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Maple Syrup

I feel tired and peaceful.

My breath is apparent – the deep breathing of having just woken up in the morning and being dangerously close to being pulled back into sleep.

Rosie is on the window ledge watching the birds sing on the telephone wires while Mary Oliver and her poetry sit beside me for company. I have warm chai to drink on the night table and I am wrapped up in a blanket that my dear friend painstakingly knit for me.

I am uncertain about the direction in life I am going in. On the edge of my periphery I am reminded of the fragility of life – a girl has a malignant brain tumor and while her three beautiful children are at home unawares, her whole brain is radiated. A second cousin of mine has breast cancer that has now spread to her bones, her liver, her lungs…They are both in their thirties.

The fragility of life.

The idea that I have to leave a legacy of some kind.

However, I don’t want to work on my legacy this morning. I want to do the laundry and organ my papers and drawers. There is a strange calmness to paperwork in the mornings, call me crazy.

I wish to write the things that all people believe and need to read but that which are hard to say out loud. Has everything been written already? Do I have anything to add?

The cats are on the windowsill and they smell like maple syrup.

All Meals Lead To Home

I am excited to share that I have successfully met ONE goal. Usually my goals are too lofty to actually achieve so I tried to make this one within reason… I set out this week to have 100% of my daily meals come from home to simplify life, clean out my fridge, and bulk up my wallet. I was not permitted to buy any meal out (I even went so far as to leave my wallet at home to make sure I wouldn’t cheat). I did bring 4 single dollar bills in case I wanted to get a warm tea or coffee, which I did bank in on Wednesday and Friday. Otherwise I am also trying to bring my beverages from home too.

I’m hoping to make this all-meals-from-home-only thing a habit, but you never know – sometimes you just want to visit the food cart at work. They say it takes 30 days to build a habit, so we will see what happens.

My meals this week were off to a good start after a gathering of friends on Saturday night which left me with some leftover Lentil Eggplant Lasagna and also leftover Carrot Curry Soup which our friend Gary brought over. Both of these recipes came from Minimalist Baker. (I will share the recipes with you as I go if a recipe was followed). Recipes from Minimalist Baker & Oh She Glows made the most appearances this week.

My aim in this project is to eat better, with spending less money, and by being more organized in planning meals for the week I aspire to have less “food anxiety.” In preparation for my first week of all-meals-from-home I went to Whole Foods (WF) instead of to Trader Joes (mostly because the Philadelphia Trader Joes causes a major traffic headache on a Sunday afternoon); albeit I did go at the beginning of the Super Bowl so it may not have been as jam-packed. I spent $110 at Whole Foods on Sunday, which for two people averages to be about $7 on food a day for 7 days (perhaps part 2 of this project will be getting this number down to $4 a day). I did buy a few frozen meals “just in case” but am hoping to wean from these and eat more home-cooked meals even for my meals at work. Erik and I are both Vegetarian but we do eat some organic dairy and eggs. I also cooked Ginger Snap Cookies on Sunday night which we enjoyed over the course of the week. I stored them in Tupperware and hid them from ourselves so we could ration them.

Here were my meals from the week & any recipes that I used:

Week of February 6-10:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Breakfast Vegan Overnight Oats V. Overnight Oats V. Overnight Oats Cooked oats @ home with banana, raisins & honey V. Overnight Oats (still delicious even after 5 days, today I added Coconut Flakes)
Lunch Leftover eggplant lasagna and spiralized veggie noodles (zucchini, carrots & squash) Amy’s frozen mac & cheese meal from WF PB&J and Kitchari Amy’s frozen Indian meal (palaak paneer) from WF Leftover Shepherd’s Pie with Tomato Soup from TJ’s
Dinner Leftover carrot curry soup with tomato grilled cheese Sweet potato fries and frozen Dosa Sweet potato fries, tomato soup & tomato grilled cheese Vegan Shepherd’s Pie with steamed broccoli  TBD…!

