Author Archives: maya

i knit so i don’t kill people

Stress is the new smoking.  Or maybe sitting is the new smoking.  Or sugar.  Or, like, murderous rage. That’s probably it.  Anyway, we all feel stressed out in these stressful-as-fuck times, I know I do.  And there is nothing like twisting strands of sheep-fibers around sticks to really decompress, you know?  Therefore, I thought I would—and this is a bit confessional, like showing you my pile of chewed off fingernails, or my kitchen cabinets with all the labels face out, all 3/8″ from the shelf edge, in alphabetical order, no, actually I would never do that—I thought I would reveal my completed knitting pile for this last, very stressful, year.  Don’t judge me.

You might recall that I rediscovered knitting back in January 2016. It turned out that knitting was just the mind numbing relaxing hobby I needed to get through the next 365 days.  I vowed in that post to finish all the abandoned knitting projects in Ye Old Knitting Basket by year’s end or die trying, and well, I did some of that. Cough. In addition to the Lopi sweater of that post, I did, indeed, finish the green sweater that only needed a sleeve:

modeled here by the lovely Sophie.  And I finished the Koigu merino socks I’d left languishing on their needles:

so sweet and colorful, I had to add some candy to the photo.

But then…honestly, I wandered off into new yarn territories, tripping starry eyed through mountains of color and fields of fiber, grabbing the stuff up, drunk on it, rolling around naked on it when no one was looking–wait, did I say that out loud?

But seriously, knitting whilst listening to an audiobook, or watching tv, or waiting for the kids to get out of aikido—it does help calm the mind.  My stitches, at least, they will obey me.  I can exert some small control over this tiny portion of the world, just by playing with string.  Which is kind of amazing, really.  And weird.  Mental health is an uphill battle sometimes….

Anyway, next I knitted some bunnies for Sophie:

and some birds for Luc:

(forget the sweater, his braid is a freaking work of art, isn’t it?)

and a honeycomb thingy for me:

(what the heck am I doing with my hand there?)

and a manly, traditional Icelandic yoke for supercoolhusband:

such broad shoulders, oh my….

Oh, and one more pair of socks, as a kind of stripey chaser: Oh, my pretties, my precious, so much yarn so little time….

Now listen, knitting is just following instructions, really.  The people with the talent are the designers who come up with all these detailed, mathematical, structurally engineered knitting patterns for twisting yarn into these specific body-hugging shapes with these pretty decorations and colors.  I don’t deserve any kudos except for following instructions.  Well, maybe a bit for actually finishing projects (because that can be hard, when there is so much delicious yarn out there, calling one’s name and one’s wallet…).

Knitters get a fair amount of shit, knitting often portrayed as the boring past-time of old biddies, etc. But I think we should focus on the acts of violence NOT being perpetrated by angry older broads due to the fact that they had the courtesy of turning all that rage-at-life into a productive, warmth-preserving, hobby.  Be grateful we knit!  It’s for your own good!

But beyond its inner-calming properties, knitting can also be a powerful act of generosity and kindness!  Like these woman who knit massive sweaters for elephants at an abused elephant sanctuary that has cold winters.

How amazing is that???  They knit sweaters for elephants!!!  I can’t get over this, it is so wonderful.

And of course, knitting can be political.

Every one of those pink pussyhats was hand made by a knitter who gives a shit.  Three of them were knitted by me.  That is, after an exhaustive search for pink yarn which, by the time I started my quest, was sold out EVERYWHERE. I lucked into the last skein in the back closet of a Hobby Lobby, I was so pleased to find it.  Tenacity!  Nevertheless, she persisted!

Knitters of the world, uniting for world peace!

I am continuing on with my knitting in 2017.  I’ve mostly finished a muted grey and bronze sweater for myself and am already eyeing the sweater porn online for ideas for the next one.  I just love this Lettlopi, the lighter version of the Lopi I started this story with.  Icelandic yarn that is tough and also beautiful, made from Icelandic sheep that are the same sheep they’ve had there for a thousand years!  I just love the yoke sweaters that are done all in one piece and last for decades.  So, I sort of followed through on my knitterly promises of last January by finishing a couple of projects from the basket, but I did move on to new things…with the injunction that I must FINISH WHAT I START.  So far so good.

If I become a really peaceful, well-balanced human I may not need to knit anymore.  Until then, lettlopi and addi turbos are my medicine.

ashtanga yoga after 45…lessons learned after seven years of near daily home practice. PART 1

I started my home Ashtanga practice when I was 38, seven years ago, holy balls, how did that happen.  I’ve practiced nearly every day for most of that time, five or six days a week for the first few years, then fourish practices a week, then a break last year for several months (buried under life stress) then back to three or four practices a week since. I started asking myself the other day, what have I learned from all this home Ashtanga practice as an increasingly middle-aged *cough* woman?  Anything I might pass along?

Well, the biggest lesson that informs my practice these days is probably that yoga is a long game.  You have to stick with it over heaps of time to reap the real rewards.  Look, when I first started, my yoga goals were fun, exciting, short term things like, “do a backbend!” “Achieve lotus!” “Impress the hell out of my self!” Back then, I pursued fancy poses like a BOSS.  Which is fine.  But I soon came to realize there was only so far the fancy poses could take me.  In other words, asana has a marginal utility.


Look at my badass chart. #proud

If you can’t sit on the floor with your kids because your hips are too tight or your back is too weak, doing dandasana every day will give you a massive happiness spike in the graph of Actual Life Improvement.  Adding some baddha konasana and maybe even a half-lotus, and it’ll change your life.  Suddenly you’re sitting on blankets at a music festivals, sitting on the ground around camp fires, your body isn’t stopping you from having adventures.  It’s awesome.  But once you hit full lotus in the progression of hip-opening-asana-difficulty, you really aren’t going to get much additional value in your life from going further.  Leg-behind-head poses don’t really add anything to your day (except maybe some of the edgier pages of the karma sutra?).  That happiness/utility line, after spiking up, flattens out.  It even starts going down, because the probability of injury goes UP in extreme asana.  And injury stops your practice, cold.

As William Vanderbilt said at the end of his life (then worth two hundred milllion dollars and the richest man in America), “I have had no real gratification of enjoyment of any sort more than my neighbour on the next block who is worth only half a million.”  Asana is the same.

Listen, I have hit some of the difficult poses. Marichyasana D for example, with a full wrist bind even, and here is what I learned:  there is nothing there.  Getting the wrists really isn’t that different from grasping the fingers, or using a strap, or just holding onto my knee.  The initial work (the steep part of the happiness curve) of just being able to have one leg in half-lotus and twist till my eyes roll back with pleasure—that is where 90% of the goodies of that pose are.  The “full expression of the pose” didn’t really give me anything.  Maybe it gets a little more relaxed—but you can have “relaxed” by just backing off. Maybe because I practice at home, I didn’t even get the competitive dopamine hit of being the bendiest yogi in the room (well, I mean, I’m always the bendiest in the room, because I’m, um, the only yogi in the room…).  Maybe if I’d had a teacher, I’d know what the fuss about the “furthest expression of the pose” is.  Maybe if I had just gone further, my third eye would have opened up and I would have seen god.  It’s possible.  But it’s risky for my 45 year old (and counting) body.

Too risky.

And note, I talk about injury prevention as someone who fucked up my left hamstring attachment early on in my practice, proud of myself for flattening my forehead to my shins in foreward bends.  I Could do it, so I thought I SHould do it.  Dumb.  Wish I could go back in time and tell myself to cut it out.  So. Not. Worth. It.  Because that injury has remained a weak link, ready to go out if I push it, all these years later, and it will probably never be right again.  Now I practice forward bends with my hands on ankles, arms straight, just to be safe.  And here’s the secret that doing that taught me: straight arm forward bends are just as fun, just as useful, and give 90% of the goodies that forehead to the shin bends do.  In other words: I’m not missing anything.

Is this yoga maturity?

But fancy poses look so cooool!  I will not lie: it was sad to let the fantasy of achieving some of them go.

But then I started to think how amazing it would be if I could do a respectable primary at, say, 70.

