Finding Our Way


Last week my daughter came home from school pretty upset. She’s a fairly unflappable kid, so I sat right down with her to get the scoop.

They’d run races in P.E., and she had come in last… every time.

“I hate not being fast,” she said.

Of course I felt terrible when I heard that, because I am not a fast runner and I did not marry a fast runner. She’s never going to be a fast runner, at least not if she relies only on what she’s gotten from her parents. How could I not feel at least somewhat responsible?

So I told her the story of how, in my junior year of high school, I joined the track team. All my friends were on track, and the only way to hang out with them was to join the team.

The coach immediately saw that I was no sprinter. He suggested I compete in the distance races, the mile and two-mile. You didn’t have to be so fast to run those.

My first mile, I told my daughter, I ran in 15:09. She said, “That’s fast!”

“Actually it was really slow,” I said. “Most people can a walk a mile faster than that. But I worked hard for the next two years, and when I raced my last mile, my time was 6:11.”

I told her that though I wasn’t naturally fast, I was good at a kind of stubborn endurance, and that had made a difference in every race.

Then I pointed out that she’d never actually done much running. “I’ll run with you if you want to work on getting faster.”

“No,” she said. “I just want to be fast.”

Obviously my great wisdom and life experience were not working in this situation, so I brought out Sir Ken Robinson’s fabulous book, The Element, and read her a part that had recently struck a cord with me:

“My brother Ian… was in a band in Liverpool that included an extremely talented keyboard player named Charles. After one of their gigs, I told Charles how well I thought he’d played that night. Then I said I’d love to be able to play keyboards that well. ‘No, you wouldn’t,’ he responded. Taken aback, I insisted that I really would. ‘No,’ he said. ‘You mean you like the idea of playing keyboards. If you’d love to play them, you’d be doing it.’ He said that to play as well as he did, he practiced every day for three or four hours in addition to performing. He’d been doing that since he was seven.

“Suddenly playing keyboards as well as Charles didn’t seem that as appealing. I asked him how he kept up that level of discipline. He said, ‘Because I love it.’ He couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

My daughter and I went on to discuss what Sir Ken Robinson says in the rest of the book, which is that we all have things we like to do, and we also have things we are good at, and it’s when those two things come together – what we like and what we are good at – that we find our true purpose. Sometimes we like something, like running fast, but we aren’t naturally “good” at it, so it takes effort.

I said to her, “You are good at math.”

She said, “But I don’t like it.”

I said, “Right. Because you don’t like it, math feels like work. But you are good at swimming. And you like it. So swim practice doesn’t feel like work, does it?”

After our conversation, I couldn’t helping thinking how everything seems possible when we are very young. Then, as life goes along, possibilities fall away, kind of like the booster rocket on a space shuttle, except over and over.

This is sad and unjust if opportunities are striped away not due to our own momentum through life, but instead due to barriers or discriminations – social, economic, historic.

If this is not the case, however, then it can feel good to travel light.

Take the running, for example. I was not born to be a runner: I have bunion-prone feet and tweaky knees, short legs and a large bust relative to my stature, none of which helped with running. But I did enjoy it. I liked it so much that I ran for sixteen years, and in several countries. My stubborn endurance carried me through the Chicago Marathon in 3:52. Then my feet, which had never liked the running as much as I did, finally had enough.

So I moved on to hiking. Hiking requires more endurance than speed, so it’s a way better fit. So is yoga. And my body feels so much healthier.

Now that I no longer have to worry about running marathons, or becoming a scientist, President of the United States, or CEO of a tech company, I have so much more energy and attention for my writing.

Of course there are some regrets. I would have liked, for example, to be a journalist. If I’m honest with myself, however, I have to admit I don’t like working all night for a deadline or being away from home very long. So even if I had been good at journalism, which I suspect I might have been, I probably wouldn’t have liked it. On the other hand, I’ve discovered that I do like working long hours all by my lonesome, which dovetails nicely with… novel writing!

It’s kind of a relief to look at life this way. Instead of being burdened with what we’re not particularly good at, or don’t really like, we can pay more attention to our passions.

Anyhow, the next day Coco told me she wasn’t as frustrated about the running. “Some days I’m more upset about it than others,” she confided. Then she went on to tell me that she’d been put into a reading group with other “book worm” girls.

“I’m a good reader,” she said. “And I like it.”

Some things fall away; others become clear.


Say Yes to Self Care

So I have two little stories for you this week, which I think are related, but you can decide. The first is about a daydream, and the second is about an encounter with a homeless woman.

The daydream happened last Saturday, when my cousin came by my house with his truck to haul something of my mom’s from my garage to hers.

Okay, in truth, the “something” was two bikes, one a new adult trike, which is huge, and the other a mountain bike that had been given to my mom, and which she was hoping that I could help her sell. These bikes have been taking up the only open space in our garage for a few weeks now.

