On Remembering to Smile

If there’s one thing I learned from working at the Bakery, it’s to keep smiling. I learned a lot about making and selling bread, and what kosher means, and devouring pastries, and of course customer service. I can sum it up in one emotion: a smile.

Today was my official last day at Zak the Baker’s. It was a busy Sunday, but things seemed to be running smoothly. I managed to expedite and run orders by myself for most of the day, and I did OK. I remember when I started working there, it was my least favorite task. Taking orders? No problem. But calling out folks’ names, coordinating orders, delivering food and try to clear tables, all under the watchful (or disapproving) eyes of customers is a tough order for most people. I’m the first to admit I have a hard time keeping my cool when orders get backed up, or someone claims the wrong sandwiches, or a bag of trash splits open behind the counter. Or we oversell an item. Or a customer is bossy or impatient, or looks at me like I’m from the moon.

Mixin and movin dough at Zak the Baker's

Mixin and movin dough at Zak the Baker’s (or on Saturdays, the “Drakery,” as we call it)

What I’ve realized, over time, though, is that (almost) no matter the circumstances, a sweet smile goes a long way. Being attentive and courteous does too, but humility and a smile seem to translate most simply.

It’s fantastic, too. Almost like a trick or secret. Smiling not only helps customers see that I’m trying, I care, and I want to make sure they’re taken care of…but it helps me stay calm. I can avoid dumping a bowl of soup on someone who’s being rude.

A smile has the ability to transform. It alters the state of the recipient, the giver, and the mood of almost any situation.

One of my favorite customers came in today. I didn’t expect to see her again. She’s someone I could sit and talk with for hours, I’m sure, about yoga, life, food and people. Situations. From the day I met her, talking across the counter over loaves of bread, I knew we just connected. Only a month or so later when we talked more did we realize our connections went beyond the cafe. We had mutual acquaintances in common. We both appreciate (and LOVE) alignment-based yoga—she prefers Iyengar, I’m head over heels for Anusara. We enjoy the same somewhat scandalous beach.

But beyond those connections, talking to her is like talking to a dear old friend. How many times I’ve wanted to sit with a cup of tea and enjoy lunch with her, right there in the cafe.

She gave me many gifts—mostly of someone sweet to chat with, while I swept tickets around on Sundays, about bread and people and life. But today she left me with a parting gift. A tiny laughing Buddha statue that she’d had for many years and that accompanied her on her own travels. “It reminded me of you! A beautiful bald head and your smile!” she quipped.

I laughed, then, and of course smiled. I saved the tears for now, though. To meet someone, just by chance, in a bakery, who recognizes a hint of buddha in you…is the greatest gift of all. Thank you for giving me the reassurance and reminder that my smile is the light that I share, no matter where I go. This little buddha will stay with me for a long time.

On Sticky Sweet Memories and Fresh Mangoes

I ate my first fresh mango when I was 16 or 17 years old. (No, that’s not code.) It was the summer before my senior year in high school, and I worked as a cashier at Greenlife, the formerly hip and somewhat local health food store in Chattanooga. Working there served as a passageway (gateway drug?) for so many opportunities and experiences in my life. Not only did I meet incredible people whom I still call friends, but I also actively took an interest, or became more conscious of healthy, delicious foods, including the mango.

The produce section remains one of my favorite departments to wander through, poking grapes and fondling avocados. At the time, a woman named Carole worked in produce. She showed me how to choose and cut up a mango. Slice off the halves, cube, and flip the skin inside out.

It’s easy for me to write off high school experiences, but the memories I have of those years working at Greenlife stick out to me more than any school friends or stories. I was always interested in moving on, doing something else, getting in to whatever was next, which at the time was figuring out who I was and how to take care of myself.

Tonight after a simple dinner, the 20 mangoes from a dear friend were calling me. I’ve been in South Florida for just over a year, and I must say the newness of tropical fruits and vegetables has yet to wear off. I processed 14 mangoes for freezing, each one taking me back to some sweet memory of years past, of firsts, and of the difficulty of transition.

Plantains, also popular in SoFla, are great for conference calls.

Plantains, also popular in SoFla, are great for conference calls.

