Today is Sunny.

A cluster of Barbie dolls remains piled up along the side of the futon.  On the desk sits a Groucho Marx – inspired eyeglass / nose / mustache combo.  A small whiteboard and dry erase marker, a stack of note-cards clipped together by lesson number (MC-L2-U6- LC2-11: Weather and Seasons), and a bear puppet pepper the other side of the desk.  My laptop sits in the middle.  My iPhone earbuds, plugged into the computer, lay in a cluster.  My office remains ready for short-notice bookings and previously scheduled lessons.

 

I log into the VIP KIDS teacher’s portal and access the calendar that displays my bookings.  All my time slots I opened for the morning are marked “Booked.”  I glance at the time.  6:53a.m.  I click on the 7:00am session and open the power point presentation that provides the curriculum for the next thirty minutes.

In the small screen next to the power point slides, I watch a young Chinese student look up from her book as I open the document.  My computer camera is off still.  I reset the stopwatch feature on my phone, which is propped against a tall, skinny Virgin of Guadalupe candle on my desk and then take another swig of coffee.

Popping off my chair, I lean in to switch on the other lamps in the room and close the blinds as the sunlight pours in.  Clicking “start” on the stopwatch and turning on the camera button, I smile at the student.

“Hello!” I exclaim, waving incessantly with wide eyes.

“My name….” I begin slowly and draw my thumbs in toward my chest, “is Teacher Sara.” I add as I hold up an index card with my name written with my best first-grade teacher printing.

“What,” I shrug my shoulders and hold my hands up, “is your name?” I point at the camera to the child in Beijing.

“My name is Jill.  J-i-l-l, Jill.”  The girl says proudly.

 

Jill? Riiigghhht.

 

“Hi Jill.  How are you?” I speed up a little sensing she knows some English.

“I am fine, Teacher.  How are you?”

“I am fine, also, Jill.  Thank you.” I hold up two thumbs.

Looking at the title of the power point I continue, “Jill, today you will learn about weather and the seasons.  Are you ready to learn English?”
“Yes, Teacher.  I am ready to learn English.”

I flip to the first slide which is a review of letter names and sounds.  She initiates the alphabet song before I even begin.

 

She’s an eager beaver.

 

“Wow, great job, Jill.”

 

The Chinese kids, I have since learned, all sing the ABC song differently than I ever did growing up or when I taught elementary students in the States for 12 years.  I like their version much better. The letters LMNOP are not clustered together like one letter.  Seriously.  Try it.  Sing the ABC song and notice how fast we typically say the “LMNOP” part.  It’s silly.  The Chinese have it right.  They have different breaks in the song and it just makes sense.  I need to learn that version and start a movement here in the ol’ US of A…unless it has already begun and I’m just late to the train.

 

I digress.  Back to Jill….

 

The next slide has pictures of different types of weather: sunny, windy, and rainy.  We review those words, act them out, and read them a few times.  The next slide shows a calendar.  Sunday is circled and Jill repeats, “Today is Sunday.”  She repeats the skill for Monday and Tuesday.

When she sees the slide labeled Wednesday, she reads, “Today is Weather.”

From the background, I hear a shrill voice correcting her before I can, “Wednesday!  Today is Wednesday!”

 

Jill’s face tightens.

 

“Wednesday.  Today is Wednesday,” she obediently repeats.

 

While I feel mostly excited and in awe that I’m teaching English to a child in China, 12 hours ahead of my time zone, it’s mixed with a bit of sadness and guilt that I’m contributing to the high demands and pressures on these kiddos to perform with perfection.

 

I put on my Groucho Marx mask and in a silly voice encourage her.

“Jill, good job!”  She giggles.

“Yes.  Today is Wednesday.  What is the weather like today?”Teacher Sara

“Sunny,” she replies.

“Yes, Jill.  Today,” I pause and turn the computer to the window, “is sunny.”

“Sunny, sunny, sunny,” I chant playfully and watch her eyes widen at the sunlight.

She turns her camera to the dark window and back again, then smiles.

Herman and the Broken Down Bike

My 20-some-year-old Trek mountain bike barely survived Michigan’s icy winters and spring rains.  It’s old metal bones leaned against a shed for a few brutal seasons and was never tuned-up afterwards.   I’ve been clunking along on it well enough for a while now.

