Archive for May, 2014

The wild wind sweeps through the river bottom

May 19, 2014

Posted May 19, 2014—Written November 13, 2013

The wild wind sweeps through the river bottom . . . Honey is crazy with joy, and her canine exuberance is contagious! She runs with the wind like a whirling dog-dervish. She dances and prances and follows a thousand invisible scents. Little Chico scrambles to keep up. His whole Chihuahua being trembles with excitement! For a moment the wind is so intense that it kicks up the dry dirt and we pass through a cloud of dust. I’m aware that wind can blind us, can destroy all in its path. But here, so far, it’s a joyous, cleansing, healing wind that just blows the past right out of you and lifts you into the present . . .



More cosmic Ojai trivia

May 16, 2014
May 15, 2014
Some cosmic trivia: The model for my first book, Marcia Moore, was featured in the 1965 bestseller, Yoga, Youth, and Reincarnation, by Jess Stearn. I still have a copy of the paperback that I most likely found at Bart’s Books.
* * *February 25, 2014
Feeling destiny unfolding . . . every experience adds fuel to the writing fire . . .
* * *
suz9My first yoga teacher, Sarah Kirton, whose story appears in my first book, Yoga for People Over Fifty: Exercise Without Exhaustion, published in 1977. (Written under the name Suza Norton.)This photo was taken in the early 1970s, Upper Ojai, at High Winds, near the Beatrice Wood/Happy Valley Land.
(more to come)The model for this book was the renown yoga teacher/author of that era, Marcia Moore. By some cosmic synchronicity Marcia was staying in the east end of Ojai, near where I lived on McAndrew Road.

— in Ojai, CA.


Ask and ye shall receive—eventually

May 16, 2014

May 15, 2014

suz10To the best of my recollection, this photo was taken in the early 1970s, in Upper Ojai, at a place called High Winds. At this point in time I had spotted a flyer on the bulletin board of the Gateway Bookstore in the arcade, advertising a nine-month yoga teacher-training program at the Institute for Yoga Teacher Education in San Francisco (now the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco).

To pay for the first semester I needed $500, a fortune that seemed out of reach. I lived with my boyfriend and took care of his two children as well as my own young son—three kids under age six. I also worked part-time at a preschool and  did home health care for elderly people. And I had started teaching my first weekly yoga class at Grey Gables; I think each student paid $3. All my income went for food and for clothes from the thrift shop.

However, I had one card up my sleeve. I had started writing a weekly health column called Living Naturally for the Ojai Valley News. It was popular, and generated quite a bit of controversy when I wrote a series of columns about a possible link between nutrition and cancer. The column generated a flurry of Letters to the Editor in which the American Cancer Society and local doctors called me a quack while other readers, “health food fanatics,” wrote passionate letters defending my views. So it came to me, in a moment of desperation, that maybe one of those like-minded readers might loan me the money I needed to enroll in yoga teacher training.

With great trepidation, I had to approach the editor, Fred Volz, with my idea that I needed to get some yoga teacher training and ask if he would allow me to add a few lines at the end of my next column explaining that I needed a $500 loan. I was thrilled when he agreed. When the next issue of the paper hit the stand I eagerly opened it to see how my appeal looked in print. Much to my delight, Fred Volz had highlighted it by placing it in a box in the center of my column, where no one could possibly miss it.

Somewhere in my archives I have that issue, and I’m curious to see exactly how it was worded to sound professional–something like: “Suza wants to take some formal yoga teacher training in San Francisco and she will come back to the Ojai Valley to teach. The program costs $500 and she is looking for someone to loan her the money, to be paid back when she resumes teaching.”

Somehow I had faith that one of my loyal readers would call the editor and deliver a check on my behalf. Three long weeks went by, and each time I hand- delivered my typed weekly column (always thick with splotches of White-Out and strips of scotch tape from cutting and pasting paragraphs), I would meekly ask if anyone had responded to my ad.

When the fourth week came, just as in a storybook when the heroine has just about given up hope, I delivered my column and Fred Volz stood up from behind his big desk and handed me a slip of paper with a name and phone number; it had come in soon after my appeal appeared, but somehow I hadn’t gotten the message. I raced home on my bicycle and dialed the number. The man on the other end of the line lived in Los Angeles. He had a home here or frequently visited the valley, and he had seen my ad. After asking a few questions, he asked me where to mail the check. I hung up in happy disbelief. My ship had come in!

The irony and absurdity of life never ends, does it?

