Thursday, September 30, 2010

I Love You, Now Eat Something

Chocolate and peanut butter. Peanut butter and chocolate. That smooth mix is truly one of God’s greatest inventions.

I get very excited when the Reese’s peanut butter eggs appear in the stores at Easter time. And on Halloween night, my kids know any chocolate peanut butter combination goes right in to the mommy pile. If you look in my freezer now, way deep in the back, you’ll probably find an emergency Reeses peanut butter cup stashed away.

When I was pregnant with kid number one I was very sick.  I had hyperemesis,  which basically is just extreme morning sickness. I actually lost 28 pounds by the time he was born. So of course the doctors were very concerned and told me they didn’t care what I ate as long as I kept it down and took in some calories.

The only thing we found I could eat was chocolate peanut butter milkshakes.  I know, I know. That sounds like a pregnant woman using any excuse to pig out. But really, it’s all I could eat that would stay down.

I no longer drink chocolate peanut butter milkshakes because I’m no longer losing weight and I’m no longer growing a baby.  Yet a couple weeks ago I found myself once again making a chocolate peanut butter milkshake.

This time my mad blending was to add some calories and hopefully put some weight on my mom. She’s battling liver, lung and brain cancer and has lost so much weight from the chemotherapy.  We joke about how skinny she’s getting, how we need to go shopping for new skinny clothes for her (shopping at Macy’s of course!) and how chemo is the best weight loss plan we’ve found so far.

But, honestly, I’d do anything to pack a few pounds on her now. So I did the only thing I knew to do, and that was pull out the blender. Instead of the high fat, empty calorie version with ice cream, I used a version of one of my regular breakfast smoothie recipes.

Here is the “I love you and I want you to be healthy and a little plump” milkshake recipe.  Enjoy.

1 cup plain non-fat Greek yogurt
1  banana
1 cup chocolate soy milk
Large scoop peanut butter
Squirt of Hershey syrup. Actually it was 2 or 3 squirts.
1 cup frozen strawberries

Monday, September 27, 2010

Strong Moms and Deep Breaths

Seven elephants were recently killed by a train in India. Five female elephants stopped on the tracks and refused to move when two baby elephants were trapped on the rails.

This blog isn’t to compare myself to an elephant (way too many opportunities for jokes there).  But rather to point out that all mothers will do anything and stand in the face of any danger to protect their babies.

Two of my kids have had bad accidental falls this summer and broken bones. Both required orthopedic surgeons, emergency room reductions and surgery. Each time I was the one in the room while the doctors manipulated the bones back in to place despite the kids crying and pleas to stop.

The elephant story came to mind today when I met with the most recent orthopedic surgeon. When she entered the room, she said, “Oh Mrs. Fields. So you’re the one who gave Dr Beatty a hard time the other night.”

Excuse me?  Let’s get something straight right now. I did not give any doctor a hard time. The ER doctor told me to wait in the family room while they did the reduction. I said no I’d prefer to stay.  When he arrogantly told me “I take care of kids not moms” I simply looked him in the eye and said “I Am Not Leaving.”

I guess he realized I had elephant tendencies and said fine just sit over there. Which I obediently did for about 2 minutes until Danny started crying again.  Then, as any mom would, I stood up and held Danny’s head and whispered into his ear it was going to be ok.

The doctor looked at me when I stood next to the table, I looked back at him, and I stayed.  You can’t push a jumbo elephant mom around.

People have told me they wouldn’t have been able to stay and watch that. I wouldn’t have been able to leave. I don’t think it makes me strong or heroic or brave. It just makes me a mom who was protecting her child.

How did I get through it? I’m not sure. Except I remembered to breathe.  And each time I told Danny I know it hurts, just breathe, it also calmed me down. And of course the texts and facebook messages coming to my phone all throughout the night from friends and fellow yogi’s reminding me to breathe helped as well.

What choice does a mom have when protecting her child? Just take a deep breath and do what needs done to stop the tears and take away the pain.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

To Plant a Garden is to Live in Hope

All human wisdom is summed up in two words – wait and hope. Alexander Dumas

I’m sitting here this evening in front of an open window, with a blanket on my lap,  enjoying the drop in temperature. After a horribly hot and humid summer, the change in weather this weekend has been like a gift from God.

