Archive for January, 2013

The School of Life

January 29, 2013

470591_10150741641279703_266408929_oIf this is the School of Life, and if we’re here on Earth to learn, and if every person we meet is our teacher, then what did I learn today from the people I encountered?

The day began with a phone call from a yoga student who lost a dog to bone cancer a few days ago. She told me the story of how a few years ago she had adopted two starving Rottweilers. The dogs, renamed Bonnie and Clyde, had been abandoned in a fenced backyard when their owner moved. By the time the two trapped dogs were rescued, they were skin and bones and in terrible shape. Bonnie and Clyde were inseparable buddies. My student called to say that she would be missing class because she could tell that Bonnie, the surviving dog, was depressed and mourning, and needed her to stay nearby.

I assured my student that staying home with her despondent dog was much more important than coming to class. Life is constantly reminding us that we do yoga to live—we don’t live to do yoga. We do yoga to help us cope with whatever life brings. And we do yoga to prepare for death.

When I got to Sacred Space Studio, a longtime student and friend that I hadn’t seen for about a year was waiting by the door. She asked, half kidding and half sheepish, “Can I come back to class?” “No!” I joked, “it’s too late.”

After class I remembered that she had stopped coming to yoga shortly after happily telling me that her boyfriend was moving in with her. I remembered how excited and optimistic she had been, describing how they were moving the furniture around to make space for him. So naturally I asked, “How are things going with the live-in boyfriend?”

“It was a total disaster, ” she replied. “I work all the time, on my days off I have my art, and on Sunday afternoon I need some quiet time. He was so needy . . . We’re still friends, but he had to move out. We still go out together, but he has to work on his stuff . . . I can’t do it for him.”

I would have been happy for her if things had worked out, but as it was, hearing her say “It was a disaster” reminded me of my own disasters that I’ve inadvertently averted. I drove home counting my blessings.

I know this is getting long, but I have to tell you about one more lesson today. As I was driving up the highway, just past the intersection of Cuyama and El Roblar, I saw a beautiful sight. A young couple with a big backpack, a guitar, a folded stroller, and a baby, hitchhiking. I took it all in as I flew past them. They were smiling confidently, each with one arm stretched straight toward the road, hand clenched, thumb up. I glanced up at my rear-view mirror and saw that the three cars behind me passed them, too. So what could I do? I haven’t forgotten my hippie roots. And I didn’t have the excuse of dogs in the back seat. So I pulled over, got out, and waved them over. As they ran toward me, I threw the dirty dog blankets in the trunk.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“Matilija Canyon,” they replied.

“Oh,” I said. “I’m only going as far as Fairview. Will that help you any?”

“Yes, that gets us closer . . .”

So we put the big guitar case and stroller in the trunk and squeezed the backpack, mom, dad, and baby in the back. (I had groceries and yoga props up front.)

As we drove off, I quizzed them. “Where are you from?”


“Oh,” I said. “I’m from Holland.”

“Oh, we’ve been to Holland.”

We exchanged names. I knew it would give them a kick if I mentioned I was a former mayor of Ojai, and sure enough, they thought that was a hoot. I could tell they were seasoned travelers . . . and they had a distinctly European vibe, like my relatives. They reminded me of myself, way back in 1968, when I was an optimistic teenager hitchhiking with my baby boy.

As we passed the Deer Lodge, I decided to take them at least part of the way into Matilija Canyon—an epic adventure. As we drove deeper into the mountains, they told me how much they love Ojai, how they felt safe here, how nice all the people are. As we entered the Canyon, the view was so breathtaking that I could feel my heart bursting and tears welling up inside. I made up my mind that I’d find ways to spend more days here, like I used to do decades ago . . .

“This is how we imagined California would be like . . . ” the couple repeated several times. “We love it here! We just love it here!”

“No fair! You know all my secrets!”

January 24, 2013

Well, yesterday (Wednesday) was really exciting. By some cosmic coincidence my pregnant yoga student had a baby girl a few minutes past 5 p.m.—the same day and time of her weekly prenatal yoga class, just like I joked might happen. But not in the yoga room—in a birthing room. While my student was delivering, I met a kindred-spirit, out-of-town, vegan Facebook friend (and her darling husband) for the first time in real life at The Farmer & the Cook. And then, to top off the evening, I went to bed with the man of my dreams, Colin Fletcher, The Man Who Walked Through Time. I have not yet learned to manifest bags of gold, but somehow every book I’ve ever wanted to read magically appears on my doorstep—usually without my even having to ask. It almost makes me believe in the Law of Attraction.

