Big changes

Outside my window the snow falls in torrents.  I sit in an upstairs bedroom at “The Wolf Den”, the place my mom is renting for the month up in the mountains. (The name Wolf Den was not her doing – that honor goes to the unit’s owners.  I wonder often at who these wolves are in real life.)  Below me are the voices of my mom and some of her oldest friends, all together in Colorado for some hiking and girl time. It’s wonderful.

I feel a fatigue in my bones from a month of hard work and busyness.  I have complained at length on this blog about the tyranny of uncertainty in my life.  Today, I aim not to complain but to observe that perhaps the uncertainty is ending – and feel a sense of gratitude in that.

This has been a week for the books.  Rick and I became the proud Aunt and Uncle to a sweet little baby, Mary.  So, Lisa (Rick’s mom), Rick, and I dropped paintbrushes and sandpaper and flew home to New York for a few days.  Our arrival timed perfectly with the new family’s return from the hospital.  We came, filled up their living room with tears and smiles, lots of cooing over the precious baby, and heaps of freshly cooked food.  Rick and I were so elated to have a kitchen (after months!) that when we weren’t holding the new baby we cooked most of the meals for the family and guests while we were there. We took turns holding the little one in her perfect swaddle and pondered about when this all might be a reality in our lives.  I picked their baby nurse’s brain to learn about the challenges and joys of her job with new families.  I observed the new parents, and watched with such joy as Rick snuggled the newest addition in his arms and gave her lots of sweet kisses.  It was such fun to have a short reunion with his brother and his brother’s wife in this precious time, with the newest little baby, and before they move abroad later this spring.

In addition to this wonderful news, after over a month of interviews with an engineering firm in Denver, I received an offer this week for a position that I am thrilled about.  Though there remains much to determine, it is beginning to look like our lives may take a more permanent form here in the very place that they melded together. It is a welcome event.  Though we have looked in many other places, Colorado feels like home, and fulfills many of our overarching desires for a long-term place to settle.  We are meeting with a realtor tomorrow and beginning to look into giving this move some permanence. Joy!

By way of observation, I have witnessed many friends undertake the unpacking of dreams and plans that follow a marriage.  It sometimes goes quickly and sometimes slowly, but in every case it is fun to watch two souls building their lives together.  It is such a joy to be undertaking this process with Rick – working to accommodate his needs and mine, piecing together the pieces of a bigger picture that only the two of us have a clear vision of.  I find that each day I am floored that I am actually a participant in this process, that I have somehow found myself in this place.  I look at my finger and I am astounded to find that I am married, building a life, and acting the part of an adult, even if I sometimes don’t believe I’m qualified for the title.

 

Catching Up and Slowing Down

It’s been 10 days since I last posted anything here.  A lot has happened!  We made it back from Colombia without too much incident.  We re-established our home base in Milwaukee – though not either one of our ideals, it’s not bad either.  My dad is an amazing chef so I eat like a queen here, my parent’s house is wonderful – each morning I wake up to an ever-changing view of Lake Michigan, there’s a great yoga studio down the road, I get to cuddle with my favorite pup, and I have lots of quality time with my family.  It’s hard to complain about all that wonderful stuff, but Rick and I must certainly admit that we want our own space as soon as possible.  We had such a wonderful routine back in Australia, and since coming to the United States stability in the patterns and timing of our lives has been such a rarity that it’s been hard to really feel like ourselves.  Couple that with having our belongings scattered across at least three, though possibly four states and you can begin to understand why we feel an urgency to establish our lives in one place soon.

Oddly, we had not anticipated that we would be mentally ready to settle as quickly as it’s happened.  Our initial plan had been to bike tour through Cuba for a month, then travel in Colombia, Bolivia, and possibly Brazil for another two months or more before we settled back to real life.  We nipped that plan in the bud about a month and a half ago somewhere in Nebraska in a fit of really wanting to be together and to start a home.  And I think we are both thrilled with that decision to this day,  though it would be nice to just move forward with the settling part.

Here I feel compelled to make a note on traveling.  I love traveling and experiencing different cultures and parts of the world.  I think it’s valuable and enriching, and I encourage everyone to make time to venture out of his or her homeland and to see life in other places – see what people do for fun, for work, for food, and then come back home and try to feel ungrateful for what you have.  It’s hard.  We have it really good – at least in the US.  We also have what I consider a responsibility, to be aware and cognizant of our privilege and of the realities – political, physical, and psychological, of life in other parts of the world.

With that preamble out of the way, I want to discuss my experience traveling in Colombia now that I have had some time to digest it.  To preface this, we undertook our travel with the understanding that we wouldn’t be spending all our time actively being tourists – much of our time was spent engaging in other activities we deemed crucial to the larger picture – e.g, applying to jobs, attending spanish school for two weeks, and participating in yoga teacher training.  We kept ourselves fairly busy with that, but still made time to get out and see Colombia as we moved through it.  It was a different style of travel than I’m used to.

This style of travel had some significant drawbacks in my mind.  In having to be fully engaged with the real world (in the US) as we traveled, it was somewhat difficult to put ourselves mentally into travel mode and embrace some of the joie de vivre that typically accompanies adventures abroad.  I felt I was doing a constant dance between investing serious time and mental energy in tasks like homework, yoga, and job applications and trying to become fully immersed in Colombian culture.  Our travel constraints also often revolved around things like whether we had decent internet at our hostels, our ability to make phone calls, and our ability to be within walking distance of the activities we chose – which admittedly put us in both very heavily touristed areas (in Cartagena) or (in the case of Bogotá) very hip, nice neighborhoods that might not reflect the greater whole of the city.

