Short Cuts and Term Papers 

My friend Andi is a part time yogi and a full time mom. In addition she’s a writer, a horsewoman, a dancer and a speed-walker- slow-jogger. She also asks the best questions like, “Where are the short cuts in yoga? How long does it take to feel better, calmer, able to let things go?” I explained that unlike vacuuming, yoga is a steady, committed practice.

In college I was a master at shortcuts. I used the same three part, Mad Libs style, template for every paper I wrote. Each one started with the title,
“(Insert Chimpanzees, Sexism, Sign Language, Self Defense, Public Speaking or Ethan Frome here) of the Newer World”. This brilliant idea came after reading “Explorers of the Newer World” in an Encyclopedia Brittanica back in 7th grade. Some things just stick.

The second part was the content and I use the word loosely. 

The third was the summary, one line, “Thank you for your kind attention”.

I thought I was quite clever and I was also content with mediocre grades.

There are five Niyamas in the eight-limbed path of yoga. It’s basically a list of things to do. Santosha asks us to be at ease, appreciate and be content with what is. Sometimes  however, as in my case, it leads to complacency. 

It was easy to come up with a term paper topic at the last minute. I appreciated that editing was for English majors not me. I was also quite content with a passing grade until after I took an independent study self defense course in town. In order to satisfy the physical education requirement I wrote a quick paper. All my part-time sensei required was the class fee.
I received a grade much better than I deserved or expected. Of course I boasted about my “B+” to my instructor. Of course he wanted to see the paper. I couldn’t do it. I knew it was lame but I sure didn’t want anyone else to think I didn’t know it. Time to stop practicing fake Santosha.

Incidentally, all I have to do is remind Dee of my academic history and her concerns about my nieces’ schoolwork goes out the window. “Don’t worry so much; look at my pathetic papers; I turned out fine!”
Considering one of her college works was titled “My Life as a Black Man”, I’m not sure why she’s concerned about anything.

Santosha requires a little effort on our part. It requires a commitment to be our own true selves, our own best selves, by appreciating and accepting what is now. Looking back with regret or forward with anxiety isn’t part of the deal. This is the practice of yoga.

Sometimes our physical yoga practice is frustrating. One day we feel like tired old farmers and other days as nimble as monkeys. One month I may have to vacuum the kitchen twice instead of once. It comes down to being content with what is and what is not.
There are no short cuts, it is a continuous way of living and thinking. It’s enjoying the long haul.

Perhaps we could practice yoga, on or off the mat, the same way we write a thoughtful paper. 

Start with an introduction by taking inventory of ourselves, thoughts and circumstances. 

“This is how I feel and what I’m thinking.”

Then get into the important message, the content.

“The only thing that matters is that I pay attention to this moment.”

Wrap it up.

 “I’m content because I’m me and only me. I appreciate all experiences.”

Namaste- will this template ending ever go away?

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Tag Sales

I used to like old things. I bought a light brown, beaded sweater at a church rummage sale and wore it for years. I’m wearing it in most photos taken in the ’70’s. I would never buy it now, even for a couple of dollars. The color isn’t really brown or tan, it’s more like the color of Georgia’s physical reaction after I added old vegetable and faro soup to her dog food mix. 

My father and I went to tag and rummage sales when I was putting together my first apartment. That was fun because he paid for everything and I felt like an only child. It’s not like Had, Dee and I vied for Hopper’s attention, (that’s what we called him…another story) but more so that we vied for making him laugh. Having him alone meant he was a captive audience.
Hopper was 22 when his ship was hit by Kamikazes in WW2. He spent one and a half years in the hospital recovering. Some of that time he was in the psych ward because no one knew or believed that pilots were intentionally killing themselves in order to kill others. The government had a part in that.

He was 90% disabled. His right leg was fused at the knee. Excellent for kicking but not so good for running bases in a game of kickball. His left arm was reshaped into a curve. I think the elbow joint was removed. No muscle left, just skin and bones. Although Hopper had long fingers, the ones on his hurt arm were incredibly thin and incongruous with his body. He was lucky. Born a lefty, as a young boy in school, he was forced to become a righty. 
We never really noticed that he was physically different from anyone else. He was just Hopper. His dry sense of humor was his greatest gift if I say so myself.

Every morning we heard him sing “Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I’ve got this wonderful feeling, everything’s coming my way”, along with a pause after each step up the steep stairs. Funny now, not funny when I was a teenager. 

I had a tag sale a while after Hopper died. I was married, divorced and remarried at that time. It included a few ancient kitchen items bought from tag sales past but mainly books. As I spread them out I noticed the titles. 

