talks to me, I will listen. I won’t wait until a breaking point.

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’” ~ Mary Anne Radmacher

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

We Used to See Wishes, but Now we See Weeds.

Brand Park, Glendale, CA

This piece originally appeared on elephant journal, here.

“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was driving down the road and noticed a few patches of weeds.

At a stop light, I continued to stare and noticed flashes of purple from a weed flower and the pop of yellow from dandelions.
When did weeds become bad? When did uniform, perfectly-manicured lawns become good?
And at what cost?
As a child, blowing dandelion seeds and watching the wind carry them off was always a magic moment for me. We now see a weed where we used to see a wish.
I want the wild, the unexpected. I don’t want acres of the same shade of green, evenly trimmed grass blades. I don’t want to be mad at the deer for eating the flowers that we painstakingly paid to be planted.
We spend money on chemicals to stop weeds for a brief period of time—money that could be used on so many other things. Why? Is it because we are afraid of what the next-door neighbors will think?
I remember the horror I felt when my boyfriend wanted to treat the weeds cropping up in our driveway with Roundup, because that is what you do in suburbia. “We live 100 feet from the lake where our dogs swim every day! They would be swimming in poison!”
Because the weeds always come back, and then the cycle begins again.
When I drive by wildflowers planted on the side of the road though, I can’t help but smile. There is a 1987 federal law mandating one-quarter of one percent of federal landscaping money be devoted to planting wildflowers by the highway. That seems tiny, but I’ll take it.
We could all plant wildflowers around our yard and save time on mowing. But I do love the smell of fresh-cut grass. I get pleasure out of seeing a beautiful lawn with crisscross patterns from the mower. I used to edge my lawn for hours in a meditative state.
There are other ways to tame the weeds though. We could skip the gym and pull the weeds if their existence is bothering us that much. We can pour boiling water, vinegar, or leftover pickle juice on them. We can smother them with newspapers so the sun can’t reach them.
Or we can just let them be. We can stop the judgment.
“One man’s weed is another man’s flower.” ~ Gloria Naylor

Monday, March 20, 2017

Crash Into Me

Nature provides so many answers if we can just become aware.

Watching the oceans waves I think about how similar they are to life.

The hard stuff comes in with a bang, salty foam flying. We are always waiting and anticipating, but it crashes in when we least expect it. If we are mindful we may have noticed the swell coming our way, building and building.

At the time the crash seems so long, but if we wait it too will fizzle.

Two waves crash into one another and join forces to ride it out. If we look just a few feet to the left, change perspective, there is no wave. To the right is a wave much larger than ours.

All of the waves are connected, all are one.

If we look down, the wave likely left us little treasures and messages. An unexpected sand dollar or a beautiful shell.

The waves will leave an impression with salt upon our skin.

While they seem out of control, the waves are reliable. If we watch the waves long enough, we may notice patterns like the tides are there. They will come again and again. The waves are inevitable, we can’t possible sustain out-swimming them. Seemingly good or bad, wanted or unwanted, they will come. Some days the water will gently lap against the shore. Other days the waves are in a fury and seem endless, crash after crash.

We can control how we react to the wave.

Will we freeze, tumble, and get sucked under, somersaulting out of control?

Or will we look up and remember the blue sky above us? Will we remember the earth beneath our feet? Will we stop fighting it and trust? Will we ride it out, finding the good, heading the rush, and wanting more?

We will then see we needed the wave after all. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Three Dogs, One Hour & a Reminder of Gratitude

This piece originally appeared on elephant journal, here.

It can be easy to take the presence of animals for granted.

