Hot yoga not so hot

In my efforts to try new things and become more of a risk taker, I’ve fallen prey to, I mean, been more open to the suggestions that Groupon and Living Social have been stuffing into my inbox. Like $29 for 10 classes of yoga. Okay, I’m no math whiz, but isn’t that less than $3 per class?

Looking at the deal more closely, I see that it’s not just any old yoga—it’s hot yoga. But I’ve made this pledge, and it’s really cheap…

the way the yoga studio felt

The website instructs me to bring a yoga mat, water, and a bath-sized towel. Naively, I believe that the towel will be used as a bolster of some sort, rolled up into whatever shape is required in order to aid with positions, maybe use as a pillow during that wonderful part at the end where you lie there and feel good about all the yoga you’ve just done.I find a close parking spot and decide that it’s a good sign. That’s how optimistic I was at 9:00.

Entering the room, I am hit with a wall of heat, but I find a spot for my mat and, following the lead of my fellow yoga enthusiasts, I cover the mat with my towel and wait.

As I sneak glances of those around me, I note that everyone in this 104-degree-room is thin except me. I am by far the pudgiest participant. Ages range from late 20s to late 50s, but there is no one who looks like me. The two men on either side of me are wearing only swimming trunks, and most of the women are wearing a sports bra and spandex shorts. No leggings or yoga pants. No over-sized T-shirts or warm-ups.

It’s oddly silent, considering there are about twenty people in a space slightly larger than your average economy motel room.

The instructor starts off with a sun salutation, the stated purpose being to “warm up.” I had been sitting for at least five minutes in a room set to a temperature that reminded me of summers in Oklahoma where the only people outside were those getting from one air-conditioned building to another. I mean, out in the real world nobody stays in 104-degree on purpose, right? So I’m thinking, I’m warm.

Now I’m no stranger to yoga positions. I’ve practiced some form of yoga on and off since I was 17, when I purchased the paperback version of a yoga manual for a quarter at a garage sale. I can do downward-facing dog with the best of them. So I was probably a bit cocky joining this class, thinking I would surprise my fellow classmates, maybe even get words of praise from the yogi. “Hey, she’s pretty good for a fat, middle-aged woman,” I imagined them whispering.

But even if a few of the positions were vaguely familiar—though pushed to the nth degree—this was unlike any yoga I’d ever done because I had to hold poses when I was pretty sure I was going to pass out at any moment from the heat.

Balancing on one foot while placing the other foot firmly against one’s inner thigh is difficult but possible when there’s some skin providing a bit of traction. But when one’s thigh is dripping sweat, that foot just keeps sliding down the leg. And it’s just not an atmosphere where I could laugh about it and say something like, ” You want my what to stay where?”

That is when it dawned on me that the purpose of the towel is to keep you from slipping and sliding around in your own sweat.

But I’m persevering. I’m thinking that the class has got to be almost over, and then I can go home, take a shower, and never return. But the clock claims that it’s only 9:30. That means an hour to go. What was I thinking, signing up for a 90-minute class?

We get a brief water break. I go into the locker room to drink from the sink. (Guess who forgot to bring her water bottle?) It’s so pleasant in the locker room at its 70 degrees or so that I consider staying in there until the class is over. The only exit is through the classroom, so if I decided to leave early, I would have to go back in the studio, gather my mat and towel, and step gingerly around all the sweating people to gain my freedom on the other side of the door. And they would secretly shake their heads and think, So the fat girl couldn’t cut it after all.

So I went back for more. When I re-entered the studio, the stench hit my nose immediately after the wall of heat body-slammed me in a one-two punch. But something in me didn’t want to give up. I told myself that odor, no matter how bad, couldn’t kill you.

For the rest of the session, I enjoyed brief occasional successes followed by ridiculous, desperate attempts, all enveloped in a light-headed fog. Twenty minutes before the end of class, I arose from a seated position and got so dizzy that I lowered myself back down to my sweat-soaked towel to get my balance. My vision flip-flopped: the light became dark and the dark turned shining white. I had to get out of there.

I managed to get myself to the locker room where I drank thirstily from the faucet.  I sat on a bench for several minutes trying to feel normal again. Then I noticed the shower. I had no dry towel, but I didn’t care. I peeled off my wet clothes and climbed in. The water brought me back to life and the world seemed like a decent place again.

