Ode to Snow

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Brighton Ski Resort, Utah

Winter is a time for contemplation. Everything takes a little longer to do. Food must be warmed, layers must be compiled and worn, windshields and sidewalks must be scraped and shoveled of ice and snow.

Whether you are in the midst of knee-deep snow yourself or whether you only dream of it, I invite you to listen to my new snowy playlist on Spotify while indulging in some wintry reading (sources cited) and photography (all by me) below. Enjoy.

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Laramie, Wyoming

“Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.” -From Mark Strand’s “Lines for Winter”

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Southern Wyoming

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, ‘Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.'” -Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass

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American Fork, Utah

“Everything is flowing — going somewhere, animals and so-called lifeless rocks as well as water. Thus the snow flows fast or slow in grand beauty-making glaciers and avalanches… While the stars go streaming through space pulsed on and on forever like blood… in Nature’s warm heart.” -John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra 

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Steamboat Springs, Colorado

“One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land…” -From Wallace Stevens’s “The Snow Man”

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Centennial, Wyoming

“It snowed all week. Wheels and footsteps moved soundlessly on the street, as if the business of living continued secretly behind a pale but impenetrable curtain. In the falling quiet there was no sky or earth, only snow lifting in the wind, frosting the window glass, chilling the rooms, deadening and hushing the city.” -Truman Capote
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Steamboat Ski Resort, Colorado

“A few feathery flakes are scattered widely through the air, and hover downward with uncertain flight, now almost alighting on the earth, now whirled again aloft into remote regions of the atmosphere.” -Nathaniel Hawthorne
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Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming

Love and warm wishes to all from the wintry American West.

“Guest Post” by Boone

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Here is my shelter portrait

Hi, my name is Boone or, at least, I think it is. Sometimes my humans call me Abe, but whenever they do that, they’re quick to say “Boone” right after. I was a puppy in Kansas for a while, which was boring because my first home was just a basement, and there was no one to play with me. When I went to the shelters, it was still pretty boring because there wasn’t enough snow and a machine played calming classical music whenever they turned out the lights. BOR-ING.

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I really like the snow

They made me wear a Christmas bandana for my picture, which Katherine loved. Maybe that’s why she and Matt drove all the way to Kansas to get me. She hasn’t made me wear any bandanas in Laramie yet- probably because she knows I’d chew them all up. I love to chew.

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Sometimes chewing gets me in sticky situations, like here when the curtain attacked me

It’s probably my favorite thing- except snow. I like to chew snow, too. And socks, curtains, blankets, beds, shoes, toys, the couch, balls, rugs, leashes, pots for plants, sticks, dirt, poop, and actual food. There- I think I’ve named all the things.

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Almost forgot the frisbee incident. Thankfully Matt and Katherine were there to help me- after they took a bunch of pictures

The people at the shelter thought I was going to be a big dog. Sometimes Matt likes to measure me with measuring tape, or take me to the nice place with treats where everything smells AMAZING like other animals to weigh me. It’s hard to stay on the scale though because I have a lot of wiggles in my system to get out.

Going to the dog park is a great way for me to get all of my wiggles out, unless I have to ride in the car to get there, which is VERY SCARY. Once I’m there, I get to play with other wiggly dogs and annoy all the ones who aren’t as wiggly. I also like to get my wiggles out all over the couch and Matt and Katherine’s laps. They are always so still and quiet on the couch- it is very BORING. Wiggling on the couch is also a great technique for me to shed some extra fur.

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Matt and I are both smiling on the couch in this picture, but I am doing more wiggling

Last weekend Matt and Katherine picked me up (which I DON’T like) and put me in this scary thing called the bathtub. They poured water on me and scrubbed me with this stuff that smelled very weird, like oatmeal, and not like dog at all, which I’m pretty sure is how I’m supposed to smell. I hope they never do this ever again.

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Me in the bathtub- yuck

Anyway, I like my new home because I get to run around in the backyard, go for walks, do some tricks like SIT, SHAKE, DOWN, and LEAVE IT, but not others like COME HERE or DROP IT. But most of all I get to chew.