Our usual Memphis summer was especially brutal this year, so bad that I completely let the yard and gardens go. It was too hot, too buggy and I felt too defeated trying to give the soil enough water to keep everything green.

Despite the hours planning, planting and praying this spring, I gave up on growing my own organic vegetables. Why stand outside in oppressive humidity when I can go to the farmers’ market or Whole Foods? Real Southern women have vegetable gardens. Well I never claimed to be or want to be a real Southerner! So forget it.

Even my flower gardens that I usually so lovingly take care of became neglected. The weeds in the front garden had totally overgrown what little planted life was left, and when asked when I was going to take care of it, my answer was always “when it’s not 100 degrees outside.”

Well this was the weekend.  I got down and got dirty pulling weeds, trimming back the perennials and basically just enjoying the breeze and cooler temps. Ah yes, I remember this. I remember enjoying being in the yard, making my home attractive and inviting.

As I sat on the porch swing this afternoon watching the kids and dogs run and enjoy the cooler temps, my thoughts turned to next spring. Maybe I’ll plant some tulips along the sidewalk.  I’ll need to buy more mulch. And yes, I’ll even attempt another vegetable garden again.

Hope. Even though intelligently I know today’s cooler weather is a hint of the rainy dreary winter to come. Even though I know next summer is bound to be another long string of 100 plus temperature days, droughts and humidity. I still have hope.  Hope that the daffodils will poke up in March, my lilies will bloom in June and even hope that by July I’ll be picking tomatoes and zucchini from my little backyard garden.

For now I enjoy the hint of autumn, I wait to make it through the winter, and I have hope that next spring will bloom beautiful and bountiful.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

So Very Weary

I’m tired. Really, really tired. I’m so tired that when I thought we were out of mustard I broke down and cried.

This week has been an especially exhausting week. My 7 year old Danny fell off the monkey bars and broke his wrist which led to pulling an all nighter in LeBonheur Children’s Hospital emergency room.  The next day I was at least half way smart and found subs for my group classes. Yet being the trooper I’m supposed to be, I kept my appointments with my personal clients.  I’m not normally a soda drinker, but I was definitely pounding down the Diet Pepsi as I drove to our scheduled sessions.

Last night me and Danny curled up together and went to bed early, yet were up many times throughout the night with him crying in pain and me reassuring him I was still next to him and everything was going to be ok.

I’ve never been much of a napper. Even when I was pregnant I just couldn’t lay down and rest. There is always something to do, I can’t waste time just sleeping! Right now I'm writing this blog instead of resting. Why?

In the book Something More, author Sarah Ban Breathnach says a woman should “never make a major decision until after you’ve taken a nap.” That’s good advice and should probably include these ridiculous things I felt compelled to do the past two days while running on just a few hours sleep:

  • Read HTML code while I tried to update my website. Let me just say now that reading HTML code fully rested is not easy or enjoyable.
  • Planning the next weeks dinner menu – why can't my brain think past tacos?
  • Sending out the monthly YogaLifeWay newsletter – suddenly I’ve forgotten how to add an attachment to an email.
  • Trying to book an airline flight for next month – although I think this one isn’t just me being tired. The prices really were $200 cheaper just a couple days ago.
  • Weed the garden – that should have been relaxing right? Except I didn’t see the giant ant pile I was kneeling on and when I accidentally pulled out a handful of Lilly bulbs the tears started flowing again.
  • Dust, vacuum, do dishes and other household chores – I admit with 2 dogs and 6 kids I’m pretty insistent on vacumming daily. But really, it could have waited a day.

This morning as I was driving to my monthly Yoga in the Park class I was feeling very down and discouraged.  I got to the park a few minutes early and was able to just sit and breathe and do nothing. As people started to show up for class, my energy began to return.  My fellow yogi’s thought they were there to be led in a flowing yoga class. What they didn’t know was their energy was sustaining me.  Yes my mat was in the front and they were following my cues, but I was letting their breath and energy lead me.

