Sunday, October 04, 2015

Asking For a Favor

In my Life Before Children, I was a professional fundraiser for non-profits. I spent more than a decade of my life being woefully underpaid, doing the work of four people, and working insane hours --all fueled by a genuine passion for the people I was serving.  Since I retired from that profession, I've done a little bit of fundraising here and there for good causes, but I've really avoided going all-in on any one issue, because I was pretty burned out and tired. It's an unfortunate side effect of burning the candle at all ends that at some point, you're kind of left without a candle.

Many of you know that my older daughter, Ziggy, attends an academically advanced public magnet high school, The Liberal Arts and Sciences Academy (LASA.) It has been a good fit for her prodigious brain, as well as her creative talents. She's done really well there.

Her school is consistently ranked among the finest in the nation. In 2015, LASA is ranked as America’s 9th smartest high school by Business Insider  and as the 6th best out of 1869 Texas high schools by US News and World Report. Here, just look at the colleges that LASA students went to after graduating last year. This year, the school has 33 National Merit Semifinalists!

So, earlier this year, my friend Marcia, whom I first met while working in the non-profit world and who never lost her energy and enthusiasm for that kind of work, and who is one of the smartest and most engaged and aware people I've ever known, contacted me asking if I might help her write a letter to solicit donations for LASA. Her son attends LASA and she, get this, volunteered to be on the fundraising committee.

Because she's like that.

So, I agreed.  Because Marcia asked.

I swear I only agreed to help write a letter.

But here's the thing: the more I learned, the more I wanted to do more than just write a letter. I have long admired the amazing staff and faculty at LASA. (The Principal is just an amazing example of the exact right kind of leadership we need in our schools. I could gush here for a long time, but suffice to say, she makes ME want to go back to HIGH SCHOOL.  And if you knew me in high school, you'll recognize that this is simply... unfathomable.)

What I didn't realize about LASA, though, is that the school district does not provide any special funding for the magnet programs, and LASA, seriously, operates on the thinnest shoestring budget ever.  I cannot imagine how they consistently pull the kind of rankings they do, and have the kind of results they have.

Which brings me to the point of this blog post. This year, there is some bond money available to help replace the decrepit student computers, most of which are at least four years old, most of which are missing keys, some of which don't even boot up. A woman on the fundraising committee (on which I am now serving and I'm not even mad about it) told me that she volunteered to help raise money after proctoring two Advanced Placement tests that were delayed by as much as two HOURS because of computer issues.

LASA's student body is diverse, both in terms of ethnicity and in terms of socio-economic status.  For the most part, these are not kids who arrive on the first day of school with brand new Macbooks. These students NEED the computers provided by the high school, and the computers are just terrible. It's like asking kids to build a house with the ample raw material they have, but not giving them any tools.

So, PFLASA (the Parents and Friends of LASA, a non-profit organization that helps fund resources that the district doesn't pay for) is trying to raise money to piggyback on the bond money bulk purchasing power.  We're trying to reach a one computer per two student ratio.  More would be better, but that's the goal.

I'm asking everyone I know to help. Seriously, if you have an extra $5 or $50, or $5 million, PLEASE consider giving. And if you can't give, maybe you could share this post with your Aunt Millie, who has always had a weakness for education-related causes. Or your butcher. Or some random person you just met on the street. You know I try not to ask for you to support my causes, but I am asking you today. These kids are worth it.

Marcia and I thank you, but more importantly, our future leaders, in high school today, thank you.

We need the money by November 1st in order to utilize the district's colossal purchasing power. Your donation is fully tax deductible. Please give today at or send a check made payable to PFLASA to: 
7309 Lazy Creek Drive, Suite 225
Austin, TX 78724

Thanks for reading. Here: here's last year's LASA lip-dub.  YOU'RE WELCOME.  (Look for Ziggy at 3:38.)  

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Operation Healing: The Puppy Ministry

Eleanor, doing the Sleeping Meditation.

I've spent a lot of time this summer thinking about meditation. Doing research on meditation. Planning on meditating. Reading about meditation. But, as seems to be a constant in life, things kept happening and I rarely got on my mat to Officially Meditate.

