Wednesday, February 26, 2014

We Have A New Baby!

Robb and I are thrilled to introduce our beautiful son.

Duke Lawrence entered the world with a swagger on his mama's birthday, Saturday, February 22nd at 5:58pm. He's perfect and gorgeous (and the spitting image of his daddy — even down to his big man hands!).
Duke (as in Ellington, the jazz great), because it is strong, clear, and unpretentious, and has a musical lineage dear to both of us. And because it sounds so damn good.
Lawrence (in honor of my late father Larry, and Robb's late friend and teacher, Larry Schultz), that our little Larry might be blessed and inspired by their bright spirits, their wide smiles, and the unparalleled love for life that both embodied. 
Duke's been hitting the yoga mat every morning since he showed up. He hates the swaddle. Totally gets in the way of his Surya Namaskaras. Piano lessons start next week, along with tackling the Transcendentalists. The usual newborn fare.

We adore him.

Like, dopey-adore him.

(Here's a shot of Aunties Claudia and Heidi when they came to squeeze him.)

Yesterday after breakfast we did our first Ellington tutorial. Listened to a little Ella Fitzgerald covering "Mood Indigo," some "Satin Doll," and, of course, some Louis Armstrong trumpeting with Duke himself on the keys, just for good measure.

Next on the agenda: that legendary "Sentimental Mood" Coltrane duet, "Take The 'A' Train" with a little more Ella, and, of course, "It Don't Mean A Thing."

(Extra credit points for the sweet versions of Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke" that have been sent our way.)

After a gorgeous sunny weekend (all of which was spent indoors laboring and recovering and learning the ins and outs of diapering and burping and swaddling and whatnot), we're tucked in cozily at home in the midst of a churning early-spring rainstorm. The rain is supposed to linger through the weekend. It's perfect weather for staying in, noodling around in sweats, and getting to know one another.

Oh, and trying to sleep, and attempting to shower, and catching up on the 631 emails and 26 texts and 18 as-yet-unlistened-to birthday voicemails, too. I've had nary a moment to keep up with the flood of wonderfully kind and thoughtful messages coming in, so if you've sent an amazingly sweet text or email or note, know how deeply you are loved and appreciated, even if I haven't had the chance to get back to you. This is the first time I've been on a computer for more than 10 seconds since last Friday. And I've slept about 6 hours total since then (all to be expected, of course). The bags under my eyes right now are epic. But there's just too much goodness going down out there in the real world right now. So trust that our silence is indicative of snuggling and lullaby-ing and swaddling-in-vain and searching furtively for a few winks of shut-eye in between the smiles and snoozes and the baby sighs.

We won't get these rare few weeks back, ever. Computers, iPhones; they can wait.

Love from the three of us.

The Big Kahuna. He has some sweeeeet biceps.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Yoga Practice For The 10-Months Prego Lady

Here's what an asana practice looks like at 39+ weeks pregnant.

(Speaking as one who is such.)

We're talking about 10-15 minutes, max — a far cry from the old days of 2 hrs every morning — and mostly seated poses, as standing balancing poses with a big ol' gut have been pretty much a joke since about 5 months along, and even simple inversions like Down Dog and Prasarita C, which were my go-to poses til about 7 months along, aren't necessarily so wise to do anymore, because of the risk of turning the baby breech.

This is less an intentional or well-rounded sequence and more, uh, like "This is all I can still actually kind of fake my way through." I usually move through these few poses after building some heat/moving the blood with a simple hike.

As for maternity yoga fashion: I always wear that silver dress at left to practice at home. It's good for inspiration. Though you've gotta hike it up a bit to get into a few of these.