“Creating Your Own Wedding Vows”

“When to Call it Quits”

“How to be Your Own Best Friend”

“Weddings For the Second Time”

“Children After Forty”

“Tantric Sex”

“Our Bodies, Our Selves”

“Oh my gosh” I said to Dee. “This is the history of my whole f*cking life!”
“Maybe you should display them in alphabetical order so no one notices”, she advised.
Dee is pretty funny. Funny as a crutch as Hopper often said.

Here I was bemoaning that fact that strangers could pass judgment on my life because of my old books. In all the years spent with Hopper I never heard him wonder if people were judging him for how he looked.

Dee owns a consignment store filled with old stuff. People bring in all kinds of things. Are the consigners ever embarrassed at unloading old collections? Do they pretend the junk belonged to a relative so they themselves aren’t pegged as crack pots? 

What did one crack pot say to the cracked pot? “I know you are but what am I?”

 I know Hopper finds that funny.

Sweet Potatoes the size of grapefruit.

It was 5 pm, time to start the hour long yoga class. I turned the music down so Tibetan bells sang quietly in the background. It was a small class of four. Large classes can amp up the energy but I like the quiet intimacy of smaller groups.

“Good evening everyone, welcome to Slow Flow… “, I began but was quickly interrupted by Moe.
“Excuse me, when does this class end?”

“At 6, one hour.” I replied.

Moe said “Oh” and lay back down.

“Now take a big inhale…” I continued.

Moe sat back up and asked how long it took to cook a potato. “I put it in the oven just before I left the house.” She said.

Curly sat up and asked, “Regular or sweet?”

“Sweet of course” said Moe. We all murmured our approval.

Larry stayed prone but asked how big it was.

Moe made the size of a grapefruit with her hands.

Shep, with eyes closed, asked what temperature the oven was set.

“300” answered Moe.

“It’ll be fine, can’t really overlook a sweet potato” added Shep.

Everyone lay back down and I started class…again.

Unfortunately all I could think about were sweet potatoes.
Funny I never liked them as a kid, wouldn’t even try them, marshmallows added or not, just not happening. I love them now. Isn’t it funny how palates change? Acorn squash is also added to the list of things I now eat. Then again enough butter and thyme works on a myriad of vegetables. Honeybun likes squash but not sweet potatoes. (He had a terrible experience as a child.) I wonder if he’d notice if I mashed up sweet potato and put it in an acorn squash shell. He’d be mad if I tricked him. I’m getting hungry.



This internal monologue went on through the warm up, standing and balancing poses, until I glanced at my watch. Holy Hot Potato, I have 15 minutes to cool everyone down and go into final relaxation. Where did the time go? The thing is time didn’t go anywhere, my mind did. I managed to shorten the class by 15 minutes because I think 45 minutes is the perfect amount of time for a sweet potato to cook in a 300 degree oven.
Moe said “Wow that was fast!”
Larry, Curly and Shep echoed her sentiment. “We must have been in the zone!”

“Uh, I have a confession to make.” (Yes, I really did confess.)

Dharana (dah-rah-nah), the sixth limb of classic yoga, is the practice of roping in our wandering minds. It’s concentrating and focusing, and it takes a lot of effort to disengage from distractions whether you are a student, a teacher or a chef. Pranayama (pra-nah-ya-ma) , listening to, controlling and feeling your breath, helps. Sometimes repeating a mantra or intention will draw the mind back in as well.

I don’t recommend chanting “One potato, two potato, three potato, four, five potato, six potato, seven potato, more”, but then again…

Namaste- what will we have for dinner today?

That great big sucking sound.

At one time I had 5 vacuum cleaners. If you think this says something about my housekeeping, don’t be fooled.

One was a big old Hoover, a remnant from our childhood home. When clearing out the family homestead we divided things up according to category; valuable, sentimental and tag sale junk. Had took the lawn mower and Dee got stuck with the garden hose.

We were all in a bit of a daze after our father (aka Hopper) died and the house was on the market. We laugh now at how many valuable things got tossed into the tag sale pile. It’s a “boy were we stupid” kind of laugh.

The second machine was a dust buster. It was much easier to lug around than the 35 lb Hoover. The problem was you had to wear earplugs while using it.

The third was and still is a wedding present from Had and Dee. Down to wheeling around 25 lbs. No earplugs needed, just biceps, not quads.