If, at 70, I still had hips that could sit in lotus, arm strength to do a bunch of chaturangas, and a spine flexible enough to do a decent backbend…well, I’d be a very rare 70 year old!  I’d have my vitality intact.  That would be INCREDIBLE.  That would be a gift to blow anything any advanced asana can offer me out of the freaking water.  A hell of a lot more incredible than doing kapotasana or whatever for a few seconds a couple times a week.  I’d be mobile.  I’d be independent.  I’d have my life.

I believe a low-end-of-the-difficulty-continuum Ashtanga practice—that is, a modest Primary—regularly practiced, can give me this.

Partly I believe this because I’ve met one of the original American ashtangis, David Williams, who now practices Primary and looks like a trim 50 year old (at 65!).  Partly I believe it because I’m forty-five now and after putting in only seven years of primaries, my doc says I have the mobility and health markers of someone 15 years younger.

That’s not trivial.

That’s worth the investment of an hour a day! And if I keep doing primaries, I’ll keep that lead, as long as I practice gently, consistently, and without injury.  Which means this: focus on a conservative practice.  Unless they come to you unasked for, unworked for (the way some asana do, you just suddenly, without having been “working on it” can do a pose you never thought you’d be able to, it happens that way sometimes!), let the asana envy and asana ambition GO.  Never work in a pose, never struggle.  Instead, do variations that feel fantastic for you and your body TODAY.  I really believe that 90% of the return on investment can be had in a conservative, safe, enjoyable practice done LONG TERM.

And I’m just leaving that remaining 10%, the fanciest poses, the second hundred million dollars, the fullest expression of the asanas, out because maybe more advanced yogi’s know something I don’t.  That seems probable, doesn’t it?  Maybe they can levitate, maybe they’re omnipotent, they look so powerful in those lovely photos.  I dunno.  I do know, that, in some asana, I’ve been the yogi in those photos, done the fancy pose in its fullest expression, and, for me anyway, there was nothing there.

So, first major lesson learned in my seven years.  Enjoy your practice where it is and don’t quit. Which means don’t get injured (which makes you quit).  Stay the course.  Because the really real good stuff comes later and you can’t get to later if you have to quit.  Keep at it for decades.  The compound interest I’ve received so far is fantastic.  The bennies I hope to get in the future: VAST.

And whoops, I started this post as a list, but number one got too long!  So I decided I’d break it up into a few posts.  Look for part two, coming soon.

the bedroom is done! Or, what it feels like to finish building your own house, finally, after a decade of work

Last week, we moved into the bedroom.  (Pics below!)

In order to really understand this MONUMENTAL SIGNIFICANCE of this, please step into the Way Back Machine for a brief retrospective.

My wonderful husband/builder broke ground for the yurt in spring 2005.  (A post with some pictures from ground breaking day, so cute.) I was pregnant with Luc and Sophie was this tiny thing.  Ten months later, we moved into the yurt and its attached bathhouse and I had a baby.  Life was full.  A year passed.

In 2007, he built a Goat House and a Chicken Coop (made out of the box the yurt came in) because I had the idea that the toddler kids and I ought to keep goats and chickens (which turned out to be awesome).  He also installed our waterstove system.  In 2008, he built a gorgeous tool shed for his Building Stuff, because this was a construction site we were living in, make no mistake.  Where to put all the tools? Then, surprise, in early 2009 my cousin, Noah, gave us his tiny house and we had it disassembled, transported, and reassembled here, adding to our little compound.  The Noah House needed all new interiors, so my dear husband got to it, hanging sheet rock, laying floors, trimming it out, until we moved into it in August.

(Here is a post I had forgotten about, about building with recycled stuff, which is what all these structures were, except for the yurt itself, kind of cool.)

That was our first five years here.  Don’t forget, my builder also had a full time job, an hour commute, and two babies.  When I look back at all he did, it’s pretty impressive.

But, when we first moved in, we said, “we’re on the five year plan.” Meaning, yes, we knew this yurt/bathhouse combo we started with wasn’t going to work forever for the four of us, and yes, we knew the difficulties of moving into a house, that is, living in a house, that you are currently building…  But within five years, for sure, we’d be done.  We’d be in The House that we had always envisioned.  The yurt was temporary, like a trailer, only prettier.  Five years.  That was The Plan.

But, sheesh, by 2010, after those first five years, we had precious little energy left for house building.  Supercoolhusband was tired.  And he hadn’t even started a “house” yet.  Actually, that idea had eroded away completely.

Lesson learned—and this is important! pay attention future self-builders!—people who want to build their own house themselves have a crap-ton of enthusiasm for the task when we start.  There are Dreams and it’s so Creative and there are so many choices to make and building methods to try.  I know this because that was me.  It’s fun!  But listen: with time, that enthusiasm wanes.  At some point, a year, ten years down the way, you won’t care any more.  You’ll say, “let’s bail on this and buy a condo.” And it will sound like a really good idea.

When I came up with the Goat House idea in that second year, I didn’t know I was burning a limited resource (his energy) and that that energy probably  should have been going into primary structures for us.  Building the animal houses withdrew Building Energy from the building-energy bank account that once spent, was gone.  I didn’t realize that.

You must pace yourself on a project as monumental as hand-building a house. And if it’s primarily one guy doing it, he WILL run out of steam.  Plan accordingly.

Anyway, 2010 rolled along, we were at the five year mark, and we had accrued this strange compound of tiny buildings, but still no house, no finished structure, no done.  And we desperately needed more space.  The kids weren’t babies anymore, they had their own stuff, their own needs for privacy, the piles were threatening to take us over, not to mention our own privacy, and just where the heck does all this stuff come from anyway?

But it was clear, at that point, that building a HOUSE was not going to happen.

So instead, we got to work building a bedroom.

A room away for the adults would make room for the kids to have their own space, it would double the closets, it would solve tons of problems while still having us live in the yurt as our central structure.  One room, 12×12, totally doable, right?  It would be done in a year.  New plan!

Here is a post I did about the groundbreaking for the bedroom in January 2011.  Working on weekends, progress was slow, but it was coming along.  Here was a post one year later featuring some nice pics of the timberframe bones he had built.  That was when we figured out what the heating system would be.  Six months later, in the summer of 2012, he put on the roof.  Okay, maybe it would be two years….?

Next comes what I like to call the Three Little Pigs method of building a house.  Fist is the slipSTRAW north wall going in and getting stuccoed in 2013.  Here is a nice view of that in April when it was completed.  Then the STICK-built west wall went in, a traditional studs, sheetrock, cedar shingle siding, because he was sick to death of straw at that point.  And here is some STONE work on the east wall very pretty.  After that we captured the wolf in the soup pot as he came down the chimney and we ate him.

I swear we did plan to do the Three Little Pigs, it just happened.

We also did not plan grad school, which is what my builder went and did for the next two years.  Because life goes on, no matter that you haven’t finished building your house yet.  Your kids grow up.  Your housing needs change. What sounded like a good idea when you started fails to meet the current needs by the time it is finished.  It’s hard to factor that in when your time table is so slippery.

So, while he was getting his grad degree (and still working full time), building  downshifted to dribs and drabs, quite understandably.

In 2015, Sophie moved out of the yurt and into the Noah House, now Sophie’s house.  It was starting to be ridiculous, this Mythical Bedroom, an unfinished hulk over on the side of the yurt. The kids were going to move out entirely before the damn thing was finished.  I’m sure it felt like an albatross around his neck.  We even talked about taking a loan out to pay someone to finish it.  But he had a break at school in 2015 and got the south wall up (glass) with some help from my cousin Noah of the Noah House, which gave us all some hope.  I posted this with the very-nearly-finished bedroom.  It was so close!

We held our breaths at the precipice of nearly-done all winter last year while he finished school and….

If you haven’t lived in a partially finished house, which we have been doing since 2005, let me tell you, it’s…weird. For years we said “when the house is done” and later “when the bedroom is done” we would do all these cool things…like move Luc into his own room in the back of the yurt, or have enough closets so there wouldn’t be piles everywhere, or move stuff out of Sophie’s House so she could have her own space, plus a half-dozen other important things…so that it began to feel like So Many Problems were going to be solved by the Mythical Bedroom whenever it finally arrived.

