Foxy’s Final Lesson

“Find the grace in all the things that you can’t change and help somebody if you can.” –Van Zant

Foxy Brown conquered my heart in less than a day. She lured me in with her spirit. When I first met her, she was an overweight, rain-soaked pit bull who was lost. As much as she wanted to come inside, she was trembling with fear. But she held her head high, shaking but strong, unexpectedly determined to follow along by my side from that moment forward even though she didn’t know who I was. But I think somehow she did and she knew I’d love her forever.

Foxy dooWhen I fell in love with Foxy seven years ago, I didn’t know how much love I had to give. I didn’t know that I’d mold my days around her needs, making sure she went to grandma’s house with her canine crew any time I’d be gone for longer than an hour or two. I didn’t know I’d curl into an uncomfortable ball on the couch or sleep pressed into the wall so our darling 6o-pound bully could be comfortable. Or that I’d talk her constantly and sing to her during every car trip. Or that every day with her would be full of special rituals, whether it was bone-bone Saturday or weekday morning mommy-doggy yoga: she’d sprawl across my mat and I’d try to do yoga around her.

She gave us all of her love too. And then her heart gave out this week at the start of the surgery to save her. We all did everything we could. I know she tried her best to hang on for her wrecked parents. We spent the night we didn’t know was her last on the floor beside her dog bed, getting up with her every 15 minutes and holding her. It was all we could do. And now we have to find a way to let go.

But even though she’s not here, she’s teaching us one last lesson. There is so much love in this world. There is more kindness than you could ever expect. There are just so many people – both people who knew her or those who knew how much she meant to me – who have offered such an incredible amount of compassion and support.

No one can take away the pain or restore the missed sounds of her footsteps in our house, but it helps simply knowing how many people understand. It helps having someone call you out for downplaying that you’re a complete wreck. Because real grace isn’t about elegance, it’s about ceding control of our emotions, letting them ebb and flow, and taking the challenging times like these one moment at a time.

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One last birthday gift

The sun was a fiery orange. It ducked beneath the trees just before 7:30 p.m. Tonight, I was there to witness the graceful swoop from visible to hidden. I was present, really present, sitting on the curved black park bench as the lone spectator.

SunsetThe walk to and from the park reminded me of all I that I’ve been missing lately: that soul-refilling space of being, not doing. There’s such magic in those moments without any agenda.

I began to appreciate the beautiful details in everything around me. I heard Creedence Clearwater Revival blaring from inside a quaint wood-sided cape and imagined a middle-aged man rocking along in the den inside. I laughed at the bark off between two neighbor dogs separated by a chain link fence. And I was amazed by how the sprawling patches of black-eyed Susans I drive by nearly every night seemed so brilliant and triumphant as this humid, 90-degree day winds to a close.

I was a day late but it was the best 33rd birthday gift I could have given myself.

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One Monkey Moment

“Life is available only in the present moment.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh

I’ve been combating a post-adventure funk for a solid two weeks. I returned home high on accomplishment and all the life I breathed in while spending hours carefully placing one foot in front of the other on beautiful glaciers and rocky mountains. And just a few days later I was attacked by uncertainty.

It trampled on my bliss and cleared the way for a relentless series of questions that invoked panic. The worst part was the person who was asking them: me. I became fixated on the future, convincing myself that with the right strategy I could maximize my happiness and enjoy that many more mountain adventures.

I knew better. I really did. But that knowledge didn’t make me happy. It didn’t rekindle my enthusiasm for my everyday, much more average world.

MonkeyLuckily, I was saved last Friday night by the tall grinning man who walked out of a dressing room in a monkey suit. Technically, the suit was one-piece fleece nightwear that had arrived much too early for Halloween or chilly winter practicality. And that man, he’s my boyfriend.

I was in near tears as he pivoted to shake the tail dangling from the backside. My laughter met with solidarity as surrounding shoppers took in the bizarre sight. There was no “to buy or not to buy” debate. We went straight from the dressing room to checkout. At $25, it was a bargain of an anti-blues necessity.

I tried to convince him to put it back on, take a lap around the mall and spread cheer to even more people. He wasn’t interested. It was quite warm and he had already succeeded in his mission. He had delivered one perfect, silly moment that reminded me how I could find everything in the present.

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Fear and Climbing in the Canadian Rockies

In my version of my first mountain summit in the Canadian Rockies, I’d tell you the steep snow wall I had to ascend to approach Mt. Gordon was a pure vertical. I’d remind you that I first became acquainted with my ice axe and group travel on a connected rope the day before. And I’d explain how even intro to outdoor rock-climbing made my heart gallop with fear.