I was somehow able to reapply my wet clothing to my body and I returned to the studio in time for the part where everyone is lying there feeling virtuous about having done yoga. I lay down with my back on my towel, no wetter than those around me who had not just taken a shower without toweling off. I deserved to lie down and relax, I thought. I survived.

But it still smelled incredibly bad.

It’s official—Judy Blume is perfect

mother/son team Judy & Lawrence Blume

It isn’t often one gets to be within 50 feet of one’s childhood idol. But yesterday afternoon I was with my friend Nina in the third row of the Castro Theater, and Judy Blume was sitting onstage  answering questions and completely fulfilling my expectations that she is indeed perfect and the most adorable gracious, and genuine children’s writer to grace the earth.

The event was the screening of Tiger Eyes, the first Judy Blume book to be brought to the big screen. As I inched my way through traffic from across the bridge, Nina stood in line outside the theater with a thousand other Judy Blume fans, all of them discussing their favorites and sharing stories of how Blume’s books affected them in a pivotal way. The crowd was 99% female, and ages ranged from 7 to 77.

Judy’s son Lawrence (but she calls him Larry) co-wrote the screenplay with her and directed the film, their first collaboration. Clearly proud of her son and genuinely humble, Blume declared that the few changes that were made in order to make the book work cinematically improved the story, and that if she were to rewrite the book, she would keep those changes.

The film opens just after Davie has watched her father die in her arms in his sandwich shop on the boardwalk of the Jersey shore. Her mother is medicating herself into a zombie state, and her younger brother seems to be taking their dad’s death a little too easily. Enter a well-meaning aunt with a hidden agenda who convinces the family to come stay with her and her husband in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

There were many times throughout the film when I could have used a box of tissues, and I could tell that those around me were losing the battle to suppress their tears as well. The acting was good, and the cinematography brought out the great beauty of those vast New Mexico landscapes. But the story itself was pure Blume, told with heart and honesty. Thus the intermittent sobbing.

The movie touches on many themes, but primarily explores issues of loss. While answering questions about the making of the film, Blume herself becomes verklempt as she admits that when she wrote Tiger Eyes, she had not been thinking consciously of her own life but realized only after making the movie that she had a lot in common with her young protagonist. Blume was 21 when her father died quite suddenly, and her mother never spoke to her about it.

an admittedly very blurry photo of Judy Blume, Lawrence Blume, and whoever it was who was asking them questions

The whole audience was in tears again.

Nina was one of the lucky ones who got to ask a question afterward. Clearly in awe, she declared how difficult it was not to rush the stage and give her idol a hug and thanked her particularly for Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, which was the first book she and her sister read that dealt with the Holocaust, even more personally meaningful because their mother was a Holocaust survivor. Blume replied that Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself was her most autobiographical book, and that she, like Sally, always had stories in her head when she was a child; but she rarely shared them for fear of being considered strange.

A girl of about 10 asked Blume if she could be anyone, who would she be. Blume’s response was that she felt so lucky having her family and a career she loved, that she would just like to be herself.

Nina and I turned to each other, so full of love for Judy Blume that we almost started crying again.

Afterward, sitting at Flores cafe and drinking sangria, Nina and I discussed the movie and relived our favorite moments from the Q & A session. I picked up the worn paperback copy of Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret that Nina had brought in hopes of scoring an autograph for her sister who was working and couldn’t come with us. While Nina visited the facilities, I read the first chapter and fell in love with Blume’s writing all over again.

I think it’s time to reread a few books from my past as well as check out the books Judy Blume has written since I turned 15, which, as it turns out, is quite a few.

Having the world at your feet

foot chi path

I’d heard of reflexology before. After all, I live in Berkeley, which is just across a bridge from Marin County, home of everything natural and alternative.

All I know is that a good foot massage is a beautiful thing.

But one of my favorite blogs, Serenity in the Garden, featured something called stone stepping, which many people in China have included as part of their daily health routine for centuries. (Okay, it’s not the exact same people who have been walking on rocks for centuries—I’m not claiming that this practice bestows immortality or anything like that.)

But according to studies done at the Oregon Research Institute, walking for a half hour on a path of rounded stones provides health benefits. And there are no risky side effects, unless you run, fall, and subsequently skin your knee.