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Here I am taking a break from chewing on a big stick

Matt says when the snow goes away, we can go camping. I don’t know what this is, but if it has anything to do with chewing, and nothing to do with riding in the car or going into the bathtub, count me in!

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Bye for now!

Being Injured, Being Humbled

Being Injured, Being Humbled

I’ve never understood why people respond to winning awards or recognition with “I am so humbled by this.” My instinct says the opposite of that should be true – now that everyone knows you’re the most eligible bachelor in Tampa under the age of 30, or whatever, you should feel like hot stuff. And feeling like hot stuff isn’t inherently bad; there’s no need to feel guilty for celebrating our accomplishments or the qualities we love about ourselves. (After all, loving ourselves is the root of loving others.) We are, however, always balancing those feelings with humbling experiences, too. Failures. Close calls. Setbacks.

I’ve had a couple of setbacks myself recently. Part of how I define myself is through what I’m able to do, and worked hard to achieve, physically. I am a rock climber. I am a yogi and yoga teacher. I get outside and play outside.

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Can’t do this right now 😦 Working through the moves last July on “Butch Pocket and the Sundance Pump,” 5.12a, at Wild Iris, WY. Photo by Andrew Hudson.

Last September I woke up one morning after “camping” in my car in Ten Sleep, Wyoming, with an intense ache in my neck. While driving back home, the pain worsened. When I woke up the next day, I could barely look up or down, much less side to side. I immediately booked myself a massage, but walked out feeling about the same level of crappy as I’d felt before. After a referral and a physical therapy consultation, I learned I’d acquired an inflamed cervical disk.

This immediately had consequences for me. No more headstands. No more backbend-y yoga poses where I need to gaze up and back. And, as I learned on our next climbing trip, it also meant I couldn’t look down to find my next foothold, or up at the climber I was belaying.

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Couldn’t do this either. Tripod headstand playtime in the park with Jessie (center) and Amy (right), summer 2014

After months of physical therapy, I’d finally reached a point of comfort (and I mean physically, not financially- yikes). My neck still hurts on occasion, but the muscles in my back no longer seize up to protect it, and I have almost the same range of motion as I had before that doomed morning in September.

Come late October the outdoor climbing season ended and, in late November, ski season began. Knowing I’d improved my skills significantly over the course of the last season, I was excited to get back on the snowy slopes.

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A beautiful snowy Sunday in Steamboat Springs, CO

After the new year, I went down to Steamboat Springs with friends Georgia and Tom, and Tom’s family. Saturday night it snowed over a foot, maybe around two feet, even. In the morning we laughed as we tossed armfuls of snow off our cars. The lifts carried us out of the sun and into the icy clouds surrounding the mountaintops, still dumping snow.

On what became our last run of the day, the front end of my right ski lodged itself in a mound of heavy, powdery snow, twisting my foot out to the right. The rest of my body didn’t get the message and kept sailing downhill until my right knee jerked inward, and popped. I dropped to my back, dug out my sunken ski, and held my right knee into my chest while I made some pathetic wails. Fortunately Tom and Georgia heard/saw me, and came over. After about five minutes of feeling sorry for myself, I swallowed the pain, got up, and we made our way to the bottom of the mountain- slowly.

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Just before I hurt my knee! Steamboat Springs, CO. Photo by Tom Ashley.

My physical therapy appointment for my knee is later this week, but the preliminary diagnosis is a partially torn MCL. This means no more skiing, climbing, or running (honestly I won’t miss that one), and avoiding certain yoga poses- again.

I hate being injured, and not just because of the pain. I hate the limitations it brings. I find myself sitting at work, feeling blah, and thinking, “Oh I know- I’ll just go to the climbing gym tonight,” and as soon as I start to feel cheery again, I realize I can’t. Yoga class? Nope, not if there are any deep lunges or squats or psoas stretching. So I settle for gentle movement on my mat followed by some resistance band nonsense to make my knee feel more stable.