I wonder if they noticed we had a few extra moments of child’s pose today? I wonder if their bodies enjoyed the stillness as much as mine?

It’s only afternoon yet dinner is already started and I’ve let everyone know it’s an early-to-bed night. I need some sleep. It’s time to take care of me for a bit. Because yellow mustard really isn’t worth crying over.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Reason to Roar

“Anger is a poison you take hoping the other person will die.”

That one statement by itself has done more to help me let go of my anger than just about any other. I was listening to a podcast by famous yoga instructor Sean Corne when I heard it. As soon as she said it, it was like I finally realized holding on to all the resentments I had really wasn’t doing me any good.

When we get angry, especially at someone we love or trust, our brain gets all kinds of signals from the primitive flight or fight response in our body. Those signals are stored in our memory, and each time we dredge up those memories, the same angry hormones – poisons – are sent through our body again. That’s why we can still get angry about something that happened years ago.

Even if it’s a daily annoyance type of anger, such as a frustrating call to customer service, disobedient children or a boss who asks too much but gives too little, the body sensors are alerted in the same way.  The body and mind are put into a stress mode and nerves and hormones are activated.

But who is being poisoned by the anger? No one but ourselves.  The bodies flight or fight response can’t distinguish between a lover who has betrayed you versus  traffic on your way to work.

But through yoga I’ve learned that I can make the conscious decision to not poison my body and find ways to let anger go.

Here is a great exercise to let go of long-term anger and hurts. Take a piece of paper and write down the names of everyone who has ever hurt you, betrayed you and angered you in any way. There is no statue of limitations on how far back in your history you can go. In fact, you may be surprised how many negative memories you can bring up once you get started.

Take as long as you need and as much paper as you need. Don’t worry about writing out what the hurtful situation was, just the name is enough.  When you are ready, fold the paper in half four times.

Now rip it in half. Rip it again. And again. And again. And again until your have lots of tiny pieces of paper in front of you. Now take all those tiny pieces of paper, throw them in the air, blast some music and begin dancing as the papers fall around you.  Keep dancing and dancing until you have released the poison.

You can’t be angry when you are dancing.

But why wait until we have a long list of anger and resentment?  Next time we feel those stress hormones rising, we can stop them with a simple, albeit silly looking breathing exercise called Lions Breath.

Sitting on your knees, hands on your lap, take a big breath in.  Sit up tall, and stick out your tongue, open your eyes real wide and release the negativity through a roar of an exhale. Do Lions Breath at least three times, or as many as you need.

Just as we can’t be angry while dancing, we sure can’t stay mad while sticking out our tongue and roaring like a lion.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Rec Center Yoga

I don’t teach yoga in a posh, serene studio overlooking the ocean or a snow-capped mountain. I don’t have a wide assortment of yoga props for my class. Some nights I don’t even have enough floor space for everyone to be able to spread out. And I love it!

There is something unique about yoga in community centers, gyms, church basements or a backyard deck. The yoga here isn’t necessarily picture perfect, it’s often a little raw, yet it’s totally real.

The yogi’s who attend these classes are just regular folks, willing to put their mat down anywhere to find an hour or so of yoga bliss.  I’ve met so many unique people in yoga class; teachers, nurses, office workers, lawyers, stay at home moms, retirees and corporate exec’s to name a few.

There is Miss Robbie, the southern African-American woman in her seventies who tells stories of picking cotton as a child. Or the fifth grade teacher who rides his Harley to yoga class and has begun teaching his pre-teens pranayama techniques before taking a test.  Or the ex-Marine who isn’t too proud to sometimes be the only guy in class.

As different as they are, their common bond is yoga.  They trek weekly to an old, run-down community center knowing they will need to push tables and chairs out of the way.  For a time they had to carefully place their mats around buckets placed in the room to catch water dripping from the leaky ceiling.

We don’t have beautiful scenery out the window of our little room, no retail shop to purchase yoga gear and no organic cafĂ© to indulge after class. That’s ok. We aren’t here for the stuff, we’re here for the experience.