As a result, life felt on hold.

Like when you’re camping.  You make do.  You solve a problem (like where to put your dishes, or where to sleep) for now, because you know it’s only temporary.  You’re camping!  It’s all going to change when you pack up anyway, right?  You put up with less-than-great solutions, or even fairly shitty solutions, because it’s fine, it’s just for now.

That was us, camping in the yurt.  But when For Now goes on for years, you forget that you’re on hold, you forget what it feels like to NOT to be on hold.  The builder feels the pressure the most.

Moral: Don’t let your building projects go on too long!

But sometimes you can’t help it.  It just happens.  You can’t know what building a house yourself is, until you do it.  You think sure, I can do this while working a full time job, raising children, living a life.  So you just have to stick with it, plod along, break tasks down into manageable chunks, but keep at it!  Self-building is a slow process, a marathon not a sprint.  It can be hard on relationships so you have to cut each other a ton of slack.  I  know too many couples broken up by the shiny-eyed plan of “building our own house together.”  Be kind.


And then….last week…he finished.

My other cousin, Tracie, happened to be here when suddenly in he comes into the yurt saying, “We’re moving the bed.  Here, take a corner.”  We were like, what? What? Today?  We’re moving the bed today???? Holy shit—it’s really happening?

Here’s a shot of the inside after we got the bed set up.

bedroom 1 400

So pretty!  Exposed beams, recycled casement windows, found (i.e. free!) glass doors for windows, stucco and lime plaster, jute rugs.  Look at the cool light fixture—he traded something for it at a junk shop, he doesn’t remember what now.  It’s, like, two feet across, huge:

bedroom 2 400

We slept in it that night even though there were still some tools, the new closets empty.  Here’s the view when I woke up in the morning:

bedroom 3 500

It smells like raw cedar.  The light is lovely.  The thick walls make it cool and quiet. A gorgeous space.  I love it!

But, see, this isn’t just finishing the bedroom, this is finishing the House.  Our weird, atypical, house/compound made of rooms-that-don’t-touch-each-other, sure, but whatever, it’s DONE.  No more building project hanging over us.  Let me say that again.

He’s been building a house FOR A DECADE.


It’s….well, it’s a miracle.

So, I’ve said some things about the downsides of self-building, but what about the upsides?

What we get with a handmade house:

A gorgeous, one of a kind, Art Structure.  Details tailor-made to fit us, our bodies (like cabinets that are at the right height for us shorties), our preferences (like a closet/clothes-washing combo, because why carry baskets when you can have it all in one place?), our tastes (unpainted wood, tall ceilings, funny details).  We also get a tiny mortgage (ours is mostly from the initial purchase of the land itself) that will be paid off in a couple of years.  And there’s the creative expression, a family project that everyone has worked on, a place like no other.  Memories.

Like this.  First I’ll show you the finished rocket mass stove:

bedroom heater 500

The small fire is built on the right, then the heat/smoke goes up into that iron barrel and down through channels inside the cob bench, warming everything as it goes.  The bench radiates warmth long after the fire is done.  Also, there’s that weird gourd on the barrel for the moment, just for fun, because it looks cool.

And for the memory: here are our kitty, MoMo’s footprints in the cob:

momo footprints

She came by to check it out while he was doing the final plaster.  So cute!  We’ll have those prints long after she’s gone.  You don’t get that sort of thing in a contractor built house.  There are dozens of little things like that, all over the place.

Anyway, for the last two weeks, we’ve been in the process of moving all our stuff.  Like one of those puzzle games where you slide this tile over, making room for that tile, making room for that other tile—Luc got a loft bed ($50 on craigslist WOOT), that is, a room of his own in the space that had held the big bed in the yurt.  It’s like a pirate fort, full of his things, arranged the way he likes it.  So cool!  The cedar chest in the yurt got moved, opening up space for a leather chair in Sophie’s house that had been in the closet, which means now she has a closet, which means her Table Of Stuff in the yurt is out in her place now, freeing up that table…you get the idea.  The futon that had been at the foot of the bed has moved, making room for the lego boxes that were under the piano stool, making the piano playable again.  Etc etc. It’s crazy!

What’s funny, things that don’t have even anything to do with the bedroom, like storing dishes, say, or laundry piles, suddenly are Getting Solved.  As if the whole house had been under a spell of Waiting, like the kitchens and stable-hands and courtiers when Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger and everyone fell asleep.  Suddenly they are all awake and yawning and thinking about lunch and getting back to LIFE.

I didn’t even realize we have been waiting.

The place is a MESS while we do all of this, of course.  It really is like we’re moving, although we’re only moving ten feet away, and mostly it’s in the same house, but all shuffled around as each space is retasked.  But seriously, this is it, this is our House.  Not For Now, this is IT. (Until we decide to sell (would anyone buy? but that’s another post) and go for that condo after all). It’s an amazing feeling.

Have some champagne with me and let’s raise a toast to my wonderful husband who stuck it out all the way to the end, even though it turned out to be a much, much longer project than any of us ever thought.  There is a still a bunch to do, mostly outside, turning a work site into a Yard.  But forget that, because it’s done, the house is done.  We are no longer building a house.

I just go over and sit in the quite, beautiful bedroom and feel amazed that its finally here.  Leaving things on hold for years until you forget that’s what you’re doing—and then being NOT on hold anymore…it feels like arriving, I’m here, this is it.

It’s so weird.

Bonus: Here’s the walkway from the yurt to the bedroom.  Because if you have to go outside to get to another room, you ought to at least have a lovely path to walk on while you get there.  (Cut glass circles by Sophie.  So is the mosaic on the front of the bedroom in the top pic.  Granite and bricks are all free scrap.)

bedroom 4 400

life in a rigo-cheneau scoliosis brace, or, as we call it, #bracelife

Sophie has been in her Rigo Cheneau scoliosis brace now for nearly nine months (see this post for some of that story).  So, she’s an expert, if anyone is, on living with these strange, medical devices, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  We’ve had so many conversations about it, problem solving strategy sessions, venting, jokes—I mean, really, you have to joke about something as ridiculous as wearing a plastic box.  Over time we realized we had developed a list of #bracelife thoughts and…well, it’s time to share them with the world.  This is a co-post, created by the two of us, for anyone else who is going through this, or is about to go through it.  Kudos to Sophie who’s sense of humor, and voice, is at this post’s beating heart.


1- Life in a box.  There is a certain distance from life that comes with wearing a brace.  You can’t feel things, you’re wearing armor, hugs don’t work anymore.  You don’t know exactly where your body is in space because of the parts of the brace that stick out.  Walking through doors you might catch on a door handle and get jerked back, causing disorientation. You get the sense that if you were in a car accident and slammed forward suddenly, your legs might be guillotined off at the brace’s lower edge. I’m sorry, no more legs for you.  On the up side, if your brother punches you, he hurts his hand.  That never gets old.
2- Sleeping in the brace.
tossing & turning aranzi aranzo

From the wonderful Aranzi Machine Gun.

Staying still is better.  Don’t try to move around too much, you’ll hurt yourself. Forget about rolling up into a ball.  Flat on your back is best.  Also, moving to sit up takes a crane, so go slow.  The good part: once you’re asleep, the brace can’t bother you (until morning), so crank up the tightness and get the most therapeutic punch for your buck for those sleeping hours.