So much goes into those Instagram photos of flexible yogis in breathtaking poses, or YouTube videos of skinny guys break-dancing. So much has to go right. Just because that guy in the gym is only lifting 5 pounds or walking around the track instead of jogging doesn’t mean he’s lazy or unmotivated. He could very well be recovering from illness or injury. He could be on chemo and unable to do any high-impact exercise for fear that his fragile bones could fracture underneath him. Maybe that woman in my yoga class is in child’s pose instead of the pose I’m teaching because she just had a baby, or she has a herniated disk in her spine, or that pose is just too intense for her and that’s not what her body needs right now.

So. What do I do when I’m not climbing up mountains or skiing down them? I cook. I eat. I read. I tell our new puppy that I don’t appreciate his chewing a hole in the curtains, or constantly sniffing our butts, or jumping on our laps while we’re on the couch so he can gnaw on our fingers. I stress about being out-of-shape. I scroll through social media sites feeling envy at all the beautiful photos of my able-bodied friends. I paint my nails. I clean my closet. I cry. I drink wine. I play the piano. I try some yoga, and slowly back out of all the poses I can’t do, and try to be kind to myself.

Last night I met with my friend Amy (pictured above doing tripod headstand) to discuss our plans for the kids/adults yoga event we’re leading next weekend (learn more about it here!). Our theme for the classes is kindness, and Amy shared with me a kindness-centered visualization and meditation exercise she has used in the past as a kids’ yoga teacher. I invite you to try it.

Kindness Visualization:

Situate yourself in a comfortable seat, or lie down comfortably. Now, begin to visualize a person you love- not a person with whom you’re mad right now, or with whom you’ve had a recent argument- but for whom you just feel love. Maybe it’s a family member, or a partner, or a best friend. Picture this person’s face with as much detail as you can muster. Maybe you find your lips curling into a smile as you think of them. Now, with this person’s image in your head, say silently to them, “May you be healthy. May you be happy. May you be at peace.”

Begin to shift your focus inward. Notice your breath. Notice the feeling of your clothes on your skin. Notice the parts of your body touching the floor. Notice how you feel. Now say silently to yourself, “May I be healthy. May I be happy. May I be at peace.” It may be hard to repeat this words to yourself, but try to be receptive to them. “May I be healthy. May I be happy. May I be at peace.”

~

Love to all.

Christmas Preparations

It’s been unseasonably warm for December here in Wyoming. We were almost afraid there wouldn’t be any snow to speak of in the mountains when the Snowy Range Ski Area opened.

Matt and I went up to the Snowies the weekend before last to get our Christmas tree, just like last year. We stopped by the ski lodge to pick up our passes, have my skis and Matt’s board waxed, and go up the lift and down the the slopes a couple times. The lodge has a little bar upstairs overlooking the slopes, and we had a draught beer from Sheep Mountain Brewery, basically a guy outside of Laramie who makes great beer in his oversized garage. I believe it was a red IPA – really delicious! The bearded man sitting next to us introduced himself as a foreign exchange student from Tasmania studying at the University of Wyoming. I drank a free additional pint of the red IPA because the bartender messed up a pour. You know, typical Laramie-area happenings.

A semi-frozen creek up in the Snowies

A semi-frozen creek up in the Snowies

I was pleased that I hadn’t completely forgotten how to ski and that neither of us fell while getting on or off the lift, which had proved more difficult than I had anticipated last year. It was warm enough that I hadn’t been dying to get off the lift by the time we reached the top of the mountain, and sunny too.

Sometimes, caught in a turn, the view obscured by pines, you forget that you’re not completely alone with the trees and the snow. You feel small and a part of something wide and deep and beautiful in the almost-silence of the wind and the sshhhh of your skis against the snow.

