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ON IMPULSE

Cindy Maddera

Saturday morning, I woke up and walked into the living room to find a chicken egg sitting in the middle of the living room rug. There was nothing wrong with the egg. No cracks. Just a chicken egg laying on the floor. No one knows how the egg got there. There have been theories, but only theories. Later on that day, Michael and I went to Shake Shack where I almost started crying over the 'shroom burger and then made myself sick on a milkshake. So we walked over to the new Made in Kansas City Marketplace where we bought a bunch of stickers for our scooters. We also saw something that we thought was really neat and useful but too expensive. Michael decided that we could make it and so then we went to wander around the hardware store.

At the hardware store, we met Rita. Rita knew all the pieces and parts we needed to make this thing and followed Rita from isle to isle like ducklings. She was getting us some electrical wire when Michael mentioned that we had ridden our scooters. Rita thought we were talking about those razor scooters that are all over town. There's two companies offering electric scooters in town now. We told Rita that we were not on the electric scooters, but we did tell her about our new side hustle of charging those scooters. This information changed Rita's life and she told us that we had to come back and find her to tell her how our project went. Then we bought a power washer.

Most people impulse buy candy bars they pick up while waiting in the checkout line. That's impulse buying for amateurs! The power washer was my fault because I mentioned that there should be a way to turn Michael's air compressor into a power washer because we really needed to clean the chicken coop and it would be so much easier to just power wash it. And I was right. Michael cleaned the chicken coop, the scooters, the cars and even part of the house.

Then I found a chicken egg in the garage. It was dirty but completely intact.  

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

Several weeks ago, a colleague introduced me to iNaturalist. It’s an online naturalist community that links your images to scientific data repositories. You get to find out what that bug actually is and discuss your findings with others in the community. The information you provide for the pictures help scientists study migration patterns and biodiversity which in turn provides other scientists with information on how climate change is affecting migration and biodiversity. iNaturalist is associated with the California Academy of Sciences and National Geographic. All of this is the reason why you’ve been seeing so many bug pictures in my Instagram feed lately.

This is way better than that time I had to collect real live insects for my insect collection at Biology camp (yeah, I went to biology camp as a teenager and I loved every minute of it because science is fun and I don’t care how nerdy you think I am). I have not become as obsessed with this as my friend Amy has, but I try to put something new up every day. The result is that on every outside walk, I end up chasing butterflies and moths. Read that last part again slowely. I end up chasing butterflies and moths. When I write that out, it makes me think of a toddler making her wobbly way through the grass while reaching out for that illusive butterfly with her fat little fingers. The sunlight sparkles through the dewy grass and the toddler’s giggles sounds like wind chimes.

It is not a bad image to picture.

I am walking outside. I am engaging in my environment and all of this has very real benefits. There are scores of studies that shows that walking boosts brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is responsible for new cell growth in the brain and it has been found that there are lower levels of BDFN in people with depression, Alzheimers, dementia, and really most brain disorders. There are scores of scientific papers out there about this but the take away is, GET OUTSIDE AND WALK. While you’re at it, take some pictures of the nature around you. There are so many good things about the internet, though it may be difficult to see that sometimes with all the hatefulness people type up. One of the best things about the internet, and this has been since day one, is its ability to bring people together and connect in positive ways. iNaturalist is an excellent example of this.

I am thankful for each and every one of those bug pictures. I am thankful for how it makes me look around and even search for the interesting and unique things in my environment. I step out for a short walk, not with the intention of just getting some exercise, but with the intention of discovery.

And this brings me joy.

JUST BREATHE

Cindy Maddera

When Randy and Katrina were here a few weekends ago, Katrina handed me a rubber bracelet that had "just breathe" written across it. Then on Saturday, my massage therapist told me I wasn't breathing. She had spent forty minutes removing knots from my shoulders and just under my clavicle. She took the flesh between my shoulders and neck and pulled like she was pulling pizza dough and tears welled up in my eyes. Because all that crap I was stuffing into that spot had to go somewhere. I also caught myself holding my breath. Yesterday, I did a training for a postdoc who had "just breathe" tattooed across his forearm. 

OKAY! I GET IT! Feel the breath as it hits the back of the throat on the inhale, following it out of the throat on the exhale. I say it to my yoga students every week. Apparently I am the very embodiment of "those who can't do, teach." 

This morning I received a text from Michael saying “We are on lockdown.” It was immediately followed with “False alarm.” It is 9/11. Flags are at half mast. Facebook profile pictures have been updated with ‘we remember’ banners. Memories and Memes are filling up timelines. The feeling in my chest is not unlike the feeling I had seconds before stepping up to the edge of the 9/11 Memorial in NYC. Tight. Shallow. I am holding my breath in anticipation to the pain that is coming or that I expect might be just around the corner. Bracing for impact. Do you remember watching the space shuttle explode? I still hold my breath when watching a space shuttle launch because of that one time as a kid, I witnessed a shuttle exploding like a firework.

Today is the 17th Anniversary of the day that changed everything. God, I remember how Chris and I would mock that statement of ‘9/11 changed everything’. We let 9/11 change everything. There’s a nice opinion piece in the New York Times today written by Joe Quinn, a US Army Veteran. In it he talks about why he enlisted, his time in Afghanistan and the lessons he learned.

I learned that Osama bin Laden’s strategic logic was to embroil the United States in a never-ending conflict to ultimately bankrupt the country. “All that we have to do is send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written ‘Al Qaeda,’” he said in 2004, “in order to make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note ….” Why are we continuing to do what Bin Laden wanted all along?

That paragraph struck me the hardest. Why are we continuing to do what Bin Laden wanted? We have no control over things that happen to us, but we do have control over our own actions in regards to the things that happen.

The last time I was visiting my chiropractor, I had to schedule my next appointment which happened to be 9/11. I said “Hmmmm…that’s 9/11.” The receptionist said “but it’s also Dr. Fran’s birthday!” So I scheduled that appointment, partly because I needed it, but also so I could wish Dr. Fran a happy day. I am deciding to relax and stop bracing for an impact that may or may not happen.

I am focusing on just breathing.