Why not build little foot chi paths in cities across the country so that at lunch time, everyone took off their shoes and walked on rocks, improving their health and maybe getting a little sunshine at the same time? I bet the expense of installing these around the nation would be cheaper than building a single hospital. And I for one would love to see a bunch of barefooted suits gingerly stepping on stones, literally going in circles.

There would have to be a no-cell phone rule though.

Just a thought.

For more about foot chi paths, see Serenity in the Garden.

My point is—and I do have one…

Sunday morning is the time I’ve set aside as a weekly check-in with myself.

I made a conscious decision to do this when I became president of the Berkeley branch of the California Writers Club. With all the new responsibilities, the women in my museum writers’ group (so named only because we meet at the museum cafe, not because we write anything having to do with a museum) were worried that I’d never have time to write because I’d be too busy as president of the club. So my goal became to balance my various lives. And to make sure I was minding the balance, I built in a check-in system for myself.

This morning I was looking back on my week and realized that two of the mornings I had set aside for writing were actually filled with going through the president’s e-mail, which had gotten backed up because I had only gotten access to the account last Wednesday. (Transitions in volunteer organizations can get complicated.)

I had also spent time organizing files after unceremoniously plopping all piles of papers on top of my desk that had previously lived on the floor in baskets and boxes. This was prompted not by any pure vision of order but by the mysterious odor that seemed to emanate from behind or under said piles of paper. (See earlier post “Something Smells Fishy.”)

And I even spent some time resubmitting a manuscript to a press when I was notified that its submission manager had lost everything submitted in March. Sure, it’s important, but it’s not writing. It’s not even covering new ground, just ensuring that the efforts I made in March are still working for me.

Now I did write two posts for my blog, which I love, but this blog was supposed to be a creative outlet for my daily musings and possibly a future resource for promoting the books I was planning to publish. It is not intended to be a substitute for what I consider my calling—writing for children. But looking back, I realized that the last time I had worked on anything for kids was exactly two months ago, the morning before my museum writers group met, mostly because I was too embarrassed to show up without something for the group to read.

So how did it get to this point? What have I been doing with my time?

Okay, last Thursday I attended an author reading at Berkeley’s Books Inc. I think it’s important not only to support other authors and independent book stores but to hear what’s being published and explore a variety of writing. So it’s not writing per se, but it’s part of being in a writers’ community.

We had guests coming for dinner last Sunday who had never been to our house before, which meant more straightening up than the usual creating a path from the front door to the dining room. But that’s good because it reminded me that I had to return items accidentally stolen from the church basement where I held my husband’s 50th birthday party. (You’d think you’d notice a large pink bucket next to the front door every day for two months, but somehow it had become part of the scenery.) So, again, it’s all good.

But it’s not writing for children.

Inspired (compelled?) to write after considering how I’d been spending my time, I sat down in front of the old laptop. And what did I do? I clicked on the icon that would bring me here where I could write about this dilemma. Okay, this time, it is writing, but it’s still not for children.

And now I hear the dryer buzzing, signalling that it’s time for me to rescue the clothes within before they become hopelessly wrinkled. (Because if you know me at all, you know that I do iron.)

An hour has gone by and I still have nothing to take to my museum group.

But at least my clothes won’t be wrinkled.

Proof that cocktails are good for you

Low power scanning electron microscope image, showing osteoporotic architecture in the fourth lumbar vertebra of an 89-year-old woman. (Photo: courtesy of Alan Boyde)

This just in from Science Daily via my friend Ruby:

Drinking a moderate amount of alcohol as part of a healthy lifestyle may benefit women’s bone health, lowering their risk of developing osteoporosis.

So break out the champagne, baby—mama’s gonna’ lower her risk of developing osteoporosis!

A friend sent this to me with the comment, “Finally, some good news!” I knew there was a good reason that I hadn’t given up cocktails. Having denied myself sugar and corn syrup for over three months, I was beginning to have a hard time justifying my continued alcohol imbibement. But now I know it was for the good of my bones.

I thought about not reading the rest of the article, afraid that there would be fine print with obvious implications, e.g., that the study’s results were based on women who were also exclusively fed goat intestines, or that the positive results were somewhat outweighed by the burning open sores that accompanied the increased bone density.