The road between Laramie and the ski area

The road between Laramie and the ski area

After skiing, we drove up the road a ways to find ourselves a tree. We walked by a family on snowshoes carrying their own tree on the snowed-in trail. If you stayed on the cross-country ski trail you didn’t need snowshoes, but we eventually had to wander off the trail to find our tree, as per Forest Service regulations. I believe the word “trudging” was invented to describe one’s slow, labored walk through over a foot of snow. If you’ve never had the good fortune of needing to trudge through so much snow that it’s a small miracle every time your boot reappears, whole – just imagine a small child so bored they’ve grown exasperated with the feeling, chin to the ceiling, eyes rolled up in their sockets, shoulders sagging, walking away from you. That, too, is a trudge.

Matt in the forest

Matt in the forest

To ease your sadness about severing forever a pine from its roots, the Forest Service informs you in their handy brochure, which accompanies the $10 permit for the tree cutting, that your act assists the growth of the surrounding trees, and thus the forest as a whole (I admit it would be better here if I quoted directly from the pamphlet but, after a ~30-second search through my recent mail, I’ve come to the conclusion that I probably threw it out). Harvesting the tree, then, is like giving the grove a haircut. Mowing the lawn. Holding two or three kids back a grade. You know, science: not everyone wins and gets to become a magnificent Christmas tree – just the pretty ones.

Got it!

Got it!

We picked a more suitably-sized tree for both the inside of the car and our house this year, though its much skinnier trunk repeatedly rebelled at our positioning it in the Christmas tree stand. It remains crooked but only if you look at it from either the perspective of the gas fireplace or the dusty corner behind the couch which likes to collect tumbleweeds of dog fur. From the front door it looks very nice. We only broke one ornament wrestling with it and the stand.

Christmas is fast approaching! I’ve already watched “Elf” once, and listened to probably 50 hours of Christmas music, so I’m prepared. I’ve wrapped all the presents, created plenty of online wishlists at various outlets in anticipation of the receipt of gift cards, and made at least one Christmas-related dessert item, though I have yet to watch the Charlie Brown Christmas special, which I have on DVD – yes, it’s that important. I’m looking forward to seeing my family in North Carolina, but I’d gladly skip over the whole shuttle-to-the-airport/plane-from-one-airport-to-the-next thing if I could. I think this is a sign you’re officially an adult, when the prospect of traveling via plane exhausts you and causes you to go out and buy crystallized ginger and anti-nausea pills instead of giving you boundless, exuberant joy.

Unless the drive looks like this. JOY!

Unless the drive looks like this. JOY!

But after all that sitting and wondering which ridiculously expensive dry sandwich or stale burger to order and weaseling your way into public bathroom stalls only to find there is no toilet paper – after all that mess comes FAMILY. And old friends, and presents, and free food, and all those wonderful, wonderful things. This is why I love Christmas.

Happy holidays and safe travels, everyone!

“Spring”

There are many different types of snow. As I write this, it is almost May in Laramie, Wyoming, and it is snowing. This particular kind of snow doesn’t accumulate; it blows around in the awful howling wind and sweeps across asphalt like particles of sand. Perhaps due to the wind (blaming everything on the wind gives me some semblance, however false, of control), this snow doesn’t appear in flakes, but in little globs, like dippin’ dots.

But less colorful

Yesterday’s snow varied from huge, puffy wet flakes like locusts to our typical tiny, dry, sparkly flakes like crystals.

Backyard snow and courageous green grass

Backyard snow and courageous green grass

Dry flakes also blow around like sand, separated, but they are so small that they just barely catch the light before throwing it back at you, like fairy dust. Very cold fairy dust.

Wet snow, the kind that’s suitable for snowballs and igloos and snowmen, we almost never get. It’s just too dry here. That’s the pretty snow, with visible intricate flakes that people catch on their tongues and hold in their mittened hands.

I think my poor tulips are done for. The grass and other plants are convinced it’s spring though, and not just “spring.”

Go little guys, go!

Go little guys, go!

So now I’ve resorted to planting things inside. The weekend before last I finally found a fiddle leaf fig tree (say that five times fast!). They’re so beautiful!

Our living room is starting to come together!

Our living room is starting to come together. Yes, that pillow is made of mountains.