Recipes I used this week:

Overnight Oats from Oh She Glows. (By Friday I was out of Almond Milk, so I made my own milk by using almonds, water and coconut oil in the Vitamix. I usually split this recipe into 2 ball jars).oats

Eggplant Lentil Lasagna from Minimalist Baker (I’ve made this recipe 2x this month and the second time I did not have the ingredients for tofu ricotta so I just used regular ‘ol parmesan & mozzarella. I made Erik a version sans tofu ricotta and sans regular cheese and it was also just as good!)lentillasagna

Kitchari from no recipe; however I used this Banyan Botanical recipe when I was learning how to make kitchari. I’m not the biggest kitchari fan, as I have to be in the mood for it… but Erik loves it and eats it with eggs. This is an ayurvedic dish great for rebalancing your constitution and resetting the digestive system.kitchari

Carrot Curry Soup from Minimalist Baker (thanks Gary!)

Vegan Shepherd’s Pie (again from MB)

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Gingersnap Cookies to satisfy the sweet tooth of course

Change, Practice and Focus on Foundation

Erik and I are finally settling into a new rhythm. It feels like we haven’t stopped moving since January 27 when Erik left for India. He came home in March, we planned a wedding, had a wedding, went on a quick honeymoon to Ithaca, NY, and Oh you know– just opened a small business when we got home. We dove in head first to this space and this dream-and we are so glad we did. The doors of Roots Philly Yoga Project opened on July 4, 2015.

So, we are finally settling into a rhythm. It’s an amazing gift to wake up on a Saturday morning, brew my coffee, and walk to our yoga studio with mug in hand to practice and teach in this little neighborhood we’ve claimed as our home. We feel so immensely grateful. This has been our year of gratitude. Never in our lives have we experienced this kind of support from our friends and neighbors. We have learned so much about ourselves, our marriage, our family and the things that matter most to us. Our purposes and intentions are strengthened with every message we have received from those near and far supporting us in our dream.

This leads me to the subject of change. To make great strides in any area of our lives usually requires a shift in energy, or changing what once was. For me (and for Erik) the biggest change we have had to make is in our daily yoga practice. We have gone from practicing in a room of students all practicing Mysore together – led by the great teachers at the Ashtanga Yoga School of Philadelphia – to practicing in our new space, going through the Mysore practice privately. We are still students at AYS, however, our relationship to our practice is changing as we put more energy into our “home” practices and cultivating the Bhakti at Roots Philly Yoga Project. In the process, I am finding that the solitude brings up more questions about my practice, and perhaps more room for curiosity.

I injured myself in Purna Masteyandrasana three weeks ago. Just the smallest twist of my right knee in the wrong direction left me hobbling for a few days, and now I’ve entered the stiff stage of healing. I’ve been injured before and continued my Ashtanga practice – but this has been a new kind of injured. I might have once just continued taking postures despite pain, but there’s been no room for that in recovering from this knee sprain. The legs just aren’t going behind my head like they once did. My injury has made postures that once came so easily to me, a game of cat and mouse as I practice.

So in this experience of practicing alone in our new yoga studio, injured, and without a teacher to coach me, I sought out AYS teacher Elizabeth Sitzler to discuss my questions. I’ve found her insight to be exactly what I need to keep going on the days where I’m not sure how to. Thank you Elizabeth for your support and teaching-it is invaluable.

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Me: So my knee is still a problem. I have some pain when I put my leg behind my head. It’s just the movement of putting it behind my head that is painful – once it is there it feels fine. Should I still do third at all or should I just do primary and second for a while? I know the source is purna matseyandrasana so I’m skipping it entirely. But I wonder if the other poses in third are just aggravating it more. Even the marichyasanas in primary are painful. I just feel guilty not doing second or third and only doing primary…

