a memorial: to a well-loved cat

r.i.p. niko 8/8/95 – 9/18/12

she was the first thing that was truly mine.  before i had a real job, my own home, a man, children, a car…..i had her.

i left my midwestern hometown on august 16th, 1995, just a week after my 22nd birthday,  with my best friend, gretchen, to move to tucson, arizona.  we had a destination.  we would live in the extra bedroom of our mutual friend, amy’s, apartment.  amy was a full-time college student at the university of arizona.   gretchen’s stay in tucson would be temporary, only lasting a few weeks before she headed back to the midwest.  my move to tucson would become permanent. i had $900 in cash (from waitressing over the summer), no car, no job prospects…..but lots of enthusiasm and optimism.

the first few weeks in tucson were idyllic.  me, gretchen and amy were silly and adventurous.  we explored the catalina mountains, tanque verde, sedona.  we shopped at consignment stores.  we got drunk at college bars.

september came and gretchen left.  amy began her new college semester.  now, i felt alone. i missed my family and friends and brett in indiana desperately.  i called my loved ones daily.  all i could think about was how much i missed everyone.  so i confessed my lonely feelings to amy and we decided to get a kitten.

i’ve always loved cats.  i did not grow up with cats in my home.  my dad didn’t like them.  as a child, i would dream of having a cat of my own.  i would imagine that i found a stray kitten.  i would take care of it….my parents would let me keep it…..

amy and i went to our local humane society; and of course, we fell in love with the contents of the first cage of wiggly black and white kitten brothers and sisters.  we picked a kitten that seemed affectionate, but not needy, healthy, but not hyper.  she was pure black, with bright green eyes.  she and i shared a birthday.  after she was spayed, we brought her home.  we named her niko.

we picked the name niko because i was really into the band: the velvet underground and nico.  i switched nico with a “c” to niko with a “k” as a nod to my roomie, amy, because her nickname was amy k. see….it’s all making sense now, right??  i was young and kinda clueless, but, well intentioned.

niko was a funny and lively kitten.  she was the type of kitten who would attack our shoelaces and our long hair.  she would run full speed and ricochet herself off of the walls and the futons.  she would hang by her claws upside down from the furniture.  she was healthy and happy; and in october of that year, brett moved to tucson to join me and amy and niko.  now, our apartment was full and complete and we were content.

in may of 1996, amy graduated.  brett and i found our own apartment to live in; and it was decided that we would keep niko.

amy and i are still friends.  she lives in central indiana now too.  i will always be grateful to her for helping me pick out the best kitten in the whole world.

our lives moved on.  brett and i got jobs.  we made friends.  we moved to many different homes and living situations in and around tucson.  we had babies.  and niko was there….for all of it.

in 2002, we made the decision to move back to our midwestern hometown.  our moving plan was as simple as a moving plan can be.  i would take a flight from phoenix to indy with baby sasha, toddler isabel and niko.  brett would drive our van with a trailer full of our belongings across the country. leaving tucson was physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually draining.  it was so sad to say goodbye to so much of what we loved and had created. furthermore…..the day of the departure, i was sick with a cough and a cold, as were isabel and sasha.  so, here i was at the airport, less than 6 months after 9/11/01 with a sick baby in one arm, a cat carrier in the other and a sick toddler hanging on to my skirt hem.  and of course, we get pulled out of the security line at the airport for further security scrutiny.  wtf?!?  i think i practically fell into my mom’s arms, weeping, feverish and coughing when she picked us up from the airport in indy.

and once again, our lives moved on.  brett and i got jobs.  we made friends. we moved to many different homes and living situations in and around indy.  we had babies.  and niko was there…..for all of it.

last summer, niko had some sort of medical crisis.  we took her to the vet.  the vet did not expect her to live through the weekend.  she gave us pain medicine to make niko comfortable.  we brought her home, took care of her, and waited for her to die.  after two days, niko began to feel better.  she had escaped death.  it might be true that cats have 9 lives, or at least 2 or 3.  unfortunately, the medical crisis took a toll on her overall health and well-being.  and over the course of the next year, she looked and seemed to feel worse and worse.

last week, as a family, we made a decision to have niko euthanized after brett’s birthday, after the weekend, on a tuesday, when i had time in my schedule to care for her one last day.