May 15, 2014

s3The irony and absurdity of life never ends, does it? On Tuesday mornings its my turn to help my mom clean her teeth, eat breakfast (fresh fruit like cut-up papaya or sliced oranges, and later something more substantial like an egg on toast prepared the Dutch way, slathered in organic raw butter; my vegan sensibilities are foreign to her), rinse her mouth after breakfast, and get her out of her comfy pajamas into some fresh underwear, including mandatory undershirt, and also blouse and pants or a favorite dress.
When I question the need for an undershirt on a hot day, she always says, “Ik voel me naakt als ik niets onder me jurk draag,” meaning, “I feel naked without an undershirt or slip under my dress.”
The whole shebang takes about two hours and includes a pleasant interlude of our listening to her favorite classical music station while I sit on the floor stretching in various seated forward bends and hip openers.
s6I noticed this morning that my mother has finally given up on telling me that “sitting like that is not lady like.” While I’m attending to my mom, my old dad is usually outside basking in the early morning sun. I can spy on him through the kitchen window, which gives me ample time to cover my tracks should he rise from his lounge chair and come inside to monitor if I’m using the right cup or the right spoon.
sMost of the time, when my daughterly duties are done I slip away unnoticed. But this morning my dad was sitting inside in my mom’s easy chair by the window, looking out at the mountains. I could feel he was ready to give me some parting words of wisdom before I flew out the door.”Suzan, you are at an age where you should be taking it easy. You should be sitting around with your legs up on a stool and not have all kinds of worries. Isn’t there some man who would like to be your husband? You shouldn’t give up on men . . .”When I laughingly reply that “I’ve chosen the lesser of two evils,” my mom gets it right away, and starts chuckling.”Dad,” I say, “don’t you know by now there’s no such thing as a free lunch? If I was married I might still have to work plus then I’d have to make dinner . . . ”

“Ah, no,” he shrugs and waves his arms to emphasize his point, “you’ve got to choose the right one. You just never picked the right one. I know you, Suzan, you picked the wrong ones . . . don’t give up on men, Suzan, don’t give up . . . ”

We’ve had this absurd conversation a hundred times, but I take the bait, mainly to make my mom laugh.

“If I married the right one I’d have to go with him on cruises, or travel to foreign countries, or dress up and accompany him to dinner parties . . . and later I might have to take care of him.”

My mom finds the turn of the conversation hilarious and gets increasingly animated as my dad and I banter back and forth.

I kiss them both good bye but before I leave I check their mailbox. Inside is a single envelope with a red line above the address box proclaiming:

“Your Guide to a 2014 Medical Product Benefit.”

Being that my parents are both so old now, I take the liberty of screening their mail.

The letter says: With confirmed eligibility, dispatch cutting-edge ED treatment
PRIORITY ID: 62056-01890
ATTENTION: We are trying to reach you regarding a safe-highly effective erectile dysfunction therapy covered by Medicare and private insurance. If you suffer from ED, then you may be entitled to a proven product . . . It is the ONLY proven therapy therapy to bring back natural functioning . . . However, your reply is needed within 14 days to ensure availability.
Dr. D. Marshall Levy
CEOFounder, CarePoint Medical.

What kind of shameless charlatan world is this?

Is this all we have to look forward to?

Maybe I wouldn’t mind being married to another writer who doesn’t mind if I ignore him when I walk in the door and run to my writing room . . .

Yesterday one of my students left two presents on the seat of my car: a sampler of four cans of Zhena‘s Gypsy Tea– Chocolate Chai, Coconut Chai, Caramel Chai, and Hazelnut Chai. And a book aptly titled, The Merry Recluse, by Caroline Knapp.

I’m thinking to myself, “I wouldn’t mind marrying a very merry recluse!”