Elizabeth: Ok so my guess is that when you’re putting your leg behind your head you are pushing your knee joint to the side away from you if that makes sense…you know that the knee is a hinge joint it can only move forward and backwards but because you hurt it I think that’s indicative that there’s lacking stability which makes sense because you are so flexible. I think its totally ok to take time from third if that’s what is calling to you..it won’t be longer than a month for you to feel better. If you work intelligently in practice and with your whole body you can do a really short practice and still go back to third and be in great shape..for me I took two months when I broke my rib and it wasn’t too terrible coming back to third and I was just working primary really hard…and with my concussion I was doing not even half primary and came back and was amazed how much I retained. It really is true that the postures are all the same. But your other option is to do just the third postures that don’t hurt you on top of primary. I think you should focus on standing and building lower body strength and integration. Use your backbends for that too…and your vinyasa. If you want to do the leg behind the heads still I would consider working with the chair eka pada style and keep the ankle flexed and really focus on the 90 degree angle of the lower leg to the thigh and then maybe kasyapasana with the bolster behind you and the extended leg bent with the foot on the floor..same thing ankle flexed..but only if you are comfortable with it. There is absolutely no reason to feel guilty about taking time to heal in primary though.

Me: All of that makes a lot of sense – especially needing to build lower body strength… My follow up question then is should I be holding standing postures longer? And also – can I piece meal postures together that I “need” like doing primary + kapotasana and then moving to some third series poses? What series is the best one for lower body strength? It’s been two weeks and I took a solid 3 days off.. It’s now (my knee) in the very stiff stage / not too painful but very hard to bend.

Elizabeth: I think you can piece series together if you want to…I think you can also work on kapotasana essentially by refining other postures but it’s very difficult. But nothing wrong with doing it that way. You could hold standing postures longer but also emphasize different things. Just being really aware of activating those big four muscles (glutes, abs, quads, hams). And working variations too. Like trikonasana with your back heel at the wall…same with parvrita. And really focus on adduction in everything…even seated. You can use the block between your legs in those first two forward bends like Erik…you can do se suryas with the block between your legs too. Holding the standing postures that are difficult for you for longer…you can to utkatasana with some height under your heels to really stabilize your hips. But also back bending is really good to build lower body strength..block between legs. Drop backs to the wall not lofting the heels. Up dog…all those second series back bends..there are so many options. It’s hardest to use legs in forward bends (for me at least and I’m guessing for you) when your hammies and hips are open so you need to be mindful there…focus on foundation not fold.

Meet Back at Home

Lauren & Erik

In 2012 I was 22 years old and in my Masters Program. I had only been out of the country once before and I had an itch to travel. My mom told me to find a friend to take a trip with. It became clear to me though that if I kept waiting for a friend or partner to travel with, I might be waiting a long time.

I decided to book a flight to China because it was the farthest I could get with a United Airlines voucher I had in my possession.

I booked a 13 hour direct flight from Newark, NJ to Beijing, China. I would then fly to Hanoi, Vietnam for a 2 week adventure – totally alone.

I’m a big believer in the universe having a divine plan for people. So of course when I finally let go of the idea of having a partner to take a trip with – when I let go of this and embraced my own plan and intuition about where I should go and when – the universe decided I was “ready.” My first date with the man that would become my husband took place only days after I booked my flight. The universe, for whatever reason, wanted me to take this trip alone. But it also wanted me to come home and be with this person.

So we had our first date, and realized fairly quickly we were compatible in every way, even though we were so different in more ways. One month into our relationship I moved into his studio apartment with my two cats. Two months into our relationship I got on my flight to Beijing and left for my “Eat, Pray, Love” moment as he liked to call it.

I know this trip actually started a healthy exercise for us from the beginning – to have our own lives, our own adventures, and to meet back at our home base, supporting and loving each other the whole time.

Our wedding was last weekend, and my sister read the below reading at our ceremony. It reminds me so much of the experience of traveling alone, but never being alone.