the days leading up to tuesday were full of love and affection for our sweet, old cat.  she slept with isabel.  brett and i encouraged her to sit on our laps as long as she wanted.

on tuesday, niko and i spent the day together.  the morning was cool and rainy and we slept and cuddled in bed.  by early afternoon, the sun broke through the clouds and warmed the day.  niko sat on the open windowsill.  we had made arrangements with the vet to bring niko’s body home with us after the euthanasia.  so, i thought that i had better get started digging her grave. i chose a spot under the canopy of the big, black walnut tree in our backyard.  i dug and i cried.  i dug and i grunted and groaned and yelled.  i dug until my hands felt like they were about to blister.  niko joined me outside.  we stood side by side next to the hole which would become her final resting place.  then, she found a warm slab of cement about 10 yards from where i was digging and she watched me finish my job.

the kids came home from school.  they each gave niko one last hug and kiss.  sophia wrote niko a note:  “september 18, 2012, goodbye niko.  i love you. sophia”  at the bottom of the note, she drew a picture of a broken heart.

the euthanasia was quick.  the vet was very kind.  brett and i wept. we brought home her dead body.  we wrapped her burial box in a ceremonial cloth and placed it in the grave.  our children and our neighbor’s child began to collect flowers, dozens and dozens of flowers: roses and sedum, snapdragons and pansies, violets and dandelions…..we arranged them in her grave, then covered it with dirt.  we laid her water dish ( a ceramic dish she had used for years – isabel had painted and decorated it with the words “i love niko”.) we filled the dish with more flowers.  i sat by the grave for a long time.

after a while, the kids began to jump on the trampoline and play.  some of us ate dinner.  we trudged through homework, bedtime.  once the children were asleep, i went outside into the cool night air.  it was a beautiful night and the sky was full of stars.  i invited brett to join me and he did.  i was gazing out and up into the western sky when i saw it……a shooting star that streaked just above the horizon.  i held my breath, tears stung my eyes and streaked my cheeks.  then, i breathed out a long exhale.  i love you niko.  thank you for belonging to me as much as i belonged to you.  we were a good team.  rest in peace beautiful kitty.  namaste.

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a cool story from a summer night

last night,  after the girls had been hugged and kissed and tucked into bed, brett and i were hanging out.  suddenly, i began to hear very faint music.  now, i spend most of my waking hours hearing music in my head.  but, this was different.  this music was coming from somewhere.

i asked brett if he heard the music.  he did.  he assumed that one of the girls had turned on their cd player to listen to music as they were falling asleep.  i walked over to the bottom of the stairs and listened intently.  no, the music wasn’t coming from up there.  i walked to our screen door and pressed my ear against it.  yes, maybe.  i think the the music is coming from outside.  i announced my intention to seek out the source of the sounds; and i stepped outside into the refreshing night air.

i followed my ears, the music becoming louder as i crossed the street towards my neighbor, jane’s house.  i could make out the voice of a woman singing accompanied by quiet instruments.  it was a beautiful singing voice, like an angel.  tears formed in the corner of my eyes – my heart was touched.

i still couldn’t tell who the singer was, what the song was or where it was coming from, until i came closer to jane’s house.  all her lights were on.  her windows were wide open.  she was listening to a recording of a song i hadn’t heard since i was a small child. the song reminds me of my dad.  the music was spilling out the open windows.  so, i took it in.  i crouched in her yard, next to a bush.  i listened and i breathed.  i savored it.

this was the song:

this song – sung so soulfully by judy collins – is from a sondheim musical called “a little night music.”  the song is from 1973, the year of my birth.  my dad has always played judy collins music.  he loves her voice.

as i continued to listen, i began to think about jane and about what she might be feeling to cause her to turn up the volume on this melancholy song on a late tuesday night.  i sent her thoughts of loving kindness.  i began to think about my dad.  i sent him thoughts of loving kindness.  i thought about myself.  i wondered if it would all turn out ok.  i sent myself thoughts of loving kindness.

the song was over.  at that moment, i felt grateful…..and magical – like i was supposed to hear that song.  jane played it loudly so she could hear it. so i could hear it.  so anyone who happened to be walking by could hear it.  and all of our hearts would be touched.

