Life In Progress

I will not confuse my career with my life.


Behind the Eight Ball

Spring is forging ahead, whether I’ve had time to clear the walkways and cut down  last year’s plants. I’ve managed to work in the front garden a couple of times, mostly so I’m not frightfully embarrassed for people to see just how far behind the eight ball I really am.

This morning was so gorgeous that I wandered out to admire those front gardens and was surprised at how good they looked. Last year’s tedious weeding and deadheading in the ajuga patches has paid off this spring. The mild winter didn’t hurt, either. The honey bees and bumbles are frequenting the ajuga in almost frightening numbers this year. Too bad there isn’t some edible/medicinal fruit from that plant, because these plants are seeing serious pollination action. Mr. Wonderful joined me for my promenade. I have had some very productive gardening hours accompanied by this beautiful cat, who almost never does anything wrong.

It makes me feel a little guilty, but I’m secretly pleased that it’s supposed to rain buckets tomorrow in southern Maine. That way, I can make my yoga class plan and do some work around the house, inside, of course. By “work”, I am referring to the fact that I have a brand new homespun book press and have made one book so far and am conjuring my next book binding project. Maybe a garden journal?


Tooth Fairy

Just the thought of having a dental procedure conjures vivid images of sweaty fingers plucking at damp, shredded Kleenex and jaws wrenched open in a hideous rictus of terror. The sight of shiny, sterilized (I feverishly hope!) metal instruments, lined up with a watchmaker’s precision on a tray instantly evokes a sheen of perspiration on my forehead.

The tools that inspire dread? The Carbide Ball Burr. The Diamond Bud Burr. The Cylinder Reamer. The fact that modern dental care is virtually painless does not lessen my panic when I ponder the fine dust of tooth enamel — floating on the air rising from my open mouth — created by one of those gleaming tools rotating at the speed of light. [Insert prolonged, full-body shudder here.] Even the seemingly innocent routine dental cleaning entails a fascinatingly slender, curved stainless steel probe called The Explorer.

My dread of all things dental began with my first filling: I was around 7 or 8 years old and my left eye-tooth had a cavity. I protested, to put it mildly, when the dentist drilled into my tooth without benefit of Novocaine. He said to me, “Don’t be such a baby!” The dentist I saw during my teen years pulled my mother aside at one point and suggested to her that I was obsessed with my teeth. (Duh.) This, after having performed an “occlusal adjustment,” again, without the benefit of Novocaine, on my sensitive teeth. (Google “occlusal adjustment” and see if you don’t cringe!)

Fast forward through a menu of various dental nachtmares to this morning — the first fillings with my new dentist. The fact that she bears a remarkable resemblance to the actress Holly Hunter was an effective distraction. That, and a massive overdose of Bach’s Rescue Remedy lulled me into a compliant state. I clutched a handful of Kleenex, squeezed shut my eyes and she began. She was finished injecting Novocaine before I even knew she was doing it! The Tooth Fairy favored me throughout the procedure and I practically sailed through the drilling and filling.

I won’t say my appointment was entirely without discomfort. But I have been through much worse with far less-attractive dentists.

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The Fuzz

Encouraged by the fact that I did not get stung when I photographed the hornet, I had the courage to get up close to this spider living in the saucer of a potted rosemary plant on my porch. Brilliantly aware of my fascination, she constantly keeps her face toward me, watching me as I watch her moving about her abode.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll set up the tripod and see if I can get some full body shots as she scuttles about in the saucer. She seems most active when the sun is not directly warming the terra cotta. I resist the shivery thought that crossed my mind just now: going out at night to watch her work. Brrrr.

Although her mandibles appear extremely formidable, especially with the enticing areas of flashing shimmery green iridescence, her eyes are not nearly as calculating as they appear here. That said, I will definitely remember to check around for her the next time the rosemary needs to be moved from that table…


The Buzz

Nothing says “Welcome!” better than a bald-faced hornet’s nest hanging over the bistro set on the front porch. “Pull up a chair! What can I get you?” I’ll say to my guests. “How about a scrabble game at the table here?”

