Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A princess, a purple unicorn, and a knight in shining armor

She’s been a Halloween princess for three years running. First came the purple, butterfly-winged princess. Last year was the soft, silvery snow princess, which brought with it a Halloween snow storm. This year my 5-year-old daughter will be a straight-up princess in a midnight blue dress adorned with fluttery sleeves and plenty of woven golden bling – and a jewel headdress to boot. To a girl who loves to don anything sparkling and glittery, Halloween is a day of blissful dress up opportunity.

Trick-or-Treat! 2011
The dressing up, after all, is what makes Halloween a favorite for kids – and plenty of grown-ups, too. Sure, the candy is nice. But it really comes down to this being a day where anyone can dress up as just about anything, adopting an alternate persona with a wig, a costume, some stage makeup, whatever it takes.

I have never been one for configuring creative costume ideas. For the past two years I have simply, lazily slapped a witch’s hat atop my noggin and headed to the town’s short Halloween parade with my three Halloween kids in tow. With the exception of the year I joined forces with a few girlfriends to go out on the town of Crested Butte, Colorado, as the Spice Girls (I was a redhead back then and, therefore, Ginger Spice), my get-ups in that costume-loving town were pretty abysmal. Crested Butte loves a party, but it loves a costume party even more, to the point that residents have invented their own holidays, just to have an excuse to dress up. A plain old Halloween witch doesn’t cut it.

Anyway, these days my children, thankfully, seem to fall into their own identities as Halloween approaches. This year, the gilded princess will be joined by her little sister, the purple unicorn, and her twin brother, the knight-in-shining-armor. Magical all around.

The princess dress came from the grandmother who loves dress up as much as her grandkids do. That’s how the knight-in-shining-armor (he is not simply a “knight,” but demands the entire title) started, too, with a play sword and shield from Gaga’s collection. Alas, both of those developed cracks, and so a new, complete knight-in-shining-armor costume was ordered and will be on display on Halloween.

The purple unicorn was deeded to us as a hand-me-down from friends. Although it is about two sizes two small, it was an immediate favorite. The littlest one has worn it to preschool, the grocery store, the post office, and anywhere else she could find that needed a purple unicorn. It is named Uni and sleeps tucked into the bed with her at night. Just about everybody in town has already seen the purple unicorn costume, but to suggest a different option is akin to blasphemy as far as my 3-year-old is concerned.

And so we will head downtown this afternoon, my costumed crew and I, with a feathery mask that is no better than an old witch’s hat, but at least it’s something new. For about 20 minutes, traffic will be stopped on Main Street as an escort of fire trucks and police cruisers ushers a parade of ghosts, clowns, pirates and faeries through downtown Franconia. Parents and grandparents will line the street, and workers will emerge from downtown businesses to cheer the Halloween kids.

Then we’ll rest up for Trick-or-Treating and the town bonfire. I imagine the princess, the purple unicorn, and the knight-in-shining armor will return home in some combination of sleepy and sugar buzzed. It’ll probably be tougher than usual to rouse them from bed the morning after. But I bet at the breakfast table the discussion of next year’s Halloween costumes will begin.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Talk about the weather

Storm a' brewing over the mountains last spring.
There’s nothing like a big storm a’ brewing to stir up excitement and get folks talking about the weather. All around town this morning, Hurricane Sandy has been the topic of conversation and uncertainty. How windy will it get? Will the storm blow back out in time for Trick-or-Treating in two days? Will we lose power? Did you hear about all the schools closed in Massachusetts and the roads closed in Connecticut?

Everybody, it seems, loves a storm… as long as they know they’re out of harm’s way. And that if the power goes out, it’s only for a day or so. In the relative safety of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the anticipation of a big windy storm is more welcome now, in this otherwise weather-boring time of year, than during the frigid winter (unless the winter storm brings lots of powder snow, of course). No need to worry about frozen pipes – or frozen toes. As long as your loved ones and your home are safe, it’s something awesome to behold the power of nature from the safety of your living room.

At our house, we have the pots and the bathtub filled with water. The flashlights and candles are ready to go. There’s a fire set in the fireplace just in case. The cupboards are filled with peanut butter and pasta enough to last days, and I have the reserve coffee-making system in place (my priorities are clear).

I think it’s a sense of self sufficiency that makes us feel as giddy as we do nervous when a storm is brewing. It’s sort of fun, in an adventuresome kind of way, to lose power for a few hours, or a couple of days – as long as you’re prepared. It feels romantically old-fashioned to eat by candlelight and gather quietly in front of the fire. Reading by flashlight in a quiet house is better than watching the crap on television, anyway.