Altogether, both Rick and I came away from our travels feeling less like we just came off a long and exciting vacation, and more like we just came off a month of existing much the same way we have been in the US, traveling from place to place and living our lives – albeit more foreign places.  We felt somewhat less like we let go and engaged with the culture and more like we were simply two Americans living abroad – much as we had been in Australia.

Unlike the dreamlike travel experiences I have had in the past in places like Bali, Morocco, or Vietnam – experiences where I felt fully immersed in a new place, senses stimulated and constantly taking in new and wonderful vignettes or different cultures – my travels in Colombia tread a thin line between of being amidst a completely foreign culture yet entirely connected to a familiar one.  Mentally we were in neither place.  That made the experience, in some ways, less fulfilling than some of my previous travel.

I have to say that I don’t in any way regret our travel style – it was exactly what we needed and allowed us to achieve many diverse goals all at once.  But, I do think that perhaps in trying to do as much as we did, we may have slightly diminished the overall experience.  Plus, there is the simple fact that when travel is no longer a vacation from real life, but simply real life taking place outside of its normal parameters, some of the magic and sense of wonder is removed.

I don’t know why I feel compelled to note all this.  I loved our time traveling and don’t regret any of it.  But, I think sometimes travel can be overly romanticized.  There is an important line between travel as an escape from your typical life and travel on a long-term itinerary with a mixture of goals, budgets, and restraints. Though both have their merits, I have to say that I may not be cut out to be a long-term traveler.  When traveling for long periods of time I feel constantly a stranger visiting places where people see me as an outsider.  I feel a lack of purpose at times, and I desire greater engagement with the places I move through.  I marvel at the mental and physical endurance it takes to travel for months at a time – both for the ongoing lack of stability, and for the feelings of constantly being without a community.  Perhaps it’s my rootlessness speaking right now.  It’s hard for me to separate my deep desire to invest myself in a place and community for the long-term,  from my feelings of itineracy while traveling.  They say that all who wander are not lost – and I’ve long thought that true, but when you are constantly moving it’s hard to invest in finding yourself and your purpose.    I want to be invested.  Perhaps I can thank my last trip for confirming to me just how deep-seated this desire is.

Bogota and Teacher Training!

I’m wiped out.  I just finished five days of yoga teacher training with BJ Galvan here in Bogota. My body aches, I’m sort of grumpy (backbends and hip openers – oh dear!), I need some scrumptious food, but above all I’m feeling a deep sense of peace and appreciation.

I had been looking for an opportunity to complete the teacher training that I wasn’t able to finish in Australia, and in scouring the Internet I found that BJ was conducting training in Bogota.  In Brisbane I had done a challenging workshop with her so it seemed like a great fit.

Rick and I arranged our travels to make sure I could participate.  Here, I need pause to offer so much gratitude to Rick.  First off, he encouraged me to do the training, which I probably would have otherwise delayed so as not to hijack our travel plans.  He also occupied himself in the city for the last 5 days while I have worked my butt off in the studio. He fed me, listened to me whine about my aches, and wax poetic about alignment principles.  He weathered my tired grumpiness as I stayed up late doing homework.  He lovingly woke me up in the mornings with a backrub and got me breakfast every day as I prepared for class.  Every day he has told me how proud he is of me, and nothing makes me happier.  Gratitude is a concept that the yoga world loves to come back to, and I am no exception – I couldn’t be more thankful and in love with my amazing husband.

With my mushy declarations and acknowledgments now out of the way, I’ll delve into what my experience of Bogota and teacher training has been.  I love Bogota, but that may be a consequence of the fact that I spent the last five days with a fascinating and warm community of very advanced yoga students.  The city is huge, cosmopolitan, and very international.  Also, it’s hard to believe this kind of metropolis exists at 8500’ feet in these wild mountains.  It’s such a cool setting!  The people I have met here are all incredibly kind and welcoming.  During our time in Cartagena, I was led to believe that residents of Bogota were sort of stuck up and overly formal – that has not been my experience at all.  Everyone I’ve met has been helpful, kind, and enjoyable.  I have felt so welcomed by everyone from the people in the yoga studio, to our hostel owners, to the clerks in the shops I’ve been to a few times.  I have had waitresses who served me once say hi again to me on the street several days later.  This town is the antithesis of cold.

Beyond that, the level of yoga in Bogota blows me away!  My studio in Australia was incredible and I loved every minute I spent there, but from my experience in Bogota the level of asana is definitely more advanced generally and the students are more fearless in trying out new and aggressive poses.  It’s been a refreshing reminder not to become complacent in my practice.  While my practice in Australia was very focused on alignment principles, this teacher training took my level of asana to new places.  As always, I have to focus on cultivating softness in my practice to counter my natural tendency to gravitate towards strong poses like hand balances and inversions – I was able to do that, while also pushing myself into new poses that I’ve never before tried.

It was a challenging weekend. My practice over the last few months has been inconsistent and, more often than not, a personal practice which I’ve made time and space for in the narrow channel next to a bed in a hotel room or under an air conditioner in Cartagena – or not at all while road-tripping around the country.  It hasn’t been all that I’d want it to be, and I felt it over the last few days.  I’m so sore!  That, and the other side effects of long-term travel like gastro issues and general fatigue and lack of consistency left me without the full strength and energy I try to bring to my practice.  I had to accept where I was physically versus where I would love to be.  More than that, I had to try to get my brain around yoga in Spanish, and the challenges of sequencing and teaching classes.  It was demanding and tiring but above all it was enriching.  The people in my training were all wonderful, BJ Galvan was dynamic and full of neat astrological/biological insights, and being in a new studio and learning yoga in another language was so exciting! I can’t wait to do more of it, and I’m already encouraging Rick to start a yoga cross-training routine as he looks to run his next race so I can practice teaching on him.

