No More Waiting on Weight-Loss: Everyday Magic, Day 820

“Are you waiting for time to show you some better thoughts?” William Stafford asks in one of my poems, and for me, when it comes to weight-loss, the answer is a resounding yes.

Since I turned from a skinny, hyper kid into a not-so-skinny, hyper adult, I’ve lived the illusion that eventually, I would lose the extra weight and be, if not skinny, at least not fat. Like so many of us, I vowed to get rid of, release, launch away from, and otherwise toss off first 10 pounds, then 20, then….. New Year’s resolutions, Rosh Hashana and Days of Awe thoughts, beginning of any new season, and even Chinese New Year reminded me of this, all based on a good measure of habit, cultural pressure, family legacy and mythology, and self-inflicted stupidity that I was not enough if my weight was too much.

The path away from big-belly-jiggle is lined with discarded diets and new ways of “healthier,” and telling myself how much happier and healthier I would be if I weighed even 15 pounds less. I also teetered between what always felt like mandatory extremes: patrol myself vigorously to lose weight, or mushroom into a self-hating morbidly obese creature. Because it is true that I am thrilled when I lose weight, and I tend to enjoy better digestive experiences when I’m more careful with what I eat, and it’s true that I’ve lost weight at times from watching myself like a hawk, and I’ve gained weight when adopting a laissez-faire attitude, it’s hard to leave behind the weight stories.

Old stories die hard. Or not. It’s the “not” that I’m considering now as I realize how I have made some changes somewhat easily by listening to my body and actually acting as if I love it. Over the last decade, I became a yogi and yoga teacher (who would’ve thought?), took on weight-lifting, amped up long walks, and even began swimming regularly (in the summers) and occasionally biking and dancing again. I’ve gone from someone who exercised maybe once or twice a week to someone who generally does something energetic and physical everyday, and I’ve done this with this body, not waiting for another body that could do squats with a smaller bootie.

What if my life isn’t predicated on a silly premise that once I lose five or ten or twenty more pounds, I’ll have arrived where I need to be? What if being here and now at this size and shape is home? How do I replace my decades of not-so-good thoughts about all this (“I’ve just lost a pound, and if I can keep this up, in three months, I will look and feel fabulous!”) with something better, not just for now, but for the future so I won’t keep wasting the beauty and vitality of this shining world?

The answer once again comes from the living earth and sky outside the cluttered attic of my mind: the wind picks up, the cottonwood leaves flutter, a chevron of geese pass over, the sunlight dances on the old quilt of this bed. Wake up. Breathe. “What are you waiting for?” the stillness and motion ask. “Nothing,” I answer.

The Storm Before the Storm, and the Actual Storm: Everyday Magic, Day 819

IMG_5891 2Driving home from teaching Curvy Yoga tonight, I was delighted by the flashes to the north and south. A parade of storms was circling its wagons. Because I love a good storm (good thing too, considering I live in Kansas), I drove foot loose and carefree, despite Wagner’s dramatic “Tannhauser” blaring dramatic build-up on the radio. Barely to the southern edge of Lawrence, Ken called: a blinding rain was here, and I would be driving right into it. I told him it was dry where I was but he assured me that the road to our house, just three miles away, was barely visible for him a moment ago.

There’s nothing like listening to Wagner while lightning illuminates a vast, dark grey monster you’re driving right into at highway speeds. I was surprised at how quickly (in a flash, so to speak) my happy storm anticipation turned into wheel-gripping apprehension. By the time I turned onto our road, I realized I was in a lucky pocket, arriving between waves, skirting the fingers of intense downpour.

Now, some hours later, I’m writing in the dark while big wind pours across the land, the rain sheets down, and rapid-fire lightning powers from all sides. The weather radio makes it buzzing sound to say something is upon us. The dog in the back room, the one with few windows and my sleeping son, claws anxiously at the door. The cats rumble across the living room floor, attacking each other and then forgetting their attack in the hunt for another hair tie to kill.

Usually, Ken is out of bed, checking radar for any hook-shaped blotches threatening tornado or hail, but this time it’s me, occasionally pausing to run to the porch and feel the wind, watch the soft gray edges of the traveling clouds, and listen to tens of thousands of raindrops make ground fall. The storm of the storm, unlike the storm before the storm, is the real thing. As I wrote in one poem in Stephen Locke’s and my book, Chasing Weather, you’ve got to respect that.

