Craving Pilates

My favorite yoga teacher, Tami Hafzallah, often tells her students to take the variation or pose “that your body is craving today.” For a long time I struggled with that idea. To me, craving meant chocolate or a doughnut. My body did not crave strength-building poses. I would interpret the instruction to mean, “Stretch whatever feels tight.” Eventually, as my yoga practice progressed, I began to realize that sometimes I held tension in different places. Sometimes different activities would accentuate the natural imbalance between the left and right side of the body. At those times, my body craved release of the unusual tension, or even, strength-building poses that would restore balance.

I love my yoga, but two and a half years after pregnancy I was still struggling to even access some of the muscles to engage my core. So this year, I started doing Pilates at Kinesia in Pioneer Square. My sessions were so slow and precise that they often looked more like physical therapy than a workout. But as classical Pilates teachers, Christl and Gay knew how to make those tiny movements count.

I spent many of my first sessions gritting my teeth as I tried to find muscles I didn’t know I had, thinking to myself, “Just get to the end of the hour and you never have to come back here.” At the end of the hour, I would step back out onto the street, ready to leave that kind of torture behind forever, and realize that all the tension in my neck and back was gone. I felt two inches taller and my limbs felt as if they had been reattached in a more functional position. That feeling of perfect alignment and free movement would last for several days. Between sessions, I would go to yoga and find that I could do poses that never worked for me before.

Even so, I never craved Pilates. It was too uncomfortable and challenging to crave. Until now. Over the weekend, I noticed that I was slouching, and when I tried to straighten up, it was hard for me to hold my posture. My ankle felt achy from an old injury and favoring that leg made my calves tight. I found myself thinking, “Only two more days until Pilates, and that’ll fix it.” Then I had to indulge in a moment of pride. I was craving Pilates. I couldn’t think of a more sure sign of progress.


The Dresden Files

As promised, I have something to say about The Dresden Files.

Jim Butcher has written eleven books about the wizard Harry Dresden. The SciFi channel based a short-lived show on them. But I only discovered the Dresden Files this Thanksgiving. Okay, that’s not entirely true. A friend of mine at work told me about them months ago. He said, “No, really, I think you’re going to really like these books.” He knows my taste in movies, but I still didn’t trust his judgment because my taste in literature is slightly more elevated – usually. Well, and in all honesty, I didn’t trust his judgment because I know his taste. But he was insistent. He brought the first book, Storm Front, into the office and left it on my desk. I said, “I’m working my way through Iceland’s sagas. I’m not going to get to this for a long time.” I put the paperback in the “deferred” stack on the bookcase behind my desk and ignored it all summer.

Then, on the Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, I was getting ready to leave the office when I realized I had finished my magazine on the bus that morning, and had not brought anything else to read on the ride home. Casting around, my eyes fell on Storm Front at the top of the deferred books pile. “What the hell,” I thought, and stuffed it in my bag.

Seven chapters later, I got off the bus. By the time people started to arrive for Thanksgiving dinner the next day, I had finished the book. I had spent Thanksgiving day completely absorbed in the supernatural version of Chicago that Butcher had created. (Good thing I wasn’t supposed to cook.) Although many other writers have copied his magical realist noir approach, Jim Butcher did it first (my friends who read a lot of this sort of thing tell me) and best (I’m confident stating this without reading any of the others). I’ve read enough fantasy novels to know the conventions, and enough arcana to recognize the mythical traditions Butcher draws from. He knows how to write a good fantasy story, with just enough explanation of how things work to make it interesting without ever crossing the line into midichlorian territory. Despite the magic and the present day setting, and his use of a gumshoe protagonist who is actually a nice guy instead of a hardened cynic, he manages to nail the film noir atmosphere of a good detective story anyway.

I’m sure that part of the appeal is how much I can identify with the author. We’ve never met, but I know him. He’s sensitive ponytail guy, just like most of my friends. We’ve practiced the same martial arts, read many of the same books and watched a lot of the same movies. Half of Dresden’s magical powers are extrapolations of aikido philosophy. His magical wizard’s staff is an aikido jo. I love that while Dresden is clearly Butcher’s alter-ego, Butcher still allows him to be a dork in service to the story. He’s a socially inept technophobe who spends most of the first two books in ridiculous scrounged outfits (Pulp Fiction hit men, anyone?). He is surrounded by strong, sexy women and holds pretensions of chivalry, but he’s shy around women in person, and rarely gets the girl. When he does, he’s never sure why.