In the lead up to this training, I got word from two potential employers that they wanted to conduct in-person interviews back in the States.  Needless to say, with me being tied up with yoga teacher training and quite far away I had to work with them to do some video interviewing – which is a challenge under any circumstances but more so in a hostel with noises, unreliable internet connections, and a general inability to control your space.  Thankfully, my hostel owners were understanding and set me up in a quiet back room with some natural light so that I could at least mitigate SOME of the issues in my interviews.  With two interviews in the five days I was in teacher training, I have to say I was stressed out and probably not in the best frame of mind, but now that it’s all over I finally got a good, long night’s sleep and feel like a human again.

Today we are off to finally explore some of the sights in and around Bogota. Though we have met several friends of friends here and managed to see a few really cool parts of the city as a result, we haven’t had much opportunity to check out some of the sights.  So today we are off! It’s hard to believe that we come back home tomorrow (my Dad’s birthday!!).

Life and Love – Paisa Style

Medellin: Former capital of cocaine, crime, and kidnapping.  Now, home to bike lanes, amazing public transit, beautifully rotund Botero statues, and Paisanos – the hardworking and friendly residents of the city.

We came to the city with big expectations.  Colombians LOVE this place, and I  can see its appeal.  It’s a progressive city, nestled in the huge Aburra mountain valley.  It’s hard to think that just 20 years ago this city would have not been on my radar – that people were murdered at random in drug-related violence, bombings, and at the hand of the city’s most notorious resident, Pablo Escobar, and his cocaine cartel.  Progressive reform, efforts to reduce corruption, and to improve the safety and well-being of the city’s residents were often cut short when leaders were killed.  In fact, one of the leaders of Medellin who began to implement the improved transit that eventually helped to turn the fate of Medellin was killed as a result of his efforts.

Thankfully, the violence of Medellin’s past is no longer still an issue in the city.  Though the city is not quite like Cartagena, which feels like Disneyworld, it is safe and very easy to travel in.

Yesterday, though we have both been under the weather, Rick and I decided to rent bikes and explore the city.  I wanted very badly to check out the Museum of Antioquia and to see the Botero statues in the plaza near it.  I also wanted to head to the Botanical Gardens, because Medellin is known as the city of eternal spring and I’d heard good things about their gardens. I also thought that Rick might benefit from some exertion because he has been suffering from all kinds of bugs over the last several days and hasn’t had the energy to get out running like he was in Cartagena.  It was a bit of an ambitious plan to undertake by bike, but Medellin has a really cool policy of turning Carretera 43a, “El Poblano”, into a bikeway each Sunday.  They shut down two lanes of traffic and open it exclusively to bike and pedestrian traffic. The road is a busy one which cuts through the heart of the city, making a Sunday ride a very efficient way to check out many different spots.  It’s an amazing policy that I wish was more common in the US!

We rode across the city for about 40 minutes on the bikeway, barely having to stop for cross traffic, under the friendly supervision of a crew of young people at intersections and on bikes who make sure that everything is going smoothly.  The crowd out venturing around the city on bikes had to be a pretty good cross-section of Medellin – from families with little ones, to serious cyclists decked out in loud spandex. Everyone looked like they were having a great time, and so were we. We made our way to the Botero Plaza where I proceeded to take photos of every statue, with me in the foreground mimicking the statue’s pose – like a mature adult.  (I think my imitation of the full-breasted Sphinx was probably my crowning glory.)  We then made our way back to the Poblano and continued on toward the botanical gardens.  At one point, the bike traffic seemed to shut down as we headed towards a tunnel.  I looked at Rick, skeptical, and asked “Do you think we should go in this dark tunnel on bikes without anyone around?”.  He shrugged that it was probably fine, the guards had seen us entering and hadn’t stopped us.  So, we entered, biking fast, and hoping we weren’t making a mistake.  Well, shortly after we exited on the other side, we saw a few more of the bikeway volunteers riding towards us.  They shouted that the bikeway opened to traffic at 1 pm – which is exactly what time it was, so we quickly turned and followed them back the way we had come.  As we were riding through the tunnel, out of nowhere a truck came barreling up behind us and veered around us.  “Oh my god!” I screamed at Rick and we started sprinting on our pathetic rental bikes, at about 6,000 feet of elevation.  It wasn’t pretty!  We all were busting our butts to make it out of the tunnel, and just as we did, traffic began tearing through at high speeds.

Collapsing on some grass nearby to catch our breath, we re-evaluated our situation.  We were both wiped out, and now our route home was a superhighway so we needed to figure out how to get home.  We tried to follow the route of the road we had come on, but the frontage roads sort of meandered in and out of neighborhoods, through shopping areas, and across very un-bike friendly areas.  It took us over an hour and a half to make it back to the El Poblano neighborhood where we were staying, and on the way we found ourselves on more that one occasion in places where we should NOT have been.  It was actually kind of scary to me, and I don’t scare that easily.  6,000′ of elevation has had both of us wheezing and struggling, which didn’t make me feel any better about being in some rough parts of Medellin.  Clearly, our acclimatization from our Denver days has worn off.