Sure, I can reminisce and think back to the Greenlife years with rose-colored glasses. But the truth was I struggled to identify with kids my own age. I felt like the oddball out at school and found solace with a group of friends older than me. Sure, I can reminisce about the last year of moving to a totally new city and environment and see it with rose-colored glasses, full of fun trips and new experiences. But the truth is I struggled 85% of the time to find the confidence and courage to face my fears of reaching out to new people, making friends, or going to new places.

Someone posted an emotionally driven article on social media today—breaking news. Why you should move in your 20s to a city where no one knows you. I read it, intrigued and smiling, feeling somewhat self satisfied, but also reflecting that no, Ms. Author, moving to a new place isn’t all shits and giggles, or filled with going to parties by yourself. It’s also full of desperation and doubt. But she was right, and I do agree, that moving away helps you realize the ability to conquer your fears.

Mangoes somehow represent a luxury and gift I appreciate about this place, and they remind me of the beauty and grace that comes with transitions. I’m finally feeling more local in Miami, in part due to this bounty of mangoes and the rash decision to cut them all up, but mostly because of the great support of friends, the bearers of mangoes, who make such a big sunburnt city feel like home.

How Underfiring Glutes Saved My Sanity and My Yoga Practice

For most of my adult life, I have struggled with hip, butt and leg pain. It started I don’t know how long ago—probably late teen years—and radiated straight through to today, going on age 28. It comes and goes, on both legs. Sometimes it prevents me from standing and squatting on one leg to put on a pair of pants. Other times I limp straight off my bed in the morning, feeling far too young to be moving this way.

I’ve categorized it as sciatic pain, when in its earlier years I experienced pain down through my calves and feet. Recently, and since I made the transition from circuit training and kettlebells to full-time yoga, I’ve called it piriformis pain.

What I’m finally learning is that these episodes almost directly correlate to some sort of emotional instability or disruption. It goes more deeply than emotions though: the legs, butt, etc. are related to the root chakra, the glowing red energy center at the base of the body that represents stability and our most basic needs: food, shelter, care, and, well, finances.

During teacher training, I was set out to heal my piriformis. I knew deep lunges and twisting lunges, or any split-leg moves, would crank up the pain. I got massages. I rolled on the foam roller and medicine ball. When I found anusara and did an immersion, I found that lots of inner spiral and muscular energy could save me temporarily, especially in the poses that gave me trouble. I rolled on a tennis ball. I made Jeff release the muscle with his elbow. It seemed to take…

This time, anusara wasn’t helping. Really, I wasn’t helping. Going through the motions of my practice wasn’t clearing my mind OR my body. After a near mental and emotional breakdown, Jeff suggested I take his planned session with our neighbor, a holistic trainer of sorts. It wasn’t just the yoga that was falling apart: I was falling apart. My relationship and household seemed to be crumbling in front of my eyes.

Three magical days later, three days of 90-second interval squats to retrain my body to fire my gluteal muscles instead of relying on the fine support muscles around my glutes (like the piriformis), I feel prana in my legs. The syndrome that has left me limping, uncomfortable and uneasy…is fading. It’s fading not because of someone doing something to me, but because I’m relearning how to move my body, how to fire the right muscles. How to breathe.

Every time we think we know something for sure, like practicing yoga, basic asanas, simple things like deep breathing and lower abdominal engagement, we often fall off. We struggle. We hurt. We need inspiration, training and grace, even if it’s something we think we’re good at.

By opening myself to an outside assessment, and asking for inspiration and guidance to set goals, I’m reminded that revisiting the basics—like movements to engage major muscle groups, breathing exercises, and basic (REALLY BASIC) goal setting—can reset a solid foundation for change.

For me, focusing on the physical aspects of my imbalance has helped me align my psychological imbalance. Fifteen minutes daily of physical work, paired with revisited and therapeutic yoga poses (great alignment and maximum weight-bearing), has enabled me to do other things that have greatly improved my life. I’ve found a part-time job where I’ll get to engage with PEOPLE, something I’m totally deprived of working from home. I’m planning a trip to St. Pete, a place I’ve wanted to explore since I started liking South Florida. My relationship is mending, healing and growing. I’m mending, healing and growing. Did I mention my handstand practice is taking off, too?!