Photo Credit: Cathy Snyder

  — in Ojai, CA.s4

Casting out demons

May 14, 2014
May 12, 2014
During my yoga practice this morning, my mind kept flitting back to the film I saw last night, Philomena. It hit close to home on so many levels. The deep sense of shame and guilt when, at age eighteen, I had to break the terrible news to my Pentecostal Christian father that I was pregnant. At least I didn’t get sent to a convent to work in the laundry and have my child snatched away. But I felt the blow of my father’s rage, and, like untold women before me, tried to escape his wrath by getting married.
Some years ago he apologized to me, his firstborn, for his extreme strictness and failures as a father. I’ve long since forgiven him. Yet the feelings we experience growing up seem to be embedded in our psyche, in our cells.
As I write this, I remember the first time I ever felt deeply ashamed. It was in Holland, and I was probably around age five or six because the memory is very clear. I had been playing with one of my neighborhood friends, and we had either gotten into her mother’s makeup or maybe she had one of those play makeup kits; in any case, I had smeared red lipstick on my lips. And, as luck would have it, I was told that I had to come home. The pastor of our church was visiting, and my dad wanted to show off his beautiful daughters. Back then wearing makeup was against church rules—a serious sin. I still remember my dad furiously scrubbing my mouth with a hot washcloth until my lips burned, trying to get that red lipstick off before the minister saw me. No wonder that, when I’m opening the front of the body in backbends, sometimes it feels like I’m casting out demons!

Musings on bending backwards

May 14, 2014

May 10, 2014

46133_10152230754909703_660897958_nAbout twenty years ago I recall one of my teachers,Judith Hanson Lasater, reminding us to practice three Urdhva Dhanurasanas (Upward Facing Bow Pose) every day (or maybe it was twice a week). At the time, backbends were easy for me and I took them for granted. Even two years ago I could press up from the floor fairly easily.Somewhere along the way, this past year (2013), my backbend practice grew increasingly sporadic. I gained weight, and the stiffness of sitting at the computer converged with the stiffness of aging.Last year and at the beginning of this year, when I tried to press up from the floor, my body felt like dead weight. If I had forced lifting up into the pose I risked injuring my shoulders. But this week, after five weeks of not perfect but fairly steady practice, I was thrilled to find myself lifting up into Upward Facing Bow Pose again—and holding the pose for many breaths—over a minute.This morning, for the first time in a long time, I pressed up from the floor lying back over two stacked bolsters secured with a strap.In my classes, students in my age range (65) press up by holding onto my ankles with me giving some support as needed, under their shoulders. But I also want them to practice independent of a teacher. And a yoga chair, a backbender, or stack of bolsters, makes this possible.

The way I’m practicing now is with the chair on a firm, non slippery mat, the seat of the chair facing a wall, about a foot away from the wall, depending on your height and flexibility.

I warm up with the chair backbend shown here, and then (still lying back over the chair seat) I place my feet flat on the floor and extend my arms overhead so that my palms are flattened against the wall behind my head, fingertips touching the floor (or palms higher up the wall).

After I anchor my feet, turning the feet and the thighs inward, and after I stretch my arms to the maximum, opening the shoulders and arm pits, I press my feet into the floor, anchoring the four corners of the feet, and, voila, I lift the spine higher and higher off the chair, chest moving toward the wall . . . until my chin touches the wall.

It’s totally rejuvenating. “You are as young as your spine is flexible!”

Yoga teacher Betsy MacKinnon writes: “I love this supported backbend too and it is still totally accessible at 68. Some people need to support the head though. Mr Iyengar says we need more backbends with long holdings at this time of life and from now on.”

Click here for Yoga with a Chair:

* * *
February 17, 2014
First yoga practice inside my new hippie writing yoga pad, which is about the same amount of space as a “Tiny House.” With two dogs, a cat and her deluxe cat carrier, to make space for my yoga mat, I have to get Honey off the floor–she gladly jumps on top of the bed. There’s just enough room to practice all the Standing Poses, including Half Moon Pose and Warrior III–the two Standing Poses that take the most space.

While it’s true that you can practice yoga anywhere, anytime, I have to say again that it makes a huge difference motivating me to practice early in the morning now that I again have a bird’s eye view of the pre dawn sky above the majestic mountains, and, a little later, the blazing bright rising sun.

This morning, after the Standing Poses, I folded up my sticky mat to pad the edge of the seat of the chair, as shown here, and enjoyed a long stay in a Supported Backbend, including the variation shown here.

* * *
January 19, 2014
Time to practice on the great yoga chair. This photo, from my book, Yoga and the Wisdom of Menopause, was taken about 15 years ago. I’m no longer this slender, but, thankfully, my spine is still flexible and my mind is in a much better place.

 — in Ojai, CA.



Be careful what kind of dog you get

May 14, 2014

Saturday, May 10, 2014, a perfect day in Ojai

Be careful what kind of dog you get—apparently it’s true that people start to look more and more like their dog!

Photo Credit: David E. Moody — in Ojai, California


In honor of Princess Priscilla, my beloved cat . . .