Anyway, we ended the night watching some good old American football, in an Irish Bar, in Colombia. Odd, right?  We even started up a conversation with another couple there, and (crazy small world) the guy had graduated from UVA in the same December grad class as Rick. Together, we gave aguardiente (Colombian brandy that tastes like black licorice)  a fair go, and decided  shortly thereafter that we had made enough of our night so we headed home a bit early.  We came home, nursed our sick bodies, and we have continued to do that through today.

Sharing sickness in a foreign place is certainly never comfortable, but together we have been making it a bit more manageable.  I packed all sorts of meds and have been able to keep us well-tended to.  He has made sure I get enough sleep (which I often don’t) and we both keep each other’s wellness in mind as we plan our activities.  Though it is a bit of a downer to not feel like ourselves, there is certainly nothing that brings people closer than jointly commiserating over unfortunate maladies.  And, honesty, we found the perfect place to be sick.  Our current hostel is quiet, with peaceful lounge areas and gardens, we have a giant room with a king size bed, floor to ceiling windows, our own bathroom, and a walk in closet area! (Gran Hostel Medellin in El Poblano)  Tonight we hope to cook dinner in (our first in weeks!) before taking off to check out some areas outside Medellin including Gautape, and the coffee-growing haciendas around Manizales.  We will keep writing as we go!

Honeymoon Part II – The Grand Canyon

Image

I have to admit it’s a bit funny to still be writing about my honeymoon.  I can’t keep up with myself.  In the last 10 days I have been in 8 states, on the road, traveling by foot, train, plane and anything in between.  My honeymoon was weeks ago, but I still haven’t written about the BEST part of it – our trip to the Grand Canyon.

After two years in Australia with Aussies constantly asking us questions about the U.S. like, “Are you afraid you’re going to get shot all the time?”, and referencing our general fatness, it was hard not to get a little bit of a chip on our American shoulders.  We decided to make our honeymoon a bit of a tour of discovery (mostly for me) of America’s proud landscapes.  Obviously the Grand Canyon was the first thing on the list!

So, the Grand Canyon!  We drove there early in the morning from a weird little town in Southern Utah called Kanab.   Kanab was apparently a mecca for making old western movies back in the day.  Now it appears to host a number of tourists running the gamut between Zion and Grand Canyon – and little else, with the exception of two subpar steakhouses.

We left Kanab, and drove for about two hours before we stopped for breakfast at a charming little diner called the Lees Ferry Lodge, on the edge of the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument.  We sat waiting for our breakfast with another couple and before long we got to chatting about why we were there.  Turns out they were celebrating their 50th anniversary, and there we were about 10 days into our marriage.  They shared a few words of wisdom with us before we went on our way.  It was a special moment, alone in a desert diner, sharing a common love of wild places and the people with whom we explore them.

When we made it to the south rim, we still had much to do before we could embark on our trip.  First we stopped at the visitors center to check out some information, then on to the backcountry office to grab our permits to camp at Bright Angel campground in the canyon’s bottom (secured four months in advance!), then back to our car to gather our backpacks, change our clothes, and then on to a shuttle bus to the South Kaibab trailhead.

The South Kaibab trail is the newer and more rugged tail to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It’s a bit exposed, and a little gravelly, which makes it a bit hard on the legs for 7 miles of downhill.  I was worried we wouldn’t make it down until dark so we practically ran down,  making it in about two and a half hours with lots of daylight left.  (Note:  There is a severe overabundance of caution from rangers at the Grand Canyon to the extent that their advice is barely even applicable to young, fit, ambitious hikers and should be taken with a large grain of salt.  Had we listened to them, we never should have left the rim! )

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the hike.  I was actually underwhelmed by the view from the south rim.  It’s too difficult to really understand the canyon’s depth and expansiveness from there, where nothing can be put into perspective.  But, thankfully as one hikes down into the canyon, the depth, color, and topography begin to expose themselves.

Image

The canyon is absolutely breathtaking, and it becomes more so the deeper one ventures in.  By the time we were within view of the suspension bridge across the river, I was smitten – both with the place and with Rick for bringing me to it.  We made our way down, through the dark, narrow tunnel of rock, and out on to the bridge.  It was an incredible journey.  To stand above the powerful Colorado, watching it course below us, and look up at the fading light in the canyon was pure magic.  I was so entranced by the colors, the warmth, and the welcoming air of this little oasis amidst the starkness of the desert.  It’s incredible.

We wasted no time trotting into Bright Angel campground and setting up a camp next to Bright Angel Creek.  For the next two nights it kept a constant bubbling soundtrack to our adventure.  The noise of water, the sound of deer grazing, and the lushness of the area surrounding this confluence of the Bright Angel Creek (named because it was one of the few sources of palatable water in the canyon) and the Colorado, gave the place a romantic, peaceful aura.  We loved it.

DSC_0833

The next day we hiked twelve miles round trip to Ribbon Falls, a side canyon on the way up to the North Rim.  The hike is beautiful and culminates in a falls that come cascading over the canyon rim above, splattering onto a green, algae covered dome of rock that has been hollowed out by erosion over time.  Though it was cold, I couldn’t resist tearing off most of my clothes and going for a dip, which included ducking into the rock cave behind the falls and exploring.  Nearly hypothermic afterwards, I laid out on the sun-baked rocks until Rick almost lost it worrying about me getting sunburned.  So, off we went.

We decided midway down that a steak dinner sounded preferable to our meal of quinoa, so we swung by Phantom Ranch on our way down, and asked to join the guests for dinner.  Apparently it can be difficult to get a reservation, but when it’s your honeymoon things fall into place a bit more easily. 🙂

We made ourselves comfortable and put away several beers, justifying our growing buzz by telling ourselves the mules that carried down the beer would appreciate our efforts to lighten their load. Then we had a great steak, went to a late evening ranger talk, and toddled off to snuggle up in bed and listen to the creek gurgling beside us.

