Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Don't Look

When I go to yoga class, I like to get there early, and stick my mat way up in the front of the class, usually in one corner.

Why, you might wonder, do I like to practice right at the front of the room? There are a few reasons, and some of them translate to how I carry out my beading practice, too.

First of all, the whole idea of a good yoga practice is not to compare yourself to what anyone else in the room is doing. Harder than it sounds, I know: as soon as you push back into your first Downward Facing Dog, you can see exactly what the person behind you is doing, or the person on either side of you. And you always want to compare YOUR asana to what someone else is doing! Are they going a little deeper than you? Are their feet flat on the floor? Are their knees bent?

It's crazy. Yoga is not a competition! So, in order to make it so that I can't see what anyone else is doing (except for the teacher, because I want to make sure that I'm understanding her instructions), I plop myself up in the front of the room so that when it comes time to do some of the really difficult poses, I can focus just on my own body, and not on what my friends are doing.

Beading, or hell, any other kind of art, can be the same way. If you let yourself look too hard at what someone else is doing, you're going to start thinking badly about your own abilities and gifts. So what if someone happens to be an insanely talented sculptural peyote stitch artist? If I start comparing myself to someone who has been beading for longer than I've been alive, yeah, I might start to get a little bit depressed.

On that note, it can be good to see what someone else is doing, both in yoga and in beading, if you look at it in the right frame of mind.

A couple of weeks ago at a particularly challenging vinyasa class, I came to the conclusion that my body makes no sense whatsoever. I'm very open and flexible in the hips, but my hamstrings are so tight that I can't do a standing forward bend without bending my knees, too. (Most people who are flexible in the hips the way I am are also very loose in the hamstrings, or backs of the legs, too.)

So, it's hard for me to watch someone else do a perfect forward bend with straight knees. If I let myself think about it too much, I get really frustrated - I mean, I've been doing this for six months now, every single day. Why aren't MY hamstrings getting loose and flexible?

But then I take a look at my teacher, and I understand that we have different abilities, and different backgrounds, and that's why she can do all these asanas and forward bends and core-working poses and not have to do all the modifications that I have to do.

Again, same with beading and art. Look at what other artists are doing and be INSPIRED by that, not frustrated. Look at what another artist does and set yourself a goal, not necessarily to match the skill and technique of the other artist, but to be able to go just as deep into yourself and find what's there in order to create great art.

Does that make any sense at all?

Right now, I'm off for a yoga class, two meetings, and goodness knows what else today has in store for me...

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Yes, I still do and say things that, when I look back on them, make me cringe. Like, what part of this did I ever think might be a good idea? (Although, admittedly, part of it stems from my lack of whatever thing is supposed to be between your brain and your mouth when it comes to saying exactly what's on your mind.)

The same thing happens with my beading. I'll get to a point in a design and think, Good Lord 'n' Butter, what part of this did I think was a good idea? The choice is to either pull it apart, set it aside for later (or maybe forever), or to keep going and see if it morphs into something other than a learning experience.

But then, there are the times when a piece comes together by itself, and it's so beautiful that it just makes me ache. Those are the times when I have to remind myself that all that beauty came from inside me. Those little beads are allowing me to express everything that is beautiful and quiet and peaceful that resides in me, and they are the way that I can share some of that peace and beauty with others.

Last night, I went against one of my basic rules: never bead when you're sad or angry or frustrated.

I was feeling completely overwhelmed by all three last night, but rather than lay in bed and stew about it, I took a hot lavender bath to relax, then went and sat with my beads and some episodes of old sitcoms that I love.

I knew I wasn't going to have much time to work on this piece today, so I wanted to do some more work on it while it was still fresh in my mind. Using all of my favorite glass beads like gumdrops, cup flowers, and druks, plus some amazing seed beads from my lady friend Kelli Burns at The Hole Bead Shop, I just stitched those little flowers into little hoops and allowed myself to be soothed by the beauty of them all.

When I was in savasana at my Monday morning yoga class yesterday, I allowed my mind to relax, and it traveled to a realm of color. I saw palettes and shades and  rainbows...

That's the challenge of life, and in particular, of my life, today. How do we balance the good with the bad? Nobody's life is perfect, and those of us who are exquisitely aware of how imperfect life can be need to find ways to carry on.

So, for now, bead on, my friends, bead on.

Friday, May 24, 2013

WTFriday: Umbrellagate

Oh, so now, the so-called "Conservatives" in the U.S. have sunk to a new low, which I have saved just for today's WTFriday post: Umbrellagate.

Apparently, at a press conference with the Turkish Prime Minister on May 16, it began to rain. Two Marines acting as valets came out and held umbrellas over both Obama and the Turkish Prime Minister for the remainder of the press conference.