3- Clothing.  Look, this is doable. The brace is a bit like a misshapen corset. Yes, there will be some strangeness to your shape, but most people don’t know what they are looking at and won’t notice a thing.  Layers, hoods that fall across your back, little details, especially around your face, shoes that draw attention to themselves.  These things help.  Some examples:
brace fashion 1 brace fashion 2 brace fashion 3 brace fashion 4 brace fashion 5 brace fashion 6
You can barely tell, right?  (PS Maya says: I knitted that bunny sweater, isn’t it AMAZING? I’m so proud.)  Necklaces, hoods, crazy cowboy boots with flowers on them.  Few will notice that one shoulder is higher in the brace, or that ridge along the back at its top edge, or the lumpy shape on one side.  Confidence is everything in fashion.  Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
Some stuff to watch out for: getting stuck to yourself via the brace’s velcro straps.  Avoid loose sleeves that want to stick, or you’ll rip. Put your shoes on first because you can’t bend over once the brace is on.  And your arms probably lose range of motion when you’re in the brace, so jackets are hard to get on.  Go slow so you don’t hurt your shoulder blades, but, hey, it’s inevitable. Buttons or studs on your pants get pressed in and leave a painful mark that lasts for hours. So tucking your shirt in between pants and skin can help with that. The $2 tank tops at Walmart are better, imo, than the $30 ones that are made for braces, unless you want the armpit flap thingie, but I hate the flap thingie, so $2 tanks for me. Plus they come in a bunch of colors.  You will get a stretched out section in the same place on all your clothes wherever your brace sticks out, maybe the ridge along the back.  Sigh and bear it.  You’ll grow out of these clothes anyway (probably), just buy new ones. Thrift stores are your friends—they make clothes so cheap as to be nearly disposable. Bottom line: wearing give-up-on-life sweatpants every day is, well, giving up. You don’t have to give up.  There are plenty of ways to look good and also wear a brace.
4- Let’s talk about boobs. When I said the brace is like a corset, I mean the most push-up, +3 cup sizes sort of corset there is.  Say hello to your new cleavage. Like those “sexy pirate” costumes that lift everything up for display over a cinched waist.  You can make this work for you.  Or, alternately, you may be mashed inside the brace, ugh. Personally, I think lifted is better than mashed, but either way, you’re getting squished. Which hurts.  And probably not symmetrically, because nothing about scoliosis is symmetrical.  So now you’ve got a mismatched pair, maybe bulge over the top, or out the side, or both, but definitely one bulge is bigger than the other.  Bra cups will bulge too, especially the foam ones—creating an odd look.  But hey, an extra layer of foam between your boobs and the top ridge of that brace is priceless, so don’t skimp on the bras.  Get the memory foam ones.  Worth the money.  Or, even better, get a pair of those silicone go-up-a-cup size “breast enhancers.” I’m not kidding!  It’s not because you want more, um, glory.  Rather, it’s because these squishy silicone wedges/crescents/circles (you pick!) either lift your girls right out of the slicing brace-edge, pillowing them on cushy silicone and taking the hit of that hard plastic edge, or, they sort of cover everything with a pad of silicone, giving you a firm, but squishy layer between you and the brace-edge that is a MIRACLE of Not Hurting. Seriously, these things have been a boob saver for me.  I cannot overstate the relief these offer—I wish I’d figured this out sooner.
Of course, breasts don’t always stay the same size throughout the month, so you’re probably going to get a different level of mashing and push-up over time that you’ll need to work with. Don’t settle into anything, it’s going to change anyway, is what I’m saying.  Work with the boobs you have that day.  And be careful when bending over—with all this push-up action bending over means you’ve just completely shown everyone in the room…everything.  Oh.  Oops.  Embarrassing.  But you can’t be embarrassed by these things because they’re just going to happen, over and over.  Roll with it.  You’ll feel much better if you think it’s funny.  Oh, and when you eat, crumbs get all down in there (because your chest is like a table under your chin now) and then you can’t get the itchy crumbs out again because you can’t get your hand down your front without taking the whole brace off or looking like a complete dingus … watch them crumbs.
5- Taking the brace off is like being those biscuits in a tube. You pop the paper and BOOM you explode out.  Sometimes there might be a little headrush or even a moment of nausea, but then comes a feeling of lightness, of walking on clouds, of nothing can go wrong!   Maybe it’s the sudden ability to breath deeply and the flood of resulting oxygen.  Because just like those corset-wearers of old, taking a deep breath in the brace is iffy at best, which makes being out of the brace like the dark skies parting.  You can breathe and move and be free!  Like chewing mint gum, but better.  It’s a truism that we appreciate more that which we don’t have for a while.
6- Food.  A weird thing about the brace: it constricts the stomach which also seems to put off hunger.  Until you take it off, then OH MY GOD I’M STARVING.  Also, you can feel food going down.  Which is…different?
7-  Lol bathrooms. Nope.  Bathrooms are hard, because you either have to take the brace all the way off—which is tricky with some pants—or you don’t go.  You become a master at holding your pee, probably much longer than is good for you, but oh well.  Unless you wear Hulk’s purple stretchy pants, you have to peel down enough to get the brace off to get your pants down.  At home it’s not a much of an issue—just wear the purple pants—but public bathrooms are harder, though most of them have a good hook you can hang the brace from.  I mean, I don’t want to set the thing on the floor and then put it back on…ew, gross. In the end, not going is usually so much easier.
(Note: that top picture is my brace hanging on the back of a bathroom stall at the Whole Foods. This crazy god-light caught it, like it should have freaking theme-music.  We can not stop cracking up about that photo.)
8-  Not going to lie.  The brace is wearable, but it is not comfortable.  Luke, who makes my braces, is great with making changes, but it’s inevitable.  Pushing bones around is a big deal. Squeezed soft tissue, pinched skin, aching, head-rushes. If you sit in a certain position for a while, parts go numb wherever you were unconsciously leaning on edges of the brace.  You get used to it.  Even depending on it for a sense of normal.  There is a strange protective quality that can come from wearing a shell, like being a turtle. But that doesn’t mean it’s comfortable. Of course, high heels aren’t comfortable either, and lots of people wear those, for much less important reasons. Turtles are also slow and can hardly move their arms and legs, which fits, actually.  Turtles might be the mascot of brace-wearing peoples everywhere.
9- Temperature.  Along with general discomfort, I have to mention heat.  The brace is hot.  This is fine in the winter, but summers are…less than fine.  You’re always hot.  It’s miserable.  Swimming often can save your sanity. Also, keeping a cooler in the car with ice packs in it to store the brace in when you leave the brace in the car for a couple of hours for something that you do outside the brace—that can help a lot.  You get back to the boiling hot car, but yay, the brace is cool!  Or at least it’s not a roasting piece of plastic you’re strapping onto your body.
10- Daily life.  Yes, it may be true that putting on the brace while lying down and cinching up with attention to detail is the recommend way, but let’s be honest.  The reality is that you’re going to be putting it on and taking it off in the weirdest places.  In the car.  In parking lots.  In public restroom stalls.  Think of triathlons, where the athletes go from the swim to the bike portions, or the bike to the run, and they must switch all their gear including being stripped out of wetsuits and doing flying leaps onto their bikes where their cycling shoes are already snapped into the cleats, and they must do it in seconds.  Life in the brace can be like that.  You wear the brace during the movie, but you’ve got three minutes to pee before the movie starts, so you peel and unvelcro and shove yourself in and out as quickly as you can, adjusting your clothes as you’re coming out of the stall. Fast. It becomes a way of life.  Little kids who catch you in the act will stare, weirded out.  That’s really fun.  You just have to ignore the way people look at it if you’re carrying it somewhere. Just pretend you’re holding a suitcase.  If you’re wearing it and it isn’t completely covered up by your clothes (maybe you got hot and just couldn’t bear the hoodie you started out your day with so you unzip it), don’t try to hide it.  That just draws more attention to it.  Yes, it’s awkward when people notice it, so tell people you broke your back parasailing, or climbing mountains, and you’re still healing. Meet people’s eyes like they’re the weird ones for staring.  What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?
I remember walking out of the clinic wearing the first brace and, up to then, I’d just been rolling with this whole thing.  But here I was, wearing this brace, and I remember realizing, wow.  This is life now.  This hurts.  This sucks.  Oh shit.  But…oh well?  I’ll get through it?  That was a hard moment.  It comes in waves.  Sometimes it’s fine.  Other times, I hate it.  That’s daily life in a brace.
But here’s the thing: all in or not in at all.  I try to remember that this is temporary.  I’m getting out of this box.  Some people lose their legs and are going to be in that wheelchair or on those prosthetics permanently.  The brace, however, will pass. Lots of TV and novels and movies in cold air-conditioning help. The main thing about the brace is that it’s not surgery which would have its own horrible side effects and issues. And a brace is not cancer or some other horrible disease.  I’m not dying; I’m not even sick, really.  This is going to be over. Until then, I’m on this path, I’ve gotten this brace to deal with my whacky, confused spine.  There is no point in wearing it some, suffering for that time, but not wearing it enough for it to work.  Go all in.  All in or not in at all.  I’m doing this, so there is no point in thinking about it too much if that thinking upsets me, just work through each day and…have as much fun in life as you can, right?  Don’t let living in a plastic box define you.
A few surprising good things about the brace:  You can lean against it and if you can find a good place, it holds you up.  Hanging yourself on a hook to watch tv can be amusing. You can make aggressive body percussion music.  You can stick things in it, like your phone.  Finally, it can be fun to hate the brace and be annoyed by it.  Negativity, and the sympathy you can get by playing up your situation does have its upside.  (“Mother, get me the OJ.  Can’t move, I’m in brace…”)  Although, there’s no point in wallowing.  Freak out, then move on.
Bottom line: #bracelife is helping you.  It has a purpose.  Stay on target.


practice matters: three years of drawing progress

Some say 10,000 hours of practice will give you a shot at mastery, and, well, Sophie has been putting in her hours.  But she and I didn’t  realize how much she has leveled up, and how quickly, until we ran across a couple of older drawing of the same subject and put them side by side.