Supported Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose, very helpful for preventing swollen feet) 

Malasana (Garland Pose, or Deep Yogi Squat, wonderful for keeping your hips open and relieving low back pain) 
Virasana with Gomukhasana Arms (Hero Pose with Cowface Arms, both sides, again, great to prevent swollen hands and carpal tunnel)  
Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose, with only the slightest forward fold allowing for belly) 
Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby, for just a few breaths, as lying on your back is not recommended and doesn't feel great)  

Cat/Cow Variations (Keep 'em very, very simple) 
Vasisthasana Variations (Drop the bottom knee, extend the top arm at a diagonal)

Parighasana (Gate Pose)  
Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose, if you can manage to heave yourself down there and back up again)  
Hamstring Stretches a la Ballet Class (Hoist leg up on kitchen counter and fold to side to allow room for belly to drop through)  
Hanumanasana, both sides, if you're feeling REALLY motivated (Keeping hips super-open by necessity, to allow for belly) 

Ice cream in bed whilst watching Jon Stewart 

More sleep  

Thursday, February 20, 2014


The church says: The body is a sin.

Science says: The body is a machine.

Advertising says: The body is a business.

The Body says: I am a fiesta.

 — Writer Eduardo Galeano

Monday, February 10, 2014

Waiting Game

It's been a week now since I taught my last class.

Just around the corner from 38 weeks and fully aware that Bebe could arrive any day. Doc seems to think he'll wait til his due date, though, so only time will tell.

In the meantime: holy stillness.

And I mean that in a lot of different ways.

After a winter of abject drought, on Friday, things shifted. In a big way. We trudged into Greenbrae for an OB check-up that morning, and the rain had started. It kept flowing as we stopped off in Sausalito for whooping cough shots and then powered south through SF to San Mateo to meet with our tax lady. Got home just in time to avert the mess of the wet evening commute, and hardly left the house all weekend.

The rain and wind intensified late Friday afternoon, and still haven't stopped. A few different unofficial local accounts estimate that we got anywhere from 12-14 inches around here.

Whoa mama. Just what (Mother Nature's) doctor ordered.

I've never been so glad to be trapped in my house, unable to go for a walk or get outside. I've never sat on my butt so much and not gotten irritable or antsy. (Surely some of that is the major-prego factor, I know). But the rain kept coming and the wind kept howling and the lights kept flickering and we just stayed, and stoked the fireplace, and listened to old-school jazz, and crossed things off baby to-do lists.

And it felt really good.

Yesterday I made pancakes for breakfast. Then brownies, mid-afternoon. I guess some people might call that "nesting," but it felt more like "what the hell else do you do on a wet Sunday afternoon when you can't do the Primary Series in front of the fire because you're hauling around a small living person and you don't have cable and the car seat's finally installed and football season is over and there's no good reason to venture out in the rain?"

The gratuitous baked goods were delicious, all. (Gluten-free and vegan, too, no less.) And my body is officially maple-syrup-shocked.

I've been watching the mist all morning here out the windows from our little treehouse cottage, and it's been slowing, gradually, until just now, finally, the sun's making a wan attempt to come out. This bodes well for the potential of actually moving my body for the first time since Thursday. A soggy, slow, waddling hike might be in order.

This last week marks the first time since I was, oh, 18 or so, that I haven't been working like a dog. It's weird. I'm kind of a hustler, you see. I like to work. A lot. It feeds me. Fuels me. Inspires me. Even when we were away last year on our honeymoon, I was fully aware that once we got home I'd have to jump back in and catch up on 2 weeks'  of emails and admin and, you know, planning ahead and whatnot. Here, now, well, there's only One Big Thing we're planning for, and everything else is reasonably on hold.

And it feels, um, amazing.

To not have anxiety watching the urgent "must-reply-ASAP" emails piling up.

To actually read a book and not feel guilty about that other thing I "should" be doing. Usually for someone else.

To sleep enough, and eat enough, and rest enough, and stop hustling.

It's the literal and figurative lack of hustling that feels most strange, and new. No more hustling from Point Reyes to San Francisco to Oakland and back in the course of 12 hours. No more hustling to crank out those imperative email replies before hitting the road til midnight. No more hustling to throw up a quick blog post before rolling out the door.

Just staying, being slow and still and present. Sitting for 3 hours to write thank-you notes and feeling amazingly rewarded at finally getting them done. Making pancakes yesterday and not feeling like I should be practicing instead. Watching Ken Burns' "The Dust Bowl" and loving the learning and the sense of connection to my prairie-bred, German-immigrant, Nebraska farmer great-grandparents who somehow managed to struggle through those years without feeling like I had another, "more important" project to be completing.