 

The chain is rusty; the seat cover is ripped so a tuft of stuffing pokes through; and the brakes haven’t been tended to since God-only-knows-when, which squeak and squeal loud enough that I don’t use a bell to signal others that I’m coming up behind them.  When I grip the lever, an awful sound peels out and pedestrians lurch to one side of the walk, or seek safety in the grass.

 

The bike was strapped to the rack on the back of my Subaru as I drove from Florida to Oregon and back across the country a couple years ago.  Over 6,000 miles, through the dust storms in Kansas to the Portland rains and Florida humidity and sun, the bike hung in there.  It was tied down with the ends of the straps, a bike lock, and bungee cords.

 

After the journey was over, I noticed the blue straps on the rack were worn down through the winds and rain.  I noted blue shavings all over the back of my car and examined the material.  The straps were still sturdy but frayed.  I wrapped the excessive material around and around the rack.  It held together and I rarely checked it.

 

Unbeknownst to me, the rack, with the bike attached to it, fell off my car tonight as I was driving.

 

I had driven down a paver-stone covered street along the water’s edge and parked about a block away from where it dropped, completely unaware.  I had decided to go for a walk on this lovely spring evening in Florida.  I got out of the car and had a funny feeling as I walked away.  A man turned his car into the same area where I parked.  It was dark.  Small light posts lit the pathway along one of the richest neighborhoods in the area.  I felt comforted only slightly that I was in a “good part of town.”  My stomach tightened a little when I figured that no one in any of the mansions would hear me if I was attacked, and surely not if I fell into the bay.

 

Two women jogged by discussing the resource center at their school and how the teacher was rotating out of that position.  A dog kept pace next to them and wore a blinking red light on its collar.  I noted a biker ahead.  He passed me and had a bike helmet with a blinking light, also.  I relaxed knowing that others were out.

 

I walked along the dimly lit path and looked up as a cloud shifted to uncover a nearly full moon.  No one was around so I spoke my prayer of gratitude out-loud to the moon goddess Ix-Chel.

 

“Thank you for this wonderful day.  I am grateful for the chance to grow and learn in my Improv class.  I am thankful for my job and the great people I work with.  I give thanks for living in a beautiful place, close to the water.  I ask that you, Ix-Chel continue to work through me and be with me.  I ask to be open and allow the Greatest Version of the Grandest Vision of myself to shine through.” I relaxed further.

 

Sliding back into my car, I cranked the air-conditioning on and headed home.  I pulled in the drive and hopped out to put my bike into the garage.  The only things remaining, though, were the hooks that secured the previously-existing rack in place.  A few inches of shredded blue straps were left dangling.

 

Shit! Someone cut the straps and stole my bike….rack and all.

Damn it!  It must have been the guy that turned in and gave me a funny feeling.

Should I call the non-emergency police line and report it? 

Ugh, I’m sure they’ll never recover a measly, old bike.  They have bigger things to worry about.

Well, that’s it.  I’ll just go back and see.

See what?  What if he’s actually around?  What the hell am I going to do?  Pull the bike out of the back-end of his truck? In the dark? With no one around?

Well, I’ll at least drive by.  If he’s around, I’ll snap a picture and report him.

 

I fired my car up again and drove off.  I turned onto the bay-side street and saw a man standing next to a heap of bike and rack.  My eyes adjusted to the image in the dark.

 

What the hell?!  It’s my bike! Did someone get spooked and just dump my bike?

 

It was the man I passed earlier on his bike.  His helmet was still sending out red flashes.

I pulled over, hit my safety hazard lights and leaped out of my car.

“Oh my God! It’s my bike!”  I clasped my hands to my cheeks.

“I thought it was surely stolen.”

 

“Is this your bike?” The man asked.

“Can you prove it by taking the lock off?” He smiled

 

“Yes, yes!” I walked over to the pile. “What….? Where….?  What happened?”

 

“I was biking by and saw this sitting here on the sidewalk.  I called the non-emergency police line,” He explained.

 

“Oh, my, thank you, thank you for guarding it and calling the police! I was going to do the same thing but figured it was stolen and didn’t bother.”

 

He leaned down and took hold of the remnants of strap.  “Looks like it broke off your car. And someone must have set it on the sidewalk.”