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

Wednesday was an asshole. There’s no way around it. I mean, no one died or anything. So I guess that’s something, but in general the day was a complete jerk. It was filled with events that would make your eye twitch. It started out simply. I came up with a plan to start a new project, but then problems popped up when I sat down to order supplies I would need to start the project. Those problems snowballed into a full day of back and forth emails and nothing ordered. To make matters even more frustrating, one of our microscopes that had just been repaired for a specific problem started manifesting that same problem again. I drove home in traffic slowed by road work and fender benders and the strong urge to punch something.

When I was forced to stop at a stoplight, I started to kind of scream. It wasn’t exactly a scream, more like the sound you make when the doctor presses down your tongue with a depressor and asks you to say “ahhhh”. I opened my mouth and just started making this monotone “AHHHHHH” sound that turned into “AHHHRRRRHHHGGG”. Then I started giggling and making the sound over and over again. It was such a simple stupid little thing. Imagine a woman sitting alone her car opening and closing her mouth like a muppet while releasing an odd duck tone from her mouth. This is what I was doing. And it made my eye stop twitching. 

This is how it works. Sometimes, you’re strolling along with a clear plan. You are going to be productive today. You are going to accomplish things. At least you think you are going to accomplish things, but then a big pile of rocks fall into your path. Now, instead of doing the things you had planned, you are having to move rocks. Some times that rock slide is huge. The rocks are boulders and you need more than a shovel to move them out of your way. Some times all can do is move one rock and come back the next day to move another rock. These rock piles can take days, weeks, even years to move out of your way. They can seem endless, but you just keep moving the rocks because what else are you going to do? If you're lucky, you might have some heavy machinery available to help you move those rocks. 

I am thankful that my Wednesday rock pile did not require heavy machinery to move out of my way. All I needed was a monotone guttural yell. 

ROUTINES

Cindy Maddera

I didn't write in my Fortune Cookie journal all summer except maybe once. With Michael home and he and the Cabbage doing daily chores, I didn't have a reason to get up early on Saturdays. They got the grocery shopping done on Fridays. If I got up early on Saturday mornings it was to go to a yoga class. Which, I am not going to lie, was real nice. I'd get up early enough to shove a breakfast bar in my gut and then scooter out to one of my favorite studios. Sometimes I'd have coffee or juice with a yoga friend after class. Sometimes Michael would meet me for brunch someplace and then we'd spend the rest of the day scooting around town. Now that Michael is back in school, we are back to our normal routine where I get up early Saturday morning and do the grocery shopping while everyone still sleeps. 

Trust me when I say that I do not mind spending my Saturday mornings this way. I prefer to do the grocery shopping early and alone. No crowds and I spend less money because I only buy what's on the list. I go to Heirloom and order a breakfast sandwich and a cup of coffee. Then I sit at the counter and take my time sipping coffee and writing in my journal while nibbling on my sandwich. I do a bit of people watching. I do a bit of watching some of the employees roll out dough or measure sugar. I dance a little in my seat to whatever music happens to be playing. Mostly, I write. This is good because I need to be writing somewhere since I don't feel like writing here too much lately. The thing about the Fortune Cookie diary is that it's fiction and a story that I don't have to finish. Even if it turns out to be a total shit story, it is still serving a purpose. The Fortune Cookie diary forces me to use my imagination. It exercises my brain. Photography forces me to see things differently while writing forces me to think things differently. 

I worried when I sat down to write in the journal after spending the summer away that I would struggle. I thought I would just stare blankly at the page and listen the gears in my head clink and screech while trying to turn on rusty pinions. I felt for sure that this was an exercise I would not easily be able to pick back up. So I was surprised to fill up that page and wrap the text around the edges. I was surprised at how easily the story came to me and how I wrote so quickly at times that the words are illegible. It felt good. It felt right. And I know I'm not writing anything spectacular or profound. I am just writing a scene, a moment and I'm trying to really put an effort in describing that scene. Those gears start moving and I almost believe that I truly am a creative kind of person. I think for a moment that I could be an artist.

I think to myself that you can take the girl out of the liberal arts college but you can't take the liberal arts out of the girl. 

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

I left work on my scooter Tuesday and headed to Dr. Mary's for our usual Tuesday evening session and ended up driving right into a storm. To the east, the sky was blue and bright, but to the west it was all menacing rumbling clouds. And I headed right into it. I watched lightening flash and I could hear the thunder but it was still far enough west that I made it to Dr. Mary's before the rain hit. I had to take my helmet in with me because there wasn't room for it the seat and I knew it was going to pour any minute. In the time it took me to get through the office building and into Dr. Mary's office, the sky had turned black. Dr. Mary smiled when she saw me and then frowned when she saw my helmet. "Oh, Cindy." I just nodded and replied "yup." Then I waved it all off. I told her that this would totally blow over and be gone by the end of our session.

The storm blew in hard. We looked out the window at the rain coming down sideways and lightening striking here and there. Then we settled in for our session. We talked...or at least I talked for forty five minutes and as our time was coming to an end, Dr Mary looked up and out the window. "Look! It has blown over!" It was still gray and the streets were soaked, but the storm had passed. It was no longer raining. She still made me promise to call her when I got home so she knew I was safe. I made it home mostly dry, without incident. When I got home, Michael just shook his head. He doesn't know how I manage to ride between rain drops or narrowly manage to avoid disaster. That storm took down trees and power all over the city. Debris still littered the streets the next day as I rode to work. 

I scrolled deep into Chris's Facebook page this week. While I should have been reading papers on ZIKA and embryonic development, I was waisting time skimming through all of his stuff. I wanted to go way back to before our move, before he got sick. I wanted Chris. I wanted to poke my skin with needles and feel the satisfaction of watching the little drops of blood rise up. I scrolled down and down, skimming the page and laughing out loud at more then half of the stuff I ended up reading. Good God, he was funny. And smart. His wit was so sharp at times. I made it all the way back to December 2010 and that's when I saw it. 

 "Ugh. Need a CAT scan next week to check for stones. I hope they use that Keyboard Cat because he's awesome!"

That slip of paper I had found in Chris's office after he died, the one requesting a CAT scan, now has an answer. It was a CAT scan for possible kidney stones and they ended up cancelling it because he passed the stone. He didn't know about the tumor on his liver. My whole body buckled with relief before my brain had time to kick in with the what ifs of him having had that CAT scan then.