The fourth was a late night QVC purchase. I love watching those pine needles disappear as I swing that baby around. It also makes vacuuming the stairs twice a year a breeze.

The fifth is Honeybun’s shop vac. I can’t really count it as one of mine but will for the sake of this story.

I’m proud to say that the first 2 vacuums are gone and the third is getting close to moving to tag sale land. In a sense I’m cleaning up and clearing out.

I clung to the Hoover as if it were the last connection to the rooms and hallways I grew up in. I think the ragtag old runner from the foyer will suffice. Spooky the cat uses is it as a surf board.

The dust buster was wishful thinking, I hoped that sucking up the spilled dog food was the same as mopping up the entire kitchen floor.

Honeybun’s shop vac is still with us because it belongs to him. However, it rivals the dust buster when it comes to that great big sucking sound. (Thank you Ross Perot.)

The QVC machine stays because it’s bag less and it’s so satisfying to dump cat and dog hair out into the field. Its like spreading ashes. Letting go of what is no longer necessary. Cleaning house.

What if there was something that could suck the dirt and mess out of our hearts and minds? Something easy to carry, quiet, inexpensive…oh wait there is! It’s intention. Focused desire to clean things up, to purify our surroundings.

Keep intentions plugged in all the time, they use no electricity anyway. They are powered by the energy inside each of us.

Sauca  (sow-cha) is purity and cleanliness. It is the first Niyama, observances between ourselves and our world. Metaphorically vacuum cleaners are sauca assisting tools. Through setting intentions and control buttons we can sweep the place clean. I just wish it didn’t have to be done on such a regular basis. Then again some people feel the same way about yoga.

Namaste- no Spring cleaning done today.

Finders Keepers?

The Nestle’s Quik tin was kept in a corner cupboard and to reach it required getting up on to the counter. I don’t remember when we were allowed to make chocolate milk by ourselves but it must have been after Had, Dee and I stopped spilling milk at dinner.
At least weekly one of us was banished to the kitchen to finish eating alone. I can still see me and my red Captain Kangaroo cup shunned until dinner was over. Something about milk dripping through the slats of the dining room table drove Mom crazy.
One day while pulling out the chocolate powder I noticed a red wallet. Inside was a ten dollar bill. Obviously I had discovered treasure. Finders keepers.
A few days later Had announced he had been robbed. THAT WAS HIS WALLET? 
I was mortified so of course I denied knowing anything about it. Apparently there was no doubt that Dee and I were innocent so interestingly the subject was dropped. I remembered thinking “phew, that was easy”.

Twenty years later, in a moment of pleasant sibling inebriation, I confessed to Had.
“Here’s ten bucks, I swear I didn’t know it was your wallet, don’t tell Mom”,

Even after all this time I was afraid of Mom’s reaction but assumed my secret would be kept. 

It wasn’t.

“I can’t believe you stole that money”, Mom said. “I was sure Keath took it so he was never invited to stay here again”.
Cousin Keath, from Kentucky, was an Eagle Scout and why she ever thought him capable of theft still astounds me. He was excellent at building tree houses and making spears. A couple of convicts escaped from Comstock Prison that summer so the spears were protection when going upstairs to bed.
For a short time I thought I should apologize to him, but didn’t. Look where the last confession got me.
My exciting discovery and subsequent shame followed years later by a drunken confession and more shame still wakes me up periodically in the middle of the night. My action and non-action affected so many people. Had was sad. Mom was mad. Keath was confused. Dee was relieved not to be a part of the story.
Asteya and Satya are two of the five Yamas that remind us how to engage with ourselves and the world around us. These two encourage non-stealing and truthfulness.
“I’m surprised I didn’t realize you were lying”, Mom said. “Usually your face gets beet red”.
That did it. Those two Yamas became ingrained. (Mama’s Yamas). When I find money on the ground, or anywhere, I either leave it or give it to the next person I see. I’m not taking any chances at having my face turn the color of Had’s wallet.

Namaste- find a treasure, give it away.

Groundhog Day sort of.

“A groundhog lives in the old culvert next to the new daffodil bulbs. I need to trap him”,  Mom said.

I think she meant I was supposed to trap him.
I’m not very good at catching things. When mice come in the house I use a stern voice and tell them to scram before the lazy old cat upstairs sees them. Honeybun has a different tactic that we won’t go into now.

Two days later the Have- a -Heart trap was set by someone other than me. A day later the squatter was caught. Had stopped by and said he would pick it up later. Dee said she would come sooner. Mom was concerned that he/she/ it would overheat in the sun and maybe get thirsty. So Dee was summoned.
As Dee tried to pick up the cage she said “Wow it’s looking at me, get a towel.”

