Yoga Flashback

Several times a week throughout 2004, I biked from our apartment in East Palo Alto to the yoga studio in Palo Alto, my yoga mat bungeed to my bike rack. The trip was nearly over when I came up through the cool, urine-smelling tunnel under the Caltrain tracks and squinted into the bright sunlight on California Avenue. About halfway up the block, I locked my bike, tucked my helmet under my arm, and slung my mat bag over my shoulder, then walked the short distance to the studio.

Inside the glass doors were potted plants and racks of high-end yoga wear and the diffuse odor of extinguished incense. There were meditation, chanting, and yoga music CDs, one of which was always playing quietly over the sound system.

Behind the curved wood desk to the left sat a tall, smiling woman with a German accent who invited me to sign in and to have a cup of tea from the urn in the corner by the glass wall that separated the retail space from the class space. When I started working there one evening a week for the discount on classes, I would be in charge of emptying the old tea and refilling the urn with fresh for the following day. It was a little thrill to know that I was in charge of what kind of tea everyone would enjoy the next day from the tiny ceramic cups I’d just washed.

After sliding out of my Birkenstocks, I pushed aside the heavy velvet curtain and entered the studio itself. The right-hand wall was floor-to-ceiling mirrors and the wall to the left was a leafy mural in yellows and greens. I lay my mat near the mural wall and walked to the back wall where there was a stash of blankets, straps, mats, and wooden blocks. Through the doorway next to the yoga gear were the curtained changing areas and the restrooms and the small storage room where I washed the tea cups in the utility sink on my co-op nights. After choosing a blanket, I returned to my mat to stretch and try to avoid looking like I was looking at myself in the mirror until class started.

When class was over, I stumbled out glassy-eyed and biked home across the San Francisquito again.

Eight years, two children, and more than 3,000 miles separate me from this ritual. Time for yoga is hard to come by most days, but this afternoon the stars aligned and my children and cats let me do about an hour of practice with only minimal interruption.

I set up my yoga mat on the wood floor of my bedroom, situated so I wouldn’t graze my fingers on the ceiling fan blades, and situated my laptop on top of my dresser. As I listened to a Vinyasa Flow class on audio, breathing my arms overhead and exhaling my palms to the floor, I thought of the yoga studio in Palo Alto—the California sun, the smell of incense, the sound of Krishna Das or Karma Moffett, the reclaimed wood floor beneath my feet.

No matter what the sounds, sights, or smells of the place I’m actually practicing, when I do yoga, I’m there.

Where do you go when you find yourself transported?

Pennies and Thunder

My window was dark, the ceiling light reflected in the glass. I sat on the beige carpet of my room, my new room, with the Big Girl bed, not a crib because I was a Big Girl; the baby would sleep in the crib.

On another day, a sunny day, I would hide behind this bed and slide my teeth over the tops of flavored lip glosses, so much more satisfying than putting the gloss on my lips and then licking it off. I’d eaten two before my mother caught me. The chocolate flavor was good, but cherry was my favorite.

But that hadn’t happened yet. Tonight I was alone in my room shaking pennies out of the hole in the bottom of my plastic Santa Mouse bank. It was still a Santa Mouse bank, dressed in a red flannel Santa suit and black plastic belt. Later he would lose his outfit, but tonight the Santa Mouse bank was still in uniform, and I clutched the flannel as I shook him back and forth, up and down, coaxing the pennies out of the mouse’s feet and onto the carpet. Some clattered against the inside of the bank and then fell with a nearly inaudible thud on the thick pile of the carpet. Most tinked against the pennies already on the floor.

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The window flashed bright with lightning and a roar of thunder vibrated through the house.

Did I know these things were thunder and lightning, or did that knowledge come later? We lived in San Diego where thunderstorms were rare. Did I know the names for what was happening outside?