Whoa. Feels kind of wonderful to exhale.

I realize this will all change in a matter of days, or weeks. Oh yes. People have been quick to remind me that the quiet solo hours I've always savored reading and writing at coffee shops will soon be a romantic thing of the past. And while the indubitable truth of that reality makes me want to drink heavily and cry, I also know that there'll be a lot of sweet hours to come full of "doing nothing" whilst rocking my milk-drunk baby to sleep.

I know I'm lucky to get this little window of time. I know not everyone is so privileged, that a lot of full-term pregnant women are stuck flipping burgers and shuffling around on painfully swollen feet in front of the grills at McDonalds until the moment they go into labor. I feel grateful to have these few still hours to prepare, to anticipate, to settle, to ground, before we launch into a wholly unknown realm. And I've gotta say: mothers-to-be, if you're able to sneak in a week or two of leave before the whole world changes, it's a dream. A relief. A necessary pause. A sacred moment of time in which no one expects you to do or perform or show up or wear a bra. In which you can tuck in and disappear and breathe deeply and just be.

And it is really lovely.


If you have any down-time to read today, check out these couple of pieces:

Nathan Schneider on 12 Ways Catholicism Is More Radical Than Pope Francis. Yes! Progressives are loving on Pope Frank a lot lately, which makes me happy, but most of them don't realize that he's actually just living by Christian doctrines, as opposed to most of the right-wing fundamentalist "Christians" who've distorted the actual teachings to serve their own reactionary socio-political and economic ideologies. Back in the day, I used to tell people I was a "radical Christian, but that's redundant." I don't know how "Christian" you can officially consider me anymore, but I still hold fast to the understanding that Christianity is at its heart wild-and-crazy-revolutionary. Check it.
The SF Chronicle wrote an article about Zeke and family in the wake of Ron Powell's tragic death last week. I was so heartened to see such a widespread outpouring of compassion and support. You can read more and see Paige Green's poignant, bittersweet family photos here.
Susan Piver on Buddhism and heartbreak. She is so good. There's a lot of trite, crappy writing about love going around this week. This isn't that. Read it.

Kate Geiselman on the challenges of teaching community college. I so appreciate this perspective. In the vein of Matthew B. Crawford's fantastic look at shop work as soul craft, here's yet another scholar who says: hey people, maybe there's a problem with this cultural myth that a 4-year college degree is a ticket to financial success and personal (and career) fulfillment. Especially when private (and, sadly, even public) universities are charging increasingly obscene prices to crank out what are often useless college degrees.
(On that note: read this book.)
Joe Fassler on Ingmar Bergman, his muse, his art, and what all great artists (writers, musicians) need: solitude. On whether pain is necessary for real creativity, and what it means to live in service to one's art, to sit with the overwhelming humanity that (said Bergman), "oozes out of me like a broken tube of toothpaste; it doesn’t want to stay within the confines of my body." And then there's this, sounding suspiciously more and more like meditation: "You can't run away from your emotions and your memory and the material you're working on. Artistic solitude is a decision to turn and face these feelings, to sit with them for long periods of time. It takes the courage to be there. You run into your own pettiness. Your own cowardice. You run into all kinds of ugly sides of yourself. But the things that you've experienced in your life become the writing that you do. And there's no easy way to get to it. And that's what Bergman and other Swedish writers have taught me—to stay in that painful zone, discipline myself through it to get where I want."
Michael Sam on coming out as gay just as he approaches the NFL draft. Love this story. Love his bravery. Love the overall celebratory and supportive reactions emerging from all corners. Hope, hope, hope he gets drafted and goes big.
Oh, and if you really, really have time, like prego-lady-waiting-to-birth-a-baby time, or are riding out a snowstorm somewhere on the colder coast, watch the aforementioned Dust Bowl mini-series. And then check out the new Netflix documentary about Mitt Romney, simply titled "Mitt." It's a fascinating inside look at Romney's two failed Presidential runs, heavy on family home videos and hotel room prayer sessions, although short on actual policy and strategy insights.

Be fierce in paying attention to what's already working. What's already fine. 
Because in every single moment, many things are already fine. 