Bright and early the next morning, Rick and I headed out and up the Bright Angel trail.  This route is the more traditional way down the canyon, originally used by the Havasupai tribe, and then later used as the standard route until the South Kaibab was constructed.  It is a steady climb of about 10% grade for 10 miles.  So, though we made it up relatively quickly, we were pretty tired when we reached the top several hours later.  By that time, we felt fully justified in craving pizza and beer.  We made our way to Flagstaff and found just that.

Flagstaff is an adorable and artsy little college town.  I’m not sure how it never made it on to my radar, but after our time there I would never pass up an opportunity to visit again.  Though we had originally planned to spend the night meditating in vortexes in Sedona, we were easily lured into staying in Flagstaff for the night and traipsing from one outdoor shop to the next with warm drinks in hand.  We decided to spend the night in an old hotel called the Weatherford.  Unbeknownst to us, it did double time as a VERY popular bar. By the time we were heading to bed (8 pm ) the bar was just getting going.  Our “European style” bathrooms were an amusing sight as I waited in line in my PJ’s to use the toilet, surrounded by girls dressed for a Friday night out.  But, even with the noise and the ridiculousness of sharing our hotel floor with a bar, we still had a great time.

The Grand Canyon and Flagstaff were the highlights of the trip to me.  It’s hard not to become reflective when the sandstone walls constantly remind you of your smallness and impermanence. There is something romantic about being in love and happy in the face of such confronting evidence of your own insignificance. With eternity echoing in the stillness all you can do is hold your lover, best friend, and life partner and savor the glory of being alive and vital in the wild, unblinking world.

Full of gratitude.  🙂

DSC_0788

Roaring Twenties revisit

I’m so sore.  From about the bottom of my rib cage to the top of my quads, I feel wrecked.  Absolutely demolished. Hip openers tend to be a bit rough, but this was a whole new level of “ouch.”  Perhaps, it’s the fact that finally, after nearly a year of consistent yoga practice, I’m actually able to lay claim to having pretty open hips.  This weekend’s hip openers, however, may have introduced me to the next threshold in opening those suckers up, and in doing so they unleashed my inner tyrant.

I’ll back up and introduce this a bit.  I have been challenging myself to a personal 30 day challenge with yoga through September- so I’m practicing EVERY day for 30 days.  It’s not THAT far from my norm, but it’s the days when you really don’t have the motivation and HAVE to do it anyway that make the 30-day challenge worth pursuing – so pursue I will! I did the same thing this time last year, and it was a great way to energize and ramp up into spring!  So, about a week into it, feeling good and really happy,  I signed up for a hip and lower chakra workshop with Duncan Peak, the founder of Power Living Yoga, based in Sydney, to challenge myself a bit more and learn more about the chakras (spoiler alert: that last part didn’t happen).

If I’m going to be honest (and I am) I was perhaps a bit motivated to sign up by his poster:

Image

He’s not the worst person to fixate on for three hours on a Saturday. In fact, I will do extremely long holds of low lunges at his bidding.  I will sit in double pigeon for many minutes.  I will work my lower back and glutes until I can barely walk.  Yes, Duncan, I will.  What’s next?  I am an eager pupil.

But, in all seriousness, despite my recognition that he is well-respected in the yoga community, I definitely prejudged him a bit.  I do that sometimes, with very good-looking men.  I assume they lack substance.  But, as is often the case, I was wrong.  The man has an extensive knowledge of the kinesiology and anatomy that makes or breaks many poses for people.  And he explained it clearly, and with humour!  So, despite the raging ache in my hips and back all day today and the feeling that I might actually or metaphorically tear Rick’s head off if he said the wrong thing (hip-openers arouse latent rage inside me…) I think it was one of the best workshops I’ve been too!  It makes me more excited than I have been in a long time to continue with my teacher training!

I have to admit that in riding the wave of rage/emotion that comes with deep hip openers I found myself wondering at the level of junk we store in our bodies.  It felt to me like over the last few years, my yoga work unpacked emotional stuff relating to my last major relationship – some sad emotions.  But, that had really plateaued as of several months ago.  I was feeling a bit stagnant in my practice.  Breakthroughs were happening with less regularity.

Yesterday’s hip openers, however, took me on a new and different adventure, farther back, possibly into more deeply buried gunk.  I spent the whole day today feeling like I did all through college and in the years immediately following: constrained; wanting to break free; generally annoyed with the requirements of life;  rebellious; hormonal.  There was no apparent cause for this in my life today, so after some reflection I attributed it to the previous day’s hip openers and I decided that rather than risk blowing up at Rick without cause, I’d go take a long walk in the West End. As I was walking with my headphones on I noticed a group of guys at a restaurant kind of looking over at me and smiling.  Now, I have not spent a lot of time on my own in the last few years, and I certainly haven’t been hit on much by other guys – so I have to admit I was kinda digging being the object of their desire for a moment.  It occurred to me that I had better appreciate the moment with my wedding coming up in less than two months, and I flipped the stone of my engagement ring around my finger as I walked, considering the symbol on my hand with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.  What happens if one day I want to be free?  Will I always love Rick as I do today?