What I knew for sure was that the noise sent me down the hallway, feet slapping against the tiles, to the living room. My mother was not there. She was with the baby at the hospital. In the morning I would meet my new brother, and in a few days I would sit on the couch with a pillow supporting my arm and feel the warmth and weight of the baby on my lap, and in a few months I would hear him laugh as I pushed him across the floor in his wheeled walker and I would laugh, too, and do it again to hear him laugh again. But tonight I felt alone and scared.

I sought my father, and I found him slouched against the back of the couch, hands folded on his stomach and chin resting on the buttons of his shirt. His snores competed with the thunder. I patted the corduroy of his knee and whispered, “Daddy?”

Nothing.

I cautiously patted a little harder and said his name a little louder. His snore stopped abruptly. Behind his glasses, his eyes remained shut. I held my breath with him and listened to the rain beating against the roof. Then with a snort, the snore resumed. The house felt too large, too full of space, my skin cold where I so wanted arms around me, a lap to snuggle on, a voice to tell me that everything was okay. My eyes filled with water.

I padded back down the hallway and felt the carpet against my calves as I sat cross-legged on the floor again. I reached out and picked up a penny, put it in my mouth. With my tongue I caressed the metal, tangy, soft bumps on one side, ridges on the other, until it grew warm and I spit it out and it made a whispered thud on the rug. Thunder growled through the house again. I cried, and I placed a new, cold penny on my tongue.

Written as part of the Remember the Time Blog Hop. This month’s theme: your earliest memory.

Ship to Shore

“I can’t wait to see you, Daddy!” I said into the telephone.

My father, calling from Hawaii replied, “What are you going to do instead?”

Aircraft Carrier

Aircraft Carrier (Photo credit: La Shola y EL Gringo?)

Dad had been deployed with the Navy for nearly a year while my sister, my brother, my mom, and I stayed on base in San Diego, finishing another year of school, losing teeth, learning to walk, taking cover during earthquakes, and writing lots of letters. He went on cruise every other year for six to ten months.

A phone call was a rare treat while he was on cruise. In those pre-email days, our only contact with my dad throughout most of the cruise was through letters and postcards. My mother wrote my dad every night. I wrote him less often than that.

On base, our mail wasn’t delivered to our house. Instead we had to stop by the base post office each day. I loved putting the little key into the keyhole and opening the little door to see what we got. Sometimes there would be a little card inside which meant that we had a package waiting. Then we’d have to wait in line to collect what we’d gotten from the person behind the counter.

Often, we’d stop to check mail on our way home from some other excursion and my little brother or sister would be asleep in the car. After I turned ten and got my own military I.D., my mom would sometimes send me in to collect the mail, but most times, I’d get to wait in the car with my sleeping siblings while my mom went in and collected the mail.

I used this time to look at the liner notes of whatever cassette tape we were listening to. Julian Lennon was a favorite. Hall and Oates. Phil Collins. Michael Jackson. The Pointer Sisters. Air Supply. Cat Stevens. Jim Croce.

At home we would read whatever Dad had sent us, my mom helping us decipher his handwriting as necessary. I hoped to locate some of those letters for this post, but I can’t seem to find them (I think they’re still in my mom’s attic), so I’m relying on my memory to tell me what was in them.

I remember a letter about how they handled cockroaches on board ship by putting out baking soda. My dad said that the roaches had a sweet tooth—or rather a “base mandible”—for baking soda, and when they’d eat it, it would create gas in their digestive system, and they’d explode.

Another time, I’d become fixated on the Black Death and had written to my dad about all I was learning about rats and fleas and bubonic plague in medieval Europe. He responded with a postcard of plaster casts of bodies in Pompeii, where he’d just toured.

We only ever had a vague idea of where they were or where they were going, but we were allowed to know where they’d been. I’d trace their progress on our globe: the French Riviera, Pompeii, the Suez Canal, Sri Lanka (which I remember because the change in name from Ceylon to Sri Lanka was the topic of one of my dad’s letters), the Philippines, Guam.