Well, maybe the huge spider that spun a big web right over the storm door takes the prize for most welcoming. At least with the hornets, if you don’t bother them by stomping around or batting the papery nest with a stick, they shouldn’t bother you. The spider? When you approached the door, she’d start doing push ups on the web as a warning that she could jump! “Welcome! Step right up to the front door. Don’t mind Charlotte, she hasn’t bitten anyone. Yet.”

When I researched bald-faced hornets, I paled at the description of their life cycle. A nearly two-inch-long black and white queen emerges from hibernating underground in the spring. The beautiful, alien creature then sets about chewing and digesting wood only to spit it back up to fashion a durable, spherical nest fiber by fiber. I was fascinated to watch her progress on the bare wood of the porch ceiling. But not so fascinated to let her continue for long; I scraped off her two earliest attempts. When she came back a third time, I half-reluctantly allowed her to continue.

I learned that the queen will first lay a cadre of worker hornets which will slave away while she stays inside and rests. There can be thousands of these workers by the time she lays other queen eggs. These newborn queens will then go underground in the fall to overwinter and start the cycle for themselves next spring.

Later that day, after I’d read up a bit more online about our newest buzz, I went back out to check on her progress. I was shocked to see that the nest was already between baseball- and softball-size.

Being the wuss that I am, I asked my husband, Will, to knock the nest down. I think I was lucky she was so busy gathering wood fibers for nest making, allowing me get a few closeup photos of her. She hasn’t made a fourth attempt to nest on the ceiling of the front porch. I admit to a twinge of guilt about dislodging her but it’s early enough in the process that she can find a more suitable location. And I know in my wussy heart that this relationship most likely would not have ended well…


Drunken sailors

I feel so guilty. I gave a dinner party at which all the guests were intentionally doomed. Over the years, I’ve developed into a capture-and-release type of person where bugs in the house are concerned. Except in the case of ants. (And ticks. But that’s another, more gruesome story.)

We’ve been here 26 years and this happens every year. The ants start marching one-by-one into the kitchen sink area on the windowsill and onto the counter. Just a few at first, but, oh, bloody hell — here we go again!

They’re a bit early this spring. Usually, they wander in around peony blooming time. The first year we were in this house, I naively placed a couple of gorgeous peony blossoms into a vase on the windowsill above the sink. The flowers smelled wonderful and were uplifting to look at while washing up supper dishes. To my acute horror, the next morning the sill, counter and flowers were crawling with tiny, creepy ants.

I’m ashamed to confess that my 26-year-younger self ran out to get a big can of bug spray. I treated the sill and poisoned the ants (and us!) but it didn’t stop the invasion. The assault subsided gradually and aside from the singular, deathly scent of Raid, I forgot all about the problem. Until the next year. This continued for a couple of years until somebody suggested baiting with sugar water and boric acid. Actually draw the ants in? Yes. Belly up to the gooey sweetness like drunken sailors at a bar while on shore leave.

This is day three of onslaught 27. The baiting obviously doesn’t exterminate them entirely. Either that or new, opportunistic colonies move in every year to fill the void. Two days ago, I mixed simple syrup with boric acid powder and drizzled the sticky solution along the counter, behind the faucet and onto commercial ant traps (which they ignored until I dotted the traps with sugar.) The past 24 hours have been desensitizing. I no longer cringe to see clouds of black, shiny creatures all over the counter. Dozens of ants lined up at every drizzle and drop. This morning there were noticeably fewer of them. An encouraging trend. When they’re gone, I’ll scald and scrub the counter and windowsill.

And apologize to the little beings for causing their demise.


When in doubt

Making everyone happy is nearly impossible; that’s a well-known fact. But lately, it has seemed even less likely that I will make myself happy. I feel fussy. I blurt out hurtful words, then apologize. My rhythm feels slightly off. Stuff goes wrong (like it does for everyone else, I know…) and I could just use a break. I want to feel at ease, graceful. Cooperating with gravity instead of fighting every step of the day.