Puppy love = celebration

Puppy love = celebration

I have no doubt I will have to remind myself of this post, of these moves and of these turn-around, aha moments again and again, year after year. But in the moment, I’m thrilled to say I’m walking without pain. I’ve overcome one of my hurdles, and it’s not the pain: it’s asking for help.

There is much more work to do…but for now, a little celebration.

From FreeWillAstrology, Leo for the week of June 5:

Declare victory, Leo. Even if victory is not quite won yet. Even if your success is imperfect and still a bit messy around the edges. Raise your arms up in elated triumph and shout, “I am the purified champion! I am the righteous conqueror! I have outsmarted my adversaries and outmaneuvered my obstacles, and now I am ready to claim my rightful rewards!” Do this even if you’re not 100-percent confident, even if there is still some scraping or clawing ahead of you. Celebrate your growing mastery. Congratulate yourself for how far you’ve come. In this way, you will summon what’s needed to complete your mission and achieve final, total victory.

On Dancing with the Divine and Paddling with Manatees

I paddled with a manatee and got so close I cried.

Jeff and I took the kayak out this morning heading east from the Canoe Outpost, our new home in Little Haiti. We’ve been here for only a few days, but the change in my outlook and day-to-day life has improved 10 fold. Surrounded by nature, encircled by palms and native trees, the Outpost is right on the Little River, a canal that runs from Lake Okeechobee in the Everglades to the bay.

I’ve been laughing and smiling in amazement at the transition I’ve witnessed in myself. It’s as if a window has been opened to let the light and breeze inside my heart. Where our warehouse was dark and windowless, our new apartment is bright, sunny and full of windows. Where our warehouse was loud from the CrossFit neighbor’s terrible music and weights, the Outpost is quiet. We have more privacy. Tropical-sounding birds chirp, occasionally mascovy ducks walk into the yard, and Max and Sparks, the neighbor’s Australian Shepherds, wander over for a belly rub every now and then.

Instead of being surrounded by development, malls, strip malls and the busy highway demeanor of U.S. 1, the outpost is surrounded by mixed residential and urban business spaces. Whereas weekend warriors and folks out to exercise were out on bikes in Pinecrest, people walking to work, to school, to the grocery fill the streets in Little Haiti.

But the dance comes in the balance. Each place has its downfalls, its dangers, as well as its benefits and perks. I don’t regret the year we spent in the warehouse and on the bus, as it showed me how to live with a lot fewer amenities, like a shower (the hose), kitchen sink (the spigot), oven or stovetop (toaster oven and hot plate). In a twist of fate, the hot water at the new house is being fixed as I write.

Just as I left behind challenges, I will face new ones. I’ll have new neighbors who I might have to accommodate. The traffic is different; getting to friends and places south of downtown may prove challenging. Biking here is different. I will have to orient myself to an entirely different neighborhood and part of town. But we’re closer to different friends, some of our favorite restaurants, and—how could I forget!—the BEACH. Already, in three days, it feels like home.

****
We paddled east. Jeff pointed out the bridge that was I-95 and at first I didn’t believe him. Could I really be here, in a kayak, floating on the most tranquil canal with so many different birds, iguanas falling from the trees, fish swimming in the murky depths, right under the busiest interstate in Miami-Dade?

As part of our landlord and friend’s mission, each canoe-r or kayaker picks up trash while paddling. This morning Jeff and I had collected three plastic bottles, a beer bottle, two bags, some Styrofoam and a child’s toy before he spotted it.

When we turned around to paddle home, there he was! We spotted a manatee, likely two, but one we followed all the way home. We steered toward the circular ripples its tail left behind, pausing to see where he came up. The first time he surfaced I cried.

There among the murky floating seaweed, dotted with human trash, there under I-95, between two dramatically different neighborhoods, I was filled with divine splendor watching this peaceful creature float downstream with us. It was a game, a balance of watching and paddling and waiting, to see where he would come up next. Was he following us? Was this real? Right here, in an urban neighborhood, in Miami, I was paddling with a manatee?

The dance of watching and following a manatee is just like the dance and play of seeing and revealing our own true nature. Through these glimpses of real beauty and truth, we realize that we ARE the divine, the absolute spirit. Not separate but one in the same, connected to all beings and creation.

