Taking Stock

And in today’s episode of “How’s that Mindfulness Thing Working Out for You?” …

I’d just finished the David Sedaris Masterclass that my sister generously gifted me for Christmas. I kept putting off watching the end of it because: A) I didn’t want it to end, B) there was always something else I needed to watch on TV and C) I don’t really like watching things on my computer (or mobile).

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Ok, boomer.

David told me I should be writing. He wants “to hear the things in your life that have gone wrong.” He also told me I should be reading Ann Patchett’s “The Getaway Car”, so I found that online (in a collection of non-fiction that I’d always thought was a novel) and painlessly put in on my Kindle (the joys of Amazon).

And then I took a nap (the joys of “Alexa, set timer for 20 minutes”).

I was going to have her set another 20 minutes (the joys of repetition) and thought, “no, you have a dinner tonight and if you nap the rest of the afternoon you won’t get anything accomplished and David says I need to be disciplined.

So I went to the bathroom and wiped down the counter.

Then I went to my desk and opened up my Moleskine (which is oddly not filling itself up, despite my “fill one each quarter” new year’s not-a-resolution-more-like-a-target) to write for a bit.

My brain was still a little fuzzy from the nap, or from just being my brain, so I decided I needed a cup of something … coffee or tea to sit down at my desk with.

Right next to the kettle is my Insta Pot, with a 4:18 on the LED.

Oh, that’s right, I was making vegetable stock before I headed out to lunch.

“Sorry I’m late,” I’d told my lunch companion. She’s the wife of one of my best friends from college, and until yesterday we’d never met despite him having been to Europe a few times in the past decade. Until now, we’ve just kept up with each other on, of course, the Book of Face. “I was making vegetable stock and had a little Insta Pot crisis.”

“You make your own vegetable stock?” she asked.

“Well, you know … easier than throwing all the scraps away,” I lied. Because nothing is really easier than throwing scraps away … I mean the garbage bin is right there. And there’s a garbage chute for the bags literally next to my apartment door. “I just keep a bag full of scraps in the freezer and take whatever is on its last legs from the fridge, toss it in the Insta Pot with some water and seasoning and … boom, stock.”

These are the conversations you have with new BFFs, no?

Until recently, I’d been buying stock in 1-litre cartons and instead of saving it for recipes, I’ve been pouring it into a mug and microwaving it up. I’m a whore with store-bought caldo … chicken, veggie, meat …  you name it (well, not fish), I’ll give it the old nuke-and-sip.  Me, my cat, a cup of steaming broth and a Netflix series. I moved to Barcelona and became an abuela.

It’s very satisfying, the stock. Like soup but less filling. So, of course, I have more. And then, the other day, I read the label. One serving has 33% of the recommended daily sodium intake. My cardiologist (the joys of being in your 50s) wants me to lower salt consumption as part of her so-called “Keep Bob alive” plan, which involves lowering my blood pressure. I don’t cook with salt. I rarely salt my food. But apparently, I’m now like a deer — slowly lapping away at various flavored saltlicks.

So, yes, I’ve begun to make my own stock. Without salt.

Oh, that’s right, I was making vegetable stock before I headed out to lunch.

 Well if it’s been on warm for more than 4 hours after 30 minutes of pressure cooking, it must be ready. I got out a colander and a mesh strainer, because I thought this batch could use a double strain, and all those solids were never going to fit into the strainer without spilling over.

Releasing the lid, the kitchen filled with smells of a day’s simmer … carrots, onions, garlic, celery, a hint of dill. Much better than anything store-bought.

I slowly poured the contents into the strainers, the steam rising up and misting my glasses.

Glug, glug, glug … right into the sink.

Not much use double-straining a fresh batch of broth if you don’t put a container under the bottom one.

I caught myself before I emptied out the whole pot … maybe only a quarter went down the drain. I took out a large plastic bowl (which ironically had been holding the colander and strainer while they were in the cupboard) and finished siphoning off the soup.

Which, as it turns out, tastes delicious (even salt free!) and I just might go back to the kitchen for a third cup when I finish this sentence.

Then maybe I’ll do a mindfulness meditation. Because they really seem to be having a positive effect.

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Falling (Day 4)

And we gently exhale out of Urdhva Hastasana into Uttanasana.

Doesn’t that sound nice? Peaceful and soothing, no?

Ugh. It’s not.

For those who were with us yesterday, Urdhva Hastasana is the Standing Salute. We inhale up into that pose, then we exhale down into a Standing Forward Fold.

As your gym teacher used to say, “touch your toes.”

Or, in my case these days, especially on the first try, touch your shins. And that is truly frustrating, because a few months ago, when I was in a regular practice, I could get down to my toes relatively easily.  With my legs straight! (or at least they felt straight to me). By the end of the warm up (5 cycles of Sun Salutations A and 3 Sun Salutations B), I could hang there with my knuckles pushing into the floor.

