Here and Gone

I had a layover in Washington DC, easily one my favorite cities in the world. Out side all of the historical and tourist things, I’ve been lucky to have some seriously wonderful times with my good friends Kyle and Laura here. I was able to get to know the lesser known parts of DC, and do things off the beaten track. Those are some truly cherished memories for me. These friends moved a crossed the world in January and now what once was my favorite lay over, has become a bit sad, knowing they aren’t here any more.

I took a walk in the neighborhood behind my hotel today and all of these thoughts set me in a rather nostalgic mood as I wandered a normal DC neighborhood. I was strolling the neighborhood with its old brick New England homes, and the many gardens, and I couldn’t help noticing a huge holly bush. It reminded me of my Grandma and Grandpa Panian’s house, where a similar holly bush grew outside the bedroom windows.

I loved that holly bush. It seemed so whimsical to me. It seemed lovely, to seeing it actually growing in the yard, a bush that was easily as tall as the house. Coming from the frigid temperatures of Minnesota where something like holly certainly doesn’t grow, it is regulated to clippings at Christmas time. Christmas, that magical time, was the only association I had with holly, out side of this bush that grew at my grand parents house, a place that could easily be described as magical to me as well. The holly, with its thick waxy leaves and bright red berries seemed, almost other worldly to me. 

As much as I loved that holly bush, it was home to the most demented mockingbird on this planet, whom I hated. Mockingbirds were another thing I never saw in Minnesota, and to me was simply part of the title of a classic book. Now a mockingbird gets its name from its call, or lack there of. It usually copies other bird calls, thus sounds like a bird singing who just can’t make up its mind. So I did think seeing mockingbirds was pretty cool as they didn’t exist back home. But this damn mockingbird never knew what time of day it was. Or maybe it just had its times all mixed up because it seemed to have a schedule of roughly eight o’clock at night and two thirty in the morning. Seriously. I am a very light sleeper so snoring, lights shining through my window, those sorts of things are the bane of my existence. You can imagine what it may have been like having a deranged tweeting bird outside my window when ever I visited my grandparents. However, the several years that the mockingbird lived in that tree were my late teen and early college years when I was learning to sleep with ear plugs, so it wasn’t exactly the end of the world. Though I do remember thinking it was unfortunate that it was illegal to kill mockingbirds.

Thinking of that holly bush and the annoying mockingbird at my grandparents old house made me sad. I realized that they were now both gone, along with my grandparents house. In the last few years before they died my grandparents neighborhood was full of contractors who were tearing down the classic fifties ramblers that had first been built in the neighborhood, and replacing them with enormous mc mansions, that my family all agreed, were very ostentatious and didn’t suite the neighborhood at all. But when my family had to sell the house, and it’s foundation which was cracked to shit, they were the only buyers. Thus a mc mansion now sits on the graves of my memories, where my cousins and I used to play olly olly oxen free on the deck, where at least twenty red corduroy stockings made by my grandma would line the fireplace each Christmas, where my grandma would read and Grandpa would watch the cubs games in their squashy blue recliners. It is still incredibly sad and strange for me to think that house is gone; that they are both gone. That whole space, which its magic and whimsy, captured through the rose tinted glasses of my youth, gone.

As all this was running through my head, walking down a street in Washington DC, I hear a bird call close to me. I looked up and saw a mockingbird flit from a road sign to a power line, right above me.

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Amsterdam, exploring a new city

Here is my promised, more detailed post about our ramble through Amsterdam!

Amsterdam is a city full of beautiful architecture and winding canals. It is also one of the most walkable places I’ve ever been. Riding bike is what is always associated with  riding bike, and people who live in the city certainly seem more comfortable on their bikes than we Americans are in our cars. However, we walked everywhere and the city is small enough that there weren’t any places we wanted to get that would couldn’t by foot.

Home again

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Walking through the streets where I live and smelling that smell that means home. We enter our apartment that is in glorious disarray from the frenzy of last minute packing. Remnants of the early excitement of a trip that is over now. I sit on a couch that feels familiar, the silence ringing in my ears which are used to the roar of an airplane or the onslaught of New York City clatter they have been subject to the last few days.

Three cities in 7 days. I revisited Prague where I spent two weeks about 6 years ago and was able to share a city that I love with Ben. We both saw Amsterdam for the first time, roaming bridges over wide canals and avoiding the blurs of bike riders. Our last minute decision to visit our friends in New York City turned out to be an excellent one and we walked the city and ate good food with good company.

Now back to normal life. Sigh. Work, cleaning, managing bills. How do I return to that after I got only one week of adventure? That is what travel is to me. I remember thinking when I was younger that I wanted life to be an adventure, and one outside the norm, because mostly it draw me or excite me. Travel was the answer for me. As Rick Steves says “Travel is intensified living . . . and one of the last great sources of legal adventure”

I know I’m lucky to be able to live the life I do, but coming down from the “intensified living” doesn’t ever get easier for me. As much as I’m looking forward to seeing my family and friends, part of me is always sad to be home, simply because there is still so much left I haven’t seen, so many places I have yet to go.