While waiting for the freshly made potato soup to finish cooking, I got acquainted with this exotic couple, Viktoria and Augusto Nieva-Gomez. Viktoria already knew all about me from reading Fishing on Facebook plus all these posts. “No fair!” I said after we hugged. “You know all my secrets. Now tell me yours!”

Viktoria and Augusto both have strong accents, so first I asked where they were from. He was born in Mexico, she in Austria, and they met eighteen years ago on Christmas eve in a Brazilian restaurant in Germany. I love romance, so I wanted to know all the details, and to my delight Viktoria turned out to be a high-energy chatterbox—a writer’s dream come true. If I got the story straight (and I hope they feel free to correct me), they fell in love in Europe and then got married in a beautiful Native American ceremony in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where they knew no one but everything fell into place.

It was great fun to hear about their life together, first in Mexico and later in California. As Augusto periodically spoke up to clarify a point, I noticed that I was unconsciously scanning the room. Although I was listening intently, my eyes were wandering. Maybe it was the sweet energy between Viktoria and Augusto, or the looming full moon on the horizon, but my eyes fell ever so briefly on one or two men sitting at nearby tables who suddenly looked attractive. It took me by pleasant surprise.

Still waiting for the potato soup, nut loaf, and other vegan delectables to appear, the subject inevitably turned to how it is that some of us, raised on the delicious childhood tastes of ham, sausages, pork roast, hot dogs, and crunchy fried chicken, come into the awareness that these are sentient beings we’re eating. I heard myself saying that custom can accustom people to any atrocity. People in some foreign countries sit in a restaurant and order various dog-meat entrees, freshly killed from the crates of dogs stacked nearby. That is the custom that they’re accustomed to. In this country, our custom dictates that it’s perfectly normal to celebrate religious holidays by eating pigs and lambs.

To further spice up the conversation, I brought up the idea that some of my distant Indonesian ancestors were probably cannibals. I mentioned that I had recently read about an elderly man who claimed to have eaten humans and, when asked “What do they taste like?” replied, “Very much like pigs.” Which doesn’t surprise me, as their physiology, to the best of my knowledge, is closer to humans than that of any other animal.

When our food arrived, the subject turned back to romance and relationships. Because Viktoria was a bona fide “real reader” and not one of my editors or longtime acquaintances, I was thrilled to hear that she rolled on the floor with laughter while reading my dating memoir. She had not only shared the book with friends but mailed copies to Switzerland and Germany! She told me how she had loved my description of Earth Cafe Raw Vegan Chesecake as being “the only real treat on the planet with no calories.” And, since it turned out that she and Augusto were visiting Ojai to celebrate her birthday, she surprised me with a piece of “Strawberry Fields Forever” Earth Cafe cake, and a box of Lulu’s Maca Buttercups, a handcrafted raw chocolate cup that actually tastes surprisingly like Reese’s peanut butter cups, only filled with sprouted almond butter. It was a totally delicious, delightful evening, and then I fell asleep with Colin Fletcher on my chest . . .


“Why don’t you ask that woman you slept with? She must know where your kimono is.”

January 23, 2013
1956. A Diets-Vermeer family photo taken in Den Haag, Holland, a few months before destiny brought us to Ojai, California,  the land of sunshine and orange orchards

1956. A Diets-Vermeer family photo taken in Den Haag, Holland, a few months before destiny brought us to Ojai, California, the land of sunshine and orange orchards

This morning, while wiping up the pool of pee Chico left in front of the sliding glass door which was closed so the cats would not be eaten by coyotes, I noticed how I constantly remind myself that no one on this Earth has an easy life. If one fine morning an angel with a big house and a ranch for Honey scooped up my whole menagerie I’d have a lickety split clean house in 24-hours and time, energy, and cash to escape my monastic life. But like Gilda Radner famously said, “If it’s not one thing, it’s another.” As many others have pointed out, the only thing we can really control is our response to whatever comes down the chute. And I would not trade my troubles for anyone else’s.

Speaking of troubles, when I went to visit my old parents Sunday afternoon my dad was turning the house upside down looking for his kimono. Nothing makes him madder then when someone does not put an item back where it belongs. He kept muttering, “I can’t understand it. It’s supposed to be here.” My mom just sits undisturbed, with a slightly evil amused look on her face, while he looks behind furniture, lifts pillows, and rummages through the closet. She keeps right on reading de krant, the same Dutch newspaper she was reading my last visit and the one before that. Then suddenly, as he paces past her she looks up and jokes, “Why don’t you ask that woman you slept with? She must know where your kimono is.”