The wise Buddhist monk, Thich Naht Hahn, has written extensively about meditation.  The sitting meditation.
Sitting meditation is very healing. We realize we can just be with whatever is within us- our pain, anger, and irritation, or our joy, love, and peace. We are with whatever is there without being carried away by it. Let it come, let it stay, then let it go. No need to push, to oppress, or to pretend our thoughts are not there. Observe the thoughts and images of our mind with an accepting and loving eye. We are free to be still and calm despite the storms that might arise in us.

The breathing meditation.
We feel the flow of air coming in and going out of our nose. We feel how light and natural, how calm and peaceful our breathing functions. At any time, while we are walking, gardening, or typing, we can return to this peaceful source of life.
We may like to recite:
“Breathing in I know that I am breathing in.
Breathing out I know that I am breathing out."

And (perhaps my favorite,) the hugging meditation 
We may practice hugging meditation with a friend, our daughter, our father, our partner or even with a tree. To practice, we first bow and recognize the presence of each other. Then we can enjoy three deep conscious breaths to bring ourselves fully there. We then may open your arms and begin hugging. Holding each other for three in-and-out breaths. With the first breath, we are aware that we are present in this very moment and we are happy. With the second breath, we are aware that the other is present in this moment and we are happy as well. With the third breath, we are aware that we are here together, right now on this earth, and we feel deep gratitude and happiness for our togetherness. We then may release the other person and bow to each other to show our thanks.

Also, the tea meditation, the walking meditation and the working meditation.  I love all of these so much.

What it all comes down to, to me, is being completely present in the moment, and noticing. Noticing. Noticing is meditation --a full and deep awareness of the blessings of the present moment, without judgment or attachment, because we understand the fleeting nature of the present.

It's made me aware of how much of my day I spend unconsciously doing things.  Like eating, or walking, or cooking, or shopping. Showering. Driving. I've been trying to do more things with mindful awareness.  I'm not consistent, but it's a transformational practice when I can do it.

Although I haven't had a lot of time to sit in dedicated meditation, I've been doing what I call the Puppy Meditation with our new (possibly) Border Collie and (possibly) Blue Heeler rescue puppy. Because mostly, I sit outside with her, without benefit of distraction of phone or Facebook or whatever. I've had a chance to really observe the way dogs are in the world. I've had a chance to really BE with her as she has doubled in size over the past six weeks, and learned that her tail is attached, and about the duality of water. (Fun in the puppy pool/less fun in baths.)

She has so much to teach me! I mean, there are things she has to learn, too, but she came into this world knowing things that I have been trying to internalize for a long time.

For one things, our dogs are completely in the present all of the time. They don't get lost in regret over having taken someone else's toy away earlier and gotten snapped at for it, or having accidentally peed on the carpet. They may feel some deep regret right at the very moment, but then they are over it and on to playing and trying their best to remember to pee outside.

They have no body image issues. I think Ellie has the most beautiful expressive face and I love her gorgeous spotted gloves. I'm pretty sure she doesn't care one way or the other.  And I've never seen her not want to get into her pool because she was having a fat day.

They never multi-task. They are always completely absorbed in what they are doing.  If, for example, the puppy is playing with Austin (our six-year-old Lab (ish)) and gets an itch, she sits down and scratches until she's done and the game can continue.

She displays instant forgiveness.  She's smart -- so she remembers if you accidentally step on her tail and tries to avoid creating a situation where that can happen again --but she forgives immediately and completely.  She's not moping in a corner, thinking about how unjust it all is and how life is haarrd.

Anyway, I developed this Puppy Meditation that I practice while watching her.  It goes something like this:
Breathing in, I stroke her soft fur.
Breathing out, I notice her beautiful markings, the weight of her silky body on my foot. 
Sitting on the stone step in the predawn light, I notice the sounds of the birds. I am not doing. I am being. Breathing in, I notice how much more peaceful I am before coffee. Breathing out, I try to do the Sitting Meditation.  (Sometimes, I notice I really wish I had a cup of coffee.) 
Breathing in, I notice her exploration of the underbrush in my yard. Breathing out, I am grateful for the white tip on her long tail that tells me where she is. 
Breathing in, I recognize that by adopting her, I rescued her.
Breathing out, I recognize that by coming into my life at this particular time, when so much is in flux and uncertain, and by offering up her unconditional love to me, she saved me.