 

“I’m so grateful no one was hurt by this.  I’m so happy to have my bike back!”  I gushed again, undoing the lock and standing the bike up.

 

“Do you need help with it?” He asked.

 

“Oh…” I looked to my car and back to him.  “Well, I can’t put the rack back on,” and chuckled.

“It will fit in the back end,” I said.

 

I popped open the trunk and tried to fit the bike in.  It wouldn’t fit in easily.

 

“Let’s take off the front tire,” the man said. “Do you know how?”

 

“It’s been a long time, but I think you just unhinge these cables and unscrew the pin.” As I am explaining what I remembered, he did just that.

 

Headlights came up behind us just then.  I looked up and saw the patrol car.  The officer climbed out and I waved to him.

 

“Did someone call about a bike?” He asked.

 

“Yes, I did,” the biker replied, “and here’s the owner.”

 

“Thanks officer!” I called out.

 

“Ok, have a good night,” the officer replied and headed off.

 

I grabbed the hatch to close the trunk.

 

“What’s your name?” I asked.

 

“Herman.”

 

“Nice to meet you, Herman. I’m Sara.  Thank you again for your help.  May good fortune shine down upon you now.”

 

I scurried into my car to get out of the way as another car was approaching.  As I pulled away from the curb, I saw Herman still standing there next to his bicycle.  Once I was safely on the road, he peddled off into the night with his beacon of light blinking.

 

Subaru with bike rack and cargo carrier

*Here’s the old rack and bike during my cross-country adventure in 2014.  It’s amazing it held up as long as it did 🙂

Winter Solstice Sh*t List

We crumpled up our papers and stuffed them into the stump of a felled tree.  The hole in the stump was hollowed out presumably by the hands of mother nature and not by those like us.  Sand filled much of the hole so we felt confident in setting fire to the papers without causing a blazing bonfire on the curb of the city street.

My brother’s family (Kevin, Kelly, and their three kids), Shain (Kelly’s brother) and Chante (his wife), and I had spent the past 20 minutes reflecting and writing that which we wanted to let go of as we geared up for a new year.  Some of us took more than 20 minutes.

We huddled around the nest of papers trying to block the balmy Florida sea breeze while Chante clicked the long-handled lighter for the first part of our winter solstice ceremony.  When the flame wouldn’t take, Chante rearranged the paper wads into a tee-pee structure and flicked again.  The papers glowed and smoldered.

“I hereby declare….,” I began in a faux formal fashion.  I felt a need for pomp-and-circumstance as we watched our shit lists go up in smoke.

Over the years, I’d written “things-I-want-to-release” lists, scrawled endless journal entries, penned letters to lovers I never sent, cried into my pillow, pleaded with the universe/divine/guardian angels/dead ancestors, tied a string to my wrist, and danced my wild heart out.  As I stood watching another year’s worth of garbage go up in flames, I wondered how much of it helped, how much of it really caused change in me.

I felt jaded performing yet another ceremony, another ritual that would somehow be the Thing to set me on the best course.  I stood there and felt like I’d given up on myself and all the things that I believed in, the practices I preached.  Would lighting fire to a piece of paper with the words, “I desire to let go of FEAR, self-criticism, jealousy, negative thoughts, envy, poor choices, etc…” be the magic salve on my bruised heart and my broken spirit?

 

2015 marked another year of love and loss.

During the year, I rode waves of hope in creating something new with a former love, whom I had walked out in the prior year before giving the best of myself.  This time around with the soul who once was “the one,” I pulled my courage out of the corner and had a Wonder Woman-type moment as I stood with hands on hips declaring my love.  I cupped my palms together and offered my heart up honestly, simply, and bravely.  A crashing disappointment washed over when the offering was refused.

Then, a cleansing feeling took its place.  I did my best this time.

I spiraled through a short-term relationship, sought solace during a dating-hiatus, and then gave romance another chance during my version of speed-dating, which consisted of a string of a dozen or so first dates in a month.