On Marriage
Kahlil Gibran

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

Growing Out of Color

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We have a colorful home. From where I am sitting, there are three large paintings within sight. One is a painting by Erik’s brother, one is a painting done by a close friend of mine, and one is a painting that Erik purchased for himself. Our home is very colorful – There are blue pillows on the couch, orange pillows, a pillow of a stuffed dog in the shape of a Corgi, an orange pouf, red Yoga Blankets on the black Ikea chair where Calalilly sleeps all day. We have three cats – one is white, one is black and one is orange.

I’ve always thought that there might be a time where we should try to outgrow this color business. We just moved (again) for hopefully the last time for a while. I thought this could be a fresh start for our taste in home decor. Maybe we would try to be more modern – or mid centry – or rustic. Anything but color. Clean, tidy, desolate and subtle should be what we go for, right?

Being enmeshed in the teachings of yoga, we are always trying to “slim” down our belongings – what we are attached to. We want to be detached, own less, behave as minimalists. And in so trying to cultivate a more modern, sleek, home design – I find myself lost and confused. As much as I want this for myself, I cannot bear to take the color down off the walls. We are not color-less.

As Erik and I are both the youngest children in our families, we are blessed and cursed with the creative gene – with the “there’s always one child that gets a tattoo” gene – the kid that was in the drama club – the kid that played a musical instrument (My viola sits in my closet; my full-sized piano is in the living room) – the kid that puts family photos everywhere (I count 19 family photos hanging on our living room wall) – the kid that can’t return from a holiday at home without new photos. I speak mostly on behalf of myself here – but also for Erik because, as mentioned, he too is the youngest. There is truth to the idea that the babies in a family are the ones that love to travel and love to collect and love to daydream. We are those kids. But only – we are adults now, and we still love to travel, to collect, and to daydream.

My oldest sister makes comments about the knick-knacks I should be trying to get rid of as I get older. But they are so shiny, and they remind me of life. I have four jewelry boxes, they are all colorful. I need every one of them! Our piggy bank is a raccoon statue. Our carpet is bright Moroccan Red. When Erik proposed to me I was wearing my most colorful floral dress that I had made in Vietnam.

So I’m not sure that we will ever grow up, or grow out of this color stage. It’s Saturday and I just organized all of the knick-knacks. I will probably buy myself a huge colorful bouquet later at Trader Joe’s. Erik is in India and will probably bring home some beautiful colorful tapestries. On our wedding registry this afternoon I added some very colorful items. I couldn’t help myself – we live a very colorful life.

All of that Day Dreaming

It is 11:10pm on a full moon day. I have primary series to look forward to at 5:30am so I should make this quick. I can’t sleep though – likely because of the full moon, watching Downton Abbey until 10pm, that cappuccino I had at 3pm, and all of the day dreaming I was busy doing today. It is hard to come down from day dreaming. I packed eight medium sized U-haul boxes today in anticipation of our move next week. Five of the eight boxes were filled with our books, which left me feeling like we had a lot of books and how on earth will I have enough boxes for all of the other things we own? It was fun to look through books that I haven’t seen for a while. Ramayana was one book I found, which reminded me of the first yoga workshop Erik and I taught together in February 2013. We taught together only for the second time on this past New Years Eve (hashtag – things we need to do more often). I also packed the book Happiness by Tich Naht Hanh. Erik and I like to joke that this book was the reason he fell in love with me. When we first started dating, it was the book on my nightstand in my West Philly apartment. Something about a single girl reading Tich Nah Hanh before bed each night really sealed the deal for Erik. Some greater power clearly chose us for each other.

As I am sitting here on the couch, the lights from the school parking lot across from our apartment flood in. I’ve really enjoyed this apartment during so many different times during the day, especially when the natural light hits the floors and the walls in special moments. I love drinking my coffee on the couch on Sunday mornings – I see the apartment in ways I don’t usually get to see during the week, since I am never at home between 7am and 5pm. So Saturdays and Sundays are something special, sacred in our home. We are moving a mere four blocks down the street in a week, and while I love the natural light in our current apartment – this busy street corner, the fluorescent beams of the school parking lot, the sound of the bus swooping past our bedroom window throughout the night – these are things I am relieved to be leaving. A mere four blocks away, across Broad Street, to a quieter section of Mount Vernon. In the same-ish strange neighborhood that we fell in love with, in this funny pocket of Philadelphia.