A "Yellowshirt" directs an aircraft ...

A “Yellowshirt” directs an aircraft aboard a US aircraft carrier. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I got to missing him, I would look through my dad’s photos from his first deployment trying to get a sense for what his life was like living on a giant floating city. My mom explained that in those photos, he was on an oil-powered carrier and this cruise he was on a nuclear-powered carrier. She made jokes about how his clothes smelled like oil when he came home from that deployment and how they would glow when he got home from this one. I tried to reconcile a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with what we’d learned in school about the recent Chernobyl disaster, and ended up picturing metal floors littered with the radioactive corpses of exploded cockroaches.

None of it ever made sense.

But I knew the rhythms of the cruise from the shore side of things, and I knew that a phone call from Hawaii meant that very soon, the squadron families would be gathering for the fly-in. The women and children would dress up and wait on the tarmac, watching the F-14’s fly in from the carrier and land. We watched as the husbands and fathers opened the canopies, shouldered their duffle bags, and jogged out to meet us.

There was always an archway festooned with balloons and crepe paper for photo ops. But in every photo, we’re all hugging so hard, we’re just a mass of arms and legs.

*

Written as part of the Remember the Time Blog Hop topic, “the mail.”

Death of a Cheerleader

When I was thirteen, I had a huge crush on the boy who lived across the street.

He had dreamy brown eyes, and he totally rocked a short-sleeved plaid shirt.

Our little brothers were friends, and our little sisters were friends, and we were friends, as much as boys and girls could be friends in eighth grade. We would battle each other with rubber-band guns, or we would play basketball on the weatherbeaten court in the field behind his house. We didn’t have any classes together, but we sometimes exchanged notes in the halls (he wasn’t nearly as interesting a note-writer as my writer-friends were).

All of the blood left my head every time I saw him, but I didn’t really have any particular desire to have a junior-high romance with him. “Going with” someone didn’t make much sense to me, but that didn’t stop me from writing his name on my grocery bag book covers and asking the Ouija board if he “liked” me, too. My friends were very patient with me, and all of their ribbing of me was good-natured.

But then a girl in my Girl Scout troop started “going with” across-the-street boy. She was a cheerleader, and he played football, so it was a natural match, but for some reason, she decided we were rivals and acted accordingly. She was with him, and she missed no opportunity to rub it in. If she saw me when she was with him, she would quickly hug him and stick her tongue out at me behind his back. It was incredibly annoying.

So I did what any nerdy, literary-minded junior high schooler would do: I wrote a story about her. Read More

Outsourcing Sex Ed

The sex ed classes I had as a child were taught by the public schools I attended.

In sixth grade, we were segregated by sex and went into separate rooms to learn about our changing bodies from the school nurse. I don’t know what the boys learned, but the nurse showed us a movie that assured us that eating potato chips and chocolate would not cause pimples. Read More

Rebel Without a Cause

My left hand on the steering wheel, I shifted gears with my right then reached past the gear shift and pushed in the cigarette lighter. I could feel my little sister watching me from the passenger seat, but I didn’t look over at her and risk losing my nerve. I opened the glove box at her knees and pulled out a pilfered pack of Marlboro Lights 100’s, from which I shook one cigarette.

Cigarette

Image via Wikipedia

I stuck the smoke between my lips as the lighter popped.

What are you doing?” my sister asked, incredulous.

Steering with one hand, I lit the cigarette.

“Smoking,” I answered, exhaling smoke to emphasize my point.

“Do Mom and Dad know?” she asked. She was eleven and concerned about our parents’ approval. I was sixteen and pretending unconcern.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“I swiped these from the freezer,” I added. I had been cadging smokes from my parents’ stash in the freezer for the past year. I’d tried buying my own. There was one cashier at the 7-11 near the high school who wouldn’t card for cigarettes, but when I went in there, I got so nervous, I ordered unfiltered Camels. Although I felt kind of like a badass when I smoked those, they burned my throat and left bits of tobacco on my tongue. It was less unpleasant to just take a pack from whichever parent had more on the door of the freezer.

