Sunday, September 25, 2011


This has nothing to do with yoga. Or maybe everything. I mean really, yoga is a microcosm for life isn't it? But I warned you all this might go this way. Maybe I'll try to work a cat in for good measure. 

As I am writing this, my grandad passed away just hours ago. I was fortunate enough to see him so recently my carry-on bag has yet to be unpacked. I wanted to share my favorite memory of him because it so perfectly sums up who he was to me. 

I was still in college when I got a 9pm call that my grandmother had just passed. My college was in Grand Rapids, the West side of Michigan, and my parents, in Detroit on the East side of Michigan, were in the process of booking an early flight to Florida for us. I had nine hours to drive the 3 hours to Detroit, sleep, make myself presentable and pack. While this may seem like an easy feat, let us consider two items on this list severely impacted by my college lifestyle:

1. Packing a funeral outfit.
Being an art student I did not own any funeral-appropriate attire. Heck, I didn't own a pair of jeans with even one knee intact. I had to dash from dorm-room to dorm-room asking girls roughly my size and shape for black dress clothes, which, of course, they did not have, being college students themselves. I managed to scrape together a skirt and blouse that fit...more or less. Nylons and shoes had to be arranged over the telephone. I called my sister for nylons but she couldn't help with shoes, her feet being a very normal size for an elf. My mother provided shoes, her feet were only one size too large (I brought a spare pair of socks to shove in the toes). 

2. Making myself presentable
College Kate was well known for her wide variety of hair-styles. Shaved head? Done. Purple leopard-print? Yup. Princeton? Uh-huh. Chelsea? You-betcha. Female pompadour? Briefly. The coiffure of choice this month (actually, I had been growing this out for almost a year) was a tall, fully shaved on the sides, green mohawk. My dad & step-mom are pretty conservative and, although they made their best effort not to show it, were horribly embarrassed by my hair and clothing even under regular circumstances. I was not sure they would let me on the plane, let alone look my poor grieving grandpa in the eye with a foot-tall green mohawk. 

As I explained, it took some time, but I did manage to get clothing together. The hair was another matter. I figured if I could just get my hair not-neon, I could comb it down and be okay. I sped to the nearest beauty supply store, which closed at 9. Of course the door was locked, but my pounding and yelling got the attention of the girls closing down in back. I knew I had to pound furiously because these girls were very talented at ignoring customers pounding on the door past closing. I know, I worked there. You would be surprised at the tenacity required to pretend the stylist screaming about her 8am perm appointment is not there. They let me in and I ran right to the dye aisle and picked out the top rated hair-color and developer (in darkest brown), some color remover and a crystal gel treatment. Does all that sound harsh to try on already bleached hair? It is. Very harsh. 

I grabbed my supplies and drove right to the other side of the state. Getting in at 1am, I had 4 hours to strip, cleanse, dye my hair and sleep. Hooray for adrenaline (I had yet to discover pranayama breathing)! I rushed through the treatments and ascertained that I had forgotten one major component conditioner. My brittle hair felt worse than straw. I am sure half the hair attached to my head only remained because of the series of knots that tied it to other strands yet to break off. A little lotion was all I had to run through my hair, achieving the hard to acquire greasy-yet-dry look. To top it off, the brown dye and treatments only succeeded in turning my neon green to a moss-on-a-log camo pattern. Patches of neon butted up next to mossy brown. With two hours left, I heaved a heavy sigh and put on a baseball cap. Maybe it could be considered part of my funeral outfit, like a lady's bonnet? 

As this was pre-9/11, I made it through security and to my grandpa's house without taking off my hat, which had a Dropkick Murphy's patch safety pinned to the front. My parents had been warned of the horrors beneath my cap, but we choose not to speak of it. When we arrived at my grandpa's condo there were many relatives gathered around having the customary scotch and wine forced upon them by my grandfather.* None of my family lives in the same city so nobody knew what my hair was currently doing under my cap, but everyone knew me well enough to know to be afraid. And for g*d's sake, do not mention it. People avoided looking at my hat the way people would avert their eyes from satan. There was an elephant in the room and it was sitting on my head. Finally, my grandpa spoke up, "Kathryn. Come here. Take off your hat." 

For the first time all day (my family consists largely of stereo-typicaly thunderous Jews, of which I am no exception) the room went silent.

"Um. No, grandpa. That's a bad idea." I responded. We bantered like that back and forth, him sounding like he was coaxing a ball out of a dog's mouth to play fetch and me sounding like he was asking me to slay my first born. I looked into my parent's eyes and saw horror, I looked around the room, further horror. No solace anywhere but my poor grandfather's playful eyes. If only he knew what he was asking, surely he would desist!

I didn't want to disappoint my grandad, not even being able to clean up for my grandmother's funeral, but there was no way around it. I just didn't have time to fix it. I bowed my head, apologized and took the cap off. A gasp came up from the crowd but above that could be heard laughing. Loud, joyous laughter. Grandpa thought the matted, greasy, mess on my head was hilarious, made even more so by my cowardice!