An event that occurred today gave me such a strong rush of frustration from head to toe that I knew that if I were successful in communicating how knotted up I felt inside, I would be forever banished from polite society. My reaction gave me a sensory memory of being a small child not getting her way. I recalled the above snapshot of me as a toddler and searched my hard drive for it — voila! Yep, the look on my face in that photo about sums it up for how I felt at one point a few hours ago.

The younger me in the photo was probably just thirsty. Maybe it was getting close to nap time or I might simply have needed to pee. Certainly nothing earth-shattering was rocking my world — then, or this afternoon. My experience today was one more display in a line of lessons illustrating why I should choose my reactions maturely, more carefully. True, I can’t control, (nor should I try,) what makes its way into my consciousness. I need to apply my meditation experience more consciously in my off-the-yoga-mat life: increase my ability in social settings to merely witness thoughts and emotions without judgement. In other words, Rebecca, when in doubt, just keep your mouth shut.

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Cutting edge

The edge of spring in inland southern Maine:  Caustic salty dust devils flare up as cars fly by the end of the driveway; mud cakes our tires, marking our comings and goings onto the roadway and parking lot mountains of melting filthy snow take up fewer and fewer spaces each day at shopping centers. Before spring truly begins, mud season must be acknowledged.

Still mostly covered with snow, patches of the yard are appearing. Finally. It was over 60° even on the shady front porch this afternoon. Our rusty saw blade tables and maple stump seating areas will soon be available again for Beer:30.

Bring. Spring.


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A study in contrasts

All manner of nervous busy-mind worries embrace me tightly. Rain has dissolved the features of all my lovely snow creatures. I mourn them. They brought me so much joy. There is that long list of unfinished projects I envisioned working on during the winter months. I wonder where my time went. My personal yoga practice seems to have stalled: I find myself distracted and uncertain almost immediately when I hit the mat. At least I do hit the mat, but the usual rewarding bliss just hasn’t been there this week.

Tomorrow promises an unusual range of activities. Jury duty selection begins promptly at 8 a.m. at the Court House in Portland. Uncertainty and discomfort surrounds my concept of the task. Will this take the entire day? I envision a cattle-call environment with a big “hurry up and wait” aspect to it. If I’m selected to serve, how much time will it gobble up? Will I be exposed to nasty details of a realm of people about whom I’d rather remain oblivious? The more I allow my mind to tick through questions and objections, the whinier I start to feel. The shallower my breath comes. I’m uncomfortable.

Gratefully, my focus flickers to the yoga class I will teach tomorrow at 5:30 in Falmouth, at the end of what I expect to be a stressful day. I’m told by the regular teacher for this class I’m subbing that these students don’t even want to progress to standing asana, typically. A relaxing and non-pressured class culture such as this beckons my focus across the rough expanse of the day tomorrow. Like the light at the end of the tunnel. My class outline and music are prepared. Yoga mat, speakers, iPod and yoga clothes to change into are tucked in tote bags and ready to go.

For the rest of today? Sip tea. Breathe air. Bring my focus back to here, back to now.


Needed: A long winter nap

All I want to do is sleep. And that is exactly what has been eluding me. For way too long. Right now, my eyes feel scratchy. The muscles in my neck are bunching up and the space between my eyebrows is a magnet for my focus. I’m a grouchy wreck this evening. Shoveled snow for nearly two hours today to get really good and tired so my control-seeking brain will have no choice but to allow the day to recede and sleep to come forward.

I can fall asleep. Eventually, that is. But within a few hours, something or another wakes me up (usually cat-related) and then I am UP. Sometimes counting backward or my mantra helps me drift back. Usually, I’m up for about an hour and a half, approximately the time of a sleep cycle.

Yesterday, I listened to a telecast by a sleep doctor, Dr. Rubin Naiman. Pleasantly, most of the ideas he discussed were new information for me, veteran researcher, though I am, on the usual “How to get a good night’s sleep” checklist. (Yes, my bedroom is cool, dark, sans television or other waking life reminders. Yes, I wear earplugs and refrain from eating too close to bedtime. It’s been a long time since I heard anything new  worth pondering regarding my self-diagnosed insomnia.