That's a pretty good meditation. In fact, that's a pretty good ministry.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Operation Healing: The Introduction of Love

So, we've had her for a little over a month now.

We weren't actually going to get a new puppy this soon. There is a lot going on in our house, and even I will admit to you that one dog is a lot less than two dogs. Plus, you know, puppies are a lot like toddlers --they don't sleep through the night, and you can't take your eyes off of them for a second.

But in June, Coop and Jane (14) took a road trip to Alabama to visit my Father-in-law and they took our six-year-old Lab-ish, Austin, with them.  Jane came home from that trip convinced that Austin was depressed, missing his buddy Scout. She persuaded me to visit a few shelters to look for a nice puppy.  (We wanted a puppy because we have elderly cats who have never known adult canine aggression, although they have trained a puppy or two.)

We didn't find the right puppy for us at the shelters, so Jane conducted an online search for puppies available for rescue. She came across The Forgotten Friends Rescue, and there was our girl. We brought her home on July 4th.

She is practically perfect in every way, and the exact right puppy for us. (Her two brothers are still available at the rescue place if you're interested.)

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Operation Healing: The Float Test

So, I've been healing since I last wrote.  I went to New York City and communed with my yoga tribe and my Guru Sri Dharma Mittra, and came home just...profoundly changed and cracked wide open and feeling like all kinds of healing was happening--physically and spiritually and in every other way.

And then, I was in a car wreck, two days later, on May 22nd, and my back was pretty messed up.

I didn't let it faze me.  I kept teaching my classes, kept doing my thing. I added in a chiropractor into the mix.  I'd never gone to a chiropractor and was pretty skeptical --but as often happens in my blessed life, I found the exact right person with the exact right technique--something called Active Release Therapy which went a long way to healing my neck, even though my lower back was still talking to me. Sternly.

And then I fell down in my driveway.

I didn't let it faze me.  I kept... doing... my thing,

Until, you know, the Universe decided that since I hadn't received the message I was supposed to receive when it was bouncing me off of things, it was going to up the ante.

Something gave way in my lower back last week.

I could not teach my classes.  I could not do my thing.

But get this: I am not letting it faze me!

Recently, as part of my ongoing research into all things nutritional, I read this article. In it, it said,

Laboratory mice were dropped into tall, cylindrical columns of water in what is known as a forced-swim test, which measures over six minutes how long the mice swim before they realize that they can neither touch the bottom nor climb out, and instead collapse into a forlorn float. Researchers use the amount of time a mouse floats as a way to measure what they call ‘‘behavioral despair.’’ 

I started thinking about that.

[Also, as an aside, can we not stop animal testing? If you want to recreate "behavioral despair," I can think of a zillion ways to create it using humans.  Have subjects stand in the endless line at Torchy's Tacos after many unsuccessful attempts to call in a to-go order. Exactly how long will a person with low blood-sugar stand in line behind the couple who define PDA before throwing up his/her hands and leaving? That happened to me recently and seriously, the guy in front of me was rubbing his girlfriend's ear like she was a Labrador --and that was just the start of their antics. BUT I DIGRESS. (Poor mice.)]

For me, ever since the Pain Years, whenever I've had some sort of physical setback --usually injury, although sometimes the FULF flares up --I have gone directly into PANIC MODE. It's a weird kind of PTSD --the one that says if I stop moving forward, I will lose the ability to do so. Like there's some finite amount of pain-free days I have and if I stop to heal or rest, I will be back on the couch again.  See you in three years.

So, what I think happens is that I swim and swim harder, and eventually, I find a way to climb out of the cylinder or I get lifted out.  I never do reach "behavioral despair."  Because I've  been there --heck, I LIVED there for a long time.  And nothing is as bad as that.

So, that's the good news.

The bad news is the panicking part --the EXISTENTIAL Despair. I go there after about, oh, five minutes.