We have so many good things ahead of us in 2015. Erik leaves for India at the end of the month. While packing our bathroom supplies tonight, I simultaneously packed his toiletries – including travel Tide and anti-diarrheal medication. This must be what love looks like. In May, we are getting married. Moving, a huge overseas trip, and our wedding are like three giant tasks we decided to undertake all at once. I suppose this is the power of the number three. And even though Erik is traveling alone, I’m excited to hold down our fort and focus on some of our other goals here on the homefront.

Refuge

I strip fast and quickly put on the clothes that I set out last night. It’s cold in our small apartment and I turn the heat up so I can practice yoga in the living room. I put clothes in the drier and turn the drier on, every heat source helps. I pour coffee beans into our grinder and make a full pot of our tiny coffee pot. My throat is sore, scratchy – maybe from sleeping in the cold, working in the cold last weekend, or from the glass of wine I had last night.

We visited Woodstock Farm Sanctuary this past weekend. I was like a kid on Christmas morning when my alarm rang on Saturday morning at 5:30am, and I got dressed quickly in our cold bedroom, made the coffee, and then woke a very sleepy Erik to get in the car for our 192 mile trip North to New York. It’s always hard to leave our own rescues – the cats, our girls – even for a small trip like this. While as extroverted as Erik and I may seem, our cats represent the introvert in both of us. We’d often rather be home with them than anywhere else. Writing, dreaming, reading, talking, preparing for the life that is here and the life that will be here soon.

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We arrive in Woodstock – the day is 40 degrees and sunny – perfect. We are greeted by three barn cats including Pogo, clearly the cat in charge on the farm. There are turkeys strutting by and goats wearing jackets to protect them from the cold. We later learn that the goats wearing jackets are considered the “hospice” goats.

I am put to work with the chickens while Erik finds a place to do his yoga practice. Immediately upon entering the chicken coop, they all want to sit in my lap and have a cuddle. As I scoop out their home of dirty litter and hay, they try to put the dirty shavings back in the coop by standing in my piles and kicking them apart. Eventually I am able to lay fresh shavings and hay and they are clearly happy to have a fresh, clean home.

Life is really as simple as this. A job to do in solitude, a sunny day, helping another being. All of the animals on this farm sanctuary are rescued. Nothing is asked of them by humans other than to live. The farm is their refuge, but it also feels like ours.

Coming back to the big city after staying in a cozy and secluded farm Bed and Breakfast is not easy, but we had at least set the “reset” button on our minds and were energized to go back to both of our jobs. We return to the routine of practicing in the mornings before work, even if we practice at home. Routine, rhythm, structure, quiet.

I drink my coffee as I write this, not delaying my practice, I tell myself – just waiting for the apartment to warm up a few degrees.

A Few Hours

Last night I came home from work and lay on the floor. I said to Erik, “Do you see me doing anything else?” and he said, “No. You are doing exactly what you should be doing.”

When I go to bed at night, my patients’ lives float around my head, keeping me from sleep. I feel responsible for them. I want to run from my role. I want to find a farm and live alone – secluded – and rescue goats, sheep and chickens. 

Would that be running away from my humanness? From the ugliness of life?

This week a grand jury made the decision to not indict the officer that killed Eric Garner, using a choke hold that was banned in 1993. A white officer. A black man. A father and husband dead. 

I am a white woman, I am a social worker, I am a vegetarian. I am aware of the privilege that is carried with the color of my skin and I feel so sad. I feel powerless. My patient population is urban, my hospital is in the heart of Philadelphia. There are stories like this everywhere. Eric Garner’s story is all of our story. It is not something I (we) can ignore or pretend has not happened. 