And now, it seems, the "Right" and the talking heads at Fox "News" are positively scandalized at the fact that a U.S. Marine held an umbrella over Obama. The nerve!

So, let me get this straight: Military personnel have been holding umbrellas over acting U.S. presidents since G.H.W. Bush. (And probably long before.) But NOW it's a big deal?

What's next? Obama is gonna get caught picking his nose, and we're gonna have Fox doing a story on his poor personal hygiene? They're gonna call it Boogergate?

What a great way to distract us from the real issues in this country: the student loan crisis, the raping of the middle class by the corporate world and Wall Street, our food being turned into poison by Monsanto and their GMOs...

Yeah. Because a Marine doing his job and holding an umbrella over the President of the United States during a press conference is way more tragic than any of those.

Really. If this is the kind of stuff that you think is important, you're not fit for adult conversation.

Monday, May 20, 2013

When Things Fall Apart

This also happens to be the title of a book I'm reading as I try to carry on, and it also includes my Battle of the Beadsmith piece, which has taken a brand-new direction.

The first piece that I envisioned for this competition was nothing like the one I'm currently working on. I spent over $100 on metallic seed beads, a brass necklace form, bead embroidery backing... And then it just didn't work out.

Over and over and over again, I started beading on the base. But it just didn't work out.

I started to panic with the deadline approaching - what was I going to do? But once I finally admitted that this piece was just falling apart and that there was no way I was going to be able to pull it together in the time left, something happened.

While cleaning up and sorting beads, I started digging through a big bag of beads, and out came a handful of beads that I had set aside for something else.

To be fair, I wasn't sure what else I was going to do with these particular beads. But they looked nice together. Even though I didn't have a finished design in mind, I loved the way the colors and the shapes looked together.

And that was hit me. I knew what I wanted to do, and I knew I could make it spectacular for this Battle of the Beadsmith.

With just over 10 days to go before the deadline (eeps!), I've been beading furiously, and I've the Band-Aids on the fingers of my right hand to prove it. (Fireline hurts.)

This is all you get to see, for now.

What struck me as I was giggling to myself over this new design is how perfectly it all came together, just as I was starting to despair over the first piece falling apart.

Sometimes, things fall apart for a reason. And when they do, we have to figure out how to accept it with grace and strength. It helps to keep in mind that when things fall apart, sometimes they come back together even better than they were before.

Friday, May 17, 2013

WTF, Abercrombie & Fitch?

So, I know I'm late to the party, after the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch talked about how he didn't want "unattractive" or "fat" people wearing "his" clothes. It seems to have caused quite an uproar among larger-sized people (read: any woman who wears larger than an anorexic size 10), and I've been mulling over this whole thing for a few weeks now.

For those of you who may have missed out on the controversy, here's the deal:

Mike Jeffries, the CEO of clothing company Abercrombie &Fitch, said in an interview that he markets to the "popular, cool kids", instead of the "not-so-cool" kids. (You can read all about what he said in this link from EliteDaily.)

But, whatever. You know what? Mike Jeffries can sell his clothes to whomever he pleases. If he doesn't want to sell to me because I'm not one of the "cool kids", well, hey, I'm okay with that, too. If he doesn't want my money, that's fine by me.

What Mr. Jeffries is really saying, with all due respect, is that he really only cares about what people look like on the outside. If you look the part, then you're okay in his book, no matter what else you may possess underneath your skin.

Here's my take on the whole thing: If being one of the "not-so-cool" kids means that I get to explore my own eclectic style (accented, of course, with my beadwork), then I'll continue to shop for 99% of my clothes from resale and thrift shops where my money goes to supporting the local food pantry for needy families, and to a small business that helps support a local family. Plus, I won't look like everybody else, wearing the same clothes, just because they're "cool".

MUCH better than lining the pockets of some arrogant gasbag CEO, methinks.

Just remember, Mr. Jeffries, that those "not-so-cool" kids have all the same problems, needs, and desires as your "cool" kids, but they get something more: the chance to feel special just solely based on who they are, not based on what they wear.

And thank you, Mr. Jeffries, for making me feel better about what I wear and how I look, mostly because I don't fit into your narrow-minded view of what's beautiful and what's not.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


Mother's Day.

This is my fourth birthday/Mother's Day without my mom, who passed away in 2008 after a lifelong struggle with mental illness and eating disorders.

So, mostly on Mother's Day, I focus more on wishing well to the other mothers in my life - my sister, my sister-in-law, my mother-in-law, and the awesome local community of moms that I interact with on a daily basis.

Colden turned five this year, and I still sometimes look at him in complete disbelief. Where did this little person come from? What will his life be like? Why the hell is he so quiet and what is he up to?