Except for this time.  This time, I just decided not to do that. Even though I can't do the physical practice of yoga right now, I can focus on the other seven limbs. And I received instruction from Sri Dharma Mittra himself to concentrate on my meditation and pranayama --because stress is a bigger killer than low back pain.


I'm focusing on that for the next while until my back is healed.  I'm working on the whole practice, including eating an anti-inflammatory diet. And I'm trusting the Universe to handle all of the other fears that I have about losing my practice or my business.

This is all new ground for me, and is perhaps a much better test than the "Float Test." I'll keep you posted.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Seeking Balance and Health

I am really struggling right now. Yesterday was momentous --but I'm not sure if it's good or bad.

For some time (the better part of a year,) I've been fighting some undiagnosed malady. I had this really debilitating, crushing fatigue coupled with periods of intense joint and muscle pain. My mental acuity seemed compromised --I felt like I was in a weird brain fog. My food intolerances have increased --I'm kind of down to certain vegetables and nuts and seeds.

Granted, I've been under a lot of stress for reasons I can't detail here, and that's probably been a factor. I thought maybe I had some sort of adrenal fatigue or leaky gut or, my biggest fear, some kind of rheumatoid arthritis or Fibromyalgia. (I limited my visits to Dr. Google.)

But I was still battling something. I went to a lot of doctors and eventually, after a lot of research and dietary experimentation (some of which was really helpful and improved my condition,) I found a Functional Medicine doctor, who is simply amazing and brilliant and who ordered a bazillion tests trying to figure out what was going on with me. I met with her yesterday and got the results of some of those tests.

As most of you know I am vegan--I don't partake of any animal products. I try not to say too much about that, because I am as weary of the sanctimonious attitude on both sides of the vegan/non-vegan issue as you are. This is a very sensitive thing for me to talk about because every time I talk about it, somebody is offended thinking I'm judging them for eating meat. OR I get attacked by the vegans for not being vegan ENOUGH. (I eat honey. I have leather shoes.)

I'm vegan mostly because I don't want to eat anything I can't kill myself. (This leaves me with an animal protein diet of mosquitoes--haven't learned how to catch and release THOSE yet.) I'm also vegan because my guru, Sri Dharma Mittra, says that it is the first tenet of yoga --that our compassion for animals must extend beyond our pets.

But please hear me: this isn't have anything to do with anyone else but me and my choices and my path. I'm not sitting in judgment of anyone else. One of the two people I made inside my body is a total carnivore and I don't think less of her.  I LOVE her--as she is. I ate meat at various times in my life, too. I'm no longer really cooking meat for her, and she accepts that and is understanding. There will come a time when my house is meat-free --but I'm not pushing her out the door to get there.

Unfortunately, what I learned yesterday is that my body is breaking down. Some people thrive on a vegan diet. I am not one of them.

My cell membranes and mitochondria are severely compromised. I have epically low levels of Omega 3s, of Coenzyme Q10, weirdly high levels of calcium (which is not what you want --high levels of calcium in your cells means your cell membranes are weak,) super low B-12 levels. Given my growing list of food intolerances, I cannot get enough of the things I need to regain my health through my current diet.  My doctor is urging me to find an animal protein that I can eat, and to at least begin taking fish oil.

So, I'm really struggling with what to do. I am not vegan for health reasons, but if my health continues to decline, I will be of little service to humankind and I think (pray) that I have something to add to the collective good in the world. On the other hand, I do not think that I can continue to follow my Guru while knowingly ingesting animals and animal products. He is very clear on this subject. "You cannot make progress on the path to enlightenment if you are eating your animal brothers and sisters."

It's not only Sri Dharma's teachings. I don't want to eat anything that I can't kill myself and I am morally opposed to killing any sentient being. I think it would be hypocritical for me to eat animals killed by someone else. I know a lot of people who think you can honor the animal you are eating and be grateful for its nourishment of your body. I know farmers and ranchers who raise animals for slaughter and do it in the most humane way possible. I read one woman's account of her farm and in it she said, "We give them wonderful lives with lots of space and good food and then they have one very bad day." I just don't think I can do it and live with myself.