I’m always happy to see my cousin (not just because of his truck). He gave me a quick run-down of his busy life, then, pointing to my kids, he said, “But what am I saying? My life is no where near as crazy as yours.”

In a fit of silliness – or, sure, okay, cynicism – I said, “Oh no, our life is simple now that we have kids. They cook our meals, clean the house, garden, care for the animals, plan vacations for us, and find the coolest camps for us to take…”

The funny thing is, in that moment of fantasy, cynical though it was, I had the most lovely feeling come over me. A calm, or happiness, or was it maybe even bliss?

“Can you imagine?” I asked my husband later. “Wouldn’t it feel great to have someone say to you, ‘I’ve done all your laundry, made your favorite dinner, driven you to your ceramics class, and while I was waiting for your lesson to end, I signed you up for a writing retreat with your favorite author. Now I’m going to read aloud to you so you can fall asleep.'”


Perhaps the reason this little fantasy struck such a cord with me is because I took on an extra-large helping of “child scheduling” this year, what with homeschooling my son. As his main teacher, I’ve not only got the usual after-school and summer activities that all parents must plan, but also year-round curriculum and field-trip planning.


So every week I evaluate all kinds of possibilities, not just for curriculum, but for classes:

  • sailing on a big ship in the SF bay
  • the physics of sound and motion
  • spinning yarn from fiber
  • game of international trade and relationships
  • belly dancing
  • KQED television and radio tour
  • the science behind upcoming biotech companies

These are just a few of the many exciting options available to kids in the Bay Area. I’m not kidding.

This is way different from when – and where – I grew up. In our little town, the options were football, dance, or 4-H. There was no soccer or lacrosse or yoga. No oil painting or origami. No coding dojos or cooking classes (unless you count home ec).

My child does not do all these classes. We would be broke and unimaginably harried if we tried to take advantage of all, or even most, of the educational opportunities out there.

Even without all these extracurriculars, I still feel unimaginably harried most days. I think this is because, like most moms out there, I tend to do a lot of things to take care of other people, but don’t often do much for myself.

The thing is, I like taking care of my family and friends. I want them to feel that I care for them, and that they have help if they need it. I like watching my kids swim or fence, and I like listening to my husband’s music. I feel good when I can help my mom with her bikes.

All this, though, doesn’t leave a lot of time to care for myself. Hence my little daydream.

The best thing about that little daydream, though?

It made me realize how grateful I am for this Year of Yoga. Because of the commitment I made to myself when I took on this project, I’ve practiced yoga and written every week for the last seven months. Sometimes I’ve only made it to one class, or haven’t finished a post quite in time, but mostly I’ve kept my commitment.

My husband says that I’ve changed since I started to do regular yoga, that I’m more calm, more steady. I handle problems or setbacks with more ease and grace. This is good to hear.

I can feel that it’s true. I know for certain I wouldn’t be able to homeschool very well if I weren’t also doing this Year of Yoga project. Maybe it’s the regular exercise, or sitting down to write (which always feels like a treat). Maybe it’s just grabbing an hour away for the class. Maybe it’s that yoga really is as good for you as they say.

These past few weeks one child got sick, then I got sick, and so there wasn’t a lot of time or energy for yoga or writing. I missed a post and didn’t get in a single class. I could feel my calm slipping away. I wasn’t taking very good care of anyone around me, and I certainly didn’t feel like I was taking care of myself. And yes, it was about then that I had my silly, cynical little daydream.

Now comes the second story.

Yesterday, just as I got out of my car to pick up my son, a woman rode by on her bike, trailing a big dog on a leash. She hopped off her bike and started to go through a recycling bin. When she saw me, she said, “Do you have any water?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, because I didn’t. Not even a half-empty water bottle in the car.

Her voice became aggressive. “It’s for the dog.”

“I’m sorry,” I said again. “I don’t have any water.”

I went on up the sidewalk to pick up my son, and she yelled after me some things I won’t repeat. Then she yelled at a man in a wheelchair who was trying to get past her bike and dog on the sidewalk. Finally, frustrated with the recycling bin, she got back on her bike and rode on, muttering.

The thing is, in that moment, I got her. I recognized her frustration and anger, her aggressiveness, even her paranoia. I thought, “There is a woman who is trying to care for someone else (her dog), but she can’t, because no one is caring for her. Not even her.” That is what extreme lack of care looks like.

So this week I’ve re-committed to my Year of Yoga. Once again, I’m saying yes to self care. Because there are a lot of people (and animals) who need care, and I can’t help them very well unless I help myself.

I have a feeling everyone will be happier.




Ben and Adeline

If you’ve been reading this blog then you will know that it is in large part due to my cousin, Ben, that this Year of Yoga project exists.

In my first post , I wrote how it was a walk around Berkeley with Ben that inspired the idea of going to a new studio each week of the year and writing about it.