I ride into storms. The whole time I'm thinking that it won't hit before I reach my destination or I'll out run it. What's a little lightening and thunder? A bit of electricity and the sound of expanding, rapidly heated air? It's nothing. I am reminded of a song by Thao Nguyen and the Get Down Stay Down, Swimming pools.

"We, we brave beestings and all. We don't dive, we cannonball. We splash our eyes full of chemicals. Just so there's none left for little girls."

When given the opportunity, I tend to always cannonball. I know to calm myself and move gently around a bee, but I still ride right into thunder storms. I don't do it because I'm brave or fearless or reckless. Okay...maybe I am little bit reckless. Mostly, though, I ride into storms because I know they're going to blow over. 

I am thankful for the moments of peace and calm between those storms. 

 

 

THINGS I'VE TAKEN CARE OF

Cindy Maddera

Some times, as I make that long drive from Oklahoma City to KCMO, I start sobbing. I say some times because really I only do this when I've made the trip alone. It's just too many hours of endless road time trapped with my own thoughts. I know that I could listen to books or podcasts, but my brain still wanders off. I start crying. I cry about how much has changed. I cry about how much has not changed. I cry about how I never feel like I spend enough time or see all of the people. I cry because I feel guilty for not making enough of an effort to see all of the people. I cry because I'm tired and probably slightly hungover. I cry because I've stretched myself too thin. I cry because Chris isn't with me. 

Old life. New life.

I spent a weekend visiting friends in OK recently. I drove all the way down to Chickasha first, helping Misti with the finishing touches for the Listen Local event at our college and meeting Amy for dinner. The trees on the oval are now towering beauties. Buildings that were once closed are now open. I don't recognize any of the professors in the biology department. I ran into my old chemistry professor by chance and he told me he had retired. He new me instantly, told me I still look the same. Maybe that's what happens when you step back onto the campus. You morph back into the person you were then. I certainly saw everything as it was then. Same sidewalk Chris and I walked  a billion and one steps on as we traveled back and forth between dorm rooms. I spent most of that weekend with friends I would not have had if it hadn't been for Chris. Friends that Chris made into our family. He's the glue. I've noticed places where that glue has started to weaken and I feel responsible, like I need to reenforce those weak spots. I could be better at that some how. 

I am a filer. I talk about getting things organized, but I already have things organized. I just feel they could be organized better. My photos fall into the need better organization group, but if you ask me for the instruction manual to the fridge I can pull that right out of the filing cabinet for you. I like to compartmentalize shit. I don't just do this with the tangible. My life before Chris, my life with Chris, my life after Chris...these all have their own shoebox stacked inside my brain. Things happen, like earthquakes or bicycle wrecks, and boxes get jumbled and messed up. That shit spills out. [Off topic but speaking of earthquakes. I either had an encounter with a poltergeist or an earthquake while I was sleeping over at the Jens.] Some times the things I put into boxes do not stay in their boxes. Compartmentalization is hard. Thus the sobbing.

I came across an envelope containing Chris's driver's license and a death certificate as I was cleaning out the mail catcher on my desk. They were gathered in one place with the intention of fixing his Facebook account. A year went by. Then another. Time passing. I picked up that envelope and thought maybe I should finally do something about that. So I did. Chris's Facebook page is now a memorial page. This is me, trying to reenforce some weak places. 

MONGERING

Cindy Maddera

Recently I noticed this thing going around Facebook about a man raping a four year old girl and how the hospital where the little girl is getting treatment will get a $1 for every time you share the meme. At the bottom of the meme is a picture of the so-called rapist who just happens to be a young black man. When I first noticed the thing I just ignored it, but the more I thought about the more I could not ignore this. First of all, for any of you who are uncertain about this, NO ONE gets any money every time you share their meme. Bill Gates does not donate $50,000 every time you share something. Bill Gates just donates millions of dollars. Period. 

This is not the part of the meme that bothers me. It just makes me roll my eyes a whole lot. 

Wait. How do I know the meme is a lie besides the obvious "if it looks like a lie, it's probably a lie" reason? I looked it up. The hospital name they use in the meme issued a press statement on their website denouncing the whole thing. It took me less than two minutes to find out this information. I barely had to type my question because Google already knew what I was about to ask. It wasn't difficult. The thing that bothers me the most is how this meme links a horrific act of violence against a child with a man of color, thus perpetuating fear, anger and hatred towards a specific race of humans. The meme is dangerous.

Racist propaganda has been a tool since the invention of print. During World War II, the Nazi's distributed propaganda that depicted Jews as monsters. American cartoonists depicted African American men 'stealing' jobs that should be given to white men who were at war. In fact most cartoons tend to depict non-white characters as dumb, lazy, evil and dangerous. The intent is simple. It is to make you fear and distrust and to see the color white as 'superior' even though we know there is no such thing as a 'superior' race. The problem is that those earlier forms of racist propaganda were so blatantly obvious in their racism with their over drawn features and cliched dialects. The racist propaganda of today is bit more subtle. Tell a horrific story and attach a random picture of any person of color, claiming this person to be the perpetrator. It has become the most hateful and dangerous kind of gossip.  

You know what's more simple than making a racist propaganda meme? Not sharing it.

 

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

This month Tao Porchon Lynch turns 100 years old. Or maybe I should say 100 years young. At age 100 she is still active, teaching yoga daily, practicing ballroom dancing and driving herself around in a little smart car. She is a spry little old lady. I look at pictures of her and she's always smiling a big bright genuine smile. As I was tooling around the internet doing research for this piece, I came across an interview with photographer Paul Mobley about his book If I Live to Be 100. That photo project was formed by accident. Mobley was traveling the country photographing homesteads for his American Farmers book. So many of those farmers turned out to be 100 or even older. By the end of it all, he had taken over 30,000 pictures and he was surprised by how many of those pictures where portraits of centenarians. This inspired him to take pictures of centenarians across all fifty states. Mobley would engage each photographic subject in conversation at the beginning to each session. Every single person had stories to tell. They all had advice for living a long life, but the advice that really stuck with Mobley was "Just live your life. Be happy."