But my equally fun and no-nonsense guide had no interest in indulging that story. There were no empathy-coated sentences or inquiries into how I was feeling. I was in the lead of our team of five and to her it was perfectly simple. “Climb, Kristin, climb.” I believe I whined a little bit – a final cry for acknowledgement of the crazy situation ahead – as she detailed the technique: kick in steps, plunge your axe into the snow, pull up and repeat.

climbing downBut I understood the order: just do, don’t dramatize. It was only day three of the six-day mountaineering course and I knew it wasn’t going to get easier. That’s why I was there. I set out slowly, out-climbing the panic one move at a time. The fear receded as I dedicated my entire focus to the white wall of challenge in front of me – no higher and no lower. And I was at the top before I ever thought to ponder if my fall could have yanked the whole team to the ground.

My veins pulsed with extra energy as I marched forward breaking trail through knee-deep snow before finally switching to a rocky path to the summit. For a good 20 minutes on top, victory was a stunning collage of beautiful rocky edges, unique glacier views and mountains in every direction. Then I realized the snow-walled descent waiting for me.

I let my fear ruin the last 10 minutes of what should have been ultimate summit bliss. When we returned to the dreaded edge, my eyes had me convinced that it was a complete drop-off into an abyss. I reluctantly stepped closer, turned my back to it, jammed my axe into the ground and started searching for my first step down. A few steps later, I wanted to laugh at myself. It was nothing.

Mt vistaI wish I could say that was the end of my overreactions but I did the same thing the next day to a lesser degree. I climbed another snow wall without hesitation but got to five feet from the edge for the return trip and proclaimed, “I can’t do this. I really can’t.” Once again, my guide knew what was best – she said nothing and let me walk closer.

The entire perspective changed, revealing a very, simple unthreatening feat ahead. At that moment, I promised to never again let myself dwell on my fear until I’m actually face-to-face with the challenge. I’m so glad that I had the perfect guide to teach me that.

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Banff-Bound Bliss

I’m coasting on an amazing wave of energy today. It’s not coffee-induced. It’s not the reward of a full night’s sleep (I wish). It’s the thrill of once again living my dream.

Tomorrow, I fly off to Canada for my women’s introduction to mountaineering course. Never have I been so ecstatic upon hearing the words “crampon” or “ice axe.” Even “crevasse” takes on a whole new meaning thanks to my plans to spend six days in Banff National Park, exploring the Canadian Rockies and moving from an admirer of mountaineering pictures to a beginning practitioner.

BanffSure, I don’t know exactly what I’ve gotten myself into. I’ve leafed through the pages of the mountaineering encyclopedia I borrowed from the library for nearly two months but it has been far from an extensive study.

More of my time has been spent pouring over the gear list and acquiring what I needed. This week has brought humorous reminders of just how hard it is to pack minimalist. I confess that I spent 20 minutes in the Target travel aisle with a 0.5 ounce deodorant in one hand and a 1.6 ounce in the other. I tried rationalizing that the smaller one offered 48-hour protection and couldn’t fully convince myself. I ended up going home with both and tossed the bigger one in my backpack.

Last night, I learned just what a novice I am as I tried stuffing my new synthetic-filled sleeping bag into a dimension that would fit into my backpack. I wrestled with my compression sack like it was an alligator and tightened all straps to the maximum. It was still a good 25-percent wider than my pack. As clever as I thought I was in buying the petite length, I totally underestimated the compressibility. I busted out my down bag from my Kilimanjaro trip and it fit perfectly. At worst, it’ll make for an extra-toasty slumber in the hut we’re staying in.

Whatever this adventure brings, I know I’m so very lucky to have the chance to go pursue another crazy dream that I would have never imagined for myself a year or two ago. And when I return, I’ll be happy to slow down after this past month’s marathon of illness, activity and adventure. My post-mountaineering plan is to relish the rest of the summer at a much more leisurely pace (and regularly blog about it too).

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Day 40 of 40 – the ‘grand’ finale

Here’s how I imagined my 40-day yoga challenge would end: on day 39 I’d partake in the weekly check-in meeting for a pre-celebration with the whole yoga crew and on day 40 I’d spring out of bed for my final 5:30 a.m. studio class.

Well, there was a change of plans. My welcome present during my business trip to Canada was a nasty cold. No worries, I searched for the perfect yoga routine for colds and diligently followed it on day 38. I spent the night fighting a fever, popped some Advil in the morning and started chugging down fluids like it was a competition. I was determined to make it home and get to the meeting.