Quick backstory: Terraria is a game she and her brother have played together since it came out in late 2013.  At the time, Sophie was nine and Luc seven and they got really into their characters, Frederick (Sophie) and Terraria (Luc, and, no, I don’t know why his character was named after the game). Here are these characters, as they exist on the screen.

terraria and freddy 1

That’s Freddy on the left with his spiked armor and Terraria on the right wearing a crown.  As part of the fun, Sophie-back-then drew a portrait of the two of them, just like they are here, only, “like they are in my head.”

freddy & terraria 2013

She was nine.  I remember her being pretty stoked at her first attempt at armor.

A year and a half later, then eleven years old, she ran across this drawing in her stuff and thought, I can do better now.  So she decided to redraw.

first terraria pic re draw 450

Already so much change!  She did this one with pencil and paper, scanned it in, and colored it on Photoshop.  You can definitely see the influence of manga comics, which she was reading a lot then, and indeed, she did several comics with these characters. I like how she added the life-stats bar over each head.

Which brings us to the present, it’s a year and a half again later, she’s twelve.  She stumbled across both drawings and once again thought, I can do better now.  She doesn’t play Terraria as much anymore, but still, a redraw of this now iconic portrait seemed in order.  Updated with her current skills and this time painted fully on Photoshop, of course….

terraria re draw 3 500

Not too shabby.  That’s a heck of a lot of improvement in three years.  Sophie works on her digital painting several hours a day most days.  Which makes me ask myself, what am I spending several hours a day getting better at?  What do I wish I was spending several hours a day getting better at?  Not watching tv or doing dishes, that’s for damn sure.  I wish it were as easy to see progress in novel writing, but it’s not so obvious.  I’d like to think I’m getting better.  I hope I’m getting better.  Sometimes I’m pretty sure I’m just spinning my gears, getting more bitter and less brave.  It’s easier to create art when you are young and haven’t gotten kicked around so much, isn’t it?  Or maybe that’s bullshit.  Maybe it always seems easier for someone else.

I asked Sophie if she wanted to say anything about the drawings and she said, “Any artist starting out has to get that no matter how crappy you think you are now, as long as you’re practicing, you’re getting better.  You can’t see it happening, but when you look back and compare, the results are night and day.”  She’s so wise. I love how she doesn’t hesitate to think of herself as an artist, and why wouldn’t she?  She’s doing the work.

freddy close up

you can be too flexible: treating scoliosis with a rigo-cheneau brace, schroth, and postural restoration

Last fall, my daughter was bestowed a diagnosis of scoliosis.

I’m not talking about a little bit, the kind where you ignore it and go on with your life, only a bit more crooked.  I’m talking about the kind where the doctors look you in the eye and say your kid needs spinal surgery.

I was gobsmacked.  There had been no sign, she didn’t look crooked, no way, how could this be?  I went into hyper-research mode (beware a mother with an internet connection) and read studies, forum discussions, doctor reviews, journals from international organizations, even made myself rather sick looking at x-rays of severely distorted spines.  Basically, if you have a curve with a Cobb angle of less than 20 degrees most American medicals will say “wait and see.”  Over 20 degrees, they say, “let’s look at bracing” to keep the curve(s) from progressing until the kid’s growth period is over (and then, maybe that’s it, or maybe it’s surgery anyway).  But if you’ve got a Cobb angle over 50 degrees go straight to surgery, do not pass go.  Doctoring by numbers.

Sophie’s thoracic curve was 55.

The reason we hadn’t seen it before was that she has an S shaped curve with the bottom curve being about the same size as the top, creating a symmetry that means she looks straight.  If she bends over, you see a bit of a swell on the upper right and the lower left, but it’s pretty minor.  She looks like a gorgeous, athletic kid.  Until you look at the x-ray.

sophie 9:16 225

This is from September.  I fell out of my chair when I saw it.

Long time readers will remember all those pictures of young Sophie popping into advanced yoga poses (to my great jealousy) kapotasana on a whim, dropbacks like eating candy, my super-bendy girl.  Turns out there is a very high correlation between super-bendy girls and scoliosis.  Not CAUSE, correlation.  Gymnasts, ballet dancers, etc, are statistically more likely to get it.  Whatever makes them so able to do the extreme moves that make them great at their sports/activities, that thing also carries a risk of bones and/or connective tissue that aren’t holding up under gravity.  Turns out, being bendy isn’t always a plus.

Right away, given Sophie’s remaining growth (an educated guess about it, anyway), there was the suggestion from the docs of getting her into a very new, high-tech surgery involving tethering the vertebra with a wire (like getting braces on your teeth except it’s your spine being wired up) where the tethering would cause her spine to literally grow the curves straight.  It’s so new, however, that long term outcomes are unknown.  Avoiding surgery, if at all possible, seemed like the way to go to me because side-effects and complications are real and come with that roll of the dice all too frequently.  More importantly, Sophie didn’t want it.

However, because that kind of surgery is growth dependent—unlike the much more invasive, tried-and-true surgery where they install titanium rods along the spine—there was a limited window of opportunity.  The surgeons gave us six months tops, to decide.  Pressure.

But we decided to take the risk, and with that uncertainty and time pressure hanging over us, we put together a team of an orthopedic surgeon who is a specialist in scoliosis, an orthotist (for a brace), and a highly specialized physical therapist.  The brace we went with was the Rigo-Cheneau brace, custom made by Luke Stikeleather (one of the only people making them in this country), and a combination of Schroth and Postural Restoration physical therapy.

Did I mention that all these appointments were out of state??  Except the PT, thank god she is just one city over.  What an exhausting fall we had.

Anyway.  Cheneau braces are custom designed to work with a specific person’s spine and curves.  Luke built Sophie her brace with a rather fascinating process of 3-D printing her body, making the therapeutic adjustments to the cast shape, then draping hot thermoplastic over the cast.

brace 1

Luke on the left, helping to lift the 400 degree sheet of plastic up to drape it over the cast of Sophie’s body.brace 2

Here they are closing up the front and turning on the vacuum suction that draws the plastic into the body shape:brace 3

They have to do this part very fast before the stuff cools down.brace 4

Then they cut it off the cast, cut off all the extra, and attach straps.brace 5

Finally a long fitting process begins where he cuts and trims and files and reheats parts with a blow torch to relieve pressure points.  Internal straps and pads are added to increase the correction on the areas that need more pressure (the convex places in the spinal curves), with spaces left in the concavities that breathing can fill.  Then the kid goes back to the hotel to sleep in the thing for a night to find revealed problems, sore spots, areas that rub, etc, and more fitting the next day.  Luke really, really wants to get it right.  He is fantastic, generous, kind, and extremely dedicated.

The result is a bit like a steampunk corset, or maybe body armor, although it is asymmetrical, high under one arm and lower on one hip.  Here is Sophie’s brace:

sophie's brace 2:11:16 450

And here is Sophie’s spine in the brace.

sophie in brace 11:16

Better.  Still very crooked, but better.