My remedy is always to begin planning my next trip, and thus I decided my mom and I are not going to just go to Paris this summer but England too. I want to show her a place I love so much and she definitely deserves to experience my favorite kind of adventure.

Return to Europe: Our first two days

I would like to go through my trip at large while I am away but I promise to get more in to the details when I get home and have a bit more time on my hands.

 

We got to Amsterdam with little trouble. Flying stand by is always a nail biter, but we both got on. At the last minute some one upgraded and only one of us got to fly first class. Ben generously suggested right away that I should take it, and… well…. I do give blood sweat, tears and extreme lack of sleep so we can have these flights. I slept a little and enjoyed the food and bloody marys. 

At the moment I am sitting in the bar in the basement of our hostel. Hostel….just when are we too old for them? I’m going to go with not quite yet, since a.) we couldn’t afford an actual hotel in such a touristy city and b.) we are only maybe a year or two older than the mean age in this hostel. But hey its clean. Although I don’t have a whole lot of interest anymore when it comes to drinking with strangers in a much used hostel, its a good option. Despite having a reputation for being a huge party hostel, its been quiet enough to sleep so I don’t really have complaints. 

Ben and I have been planning our trip to Amsterdam and Prague, actually not at all until about two days before we left. I always find planning and the day or so before leaving for a trip very stressful. I get this from my dad, just ask my mom. He gets crazy cranky and mad at very strange things. Hopefully I dont get that bad but I do get incredibly overwhelmed when packing (despite the fact that I am an excellent packer) and think we just shouldn’t go. The longer we will be gone the worse it will be, so my case this time was fairly moderate.

Our first day we spent a lot of time just getting lost and walking the city. The architecture is definitely on of the best things about this city and there is very little of a metropolitan feel here. Its all old bring buildings and winding canals. It definitely feels very young and the people we see everywhere seem mostly under 40. The bikes are everywhere. Thus the cars drive slowly, but it certainly turns out that your dodging the bikes as much as any traffic. But it does make things more interesting and it is certainly culturally relevant  

*side note, the very young people sitting across the table from me are taking jager shots and he, who is coming on strong, just said “do you remember my name now?” and she answered fairly definitively “……Sean.”  and he reply’s “Matthew! Jesus Christ!” But I’m still giving him a 50/50 on his chances of getting laid….wait he just started bragging about writing a punk rock song.

People are also very tall here. Seriously, I think I’ve seen at least a dozen women in the last few days who are easily six foot. And no surprise, people are very thin. All that biking has clear benefits. People are also incredibly well dressed. Ben said he just doesn’t feel like he stands out at all. Everyone likes ties and wooden toggles on their jackets.

We went to the Anne Frank house our first day here. It was a bit surreal and obviously incredibly sad. It is an intense experience. It leaves you wanting to not necessarily talk about it but soak it in and think about it first. I’ll have to revisit the details in a later post.

The jet lag seriously set in for me around 6 and a kept myself away until about 8, when I zonked out for about three hours. When I woke up around eleven Ben was still awake so we decided to hit the red light district. Now I hear this is a must do for tourists, though I was a but foggy on the details. To make things very, it is prostitutes in glass store fronts in very tiny lingerie, and lots of sex shops with all sorts of black leather straps in their display windows. The brothels all have long red lights over the doors and the prostitute booths, thus the term “red light district” I am an american and thus that comes with a certain prudishness, and I can honest with that. I was totally uncomfortable, and found it quite sad. How did these girls end up here? When we first found it we sort of wandered into the side streets where I didn’t see another woman amongst the hordes of men, well a woman not scantily clad in a glass booth. We found the main stretch and that had more of a tourist feel. Ben and I discussed what the ratio probably was of dutch men looking to pay for some action, tourists, and tourists looking to pay for action. The girls are mostly very beautiful, thin, with large fake breasts, and very very young. 

Today our big trip was out to the Tulip State Park (name to be inserted later) We were with mostly middle aged americans and asian tourists. It was very beautiful for sure. We are here closer to the end of Tulip season, but it is certainly a great time to see them. The varieties are truly spectacular and we had fun looking at all the bizarre flower names. We decided the people just get bored and pull these out of the air. More to come and many pictures later.

Now I’m done trying to concentrate in this noisy bar full of many languages, where the smell of weed never fades away, but on the up side, this guy is close to closing the deal. But well, she is Canadian and hes is a skinny guy with messy hair and a “sexy” British accent.

 

 

Haiku catch up

I’m determined that I will actually stick with this poem writing for April, I can stick it out for one month!

10

only fourteen days

st paul takes less money

stop parking tickets

 

11

the end, close the door

a large empty house, the place

where I fell in love

 

12

writing words with worth

something I daily reach to

elusive siren

 

13

shopping for one book

four stores and for books later

finally found it

 

14

plans are being made

bright sunshine in our future

but now uncertain

 

15

clung close the car door

the sun has long set, going home

unfriendly airport

 

16

forms and forms and forms

just to say yes we are one?

damn bureaucracy

 

17

chasing adventure

plans only vaguely laid out

seat of pants travel

Beginning my yoga story

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My relationship with yoga began when I was twelve. Certainly not in any sort of focused or serious manner but it gripped me pretty immediately. My mother was really into workout videos when I was young and I was with her at the library looking at the videos she was browsing. At the time I was a gymnast and I saw a VHS (remember those?) with a very thin woman doing what looked a little like gymnastics but not quite. It was a yoga tape that I rented immediately, and renewed until the library said I was to the max. So I returned it and rented it again. I believe that tape was pretty consistently in my possession for about three months. 