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the new normal

just when i thought it was safe to relax into the ease and security of  my routine…..i knew what to expect.  i was in control.  i was thriving within my self-imposed structures and scheduling.  ha!  how quickly and easily i forget –  as the saying goes: the only constant is change.  i knew it was coming – we all do, don’t we?  but, but, my comfort zone felt so, you know, comfortable.

over the past 18 months, i dedicated myself to a daily practice (which i’ve chronicled in detail on this blog’s earlier posts).  it was a practice that i created.  it met many of my needs and desires.  it made me feel safe AND it challenged me, so that i came to know that this practice was a potent catalyst for my personal growth, development and healing.  simply stated: the practice helped me.

and now, whooosh, it’s gone.

and like all treasured things whose impermanent nature is often blindly denied – reality reveals herself – and things and people and experiences we love…..disappear from our lives.

the early morning hours used to be the time of day that i filled with my yoga practice.  now, the early morning hours are filled with a different kind of practice…..still yoga, but with a focus that has shifted from ME to US.

these days, at 6am, instead of cleansing myself, preparing my altar, and sitting down to begin an hour of asana, pranayama and meditation – i am preparing a nutritious and pleasing breakfast for our two oldest daughters (who have to catch a school bus at 7am).  i am washing and drying breakfast dishes.  i am helping my girls prep and pack their school lunches.  i am intentionally trying to create an atmosphere of ease, and comfort, and sweetness to linger in my daughters’ hearts as they leave their home to participate in another day in the life of the american middle school-er.  and……as soon as they depart, round two begins.  our two youngest daughters wake up, and i repeat the process, the practice, our practice.

the practice of the householder – always challenging the individual to stretch and sacrifice for the good of the family.

familyoga looks like this.  karma yoga. the yoga of action. the yoga of service. i choose this.  i will grieve the loss of that which i loved. i adapt. i will honor this practice, still the yoga, to be fully experienced in its myriad of forms and dedications.

i have found a few mornings (when i’m not leaving the house to teach a class) to practice asana and meditation once our daughters have left.  maybe i will find time and space at night, before bed, for my daily practice.  maybe the practice will remain this: setting the table, serving the meal, planting good-bye kisses on foreheads.

lastly,  i feel the need to remind myself that i am blessed.  i realize that some mothers are racing out the door at 6 or 7am to get to a job, or to drop kids off at school or daycare and THEN get to a job.  so, i will not take for granted our precious mom and daughter mornings.  moms make the world go round – blessings to all the mothers out there – and fathers!  you rock too!! namaste.

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poor, dear, neglected blog

i can’t believe it, beloved blog.  i let so many days, weeks, months go by without even a glance in your direction.  sure, i thought about blog posts.  i mentally planned blog posts.  something would happen, and i would think – hey!  that story could be turned into a great blog post.  but, alas….none of this happened….

in the midst of summer, i realized that i was not creating the time or space to write.  and i was ok with that. i was enjoying life with my kids, my yoga community, my partner, my friends, my family – all good. but, not much time by myself this summer.  and alone time is what this writer needs in order to write.

so, here was just a little snippet – to let you know that i am still in love with this blog and with my ability to connect to each of you dear readers.  i treasure this forum. 

i’ve got lots of writing to do.  stay tuned in and turned on.

one more thing, my family and i are about to experience big life changes.  i am sad and scared about the changes.  if you have any extra good vibrations that you could aim in our direction – it would be much appreciated and returned in kind. 

namaste, lisa d

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on the eve of sasha bear’s 11th birthday….revisiting the blood, the guts and the glory. join me, won’t you!! lovelovelove

familyoga

WARNING!  this post contains graphic descriptions of labor and childbirth.  you’ve been warned 🙂

greetings – again i had reservations about creating this post.  the story that i am going to tell does not have a whole lot to do with the familyoga experience – except that it is the birth story of one of our familyoga beauties.  but, after much consideration…..i decided, what the heck!  it’s my/our blog….and if i want to tell a birth story – then, i will.  and….one of the things i love most in this world is a good birth story.  i like to tap into the primal nature of woman – to experience, through story, what she felt, what she saw, what she heard, what she believed about herself (her abilities/her limitations), what she thought about as she journeyed through this amazing rite of passage in a woman’s life.  i wanna hear the guts…