As you also know, the project took another turn when I discovered InnerStellar, and I haven’t been to or written about many other studios since then. The truth is, I was a little reluctant to go outside my comfort zone.

AdelineyogaHowever, a few weeks ago, I finally worked myself out of my rut and went to Adeline Yoga. This was again thanks to Ben. You see, when he was here for the summer, he signed up to take classes at Adeline Yoga. Then, when he left Berkeley, he converted his last class to a gift certificate. So, armed with my bright red envelope, I tried out my first true Iyengar class with the lovely, knowledgable, and truly charming Anneke Faas.

I immediately felt comfortable and welcomed by Anneke. Yes, we’d met before (she’s a friend of my sister’s), so I got a big hello hug. But she was that welcoming to every student, making sure she knew – really knew – everyone’s name. After checking in with me, she turned to the woman next to me and said, “You’ve been here before.”

The woman said, “Well, it was about a year ago.”

“Yep,” said Anneke. “You’re hyper-flexible, right?”

After Anneke moved on, the woman said to me, “I can’t believe she remembered me! I really was only in here the one time!”

But Anneke isn’t just a friendly face. She knows her stuff, and has a wonderfully specific yet gracious teaching style.

b555cf3926e8319761a3be8a4509da1eHere’s just one small example: She had us do baddha konasana with legs up the wall, and focus the entire time on the feeling of rotating our inner thighs up and out, while also rotating our outer thighs in and under. Then, with that very specific muscle memory, she moved us – and our knees! – safely into warrior poses.

I took not just that lesson and several other bits of yogic wisdom from the class, but also a very basic delight at having spent time with Anneke.

A few days after this, I got an email from Ben. We haven’t heard much from him since he left (he’s busy, we’re busy) so his email felt oddly coincidental coming so soon after my Adeline class. He wrote that he’s carried “two Californianisms” with him from his summer with us, one of which being that he’s joined an Iyengar yoga studio back home, and has been practicing twice a week. He wrote, “I’ve decided that Iyengar is basically yoga for nerdy teachers’ pets who want to do everything exactly ‘right.’ Me, in other words.”

His note got me thinking about what I’ve carried away from having him here with us.

For one thing, our coffee is better. Ben measured out the coffee grounds exactly each morning when filling the press pot. Like he said, he’s a nerd. We’re nerds, too, but he’s a scientist nerd. And coffee, made scientifically, i.e., actually measured, tastes consistently better. Not too strong. Not too weak. Just right.

While Ben may have carried the drum, he was really hiking to Coco’s beat.

He also brought all the things a younger generation will bring: new music, new sayings, a fresh way of looking at the world. You might think having a not-quite-thirty-year-old in the house would make us middle-aged folks feel old, but I think we really felt younger. Maybe it was just that having a third adult in the house tilted the adult-to-kid ratio in our favor. Oh my. How can that not give you more energy?

But the truth is, we benefited from having Ben here in more than just these little ways.  For example, Matt went out to several open mic nights to play his music, in part (I think) because Ben was there to cheer him on. Then, this fall, Matt finally did the Indiegogo campaign he’s wanted to do for so long, and produced the album of his new songs.

And what I’ve come to understand is that Ben, in a certain sense, also inspired this Year of Yoga project way before he took one step in Berkeley.

You see, when I first read on Facebook that he had gotten an internship in the Bay Area and was looking for a place to rent, I felt protective of my cousin. Rental rates in San Francisco are outrageous, and way too scary for a employed person, much less a graduate student. My immediate thought was that he had to stay with us.

My second thought, however, was one of fear.

You see, I am a true introvert. Here’s my proof: My biggest worry, when I went away to college, was not the transition from a tiny town to an enormous campus, or that the classes would be too hard, or that I wouldn’t make friends. No. My monster worry had to do with sharing a dorm room with another person. It made me anxious all that summer. And I never did get much better about the idea of roommates.

But now here was Ben, needing a place to stay.

Ben is my “littlest” cousin, the youngest of my mother’s youngest sister, so there’s a good sixteen years between us. A whole generation, really, and an entire continent, too, as he grew up on the east coast and I on the west. In his three decades of life, I’d probably only seen him a total of two weeks.

He was family, of course. I’d been to his wedding, and seen him at his brother’s wedding and our other cousin’s wedding. I knew he was funny and smart and very much the gentleman. As far as roommates go, I was pretty certain he would be great. And I loved the idea of having my kids get to know their cousin. But still. It wasn’t like Ben and I knew each other that well.

The introvert in me came up with all kinds of excuses for why it wasn’t a good idea to let him stay with us. Ours is a small, somewhat shabby house (that’s what eight years of rent control will get you). The room we could offer him was poorly built and very close to a backyard of early-rising, noisy chickens. We are parents, and we don’t always parent perfectly (i.e., we sometimes yell at our kids, and we sometimes spoil them). Neatness, to put it mildly, does not come naturally to my kids (or me). So yes, I was a little afraid of being judged, and I had a lot of anxiety over letting someone stay with us, even a grown-up little cousin.