Such big, cheery leaves! That is why I keep it away from the windows. I’ve also got a few seedlings going, which I started last weekend before the onslaught of “spring” snow.

From L to R, that's zucchini, red russian kale, and sunflowers

From L to R, that’s zucchini, red russian kale, and sunflowers

But right now it’s snowing snotty little clumps, sideways. Like, literally sideways – parallel to the ground, no angle. It’s like watching a painfully unrelenting screensaver. I’m pretty sure this means I get to eat an extra piece of rhubarb crumb cake now. Here’s the recipe. You’re welcome.

Here’s to “spring,” or, as we like to call it in Wyoming, “Brrrrrr.”

 

25th Annual Poker Run

To celebrate the much-awaited end of February in Wyoming, locals and ex-locals convene in the very small town of Centennial one Saturday a year with cross-country skis, snowshoes, dogs without leashes, and backpacks full of beer for the Poker Run. This was the 25th year of the annual event and pretty much the only thing to look forward to during the yucky month of February (except skiing, of course). I am already researching what flowers to plant in front of the house post-defrost. Tulips? Daffodils? Zinnias later?

Welcome to snowy Centennial

Welcome to Centennial! Normally you’d be able to see the mountains, but it was snowy that day

Centennial is about a half hour west of Laramie at the base of the Snowy Range mountains, so we drive through every time we go up to the Snowy Range Ski Area for some wintry recreation. The town consists of a church, an elementary school, a post office, a general store, a convenience store/bar, a couple other restaurants/bars, and a fire station.

Another shot of wintry Centennial

Another shot of wintry Centennial

Matt and I like to joke that the Beartree Tavern is the best restaurant in Laramie. Their pork green chili means business. Also, they’re not actually in Laramie, so there’s that. (Laramie isn’t exactly known for its fine cuisine.)

The Poker Run itself is just a crowded, slightly drunken adventure down a cross-country ski trail in Medicine Bow National Forest. Rowdy, outdoorsy Laramie folks dress up in wacky costumes and attempt to make their way down the trail from the mountains down to Centennial without tripping up on someone else’s skis or running into a tree. Also, there’s some part of the event that actually relates to the card game poker, but that escaped me entirely.

Bar decor in Centennial, WY

Bar decor in Centennial, WY

After indulging in some elk sausage-filled breakfast burritos, our group drove up to Centennial and went inside a restaurant to pay for a shuttle up the mountain. We then stood around in the light snow and played with dogs until an empty suburban stopped and invited us in. As it turns out, this guy wasn’t part of the organized shuttle experience for which we’d just paid; he was just a generous local. He said something like, “I can fit five of you.”

Someone promptly asked, “Can we sit in the trunk?” and soon there were twelve of us, plus two dogs, along with all our skis, poles, snowshoes, and backpacks. We slowly made our way up the mountain.

At the top of the mountain were snowmobilers, other Poker Run enthusiasts, and a couple of guys drawing their names in a prominent snowbank with their urine. All in all, a classy affair.

Snowshoe ninja

Me, the snowshoe ninja

I strapped on my friend Amy’s extra pair of snowshoes and put on my integral mittens. Snowtime.

Thumbs up in mittens!

Ready to get going?

This was my first snowshoeing experience. As Amy (pictured above, on the right, with her gluten-free beer chilling in the snow at her feet) wisely put it, “It’s literally walking, but on snow. It’s just walking.” That said, the only technique recommendations I have are a) not to step on anyone and b) make sure your straps are tight enough that they don’t continually fall off your boots. Oh, and c) wear boots with faux fur for an extra dose of fun.

We ran into a lot of people I recognized, and many more I didn’t. I even came across Kyle and Tallie’s pal Ray, who graduated from the University of Wyoming but is now living in Utah. Halfway through the course a woman was selling beer off the back of her snowmobile to thirsty participants.

No dogs were intoxicated in the making of this blog post

No dogs were intoxicated during the making of this blog post

We passed by some snow-muffled cabins that were, incredibly, chugging out smoke from their chimneys. So much snow! It seemed like a scene out of Narnia.