Respect the Storm of the Storm

Watch like your life depends on it.

The first wave pushes the blackbirds

over the seam of the darkening west.

Uplifting wind multiplies and divides the world.

Flags tatter themselves in its speed. Then sirens.

From the overhang of your porch, wait

for the imprint of lightning to open your eyes.

Surrender to the wide yawning of thunder, the tendrils

trailing the supercell, and the one sweet songbird

at once unaware and aware. Follow

the storm of the storm, not the storm you expect.

When the rotation makes landfall, go inside swiftly.

Rush the stairs to the basement, grabbing the small cat

and photo albums on the way. Call the neighbors

from the crawl space. Press the anxious dog to your chest.

Turn up the weather radio and let the tone of danger

vibrate through your beating heart.

Obey the hunter you once were thousands of years ago.

A New Throne for the Queen: Everyday Magic, Day 818

photoSome people call plumbers. They don’t live in my house. When something goes wrong, we fix it ourselves, which means that if Ken doesn’t get to it quickly, I try, mess up, then Ken — who was raised with tools and big education on how to use them — steps in. My propensity for household adventure is matched only by my aversion to reading instructions.

So today I decided to fix our toilet — the one in “my” bathroom, a place I’m very fond of. Even Ken, who was out of town for the weekend, thought it was plausible I could remove the toilet, turn it upside down, and shake out whatever was stuck within (we suspected a tiny bottle of essential oil).

I actually read instructions, which I rarely do, and even watched a youtube video on how to successfully remove your toilet. Equipped with a sponge, bowl to catch water once I disconnected the toilet from the wall, cloth to stuff in the hole in the floor to avoid sewer fumes, and several wrenches and pliers, I headed confidently into the bathroom. I also brought my phone in case I got trapped in there. At first, it was a textbook removal. Surely, I thought, I would be done with this whole deal, and be reattaching the toilet within 20 minutes. Then I would drink a gin and tonic on the veranda, no matter that I have no veranda and don’t drink.

But as it goes with most household repairs, plans changed. Once I hauled the big, heavy canister of porcelain out to the back deck and turned it over, I discovered that even a modest amount of shaking didn’t make the toilet hiccup up the essential oil (rose, I believe). I was wondering what to do next when I noticed a big crack in the tank, one I put there by shaking it. Ken was on his way back to town when he got a call instructing him to meet me in aisle 8 of Home Depot, where the proud new toilets wait for adoption.

Ken took the new toilet in stride, selecting with me not the very cheapest, but the next-to-the-cheapest one, which was wicked heavy to lift into the back of the CRV, and even heavier to lift out and up the back deck to the bedroom door. Ken  installed the beautiful new toilet while I read the instructions aloud, occasionally losing the English pages and trying to figure out what the Spanish was saying about the washers. It was complicated, much more than it should have been, and involved counting a lot of screws and plastic do-dads.

As I drove the old toilet to town to gingerly place near a trash bin before scurrying away, I thought about my time with all that porcelain. We moved to this house when I was nine-month’s pregnant with triplets, or at least that’s what people said I looked like. I was actually six-month’s pregnant with Forest, and let’s just say the toilet and I became fast friends. This was my refuge of choice when I had trouble with chemo over a decade later, and over the years, I’ve parked myself here to read a great deal of powerful poetry and pore over photos of evening gowns in People magazine. The toilet reigns as the most private seat in the house, something very exciting when I had three little kids underfoot.

The new toilet is stunningly attractive with its gleaming curves. It’s also a little higher and bigger. “That’s a big-ass toilet,” I told Ken, who wisely just nodded. The new toilet, and I know it’s just the way it’s made, smiled warmly at me.

Happy Rosh Hashana: Everyday Magic, Day 817

The days of awe come exactly when they’re supposed to, launching with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, and ending with breaking fast on Yom Kippur, the day of repentance. This 10-day span is a time for soul-searching, forgiveness,  and recognition of ways we need to make right what we’ve done, thought and been that was wrong in the last year. We land in this clearing in the woods, break in the crazy-making weather, sojourn to enough stillness to understand what’s always in motion.

As usual, the Jewish holidays creep up on me at a time that’s beyond overwhelming. In the past week, I’ve immersed ever fiber of my being in organizing/putting on with others on the Power of Words conference. My new book Chasing Weather was released, and I’m sorting through a tangle of emails to arrange readings. The dishes are piling up. Someone needs to take the cat litter out, and I’m busy with catching up on assorted things for my teaching at Goddard College job. There’s more going on, but my mind refuses to look full circle at all that occupies and will occupy me in this time. I also have a cold, persistent and fueled by too much adrenalin, too little sleep, questionable coffee to wake and pills to sleep, and bad food choices.