While it didn’t take us more than a minute to offer Ben a place, it did take a small dose of courage for me to overcome the introverted habits of mine and all their attendant anxieties.

But here’s what I think. I think that leap of faith that we took in opening our home to Ben – sharing our home life, despite all its vulnerabilities and imperfections – somehow translated into the courage to take other leaps, leaps of creativity and self-actualization. That’s really what creativity is, after all, a leap of faith that launches us out of habits and fears and into the world, a leap of faith predicated on the belief that what we have to offer is, in the end, a good thing.








The most frequent question I get these days is, “How is homeschooling going?” It used to be, “How is your novel going?” or, more recently, “How is your Year of Yoga going?”

Lately, though, it’s all about the homeschooling.

So, I’ll tell you how it’s going.

My son loves homeschooling. He was pretty much made for it. He’s not the kind of kid who sits around complaining that he’s bored (unless he’s in school). He reads, researches, creates, invents, (destroys), writes, sets himself goals, comes up with projects, and constantly challenges his homeroom teacher (me). Neither one of us is bored.


We had a debate the other day about the best adjective to describe his relationship to knowledge. I said he was a “curator” of knowledge; he preferred the term “hoarder.” I suppose if you saw all the books in and under and beside his bed, you might agree with him. But I told him a hoarder doesn’t use or even value the things he hoards, he just keeps them. “You use and value your knowledge,” I said, “so I can’t really agree that you’re a hoarder of knowledge.”

“Well,” he said, “I still like ‘hoarder of knowledge,’ because sometimes I have all this knowledge and I don’t even know what to do with it, but I still want more.”

See? Perfect kid for homeschooling.

Homeschool isn’t always perfect for me, though.

For one thing, I don’t always know what I’m doing. I’ve never trained to be a teacher. Yes, I taught creative writing to undergraduates, but how hard was that? They were all busy making up their lives anyway, so to pull a little fiction out of them wasn’t such a stretch. Plus, they were in college. Already they had a huge advantage.

Anyhow, for some silly reason, the stakes just feel higher with this current teaching gig.

To make matters worse, I’m sometimes – ha! always – overwhelmed by the choices of curriculum, classes, and styles available for homeschooling. As soon as I settle on one course of study, I inevitably find another I prefer more. It’s a bit like being at an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet. So little stomach room! So much food! And if I stuff too much in at once, my kid will barf. Or something like that.

Also, no matter what I want to do, there’s never enough time. Not for all the classes and curriculum and projects and field trips, and certainly not for me. Yes, I would like more time to write my novel, or to work on this blog, but the kind of time I really need is more in the range of 40 hours/week so that I can bring in some bucks.

Unfortunately, that’s the real catch of homeschooling: It’s expensive.

“What? Why? Aren’t you just sitting in your dining room over some library books?” (Yes, I do know what you are thinking.)

Well, first of all, there are all the way-too-great-too-miss classes out there. They Are Not Cheap. (See the “all-you-can-eat” part above.)

But there’s also the opportunity cost. For example, let’s say you make $50,ooo. If you have five kids and you quit your job to homeschool them, then that’s a $10,000 per kid investment each year. If you have one, well, it’s a $50,000 investment. I know for a fact the most expensive Bay Area private school is not that costly.

But none of this – not the worry that I don’t know what I’m doing, not the constant feelings of being overwhelmed, and not the lack of time and money – are nearly as hard as my final confession about homeschooling:

My house is always messy. It has not been this messy in years.

Water Experiments (photo: E.Maupin)

Seriously. It’s like having a toddler again. Remember how you could never keep your house clean? How you’d tell yourself that as soon as you cleaned the living room, you’d head out to the park? But how by then the bedrooms were all a disaster because your son had been building a fort with all the pillows in the entire house, and now it was time for lunch, but then there were the dishes to do and also you needed to go to the grocery store?

Yes, that kind of messy.

The real benefit of sending your kids to traditional schools? Your house stays clean for one day.

But you know what? I’m okay with it. Not just the mess, but all of it – the lack of time and money, the feeling that I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going. All of it. And here’s why:

Before my son went off to kindergarten, he had such a radiantly curious energy to him, such a joy of being in this world. His was an eager and open-minded approach to life; he was always game to try new things, to explore. He believed in himself. He liked himself.

(photo: E. Maupin)

Then he went to school. Of course he had teachers he adored. The two schools he attended, one public and one private, I hold in high regard.

But school seemed to dim his very existence. He was always tired, allergic, and sick. He didn’t want to try new things. He was overwhelmed and down on himself. He apologized constantly. He certainly didn’t seem to like himself very much. He’d lost his confidence, and he also seemed to have lost himself. It was as if the little pilot light of his soul had been snuffed out.