Now, I know that I want to marry Rick.  I have no doubt about that. Since meeting him I have had a sense that he was the one for me.  But, it was interesting recalling that the feelings I felt today were reminiscent of much of my life throughout my twenties.  It’s like my hip opening session uncovered a deeper store of pent up emotions from a formative period in my life – my freedom-seeking, angst-ridden, flirtatious, ridiculous twenties.  Ah, how fun they were, and how glad we all are that they’ve passed away into oblivion, only to be recalled in oblique references by my friends in wedding speeches and more obvious references whenever my sisters feel like reminding me of what a colossal pain-in-the-ass I can be.  I fear their reemergence, particularly now.

Perhaps I’m misallocating the cause of my angst.  It could be a biproduct of my overall uncertainty over the course of my life as of about two months from now.  Or it could be a hangover from the book I just finished – The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green.  (If you want to spend several hours crying, reliving the major loves and losses in your life, and reflecting on your general smallness in the larger picture, it’s a great book!  Have plenty of rehydrating fluids handy though.)

All I can say is, something happened to me over the last week (or yesterday) and I got really grouchy today.  I revisited a rebellious, moody, angsty Kat that I haven’t embodied in several years.  There were some moments it was a bit amusing, but mostly as I tried to observe the emotions that were coming out I felt grateful to be in a different, more stable, more happy place in my life.  As I often do, I reflected on that person I was then, back in my mid-twenties.  I recognized how passionately I resisted being pinned to one version of myself, one path forward, or one single person as a partner.  Hell, it was my twenties and that’s exactly what they’re for, but in hindsight I realize that I was a bit of a wrecking ball at times.

I guess I’m glad to be where I am, and I am now definitely a bit reluctant to delve too deeply into the meat of my hips in the near future.  🙂

Australian Post Script – Weekend #2

It’s a bit odd living in a post script.  And, what I mean when I say I live in a post script is that  the greater part of our Australian adventure has concluded.  We have packed up our home, moved in to a friend’s extra bedroom, and we’re living out the next six weeks of our time here from the comfort of a futon and extremely disorganized suitcases.  But, like the juiciest information in a letter is often shared in the postscript, so too does our postscript contain some real treasure.

Last weekend Rick and I went to Cooroy to bid a final farewell to our friends Heidi and Joe and bask in the aura of their dream lifestyle.  They recently made the choice to follow their passions and left Brisbane to buy an amazing, self-sustaining property in the hills outside Noosa.  They opened a yoga studio, mediation centre, and ayurvedic clinic where they work together, alongside their new puppy Shakti.  They are getting married in October, just two weekends before Rick and me – so it’s fun to compare notes.  Our weddings will be quite different I think!  They fed us mulled wine, lemon butter, and sourdough bread until we could eat no more, and sent us on our way with half the citrus in their orchard.  It was such a beautiful weekend; a huge bonfire, great conversation, puppy snuggles, a great yoga practice (while Rick surfed), and some time to enjoy each other’s company.  I couldn’t have come up with a better way to spend one of our precious postscript weekends.

Well, there is one way that might be better – or at least comparably good.  And, that’s what we have planned for this weekend.  Tomorrow, I have a three-hour spa session that my mom got me as a 30th birthday present.  I had been saving until it no longer made sense to save it – NOW!  So, I am taking off Friday, going for a luxurious morning at the spa, and then spending the remainder of the weekend (and Monday!) in the company of some lovely friends on Stradbroke Island where we have plans to whale watch, cook, and generally having a blast!  I went whale watching several years ago in Alaska, but whales have long been one of my favorite creatures and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to do it again.

It feels good to be in this postscript mental space I am right now.  We are (thankfully) mentally present for these last weeks in Australia because we have most of our wedding details sorted out – at least for the time being.  So many friends and family have stepped to the plate to sing, conduct our ceremony, coordinate various wedding details, throw showers, give tours of Milwaukee sights, and generally help out.  I always knew I wanted my wedding to be a  community affair, but little did I know how much I’d actually NEED it to be.  I have been amazed at the enthusiasm and dedication of my friends and family, particularly my amazing parents who are helping with so much of the planning AND doing a throwback to their wedding and literally wearing what they got married in over 30 years ago (which actually is perfect considering we’re using almost the same colors and my dad wore a nice coat and my mom wore a beautiful women’s suit and not an actual wedding dress.)

I love the way things are shaping up for both the wedding and the time on either side of it.  I have had several talks with Heidi (above) about how in pursuing one’s dreams and their dharma the path opens up before them with each step; for Heidi that was moving to the hills with Joe and living off the land. For me it was everything that has come to be with Rick and me.  From our fortuitous meeting while I was still in another relationship, to our subsequent meetings after, to our courtship, our move to Australia, the dramas that came with it that strengthened our bond, our engagement, and to our decisions to move home and make massive career and lifestyle changes.  It feels as though each new opportunity presents itself when it should and when we have the means to make the best of it.

Last week I finished writing up the answers to some questions that were asked of us by the friend who is doing our wedding ceremony.  They were simple questions, but knowing he would take the answers and use them to help shape his words made me give strong consideration to my answers.    I recognized in my answers the lessons of several challenging years coming to roost as I emphasized our partnership, our shared joy in the successes and passions of the other person, our mutual desire to foster each other’s strengths and support their weaknesses, to truly face the world with a united front, and commit fully to our partnership through the obstacles and challenges we will unquestionably face.  It’s true that passion can be the spark of love, but it’s commitment that leads to the most meaningful intimacy.   And with Rick, commitment which always felt so hard to embrace for me, barely feels like a choice.  Rather, it reminds me of whitewater canoeing – you can ferry yourself, stressed and neurotic, around and above obstacles, constantly fighting a current which will take you to ruin on obstacles downstream.  But if you put yourself in the proper channel you can release yourself to the current with little fight or need to direct yourself and you can gracefully navigate the myriad challenges that surround you. My relationship with Rick feels like this.  It’s not a constant struggle to avoid ruin (even if the struggle was invigorating and exciting), it’s graceful and effortless – and it looks damn good.