That advice sounds like it could have easily fallen out of Tao's mouth. 

I hear this perfectly reasonable advice and ask myself "is it really that simple?" or am I getting caught up in the planning and preparation of things to just live my life? Am I happy? That might be the toughest question to ask myself and expect to get an honest answer, but that's why I have a therapist. Then I think about the centenarian who may have said those words. These are people who were full on adults with grown children when the internet became a household thing. This doesn't mean that their lives were simpler by any means but there definitely was a living of life without the comparisons to the perfect moments we see captured in Instagram feeds and pinned to Pinterest. The thing that I am reminded of by this simple piece of advice is that just living your life encompasses all of it. Just living your life is more than jumping out of airplanes and chasing rainbows. It is the day to day tasks of getting up and going to work. It's the dirty dishes in the sink, the clothes in the laundry hamper, the gutters clogged with tree debris. Just living your life includes far more not so perfect moments.  

Those not so perfect moments are what makes the moments when we can chase those rainbows so spectacularly perfect. 

I am thankful for the wisdom that comes with age. I am thankful for those imperfect moments. 

THRONE

Cindy Maddera

I posted pictures, but I never talked about Michael replacing the toilet a few weekends ago. I didn't really think we needed to replace the old toilet. Sure it was wobbly and needed a new seat, but it was still a functional toilet. Michael has said something at least once a week since the day he moved in about how the old toilet needed to be replaced and blah blah blah something about a bidet. Replacing the toilet was not in our budget when we had the bathroom remodeled. It was the least of our problems at the time. I was more concerned about the tile falling off the wall and the moldy window collapsing in on itself. There were also things in the bathroom that Michael and I figured we could do with some supervision and there were things we figured would never get done even with supervision. So we contracted out to have the tub, window and tile replaced. 

I don't do well with mess and construction and the uncertainties that come with construction. I knew that if we tried to do all those things in the bathroom on our own, the bathroom would be a wreck for weeks and weeks and even months. During those weeks and weeks and months, I would be scratching my skin off and pulling out patches of hair. Having someone else come in and replace the tub, window and tile and promising to do it all with in three days was worth every penny. This just left the old wobbly toilet for us to deal with and for Michael to talk about every day until he finally decided that replacing the toilet would be his summer project. He scheduled a Saturday for his friend Andy to come over and be his supervisor. Then I met him at Home Depot Friday afterwork to pick out the new toilet as well as a bidet attachment for the seat.

There is a crack in the bathroom floor that runs from the back of the toilet to the wall behind it. Most of the time, I just pretend that it doesn't exist because if I start thinking about it, before I know it I have decided that the whole bathroom is going to collapse into the basement. The evening before I was supposed to meet Michael to pick out the new toilet, I came home from work and said "The thing that worries me is that you're going to pull up the old toilet and discover that the crack in the tile goes all the way through the floor and it has just been a miracle all these years that the floor hasn't collapsed." You know that saying "let sleeping dogs lie"? This was how I felt about the old toilet. If we didn't pull up the old toilet then we wouldn't know the horribleness that could be under the toilet. Michael's response to this was to yell "GOD DAMMIT!" and grab a flashlight to go inspect the crack in the tile. It was later determined that I was overreacting.

The old toilet was taken out and the new one put in without any problems or disasters. It was pointed out that I may have been right when I asked if we could just re-set the old toilet instead of spending money on a new toilet. The wobbly toilet could have been shimmed to keep it from wobbling, but the new toilet promises to save us over $100/ year in water costs. So...planet earth and all that. The bidet feature is also nice. Of course now we've started looking at the bathroom sink and cabinet and how it just doesn't look all that nice sitting between a new toilet and a new tub.

And home remodeling projects never end. 

 

INTRO

Cindy Maddera

I was introduced to Chris in the summer of '95. In turn, Chris would eventually introduce me to Thai food, Black Adder, sex and a band called Belly. I still love sticky rice and papaya salad. I have a deep appreciation for British comedy. You know how I feel about sex and I have physically absorbed every song performed by Belly. I would listen to them over and over. I have all of the songs memorized. I have the order the songs are listed on the CD memorized. I fell hard for this band. They were my long flowy Gypsy skirt, my oversized flannel. This was my '90s band and after I fully carved the songs from Star into a layer of skin, I went hunting for more. I scrounged every used CD store for every single album I could get my hands on, which were only three. Three albums. I clearly remember asking "but why aren't there any more albums." Chris and Traci, who probably introduced Chris to Belly, looked at me and shook their heads. Traci placed a hand on my shoulder and replied "because they don't exist anymore." 

The band broke up in the Fall of '95, right after the release of King. 

This is the second time I've discovered a band and fallen in love only to have that band break up months after my discovery. The first band was the Police. Though they have not released new music together, I have at least been able to see them live twice in reunion tours. Belly reunited in 2016, but they have yet to make it KCMO or any where close. I am okay with that. I'm just happy they decided to get back together because it inspired a new album, Dove, that was released this year. They have the same swirly sound and cryptic lyrics with the exception that now those lyrics refer to more grown up issues like settled relationships and raising children. I am now in the process of absorbing and adding this album to my other carvings in that same layer of skin. My first listening round made me feel like I was creeping into my twenties again. 

I met Chris when I was nineteen and a little shocked to discover that he was five years older than me. "Is that a problem?" he asked as we sat at a table crowded with our friends. I tried to sound confident as I replied "no" but there was something about Chris that was intimidating. I was not old enough to drink or even get into a bar. Meanwhile, he had lived a whole life while I was still in high school, serving in the national guard (proudly, unsuccessfully) as a medic and working a security gig at the Habana Inn. He knew things. He was experienced. The next few years felt like I was in some accelerated course for life experience just trying to catch up. But I would catch up. Then I would be the one introducing him to new music, dragging him into new experiences. Listening to Belly's new album makes me think that I never finished that accelerated course. Or at least it turned out to be not so accelerated. There's not any real perceived graduation day unless I can predict the day of my own death. 