All of this makes the onset of Rosh Hashana feel like slamming on the breaks after a months-long road trip at 77 mph. It also makes it hard to summon up enthusiasm for even sorting out what to dress to synagogue tonight and practicing the cello to play alongside our musical service-leading group, Shiray Shabbat. So instead I write about it while admiring the banked-steel blue of the clouds, the twirling of Cottonwood leaves, and the cat sleeping on a pile of pillows. Breathe, life says. So I do, knowing it will take many breaths to unravel me from my worker-bee-on-high-alert mojo.

The days of awe come exactly on time, and in time, they will land me where I need to be also. Wishing everyone sweetness and peace as you’re inscribed in the book of life.

 

A Mouse in the House: Everyday Magic, Day 816

It was after 1 a.m., and I was struggling to fall asleep. “Go to sleep,” I told my sleepy body and rushing brain. I did my usual trick of inhaling for a count of 4 and exhaling for a count of 6, hoping to slow my thoughts down enough for them to fall off their tracks so I could rest. It was working. Almost. But then a meow, a very loud meow, the kind that says, “I have something I’m about to kill. Behold the might feline hunter!”

Usually, the meow is from tiny Miyako, and usually she has successfully maimed a hair tie, carrying forth its stretchy hot-pink corpse so we can share in her glory. This time, both she and Sidney Iowa Goldberg were doing that hunter-on-the-loose meow-yell, so I turned on the lights.

The kitties were in our bathroom, where they cornered a small mouse. The most adorable friggin’ mouse I ever saw: velvety gray with big ears and an agile (but not agile enough) body. It wasn’t a full-grown mouse, but it was bigger than a child mouse, so I’m guessing it was a tween. In any case, its days, or more accurately, minutes, were numbered.

“Ken, the cats have a mouse, and it’s so adorable. What do I do?” I called out.

“Get a shoe and kill it,” he answered.

Moi? Kill the most darling mouse in the world just because my cats were playing badminton with it? “I can’t kill it. It’s too adorable. What other options do we have?”

By this time, he was getting up, telling me there were no options unless I wanted this mouse to reproduce, and for its babies, grown one day into aging and ruthless hipsters, to chew up my favorite blouse and eat my best books. Someone had to kill it, and it had to be one of us.

Within minutes, Ken with a mop in hand (the kind with the sponge), both cats, and Shay the dog stood at the mouth of the bathroom. Ken turned to Shay first. “Shay, go get the mouse,” he said. Our 90-plus pound dog pressed his scared head into my thigh while stepping backwards. Miyako stretched out to watch the spectacle.

And so it went: Sidney doing his best to chase the mouse out of corners, then looked up at Ken and in cat ESP, communicated, “Get him, Dad! Kill him dead!” I tried to watch, but then I saw the mouse’s sweet velvet ears, and heard his terrified chirp-squeaks, so I went to sit on the bed with Shay, both of us trembling.

Ken, despite Sid just playing with (and not killing the mouse), got the cats out of the way and did the deed, and then he flung the results outside, telling me that I really needed to learn to kill mice too. It’s part of life in the country, keeping balance in the ecosystem of the house, and cuteness shouldn’t bias me so much.

It was after 3 a.m. when I finally got to sleep, irrationally sad that “too cute to die” doesn’t apply when it comes to a mouse in the house.

Northerning: Everyday Magic, Day 815

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Hello, my name is Lake Michigan

Usually summer aims me west, the direction any self-respecting Kansan wants to go when the temperatures heads for the hinterlands of triple digits. This summer was a northerning thing instead with three trips to the Twin Cities (visit our daughter, help her move, and attend a newphew’s wedding), a lovely vacation in the northern pinky tip of Michigan (to see a friend), and the usual airport-infested trek to Vermont and back to teach. Whatever the reasons, it seems I as just getting back from one northern catapult  when it was time to pack (or just not completely unpack from the last trip) for the next one.