We know, however, that when an entire region loses power, it’s the folks up here in the boonies who have it restored last.

When our oldest two children were infants, our electricity went out for a few days in April. We gathered in the living room, blocking off cold drafts from the rest of the house with blankets hung in the doorways. We slept snuggled together on the floor, waking every couple of hours to feed the fire – or the two babies.

In those short few days, trapped inside, I read more than I had read in months. There was little else to do, with the rest of the house shut up, unable to run the vacuum or the washer, no power to boot up the computer, and two babies who needed very little entertainment. By day four it was getting a bit tiresome to keep the babes and their mother clean without running water. And then the sun came out, the power came back on, and we went outside to enjoy the rain-washed landscape, the sounds of the chirping birds of spring mingling with the chainsaws of the line workers still clearing trees to restore electricity to neighbors.

This morning, only an hour south of home, schools were closed for the impending storm. Just over two hours’ drive away, Boston, according to news reports and Facebook postings, was virtually shut down today. But here, the other parents I spoke with this morning as we dropped our children at school were hoping to see some form of storm, something to shake up the day-to-day routine just a little bit, an excuse to unplug and gather the family close.

Everybody loves a storm. But I hope my friends to the south are safe; I hope things stay safe here, too. And if the power goes out, I hope it’s not for long; the novelty wears off after a couple of days.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Power of Om

We gather each week, a collection of men and women, 20-somethings to 60-somethings, business owners, teachers, parents, athletes. Some of us can barely touch our toes, so tight are our hamstrings. Others have the lithe bodies of dancers, bending easily into each pose. If you threw us together anywhere else, we might seem a hodgepodge of folks with little in common. But in the upstairs room of this barn, tucked behind a house off a side street in Littleton, we gather to practice yoga.

As the pre-class chitchat fades, Rose leads us in a chant of Om, the shortest of words, drawn into a long sound which is supposed to represent the union of mind, body, and spirit. In other words, Om equals yoga.

I first encountered yoga when I was living in Crested Butte, Colorado, in the 1990s. The yoga studio in that little mountain town of uber athletes and beautiful people was next to the tiny health food store, and so in my mind yoga became an extension of eating whole grains and downing shots of wheat grass. For many practitioners of yoga, it IS an extension of a lifestyle of pure foods and actions.

For me, yoga practice started as a way to supplement my more active athletic endeavors, to bring more flexibility to my body and calm to my mind. I started with videos by Rodney Yee and Patricia Walden, finding my way into imperfect poses in the sunny light of our loft living room. After I moved back East, I found a Thursday evening class in Franconia, which was both invigorating and informative. But then life got really busy, and yoga was left behind.

When I had three children in the space of two years, my life pace shifted from long bike rides and hard skiing to kid-carrying and crawling on the floor. My days were often mentally and emotionally hectic – and physically exhausting, even though I felt I wasn’t actually exercising. (Raising kids is a perpetual workout, but there’s no training regimen, and the challenges change from one minute to the next.)

Then I found Rose. If yoga is the union of a healthy mind, body, and spirit, Rose is the personification of yoga: smart, beautiful, and good. She is both a dedicated student and teacher of yoga, traveling regularly to Boston to practice with Patricia Walden (whose videos introduced me and countless others to yoga) and studying occasionally in India. She is kind in her teaching, but also tough, persuading students to go deeper into each pose, challenging us to improve – at once encouraging and demanding.

I harbor good intentions of extending my yoga practice at home, beyond my weekly class. The most I manage is a few twists here and there, a down dog pose after skiing, a forward bend or two before bed time. Still, my weekly practice reminds me to sit straight as I type at the keyboard, to broaden my chest and breathe when I start to stress about something, to refocus when I need to.

Tuesdays always seem to be my craziest, busiest days. But I know that no matter how hectic my work schedule is or how crazy the kids get, I will get to close out my day with 90 minutes of yoga, seeking poses that will engage my muscles and quiet my mind. I often rush to make class, arriving harried and barely on time. The very act of unrolling my mat onto the wood floor begins the calming process.

At the start of each class we sit, cross-legged, to chant Om. Rose asks us to look inward, to direct our energy from our minds to our hearts. Soon I am too focused on putting my body into the next pose to dwell on the day’s happenings, tomorrow’s tasks, and the persistent to-do list.

My mind focuses. My body moves. My spirit lifts.

A version of this essay ran in the Oct. 12, 2012 edition of the Record-Littleton.