I have always used rivers as metaphors in my relationships, and this is no exception. I feel so lucky to have Rick – my amazing fiance, friend, and co-pilot through rapids, and anything else we’re faced with.

Yeah, so in short postscript life ls pretty amazing. So good – life is just, plumb incredible.

What is marriage?

Rick has already written his vows.  He knows what he intends to say, even if he still plans to finesse the wording.

Me?  I’m what we call a procrastinator.

To be fair, it’s June and our wedding is in October.  In my defense, much remains to take in on the subject of love before one professes it eternally.  I find my mental space evolving constantly from one filled with autumn leaves, white dresses, and music, to one more observant of the subtle rhythms and patterns that form a marriage.  I watch my parents, my friends, my coworkers, and observe the way they talk about marriage and the way the don’t talk about it.  I take note of the specialized functions that develop in a two-person distribution of labor.  I watch the veiled jabs and gentle support that dance together through a conversation between lovers.  I watch the ways that friends slowly disclose the intimacies that make their marriages work, and I watch Rick and myself as we navigate the road that will take us to these places.

But most recently, I have watched with a heavy heart as my grandfather has been torn from my grandmother by death.  I recognize that the experience of grief is a universal one that we can all expect to experience, but as I often do, I come back to the specificity of THEIR lives and their love.  They married so young that he needed a fake ID to get a marriage license.  They shared their lives together for almost 65 years.  And in death, perhaps, they shared more intimacy about themselves than ever before.  He laid with her in bed, we all did, as she passed away from us.  I watched his poise and stoicism melt before me as he lost her.

My family is not a sentimental one.  Gruff, even.  But we wear hard exteriors to hide soft interiors.  Having the vantage point on marriage that her loss provides as I approach mine, perhaps is one of the gifts my grandmother is giving me posthumously.  She had a sharp intuition, that one.  And I credit her with helping me make my decision to come to Australia – a decision that has made all the difference in my life.  Her judgement was good.

I am, therefore, taking in the way Rick looks at me in the sleepy mornings and the way my heart melts when he talks about our puppy.  In these vignettes I have begun to envision the  architecture of our marriage, and the possible evolution of it with time.

Each time I speak to my Grandpa and hear the ways he is re-envisioning his life daily, recognizing the loss of structure, companionship, and intimacy he faces, I am reminded of what I’m signing up for.  I hope that I can emulate what he had and I take each painful observation as a lesson in what to strive for.

Breathe

crow pose

Crow pose

Breathe.   I keep telling myself that.  A few months ago, it came easily, but since I’ve gotten engaged everything has changed.

It wasn’t getting engaged that changed everything per se, it was the cascading life changes and decisions that resulted from it that are now adding up.  That, and my Grandma’s passing which, in watching my grandfather cope, has shone a spotlight on what a marriage should be and what it means to love the evolution of someone else – to evolve with them and change in harmonious ways as you both grow with time.

We’re moving home in October when we come back for our wedding.  That’s wild.  It will have been two years abroad for us, and we said that’s what we planned to do.  But, sadly, the thought of leaving challenges me a lot.  I really enjoy my job, my progression in yoga, my nearly car-free existence, and the friends we’ve made here in Brisbane.  I have finally begun to feel like this foreign land is home to me (at least in small ways), and now we are uprooting ourselves once more.  It fills my heart with a mixture of emotions.

But two weeks ago when I jumped on a plane to see my Grandmother and arrived 26 hours later in my hometown just in time to see her before she left us, I realized that the distance from Australia to Wisconsin is massive.  And, lives pass quickly in the spaces and distances that I’ve allowed to grow.  Since I got back on the plane and left my wounded grandfather at home, I’ve felt every inch of that distance acutely.  My heart aches for him constantly.

So, rather than dwell on the hurt of being so far from one I love so much during this painful time, I have thrown myself into work, wedding planning, and coordinating our move home and the subsequent settling (after some months of honeymooning) that we’ll need to do (where that is remains unclear).  But all this planning is only to cover a rawness that sits just below the surface.  The littlest things have set me off all week; whether it was Rick’s tone of voice, work stress (I’m slammed), or being the eternal subject of twitter jabs from my old boyfriend’s fiancée  (an ongoing saga). Things that normally roll off my back or make me chuckle, simply don’t. Try as I may to observe my moods and ride out the waves, I find myself prickly.  I’m edgy and sad.  I keep waking from dreams of my Grandma, and I realize now that in attempting to be strong for my Grandpa I have bottled up a lot of my own grief.  I’m back to crying on the yoga mat.

I’ve been reminding myself to breathe deeply, do yoga, slow down, and come back to my core in order to look outward.  I’m hoping this three-day weekend will be just the enforced-pause I need to do that.

Vietnam Pho Life!

Halong Bay sunset

Halong Bay sunset

You better believe I came up with that catchy title myself!

Anyway, I’m sitting here over a hot bowl of pho.  It’s not the first time I’ve done this since returning from Vietnam, and it surely won’t be the last.  The food in Vietnam is a never-ending gastronomic adventure that I’m doing my best to replicate at home. I wish I could tell you about all the things I ate, but the truth is that I didn’t even know what they were most of the time.  Regardless, they tasted amazing.  Even weasel coffee, made from coffee beans specially processed through the gut of a weasel!  Can’t wait to send that home to the fam!