He grabbed my head put his lips to my shaved haffet giving me a big kiss. As he did, he whispered in my ear, a conspiratory whisper,  "Next time, shave these  better, the stubble hurts my lips!"

My grandad was always a regal man, a proper man. A classic WWII vet who loved his scotch, golfed and drank his tea very black. He was also above judgement and loved me unconditionally. Thank you for that last visit, grandpa. It was the greatest gift ever — even better than those plastic fisher-price roller skates you gave me for my 8th birthday. 

* The man was so insistent that every visitor to his home join him in a glass of scotch that not 7 days before he died, while The Boy and I were visiting, grandad had me run to the liquor cabinet and pour us each a glass.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Introduction to Princess Sidney, the Perpetually Annoyed

I am owned by an adorable, spoiled rotten princess who's only reason for having not taken over the planet is that she lacks the necessary opposable thumbs. Her name is Sidney. All 7 pounds of her little fuzzy existence is devoted to following me around, ensuring that I am not doing anything that messes up her living space.

Every morning my alarm goes off too early for my liking, although later than most of the rest of the world. I hit snooze. This is Sidney's cue to leave the closet of my home office and join me for the last 15 minutes of cuddle time. She lies down on my back or belly, depending on which is facing up, and purrs so contentedly as to drip a drool puddle onto my comforter. She is the reason I had to purchase a fancy duvet cover, so I could wash the darned thing of cat drool regularly. I know the drool doesn't magically stop at the cover and the down-alternative beneath must be getting soaked too. I try not to think of this. I suggest you do the same.

15 minutes later the alarm sounds again and I slap at it until it silences. Sidney happily jumps off the bed and rushes ahead of me to the bathroom. The Boy and I keep the bathroom door closed so Sidney can't spend all night drooling on the sink waiting for one of us to go to the bathroom and turn on the faucet. She loves drinking from the bathroom sink and will spend all day there patiently waiting if we let her. The Boy gets annoyed at the hair and I can't help but think that, although it makes her happy, sitting on the sink 24 hours a day can not be good for anyone's mental development. As such, this is the first opportunity of the day she gets to be truly happy with her beloved faucet.

Once I am done brushing my teeth, showering and banging my head against the wall (mornings are not my strong suit) I open the door, point and grunt. She gets the idea and hops off the sink and trots out ahead of me. She lingers at my feet as I make a green juice and tea if I am ambitious,  whatever seems easy and tea if I am not. Then, off to the office, a whole 30 feet away. Sidney sits in my lap, which is folded into lotus or criss-cross, ensuring the princess has adequate lap space to unfold herself.

I tell you all of this so you get the general idea that my cat and I are very used to each other. Like an old married couple, we have come to our compromises, roll our eyes at the other's perceived shortcomings and begrudgingly alter our routines to accommodate the other's needs. Everything goes very smoothly until a new interest or hobby is introduced, like yoga poses in the home.

Much to Sidney's displeasure, I have taken to trying headstands, with the eventual goal of Tiger Scorpion. Very eventual. I am pretty sure I've got a shot at the pose if I can just figure out how to lift my head up. While I am aware that lifting your head is not the most challenging part of the posture, I get the definite impression that this tiny movement will take me so long to grasp that by the time my head is lifted, I will have been practicing for 19 years and the rest of the pose will fall into place.* By then, I plan on having such a great backbend I look like one of those Chinese gymnasts cultivated from the womb or something.

At any rate, here I am, fairly regularly, placing my forearms on either side of my head, and slowly lifting my legs up into the air. Once vertical, I visualize my head lifting off the floor. Slowly, I move my eyes in the direction I want to go. Flop. Try again. Flop. Try again. Flop. No worries. Again. Flop.

After a few very discouraging attempts at moving my head I decide to just hold a headstand. Maybe all I need is a really strong headstand. I get up, hold it for less than a second and inevitably my little Lucy Ricardo trots over to see why I am not petting her. The balancing act that I am so carefully honing impresses my little one not at all. In fact, with my hands so close to her level, why in the world aren't they attending to their duties i.e. petting her? She, I kid you not, starts head-butting me. In the head. I have to squint because her fur and whiskers are poking me in the eyes.

Not only does it take extreme concentration to keep the pose up with a cat head-butting you, but she is also circling my arms and head, which is dangerously close to where my body would come down should I fall. I get a tickle in my nose. Probably from one of the stray cat-hairs she has just thrust up there. It is clear I am going down. In a desperate attempt to clear my precious from the crash zone, I blow as hard as I can on her face. She looks annoyed, but not so much as to run away. Well, crud. Here we go. Whump! Down I come, narrowly avoiding her tiny form as it dashes out of harm's way.

You would think this harrowing escape from death would be a learning experience. Not so with my wee idiot savant. The next day she is there again, head-butting me in the face. Bless her. She will make sure I get my balance one of these days.

Believe it or not, this is actually a step in the right direction. I, at one point, did backbends at home instead. She liked to hang out, to lay down in fact, between my feet and hands, making it impossible to come down. I have literally been in backbends staring upside-down at her screaming, "PLEASE move! I can't come out of this with you there! Sidney!... Damn it!...Jeff! Can you come in here and get the cat!?!"