Anyone home?

Anyone home?

It intermittently snowed and shone sun all afternoon. At one point, we came upon a dwindling bonfire just as they ran out of hotdogs. I’ve never before seen a fire in the midst of so much snow. Some of the surrounding snow was stained black from smoke and ash.

The forest bordering the trail

The forest framing the trail

Upon returning to Centennial via hitchhiking, we ended up at the Beartree Tavern for a pizza and a rambunctious concert led by a band of rowdy old, gray men. Three of the five were guitarists, which was a little perplexing. A thirties-ish married couple from Denver sat at the bar, completely enamored with the scene. “This is so cool!” The husband said to me. “Is it normally like this? We’re from Denver.” 

On Sunday we went skiing and I began to experiment with taking jumps which, as Matt pointed out after the fact, is not an activity commonly undertaken by skiers. I had my first good fall since the beginning of the season trying to land a jump that was way higher than I had anticipated. I had one of those cartoon moments where you begin to realize that you’re still airborne, so you start to uncontrollably flail your arms and say things like, “Woah.”

Now I know what my friend Kevin meant when, after I went skiing for the first time, he asked how much snow I’d gotten in my pants. Rolling around in powder after literally crashing into it will do that to you. Miraculously I didn’t lose any skis or poles or mittens (a “yard sale,” as the ski bums call it), but I am glad I wear a helmet, as always!

Fun & safe adventures to you all.

Firsts

I was jamming to this song (“2080” by Yeasayer) while cutting up some shallots the other night. I’ve always misinterpreted one of the lines to be, “It’s the first spring some have seen.” (These are the real lyrics, if you’re interested.) I prefer my version because it reminds us that spring is special and beautiful, and that some of us are experiencing that wonder at nature’s beauty for the first time.

When my little brother Sam was four or five years old, I was visiting home during that season’s first snow-shower. Sam had his nose and the palms of his hands pressed up against the glass door, staring out at the falling snow in disbelief. It had snowed in years past, but he’d been too young to remember.

“Sam,” I said. “What’s that?” I pointed outside.

“Snow!” he cried.

“What’s it like?” I asked him.

He rolled his eyes at me and, as much as a four-year-old can sound exasperated, said with a sigh, “I don’t know.” As in, how should he know? I’d figured he would answer with something like, “wet,” or “cold” – something he knew about snow without actually having experienced it, but instead he was perfectly honest. He knew snow when he saw it, and that was all he knew about it but, as evidenced by his nose on the glass, he was eager to learn more.

And who wouldn't be eager, with gorgeous snowy trees?

And who wouldn’t be eager, with gorgeous snowy trees?

I think many of us value first experiences to a certain extent, new parents especially: first smile, first steps, first word, first day of school. There are new experiences for us adults to celebrate too: first car, first home, first vacation, first international trip.

While listening to that Yeasayer song, a reading (The Yamas & Niyamas by Deborah Adele, chapter 6) I’d been assigned as part of my yoga teacher training occurred to me, and a particular passage of that reading, about letting go, or non-attachment, which is also an important tenant in Buddhism (I’ve found that Christians tend to refer to this concept with the terms “idols” and “idolatry”). The idea is this: if you’re spending time, energy, and effort regretting a past action or experience; holding onto some false conception of your identity; or even something that makes you sad – a poorly ended friendship or missed opportunity – what you’re really doing is taking space away from any  new opportunities, experiences, or adventures that may come your way. If I continue to beat myself up about a bad breakup, I’m keeping myself from fully enjoying all the other relationships in my life. More concretely, if I hold onto every single pair of shoes I acquire, pretty soon my closet won’t have any more room for even lovelier heels and flats and boots and sandals that may come my way.

Children are able to have so many new experiences so easily because they are spacious and eager to fill their shelves but, as we grow older, we must learn to make space and part with our pasts.

[Don’t worry, I still keep all my prettiest shoes.]

Love to all!