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i did it for the first time. and i loved it!!

hello hello!  i’ve been dancing along this wild ride of life.  i’ve played single mom for almost a month now….brett out of town mondays thru fridays, only home on the weekends. yoweee!  but, he’s back now for the time being. so, cheers!

provocative blog title eh?  sometimes, all i need is a good title to pop into my head and the whole blog post comes together.  i love when that happens.

last week, i was asked to sub a yoga class – no big deal, i sub often.  this class was on monday night at the studio i normally teach at on mondays. so, subbing would simply involve staying after my class and teaching the class that follows mine.  i was somewhat reluctant to say yes to subbing because brett was out of town that night and i don’t want to leave my kids home alone (under the watchful eye of their big sister, isabel) for too too long.  but, a neighbor friend agreed to hang out with my girls for a few hours; and i said yes to the subbing opportunity.  i’m glad i did.

i was nervous to be subbing this particular class.  this class is usually taught by a woman i consider to be my teacher here in town.  as an instructor, she is beloved by many and she strikes an appropriate (for me) balance between being and doing.  she’s very inspiring and i always leave her classes feeling like i know she wants me to succeed.  yet…..i was nervous because this class is conducted differently than nearly 100% of all other yoga classes in the state of indiana!

i instructed an ashtanga mysore style class for the first time ever and i loved it!

for those of you who don’t know what i’m talking about, read on.  if you are already in the know, skip this paragraph 🙂

ashtanga yoga began to be taught in india in 1948 by a man named k. pattabhi jois. this particular style of practice crossed the big oceans and landed in the united states in the 1970s – ashtanga can now be found in most countries throughout the world.  the ashtanga practice consists of 6 series of pre-determined pose sequences.  each practice has 4 elements: an opening sequence, one of the six series (usually the first series, or primary series), a backbending sequence and a finishing or closing sequence.  up until very recently, the only ashtanga practice offered in indiana was a guided practice – meaning that the instructor guides the tempo of the class and everyone moves through the poses on pace and together.  these types of classes are very fun and very beneficial – this is the type of ashtanga practice that i am most familiar with.  yet….as all living things do – our indy ashtanga community has been evolving.  and, because of the dedication and passion of a few of our most gifted instructors and practitioners, we now have opportunities to practice ashtanga here in indy yoga studios in the traditional or mysore style.  mysore ashtanga is named after the city (mysore :)) in india where it originates.  mysore is a yoga instructor supervised self-practice, meaning each student moves through the sequences at his or her own pace and level.  so, you might walk into a mysore class and some students have already begun their practice.  you lay down your mat, and begin yours. the instructor circulates around the room and answers questions a student might have, or offers modifications on a particular pose or poses and gives individual verbal cues or physical hands-on adjustments to assist a student in her or his practice.  each student will take savasana or final relaxation when they have reached the end of their practice; and the class ends in the same organic way that it began – students filter in and out – though there are formal opening and closing sung or chanted prayers to begin and end the session.

learning the ashtanga practice in a mysore style can benefit students on many levels – ideally, each student is taught as an individual at a pace that is practical for his or her life situations (like age and health).  practicing ashtanga means that you are striving to memorize the sequences – committing the practice to heart, so that there is rarely any doubt about what pose comes next.  in this way, the practice becomes your own.  a student gains independence (what should be the main goal of every teacher….or parent) and confidence in their spiritual practice.

monday night, i had four students in the mysore room.  they were all experienced yogis – they knew their practice.  this gave each of us in the room, great freedom and understanding.  i had seen the practices of each of these students, so i knew what to expect.  two of the students moved at a similar style and pace with each other – one of the other students was ahead in the sequence the other was behind (not particularly in terms of ability, but in terms of timing).

i know the sequences fairly well.  i am not a strict ashtangi who only practices ashtanga and practices it six days a week.  i do the ashtanga practice when i feel like i need a kick in the pants.  i do ashtanga because i love the beautiful poses and the thoroughness of the sequences.  i do ashtanga because i like the community it attracts.  i do not do ashtanga when i am menstruating.  i do not do ashtanga early in the morning.  and i do not do only ashtanga because i have pitta dosha (ayruveda) and i think that excess heat and vigor is not particularly beneficial for my constitution.  but, sometimes, for me, an ashtanga practice is the best thing in the entire world.