May 2, 2014
April 22, 2014 –now it’s May 1st, how quickly the days pass. Priscilla died ten days ago . . .
An unfinished story in honor of my sweet, adventurous cat Priscilla, who passed out of this material world on Tuesday morning, April 22, 2014, between 10:35 –10:45 a.m., at Matilija Veterinary office, in Ojai, California. 
000_photoApril 21, 2014
Please pray for the peaceful passing of my elder cat, Princess Priscilla, the fluffy feline in this photo whom I’ve written about many times over the past 18 years.
I adopted Priscilla and her brother, Leo the Lion, sight unseen. A friend of my daughter’s was about to drop them off at the Humane Society. I remember exclaiming, “Don’t do that!” and told my daughter to call her friend and tell her that we would take them instead.

From the moment this brother sister duo arrived, they had one great adventure after another. Never a dull moment. They played tag, hide-and-seek–they danced and frolicked as kittens do, from dawn to dusk. My roommate at the time complained because at night they liked to run back and forth in the small space between my bed and the wall. He said it sounded like mice running and they kept him awake!

During their kittenhood and young adult years, we lived in a rural, low-traffic area with other cats, dogs, a pig, pet mice, and chickens. Leo and Priscilla roamed the neighborhood and often spent the day in the nearby field and park-like gardens across the street.

For about 12 years they lived in the same place. In the year after I moved, Priscilla had trouble adjusting. (Leo and my other cat adjusted immediately.) She made at least a dozen trips back to our former house until one day she disappeared. After a month of searching at all hours of the day and night, and no sign of her anywhere, I accepted that a coyote or a car had gotten her.

The note below from October 24, 2011, described how Priscilla finally returned–emaciated but alive– after many months.

For the past five years, Priscilla has lived mostly in the river bottom. She thrived there. But about a month after my in-between move, during which timeI had to keep her indoors for her safety, she developed what I thought was an eye infection. I took her to a local vet who could not determine the cause but prescribed antibiotic eyedrops. She had a thorough exam, blood work, and there were other health issues (thyroid problem, bladder infection) as well.

After spending about $300 with no end in sight, I had to face the fact that, especially with several other animals to care for, I could not justify the expensive choices that might prolong her life.

I kept Priscilla as comfortable as I could. She sleeps next to me or close to her favorite radiant heater. She has a totally safe fenced back patio area where she can bask in the sun and fresh air. She knows she’s too old and weak to run away–she never tries to hop the fence.

About three days ago I think my sweet Priscilla had a stroke. Her head is crooked–she now needs help eating and drinking. She’s disoriented much of the time and often walks in circles. When I picked her up today her body felt heavy and limp. She is more and more passive and sleeps longer and longer.

I called the vet and was assured that they can fit her in if she needs help to ease her passing.

This is my first end-of-life experience with an old cat. I’ve been with many dogs as they made their transition, at home, with the help of Dr. Lewis, but I’m uncertain what to expect with a cat. The websites of signs of cats dying list not eating and drinking but this morning she ate with gusto. She has trouble getting water into her mouth from a saucer so this afternoon, each time she woke up, I dribbled water into her mouth with a syringe.

I’m so hoping Priscilla’s sweet cat spirit will gently slip away, and that she’ll pass peacefully while resting in my arms or while sleeping in my bed.

We’ll see what the rest of this day brings.

[I remember now that I wrote about her passing and somehow lost what I’d written–and I was too  tired and too sad to try again . . . we had a sweet last night together, but her heart kept going even as her other organs failed—and I had to ease her out of her suffering when she could no longer eat or drink and she walked in circles . . . ]* * *
April 7, 2014
Babies are sweet, dogs are divine, and men can be delicious, but a cat purring away on your chest, or nestling all night under the covers in the crook of your arm, its heart beating next to yours, its dear little cat head tucked under your chin, its sharp claws occasionally digging into your flesh–reminding you that you are cuddling with a wild creature–is bliss on Earth! There’s nothing else like it in this world!

[I did not realize when I wrote this that whatever was wrong this past month with her eye was only getting worse and that she would be dead in two more weeks]
* * *
October 24, 2011 
Princess Priscilla, who came home last Monday, October 17, 2011, at around 6 a.m., after disappearing about four months ago. She was very gaunt, like a skeleton, ravenously hungry and thirsty, but very much alive. Her brother Leo (see photo of Leo the Lion) acted like he saw a ghost. He stared at her in utter disbelief…it was like she came back from the dead. I am so happy to have my miracle cat home again! — in Ojai, CA.
 — in Ojai, CA.

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