There's one song on the new album that reminds me of dating after Chris. Suffer the Fools. The song is more about settled relationships than dating. It's about what happens as we age into a relationship, how we put up with things. "I'd rather suffer you, than suffer the fools." I put up with things with Chris. I won't deny it or sugarcoat it. Same way I put up with various things with Michael. I'm sure I'm not all rainbows and lollipops to live with at times either. I suffered a number of fools during the online dating years. Eventually there comes along someone you'd rather suffer through life with than suffering with fools. There's something romantic about it in a Daria at age fourty kind of way. 

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

There were a couple of minutes left before my class started Wednesday evening. My students were sitting on their mats in various states of chatting with neighbors and stretching. I was looking around the room, accessing my students, the class plan I had made for us that evening and making sure everyone had the props they would need for that class. Then I turned and glanced out the window to see the most perfect rainbow arching all the way across the sky. Each color in the spectral range between 700nm and 400nm was bright and distinct. Notice how I just reverted to science nerd speak, but that was where my mind went when I saw this rainbow. I immediately broke the colors down into their respective wavelengths. I instinctively reached for my camera, that was not with me. 

I don't take my phone or my camera into my yoga classes. I leave those things in my scooter trunk or the glovebox in my car for obvious reasons.

I was reminded of a scene from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Walter Mitty travels the planet in search of Sean O'Connell, a photographer he works with in order to retrieve a roll of special film or something. He's looking for the answer to a question and Sean O'Connell is thought to have that answer. So Walter heads out on a search that has him traveling the globe. When he finally catches up to the famous photographer, they are in the snowy mountain ranges in Tibet. Sean O'Connell has been camped out in front of his camera there for days trying to capture images of the illusive snow lion. Walter sits with Sean, shivering in the cold, when suddenly a snow lion appears. Sean moves to take the picture, but he pauses. Walter asks him when is he going to take the picture and Sean responds "Sometimes I don't. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don't like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it." 

"I don't like to have the distraction of the camera."

This scene remains one of my favorite and (to me) most beautiful lessons on being present. The distraction of the camera is the very reason why I leave them behind when I go in to teach my yoga class. My main focus and concern is for my students. When that rainbow showed up just before I started class, we all experienced the joy of seeing the beauty of that moment together. We marveled at the brightness of the colors and the clear separation of those colors and then I started class. That rainbow was with us all throughout our practice and when I walked out to my car there was still a section of faded colors streaking across the sky. And that is the rainbow I captured on my phone.

I am thankful for reminders to just be in a moment. 

I am thankful for rainbows. 

 

THE END OF SUMMER

Cindy Maddera

It has long been a custom to link the end of summer with the first day of the school year. I've been hearing for two weeks the lament from Michael about how summer is almost over. Then on Thursday, his first day back to school, he declared the official end to summer. It is the end to his summer vacation, but it is not the end of summer. Or at least, I don't feel like it is the end to my summer. The weather here is hot and humid. Missouri is currently under drought conditions which is not normal. The backyard is a combination of tall prairie grasses and and dry barren patches. My sunflower continues to grow strong, but there is still not a bloom in sight. The evenings hum with the buzz of cicadas and crickets. The mosquitoes are vicious and the chickens are no longer laying six or seven eggs a week. We're lucky if we get four eggs a week now.  

August is a hard and brittle month. 

I spent all day Sunday decluttering the places we tend to dump things. The closed cabinet section of the china hutch has become a home to a random array of tools and leftover screws, several selections of dog and cat treats, pipe cleaners, Halloween spider webbing and a box of old markers. My desk drawers had become a dumping ground for the flotsam and jetsam that accumulates for no other reason than it feels inappropriate to throw them away. I threw away fabric remnants that I no longer needed and dried up bottles of glue. I set my side table and three decorative pillows out on the curb. Then I shifted the couch over to the west. That side of the room looks a little exposed now that there's no longer a piece of furniture lining every section of the wall. That's my design style it seems, lining the walls with furniture. In the clean out, I unearthed five small notebooks of lists and Chris's USAO and military IDs and a stack of old pictures. I will be unearthing notebooks containing two to three pages of writing for the rest of my life. And I will keep each one. 

August is difficult.

This time last year I was thinking about how nice it would be to jump out of the car while it was moving through heavy traffic. I don't feel that way this year. I don't necessarily feel like doing cartwheels, but at least I don't feel like jumping into traffic. I've got my distractions. I've gotten more focused on food, our meal plans and cooking something new once in a while. I'm reading more. I'm organizing my work and thinking about new business cards. Michael and I are adapting to a new schedule and getting back into a routine as he starts the school year. We find ourselves occupying the same spaces at the same time in the mornings, dancing around each other in the bathroom and the kitchen. It is more fluid then one would expect. I'll start cooking our breakfast while he gets the scooters out of the garage. We both sit at the dining room table and eat breakfast together. It's nice. So, I'm keeping busy, but not so busy that I don't forget to just sit still every now and then.

One evening recently, I sat on the back stoop watching Josephine as she did her patrol of the back yard. I noticed one lone firefly blinking across the back yard. At first, it is a lonely sight, without the others blinking back in response to this one's blinks. Did you know that the average lifespan of a firefly is about two months? This guy was either born late or he's found a way to extend his lifespan. Either way, he's soaking up as much of the summer as he can. I want to be that firefly. 

 

 

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

Last night I taught my last Thursday night yoga class at the Y. I have been teaching a Wednesday and Thursday evening class there for almost six months and for the most part things have been going well. My Wednesday class has a decent sized group of regulars. Thursday's class never really took off. Some nights, I would have six and some nights I would have one. I never knew what to expect with class size or students. I was always modifying and improvising the class. There were other issues with that class besides attendance that had to do with timing and scheduling. Also, by the time I reached Thursday, this body was tired. This brain was tired. So I made a choice to drop this class. 

I was talking about this class with a new friend not too long ago. She used to own her own studio and understands the work/life imbalance that starts to happen with yoga teachers. I talked with her about the idea of letting that Thursday night class go for all the reason I listed above. I also mentioned that I have something scheduled for every night of the week except for Mondays and that it would be nice to have an evening with no obligations. She urged me to honor those thoughts and her words really gave me pause. At first I agonized over the decision. Should drop I it? Should I just stick it out? Guilt would settle in about letting people down, about giving up. I would start berating myself about just being lazy. Even when I finally sent out the email detailing the end of that class, I felt like I had done something wrong, that people were going to be mad at me. But honestly, I didn't feel like I was making any kind of impact with this class.