Joking aside, I remember thinking and feeling all these things those first few days after his birth. It really was the most miraculous thing I've ever witnessed. I couldn't help but be completely amazed that I had grown this little creature inside of me for all those months, and here he was, now, mewling and nursing and snuggling down into my shoulder after his belly was full. It was a humbling experience, and even on the days when I felt like I was exhausted to the breaking point, I would settle down under the warm blankets on the bed, tuck my little baby in on my shoulder (where he liked to sleep), and enjoy the sensation of being completely in love with my baby.

Watching him grow the last few years, I very often find myself looking at him with that same awe and wonder. Where did he come from? How has he grown so fast?

I watched him practicing doing the buttons on his shirt yesterday morning as we ate breakfast. I took a long, slow look at his beautiful little face, the concentration in his jaw, and his soft, gentle eyelashes.

What a beautiful child.

His laugh stirs something in me, especially when it comes tumbling out of him without restraint. He's had the same laugh since he was an infant, the only difference being that these days, it's louder and longer than before.

I feel like I would do anything for this little boy, anything at all to protect him, to nurture him, to help him grow and be happy.

I tell him that I love him on a daily basis. Several times a day, there are hugs and kisses on the nose exchanged. (Yes, even on the days when I am at my wit's end, the crying and whining seems nonstop, and I question my motives for wanting a child at all.)

Sometimes, I wonder: did my mother feel the same way about me?

Thinking back about it, I can't remember a lot of times with my parents like the times we have with Colden.

We make a lot of effort to do things as a family, taking time for hikes and walks and visits to museums, watching movies together, playing outside, meals and parties with family and friends, and sometimes, just lounging about the house doing nothing in particular.

My mother didn't do much with us as a family, mostly because she hardly ever left the house. And if I'm completely honest, I can't remember her being very physically affectionate, either. It would have been hard to give her a hug, even if I had wanted to, because she was so very bony - when she passed away, I believe she weighed around 75 pounds, to give you an idea.

One night, during her last few weeks in the hospital, she had overheard some nurses talking about a patient - I'm unclear whether it was actually her or not - and the nurses were implying that this patient wasn't going to survive.

My mother assumed that they meant her, and somehow conveyed that to all of us. That she wasn't expecting to live through the night.

I remember sitting in her hospital room with her, watching Shrek on t.v. It was the week before July 4, and the program was riddled with advertisements for the fireworks programs coming up that weekend.

My sister and I left at the end of the evening, presuming that we weren't going to be able to see or talk to her again.

As I left that evening, I said to my mother, for the first time in probably many, many years, "I love you, Mom." To which she replied, "Ditto."

And that was it. That was the last I ever got out of her.

Now, my mother did not pass away that evening. We were told that the nurses were talking about another patient on the same floor, and not her. When I finally left to come back to New York at the end of that week, we were discussing plans to move her to a facility in Oklahoma (the closest one to Texas) that specialized in rehabilitating patients with severe eating disorders.

On my way back from Texas, I missed a connecting flight between Newark and Albany and found myself stranded at Newark airport with a five-month-old and no diapers.

Thankfully, I had some friends nearby who came to my rescue, picked me up at the airport, took me out for dinner, and gave me a place to sleep for the night with Colden.

The next morning, as I was getting ready to leave for the airport, the phone rang. My sister was on the phone, telling me that my mother's blood pressure had crashed overnight, and they couldn't get it back up. Her organs were failing. They didn't see much hope for survival over the next few days.

I finally got the call in the wee hours of a Monday morning, after spending the night unable to sleep.

I know it was probably very hard for my mother to show affection. She spent her life hearing from her own mother how she was a mistake, and how she wasn't wanted. Her eating disorder and her struggles with mental health were probably her way of trying to be special or of getting some kind - any kind - of attention.

So, on this Mother's Day, instead of thinking about the tragedy of my mother's life and death, I'm going to try instead to think about how I can show my son just how much he is loved and wanted by his mother.

Friday, May 10, 2013

WTFriday: WTF Is With Shape Magazine?

So, this is what greeted me on Yahoo the other morning. An article aaaaaaall about how Britney Spears got back into "shape". And it just really pissed me off. So wrong on so many levels, I didn't know where to start.

First of all, what's up with the cover of this magazine? "A Body Built For Sex"? (Weren't all of our bodies built for sex, in order to prevent the species from dying out?) "Tighten Your Tummy"? Really? Way to sell magazines.

Next, let's move on to the article itself. In the summary I saw posted on Yahoo, it states that Britney does two 90-minute yoga sessions every week. I doubt that it's the same kind of yoga that I do. When I think of a celebrity doing yoga, I immediately picture that Bikram-barking-orders-sweating-in-a-100-degree-room yoga. Maybe that works to get her fit, but to me, that's not yoga.