I didn’t have a yoga mat or anything at the time. It was the mid nineties when yoga had not yet taken off in the conservative suburbia haven I grew up in. I remember hurting the palms of my hands on the carpet of my basement doing down dogs but still thinking “I am good at this!” I had a natural aptitude for the pretzel like positions and it felt good to be good. At the time my gymnastics had been fading as it became apparently that I didn’t really have the sort of figure for it, and certain parts of me just wouldn’t stop growing.
Through out middle school and high school I took yoga classes at the gym that my family belonged to on a fairly regular basis. Once I got to college and the structure of my time became my own responsibility, I did exactly what every college kid does and took up less than healthy practices like very little sleep, cafeteria food, and running on pure caffeine at times, and my yoga fell to the wayside for the first year or two.

I think of the flexibility and strength I lost and this time and seriously cringe. By the time I was twenty I had started back again, and in my early 20s became a pretty consistent yoga student and had a healthy home practice.

First road block.

I broke my foot. Some of you know a story that makes me sound much cooler than I am goes along with that, but we will leave it for another time. The repercussions of this broken foot have been bizarre and endless, but in good ways as well as bad. However, one of the worse was that I had to stop all yoga for months. I broke five bones in my left foot, the worst break being right under the knuckle of my big toe. Once this healed with my toe slightly crooked and a lovely large protrusion of scar tissue on the side of my food that I affectionately call my “knob” (laugh laugh laugh) my toe was unable to bend back, at all. I don’t have a flat footed down dog(who does?), and even if I did, what about table pose? What about goddess pose? Plank, the list goes on and on.

It took a year and a half. Not before I was back where I was because over a year off yoga does sad things. But it took a year  before I could bend my toe back, at all. I used to pressed on it all the time, just holding it back while I watched TV or read. Once I was able to actually wiggle my toe up and down I started back at it. After about a year I had a yoga studio I loved going to,One Yoga in Uptown and was stronger than I had ever felt. When I moved to St Paul I began going to Tula Yoga. I worked hard to form an actual healthy habit and had a personal practice that I could barely go a day with out doing.

Road block two.

I pulled my hamstring. Dreaded of dreaded injury for anyone who practices yoga. I over extended it during yoga, which made me susceptible to a pull, which I did slipping on the ice about five weeks ago now. I was seriously horrified. I started googling like a maniac “yoga for hamstrings” “yoga to heal hamstrings” “how to heal hamstrings fast” the internet prognosis wasn’t good. It would probably take about six weeks to heal (no two, no three, no 16!) as far as I could gather from my research and conflicting information out there on the internet and most of the information was unanimous on one thing. Stay off it for the first two weeks, a teeny bit of very gentle stretching may be okay but nothing, nada, for two weeks. I also learned something about myself. Two weeks is exactly the amount of time that it takes to totally wring out the desire for me to continue with a healthy habit.

Now “habit” is the important word here. It took me a while to really get into the habit and once I did my brain didn’t want to stop, until I did. Now I am at a point where I should be starting back to, probably not my usual practice, but doing some yoga with a mindfulness of being gentle on my injury.

Problem.

I kind of don’t feel like it. Something that would be unthinkable a month ago to me has happened, and I feel so little motivation. It is kind making me like myself less. Now I  want to start again, get back to it, every day. I want my practice back to what it was and growing. It adds to the frustration when I know I will not be where I was, and that I will need to work back up to my practice.  But now that I don’t have the habit, the routine, it is just so easy for everything else to get in the way.

Things won’t stay like this, I will do yoga again, but I’m just so frustrated with myself. I feel it should be easy as “simply do it” but it just isn’t going that way. Have any of you had similar problems? Lack of motivation and the like? Any pointers welcome.

Bad Haiku for National Poetry Writing Month

My dear friend Val inspired me to participate in the National Poetry Writing Month, where you are supposed to write a poem a day. Now I’m not a big poetry writer. Of course like anyone who has ever been a teenager and owned a notebook and writing utensil, I have written poetry. Even written poetry past age 15. However, its bad poetry. Truly awful stuff. But really, that is okay. We need to write bad stuff sometimes. I also love writing haiku’s, always have. The rules of syllables and juxtaposition speak to me somehow. So for National Poetry Writing Month, I’m writing Haiku’s that in all likelihood are bad. But as in any art or craft, I have to write all sorts of bad stuff before I can write something truly good. And don’t worry, I know I am not the first person to say that.

pulled from my warm sleep

husbands heavy arms cling, now

hotel, not my home

 

 

Refrigerator

doors click, planes take off

hotel symphony

 

flashing images

click of the remote control

cable keeps me up