Turns out my dad needs his kimono because my niece, who is going to Beauty School, is coming to cut his hair. The niece arrives with a big black doctor-like bag filled with barber equipment. The kimono is found and she escorts my dad to the back porch where she sits him in chair and gets to work. And just like when I was a child I breathe a sigh of relief that the ogre is out of the house. I quickly sneak several slices of cheese to divide between Honey and Chico. I make myself a nice snack without him asking me three times if I washed my hands or telling me to use another plate.

When my mom gets wind that her husband is getting a hair cut she exclaims, “But then there will be nothing left!” She does not like that he’s doing this without her permission. She rises from her easy chair, grabs her walker, and then changes her mind and sits back down. But she turns her head toward the back porch and yells, “You can sleep by yourself till it grows back! And if it doesn’t grow back in a week you can buy a wig.”

When my dad comes back into the house he’s all smiles, with a spring in his step, looking all fresh and clean. “I feel so good, ” he says, over and over again, “I feel like a new man.” I make my escape early, guilt-free, while my niece and her older sister are still there, infusing my old parents with their happy, youthful energy. . .

(My mom, Maria Vermeer Diets, 92-years old on February 8, 2013)


“I’ve had a great life. . . too bad I didn’t realize it sooner!”

January 20, 2013


Of all the elements of nature, the wind feels most mystical to me. It is the breath of the Earth, reminding me to take a deeper inhalation of fresh, clean air. Here in the river bottom on this quiet Sunday morning, the winter wind in the oasis of trees that surrounds my house feels almost like summer, soft and warm, causing all the leaves and pine needles to shimmer in the rising sun.
The week feels like it’s ending on a happy note. I try to watch my mind and monitor what comes out of my mouth, but sorry to say the whiny irrational child in me seems to rise with a vengeance when I’m tired. The cats, the dogs, and their constant demands, their throwing up and peeing in the night, my cleaning it up and then not being able to fall back asleep and never getting a break from them, just gets to me sometimes. I curse people who don’t spay and neuter their pets! Last Monday I had exactly $42 in cash and I spent it all on kitty litter, cat food, and dog food—just to tide things over for a few days. My three-month attempt to wean three old cats from kitty litter now that I’m settled into my new digs was a total fiasco. I spent more on Simple Green, Earth-friendly paper towels, laundry detergent, and water, and wasted more time and energy, than I would have had I just thrown in the towel and surrendered to the money drain of kitty litter. I want to fling Ginger across the room when she cries to come inside so she can use the cat box!
If I would just train myself to lie still in the Goddess Pose for ten minutes before calling upon those nearest and dearest to me and whining about how hard my life is, my writing-yoga life would be as close to heaven on Earth as I think it gets.
There is a gate (a real-life gate, but also a spiritual gate) that opens to the river-bottom nature preserve, only a one-minute walk from my door. The hard part is leashing my overexcited wild Aussie girl and extricating myself from the endless worldly demands. I justify my escapes by telling myself that if I were dead it wouldn’t help matters, so I need to get out into the boonies to help prolong my stay here.When I step through that gate with my pack of eager dogs, the view is so dazzling I’m instantly transported. I’m reminded now of something Beatrice Wood said frequently in her later years: “I’ve had a great life . . . too bad I didn’t realize it sooner!”