Think you can’t find savasana with legs up the wall next to a noisy air vent? Ask the paralegal who regularly begins to doze off there.  Not enough blocks? Harley guy willingly offers his bike helmet as a make-shift block.  The blaring music from Jazzercise next door is just another way to help everyone drown out distractions and find their drishti.

I’m pretty sure Yoga Journal will never show up to do a photo layout of my class. That’s a shame. They are missing some great yoga.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Yoga on the Go

I always travel with my yoga mat. I enjoy trying new classes in new places, or just the simplicity of rolling out my mat right where I am and enjoying my own practice. I've practiced on the beach, at a highway rest stop and in hotel rooms. Where I go my yoga goes! So of course I took my mat with me on my recent trip home to help care for my mom.

But it was a busy week where my focus was on caring for my mom and soaking up as much time with my family as possible. I had a good run one morning, a nice walk on a cool evening, but only pulled out my mat once before heading off to meet the oncologist and radiologist. I didn’t get nearly as much physical activity as my body was used to.

Add an insanely early arrival at the airport to the stress of the week, and by the time I landed in Pittsburgh for my connecting flight my body was hurting.  I was sluggish, weak and achy.  I needed to move and breathe and refocus.

Good thing I had my yoga mat! I found an empty gate, rolled it out and found child’s pose.  After getting my breath ready, I moved into my first downdog. Oh a downdog never felt so good! I always tell my students downdog is a rest pose. I felt very peaceful and calm with my butt in the air right there in the middle of the airport.

I flowed through a few chaturanga's and updogs to get the blood flowing, and then found my first hip opener. Even though I was working against a form-fitting pair of Gap jeans, my hips were grateful for the movement.

I continued to move and breathe wherever my body led me.  I probably had a whale tail for the whole airport to see, but I just didn’t care. I was moving, I was flowing and I was breathing.

Because of the jeans and vintage  t-shirt I was wearing, my poses weren’t the prettiest or the deepest. But they were purposeful and meaningful. And they were exactly what I needed. Once again, yoga healed me.

I set up the camera and snapped this picture. It’s funny because it wasn’t until I got home and looked at it that I realized the maintenance guy was behind me watching. 

I hope he wasn't just looking at the whale tail. Maybe I've inspired him to take a yoga break in his day!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Flying Home

Five years ago, almost to the day, I was taking my mother to the New Orleans airport as Hurricane Katrina was barrelling toward the city. She didn't want to leave me. She was afraid of the approaching storm but more afraid of leaving me and my babies behind. I told her she had no choice. If I evacuated, she would just be one more person in an already over-crowded car going I didn't know where.

As she entered the airport, people were literally offering her cash to sell her ticket to them. That's how frantic people were to leave the city. Later, after I did evacuate and eventually relocate, she told me leaving me and getting on that airplane was the hardest thing she'd ever had to do.

Tonight I sit here, suitcase packed, and in about 7 hours I will be boarding an airplane to go home to Memphis. It will be the hardest thing I've ever had to do.

I've spent the past week home here in Philadelphia helping care for my mom. She is fighting liver, lung and brain cancer. And I do mean fighting. The chemo is destroying her body, the radiation is zapping her brain, she is weak and tired. I've helped her in any way she needed, I've helped her try and preserve some dignity and I've tried to comfort her any way possible. But she's my mom. And I don't want to leave her like this. It's my turn to care for her.

My dad has generously offered to pay for me to change my ticket and stay. In fact he gave me the money to fly up here to begin with. But I've got six children, a family, two dogs and a job at home waiting on me as well. I've got to care for them too.

I've done a good job this week of holding myself together and staying strong for her. A few tears escaped, but in all I've held back. When mom felt good it was more important and more healing to laugh. And laugh we did. A lot of laughing.

But tomorrow, I will bravely say my goodbye for now, get on the plane and go home. I'm going to let her see me laughing as I leave. But once I'm on the plane and wheels up, well no guarantees I won't melt down.

It's my turn to get on a plane and leave people I love behind in a storm.