Valentine's Day, Buddhist-Style

Susan Piver always gets it right.

This is some of the best writing on love/heartbreak that you'll find, in a week often saturated with (dare I say mediocre?) tawk of love.

Read it.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Reality Check

And then sometimes life smacks you upside the head with a no-joke reality check.

Crept home yesterday in the rain after a sweltering, sweet final class at Flying Yoga. I'd been a little worried that my almost-37-weeks-prego self wasn't going to be able to hack it through the humid 90-minute sweatfest, but it was fine, and everyone was so damn lovely, so after stopping at the bank, grabbing some Super Bowl snacks at Trader Joe's, and loading up on gas, I headed home to savor the rest of a rainy day with my Mister watching the big game next to a roaring fire.

Relief. Exhalation.

My belly has gotten to the point where it can no longer squeeze between the tight rows of 60-some bodies packed into that hot studio. I'm always whacking people with it right and left, inadvertently, awkwardly.

Feels like it's finally time to be still and rest.

Saw the news about Philip Seymour Hoffman yesterday on leaving class. Shocked and dismayed, along with everyone else, to hear of his unexpected passing.

("To be loved, I think, is the thing that gets you up in the morning," said PSH himself on NPR's Morning Edition, back in April 2012. Have to agree.)

So there was a strange and somber tone injected into an otherwise-celebratory day, matched somewhat by the cool grey rain, as welcome as that much-needed relief was to all of us feeling the drought here in California.

I listened to Tara Brach on my wet, careful drive into class Sunday morning, doing my best to navigate the slippery roads. She talked about how everything we experience — thoughts, feelings, pleasant and painful sensations — is like a weather pattern, coming and going, appearing, staying for a few breaths (or a few days), and then passing along. And how our job as meditators, as yogis, as, well, people just trying to get through the day, is to relate deeply enough to the fundamental understanding of our own Buddha nature, our own pure awareness as that of untouched clear blue sky — so bright and still, naturally placid, radiant, rich with innate equanimity and balance — that when the inevitable severe thunderstorms of our lives roll in, we are decently equipped to step back, take a deep breath, layer on a few raincoats, pull on our galoshes, and sit quietly with the blowing clouds and the gale-force winds until they eventually, in an hour or in a week or a year, pass.

I found this metaphor particularly apropos as I drove through the wet and the cold and realized how deeply we needed it.

I thought it particularly insightful as I witnessed the collective joy from everyone in the Bay Area on waking (finally!) to rain. Facebook and Twitter were blowing up with commentary from folks overjoyed at the long-awaited graceful inconvenience of having to stay home and snuggle up and listen to the rain pelting down.

I was reminded of its truth especially in driving past the near-evaporated Nicasio reservoir and witnessing the dead brown hills lapping up rain along Lucas Valley Road.

I felt the thirsty earth's gratitude for this little tease of nourishment from the sky.

I left my umbrella in the car and savored the little wet drops on my way into the studio for the last time til after the baby comes.

I spoke a few words in class about how we should all lend some healthy skepticism to any yoga teacher or system that says you should always be happy, that every day should be sunny, that enlightenment looks like perpetual bliss. We in California these days know too well that a life of perpetual sunshine is not a good thing. It's unbalanced. It doesn't lend to equanimity. It leaves us wanting for nourishment and wholeness and a certain necessary complementarity. We have witnessed this truth with dire consequences in the last few drought-ridden months.

So I said a little something more about how the metaphorical rain of our days is welcome, how we need to usher in the more chaotic, messy, sloppy shit-storms of our lives, remembering that they, too, are simply weather systems, coming and going, and they're just as nourishing and as essential and as healthy (and as yogic) as the brilliantly sunny days. That we can't have one without the other.

And this all felt very wise and true and balanced, very yin/yang, very Taoist, this reminder to welcome the rainstorms along with the sun.

And I felt so grateful, again, for the slop and the sludge on the slow, drippy drive home, remembering how comforting the sound of rain hammering the top of the big blue van had been as a kid, driving home along I-29 in South Dakota.