There’s a lot to said for getting in a tiny car early in the morning, guzzling ice coffee, and driving from 90-something degrees to less than 80 degrees. Just that shift in temperature can shift perspective, not to mention what’s blossoming up yonder that thoroughly finished its gig here months before. I inhaled lilac in June in Michigan and July in Minnesota after lamenting it finishing in Kansas by late April. There’s nothing like a little travel to scramble seasonal markers and wake me up to how much “whatever is” isn’t necessarily so. Of course, there’s also the Twilight Zone restaurants in Northern Missouri or Iowa we have a talent for finding, but that’s another story.

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In the middle of a Minneapolis neighborhood

Cooler bouts of air also meant wearing pants frequently all summer instead of shorts. I’ve lived many Kansas summers when slipping my legs into jeans in September felt positively exotic.

Mostly though, all this northerning brought me face to face woods and water. Everywhere I traveled, I inhaled the smell of pine and glimpsed (or waded hesitantly into) clear water.

The lakes of Minnesota spill out across the landscape and throughout the cities. A few weeks ago, as Ken and I walked a Minneapolis neighborhood, we happened upon one lake (Lake of the Isles), that seemed a pond until we turned a corner.

The northern climes of Michigan are surrounded of course by Lake Michigan, which I hadn’t really seen up-close before with its Caribbean blue of the turquoise water, the jewel tones everywhere. Having spent some time with Lake Superior, which is a living being that changes pastel tones all day, I was surprised by the different look of this lake. I wasn’t so surprised by the crazy cold of the water though, and only made it in up to my knees (although I did swim in a cold and white-capped pond later on).

In Vermont, I spent a day hugging the shore of Lake Champlain, one of the loveliest places I know with the Adironacks to the west and Green Mountains to the west. The wind is always big there, photo 1-1and I slept in a darkness interrupted by the heartbeat flash of a lighthouse. I also swam daily in this pond surrounded by woods and sky, and often shiveringly cold. Even when well-immersed and swimming for a while, I could skirt pockets of deep cold from the depths.

Back home, my northerning ways come full circle. The fog that enveloped the world this morning, the cool and damp air, and the recent rain bring me back and forward at once. The lakes around here are muddy and surrounded by a protective army of chiggers. The pine I inhale is only from an essential oil. I’m happy to be finished, for a while at least, with propelling myself north. As for that desire to get on I-70 and drive a long way west, I tell myself next summer can be for westerning again.

 

A Good Rain in a Time of Cancer: Everyday Magic, Day 814

I’m sitting in the middle of my screened-in-porch while thunders roars to my east, and wind swooshes from my west. The sound of the rain is as deafening as, just an hour ago, the sound of the cicadas, roaring so loudly that our conversation with friends had an added soundtrack. September poured in with the storms last night after a week of big heat, and now, there’s another storm, reminding me how much can change so fast.

For the last week, I’ve felt like many in my community were living in a cancer minefield. A close friend’s adult daughter, facing stage 4 liver cancer, pours heart and soul into what her family calls an ultimate healing journey. A dear one navigates difficult days and nights with advanced breast cancer. Another friend faces complex treatments for prostate cancer, and another endures the reality of an unstoppable cancer growing slowly in his spine. News of diagnoses land in my heart in the bakery or at a gathering, across the Facebook feed and through the phone lines. Knowing that one in three of us will have or already has had some form of cancer is knowing that we live in a cancer epidemic, but most of the time, the urgency of this crisis doesn’t drive the bus of my life.

I have no doubt based on research and the wisdom of many who have studied this extensively as to how much this epidemic comes from what we as a species have done to this earth. How could we not be shaped and infused by our poisoning of air, water, earth? Stephanie Mills, one of my favorite writers, says it well:

Our behavior toward the land is an eloquent and detailed expression of our character, and the land is not incapable of reflecting these statements back. We are perfectly bespoken by our surroundings.

So there is this: dear ones trying new combinations of traditional chemotherapy and holistic medicines, or just trying to feel their way in the dark through what’s unfolding, healing whether or not a cure is possible, in their time. But there is also this: an early autumn rain, and the sound of that rain as well as the air it permeates blessing whatever and whoever it touches.

The rain reminds me that my job is to open my eyes and heart, easier when the weather is luscious and my community is thriving. How we treat one another, how we treat ourselves, matters even more when the stakes are high, losses unfathomable, and beauty of simply being alive so exquisite. The sweetness of this moment, as well as the snippets of sweetness in the hardest moments, lands everywhere. The rain lessens, then stops with all its remnants dripping from the edge of the porch and steady trees. A cricket makes its music. I wait between the words I write, loving as best I can.