so, i loved this teaching experience because it was so different from how i usually conduct a class.  and this differentness was intoxicating.  i (like all of us) have habits and routines – a consistency in the way we do things, how we conduct ourselves.  within the mysore setting, as an instructor with a group of students who knew the practice, i was free.  i didn’t have to plan sequences.  i didn’t have to regulate the tempo. i didn’t have to cue breaths or ease transitions.  it was all already laid out for us.  we just did it.

with only 4 students in a big room, i could see each student from different angles.  i could help them make adjustments to their poses.  i could admire them, which i did often.  their practices were very inspiring and i was dying to lay down my mat next to them and flow – but, i restrained myself and poured all my love, wisdom and attention into helping them have a great practice.  i cannot emphasize enough how free i felt within the constraints of a practice that is pre-defined, ritualized and memorized.  it was glorious.

so, as our time was winding down on monday night, one woman finished her practice and took savasana before everyone else.  i gave her some gentle massage to her feet and hands during the relaxation – when her savasana was over, she thanked me and left.  the three remaining students and i closed the class together after their savasanas.  i didn’t know the words to the entire traditional closing prayer – so, we sang together the line that i did remember:

lokahsamasta sukhinobhavantu

meaning: may all the worlds be happy and comfortable.

thanks to carol for the opportunity to sub.   thanks for reading, and i hope to see you on the mat soon.  blessings!!!

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some things i love

a mary poppins moment (these are a few of my favorite things), to work through a bad mood i was in the midst of yesterday.

*seeing horses run – though i live just on the outskirts of metro indianapolis, my little community is somewhat rural.  i drive one of my daughters to school and we pass by a homestead that has grazing alpacas and we pass by  a few horse ranches during our 8 minute commute.  sometimes, we see the horses running – no riders saddled on them, no sense of being constrained or controlled (though obviously they are running within a fenced enclosure).  nonetheless, such spirit and power….two horses running at top speed, looking like they are playing chase and tag.  how good it must feel to run if you are a horse! by the way, have you seen the documentary film released last year called, buck?  it’s about the connection between humans and horses – fantastic film.  i love seeing horses run.

*final relaxation (savasana) with my kids – from my experience of bearing witness to thousands of people relaxing in savasana, i believe that savasana tenderizes everyone who experiences it.  the sharp edges of ego, or personality, or expectation are (temporarily) smoothed over.  breathing becomes deeper and steadier.  a gentle wave of quiet satisfaction washes over the participants.  so, i feel it is my honor and responsibility to regularly guide my children into savasana – especially at the end of a long day, or if i am trying to divert a potential (or i didn’t quite get to it in time) meltdown.  most often, this savasana occurs right before bedtime.  i encourage the children to let go of their day.  we create a present moment awareness. i help them to relax their bodies, rest their minds.  as they become more in tune with the relaxation in their bodies, they are less likely to dwell on the bad day they may have had at school, or the fight they had with their sister an hour earlier.  their defenses are down.  sleep enters in.  peace reigns.  if you want to help yourself and the children in your life to experience mindfulness and relaxation, i recommend the book: planting seeds – practicing mindfulness with children, by: thich nhat hanh and the plum village community.  i cannot say enough how much i love thich nhat hanh and the work he does in this world; and i love doing savasana with my children!

*sleeping outside – i love to breathe nighttime fresh air when i’m sleeping.  sleeping outside allows me to star gaze or to notice what phase of the lunar cycle we are in.  i ponder deep questions when i spend time under the night sky.  brett and i set up a tent in our backyard.  when the evenings are mild, we prefer to sleep in the tent rather than our bed.  there is an undefinable sense of exhilaration that i feel when i wiggle in under the blankets and the nighttime air is cool and clean.  we might see a bat.  we might hear an owl.  our sleep is deep and restorative.  i wake just before dawn.  i scurry into the house to warm up with asana and pranayama.  i get centered and clear with meditation and prayer.   i begin my day and eagerly await the nighttime when i can crawl back into my tent.  i love sleeping outside.

what about you?! have you thought or written about what you love recently?  care to share?  much love and namaste, lisa d

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