Then, the storms rolled in and my 1.5-hour return flight was delayed 1.5 hours. I dropped two f-bombs before whipping out The Untethered Soul. If I couldn’t get to the studio, I’d be there in spirit and at least finish my readings. After all, there was still a chance at the 5:30 a.m. practice.

I finished the last chapter right before a most miserable descent. My left eardrum felt like it was inflating to the point of explosion. “This is temporary, this is temporary,” I chanted silently to myself while crushing my fingers together in an attempt at distraction.

My reunion with the ground was bittersweet. The pain faded away along with all hearing in my left ear. I felt a new empathy for my grandma. Over the next few hours, the congestion amplified and I started losing my voice. But I was committed to my yoga challenge so I draped myself into a forward fold, hoping the pressure of lowering my head toward my feet would restore my hearing because hopping on one foot, yawning and blowing my nose sure didn’t. As I stood up, my hearing was now only slightly muffled – hooray for the power of yoga.

ice creamToday on day 40, I awoke to even worse congestion and a hacking fit. After completing my work day at home in pajamas, it was time to celebrate in a way only appealing to a sicko like me: visiting my favorite local creamery for a cup of chocolate-chip ice cream and picking up my second course of egg-drop soup on the way home. There will be no forward folds, no downward dogs, no bridges and no headstand straddles.

My challenge ended with a test and I passed. Now it’s on to hero’s pose because I have just enough energy to sit proudly on my heels for a few minutes and then it’s back to bed. Tomorrow I’ll resume my yoga practice in one form or another.

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Letting Go to Fly

Today marks day 28 of my 40-day yoga challenge and I’ve been practicing every single day. Sometimes I push my limits at hot power yoga sessions. On other days, I listen to what my body needs and invent my own practices or find one on the web. And on Thursday mornings, my yoga passion rouses me from bed at 5 a.m. so I can make it to the 5:30 a.m. studio class.

This yoga commitment has introduced some very unexpected rewards. Before the challenge, I’d look on longingly as my “flyer” classmates would effortlessly glide into a tripod headstand straddle. Meanwhile, my hands and feet felt superglued to the mat. Instructors tried to help ease me up but I refused to budge. I was terrified of not being able to control myself in the pose and becoming the lead domino in a chain of tipped-over yogis.

At some point in the past 28 days, I stopped thinking about what I could or could not do. I strengthened my focus on the present moment and listening to my body. On Sunday, all that practice led me into my own effortless tripod headstand straddle. It didn’t happen because I was striving to master the pose. It happened because I was in the middle of my home practice and had a sudden impulse to give it a try. Before I knew it, I had gracefully pulled myself up and felt shockingly secure. I wasn’t straining, shaking or consumed with trying to control it. I was just there, feeling light and enjoying each breath. And it has been like that every time since.

tripod headstand straddle
I’ve encountered progress off of the mat too.
My Sunday morning run was faster than ever. I hadn’t run in more than a week but I shaved nearly 30-seconds off my average mile. In the afternoon, I came up with the perfect name for one of my fictional characters and as I started to explain why it was so fitting to my boyfriend I realized I had somehow cobbled together a plot.

Despite the magic and surprise I’ve associated with this assortment of accomplishments, they weren’t actually magic. They were all about letting go. I ran to run on a beautiful morning. I had no interest in staring at my sports watch and competing with myself. I moved forward with my novel by putting in the time and writing freely without expectations. It was scary at first but I abandoned my personal mandate of writing for at least 30 minutes every day. Sure, I might write 30 minutes less a week than with my rigorous scheduling tactics but I actually enjoy it.

And these are only some of the rewards of letting go. I hope that whatever your path, whatever you passion, you find that special thing that grounds you and inspires you to let go. And I hope you enjoy all the results that follow, especially the happiness to be found in every day.

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Dreaming big mountain dreams

It has been almost exactly eight months since I reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. And it has taken me that long to answer the toughest question since my return: “what’s next?”

Today, I finalized my answer just in time to secure my spot in a week-long introduction to mountaineering course in the Canadian Rockies in July. It’s time to strap on the crampons and learn how to wield an ice axe on glaciers and assorted peaks.

MountainMy mother asked me if I was insane. I know in some ways she has a point. I’m hardly a fearless and rugged mountain woman. I’m more of a notoriously wussy adventurer who may freak out, shake and doubt her strength but will push on anyways.

It’s actually the invigorating blend of excitement and terror that confirms that this is the right choice. I’m tired of reading, watching and discussing mountaineering. I don’t want to make more vision board-type collages with climbing imagery. I want to get out there and experience it for myself.