I’ll never forget my first paddle with the manatees. For this area, it’s not necessarily a unique or uncommon occurrence. But to me, it represents so much more, about this transition and balance as I move through life.

On Gratitude and Thanksgiving

Today I’m grateful for change.

As my teacher shared with our small yoga class this morning, recognizing and having gratitude for aspects of life, people or things allows the gift to bear fruit again; we get to re-experience that sense of wonder, whatever it is, with more vibrancy and brilliance than we did the first time around.

A year ago, I’d have to say I was pretty grateful for change, too. I was starting a new job in Chattanooga and embarking on my yoga teacher training, an experience that contributed greatly to my heart awakening and ability to see clearly for what felt like the first time. Almost exactly a year ago, or on Black Friday, I stumbled into a man, a faint acquaintance then, while riding my bike across the bridge. I had no idea how he would not only affect change in my life but help me open my heart even more.

I have gratitude for openness, awareness, community, courage and inspiration. Without these characteristics, and the wonderful spectrum of people and events that bring them into my life, I wouldn’t be capable of the dramatic and clearing changes that have brought me here thus far.

This year I’ve uncovered new skills in pottery. I gave up my 9-to-5 job and now work from home, doing what I love, as a freelance writer and editor. I moved to a major city in the sub-tropics that lacks seasons but boasts diversity in all of its populations.

Ahhh...diversity.

Ahhh…diversity. Or lack of seasons.

I traveled to new places and met new family. I connected with old friends in new ways and found deeper relationships with those dear to me. I lived (and still do) on a bus and in warehouse, without a traditional kitchen, shower or hot water. I visited my sister in South America.

My beautiful sister Wendy and her husband, Fer, in Argentina!

My beautiful sister Wendy and her husband, Fer, in Argentina!

I lost most of my luscious locks and embraced being bald. I uncovered and fell in love with the discipline of my home yoga practice.

Bald girls have all the fun!

Bald girls have all the fun!

I held my grandmother’s hand and talked to her on her last few days of life. I took to heart the wisdom lessons she and so many others imparted me with.

Three women I love—my Mom, Grandmom and Aunt Jan, Christmas 2012

Three women I love—my Mom, Grandmom and Aunt Jan, Christmas 2012

Most importantly, I started to listen to my own inner wisdom, my voice. To trust the process; that the best is yet to come, no matter the obstacles that lie ahead.

If I didn’t believe in and honor change, I wouldn’t be where I am. If I hadn’t left a Shadow Yoga workshop at the right time last year on Black Friday, I never would have run into Jeff, my partner, collaborator, boyfriend, and support, who brought me here today.

My own breath, my own body, my own motivation and direction, guidance and inner wisdom STUNS me, absolutely BLINDS me with its brilliance and brightness. I’m grateful for the changes necessary to start seeing, if only a glimmer, of what I’m truly capable of achieving.

Happy Thanksgiving! I’ll be soaking up sunshine on the beach.

A Letter to My Friend Jim: On Coming Home

Hello! and happy Thursday. I swear it’s felt like Friday since Monday. Not a bad feeling, when you think about it…

I loved the article you posted last night on my page. I swear we communicate telepathically—even without many words describing my post and most recent photos, I feel like you know that I experienced some sort of breakthrough and beginnings of transformation yesterday.

I finally. found. a yoga class.

Or so I think. My yoga for the past two weeks has been in my bedroom/office/yoga studio/reading room, and it’s been amazing to return to a daily practice after months off. I’ve committed to my own 40-day challenge. But yesterday, with the playful persuasion of our studio mate Maite, I went to an anusara class.

And I think I found my new yoga home.

Not necessarily the studio, not necessarily the practice or teacher, not even the asanas. It was the meticulous instruction, the detailed cues, the guiding and encouragement to open my body in a very methodical way to experience my BEST, to shine most brightly from my heart and my entire being.

Consequently, my yoga home is me.

For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was HOME in my own body, despite the weirdness of being in Florida, despite the homesickness for my family and for the South and for seasons that sometimes cuts me in half. I felt effortlessly inspired to dig in to learning and exploring a new dynamic and body wisdom that will help me always show up to be my best and brightest.