I know I should go into detail about my travels in Vietnam, and I would love to, but I hardly think I did the country justice in my short visit.  As I always seem to do, I underestimated both the size of the country, and my desire to see all of it.  As I’ve said many times over, travel is such a refreshment for the soul – it awakens your mind and body, and reminds you of the breadth and depth of humanity.  There never seems to be enough time for travel.

Flower market by morning

Flower market by morning

Rather than go into detail about what I did and saw in the country, I’m just going to share some vignettes and observations from my time there.  I didn’t travel with a detailed enough itinerary or plan to be of use to anyone else in planning, and I didn’t take notes on what I did.  But, I can tell you my thoughts because I have plenty of those.

One of the most surprising things about Vietnam to me, was not the motorbikes, or the crush of people, or the smells of food and streets and exhaust, as many people described to me.  My mind was more fixated on the layers of culture that permeate the Vietnamese world.  As you walk the streets you see pate, french breads, and other foods whose stay has long outlasted the French rule.  You see colonial architecture next to soviet-style, socialist government buildings.  You see countless reminders of the “War of American Aggression”  or the Vietnam War, whether in museums, or in the form of someone wheeling themselves down the sidewalk in a cart because they have deformed legs due to the toxic chemicals sprayed across swaths of Vietnam during the war. You see women carrying their wares, or other goods on carrying poles and wearing the traditional Non la hats, next to teenagers on their iphones.   It’s a wild array of contrasts.

259925_647298586475_1561644896_n

Motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City

Most of all, I was struck by the persistent thrum of Vietnamese society despite all the occupations, wars, and turmoil.  I was stuck by the grassroots victory of capitalism in a country that fought so hard for socialism, and intrigued by the tangible sense of economic acceleration that I felt both in the cities and in the outlying areas.

I think part of the reason I so enjoyed the country was the company I kept, and the timing.  Having just gotten engaged a week before, my brain was full of emotions and my heart felt like it was on overdrive. It felt odd to leave on a vacation without Rick during this time, but the plans were made months earlier. So, I picked up in the throes of giddy wedding planning (and more importantly, life planning) and spent a week with one of my ex’s best friends.  It felt a bit ass-backwards and it freaked me out.  In fact, I took so long saying goodbye to Rick that I nearly missed my plane!

Morning in Hanoi

Morning in Hanoi

That nervousness proved unfounded, because Eliot and I have always gotten along like two peas in a pod.  He read the maps, I perused the internet on his cell phone.  He suggested ideas, and I said yes or no to them. He shared his mangoes, and I shared my antacids.  He paid for my custom suit, all my flights, and a few hotels, and I paid for the 6-hour bus ride where he nearly got motion sick and an overnight boat where he narrowly avoided singing karaoke.   You can see how we work together well.

I kid.  There was much more than that.  I also let Eliot wear my scarves in cold air conditioning.

But, seriously, Eliot made me feel like someone was watching out for me while we  traveled, and was a great companion for the week.  We talked and talked and talked some more, and we drank coffee, picked out baby gifts, tried on clothes, ate incessantly, rode bikes, dodged motorbikes, and generally had a great time.  Traveling with him is sort of what I imagine it would be like traveling with a brother; comfortable, engaging, flexible.  We could do what we wanted; at times we split up, or one of us went to bed, but there was never any drama.   It was a perfect fit.  And though travelling with Eliot reminded me of the past, it also brought back a lot of wonderful memories and made me smile.  As soon as I was on the plane to Kuala Lumpur by myself, I missed having Eliot sitting next to me reading magazines and acting impatient.  The kid is just wonderful.

Eliot overlooking the Halong Bay sunset

Eliot overlooking the Halong Bay sunset

It was definitely a bit odd taking off to travel with Eliot, given the myriad associations that I attach to him, and the timing of my trip just a week after Rick and I got engaged.  But, oddly, traveling with Eliot gave me a lot of mental space to recall who I was in college and who I am now, and reconcile the differences. I relish my time with him because I have never had such a close guy friend in my life.  I have no brothers, or close male family members near to my age. I have been surrounded by women my whole life, so I’ve had few chances to share a close friendship with a guy that didn’t suffer from sexual tension and miscommunications.   I just soak it in with Eliot.   He is the only guy I have even felt so uninhibited around that I wasn’t dating.

As such, he was party to all my ramblings about all the stuff tumbling through my head, and he listened and gave advice as someone who has known me well for a long time. Whether  it was life advice, or determining which fabric to use for my suit, he was on it – it wasn’t his first rodeo, in that sense.  It was so nice to talk with him, hear his thoughts, and remember how much I like Eliot.  He doesn’t begrudge my ridiculousness, and I never feel like I have to put on airs around him.  He even was sweet enough to tell me I’d be a pretty bride when I showed him a picture of a white dress I’d tried on while I was wandering around the city on my own.  It was a joy traveling with him.

The trip to Vietnam, for all these reasons, was incredible.  All the things about the trip that initially made me nervous like leaving Rick when we were so happy, seeing Eliot and dealing with the related associations, etc., were EXACTLY what I needed at that moment in time.  It really felt like the pieces all fell into place for a reason.  Being away from Rick reminded me of how much I care about him, how much I miss him when we’re apart, and how I enjoy being with him.   Being around Eliot helped me process some unresolved things from the past few tumultuous years, and reminded me of the road I’ve traveled to this point today.  It was an amazing trip and I’m so grateful that all the pieces fell into place to make it what it was.  Vietnam is an incredible country and I hope to return.

Trackside in Hanoi

Trackside in Hanoi