Downward Dog- literally!

ImageThe title of my blog is “Finding Peace in the Middle-” in the middle of this crazy journey called life, in the middle of the life of a marriage, in the middle of an extremely hectic job, in my middle- aka my waistline. Yoga has become a big part of the quest for serenity. I have always loved yoga, but not for its stillness. I love sweating, shaking muscles and pulling my limbs farther than I think they can go. When I first started my practice, I used the poses as an opportunity to multi-task, thinking through show designs, lesson plans, and household to-do lists. Clearly I did not get it. This summer in the Bikram studio it took every ounce of my concentration to attempt poses and manage to breathe, and it clicked. Yoga is peace. Aggressive peace, but peace nonetheless.

With Meet-the-Teacher night, a visit to my vocal cord specialist, trips to the fabric store, and fighting a sinus infection, I have only managed walking and some time at the track. This evening, for the first time in three weeks, I was able to haul out the mats. It was a beautiful evening, the temperature moderate for Houston with nice breeze, so I did my practice on the back patio. Within five minutes my legs were trembling and sweat was dripping down my arms. Temple pose nearly broke me, but I went into downward dog, which in this practice is a really nice breathing transition before it gets tough again, and who should come give me a kiss but my own sweet dog, Audrey.

When I practice yoga, she always stations herself nearby. She gives me kisses while I am in downward dog, then lies beside me patiently waiting through plank and bridge and boat. When I finally relax onto my back for some wind releasing pose, I get more kisses, as if to tell me she’s proud of my hard work.

See, Audrey is also one of my most treasured sources of tranquility. A rescue schnauzer around the age of eleven, Audrey is also living in the middle (well, maybe closer to the end, but I refuse to consider that). She carries a little extra weight, has two enormous benign cysts on her tummy, is losing her teeth and eyesight, and naps a lot. Yet she also loves to go for walks, brightening when she sees me put on my athletic shoes and eagerly dragging me out the back gate. She walks with purpose, too. No crazy meandering or dragging paws, she sets her sights straight ahead and trots happily along, her ears bouncing in the most perfect dog shadow ever cast on a cement street. In that way she is very much like me. Her favorite sleeping place is in my closet, preferably on top of one of my sweaters or t-shirts. She likes her isolation and takes a while to warm to strangers, but once she has accepted you, you are hers forever. In that way she is also very much like me.

I believe the loving and caring for an animal may be one of the very best sources of peace and healing the the Divine created for us humans. We get so bogged down in our daily concerns, so worried about paying bills and losing weight and impressing peers that we lose our joy. My grandfather kept shelties after my grandmother died. He named them Buddy or Feller, and they walked with him every day, and he talked out all his loneliness when he brushed their luxurious coats. He administered their heartworm treatments faithfully according to the schedule on the sheltie wall calendar hanging on the kitchen cabinet. The dogs went fishing with him in his boat and sat with him while he went through physical therapy after knee replacement surgery. I am convinced that his love for his dogs, which was returned a hundred fold, was what kept him alive, healthy, and alert into his eighties. It is no coincidence that he died just a year after giving up his sweet Feller.

Dogs just sleep and eat and play and scratch and chase squirrels and love their people.I am not sure what cats offer, not being much of a cat fan, but I imagine it has something to do with the pacifying effect of rubbing their fur while they make that wonderful purring sound. Fish swim soothingly, hamsters entertain and make us laugh (especially when they put on hip-hop clothes and dance), and rats like to cuddle (at least, that’s what rat owners tell me). Reptiles as pets I will never understand, and have no desire to.

Animals are simple. They don’t try to acquire more belongings, they don’t stress over promotions or grade point averages. They love, and they listen, and they let us know each day in their own ways that life is a simple and precious gift.

Women and football.


Last week I had two very different football revelations. The first was on the way home in the car when I heard a news story on NPR (which seems to be the only intelligent news source on the radio) about the first female ref in the NFL. I think this is remarkable. Shannon Eastin, who wanted to play football as a child but was forbidden by her mother, is the first female to officiate an NFL game. She has earned this distinction over the more likely candidate, Sarah Thomas, whose pending candidacy as a referee was forfeited in the referees’ strike. I read some articles, and Eastin sounds like a no-nonsense lady with a backbone of steel, the courage to place herself smack in the middle of a men’s world, and the ability to know to whom to listen and whom to ignore.

I felt inspired.

Then later in the week, Friday arrived. Varsity game day. Football players strutted around the campus carrying buckets of candy, baked goods, Powerades, and other treats meant to bolster their spirit for the game. One of my female students, a drill team member, realized she had forgotten her football buddy’s basket and scrambled around begging for change and a hall pass so she could go buy two Powerades and present them, along with  treats begged from other boys, to her guy. As I wrote her hall pass, I asked her
what nice thing the football team would be doing for the young ladies of the drill team, cheer squad, and female athletics who had filled their tummies and pumped up their egos all season. She stared blankly then finally responded, “Uh, nothing.”

I felt demeaned.

Not me personally, but on behalf of the young teenage women who are being sent the message that their role in American society is still to smile prettily and feed the boys, never mind that they too put in countless hours on the courts, tracks, and studios.