We ended up also having Luke make her a sleep brace, because lying down is a totally different gravity picture from upright, and more specific and aggressive correction could be done in either position, if he wasn’t trying to cover all the bases with one brace. Her curves were advanced enough that it seemed prudent to go for as much whammy as we could get out of “bracing” as a therapeutic choice.  So a long, agressive brace for lying down and a cut-down, shortened brace for sitting (where too much length would keep her from being able to comfortably bend her legs, or lower her arms) for day.

Success with bracing depends on wearing the thing as much as possible, and studies indicate the best success when it is worn over 21 hours a day.  That’s a lot.  “I live in a plastic box,” Sophie says.

To balance all that non-movement, and to come at the problem from a different direction, we added physical therapy.  Schroth PT offers a lot of lengthening, stretching out the curves, and breathing into the compressed areas. Relief. Postural Restoration offers exercises chosen for Sophie’s specific curve patterns to strengthen the muscles (again, asymmetrically) so they can support the spine in a better position.  The stronger the muscles get, the easier it becomes to hold a good position during daily life—that is, the muscles start to do internally what the brace does externally.  Hard work, but doable.  Combined, Sophie does about 30 minutes of exercises a day.

Scoliosis is such a weird thing to deal with because it looms so large (especially the extreme cases) as this potentially terrible thing, deformity, compression of organs, pain etc…but my kid was right in front of me with no symptoms, a gorgeous, strong body, no illness.  So all the worry—and I had tons, keeping me awake at night—is for something that hasn’t happened yet.  And that worry takes up your personal bandwidth, you know?  I couldn’t write, I quit yoga for a while, quit blogging (y’all might have noticed), quit everything but dealing with this for a while.

I mean, if your kid gets, say, cancer (and I am so grateful that the Medical Problem Card we drew was not cancer!!), your kid is legit sick right now, it’s terrifying, it’s a crisis right now.  Scoliosis, on the other hand (at the level we are dealing with), is a borrowed problem from the future.  It’s a scramble to play the probabilities in treatment paths that may or may not lead to a good result with the fewest side-effects.  It’s seeing a storm on the horizon, not knowing how bad its going to be when it gets to you, and trying to decide whether keeping an eye on it, getting in the cellar, or driving away is the best choice with the least disruption.  You get informed, you make your choice, but no guarantees.  But whatever choice might lead to a bad outcome.

But hey, Sophie is not currently sick, and that’s GREAT, that’s my kid not suffering, not ill, hallelujah, and I hold onto this gratitude with both hands.  She’s fine, she’s safe, seriously, right now she is fine—thoughts like this would help me sleep, especially in those first few weeks when I didn’t know what to do, and was researching till it felt like my eyes were bleeding.  Being a parent is having your heart walk around outside your own body, isn’t it?

Back to the story.  As all this was happening, I was very open with Sophie about everything I was learning and about what doctors said about her situation, without being alarmist or freaking her out any more than I could.  I told her what I learned, what I thought, and gave her room to make her own conclusions. After all, this is her body, her life we’re talking about.  I wasn’t about to make a decision about it without her being fully, 100% on-board, that is, without it being her decision, too.

As a result, when we decided no surgery (for now), she was committed to the brace/PT path because it was How She Would Avoid Getting Cut Open.  Her doctor was, as he put it, “all in” with a trial period of The Plan, and frequent reevaluations.  Every day (pretty much) she did her exercises.  Every day she wore her brace, tracking how many hours out of it for different activities (aikido, running, bathing, fun, etc).  About her exercises, she might say, “I don’t want to, you have to make me do it.” And I would say, “do you want me to be a drill sergeant? Or maybe offer you chocolate rewards? Or use logic?”  And she would frown and say, “Chocolate.”  Or, “You pick.”  Or, “I hate everything.  Poop.”  Other days she went off on her own.  “You need to do your exercises.”  “I already did them.”  “Most excellent.  Have a cookie.” But my basic message on her hardest days is always, “If you think it’s worth doing, you have to do it for it to work.  If you don’t think it’s worth doing, then we need to figure out another treatment plan.”  Just the simple fact of the situation and that I will listen to her if she doesn’t think it’s working.  (“I know, I know, I’m going….” she says.)

But those days have been rare.  She is on it.  And anyway, occasionally, fuck it, she gets a day off.  Because she works really hard at this, and she’s a kid.

It’s been a little weird how constantly the medical people we have encountered have talked about how hard it is to “get kids to comply.”  Comply, comply, such a yucky word, who wants to comply?  It’s like giving up your will, it’s submission, I can’t believe they use that word.  But when an x-ray tech, or a doctor, mentions how unusual it is to have a kid “comply” Sophie and I just look at each other in confusion.  In Sophie’s mind, the best medical care we can find says that this is what she needs to do to get well.  It’s in her highest interest to do it.  So why wouldn’t she?  Compliance has been a non-issue with her.

At Luke’s brace clinic, a gal comes in and does a kind of counseling/information/orientation session where she talks about how much to wear it, how to clean it, yada yada, with an obvious slant towards convincing the kid not to take it off, not to “cheat.”

“Why would I do that?” said Sophie.  “I want it to work.”

“Well, for example, some girls are worried about how it looks and what their friends will think.  Are you worried about that?”

“No.  My friends aren’t jerks.”

End of counseling session.

Back at home, gradually, we fell into a routine.  Stress lowered to a bubbling simmer.  We had the incredible luck of finding a Schroth/Postural Restoration specialist, Susan Henning, who has been fabulous.  At first I had her teach me as much as she was teaching Sophie, because then I could be the Susan-in-absentia as best I could between appointments.  Later, Sophie got it down and didn’t need me as much.

She has gotten so strong, it’s crazy.

Of course, always the fear that we made the wrong choice.  That this whole plan wouldn’t work, that the PT, the brace, none of it would be enough.

And the expenses.  Jesus Christ, don’t get me started.  ZERO of this very expensive medical care was paid for by our crappy insurance.  Zero.  High deductibles, out-of-network providers (as if some other PT would be interchangeable with Susan’s in-depth, specific training! as if any-old brace would be as effective as the one Luke built her!).  I curse Blue Cross Blue Shield now when we drive by their building.  Sophie’s brace is now the most expensive thing we own, second only to our house (we kind of have crappy cars, but still).  This is crazy! /endrant. Thank goodness for generous grandparents or I don’t know what we would have done.  Thank you grandparents!!!

Fast forward five months.

September to February, passing in a blur of stress and travel, then boom, it was time to head out-of-state once more for our fancy schmancy scoliosis expert doctor appointment and a new x-ray—this one taken with Sophie out-of-brace for 48 hours—and this is what we found:

sophie 9:16

sophie 2:11:2016 225

Look at the bottom curve!  From 45 degrees down to 29!!  And the top is down, too, if only 5 degrees, still, it’s 50, not 56, that is, NOT GETTING WORSE. The doctor, this mild-mannered, intensely smart man, came in with a bit of wonder and said in near deadpan, “Well, your progress is spectacular.”

Here’s the thing: remember I said she looks straight? She looks great.  And scoliosis is a cosmetic issue up to the point of organ pressure and we’re not there.  Sooo…if she holds, even as crooked as she is, she’s golden.  Holding was the minimum effective result we were looking for.  The curve not progressing.  Holding.

This was so much better than that!

We were jumping up and down and hugging.  Surgery is off the table for the foreseeable future (although it remains a possibility years from now depending on how things go).  Sophie did it!  She even grew two inches—some of which was coming out of the curve, some of it regular growth, but that was growth UP not sideways.  More indication that the curve is not progressing.

So.  Much.  Relief.

We chose a path, and so far it’s working.  We’ll keep doing what we’re doing (what she’s doing, mostly, I’m just the driver, cheerleader, and bill-payer at this point), and we’re to check back in in six months.

Of course, of course, these are still some big curves.  It’s a brace and daily exercises for Sophie for probably years.  It’s the much-better-than-the-alternative but still the not-very-great option.  In fact, it’s kind of the sucks-a-lot option. But it’s the best she’s got at the moment.  There’s a long way to go.