You would think that I saw all this as it was happening. I did, but I also didn’t. In other words, I saw that school wasn’t the right choice for him. But it was only recently, after five months of homeschooling, that I understood how completely lost he’d been while he was in school.

What made me finally see this?

The other day he played his fiddle at the farmer’s market, something he hasn’t done in almost four years. When he first put down his case and took up his fiddle, the area around him was in a lull. There was a wide empty space, not many folks stopping at the vendors there. As he played, however, people began to gather. Children pulled on their parents’ hands so that they might stop to watch. The farmers on either side of him began to do a more brisk business. Within a few minutes, the area was alive and bustling, transformed by his presence and his music.


Watching him fiddle, I realized that he, too, has been transformed. He was connected to his music in a way he hasn’t been for years. He played with energy and confidence, smiled at folks, enjoyed himself. I felt like I’d suddenly come upon an old friend, one I hadn’t seen in a long while. That got me thinking about who he was in school, and how he’s changed in these past few months of homeschooling.

He’s no longer constantly allergic or sick. Yes, he’s sometimes tired, but that’s because he reads too late (no matter, he can also sleep in now). He’s eager and excited to take on new challenges. He comes up with new projects to do every day. He’s rediscovered the joy of learning for learning’s sake. He laughs a lot. He’s confident again. Most importantly, he likes himself.

Vibrant would be the best adjective to describe him.

So, yep. Homeschooling is going great.



During a yoga class a few weeks ago I felt a sudden surge of hostility toward the teacher. She had just asked us to do bakasana, or crow pose. “You and your stupid arm balance poses!” I thought. This sudden intensity of feeling struck me – knocked me off balance, as it were – because I like this teacher, a lot. So what was going on?

When I examined the feeling further, I realized that the hostility was actually another feeling in disguise. It was resistance.

My resistance to crow pose is understandable. I’m not terribly confident about the strength of my arms and shoulders. I’m also afraid of falling, yes. I have, after all, actually given myself a real doozie of a shiner by falling on my face in yoga class. I’m sure others can boast the same, but not many.

So whenever a teacher announces that we’re doing crow, the same question comes to my mind: “Why are you making me do something I obviously can NOT do? Are you some kind of sadistic pig?”


Let me be clear: When I say resistance, I’m not talking about La Résistance française sort. No. I’m talking about the type of resistance that is all about fear, and manifests itself as a stanch enemy of change and progress.

Resistance rears its ugly head every day, all day, sometimes from the most surprising of places, other times from an all-too-familiar place. Here are just a few of my personal trophy heads of resistance:

  1. Not doing arm balance poses
  2. Not getting up early in the morning to write on my novel
  3. Not learning to sing

My daughter, I fear, has inherited my very tough “resistance” gene. Here are her trophy heads:

  1. Not eating food (except noodles)
  2. Not getting out of bed
  3. Not doing homework
  4. Not going on hikes

This last one is a particular problem, because the rest of our family loves to hike.

For example, my thing about New Year’s is that it must include a big view. I don’t really care about the count-down of the ball dropping, or a champagne toast at midnight, but I must have my big view.

When I say “big view,” I mean it literally: a breath-taking, awe-inspiring, not-your-everyday grand vista. The big view will preferably be hard to achieve; i.e., its acquisition will require planning, driving, and, most importantly, hiking.

The hikers.

When the kids were little, we went up to Inspiration Point in Tilden Park for our big view. A few years ago we headed over to the Visitor’s Center at Mt. Tamalpais to see the entire SF Bay spread out before us.

The Brandaburs, 12/31/14, Limatour.





This year found us back at Mt. Tamalpais State Park, where we planned to do the Dipsea-Steep Ravine loop. If you are in the Bay Area, can climb down a 12-foot ladder, and haven’t yet done this hike, put it on your list.

But of course not everyone in my immediate family loves the hiking part. Not even if you promise a great view.

You see, Coco has her own natural rhythm, if you will, and it tends to be a bit slower than the rest of this fast-paced world.

CocoonLogShe’s also the littlest in the family, which means that she has to take more steps than any of the rest of us to cover the same mileage. Often her brother runs ahead, leaving her way behind, which never feels good. So on New Year’s, as soon as she heard we were hiking, she went into active protest mode, with big-time Resistance. “I’m not leaving the car!” she announced. The outlook was seeming pretty grim.

When we got to the trailhead, however, several things went in our favor. First, Tazwell suddenly became the coolest big brother ever, and found Coco a perfect hiking staff.

Legolas was with us in spirit.

Then there was the trail itself, Steep Ravine, which really is just like Rivendell. As I said to Coco, you almost expect to see Legolas striding toward you. That wouldn’t be so bad, would it?