Maybe this trip won’t be the foundation for future technical climbs up majestic peaks. Or maybe I will be a mountaineer when I grow up. It doesn’t matter to me either way. All I know is like Kilimanjaro, this decision was born of my intuition and my heart. And that’s progress well beyond any summits added to my list.

 

 

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The 40 Days of Yoga

Ten days ago I began a 40-day yoga challenge at my favorite local studio. I admit I was a bit worried about how I could fit more yoga into a jam-packed schedule. I already had a fitness regimen of running, spinning, weight lifting and hot yoga, and I wasn’t about to compromise.

But like the nature of yoga itself, the challenge is flexible. I don’t have to practice in the studio. I can venture to other studios. I can pop in my yoga DVD. I can whip out my book of yoga sequences. Or I can guide myself through my own sequences. So yes, there are no excuses.

And here I am on day 10, wondering why it seems like I have so much more time? I know this isn’t the case, especially with the addition of 20 to 75 minutes of yoga each day. But during those sessions, I’m fully present and this awareness is trickling into life off the mat too. Maybe I’m learning the magical inner workings of time – it slows down when you can slow down enough to be in the moment.

Each fully present moment is like a mini-vacation to the very best version of my life. There are no worries, no grasping for what’s next, no critical reviews of what I should have done. I am just there and the labels aren’t.

bridgeIt keeps happening. I notice all the things I usually overlook. I see the birds perched in my backyard – the cardinals, the blue jays and the ones I am not enough of an expert to identify. I become mesmerized by the fiery sunsets that repaint the clouds a vibrant purple hue. I find myself abandoning my power-walk pace like last night when I literally strolled into the grocery store, dropping the drive for efficiency while picking up my dinner.

Sure it’s not all perfect. I still forget to breathe and halt emotionally charged reactions to crappy situations. I still strive a little too hard like tonight when I was determined to go to a power yoga session despite my insistent longing to be outdoors. Luckily, the traffic made this feat impossible so I strapped on my rollerblades and spent the evening gliding alongside the river.

I look forward to continuing this challenge, which reserves the space I need in my life to truly be me. It means that every day there is always time to breathe and be grateful, to sit with pain and joy. And it makes me genuinely appreciate the incredible path I’m on.

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Cutting out expectations: A tale of two donkeys

In celebration of Cinco de Mayo I bring you the tale of two donkeys. It starts in a Mexican restaurant where fueled by a single, post-hot yoga margarita and mariachi music I blurted out the idea. “We should make cut-outs so buzzed partygoers at your Cinco de Mayo fiesta can take photos of their faces jutting out from funny backgrounds.” I painted a scene of goofy donkeys, front and backsides. And then I threw in the suggestion to stuff the piñata with hot dogs along with the more desirable nipper and candy fillings.

A few weeks went by and there was no mention of the donkeys. I imagined my more artistic friend would make them herself or forget the idea. But as the party neared, I asked if I could help with prep and discovered I was not off the hook. She had purchased two giant foam-core poster boards for each of us. I only needed to swing by an hour before the party with markers and creativity. Still I envisioned being the donkey blanket decorator or the unskilled labor that would create a wild tail and mane.

Donkey 1This was not the case. I was handed a pencil and my two boards. I dallied a bit, laying out the markers and the poster paint collection I brought as backup. And then I did what any artist would do – I sought inspiration. Limited by the lack of a barnyard setting, I turned to my phone, pulled up some donkey pics, grabbed that pencil and started sketching. It was a situation in which time was on my side. There was no pondering, no careful calculation of perspective, only messy lines as my guide. And I drew, colored and shaded the best I could with my eight-marker collection and inability to create a straight line. But, alas, donkey #1 was a respectable showing, earning much visitation and camera flashes.

Donkey 2Donkey #2 was the rear view. I mean it. I envisioned eyes peeking out from two bootylicious donkey cheeks. Yes kind of odd, but come on it was at minimum amusing. I Googled a donkey rear photo, making my search history stranger than ever and sketched an outline. However, I no longer had the patience for marker strokes. I busted out the paints and gave this work a more impressionistic feel. It was fast, furious and free. And it looked nothing like the other donkey.

Donkey #2 was received with utter bewilderment. I became the misinterpreted artist whose donkey was viewed as an invitation for perverted jokes not eyes. I don’t think anyone took a photo with that cutout but there was something about it dangling in the corner of the garage that filled me with pride. Or maybe it was the fact that side-by-side these donkeys represented my first true art show.

The moral of the story: be weird, be real, it just feels good (unlike the hot dogs that were pummeled into the sides of the nippers during many rounds of batting the piñata). And one other thing – make sure you have those wonderful friends who hold you up to your personal weirdness.

 

 

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