Everyone gets a pile of shit they have to carry in their lifetime.  This is part of Sophie’s pile.  I wish I could carry it for her, I do everything I can, but ultimately, she’s the one in that body.  This is her life.  But she’s been taking this head on.  She’s amazingly strong inside, as well as out.

She impresses the hell out of me.

I wanted to write this post because when I was in full-on research mode I so appreciated any family-accounts that I could find.  Reading the studies, full of statistics and faceless girls (it’s mostly girls) is one thing (and important).  Hearing real people’s stories is another, and so needed.  Especially good stories.  I’ll update this post as Sophie’s story progresses.  I fervently hope it continues to be good news.

ETA: For a Sophie/Maya co-post about life in the brace, see this post.

ETA: March 2017.  After eighteen months in it, Sophie, now thirteen, is weaning off the brace.  She is done growing and so her doc has her coming out of the brace gradually, over six months (gradual weaning lessens the chance that the spine will sag back into worse shape).  The main thing: her curves did not get any bigger.  We’re really happy about that!  And now, with her growth done, the chance of progression is much, much lower.  So basically, by holding and not progressing during her growth spurt, she bought herself time and space.  If she is happy in her body looks/pain-wise, there is no need to pursue further treatment.  She looks great, and has no problems—except trampolines.  Apparently trampolines really hurt.  So, she’s done!  Actually, what her doc said: You worked hard and you got yourself through the danger zone.  Now, go, live your life! 🙂

Sophie at 12 yrs old, in her brace, betcha can’t tell, she’s a master of bending fashion to her will (peplum coat, pinstripe vest, combat boots….):sophie in her brace, a stylish


David Swenson’s new dvds are terrific!

For various reasons I ended up taking a few months off of yoga this fall.  I never quit entirely–a practice a week or every other week.  I watched my backbend go, then my lotus, then my forward bend.  Pretty scary how fast it happened.

I came back with just surys, gave myself permission to quit at any time once I’d done those, started adding standing.  I’m doing about 4ish half-primaries a week now, so I’m back.  It’s hard, even after a short break, when you are 44!  More reason never to take breaks, I guess.

Swenson Digipak 6 Panel (Half Series)But thinking I could use a boost, I started poking around a was stoked to discover that David Swenson, one of the old school Ashtangis, has put out two new dvds!  One is a full primary, the other a 1:08 (108 being an auspicious number in yoga, the number of beads on a mala, among other things), that is 1 hour 8 minute HALF PRIMARY.  Oh, hell yeah!  Here, take my money, David!

David’s older Primary dvd (the one with the crazy purple tank and the mood furniture) was one I cut my teeth on six years ago as a baby ashtangi (along with his book) for one, beautiful reason: VARIATIONS.  He’s so supportive and friendly, do what you can do today, try these variations and find one that works for you right now, no worries, enjoy your practice.  No judgment, no competition, no stinginess, just do what you can do today.  He’s the best.

I actually made a slide show on my ipod, back in the day, from pics I took of the variation I needed for each primary series asana, from the photos in David’s book.  I used that back when I was brand new and needed a cheat sheet to help me remember what to do next. And his dvd was great, full of options that let me get through a practice when so much of it seemed impossible.  I feel I owe him a lot.

His new dvds have plenty more of this generosity!  Only now with inset vids for variations, and a separate variation section for more detailed explanations.  They also have a streamlined aesthetic (black on white), high production quality, multiple camera angles, and David’s clean, effortless-looking practice.  There isn’t a count, but he talks you into each pose, easily giving a few bits of info about each asana, while still leaving some silence and space.  His personality comes through the most in the variations section (especially the vinyasa section with a half-dozen options to choose from, a great section), funny and warm.  He has such a great sense of humor and you don’t get that in the clean main practice section, so I was glad to see it show up somewhere.

He also has a little “five elements” sections talking about vinyasa, gaze, breath, etc.  Actually, breath is a huge theme he returns to repeatedly, not alignment (he does some of that), not perfection in poses, but breath.  “Think of your practice as one big breathing exercise.”  He talks about the “inner practice” (breath, your mind, bandhas, the invisible things) being where the goodies are, not the outer-practice of asana.  It all feels very grounded and doable, without a bunch of ego.

I highly recommend these videos to anyone who wants to learn the practice, or who, like me, would like a led practice every now and then, with not-too-much talking.  Excellent videos, really good.  Don’t hesitate.

Oh, but here’s one nitpick: I couldn’t decide between the two, so when I saw that there was a discount if you got both, I did that.  I was disappointed, however, when I realized the 1:08 vid is exactly the same as the full primary, minus the second half of seated and the applicable variations.  Said another way, getting the Full Primary disk gives you all the content and you can just fast forward from navasana to backbending. The 1:08 is a repeat.

On the other hand, if you want to be able to just ride through without fiddling with fast-forward, the 1:08 vid is great.  It’s the one I’m using right now (actually I ripped it and put it on my ipad, but same thing).  I just would have liked to have known more clearly that they were the same.

On the OTHER, other hand, is the second half of seated (and its variations) worth an extra $14 bucks?  Well, absolutely.  David is a master and this is a top-notch production.  So yeah.  Get’em both.  Get the Primary because, duh. And get the 1:08 if you like half primaries sometimes (or haven’t worked up to the full primary yet) and for the convenience.

Thank you, David Swenson!

And here is one my favorite videos of David demoing Intermediate series as performance art, or possibly stand-up comedy.  If you ever come to North Carolina again, David, I’m there.


apparently i’ve forgotten more about knitting than most people ever learn

Muscle memory is an amazing thing.

Somehow it came up the other day that I love Icelandic knitting.  Sophie was all, whazzat?  So I did what you do in 2016 when you want to explain something, I google-image-searched it.  Because a picture is worth a million words and a million pictures pretty much says it all, only don’t scroll down too far, because that’s where things get weird.  Here is what we found:

knitting remembered 1Oh, pretty, she said, but I pointed at one moody, Nordic dude (see arrow above) and said, “I know that sweater.” And then, “Seriously, I think I’ve knitted that sweater.”

“What?” said Sophie, doubtful.  “No way.  That’s like, a really fancy sweater.”

Off to the depths of my closet and the basket that some part of my brain tells me holds my old knitting stash (like a druggie’s stash, only with more yarn).  “No, I think I did, that sweater is strangely familiar, I’m not kidding—”

And sure enough, rooting through the bags of wool and abandoned projects, I find:

remembering knitting 2

That very sweater.  Completely forgotten by me.  And abandoned only five rows from completion.  Five rows!  Okay, five rows of fancy, double-stranded colorwork knitting, but yeah, a tiny—nay, insignificant—amount of knitting left.  This poor sweater sat in the closet nearly done for probably ten years.

That is so….lame.

I decided on the spot to finish it.  Only, I had no idea how to do double-stranded colorwork anymore.  This entailed digging through many bookshelves to try to find the book I learned it from.  Which I did find.  (I don’t know why I didn’t just go to youtube, I guess it was a moment of returning to one’s roots.)  The diagrams in the book were cryptic.  I looked at them and though this is hopeless.  But then, I picked up the needles and yarn and INSTANTLY STARTED KNITTING.

Just so you understand, I’m talking about a different color in each hand, weaving them in as I go, fast knitting.  I was watching my hands do this thing that my brain had zero conscious knowledge of.  It was magic.  I finished the sweater in about an hour.

It is ENORMOUS.  Which reminded me how gauge used to really be a problem for me. Cough. Here we are, reunited after all these years (and I had to really search to find the pattern book, but find it I did).  This guy and I have traveled far together:

remembering knitting 3

Okay, I tried to take the picture with me making the same expression that Sweater Guy is making, but man oh man, Sophie and I were cracking up so hard she couldn’t get the picture. Really hooting, that gut-level laughter, you know what I mean, totally incompatible with me trying to look like Cool Blue Steel Dude.  Now that was fun.

Look at that gorgeous colorwork though!  I can’t believe I ever knitted that. Mad skillz!