So, I guess that's the choice before me.  Either I am true to my ethical and spiritual beliefs, or I concentrate on regaining my health. I'm in a lot of pain over what to do.

Now that I've slept on the issue, and processed some of my fear and feelings, I've decided that I have to give it one more big effort to find health without eating animals. I'm going to get really scientific about my diet --learn as much as I possible can about the nutrition involved in what I'm putting in my mouth and seek as much counsel as I can to find the highest nutritional density supplements and food. I'm probably going to add fish oil as part of my diet, since the vegan version wasn't having much effect on my low Omega 3s. I know that's hypocritical --I'm trying to think of it as a compromise.  Next week, I am going to the Dharma Yoga Center in NYC for my annual immersion back into my spiritual home.  I will talk to my mentors there and seek their wisdom.

I'll keep you posted.  Please be kind in your comments, I am really struggling.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Finish Messy, but Finish.

I'm finishing up my third successful round of the Blood Sugar Solution's Ten-Day Detox.  I've attempted this probably twice as many times as I've successfully finished it, mostly because I know how great I'm going to feel when I get over the hump of detoxing, but I'm not always stubborn enough to stick to it.

I've decided that's the key, really: Stubbornness.

And also?  I have to set aside the perfectionism that eats away at me when I slip off the wagon, even the tiniest bit.  The last time I attempted the detox, on Day 3, I accidentally ate some sweet potato soup, which is not on the plan. And I just. Couldn't. Go. On.

So I made myself a cup of coffee and had a piece of chocolate.

Game over.

These days, I am trying to repeat a new mantra: Finish messy if you have to, but finish.

Convincing myself of this has been a life's work, but I'm starting to think it's the secret of life.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"The house is gonna be so quiet..."*

On Wednesday, we had to say goodbye to The World's Worst Dog Ever.

We're sadder than any of us would have predicted.

It's been a week, and the house is so quiet, it's almost eerie. It turns out that after almost 11 years, when people walk in the front door, I expect to hear some barking. Even if it's at me after stepping out to throw some water on a plant.

His decline was swift, and as most things Scout-related, really expensive. He began vomiting after meals at the beginning of March.  We took him to the vet, had an ultrasound that revealed two large masses on or near his liver, one of which was creating a mechanical blockage to his stomach. We tried surgery, which removed the tumors and his spleen, but he just... couldn't recover.  He just couldn't catch a break, you know?

On the day he got his stitches out, he fell out of the car hard and tore a tendon in his back right knee. Then he developed a tumor on his tail (which grew so fast it split the skin and was the single grossest thing I've ever seen,) and an eye infection and some kind of fungus on his nose and then...he stopped eating.  All of this between March 3 and Wednesday. Poor old dog.

And then, after about 8 BILLION trips to the vet, and almost as many dollars, on Wednesday, it was just really, really clear that he was suffering, and he wasn't getting better.

So, we decided to let him go, and we prayed for peaceful passage.

As has been detailed many times in this blog, Scout was incredibly car sick, and not the best patient at the vet's office anyway, so we decided it would be the most loving thing for him if he could be at home. Our good vet gave us the name of a mobile vet who would come to the house. The only time she could come on Wednesday (and she rearranged her schedule to do it, which is just so kind) was at 4:30 in the afternoon.  Which meant the girls would be home.

When Sydney died, they were much younger and I didn't see what could be gained by them watching her die, but with Scout, I felt like it should be their decision.  Both girls took the news harder than I would have thought. Ziggy elected to be present the whole time.  Jane poured her heart into a letter to her boy, and then decided she just couldn't bear to be there while he died.  (She came back for the simple ceremony we held a bit later.)

The vet gave him a fast-acting sedative and, although he couldn't bring himself to lie down because of that leg, eventually he fell into Coop's arms, and the vet administered the next drug.  We put our hands on him, and when his heart stopped, we felt him leave.

It was very peaceful, and it was the merciful thing to do, and we're all just a little bereft without him now. It's just really strange how much of a presence he was in our crazy family.

Rest in peace, Scoutie.  You were a terrible, terrible dog, and we miss you something awful.

*Ziggy, on hearing the news.