But there didn’t seem to be anything like that. It’s true that the subjects in the study were all post-menopausal women, and I have not yet reached menopause. But I figure it doesn’t hurt to start my osteoporosis prevention early, right?

For more scientific information on how drinking can help you, go to

Movie karma does exist

My plan was to come home and write a review of the new Spiderman film directed by Mark Webb. (Apparently that’s his real name.) But I decided to write about an experience I had there instead. About a third of the way through the movie,  the woman sitting three seats to my right began talking on her cell phone. I couldn’t believe it. I could feel my blood pressure rise, and I could sense the tension in Dave, who was sitting on my left.Because he knows.

But I’ve been trying to adopt a more live-and-let-live attitude in my old age, so I gripped the arms of my chair and took a deep breath. Soon after that, she stopped talking.

Gosh, Emma Stone is cute. And that British boy does a mighty convincing American accent. I got back into the storyline and forgot all about the rude cell phone lady.

But then it happened again. I tried to pierce the side of her head with my pointed glare, but she was oblivious. Once again I gripped the arms of my chair and took a deep breath. Nope—it wasn’t going to work this time. I moved past the empty seat between me and her companion and leaned over him to tell her as politely as I could muster to get the hell off the phone. She turned away from me and continued speaking into her phone. The guy she was with said, “If she’s on the phone, it’s probably an emergency.””If it’s an emergency and you need to speak on the phone, then do it outside,” I said in a slightly louder voice.

She ignored me.

My heart began to beat rapidly and I was biting my lips so hard I’m surprised they didn’t bleed. But I sat down.

I briefly considered throwing Dave’s half-full cup of water in her general direction. But I didn’t.

I fantasized about grabbing her cell and throwing it across the theater. But I didn’t.

I looked at my husband, who was pleading with his eyes for me to let it go.

I took a few more deep breaths and concentrated on the movie. I did not throw anything except a couple of icy stares.

Somehow I made it through the whole picture without violence of any kind whatsoever. Peter

Parker saved New York City, and I restrained myself from turning into the hideous lizard creature up on the screen.

It is a habit of mine to watch all the credits. I figure that it takes a lot of people to conjure that movie magic, and they deserve my appreciation even if it’s only in the form of staying while all their names roll by. Besides, ever since Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, I’m always hoping that there will be a funny bit if you stay till the bitter end.

Since I was at the Cerrito Rialto, all the ushers were scurrying to clear the dinner dishes from the 6:10 show in order to seat the folks for the 9:00 screening. To get out of their way, I gave up my seat and leaned against the wall to watch the rest of the credits.

While I scanned the names of gaffers, best boys, and caterers, I couldn’t help but notice that the rude cell phone lady and her companion were  looking for something. An usher produced a flashlight and soon the manager hauled out a broom. The woman had the desperate air of someone who has lost something important.

rude cell phone lady looking for her contact lens

Of course I was hoping she lost her cell phone because I believe in poetic justice.

The manager started to walk past me. I asked him if the woman with the broom had lost something.

“Yeah, a contact lens,” he answered.

I smiled. Karma does exist.

Something smells fishy

I could smell it as soon as I walked into our bedroom–a faint, fishy smell. I followed my nose around the room, sniffing high and low. I couldn’t quite pinpoint it, but it was definitely coming from my little office nook, a 3′ by 6′ writing space I’ve carved out of our loft. The trash can didn’t appear to be the culprit, but the smell did seem stronger the lower I sniffed.

Now, my writing area could not be called neat—piles of papers, folders, boxes of ancient software, books, and magazines had become a series of lopsided towers—but I don’t generally have meals while I write, so the likelihood that the odor was actually of something that once swam is pretty low. When my daughter entered the room, she recoiled in disgust and declared the whole upstairs as uninhabitable.

We had various theories. She was convinced that her grandfather had wandered up here, eaten part of some fish, and left the rest under something.

Never mind that her grandfather doesn’t particularly like fish. Steak, yes. Salami, yes. Twix bars, yes. But in order to procure fish, he would have had to walk further than 7-11, another half-block to Safeway. And I don’t think he’s that motivated.