But listen, I pawed through the rest of the yarn graveyard knitting basket and found:

  1. green chunky alpaca sweater done except for one arm.
  2. two attempts at knitting red wool into sweaters (a cardi and a cabled cardi, yes I could once knit cables) both abandoned mid-body.
  3. THREE sweater starts in a black silk/wool, 1-plain 2-cabled, and 3-SUPER AMAZING CABLED.  That section is GORGEOUS.  I have no memory of knitting it.  All abandoned.
  4. An entire indigo rayon sweater in pieces, waiting to be sewn together, yes, that’s an entirely completely knitted sweater, just waiting for finishing (that’s what you call the last bit, the blocking, sewing, buttons, that sort of thing).  So sad.
  5. A pair of Koigu socks, knitted to the heel flap, because I apparently, at one time, knew how to knit two socks at once, which is just a magic trick, if you ask me.  Abandoned, just these colorful toes, waiting for their heels….

It’s like the cliff dwellings of the Anasazi or Roanoke Island or the rapture, all these projects just left behind and forgotten.

Until now.  I’ve decided I’m going to finish all of these or die trying.  2016 is going to be the year I BUST MY STASH.  I am not allowed to buy any yarn or start any new hobbies.  If I don’t finish a green, a red, a black, and a blue sweater, plus a pair of handpainted Koigu socks by Christmas 2016, I have to GIVE ALL THIS YARN TO A MORE DESERVING KNITTER.

To that end, here is the NEW new start of the red sweater, one for Sophie, a top down fitted pullover.  We’ll see how it goes.

remembering knitting 5

It’s funny though, how much my fingers know about knitting that I can’t remember.  I’ll say, “I think there is some way to close off this armpit hole, but I can’t remember how you do it.”  So I go poke at youtube, think I’ll give something a go, it sounds vaguely familiar, pick up the needles, and BOOM my hands start going crazy, Kitchener stitch, no problem!  Long tail cast on, no problem!  My hands are flying and I’m watching them, bemused, saying, “I think I may have done this before….”  I really feel the current-me can’t take credit for anything I knit at this point.  It’s all previous-me that figured it out, trained my fingers, and installed the Knitter Software(TM) into my brain that apparently runs without any intervention from the current finger’s occupant (me).  I plan to take advantage of this, none the less.

P.S. Just noticed that I actually blogged about the two-sock knitting thing about three years ago.  I do kind of remember this.  The Icelandic sweater though, that’s from some other lifetime.

when it rains it pours…ipads

Nearly 80 degrees on Christmas and we opened presents in tank tops and shorts: weird.  And this week it is flooding.  Like, literally flooding.  Roads are washed out.  The creek along the back edge of our property, usually about 20 feet across is easily triple that, past its banks on either side with water hip deep at the edges of the creep and a racing over-my-head current (not that I’ve tried) in the middle where the banks are usually twelve feet high.  It’s starting to look biblical out there, is what I’m saying.

Here is our big creek a couple of summers ago, almost no water.  Sophie and Henry are down in the dry bed.  Occasional puddles were all that was left.

2011summerwalk6Same creek today:

big creek floodedThe trench she is standing in in the first one is somewhere in the center of the second one, over where those bubbles are towards the right—that’s where the fasts moving stuff is.  Really fast.  Holy crap.

And did you hear that it got up to almost 40 degrees today AT THE NORTH POLE?  And the sun isn’t even rising at all there right now.  Plus: it was 45 in Los Angeles—glamorous people were dressed like it was the tundra, kind of funny.  Except that LA should never be nearly the temperature of the North Pole.  Not ever. Those should never be even close.  This is freaking me out.

But listen to this, distract yourself with our tale of absurd accidental Christmas abundance.  Our iPad 2, a Christmas gift from Grandma back in 2011, has been on its last legs, limping along.  We also got an iPad Mini the following Christmas, 2012, but it got wet last year and started acting like it was demon possessed, randomly zipping through websites and apps without anyone touching the screen.  I thought fixing up the big iPad would be a nice Christmas thing, reset it, update it, clear out the photos, etc.  Whatever.  So I fixed it up.  Wrapped it.  Put it under the tree.

Unbeknownst to me, Supercoolhubby had also identified the iPad as a Christmas-upgrade-needed situation.  Only he went the refurbished route and found an iPad 4 for $200 bucks.  (Score!) He didn’t, however, know I’d fixed the other one.  So, new-to-us iPad.  Wrapped.  Under the tree.

At the same time, my sister won a brand new iPad Mini in a raffle and didn’t need it.  She’s sensible and realized that one person only needs one tablet, and she already had one.  So she gave the mini to us.  Wrapped, under the tree.

Plus I got Sophie a phone this year, her first, Moto G (its water proof!), Republic Wireless, $10/mo for unlimited talk and text, seamless wifi-to-cell hand-off so you use way less cell data, no contract, in other words SUPER CHEAP phone, yay!  Wrapped, under the tree!  (I’ve been with them since the summer, fabulous, I highly recommend checking them out.)

So.  Christmas morning.  We just. kept. unwrapping. iThings.

And then old iPad Mini started working again!  Out of the blue!  Luc says he did an exorcism on it.

Are you keeping count?  That means Christmas day we went from two mostly broken iPads to FOUR working iPads.  Plus three phones, four computers (the two the kids and I built, and two Macbooks), and oh, Luc and I have old iPod Touches we still use for certain things…and a partridge in a pear tree.

See?  See?  Absurd!  We were cracking up, as it went on each present, no matter its shape, we started expecting iPads.  Another one!  And another!  We just stack ’em up like firewood around here.

ipad assortment(The hole in the upper right would be for my phone, which I used to take the picture.  Plus there is Husband’s old iPhone 3 that Sophie still uses as an ipod sometimes.  We didn’t bother to go through the rain to get it in the Noah house for the photo….)

Actually, we need some firewood, supposed to get cold next week.  My great aunt says thunder in winter means snow within ten days.  One of those old weather folk-sayings.  It surely was thundering today.  Maybe it will get cold again at the North Pole?

Either way, I can now check the weather on four tablets, three phones, two pcs, two macbooks, or two ipods. Honestly, I don’t know how this happened.  It’s embarrassing.  Accumulation over years.  Generous relatives. And I guess we’re good about not dropping them.

If weird climate change is linked to ipad possession, I hang my head in shame.

2015 winding down, a 5k, state of the next book

The presents are under the tree tormenting Luc, 10, who struggles with waiting (don’t we all).  In the meantime, I haven’t been around the blog for a while, can’t even say why.  Busy life!  I have started a bunch of posts these last few months, the essay-ish ones, when my brain is chewing on a thing.  But then I don’t finish them, or my life moves on before I do.  Will I get more organized in 2016?  We shall see.  For now, though, gotta get through Christmas.

But, if I was posting regularly, I certainly would tell you about how I ran my first 5K race last weekend.  (The zombie-mud run wasn’t a race, as it was not timed, walking and obstacles, not a run run). A Santa Run! Everyone in Santa hats, reindeer ears, grinchs, elves, bells on toes, people in full costume or just funny Christmas t-shirts.  Best shirt: “Santa, stop judging me!”

I can’t believe I ran an actual race! Even a year ago I NEVER would have thought I could.  But I did.  I ran it in 38 minutes—SLOW—but so what, I did it.  Sophie, 11, ran it in 31, Supercoolhubby right behind her.  We were a little team!  So cute.  The fastest dude did it in 18!  I saw him hoofing it back in when I was still going out.  Amazing.  The whole thing was really fun, lots of cheering, lots of smiling people.

santa runHere I am crossing the finish line.  Photo taken by Luc.  Go me!  I’m carrying my Santa hat because I got too hot.  500 Santas finished that misty morn.  I really, really can’t believe I was one of them.  Bodies can change, even at 44 you can pick up a sport and become an athlete.  Nerdy, bookish me, running a race, it’s shocking, I tell you.

In other news, nerdy, bookish me (I may be a runner, sort of, but I haven’t changed that much) is here to report I am halfway through writing first draft of the next book.  Hoping to get the first draft in the can by the end of January.  I’m at that point in drafting where I’m pretty sure I hate it, it’s stupid, I should definitely quit, in other words, situation totally normal.  Still, I’m showing up each day, getting words.  So that’s all right then.

But the important thing!  I can’t wait to see the kids open their presents in a few days….