Coco ran off down the trail with her brother, who for once did not leave her behind. It is a magical hike, with lush fern-covered hillsides, mossy waterfalls, burned-out redwoods, and many quaint bridges.


At the intersection of Steep Ravine and Dipsea, you can take Dipsea all the way to the beach. Instead, we turned up Dipsea to climb to the view.


There were many “chocolate” breaks along the way:

The steep part.
Brandabur boys.

So why, if Coco has such a resistance to hiking, do I push for the “big view” on New Year’s Eve?  What’s the big deal with the “big view”?

Well, I suppose it has to do with inspiration. On the eve of a new year, I want my family to be in a place where we can “breathe in” expansiveness…


…where the possibilities seem limitless…


… and where the beauty of life feels absolute.


On New Year’s Eve, we made it up to the “Hot Chocolate Rock” right at sunset. I think Coco might have had the best time of us all.


I never regret “forcing” Coco to hike, even if it’s a bit of a slog and she’s tired at the end. For one thing, having myself been a reluctant child hiker, I know hiking is something that grows on you. For another, I want my children to have nature in their lives as much as possible. Finally, I want to inspire in them the belief that, no matter the steepness of the mountain, they can make it to the top.

Along the way I try to point out wonderful things, like the deer tiptoeing down to the creek for a sip of water. We talk about the age of the trees and all that they have seen or will see. We sing silly songs and tell stories. I make sure to tell her about the other hard hikes she’s accomplished, and remind her of the amazing things she’s seen. I acknowledge that this is a hard hike, and admit my own tired legs or breathlessness, and then we look far off into the ocean to catch a glimpse of a whale spout or two. I always offer to carry her when her feet hurt. More and more, though, she’s walking the entire way herself.

Since our Steep Ravine hike, I’ve been trying to take this same attitude toward my own resistance.

So when I next went into yoga class, I said hello to my fear of arm poses. I acknowledged that my teacher was trying to inspire me to try something new. And when it came time to try crow pose, I found I could hear instructions more clearly. Here’s what I learned:

  1. Bakasana is not just an arm pose, it’s also an abdominal pose.  If I pull up on my lower stomach, it takes some the weight away from my arms.
  2. If I look forward instead of down, I won’t topple over on my face.
  3. If I wrap my shoulders like I’m in turbo dog, then I’ll have a stronger, steadier base.

I’ve now made it into crow pose for a few seconds at a time. Maybe only one second. Next time, I know I’ll still be a little afraid, but perhaps a little less resistant.

Every time, less and less so.












The Trigonometry of Life

The other morning began normally, meaning that I was doing the relatively simple geometry problem of:


  1. Calculating just how long I could let my daughter sleep (line AB),
  2. while also leaving enough time to feed her a good breakfast (line BC),
  3. before rushing off to get her to school on time (line AC),
  4. so that she can have a good day at school (equilateral triangle ABC).




After a combined total of seven years of elementary school mornings, I’ve gotten pretty good at this kind of equation. We even made it to school early!

Then I went back home. That’s when things got hard.

Coming home to a day of home-schooling with my son is a bit like coming home to a Labrador puppy who hasn’t been walked in several hours. As soon as we walk into the kitchen, he says, “What are we going to do today?”

The calculations of a home-school day are never easy. Even if I have a plan in place (line AB), he is certain to come up with his own very pressing agenda (line BC). This might involve testing out his recently constructed gold-panning sluice in the backyard, building a trebuchet, or making a map of the world.

While these activities may start at point B, I can never predict exactly how far they will extend into our day. Therefore point C is unknown, which of course makes it almost impossible to determine when we’ll get back to my plan (hypotenuse of line AC). Just how long this hypotenuse will be depends partly on the angle of my patience on that particular morning, whether it be acute, obtuse, or just right, so to speak.



This week we’ve been studying explorers. I had readings for him to do, and writing, and of course some math. But he said, “I’d like to build my own sextant and figure out how it works.”

Master & Commander, “Sextant Lesson”



It is at just these times that I feel profoundly under-qualified for my job. It is also at just these times that I feel exceptionally grateful for the internet.

I quickly found this very handy bit of curriculum, and we set to work on the sextant, which in this lesson is technically a quadrant, Tazwell pointed out.

Whether Acceffible or InAcceffible, it makes no difference.

A ruler, a protractor, a washer, a string, some tape… and we had our quadrant. Easy-peasy.

No, not easy-peasy, because then Tazwell wanted to to learn how to use his quadrant to figure out the height of a mountain. “One that you can’t climb,” he clarified.

Now, folks, I have not studied trigonometry for 30 years. Even back when I was in trigonometry, I wasn’t a great student. So I felt very ill-prepared to figure out the height of an mountain, be it “acceffible” or “inacceffible.”