I’ve read the first two books and can’t wait to tear through the remaining nine. The only downside is that ever since I started reading the Dresden Files, all of my personal computing devices have been on the fritz, and streetlights keep going off as I walk past them.

Intensity Without Struggle

The antibiotics finally banished my month-long sinus infection and I was able to return to yoga after missing a some classes and half-assing many more. I could really feel the difference after a few weeks of illness and poor practice, so I was grateful that teacher Jen Yaros chose to make intensity the focus of the class. Sometimes the things yoga teachers offer up nonsensical sermons as you struggle to hold a pose without falling down. At other times, like this one, the simplest statements can be so profound. As she guided the class through core-work that also required balance, Jen asked us to strive for “intensity without struggle.”

Intensity without struggle sounds like an oxymoron, but intensity and struggle are not actually synonymous. And once you manage to wrap your mind around the difference between them – what an idea! Imagine facing the all the challenges in your life by giving them your full attention and effort without struggling against the fact that you are being seriously challenged. When we are able to calmly accept that a situation exists, we can dedicate the energy that would have resisted the situation to actually achieving what the situation demands of us. There it was, the key to life, hidden in a boat pose vinyasa.

Of course, uncovering profound lessons in the repetition of physical movement is the reason we do yoga (what, you thought it was about flat abs?). We valiantly try to quiet the monologue in our heads by focusing on the breath. We concentrate on proper alignment as we move through the poses, hoping that as we reorder our bodies, our minds are also organized, so that when we step off the mat we are better able to deal with whatever problems were running around up there in the first place. But it’s always a special day when one of those profound life lessons is so elegantly revealed, when the physical challenge so beautifully parallels our life’s struggles and we discover that the answer to both challenges is the same.



Desiree’s Dolls

The average lifespan of a Favorite New Toy at my house is about an hour and a half. But this summer at the Ballard Farmer’s Market, my girls met Desiree Stone and her traditional, handcrafted rag dolls. They begged for the dolls for weeks before they finally got to pick their favorites to take home. That was four months ago, and Sara and Cindy are still on the tea party A-list. Santa is planning to bring them new outfits for Christmas.

As a child, Stone learned how to sew from her mother. Once she knew how to sew, her grandmother taught her to make rag dolls. She has been making them ever since, and selling them in Seattle for the past five years – first in Madrona, and now in Ballard. She makes an 11 ½ inch doll ($15),  a 16 inch doll ($35), and a very large doll that sells for $50, each with outfits that can be changed. Sometimes she makes custom dolls with different color hair, or outfits like kimonos. She can be found on Sundays at the Ballard Farmer’s Market. Desiree’s Dolls is still a family affair. Stone is never alone at her booth. Her sons, James and Kye, both seniors at UW, always help out.

Considering that the dolls are handmade locally, the price is quite low – about the same as a plastic Corrolle doll. Stone says, “If you look at most toys today, they are made in China or Mexico where workers are paid about a $1.50 a day.” Desiree’s Dolls are not only more fun for the kids, but they come with a clear conscience for the grownups. If you want to get a Desiree’s Doll, there is one more weekend at the Ballard Market before Christmas. After that, you’ll have to wait until after the Superbowl.

See some of her dolls here:

50 Words for Snow & 50 Works of Snow

I’m not a Kate Bush fan, but the buzz around her latest album, 50 Words for Snow, got me curious. So I had to give it a listen. I’m still not a Kate Bush fan, but the title track, delivered by the inimitable Jeeves, I mean Stephen Fry, was as delightful as everything else Fry is involved in. Together with the fact that all of the mountains are now open for ski season, 50 Words for Snow made me think about other wintry works of art.