Okay, so, yoga styles aside, the article goes on to talk about how she has to work harder, now that she's 31. Well, d-uh. The human female body isn't really supposed to look like that. She had two kids. Where's the paunch? I've got one kid, and I'll probably never get rid of that paunch, and that's okay.

Where's the softness? Where are the natural curves?

Then, her diet. She talks about how much she loves brownies, cookies, and spaghetti, but she eats a Nutrisystem-type diet to "get in shape": a shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch, and protein and veggies for dinner. In WHAT universe is that a healthy diet? A synthetic, heavily-processed shake instead of real food? No wonder she looks like she's starving.

I think, underneath it all, is my discomfort with how this magazine is trying to make us feel about our bodies. It's one thing to want to improve your health by taking care of yourself, but to me, this magazine cover is just playing up on all our insecurities. So what if you have a little flab on your tummy? My flab is from growing my son, which is arguably the most important thing I've ever done. Who cares if my paunch sticks out a bit?

Obviously, magazines that promote accepting ourselves don't sell in our culture and our society. But telling people that they're not good enough and should look like THIS, well, that's how you sell magazines. That's how you sell diet aids and diet books and supplements and...well, that's how you build a multi-billion dollar industry. You tell people that they're not good enough.

But, guess what?

You are.

Why I Love Yoga: Balance

Balance seems to be something lacking in our world. Especially in mine. Every day feels like a juggling act between working, cleaning the house, cooking, and trying to find quality time with my boys. It's constantly a thought process of, "Do I clean the house at 9 p.m. or do I go get some rest?" "Do I try to go set up at the farmer's market and earn a little extra cash, or do we spend the day in the canoe?"

It's a tough one. Life throws things at us as lightning speed, and so often, we just react without thinking.

In one of my very first sessions with my wonderful massage therapist, I was going through some pretty tough stuff. As she worked on me, she said, "I get the feeling that you're not feeling very balanced today." Well, damn, it was like she looked right into my head and saw the argument I was having with myself at that very moment over two very opposite ideas.

One of the most delightful and surprising discoveries to come from my yoga practice is how easily I can balance on one leg. No, really! I can do some crazy, crazy stuff (most of the time) while balancing on one, strong leg.

I can remember when I first started getting serious about yoga 10 years ago. I bought a video, Basic Yoga For Dummies. When the presenter got to Tree Pose, I wobbled a bit at first, but after a few tries, I found that I could stand almost perfectly still while grounding one leg down.

I didn't think anything about it at the time. It wasn't a big deal. Or maybe I didn't realize it was a big deal.

Then when I started going to these yoga classes with Robin, I was surprised to see how hard it was for the other students. I had just kind of assumed that balancing poses would be easy for everyone, since they were so easy for me.

As I progressed with the yoga practice, I began to understand that executing a balancing pose is the perfect combination of both strength and surrender. It's hard. Like, really hard.

As an example, to do Tree Pose, you begin by standing in a good, firm Mountain Pose. Tailbone tucked under slightly, feet hip distance apart, shoulders slightly back, and lifting up through your heart and the crown of your head.

Next, start with your left leg. Ground that leg down, feeling it go strong, maybe even engaging the muscles in your thigh to pull up just a bit on your kneecap.

Take your right foot. Put it against your left ankle, or shin, or even try to tuck it up into your upper thigh.

And then stand there. Keep that left leg strong, and just breathe.

You can put your hands to your heart center in Namaskaara, or you can raise them above your head, index fingers touching thumbs, and just breathe.

While you're standing on one leg, you can focus your attention, your drishti, one one fixed point in front of you. Really focus. Let everything else in the room just get fuzzy and melt away. Keep your mind still, as well.

Maybe I make it sound too easy, but for me, it is easy. The ironic thing is that I find it so hard to achieve balance in so many other parts of my life. But when I come to the mat? It's easy.

I love the balancing poses. Squatting down on one leg, King Dancer (where you actually lift one leg up behind your head while you balance on the other), and Eagle are all poses where I feel as though I can find a little peace. Just standing. Just breathing.

To find meaning in your yoga practice, you need to constantly be balancing between the physical and the spiritual. You can be as flexible as a rubber band, but if you're missing out on the compassion and teachings of yoga, then you aren't practicing in a balanced way. If all you're doing is sitting and meditating, you'll find that your body may become sore and stiff, and you won't get as much out of your meditation without using yoga to develop a strong body.

For me, yoga is a powerful reminder of how we need to seek balance in everything. While that may not be easy to accomplish, just like yoga, it's a work in progress that we can practice every day of our lives, with every breath.