I’m still new to the terminology and concepts of anusara yoga, rooted in intrinsic goodness. But I know enough to realize that this heart-guided practice based on energetics, a solid foundation and alignment has been attracting me for months, if not my whole life. I’m so eager to learn, understanding that most of the knowledge is already within as feelings, and just needs to be put to words. A new vernacular or vocabulary.

So it’s back to the books, catching up on some of the basics I hurredly skipped over in my training, while life otherwise stays steady with regular writing and pottery intermixed.
The fall is always an exciting time, I realize, as I reflected on years’ past, whether we’re harvesting the fruits of our garden or the fruits of our labors, preparing for a winter of internal work. It’s like planting hearty greens to last through the cold season, knowing that when they poke their little heads through the soil, I’ll be ever grateful for my foresight, planning and diligence. Am I even allowed to make those analogies, having never planted a single hearty green in my life? I only hope the words are a foreshadowing to what the future holds, a garden and space of my own.

Thank you for your support, and most of all, thank you for listening, even when I haven’t had the words to express what’s in my heart.

Love you. I’ll be back to visit soon.

‘Crazy that something so small can be so meaningful’

[This is one of many posts I've written in the last month about the beauty of making pots and visiting friends while we were on tour. I'll keep 'em coming as I get caught up!]

As many of you may know, Jeff and I were on the road for the month of August. Our travels took us to pottery shows, friends’ houses, a gallery opening, various artists’ studios, and into our families’ hearts and homes. We spent numerous evenings around a shared table surrounded by loved ones new and old, almost always picking up wherever we left off, that wonderful and surprising dynamic of friendship and family connections that reminds you all is OK in the world.

I could write about our successes, the most precious moments catching butterflies in Pennsylvania with Jeff’s little cousins, or playing doubles tennis with my Mom and Rick. I could wax poetic about meeting and visiting new-to-me family, celebrating my Dad’s birthday on the river or visiting acquaintances and artists in the Georgia and Pennsylvania countryside.

What sticks out the most, though, is how we shared pots, some that Jeff and I made together, with people who would cherish and use them, hopefully coming to enjoy them as much as I have over the past few months. Sharing our love and our craft with others enriches my days and brightens my future.

I hadn’t quite found the words to summarize and encapsulate our month together traveling. We explored so many new places, were forced to find peace in so many odd situations, that I couldn’t pinpoint one theme or overall experience.

It’s been a few days since we plowed down I-95 to Miami. I rejoiced a little bit when we drove into Florida, with puffy clouds overhead, blue skies all the way and a salty breeze. But it wasn’t till a little customer note showed up in my inbox yesterday that I realized the gift we have.

As background, before we left for our trip, we decided to leave our Etsy shop up and running and just take down listings as we sold items. While we were staying in Rising Fawn before our final show, we received an order from a random customer. She ordered a mini pot or “mommy pot,” one I think I’d been trying to sell to friends since we made it. We lugged a ton of mini pots around with us, all of them no taller than 3 inches, and it was worth it. One of my favorites, this pot in glowed, with turquoise glaze and fishscale details. Here’s what she wrote.

Hello Laura and Jeff,

I wanted to thank you for the beautiful little ‘mommy pot.’ There used to be a local store that ordered something similar and I always knew I could go pick them up for baby showers. They’ve not been easy to find in recent years, even on the Internet.

Anyway, I’m sure that isn’t the last one I’ll order from you. Mostly I love that they are unique and individual. I think it was just beautiful and so did the new mother who just adopted a baby boy.

My own children are 25 and 29 now, but one of my favorite possessions is my mommy pot. It holds powerful and beautiful memories. Crazy that something so small can be so meaningful. I’m so glad I found you and look forward to learning more about what you’re doing.

Many, many thanks!

More than making sales, more than the press releases and shows and even sweet reunions, the moments that stick out to me are the ones like above: memories and experiences like holdable, usable clay pieces that represent so much more than a mug, a tiny vase or bowl. That we can make such things from clay, mud and water fired into a shiny pot… continues to amaze me.

It’s good to be home, wherever we are. I gotta get my hands in some clay.