There was Sambhav, the horticulturist from India who moved from London.  Daniel, a native of Peru who believed in the law of attraction. Kenny, the film-maker who is the leader of the Awesomeness clan at Burning Man. “Ginger,” the fair-skinned, red-head who only travels as far as a friend’s house and doesn’t like being outside because he burns even with a bottle of sun block. Josh, the man who, minutes before our dinner date he arranged, cancelled because he decided to pursue someone else.  (“I’m sorry because you seem like an awesome person,” he explained over the phone.  “I am!” I exclaimed and chuckled, catching him by surprise with my confidence.)  There was Chris.  Marc.  Steve.

And Chad.

I liked Chad despite the fact he shared the name with my ex-husband.  I didn’t hold it against him because he was cute, adventurous, and intelligent, but after three dates he texted me that he decided to pursue someone else.

I laughed through tears as I hit a swell of rejections in one week.  The dating-site suitors and my former love all said, “Thanks anyway…”

“Okay, I get it.  I knew my time was coming,”  I addressed the Universe with head bowed.  I’ve always been the one to leave a relationship.  Though the rejection wasn’t the most enjoyable, it humbled me and made me sit my ass down to reflect.

Again.

And then to get back up.

Again.

The end of 2015 marks my one-year anniversary of working at the women’s designer consignment shop, a job that I’m grateful for, especially my co-workers who have served in the role of sounding board, acting agent, match-maker, cheerleader, personal stylist, and ass-kicker.

It’s also the mark of another year not being in my dream career, of working in a job that isn’t fully aligned with my values.  I love shopping resale, lessening my consumer foot-print, but I couldn’t give a damn about selling a designer purse that costs the same as two round-the-world plane tickets.

I am mildly depressed at the shop seeing woman who are aimlessly shopping to fill a void in life.  One more shirt, or pair of shoes, or necklace will not change their world, though in the moment it gives them a hit of adrenaline, followed by emptiness, which leads to another shopping trip.  I know this feeling.

Having a mirror in front of me all day can be painful.

The shit list I burned also bared my plea to let go of judgment. (Who am I to judge these shoppers?) That lasted for about a day.  But, hey, self-awareness is the first step to change.  Not all is lost.

 

My nine-year-old nephew began coughing.

“I want to go,” he whispered to Kelly.

Her shoulders dropped a little as she looked to Kevin and then to Chante.

“Sorry, guys, this kiddo is sick and needs to go.”

 

As we shuffled back into Shain and Chante’s waterfront condo, we  agreed to finish our ceremony on Christmas day by releasing our new year intentions lanterns over the bay.

 

I turned from the dwindling fire and felt that seed of heat beginning to spread in my chest.  Yes, all these actions are the minor course adjustments that have gotten me to where I am.  Most days I’m grateful for and relentlessly optimistic about my journey.

For reasons greater than I know, I was supposed to experience love and loss, a somewhat unfulfilling job and financial worries during 2015, along with the peaks of traversing Peru with friends and family, being welcomed into the community theater world, growing new friendships, and finding a home of my own for the first time in years!

On Christmas day, I will send up my lighted lantern with the intention for self-compassion.  I’ll never, ever get it “right” and “perfect”.  I will never, ever do everything, everyday that I preach.  But I can continue to make minor course adjustments to breathe easier, love myself unconditionally, and cut myself a little slack when I look at my shit list next year.

 

Purple Skinny Jeans

I answered the phone at the consignment shop this morning.

“You’re my last resort,” the woman on the other end began.  “I’ve tried everywhere but can’t find what I’m looking for.”

“Ohhh,” I commiserated.  “Hopefully, we can help you here.”

“I’m looking for a purple top for a funeral.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear about your loss,” I said.

“What size are you looking for and what kind of style?”  I asked as I began heading toward a rack of shirts.

She said,  “Well, it needs to be really small…”

I turned on my heel and headed toward the petite rack.

“….because she was about 60 pounds when she died.”

I stopped and let it register.

“It  needs to be long sleeves because her arms were covered in bruises.”

“Oh!” I exclaimed, “You are looking for an outfit for the woman who passed.”

“Yes,” she continued, “and do you have purple skinny jeans?  Because the biker group she belonged to will all be wearing purple jeans to the funeral.”

I stopped again and then darted across the store to the jeans rack and flipped through the different sizes.

“Yes. Yes, in fact, we do have purple skinny jeans in small, medium, and large.”

“Okay, great, thanks.  I’ll be in later.”  She hung up.

I stared at the phone a moment.

She never came into the shop today.