Still, I pulled out the math books. Because the truth is, I’ve been wondering a lot lately about how to take the height of an inaccessible mountain, though my mountains are of the more figurative sort. They include:

  1. Finishing my novel
  2. Starting a new career
  3. Homeschooling
  4. Living on one salary in the Bay Area

Well, again thanks to the internet, I found this helpful formula, and using this wonderful home resource, we proceeded to walk through the calculations, using measurements my son had taken with his quadrant:

Determining the height of an inaccessible mountain.


The only problem was that he didn’t really care about plugging numbers into the formula. He cared about the steps behind the formula. In other words, he cared about the process.

So he re-wrote it:

tazwell's notes
Don’t worry if you can’t understand it. He does. He’ll explain it to you.

Now, what motivated him to determine the height of an inaccessible mountain is beyond me. Perhaps it was that we’d recently been in Yosemite to see the snow. Perhaps it was just that he likes to know things.


Anyhow, we spent three hours on this project. Three hours. And it was great, because my son simply LIT UP when he understood the process. This is part of the beauty of homeschooling.  And perhaps as a result of traveling that three hours with my son simply in the pursuit of knowledge, I suddenly felt as if my own inaccessible mountains might not be so terribly insurmountable.

So I wrote down my process for dealing with inaccessible mountains. See what you think:


I tried it out. I thought back to when I first started this Year of Yoga project, about four months ago. I know how I felt: Totally terrified. This was going to be yet another of those great ideas that never went anywhere, one of those projects that I started and never finished.

Well, just the other day I got a report from WordPress on my stats for 2015. I’d written 15 posts in four months! Not so bad. And already I’m a third of the way home!

This whole thing is starting to feel way more acceffible.





The Promise of Boredom

The other day a friend said to me, “I get bored in yoga classes.”

At first I thought, “Really?” But then I decided to be honest with myself and admit that I sometimes get bored with the idea of yoga, too. Sometimes I get bored in class; mostly I get bored with the idea of going to class.

It isn’t just yoga. When I was a long distance runner, I used to get bored with the idea of my daily run. I get bored with my healthy breakfast, or by the idea of going to bed on time.

Often I’m even bored by the idea of sitting down to write. Now that’s really crazy because, for me, life is so much better on the days that I get to write. Even so, I will do the oddest things to avoid the boredom that arises when I sit down to write: read spam email, make a schedule for when I’m going to write in the future (ha!), and yes, poke around on Facebook.

My kids complain every day about homework and music practice being boring. My daughter is truly creative when it comes to protesting against boredom, and will spend more time designing elaborate “boredom tortures” for “the guy who invented homework,” than she eventually will on the actual homework itself.


Granted, sometimes her homework is really, really boring. Lots of things are really, really boring. Folding clothes, for example. Entering data into spreadsheets. Showering. Picking up legos. Driving across Iowa.

When I was a kid and complained of boredom, my dad would make me pick bugs off the potato plants, or clean out the car, or do a “litter hunt” around our yard. My mom would say, “If you’re bored it means you’re a boring person.” (Ouch.) In both of their responses there was an inherent disdain for boredom, as well as the message that you must at all time be active in order to be a good person.

After all, idle hands are the devil’s playthings.

But is boredom really so bad as all that?

Yes, of course. If you’re talking about the kind of boredom over which there is no control, such as for prisoners, or for workers who perform repetitive tasks for long shifts, like factory workers or air traffic controllers or miners. In these cases, there is no place for boredom to take you; you’re just stuck in boredom and it can be deadly, not just because it results in loss of attention and accidents, but because it steals away humanity.


But I’m not talking about that kind of enforced, prolonged, inhumane boredom. No. Because if I were dealing with that kind of boredom, I wouldn’t be writing a silly blog about yoga, would I?

But I am writing a silly blog about yoga, and so the kind of boredom I’m talking about, I would argue, is not the stuff of devilment.

So why such a fear of boredom? Why is boredom so equated with danger?

Well, put kids on a playground with organized activities, with structures and rules, and very few kids will get hurt. But give those kids an empty parking lot and maybe a stick… and expect bruises or scrapes or even stitches and arm casts, because anything can happen when a kid is bored. Every parent can tell you as much. Yes, sometimes they put the littlest one in an empty barrel and roll her down the hill. But sometimes they build a fort, or paint a picture, or write a story.  Sometimes they get out their instruments and form a band.

The truth is, boredom is incredibly fertile ground for creativity and (gasp!) change.

How often, during the most mindless of activities, does that creative inspiration strike, like a tiny lightening bolt to the gray matter? Maybe it jolts loose the solution to a scene in a novel, or sparks an idea about how to approach some parenting challenge. My husband once had the entire melody to a new song come to him while raking pine needles in my mom’s yard. I can’t tell you how many times a perfect line of dialogue has popped into my mind when I’m brushing my teeth.