Maybe she thought covering it would induce sleep like with a parakeet.

Mom returned with a towel on the end of a broom and held it out to Dee. I guess she wanted to remain out of its line of vision.

Mom described the grunts and shrieks as Dee lifted the lurching cage. 

“From the groundhog?” I asked.

“No, from Dee.”

They got the cage into the car and Mom asked where Dee would take it.

“ The brook…wait aren’t you coming?”

“Well I had not thought so.”

Dee made Mom drive while she sat in the back next to Mr. Hog. She wanted to be sure it didn’t escape and jump over the seat and cause an accident. They drove to the brook turn off and Dee struggled bringing the cage to the embankment.

“How do you open this thing?”

“What?” (Mom was trying to pretend she wasn’t there.)

After Dee got it open mom said the varmit ran off with glee and happiness . I asked if it turned back to say “Bless you both”.
According to Dee mom did a 15 point turn to get out of the parking area. At one point she was precariously close to the ditch.

“If we get stuck the groundhog will have to call 911. I need a drink.” She said.

“Me too” said Dee.

After hearing the story me three. I’m so glad I didn’t have to participate.
Ahimsa, non-violence, is what those two practiced that day. They relocated the animal to a place where there were no worries about noisy lawnmowers or human activity. Neither Mom nor Dee wanted harm to the squatter in her yard despite its natural tendency to eat bulbs.

After describing the adventure mom added “ I hope her babies find her.”

I said silently “we always find you”.
When can we practice ahimsa (a-him-sa)? How can we choose non violence even when it may wreck your garden?
Namaste, ground hog ground hog go away.

Barefoot and Proud

Had, Dee and I spent summer hours running on the gravel driveway. The goal was to toughen our bare feet to the point where no grimace of pain could be observed. This activity lasted for years until I turned eight. While comparing our toughened soles I realized with horror that my toes were frighteningly long. The more I examined them the longer they got. They were monkey like. No more bare feet or sandals for me. I was an anomaly. 

One day at the beach my mom asked why I wasn’t taking my sneakers off. We rented a house with our minister, his wife and three boys that summer. No way was I going to be ridiculed. I had shells to look for and they could be sharp if stepped on. I was too embarrassed to admit the real reason until mom did what she does best and got the truth out of me.

Mom:  “Didn’t you know that long toes are an Egyptian sign of good luck?”

Me:  “Really?” (You are kidding right? was not inappropriate question.)

She changed my perspective. I not only returned to the challenge of barefoot running torture trials but honed my ability to pick up coins with my toes. By summers’ end I could hold a pencil and write my name with my foot.

Was Mom practicing Satya (saht-ya),truthfulness, or practicing creative nonfiction? To this day I have not checked Wikipedia to validate her claim and probably never will. She change my perspective by stating a fact as she knew it and changed my view. It freed me, that’s what truth does.

10 years later I visited a psychic and she said that in a past life I was an Egyptian king. Maybe my name Alexandra aided in this pronouncement maybe she glanced at my toes. Truth or creative nonfiction? Don’t care. 

Namaste no shoes today!

Dog sh*t happens

At 12 I loved reading in the grass in between the house and the barn. It was the perfect spot to keep an eye out for the two hippies living in the octagon up the road. They came down often to buy milk. I assumed others lived with them, maybe girlfriends? I think it was a commune. How cool is that?

One day I took a break from Spiderweb for Two (one of my favorite books) and got engrossed in a love comic. Women in pencil skirts and sweater sets often crying over the guy with the chiseled jaw.

“Whatcha readin'” drawled Keith.

I was startled and then mortified. A LOVE COMIC OH MY GOSH!

I did what any 12 year old girl would do and jumped up to empty the dishwasher or something equally absurd. I didn’t look where I was going and stepped my bare foot in dog poop. Could things get any worse?

I hopped inside crying tears of embarrassment. My father took me into the bathroom, sat me on the sink and washed my foot.

It was a pivotal moment. For some reason I assumed I’d be stuck with that muck between my toes forever. That’s not the case, excrement can be washed away.

Saucha (sow-cha) means cleanliness. It reminds us to be clean, not just physically smelling good but also being pure of actions and thoughts. Get rid of stuff that lingers unpleasantly. Better yet help someone else clean up the muck.

If I hadn’t been reading that love comic who knows how long it would have taken me to turn on the proverbial faucet. Let things go down the drain.

Namaste- getting laundry done today.