Tonight I am reading an excerpt from my latest Sun Magazine. It’s called “With Care” by Henri J.M. Nouwen. The words feel appropriate in the light of the grand jury’s decision. There is no understanding the decision to not indict the officer in this case. There is no solution. There is only being present to the event, acknowleding this sad conclusion, and being with the pain. This article encourages the fact that while I may not be able to change society, I can bear witness to its struggles. I can validate the pain. The article asks: “How can we be or become a caring community, a community of people not trying to cover the pain or to avoid it by sophisticated bypasses, but rather to share it as the source of healing and new life?” (Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life, by Henri J.M. Nouwen)

Can my being present with others’ humanness be the source of healing? Is that what being a medical social worker is really all about? I hope so. For some days I want to lay down on the floor and cry. I want to be in another role – an interior designer, a florist, a farmer – any other role. 

Tonight I made dinner and drank a glass of wine. I looked at my new cookbooks and am planning a trip by myself on a weekend soon, to a farm in upstate NY where I will stay by myself and enjoy some solitude. I will not run from my part in this world, but I will ask for a few hours away from the city, this urban jungle, and all of the hummanness I cannot change, but can at least bear witness to.

Forward Motion

I made a joke the other day to a doctor that I work with fairly frequently. I said, “Sometimes, after you all call me, I go back to my desk and curl up into a ball underneath of it.”

The thing about jokes is — there is always some truth that exists in them.

Feeling the burden of my patients’ lives, feeling responsible for their successes… Carrying the burden of my own hopes, desires, shame, joys, wants, needs. Sometimes I feel I may teeter off the cliff I am precariously balancing on and I fear that I’m going to pull down the curtains on all of my safety nets as I go. It can become overwhelming to feel so responsible for other people’s lives. So much so that I sometimes feel that (A) I should give up and hide or (B) I should surge ahead with full power. Feeling indescribably stressed makes me feel like there is only those two choices. Often times the more desirable option is to freeze in mid-step and not take any action if it can be avoided. I must remind myself however that there is always a third option: to breathe, to stay with the present moment, to seek out opportunities for enjoyment, to practice mindfulness amidst the chaos.

While in the midst of this confusion, trying to figure out my place and purpose….there is so much that I am looking forward to. Erik and I are getting married on May 24, 2015. At the end of January, my husband-to-be is getting on a plane and going to India until the first of March. He hasn’t left the country, albeit a brief week to Costa Rica, since studying in London when he was a Temple student 10 years ago. Of anyone I know, he deserves this time for his studies more than anybody. Erik is going to find so much waiting for him in India. I cannot wait to meet the man on the other side.

And then there are the cats. Oh, how they bring me joy. They are going to miss their dad maybe even more than I will. He is their buddy during the day while I am at work and in-between Erik’s classes. They will miss his warm lap to curl into as he drafts emails throughout the day.

I am We are continuing to surge ahead.

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On looking towards the future.

It is “only” Tuesday. I am cushioned in the plush of a white bathrobe, with the sound of rain leaking down the windows, and the occasional surprise when a cat jumps onto the bed and into my lap. The taste of a chocolate stout lingers in the back of my throat and my eyes are tired from being wrapped up in a book for the past week.

My life is a circle. Home, practice, work, home. Our apartment is one bedroom, single level, two bathrooms, a shared kitchen and living space. Sometimes we can’t imagine not having more space sooner rather than later: us and the three cats. But alas, what more do we really need? I’m learning about grounding myself by staying in the moment, staying with this job, this city, this home.

This city is hard. It will get dirt on your jeans and empty your pockets and your car will be towed and you will crave the black sky of an Ithaca night or the silent roars of an ocean outside your window. Or at least, I crave these things when the city lights keep me from sleeping and I have to venture out of bed to find my face mask in the middle of the night.

Erik says he is in a bad mood and I ask why and he says because he doesn’t want to be in a good mood. And I know exactly what he means. We laugh about it and talk about our dreams — the ones that wait behind our eyes and the ones that we look towards the future to together.

Goodnight.