Why does inspiration so often strike during boredom? Perhaps it is because, when we are bored, we actually begin to think in a different way. So often these days our minds are actively engaged or entertained or otherwise problem-solving, working too hard and fast to take time for reflection or wonder. But when our minds are released from a structured activity or from a frenetic pace, and put into a “boring” place, perhaps folding underwear, or waiting for the commuter train with a dead cell phone, our thoughts take flight from boredom before us; they wander and reflect, discover, make connections, and create.

I suppose the difference between “bad” boredom and “good” boredom is whether we can move away from it, and if so, how we choose to escape it.

If we run from boredom to another entertainment, then boredom has done nothing for us. It has taken us no where and improved us in no way. If I avoid going to yoga because I want to avoid the boredom of yet another Downward Dog, and instead watch a movie or search the web, I’ve not benefited from boredom. This is just inertia in disguise.

But if I go to the same old yoga class with the same old instructor in the same old studio, and do the same old sun salutations for the boring 4,085th time, what might I discover? What new insight might I have? Perhaps I will recognize that the way my bunions cause me to carry my weight on the outside of my feet in turn leaves my inner knees weak and prone to injury. Or perhaps, suffering yet again through an extended Warrior II, I might come up with my next exciting blog post. Both have happened – and are way more likely to happen again – when I’ve accepted boredom for what it is, a necessary evil on the path to something good.



“Find Your Spot”

This is the instruction teachers often begin with in a yoga class at Innerstellar, my very favorite yoga studio. By “find your spot” they mean search for that one place inside yourself that most needs attention. Maybe it’s physical, like a knot between the shoulders, a crick in the neck, or a tightness in the hips. Or maybe your spot is something to do with your emotional well-being, like a very small, particular sadness that seems to have no other home, or a frustration that only grows more annoying if you try to slap it away.

Once you’ve identified your spot, you are to direct your breath there all through class. The teacher will remind you to “breath into your spot” and “pay attention to your spot.” At the end of class, she’ll ask you to check in and compare how your spot feels now to how it felt at the start of class. Often all that breathing and attention makes a remarkable difference!

Usually I pick the same place every class: the left side of my neck. I’ve come to believe all bad things in my life must dwell there, sort of like centipedes and spiders and slugs dwell under rocks – you know, just hanging out, being generally icky and gross, all the while waiting to bite you. Just thinking about it is giving me the willies.

I love to choose my neck as my spot, because when I was sixteen I was in a car accident and broke the windshield with my head. My neck still blames me for not wearing a seat belt. I think it always will. I have often heard that necks are not very forgiving. Mine certainly is not. Though when I choose my neck as my spot, and breath into it, I swear it’s almost as satisfying as having strong, oiled, warm, wise hands rub and work away at the knots and pain. My neck (almost) forgets to complain.

Today, however, my neck was not my spot. Today my spot was my brain.

Lately my brain has been scattered all over the place, like the pile of leaves I raked together the other day, but which the chickens found before I could bag it up, and the pile was soon sent hither and yon again with swift and certain busy little scratchings. That is the true state of my brain – the raking together, the brief but ephemeral sense of togetherness, the sudden and violent dispersal.


It almost feels as if my brain is being electrocuted. You might think my problem is too much caffeine, or not enough sleep, but I’ve actually been doing okay on those two fronts. Could it be the windy weather or the upcoming holidays or too much computer time? Perhaps I’m trying to do too many things at once, like wishing that bald eagle had ripped Donald Trump’s hair right off, and following the climate talks in Paris this week, and wondering about whether the California Public Utilities Commission will do the right thing when it comes to solar “subsidies”?  Not to mention all the parenting worries and wonders and concerns. Don’t even get me started.

Maybe my brain is finally just starting to explode, bit by bit, here and there, like popcorn in hot oil. I hope not. Suffice it to say, today in class I really needed my brain to be my spot.

The thing is, when I chose my brain today, I wasn’t even sure whether I was allowed to have my brain as my spot. It wasn’t exactly physical, per se, in that it didn’t hurt, not the way my neck often does (unless you count the excruciating psychic pain of not being able to focus on anything but Facebook lately). And it wasn’t really a particular emotional pain, either. I really wanted to raise my hand and ask, “Can I choose my brain?”

Then Kiki mentioned that we might choose an area that needed more grounding, and I thought, “Well, that’s okay then, because my brain needs grounding more urgently than a breakaway dirigible.”

So I breathed into my brain. Well, first I wondered if I would be able breathe into my brain, but that only lasted for a split second, because then the breath just washed over my brain, the way a broken wave will sweep up over the sand in a clearing caress, in that beautiful liquid motion. The breath came up from my neck and washed forward into both hemispheres. I know it sounds crazy, but I could feel each separate hemisphere as the breath washed through it. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever felt my brain feel physical pleasure – pain, sure, but not pleasure.

For the next 90 minutes I breathed into my brain. Obviously. It was a tremendously good spot to choose. If you haven’t tried it lately, I highly recommend it!