When I finished teaching last night's class to three students, two of which had showed up ten minutes late, I felt relieved. A weight I didn't even realize I was carrying floated up and away. In that moment I knew that I had made the right decision. I am not so good at honoring my own thoughts and feelings. It is one of the reasons I end up doing things that I don't really want to do.  I am thankful for her words and I am thankful I took pause to honer my feelings towards this class.

Saying "no" to the things in my life that no longer serve me well is a continuing practice.

 

RECOGNITION

Cindy Maddera

The other night, I was sitting on the couch reading when I heard a clackity clack sound coming from the kitchen. It was one of those rare evenings when I had the house to myself. In an effort to soak up every last drop of the last days of their summer, Michael had taken the Cabbage to Ocean's of Fun with plans on closing the joint. So it was just me and dog and sometimes the cat and now this clackity clack sound. Side note: I recently read a book about a family living in a sort of dooms day shelter. The youngest boy had been born in the shelter and had no idea what the above world was like. His boogy man was called the cricket man, part man with a cricket body. The cricket man would come and take bad children who were not in their beds when they were supposed to be. If I had not finished the book and discovered the reality of the cricket man, the clackity clack in the kitchen would have freaked me the f out. 

The sound was from a very large leaf hopper who had somehow managed to wind up in our kitchen. I finagled a canning jar out of a cabinet and trapped him inside the jar so I could set him free outside. Once he was free from the jar, he flew up and away. I watched him, fascinated by the shape of him and the way he moved in a mechanical way. It is not often I have come across a leaf hopper of that size. He was at least the length of the palm of my hand and brilliant green. His body was a perfect mimic of a leaf. I never stopped to grab my camera and take any pictures of him. It was only later when I thought "huh...maybe I should have taken some pictures." I shrugged the thought off because I still have a bad taste in my mouth from editing the pictures I took while we were in Oregon. 

I took some really crappy pictures with my Nikon while we were in Oregon. I'm talking really bad pictures. F-stop and aperture mistakes galore. Everything is either too bright or too dark. Focal points are weird because I relied on the autofocus. They're all just really shitty. I look at them and say to myself "Cindy, who the heck do you think you're trying to be? You think you can take pictures? That's hilarious." I know why my pictures turned out terrible. Frankly, it was because of drugs, but that's not a story for here. Even though I know why the pictures are bad, I still have not been all that inspired to pick up my camera or consider artistic endeavors. It is kind of like falling off my bike and instead of my usual 'get right back on' attitude, I am hesitant to go for another bike ride. For some time now, Micheal has been urging me to do some sort of art showing in a restaurant or coffee house. He talks about it a lot, enough for me to maybe consider actually doing it. I've gone as far as changing this website and adding a gallery of a few photos. That's about it.

Honestly the whole idea of it really makes me want to vomit. Posting my images here and on Instagram are way different from hanging actual prints in a public space for strangers to look at judge with their judgy eyes. I have never ever considered the possibility of doing an art showing mostly because I still struggle with this concept that I might be some kind of artist. I don't see that I am doing anything that someone else couldn't do with a camera. There's a lot of vulnerability there and a lot of questioning of how thick is my skin. There is a lot of changes in my mindset and my views on who I am, that I am more than I think of myself. The other day when we were at IKEA, I saw a photo enlarged to poster size, framed in a simple frame and I thought "wouldn't that one picture I took look nice displayed like that?" So while I'm walking around queasy over the idea of actually doing an art showing, I am at least thinking of what photos to use and how to display them. 

The next steps are crooked, wonky ones because I have no idea how to go about finding a venue or marketing myself. I'm sure I need some sort of business card and a portfolio that is not on my phone. The most difficult step of all will be believing enough in my work to expect a business to want to display it for me. We'll see. Maybe by January you all will receive an invitation to an art opening. 

MRS GERTRUDE REGRETS

Cindy Maddera

It is with deep regret that I must inform you of the passing of the very dear Colonel Martin Vanhousen. You may remember that I mentioned him a few months past, about how he lived in a third floor office building among his collection of artifacts from his explorations around the world. You might also recall that I mentioned he had a string of widows who visited him frequently. It was one such widow, Mrs. Gertrude Delany who discovered the Colonel's body. It was her usual night to stop by with dinner and that evening she had prepared a new chicken casserole recipe that she was eager to get feed back on. Mrs. Gertrude knocked several times on the door, but after a few minutes of waiting, she flipped the edge of the doormat over and retrieved the spare key that the Colonel kept 'hidden' there (in case of accidental lock outs). Then Mrs. Gertrude let herself into the Colonel's home. 

Upon entering the apartment, Mrs. Gertrude walked straight back to the kitchenette to set her hot casserole dish down, all the while chatting to the Colonel about everything from the weather and why it was he was still lazing about in his house coat with the all of the curtains shut tight. She then went to one of those windows, drew the curtains back to let the sunlight in and turned to see the Colonel wearing his slippers and his red velvet house coat, sitting in his favorite leather wing-backed chair with a glass of scotch in his hand. She noticed that his skin seemed paler than usual and his face slack as if he were sleeping. She tip-toed closer and said "Marty?" When he did not reply or even twitch, Mrs. Gertrude poked the Colonel in the cheek which was quite cold. Mrs Gertrude shrieked and then dug her phone out of her purse to call 911. 

After further investigation, it was determined that the Colonel died peacefully in his chair. Though if a thorough autopsy had been performed, the coroner would have discovered a poison found only on the tips of the blow darts used by an obscure tribe of indians dwelling in the Amazon rainforest. You see, the Colonel had woken up on the morning of his death feeling tired. Not physically tired per se. He found that his tiredness was more mentally related. The Colonel got up out of his bed, sliding his feet into his slippers and shrugging his house coat on over his satin pajamas. He then shuffled to his kitchenette and set the kettle of water on his hotplate to boil for his usual morning cup of tea. Once his tea was made, he took his mug into his office where he sat at his large mahogany desk looking at the clutter around him. The Colonel unlocked the middle drawer of his desk and removed the letters and locket from his one true love, Elsbeth, and proceeded to re-read the letters he had read so many times before. Then he opened the locket to gaze at Elsbeth's lovely face. He then closed the locket, stood up and walked to the bookcase. The Colonel ran his hands along the rows of stacked field notes, pulling one notebook at random and flipping through it. 