Expecting to be greeted at the door by a wagging tail and wet nose. Feeling annoyed at having to walk them when it’s cold outside. Carelessly weaving fingers through fur and not consciously acknowledging every fiber of the soft texture.
Indulging in the seemingly unconditional love in our pet’s eyes. Ignoring the tennis ball or rope in their mouth as we crank through another item on our to-do list.
But imagine now that our bodies are failing us while our minds remain sharp. We sit for hours on end in the same room with little to no company. We ache for connection and wistfully remember our own home filled with family, pets included.
We feel anxious. We feel lonely.
Then one day, we look up and a dog is trotting toward us with an inquisitive look and a swishing tail. We reach out our shaking hand and he nudges his head into our palm and sighs. A tear streams down our face.
We look forward to that dog returning each month. We store dog treats for him in our room. He quickly becomes more and more familiar and affectionately licks our hand. He could care less that we are in a wheel chair or that sometimes our words are jumbled.
Any time I replay this scene in my mind, it makes me wish I had started pet visits a long time ago.
It seems selfish that I’ve had these three dogs all to myself for so long. Especially since all it took was a phone call to a local nursing home to inquire about their pet policy. Most homes only require a copy of an animal’s vet records showing up-to-date vaccines and a heads up that you will be coming.
I partnered with a volunteer organization, knowing that they could help raise awareness of this opportunity to others. More volunteers also meant more time with dogs for the residents. I learned that not everyone likes big or small dogs, so a mix of both is ideal.
I do these pet visits because I would want someone to do them for me.
The visits are a gentle reminder to value my time with my dogs and with others. My grandmother is in hospice several states away and while I cannot do much to bring her comfort, it brings me peace to make a small impact on those close by.
The pet visits are one hour out of the month. I guard that commitment like a watch dog. It amazes me that such a small amount of effort can bring much-needed joy to these residents.
When we volunteer, we don’t expect anything back in return, but I’ve found that helping others is a good way to gain fulfillment for ourselves. It gives me a sense of purpose each month and a little joy as well. I get outside of my head and away from the seemingly important drama to focus on others. The connections I’ve made help give me a better sense of community.
The best parts of my week, and maybe yours, are when someone performs a random act of kindness. When my friend emails me a link to a video she thought would help me. When the neighborhood kids knock on my door and ask if they can walk our dogs. When my boyfriend leaves a cheerful note next to my tea each morning. These thoughtful gestures bring a smile to my face and a rush of gratitude. My mood and spirit elevate instantly.
Pet visits are my way to make a difference. I can feel the energy in the room shift when the dogs enter, as if each resident is recalling images and memories of their former pets. Often times they share stories as they reminisce about dog companions from the past, and this is when I pick up valuable nuggets of wisdom.
Imagine if we all found a simple way to give back, to do something different with a small portion of our time or resources that would instill that feeling of joyfulness in others. Imagine that.

Do You Know Your Neighbors' Names?

This piece originally appeared on elephant journal, here.

It took me awhile to figure out why I enjoy chanting an Om mantra in yoga class.

I like feeling the united vibration from everyone in the room.
We need others for their perspective and input, their teachings, ideas, and companionship. You’ve probably heard the stories of the premature twins that were not doing well, but once put together in the same incubator, against standard protocol, their health rapidly improved and they thrived.
We’ve all seen society come together after a natural disaster.
I crave that connection (hopefully without the disaster).
We’ve all had nightmarish neighbors or maybe we’ve even had brief stints playing that role ourselves. The fast food wrappers haphazardly thrown in our yards. The overzealous neighbor that gives you a fertility statue and invites you to their church within the first 30 seconds of meeting.
Maybe we’ve come home laughing loudly with friends, waking up others close by. Maybe we’ve had to pound on ceilings and invest in ear plugs. Maybe our boots have seemingly honed-in on that pile of dog poop that wasn’t picked up (now that’s a sh*tty neighbor). I couldn’t tell you any of their names (well, maybe their dogs’ names).
If we’re lucky, we’ve caught glimpses of community, people helping each other along the way. Neighbors doing yard work for the person next door not capable of pushing a lawnmower. Coaches taking players to visit colleges. Friends calling to check on each other. Neighborhood kids asking if we need help on moving day. Being rescued by a woman in a minivan when being circled like prey by a vicious dog.
How do we create a stronger sense of community? I’m an outgoing introvert and am perfectly content recharging inside my house solo. I’ve found the following tips help get me out there and learn about my cul-de-sac community:
1. Initiate contact.
Rally the neighborhood to do a group volunteer activity like a trail clean up. Start a book club, host a game night, coordinate a Nerf gun battle complete with war paint and barrel-rolls down hills, or plan a potluck dinner. Challenge everyone to an excessive Christmas decorating contest.
If that’s a little aggressive, at least let’s nervously knock on our neighbors’ doors with sweaty palms and laugh just a little too heartily and find out their names. Let’s assume they also want cool neighbors to throw Halloween parties with, where they use their baby monitors instead of hiring sitters because they are so close to home.
When someone new moves into the neighborhood, let’s kick it old school and bring them a casserole in a glass dish along with their Nerf gun for the next battle. Time to dust off that crockpot!
2. Slow down. 
When is the last time we’ve sat around to catch up with friends or family and were truly present? No cell phones on the tables. Not formulating responses while people are talking or cutting someone off mid-sentence to jump in with our own brilliant response. Instead, we could ask an open-ended, follow-up question to show our support, encouragement, and interest.
Let’s be content and happy to be there, really there, with our comrades. Isn’t that why we came?
A cursory wave as neighbors drive by isn’t good enough.
I want that sense of community and belonging, the peace of mind in knowing that we will all band together and share our skills and means when one of us is in need.

And I don’t want to step in dog poop anymore.