Dr. Naiman’s checklist included making sure there are no electronic gadgets plugged in close to the bed. According to him, electromagnetic fields suppress production of melatonin. And melatonin, he said, is a compound produced in the Pineal gland that helps the body release heat so that deep sleep can occur. That deep sleep occurs in the first 1/3 of the night and is crucial for rebuilding, regenerating, healing and restoring the body and mind.

Another thing I didn’t know was that exposure to artificial lights — television and computer screens, for example, exposes us to blue light wavelengths. Blue lightwaves signal through the eyes to the Pineal gland that it’s daytime and the Pineal restricts the production of melatonin so that the body remains warm and we remain awake.

Then there’s the idea he talked about where, when we are sleepy during the day and force ourselves to remain awake, that can condition the body to resist falling asleep even when it’s safe and appropriate to do so!

So I’m going to turn off my laptop and don my comfy pajamas and rev down for awhile. Then, climb into bed and let go of being awake for a good and hopefully long winter night’s sleep.

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Oil be seeing you…

We walked our woods Saturday, sans snowshoes, (sadly, they’re not needed at this time.) We marveled at some cool ice formations, gawked at some rusty easy chair springs sticking up out of the snow and leaves and couldn’t believe our eyes when Will spotted two empty 55-gallon barrels on the bank of the Presumpscot River. They certainly weren’t there as recently as a month ago. How in the hell did they land there? Together, in perfect composition.

My imagination stirred. Hmmm. Oil drums. Embedded in ice at the shallow edge of our river. Not exactly a wholesome stumble-upon, but certainly a compelling set up.

One barrel has big block letters that spell WASTE OIL on it and also seems to possess some serial or identification numbers along the rim. The other is just uninterrupted gorgeous rust tones. They’re both in really good shape and the scavenger in me wants very much to claim them for repurposing. I can envision a blazing fire in a barrel stuffed with branches and the soft, piney wood I wouldn’t want to burn in the fireplace. Another vision has rakes, brooms, pitchforks and shovels upended in the oxidized barrel, stored for the winter in the barn. Or maybe it’s set up under a dripping eave, peacefully collecting rainwater for watering flowers.

Whether we get to be the ones to take possession of them and drag them through the woods to the house will play out in the thawing months. Soon, I will call the cops to dutifully report the existence of the barrels on our property. Probably, they were dumped in the river in an act of vandalism at the Gambo Dam turbine building, which is the next man-made structure upstream from our property. The cops might keep them for their own garage purposes, return them to their owner if they can be traced or (and here’s my personal preference,) they could honor the old “finders keepers” rule.

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Endings, beginnings

“Unstuck in time” is how I view the week between Christmas and New Year’s. (Thanks for naming that concept, Kurt.) Even if other routines have remained intact, like going to work, the seasoning for the days leading up to January 1 is really peppery. Things that happen to us around a holiday get trapped in amber, making it effortless to ruminate over or revel in memories.

This year, my amber moment will likely be teaching my first yoga class at WholeHeart Yoga Center tomorrow. I am nervous and excited. I am also prepared, pumped and processing moments of self-doubt. My mind flickers briefly on the concept of somehow wiggling out of this endeavor. The struggle passes and I’m back to playlists and language and imagery for ṡavasana.

Even though my amber moment will be trapped in time forever, it will be a springboard. The transition I have undergone this past year has given me the great gift of time and space for the inquiries of yoga. I have emerged with amazing tools for body/mind health and awareness. Time for me to share what I have learned so far, to pass along some of this lightness, and to continue to learn and to grow.

1/9/11 Update:  The yoga classes didn’t fill and there were heretofore unrealized non-fit elements at this venue. I have been released from my committment.

At one point, I found myself wishing for a way out of a situation that was rapidly becoming rather uncomfortable and complicated. I was shown a perfect illustration of the adage “be careful what you wish for.” But it evolved to be the best possible result for everyone concerned.

And now I get to step back and reassess, which isn’t a bad thing at all.

Maybe now would be a good time for trying hot yoga — Bikram!