The Colonel had lead a very exciting and long life. He had seen many amazing things, traveled the whole world, and fought in a number of skirmishes. His life, with the exception of his beloved Elsbeth, had been a full life. It was all recorded in those stacks and stacks of field notes. Every skirmish and near death experience. Every unbelievable find. Every adventure. It was all recorded there for any one to pick through. The Colonel then poured himself a glass of his favorite scotch. He rummaged through his drawer of arrow heads until his fingers found what he was looking for in the very back of the drawer, a vial containing the poison darts he had stolen from a tribesman while on expedition in the Amazon. The Colonel knew that the poison would not work instantly, but it would work quickly. He had enough time to prick his finger with one dart, place it back in the vial and then return the vial to his desk drawer before taking his scotch to retire to his favorite chair. He was able to take two more sips of his scotch before the poison stopped his heart. The Colonel Martin Vanhousen left this earth, as he had lived: on his own terms.

His apartment/office has been completely cleaned out with many of his things being sent to auction to cover his debts. His field notes were all donated to a local historic society. All of them with the exception of one notebook. His most recent field notebook now resides with the Mrs. Gertrude Delany. While waiting on the authorities to arrive, Mrs. Gertrude discovered that the Colonel had been writing down his latest 'adventures'. This included very detailed reports of the encounters he had with the various widows who visited him during the week. Very. Detailed. Notes. Mrs. Gertrude nearly fainted as she read his description of how his removal of her girdle for the first time was like 'peeling a banana'. Scandalized, Mrs. Gertrude tucked the notebook into her purse. It is now locked in the bottom drawer of her cedar jewelry case. Mrs. Gertrude has yet to decide whether to burn the notebook or use it against the other widows.

Of course, despite the scandalous notebook, the Colonel Martin Vanhousen will be greatly missed. 

*This story comes to you after noticing that the building that inspired the original tale has been gutted. It is under renovation and has a 'for sale' sign out front.

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

Okay. Gratitude. It is the basis for any happiness project self help book you have ever read. Taking a moment of time out in each day to be grateful for something and to acknowledge that gratitude, makes for a happier human. Sometimes it is the 'taking a moment of time out' in the practice of gratitude that is the most difficult. The time portion of things has been my struggle this week. I feel like I have been playing catch up all week. I've been catching up on sleep, emails, and work all while trying to maintain my normal daily routine. Of course things slip through the busy cracks. One of those things can easily be gratitude. 

Sunday, after wiping down all the surfaces in the house, I looked at our kitchen with disgust. It has been a while since I have had time to deep clean that space. The stove was in dire need of more than just a wipe down. The drip pans were beyond cleanable and just needed to be replaced. I looked around the kitchen with slumped shoulders, already tired and unsure of when I would be able to get around to doing a proper cleaning. So, I asked for help. I asked Michael if he could do two things this week: first, order new drip pans for the stove and second, deep clean the kitchen. He did both of those things with out (much) complaint and I am so grateful that he did. I am not good at asking for things like this. When I see that something needs to be done, I just do it. I have to be really overwhelmed before I ask for help. I am thankful that he was able to do this task for me. 

Our summer routine is coming to an end because school is starting next week. I am grateful that Michael took over the daily household chores for the summer. I like to think that this experience helps us do a better job of appreciating each other. It is a reminder to take time out to be grateful for the person standing next to you.  

AUGUST FIRST

Cindy Maddera

It's one of those days where I spend my time holding my breath in anticipation of horrible news. I keep thinking that I'm going to wake up on some August first later on in the future and feel normal. I'm not going to have flashbacks of being in pigeon pose on my yellow yoga mat and Chris walking in holding the phone and saying "Your mom is on the line and something's wrong." I won't remember the sound of my mom's hysterics or how she was incoherent. I won't remember calling Katrina's number and talking to our friend Cindy, listening to her explain to me what had happened with J. I feel like it is a trick of my brain that I can remember all the details of that moment. I can even tell you that I was on my left side in pigeon pose. 

My yoga mat is now a gray/blue color. I will probably never again buy a yellow one. 

As I scrolled through my Facebook feed, I noticed several 'friends' posting memories for loved ones lost today. Sentiments of "I can't believe it's been three years" or "we miss you." lined the page. Time doesn't matter. Three years or thirteen years. Any amount is unbelievable. You will always miss them. Often the traumatic memories are the first to surface. In this case I image what it was like when J died. I've seen too many movies and too much TV, so you know that those imaginings are brutally graphic and horrific. It's one of the many ugly side effects of grief, seeing the one you lost in the worst way. Sometimes I see, in my head, Chris's face the day before he died. His face is slack and his eyes are unfocused. He can't form words. That part is the oddest part to me. Chris was a word smith and in the end he couldn't form a coherent thread of words. These are the memories and images from the blunt force trauma of death. I have to close my eyes and shake my head to rid myself of the thoughts. 

As I was cleaning out the herb garden this spring, I decided to plant a few sunflower seeds. I'd come across a packet of them in the garage while gathering my gardening tools. Only one of those seeds sprouted. Each day it has grown taller and taller. It is about waist high now, still no flower. One day a few weeks ago, I went out to feed the chickens and noticed that the top half of the sunflower had been snapped almost completely off. It was still attached, hanging there like a broken bone. I frowned at it and thought about pulling the plant completely out of the garden. But I left it. When we got back from Portland, the top portion that had been dangling was now lifted up. A branch from a lower portion had grown up to support the broken portion. The plant had grown new tissue around the broken part. You can still see that the sunflower was broken. The plant dips obviously to one side before stretching up. There's a scar left from the break, but other than that, the plant looks healthy. It's thriving. You can watch it follow the sun every day. 

Broken yet thriving. 

We are all a little bit broken yet thriving. 