The world of time mattered not

January 14, 2013
470591_10150741641279703_266408929_oThis morning the dogs and I headed out when it was barely light, and it felt like an adventure to be out in the cold, invigorating wind. The book Nature’s Ways asks what time of day you most resonate with. For me, without a doubt it is the crack of dawn. That’s when you feel like you have your feet in both worlds—light and dark, visible and invisible. That’s when you can move as if propelled by some force outside yourself and you feel like you can walk forever. That’s when there are the least cars on the road, when the valley is silent, and you can reconnect with the amazing ancient feeling of standing upright. That’s when you can remember the eons before electricity when we rose at first light.
Yesterday while I was riding my bicycle from the river bottom to Mira Monte, the bike suddenly locked up while I was pedaling uphill. The wheels turned, the chain looked fine, but something, maybe the gear mechanism, was stuck. First I felt frustrated. I gently kicked the back tire (thinking maybe it was hitting metal), and then with a great deal of effort I squeezed the handlebars and changed the gears. I sped full blast downhill, and the brakes worked fine, but once on level ground my bike rebelled and jolted to a halt. I’d smooth out the gears, glide along for a block or so, and then—again—jolt, jolt, and stop. This became especially problematic and somewhat embarrassing in intersections, when I’d have to jump off the bike midway, causing waiting drivers to have to idle their cars for a few more seconds.
It was almost noon, the warm sun felt fabulous, and really the only problem was that now I was running late. So I called my student to let her know the situation. “No problem,” she said. And then I began to enjoy the walk. I felt carefree without the usual dogs on a leash, my bike is light, and we ran/walked together uphill at a nice relaxing, non-exhausting pace.
I want to share here that my student is facing great uncertainty.  Her health challenges are forcing her to face her own mortality. Any one of us could die today, tomorrow, or a year from now; that is a fact. After my student’s lesson, as I rode my bike downhill and walked uphill, adding an extra hour to my travel time, the world of time mattered not. I felt so enormously grateful for my health. For my energy and ability to walk and walk. The mountains of Ojai never looked more beautiful. As I walked, that Bible psalm about walking in the valley of the shadow of death came into my consciousness. How important it is to make friends with death, and to feel death walking with us. That awareness can help us step ever deeper into the mystery of life.

2013: The Year of Writing Yoga Memoirs

January 11, 2013
On this cold tenth day of January, 2013, I am setting my intention to make this the year of Writing Yoga Memoirs.

I woke up at 3 a.m. and started writing about how sweet my life is now, and how in January, 1968, I was living in the Haight Ashbury.  It was the winter before the Summer of Love, I was totally naive, and I had my whole life ahead of me.  I had no idea there would be only four short seasons with only myself to take care of.  I could not foresee the lessons Life had in store for me.

It’s a curious thing to sit very still, to meditate and watch how the mind works.  The brain and all the cells of the body are like a computer that stores everything.  You can try to delete and let it all go, but you cannot will yourself to have a clean slate, as it was on the day you were born.  (Some people speculate it is not a clean slate even at birth.)  Our memories travel with us until the physical body dissolves — and possibly beyond.

At 7 a.m. it is barely light out here in the river bottom.  The sky is foggy white.  The tall pine trees outside my window look black.  It is a stark, cold winter landscape.

I don’t feel right unless I write.  How many more years will it take before I fully admit this?  The more I try to focus on work that pays and push aside the urge to write, the more the muse pesters me and pulls me by the hair out of bed.  If I don’t grab an hour during the day, I lie awake at 2 a.m. and wonder if I should risk the lack of sleep to write.  If I try to deny it and bury myself under the covers, sleep eludes me.  I have no choice.  I must surrender to my fate.

My favorite on-the-floor Writing Yoga Pose: Seated Wide Angle Pose, Upavistha Konasana.


Please go to my Writing Yoga Memoirs page and click the Thumbs Up likes icon, located below the cover photo of my first memoir (my warm-up for the next one), near the upper right corner.  My writing income supports the care and feeding of my four-legged family, so I must get out there and shamelessly promote—and get working  on my next book!

Dr. Phil’s show on Facebook relationships: “Do an autopsy. . . .”

January 11, 2013

 Scan_Pic0018   January 1, 2013 (From my Writing Yoga Memoirs Facebook page)

Last Wednesday, while dog sitting for a friend, I happened to catch a Dr. Phil segment on the dangers of starting relationships on Facebook. The program featured three beautiful, educated, but very trusting and naive women who fell hook, line, and sinker for the man of their dreams, based solely on his Facebook persona. Dr. Phil, in his usual fatherly manner, totally nailed the duplicity involved. He said, “These kind of people have figured out what you need. . . they know your currency and how to play up to it. . . they engage in the most manipulative forms of deception. They are arrogant, have a sense of entitlement, and lack empathy. They have no guilt or remorse.” And then he went on to nail the red flags these women ignored. I totally got it. It was no coincidence that the antagonist in my book told me all sorts of sob stories about himself, including how he “almost died.” (If you want someone to cut you some slack, just tell them how you almost died a few months ago!)

Near the end of the show Dr. Phil adamantly advised, “Before you move on, even if you fell in love with someone who doesn’t really exist, you have got to sit down and do an autopsy. Do a timeline, do an inventory of exactly what happened. . .” Well, I did pat myself on the back when I heard this part because that’s exactly what I did by writing my Facebook memoir—an autopsy.

For new readers, look inside Fishing on Facebook: A Writing Yoga Memoir


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