The strange thing about me and smoking back then was that I didn’t even like it. Even though I’d grown up with two smokers from before I was born, those first several cigarettes left me feeling lightheaded and nauseated. I really had to work to start smoking.

It wasn’t peer pressure that started me smoking. My peer group were so anti-smoking, I made a point of keeping it a secret from both my parents and my friends. Before I got my driver’s license, I would only smoke after my parents were in bed or when I would walk alone after dark to the park across the street from our house. Once I was legal to drive alone, I traded my late-night walks for late-night drives, blasting Gin Blossoms and Tori Amos and puffing away behind the wheel.

I only had one friend who smoked. One night, she picked me up at my house and we drove around the block to the park. We sat in the car and smoked and shared a half-can of beer and then worried that we were too wasted to drive back to my house safely.

Ah, yes. We were rebels.

I quit smoking when I was 21, and those days are far, far behind me now.

When I was a teenager, I was lucky enough to have smoker parents from whom I could steal cigarettes to feel like a rebel. With the life I lead now, what will my kids be forced to steal from me? I’d best keep a close eye on my cod liver oil capsules and my homemade deodorant.

Written for this week’s Remember the Time Blog Hop.

Four Meals, One Way

When I was a kid, my mom started cooking all of our meals either by browning ground beef and onions or by making a white sauce (and in the case of hamburger stroganoff, she did one and then the other in the same pan). As a result, four of our mainstays—eggs a la goldenrod, creamed chipped beef over toast, creamed salmon over biscuits, and cheddar chowder—all started the exact same way.

This week, I decided I’d make one of these (creamed salmon over biscuits) and post the recipe, complete with photos and variations so you, too, could make all four meals. It was going to be in the spirit of Amy Sedaris’s I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influencefunny, but kind of serious at the same time in the sense that it’s a real recipe that you could (theoretically) eat. We doubted anyone in our family would eat it (except maybe my spouse who prides himself on being a true omnivore in that he eats anything except American cheese), but, “All for the sake of the blog!” my spouse and I joked as we surveyed the resulting salmon sauce.

Except then he and our kids loved it. Read More

Fifteen Bands for Fifteen Dollars

May 14, 1994.

Weeks from graduation, my friends and I drove to the park-and-ride and took the Metro from safe and boring Fairfax County, Virginia, to RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. Tickets in hand, we had our bags searched, and we joined 30,000 other concert-goers for the HFStival, what for us (or maybe just me) was an epic concert put on by the local alternative rock station. Read More

Weekly Photo Challenge: Nostalgic

This is my photographic response to this week’s photo challenge by The Daily Post. I like taking photos, especially for this type of challenge. I find it leads me to see the world differently. And seeing the world differently is something I always find enriching.

I’m a little late with this challenge because my internet connection on this vacation has been a little spotty. But I figured better late than never.

I’ve recently discovered that one fairly silly thing that’s guaranteed to irritate me in conversation is when people say Ohio is flat. I would like to use this Weekly Photo Challenge post to set the record straight.

Western Ohio is flat:

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Northwestern Ohio. Flat.

Eastern Ohio is rolling hills. It is not flat.

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Northeastern Ohio. See? Rolly.

In fact, I learned that when New England farmers went out to settle the western frontier (as Ohio was at that time), they had to learn new farming techniques to account for the hills. They had to learn to plow their fields perpendicular to the slope of the hills so the soil didn’t just flow away when it rained. This meant that a lot of times, the rows of crops looked a bit like contour lines on a topographical map. I’ve not been able to capture that in a photo, though.

At any rate, I chose these photos not only to show that Ohio isn’t all flat, but to represent “nostalgic.” I drove through these landscapes innumerable times during my college years, and coming back to this area and seeing this view from my car window reminds me of those years, which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on my mood.