Sending good vibes to both women….and the biker group.

You’re pregnant!

“You’re pregnant!”  The bookstore owner exclaimed as I stood scanning titles on the shelf.

“No. I’m not.” I stated and looked down at my belly.  My normally thin frame was accentuated by a roundness under my form-fitting tee and mini skirt.

“You are,” she insisted, wide-eyed.

“No.  No, I’m not,” I smiled incredulously and removed my hands from my lower back, realizing that stance was not helping my case, and straightened up.

“You are,” she repeated, I’m sure feeling so far invested in her convictions that she couldn’t back down.

“No. I. Am. Not.  I just ate a big breakfast at the Morning Star,” I said somewhat sheepishly as I rubbed my belly and shrugged with a half-laugh.

“Oh. God. Okay,” she scurried into the back room.

Fast forward five years to the other day.

“Are you pregnant?” the customer asked as I was ringing up her clothes.

I looked up from the computer and politely said, “No.”

“Oh,” was all she said.

A torrent of thoughts filled my head, but I refrained from unleashing them.

After the rant ended in my head, I felt sympathetic toward the woman.  Don’t we all, at times, forget our filter and say stupid things?

And why wouldn’t she think that with my belly rounded out from the carb-o-licious breakfast I had, the way I was slouched, and the shirt I was wearing.

Instead of feeling embarrassed or mad or vowing to only wear flowy tunic tops til the day I died, I made light of it with my co-worker for the rest of the day.  When a box needed to be lifted or clothing rack moved, I rubbed my belly and said, “I don’t think I should.”

When I tried on clothes after work, I scoffed, “Ugh, this looks like a maternity dress on me.  Oh, wait, that’s perfect!  Especially with twins.  I’ll need it.”  And then we’d break into laughter again.

Things often happen in threes, so I’m guessing this will be asked of me again.  Hopefully, next time I’ll be able to answer, “Yes.”

If not, I pray that I’ll answer with grace and humor as I hope will be shown to me when I say something off-putting.

Ecstatic Dance

two women

Artwork by TammyDay.com

“Start to the right and repeat four times,” Melissa stands in front of us.

“Lead with your hips.  Let you soul dance,” she continues.  The twelve of us women are spread throughout the dance studio watching.  This is the movement meditation at the end of our three-hour workshop on the root chakra.

She spreads her feet far apart and squats down, then lifts her right hip and lets her chest, head, and arms follow like an unfurling flag.

“We carry so much emotion in our hips.  It’s time to release it.”

Tribal music pulses into the room.  The others and I join in.  Lowering into a squat.  Raising. Flowing.

“Then continue four times to the front, the left, and then the back.”  She speeds up her tempo to demonstrate.  We follow our own rhythm and repeat the sequence.

The music picks up and I raise my hip up once in each direction.

“Flow around the room if that feels right to you,” Melissa encourages.

I begin to pivot as I lower and raise my hips.

Latin music bounces out.

“In honor of my culture,” she smiles.

“This is the cha-cha.  You can try this if you’d like.  1-2 cha-cha-cha.  Back-2, cha-cha-cha.”

I mimic her until tribal drums thump.

“Now just follow your soul’s expression,” Melissa calls out.  “Move around the room if you desire.”

I’m primal. I’m releasing.  I’m stomping, clapping, whooping, and skipping.  I’m joyful as I look out at the women letting themselves go in this powerful, ecstatic dance.

The music ends, the laughter and cheers simmer.

“Stay still. Breath in. Stay here in this moment and feel what’s happening inside of your body.”

I close my eyes and rest my hands on my chest.  I feel the pulsing, the sweat rolling, the expansion in my heart, lungs, cells.  I feel so alive.

“Give thanks for all that your body gave, for all that your soul is.”

“Then lay in shavasana.  Let everything we did today integrate into you.”

I lay flat on the hardwood floors, the sweat turning cool on my back.  I close my eyes and tears roll out, releasing the build up from the day, the month, a lifetime.  My friend and mentor Nancy always explained that her teacher, Bearheart, said there were only two kinds of medicine: laughter and tears.

Melissa rests her hands on the tops of my feet.  More medicinal tears.  More immense gratitude for being in circle with courageous women.

~May your body and soul continue to dance freely my sisters.