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.




The Green Yogi

A few weeks into this Year of Yoga project my friend, Jenny, told me that she’d been inspired by my posts to do more yoga.

As you might imagine, there is no better motivation to keep on writing than knowing your words are having a positive effect on another’s life.

To be encouraged by Jenny is nothing new, however. After all, we did meet through our writers’ group, a close-knit group of six women who have met for nearly seven years to critique, challenge, celebrate and champion each other’s writing. We also confess, complain, console, and commiserate about all those many little things in life that rear up to keep us from writing (children, work, husbands, lack of time, health, an addiction to volunteering, pets, housework, daylight savings, travel, worrying about Donald Trump, scheduling, the internet, books, exercise, and our own many insecurities and fears). This group was where my novel started, why I have grown at all as a writer, and where, twice a month, I often feel that my existence on this planet is justified.

When Jenny joined our group she’d just taken an enormous leap, quitting her job as a professor of sociology to work full time on her fiction writing. So right from the start I’ve had truckloads of admiration for this woman.

Jenny is also the one who reminded me, a month or so ago, about my original intention for this blog, which was to go to as many yoga studios as possible. Of course she did; keeping each other on task is part of what we do in our writers’ group. Another thing we do is push each other out of our ruts.

So I agreed to go with Jenny to her favorite neighborhood yoga studio,  The Green Yogi.

imgres-3I love that Jenny goes to The Green Yogi, because she is one of the more truly “green” people I know. For one thing, she wrote the book on social sustainability. Her house, which she moved to so that she could walk and bike more, is all-electric, powered completely by solar. I know this because, back in my pre-blogging life, I helped work on her solar conversion project. (I will happily tell you all the reasons you should go solar, too. Or you can just watch this video.) She also owns an electric car, has a pellet stove, and doesn’t even cook with natural gas. See what I mean? Way green. I often think that if I were not me, I would want to be Jenny.

Anyhow, I am not Jenny, which is good, because that meant I was able to join her for a yoga class.

Photo credits: The Green Yogi

We met up on a Thursday morning at The Green Yogi, which is on MLK, Jr. Drive., up in North Berkeley. This studio is a truly lovely space, full of sunshine from the skylights and large windows, and all warm and bright from the expansive, creamy walls. The proliferation of candles and cushions and curtains give a luxuriousness to the space, a spa-like setting, that immediately made me feel that I was taking good care of myself.


And the gracious  “I Came to Get Down, Dog” Newbie offer of 3 classes for $20 helped me feel that I was taking care of my pocketbook, too.

Most importantly, The Green Yogi walks the walk when it comes to eco-consciousness. They are a perfect example of how living green is not only a better choice for the planet, but provides a more beautiful, nurturing, and enjoyable experience for us.

Jenny was already at the studio when I got there, all settled on her mat. She looked very much the yogi (hairband, yoga pants, water bottle), which was fun to see, since I usually see her looking very much the writer (legs curled up in a chair, manuscript on her lap, pen in hand).

I set my mat beside Jenny’s and we got caught up for a few minutes. This was also fun, because usually in class I’m there by myself, so all I can do before class begins is think about how stressed or achey or tired I am, or how hard I had to work just to get to class. Chatting with Jenny, though, left no room for those kind of thoughts (and almost no room for all the little worries about how I didn’t know this teacher or this studio, how it had been so long since I’d done Vinyasa yoga, how I hadn’t been to a class in six days). Before I knew it, though, class had started.


This was a Power Vinyasa class, so it was about as different as could be from my experience at Adeline Yoga in the Fundamentals of Iyengar class. Don’t get me wrong – both were great classes, just very different kinds of yoga. The Iyengar was measured and specific, slow, and not at all sweaty.

The Power Vinyasa class, the other hand, was fast paced, physically demanding, and very sweaty. The instructor, Naushon Kabat-Zinn, put together a great flow, with a little music to keep up the pace, and a touch of humor to help us all smile through our sweat.

Naushon began the class by asking us to reflect on what brought us to class that morning, what actually got us there on the mat. She gave us a few minutes to think on this. Of course I immediately thought, “Well, obviously, it was Jenny.” But as I sat there, another thought came to me. It was community.

This was a wonderful realization because “to be here for my family and friends” was one of the three goals of my Year of Yoga project.

I inspired Jenny to do more yoga. She prompted me to try new studios. Together we took the class. Now we aren’t just writer friends, we are also yoga friends. And I also have a new yoga studio to add to my neighborhood favorites list.

It is in just this way, strand by strand, that we build and sustain our community and ourselves.

Photo credit: The Green Yogi


All photos courtesy of The Green Yogi:

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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.