I know, I know. At least American women aren’t forced to wear burkas and we can vote. Surely we can aim higher: We can demand equal pay for equal work, we can keep male strangers out of our reproductive health choices, we can ask the football players to man up and treat us like the intelligent women we are.

What it seems to come down to is that we are a culture of hero worship- the biggest brute gets to drag the scantily clad cheerleader off the field so that she can fix his dinner, while the all-female team of football trainers slog around water buckets and wash the uniforms (I saw these girls come back up from practice yesterday while I was working out at the track. They work really hard).

I read recently that 40% of the audience for pro football is women. Why? How can a woman endorse that kind of culture (google the words sexy+football. I dare you). Don’t misunderstand me here, I appreciate sports. Excellent athleticism takes discipline and sacrifice, much like excellent art. Swimmers, volleyball, tennis, and baseball players, and yes, even football players, endure pain, weather, injury, and exhaustion to get good at what they do. There is a thrill that comes with a game well played. I recognize that- it’s the same thrill that comes when an actor takes her place for the curtain call.

But may I make a radical suggestion that will move us from the 1950’s to the 21st century?

Let’s leave the brownies and candy at home. Let’s all agree to support all our teams, both male and female, hugely popular (football) and obscure (lacrosse). Let’s put some clothes on the pro cheerleaders and teach them some moves that don’t look like they were pulled from the local men’s cabaret. Let’s put female officials in the games.

Let’s teach our young women that the best way to be a friend to a young man is to share ideas equally, not to play at being dumb, and to carry one’s self with feminine poise. Every day I see girls who either fear to take a risk in front of the boys because they don’t want to look dumb, or they clam up because they don’t want to look too smart. They compromise their bodies and base choices both significant and negligible on the whims of the young men they hope to impress. This road can go both ways, I realize that, but the pervasive message is still there: boys dominate.

“Are YOU ready for some football?” Me, not so much. I AM ready for some progress.

Libby Bryant- Astonishing!


Every day at the 12:15 lunch bell for the last four years, a certain young curly headed lady has traipsed into my office, hungry for lunch and ready to share her day’s concerns and triumphs. My Libby. She turned eighteen yesterday, and she is a force to be reckoned with. There are those people who come into a room and look at someone else and say, “Oh, there you are!” and proceed to quietly move from group to group, nibbling on cheese cubes and nodding attentively as friends share their stories, interests, observations. I am one of those.

But then there are people who come into a room saying (even if not literally) “Here I am!” and the party begins to swell with energy, charged by the individual who seems to just glow with it. The dancing gets more exciting, the volume escalates, and the laughter surges. That’s Libby.

I am not sure she realizes it. She is a thermostat- she sets the temperature for a room. She is gorgeous, tall and leggy with a killer smile (thanks, Dr. Mardaga), golden skin, and beautiful lips that she currently accentuates with bold red lipstick and a Rosie the Riveter hairdo. She is equally gorgeous inside. She has a tender heart and a moral center that is firm. She is ambitious, setting her sights on some of the most competitive and elite schools in the country and aggressively hunting for scholarships to ensure she doesn’t have to take options off the table for financial reasons if she can help it. She keeps trying to quit her job, but her employers and fellow employees love her too much and won’t let her. She has no interest in having a boyfriend to distract her. She is driven.

But when I see her, I also see, like one of those cheesy eighties double-exposure Olan Mills portraits, a frizzy headed toddler dressed in mismatched high heels and her sister’s dance recital costumes, singing with gusto and ordering her siblings about. I see the snaggle toothed first grader who insisted (rightfully so) that she could play baseball as well as any boy and should be able to, the girl who broke her fingers playing a game of touch football on the BBES playground. I remember the choir concerts at Ellisor, where I dropped her off every morning at 6:45, giving her a new silly nickname every day before she headed to help the primary teachers prepare for their days.

I remember my pregnancy, when she seemingly refused to enter the world. Neighbors pointed and laughed as I trudged the streets in Muskogee trying to Get.The.Child.Out. Church members teased (lovingly) from the pulpit that when the roll was called up yonder, “Kim will still be here” waiting for the baby. Her birth was my favorite, a home birth with only Travis and a midwife named Ruth, sunlight streaming through the stained glass church windows in my bedroom, Ruth literally laying her hand on the emerging child and bathing her in prayer as she came into the world. I exclaimed at her tinyness and Ruth drily told me the ten pound girl was NOT tiny.

It’s not that Libby is fearless. She’s not- though she was when she was a wee thing. Life has knocked her around enough that she knows that taking risks can sometimes backfire, that loving too deeply can wound. Libby just seems to be able to look fear in the face, make friends with it, and leap anyway.

Every day at lunch time, we have thirty minutes of uninterrupted mother-daughter time. On top of that, I get to teach her every day and direct her every afternoon. I got to do that with all my kids, but the other two were in junior high when they were mine, and it was only two years (they also didn’t eat with me!) I have watched her become this wonderful young woman. I will miss her so much next year I cannot actually allow myself to think about it.