  1. Smilla’s Sense of Snow – duh
  2. Snow Patrol – even better, their first album was called
  3. Songs for Polar Bears
  4. Sonata Arctica – Finnish melodic metal band (All the good metal bands are from Finland these days. Maybe it has something to do with all the snow.)
  5. Lovers of the Arctic Circle – I watched the movie Sex and Lucia years ago and loved it so much I wanted to see everything by Julio Medem, but I could never find this one. (Which means Netflix doesn’t have it and I always forget to look for it at Scarecrow, which probably does because they have everything.
  6. Sigur Ros – a bit of a cheat, because there’s nothing snowy in the name, but everything Jonsi does sounds like ice crystals
  7. Hank Snow – classic country
  8. Arctic Monkeys
  9. Frosty the Snowman – well, it’s not really a work of art, but it’s so close to Christmas…
  10. The Falcon and the Snowman – just to balance out the last one

Well, it’s a start, but I’m still pretty far short of fifty works for snow. Maybe you can help me out and add to the list in the comments.

Seattle Folk Festival

If you thought that old-timey music was just for Appalachia, this weekend offers an opportunity to learn better. “Seattle is a hub of old-timey music in the west,” says Morgan John, who sings and plays banjo (and sometimes fiddle, guitar and ukulele) in the Atlas Stringband. “There are square dances twice a month in Ballard, a lot people playing honky-tonk and bluegrass. The Seattle Subversive Square Dance Society hosts house parties and dances in parks. There is something going on every week.”

As John describes it, this is not a scene, but a community rooted in old American traditions. Old-time music is participatory. Musicians play shows, but they are just as likely to join an open jam. Many of them, like Jere Canote of The Canote Brothers, build their own instruments by hand. Audience members are more likely to dance with each other than to sit down to listen. Jams and dances are often all-ages, and are open to all skill levels. If you don’t know what to do, just ask the person next you. They’re sure to be right neighborly.

The community is coming together this weekend for the Seattle Folk Festival at venues in Columbia City and downtown Seattle. Featuring performances by nearly twenty northwest artists, including The Tallboys, Kevin Murphy of the Moondoggies, Sean Flinn & The Royal We, and Jackstraw, the festival also offers workshops, dances, and open jams. The festival opens Friday night with a square dance to benefit Bike Works, followed by a dance party benefiting Northwest Folklife and featuring the region’s Balkan bands. Saturday’s lineup features indie roots music all day. The Appalachian Winter Evening concert will feature artists from and inspired by Southern Appalachia. Sunday is the Family Jam, with a full day of performances supplemented by an all-ages family square dance and a kids’ craft workshop on how to make a “Seattle Crankie.”

If you miss the festival this weekend, or if you just can’t get enough of that old-time music, you can join a square dance at the Tractor Tavern on Monday, or attend the Conor Byrne Old Time Social – Open Jam on Tuesday night. The website maintains a calendar of old-time music events and offers introductory information for newcomers to the community.

Just the facts:

What: Seattle Folk Festival

When: Friday, December 09, 2011-Sunday December 11, 2011

Where: Columbia City Theater & Seattle Town Hall

Cost: Tickets available online and at the door. $40 weekend pass. Single event prices vary.

For More Info:


Write-o-Rama Write-up

Last Saturday was Write-o-Rama at Richard Hugo House, Seattle’s own literary center that supports local writers in myriad ways. Hugo House is one of the premier writing centers in the country. Its programs include writers-in-residence, writing retreats, literary series, and classes for adults and teens that range from fiction to poetry to zines and marketing. Write-o-Rama is an annual Hugo House fundraiser that still manages to give to the writers. Students can choose their cost for a full day of one-hour workshops donated by the teachers, and membership to the house is included at most registration levels.

Write-o-Rama was my first experience with Hugo House, and it was a great introduction. In the course of one day, I took classes on tweeting, story structure, alter-ego development, science as inspiration, and review writing. With only one hour for each class, and about half of that time dedicated to writing exercises, the teachers really only had time to introduce one or two ideas. But it was a great way to get some focused practice, see how many different directions people can go with a simple assignment, find out where to go to learn more, and check out the teachers before committing to longer, more expensive classes.

I came away awed by the talent of Seattle’s writers, both the teachers and my classmates. I also took home a long list of follow up reading and ideas for more writing to try at home. And a new membership to Hugo House. I need the discount on all the classes I’m going to take.

Registration is open now for winter quarter. I’m thinking about “The Mechanics of Plot Topiary.”

Write-o-Rama raised over $5600 for Hugo House.