My first thought was to blame the dogs. It’s easy to do because they can’t defend themselves. Maybe Rufus found a small critter on the brink of death and brought it in our bedroom for safekeeping. To hide it from Tucker, he figured he would stuff it behind the bookcase. And suffering from an extremely short attention span, he got distracted and never returned for it.

Because Dave is the prince of earthquake preparedness, the bookcase is bolted to the wall. But if you press your face against the poster tacked above his desk and close one eye, you can shine a flashlight on the sliver of space where a rat might quietly die. Once I pulled his desk away from the wall and moved the tub of computer parts (why do we have extra keyboards and dead hard drives in a plastic storage bin under his desk anyway?) I could see quite a few dust bunnies but nothing that looked like it was once breathing.

After I moved everything off the floor to the top of my desk, I pressed my face to the wood below my feet and shone the flashlight in the half-inch of space beneath the lowest shelf of my desk. I fished out pens, paper clips, and a movie stub but found nothing that smelled particularly offensive.

I had opened the window to air out the room a bit and realized that the smell seemed strongest right by the window. Maybe it was outside? Dave checked the area beneath the window and even looked behind the washer and dryer located on the first floor directly under my writing nook. He found many plastic bags and a small hamburger-shaped book with burger recipes. But we did not uncover anything dead.

Then I had an epiphany: the air vent in the floor. Perhaps a wayward mouse slid to his demise and was under the house slowly decomposing. I had my daughter sniff the vent in her room. Nothing. Dave opened up the crawl space and the three of us took turns sniffing. I even managed a 360 sweep with a flashlight beam, hoping I suppose to see a deceased rodent who had made his final bed among the pink, fluffy insulation.

I wish I could reveal the source of the horrible smell, but we never did figure out where it came from. This morning I couldn’t smell it any more, which means one of three things: 1) whatever it was disintegrated enough that there’s nothing left to produce an odor, 2) some live creature carried it off (maybe I should smell our cat’s breath), or 3) our noses are so used to the smell that it doesn’t register any more.

Now I can’t use my desk until I go through all the stuff on top of it. Does anyone out there want free SimTown software?

Sugar on the brain

Our household is in an odd state of extremes.

I gave up sugar. Not for good. I guess I just wanted to see how long I could do it. I honestly figured I might make it a week, but it’s been almost four months now. I did allow myself a piece of birthday cake when Dave turned 50. And, to be clear, I still have alcohol on the weekends. But I don’t eat anything that has sugar or corn syrup in it. I have honey in my yogurt and I eat lots of fruit. And there have only been a few times when I really wanted something sweet.

But my father-in-law has mountainous sugar cravings. Ever since he got kicked out of the place he was living—that’s a whole other story—he’s been back at our house. The first day he was back, he ate an entire bag of chocolate chips while we were both at work. He didn’t eat the salami and cheese that Dave bought for his lunch, just the chocolate chips.

At 11:30 a few nights ago, the burglar alarm rang. Awakened from a deep sleep, Dave ran downstairs without his shoes on, checked on our daughter in her room and looked for his dad in his room, but he wasn’t there. In the living room, the front door was wide open. Apparently unaware that he had set off the alarm, my father-in-law had walked down our front steps and into the night. When Dave caught up with him, he asked where he was going. He’d had a craving for a candy bar, so he was heading for the 7-11 to get one. Dave could not talk him out of it. So he watched and waited for him to make sure he didn’t get run over by a car on the major street he had to cross to get there.

I figure it’s the only exercise he gets, so maybe it’s not so bad that he totters a block and a half to reach his mecca. But he’s quite unsteady and our street is poorly lit, so it was not a journey that a thinking man would make. Unless he’s thinking with his sweet tooth.

Now he’s getting creative. Finding the recently purchased bottle of maple syrup empty, Dave had to ask his dad about it. He explained that he’s been making his own special maple beverage by adding water to the syrup. When I said I was surprised that he could drink real maple syrup because it is so sweet, he replied, “That’s why I add some water.”

Tomorrow he’s moving into a dementia ward where people will be there 24/7 to make sure he doesn’t fly the coop for his Twix fix or raid the pantry for anything sweet. They will monitor his sugar intake and manage his diabetes, so he’ll certainly eat more healthily.

But I wonder: how will he get his exercise?