But this girl is ready. Ready to make her mark, to toss her hat in the air with a smile and kick the doubters to the curb. I hope she knows that she can always come back to me, to sit on the couch in my office or climb into my comfy bed, where she can lay her precious heart open, amaze me with her insights, make me laugh, and be still for a bit. I will play with her curls and rub her back and maybe even sing with her.

I love her so. Happy birthday, my sweet girl.

House Beautiful?


When I was around ten, I discovered the absolute joy of home decorating magazines. While my friends were poring over Shawn Cassidy and Leif Garrett in Tiger Beat, I was busy dissecting the composition of furniture and color palettes in Country Living and Good Housekeeping. Seriously. I would go to the grocery store with my dad, and those were the magazines I asked for at the check out stand. I knew what wicker and rattan were, I understood the power of a monochromatic color scheme, and I knew a chintz from a toile.

I rearranged my room at least as often as most girls went up a cup size, and commandeered a brown wood veneer bed from the garage when I was ready to make the shift from youthful color to the trendy and sophisticated neutrals of the late seventies (a short-lived experiment, I quickly tired of earth tones and reverted to my true passions- yellow and green).

While my peers hung cut out pictures of super models, Kiss posters, and kittens frolicking on fuzzy pink and purple backgrounds, my room was adorned with antique china cups, handpainted folk art created by my grandmother, and primitive shadow boxes with ceramic figurines and a lovely brass heart pendant that my Aunt Jan gave me for Christmas (I still have that pendant). My bed was covered with a patchwork quilt my grandmother passed down, and at the foot of my bed rested the cedar chest my mother had in her own room when she was young (that chest has housed my wedding gown and veil since April of 1987 and sits in Libby’s room now.)

I blame my grandmother June for this. She had the most exquisite eye for decorating. By exquisite, I do not mean that she had champagne taste. If anything, she had coffee taste: warm, welcoming, and just the right blend of bitter and sweet. When I was little she took me around the perfect home they owned on Axtel Drive in Clovis, New Mexico and taught me about composition (this is where I learned the rule of three and the triangle that master theatre director Francis Hodge espouses). What grandmother does that? A grandmother who has observed enough to realize that her eight year old granddaughter has touched and memorized the placement of every knick knack, has realigned every sofa pillow, and caressed every textile in the house.

I always dreamt of having my house photographed for a magazine. I’ll let you in on a little secret: I still do. Not one of the fancy magazines like Architectural Digest or Town and Country. I am too lowly for that! But to that end, I walk around with an ever-critical eye, nudging a picture just a hair to the left, relocating a wooden spool bought at an antique shop in Connecticut in 1999 for the umpteenth time, or running out to the garage to spray paint something right quick ( I keep a stock of basics like flat and satin black, matte nickel, and whatever trendy colors I am currently into). I fantasize about opening the front door to discover a team of photographers who tell me they heard that I had made the most lovely house on a budget and they just have to have pictures of it for a magazine feature in Poor But Pretty!

Here is what I have learned about decorating a home:

1. Learn what colors you truly love. I love yellow and green, always have. (I also love pink, but I didn’t discover it until I had little girls, as my mother wouldn’t allow it in the house). If you base your decorating choices on the colors that get to your heart, you’ll be surrounded by joy (or peace, or energy, or whatever your home needs to provide for you). I have some of the same things in my home that have been here since I was a kid. (My turquoise kitchen cabinets, which I loved, turned out to be an expensive color splurge. Not sure I would do it again. I miss those cabinets, though!)

2. Throw in trendy but inexpensive pieces. If you spend $30 on a print that is very now, you don’t feel guilty when you tire of it (example: the black mosquito netting from Pier One I hung over our bed when we were newlyweds. I was going for an upscale romantic French boudoir feeling. WTH?)

3. Clear the clutter. Only keep what is aesthetically pleasing or has real, deep emotional meaning. You are not obligated to keep or display ugly gifts (like the silver-plated-sugar-and-creamer-set-with-the-broken-handles that a well-meaning relative bought at a garage sale for me.)

4. Play with texture. In my den I have a chenille couch, velveteen pillows sit on the window seat, a hand cross-stitched quilt hangs on the wall on a curtain rod behind an antique oak church pew salvaged from a central Texas church with satin patchwork and glass beaded pillows made by me, and colored glass pieces scattered throughout the room. Almost every time I walk into that room I stop to just inhale it with all of my senses (At the same time I seem to be inhaling the dander and hair of three dogs. How in the world did I end up with all these dogs?)

5. Dare to be unique. I am pretty sure my house doesn’t look like anyone else’s, and there are probably people who come in and wonder what in the world I am thinking. I love my salmon pink bedroom, the framed painting of the agave (it’s where tequila comes from-hello!), and the East India folk art that Travis Austin patiently helped me to embellish with crystals. I adore the pastel drawings that we have, one of each of our mothers at about age fourteen, both wearing simple white cotton shirts, turned to the left profile, shaded with blue in the back. I can tell the story of every single thing in my house. I know where it came from, who gave it to us, the origin of the fabrics, the trip where I bought it.

5. Keep it clean.

6. Fill it with love. Ultimately, that’s the greatest decorating ingredient of all.

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