Sidney strives to accurately convey her level of extreme apathy toward my discomfort.

Sigh. As I said, I am owned by one spoiled rotten princess.

*If you are about to tell me that this is not, in fact, how yoga works, I have just stuck my fingers in my ears and am loudly proclaiming, "LALALALA...I'm Not Listening!...LALALALA!"

P.S. If you read this far, I assume you are also a cat fan. So, I feel I can share this with you, compliments of the best cute-cultivator EVAR, Bleu Caldwell, YOGA KITTEH!!!

Enjoy, yogis, enjoy.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Practical Yoga (A Continuing Segment)

Today, I would like to announce a new segment, "Practical Yoga." This handy guide is here to explain the benefits that yoga can provide to your everyday life. In an effort to appeal to the segment of our population preferring a logical approach, this no-nonsense guide will not be touching on the more 'foofy' aspects of yoga; instead focusing on hard, practical fact. We will not discuss calmness, increased energy or karma. We will eschew words like, "prana." Here, we will outline stale facts -- indisputable proof of yoga's daily benefits. Let's begin:

Practical Yoga #1:
Ladies, specifically, are familiar the burden of using public toilets. Public toilets are hazardous cubby-holes to be navigated with extreme caution. Techniques are taught at an early age to endure the hardships, but no amount of nest-building prowess has ever prepared you for the horrors of the late-night bar.

The scenario: 
You accompany three of your friends to an after-dinner drink. After an unusually classy evening, you are in heels(!!!), the comfortable atmosphere is perfect, low lighting, easy banter and the drinks are about as chill as you are feeling. After an hour you excuse yourself from your sedate surroundings. You push open an unassuming wooden door to find yourself within the ranks of hell. Wet toilet paper litters the floor and the toilet seat looks as if a blind person has been shooting it with a water pistol for months...and it must have been a Super-Soaker 100.* 

You build a nest 13 layers thick knowing that it is no match for the pestilence laying beneath it. Then, calm comes over you. You have got this. Thinking back to your yoga class, you strike a pose.

Fig #1: Awkward Pose

Fig #2: Awkward Pose for the Public Lavatory

The thigh strength and balance you have been building over the course of your practice have paid off. You wash your hands and exit the restroom (using a paper towel on the handle as you leave) with a buttocks as fresh as when you walked in. Congratulations. You have conquered plague with yoga.

(Seriously, I actually have had a way easier time using public restrooms since starting yoga. Even in heels, which I figure is just like second part of awkward, I can hold myself inches above the seat as long as I need. Thanks, Yoga!)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

99% Perspiration

Like most of my generation, my siblings, parents and grandparents have chosen their places of residence based on family. Specifically, how far away can I move to ensure they will not pop in for surprise visits?

While eliminating the tedium of family dinners, we have now ensured exotic vacations are a thing of the past too. Self-centered destination retreats have given way to visits to the family bases. Specifically, my vacations have been replaced because I have been deemed the most mobile of my family. My refusal to have children, freelance career and major airport hub city have made me the prime candidate for a nomadic lifestyle. The rotation, kept as strict as tribes moving from planting ground to hunting ground, has me bouncing between Chicago, Washington D.C., Detroit, St. Louis and St. Petersburg.

I love my family, I really do, but most of them are far more sedentary than I am (heck, most gazelles are). By mid-day on day one, I begin a Mr. Bojangles routine that would make me a pretty penny on any street-corner in New York. In each of my temporary residences I have a yoga studio to stop the tweaking.*

In home base #3 (Detroit) I usually have a pretty rough class. I'm not sure why, but I always end up trying desperately not to loose control of my breath by the end. The places where my heart-rate are supposed to decrease come and go without respite. I stare intensely at the ceiling fan above my head willing it to spin faster (our gazes transfer energy, right?).

Upon my most recent visit to this studio, the person next to me announced herself as a first-time practitioner. I felt a little bad that she would have to experience her first class with me trying to cling to sanity through the mental madness that is this particular studio for me. I did everything I could to be strong that class. Still, I found myself panting like a dog by the end, as usual.

At the final savasana I was trying to get the gasping down to a minimum, counting my breaths: in... one... two... three... four... five... six... out... one... two.... when the persevering first-timer leaned over and whispered, "You're perspiring."

I thought this was a most lovely gesture. Here I was, about willing to die and the brave new yogi made a 'captain obvious' joke to ground me; reminding me that we are all just as comically sweaty and gross. I laughed and responded, "I know!" and laid back down, comforted by the laughter.

Two seconds later, I popped back up, my eyes widened in horror as I realized what was actually said.

The new girl did not say, "PERspiring." She had said, "INspiring." As in, "You are very inspiring," and my response, with a cocky little giggle, had been, "I KNOW.

So, yeah, girl who took her first class at the Farmington Hills studio, I swear I misheard you through the blood pumping feverishly in my ears.

For every other yogi out there, if you ever hear a rumor that Bikram yogis are conceited, it's my fault. I'm sorry.

* With the exception of St. Petersburg. For mercy's sake, will someone please open a studio on the West side of Florida?!!