 

 

OH, HEY. HEY, OH

Cindy Maddera

Michael and I went to Oregon. I didn't really talk about how we were planing to go to Oregon. I don't know why that it is, but part of the trip was work related and part of the trip was standing on cold, foggy beaches related. Most all of that trip was about eating really great food. There was one day were I ate raw fish for lunch and dinner and I have no regrets about that decision. There were several evenings with Todd that including laughing so hard, tears leaked out the corners of my eyes. The only regret I do have is not throwing my body down onto the floor and refusing to get on the plane to come home. I should have made Michael drag my limp body through the airport. I should have polished up the old resume and been more aggressive about handing it out to people at the work thing. I should have tried to score a job before leaving, but I didn't think I was still so much in love with Oregon.

I was wrong. The remnants of my heart are still in Portland eating a fake pork taco at Robo Tacos.

Re-entry to the reality of this current life has been slightly difficult. I am still battling the time change. Saturday morning, I slept until almost 11:00. I missed a call from my mom, who had called me at a very reasonable hour of 9:00 am. When I called her back, I told her that I was sorry for missing her call but I had still been sleeping. She said "You were still sleeping?!?" I was just as surprised as she was. Michael asked me much much later in the evening "who are you and what have you done with Cindy?" It was well past midnight and I was still up. Sunday morning I made myself get up at 8:00 am even though I wanted to stay in bed all day. I lounged on the couch for a couple of hours before picking up the dust rags and wiping away the vacation dust, finishing laundry and putting suitcases back into storage. 

Time changes are rough.

I've come home though with a plan or at least a list of things to do. The first thing you may (or not) have noticed is that this place is no longer Elephant Soap. I changed my Squarespace domain to my actual name. I'm gearing up to do some things that require a bit more professionalism around here. These things I'm cryptically talking about are things that make me uncomfortable, vulnerable and pukey but are good risk taking, character building things that I need to be doing. So Elephant Soap is maturing, at least as mature as Cindy Maddera can be. The next big thing on my list is to start really cleaning out as if I was planning on a move. I'm talking about a "would I want to take it with me" kind of clean out. This means saying goodbye to a few boxes of elephants. They have been in those boxes since we moved in with Chris's mom almost ten years ago (holy crap on toast, what happens to time?!?!). I do not have the room to display all of them nor do I have the energy to continuously dust all of them. There are things besides elephants that also need to be dumped. When the day finally comes to move (to where ever), I want to be ready. I don't want to look at all of the things around me and sigh with exhaustion at the thought of packing it up and moving it to the next place. 

My name is Cindy Maddera. I am, among other things, a blogger, a writer, a photographer, a yoga teacher, and a scientist. I'm maturing. I'm 42 years old and I'm just now trying to be a grown up. Sort of.

GUILTY

Cindy Maddera

Someone recently posted this blog post by Rumya Putcha at Namaste Nation on a yoga teacher Facebook group I am part of. It is a very eye opening read and I have not been able to stop thinking about it. Rumya Putcha discussed the mis-appropriation of 'namaste' and cultural appropriation of upper class white women and yoga. Yoga is thought of and marketed as a white woman's domain. I have become hyper aware of the lack of diversity of people in yoga studio classes. I will be sitting on my mat, waiting for the class to begin and I'll look around the room. We all look alike and this makes me very uncomfortable. I don't tell you that to garnish some kind of sympathy or "Oh, no Cindy. You don't need to feel uncomfortable." I DO need to feel uncomfortable. This should make me feel out of place. 

“When you’re white in this country, you’re taught that everything belongs to you. You think you have a right to everything. … You’re conditioned this way. It’s not because your hair is a texture or your skin is light. It’s the fact that the laws and the culture tell you this. You have a right to go where you want to go, do what you want to do, be however—and people just got to accommodate themselves to you.” Ta-Nehisi Coates

My first exposure to yoga was in a gym setting. In fact, I did not attend yoga classes in yoga studios until yoga teacher training. Yoga was/is a workout option. There was no talk of the spiritual side of yoga or stories of the Gods who inspired these poses. The teacher said 'namaste' at the end of every class and we just nodded our heads in response. I didn't know the meaning of that word. I just assumed it was some sort of goodbye/thank you/blessing. Like ending a prayer with 'amen'. I have a giant Ganesh tattoo on my back, not because I am Hindu, but because I like elephants and was attracted to this Hindu God because of his elephant head. I did do my research before having him permanently placed on my body and I love this tattoo. But I do question what right I have to put Ganesh on my body in such a way. It is hard to admit because no one wants to admit to being part of the problem, but I am part of the problem. 

I see my mistakes and I'm working on being part of the solution. My roommate in college was full blood Cherokee. She used to invite me to her home in Stilwell Oklahoma mostly because she didn't have a car and missed her family so much. She would say "Drive me home this weekend and we'll have Mom make Indian tacos and we'll go to a stomp dance." I always agreed because her family was so nice and I loved going to the stomp dances. The dances would run late into the night and into early morning and I watched for hours as Cherokee men and women danced in a circle. I would help my college roommate tie on her tortoise shell shakers that fit the length of her shin and was always surprised by the weight of them. The dances were beautiful and mesmerizing but I never participated unless my roommate specifically dragged me into the circle. I was very aware that I was an outsider and that I had no claim to this culture.  This is how I should also approach yoga. I do not lay any cultural rights on yoga. It is a gift that has been brought to our Western society, a gift that should be treated with more respect. 

I chose to teach yoga at the Y because I thought it would be the best way to bring the benefits of yoga to a more diverse group of people. I teach my students how to move safely into yoga poses and to challenge themselves physically. I teach my students to focus on their breath and how linking your breath with your movement aids in calming the mind. I encourage my students to find joy in their practice. I do not teach the spiritual side of yoga. We do not chant or "om". I still say 'namaste' at the end of class. I don't know if it is the right thing to do any more. I say it, fully meaning the sentiment behind the word: that which is beautiful in me salutes that which is beautiful in you. But my students don't know that this is the meaning of namaste. This is another mistake on my part. When you know the meaning and reverence of something, you are more likely to be more reverent with that something. You are less likely to toss around a sacred word like namaste.

This is true for all languages and cultures.