But then last night after the game (can we really call that pathetic whomping a game?), fire still roaring, bellies full, convinced by the Broncos' listless showing that the 49ers still deserved to reign in the upper-echelon of American football, we heard this news, unbelievable, really, heart-breaking in the most inconceivable of ways.

The kind of news that hits a whole community like a punch to the gut, that leaves a whole expanse of folks reeling.

The kind of news you think just should not possibly ever be.

The kind of news you're sure is just too unfair to be true.

Alex and Ron's 4-year-old son, Ezequiel, was diagnosed with a very rare Stage 4 cancer just a few weeks ago. (That's Ron and EZ in the picture, up above.) He's been in the hospital undergoing chemo, and just finally came home on Friday.

Word has traveled quickly amongst West Marin folks in the last few weeks, and it's been heartrending to witness the power of so many people coming together with love and support for their family. Inspiring. Gives you hope amongst the sadness.

(Your heart just hurts, even hearing the news. I don't even know them that well, not the way my husband does, or like some of the local people who've all grown up together over the years, and it still makes me quiver.)

Sunday morning, Ron, EZ's father, had a massive heart attack and died in his sleep.

Just like that.

One day after coming home from the hospital with his chemo-treated son.

Holy shit.

Holy impossible.

Holy what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-the-world.

Holy this is why we owe it to one another to learn to sit with, to honor, to witness, every range of feelings and experiences that comes up.

Because life is NOT all fairies and unicorns, in spite of what many yoga magazines and Instagram accounts and lots of perpetually blissed-out green-juice-drinking yoga-lebrities want you to think.

Because life is often unfair, and incomprehensible, and painful, and oh-so-full of suffering.

Because we know that's true, because we've all experienced it in one way or another, though most of us, through sheer random luck, perhaps, not to the degree that the Powell/Porrata family is right now.

Because we, all of us, need every tool we can possibly get to be ok in moments like these, the moments that seem far too unbearable to even be true.

Because sometimes the weather systems of our lives are soft little April showers, and sometimes they're snowpocalypses that wreak havoc and dump shitloads of snow everywhere and close all the roads and trap us at home and leave us wondering how and if and when we'll ever dig out.

We practice for those moments in our lives. Those moments wherein we think there's no way to ever get through, or out, or around. Those moments wherein suffering seems too Capital-S to bear. Those moments wherein the polar vortex pummels the hell out of everything we know and love.

And in the meantime, we try desperately to remind ourselves (failing, usually, caught up as we are in the miniscule daily dramas of our lives) not to ever take the stillness, the ease, the clear-blue-sky kind of days for granted.

Because those pass, too.

I mutter this little unofficial made-up prayer as a kind of blessing at the end of every class I teach, a fleeting wish that we might never take this breath, this body, this moment, this life for granted, not only as a final brief reminder to students as to why we do any of this yoga stuff, but also as a reminder for myself.

That the most challenging breaths, the most challenging moments might be just as sacred as any other; that we might never get so bogged down in the Frankenstorms of our lives that we forget how lucky we are to even have this life to begin with; and the fact that at any moment — any moment! — it all might change.

And then, there, we might suddenly find ourselves alone, or burying a partner, or a child, or a parent, and wishing we'd been more aware (present, light, loving, grateful, patient, fill-in-the-blank) while we still could.

Don't take a single breath for granted.

Even the breaths that are hard to catch, the struggling ones that come through a stuffy-sick-with-the-flu nose, or the desperate shallow ones that come at the top of the longest literal or figurative mountain-climb you've ever tackled, or the thin unsatisfying ones we struggle to really get because there's a big ol' baby sitting in the space where your lungs usually expand.

Each one is sacred.

Especially, especially, the most ostensibly mundane.

Because how we will wish for those breaths when they're gone.

So I'm going to settle into these next few quiet weeks of waiting for the wee one to arrive, and enjoy the staying in my pajamas with my beloved working quietly in the next room, and savor the to-do lists and the packing-the-birth-center bag and the gathering-tax-materials and the paying-off-credit-cards and the doing-the-laundry and all of those other unsexy ways we spend our hours.

Because they are real. And they won't last forever.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern....
There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life.
— Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

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