I have lost so much flexibility. So much that I wonder if it’s worth starting back again.

batman-yoga-meme

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In this house (Day 3)

The task for this piece was to incorporate a sign into it.

I was scribbling this out in a café at lunchtime, thinking about all the signs (mostly in Catalan) I saw while walking there from home. Which one to choose? When the waiter brought my meal, I looked up and saw this:

In this house

  • We do real
  • We do mistakes
  • We do I’m sorry
  • We do fun
  • We do hugs
  • We do second chances
  • We do happy
  • We do forgiveness
  • We do really loud

After I left, I realized I forgot that I meant to take a photo of it. Oh well.


 

You’re back on the mat, centered and ready to begin. Feet firmly planted, the outsides parallel and calloused big toes touching.

Looking down to double check, you resist the urge to pack it all in and head straight for a pedicure.

You bring your hands to prayer position in front of your chest. You breathe in and raise your arms above your head. Not just raise. Reach. Upward Salute. Urdhva Hastasana.

The first real movement of Sun Salute A.

You create a gentle tension in your body. Feet still pushing him to the floor, grounding yourself. Your hands are together above your head, reaching towards the ceiling, towards the sun.

It’s a formalized version of one of the most basic stretches you do almost every day if not every hour. Grabbing something off the top shelf. Having a big, indulgent yawn. Holding an overhead rail on a jostling bus or subway train. Helping someone shove that just too big to fit on into the overhead (why do people lose any sense of spatial awareness when flying?). Hailing a taxicab. Swatting at that itsy bitsy spider at the top of the wall who isn’t doing any harm to anyone, but needs to go nonetheless. Getting rid of that cobweb in the corner (not right now but definitely before company comes). Writing slang they don’t teach in textbooks at the top of the blackboard.

In the here and now, it’s a controlled, precise movement. You look up and back towards your hands, palms pressed together. You feel your breath sink down deep past your diaphragm. Your core is taut. You feel a stretch in your chest and your heart opens just a little bit more. Your shoulders sink down and back. Your legs are solid, supporting the pose.

In the Ashtanga studio, the shala, you would be like this for only one inhalation. But you’re at home and, as they say all too often here, no hay prisa, tranquilo.

So you take the time to breathe into the pose. You feel a little tight in your right shoulder, so you lean into that and stretch a little from side to side.  In this house we do real.

You close your eyes and lean a little bit further back, wondering what it will be like to return to back bends. You lose your balance a little but quickly recover. In this house we do mistakes.

You move your hips around a little in a circular movement. It’s not part of the practice, but you’ve been doing this a lot before and after runs, and it feels quite nice. In this house we do fun.

You think about how many times you’ve rushed through this in the past, and how much you’re enjoying getting back into it as slowly as is necessary. You feel that you’re growing taller with every breath. In this house we do second chances.

You feel like you’re starting to wake up, and smile at the thought of returning to your practice. In this house we do happy.

You think about how long you’ve been out of commission. Of the many reasons that might have caused that, and truly don’t really matter anymore. Of all the projects started, of all the races not run, of all the round-tuits you never got. You tell yourself it’s all okay. In this house we do forgiveness.

You take one more deep breath, reach a little higher, and let out that breath with the loudest “ahhhhh” that you can manage. One of the cats jumps off the window sill where she’d been sleeping. In this house we do really loud.

You know you’re ready to dive into the next movement, but for now we focus on this. And you know, that in the entire practice, you will have plenty of time to wrap yourself around yourself. In this house we do hugs.

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Bringing the mountain to Bikram (Day 2)

I had been talking with my work colleague Margaret about running and saying that  I needed to get back to some kind of yoga practice. This was a couple of years before I’d left New York, so around 2002.  It was wintertime.

“I’ve been going to Bikram,” she said.  “It’s just a few blocks away, the other side of Times Square.  Come with me one day, I love it.”

Margaret also loved doing spontaneous 10Ks and half-marathons that she never really trained for. Her motto was “if you can walk the next day, you didn’t run hard enough.”

“What’s a Bikram?” I asked, handing over a stack of presentation slides I had just prepared for her team.

“It’s yoga in a warm room,” she said. “I’m going next Monday. I’ll sign you up.”

A “we’ll see” turned into a “why not?” and the next Monday we were trudging across midtown in a wintery mix, trying not to slip in the icy slush.

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Mountaineering (Day 1)

I am standing in tadasana, the mountain pose.  I feel more like a recently-transplanted, withering old wobbly tree whose roots haven’t quite taken, but a mountain is what we’re going for and a mountain it is.

My feet are planted firmly at the top of the ratty purple yoga mat I keep at home. The one that the cats like to scratch on. If I look out to the side, I can see the Mediterranean beckoning me through the morning haze.  “Wouldn’t you like to be relaxing near me? Perhaps sipping a cafe con leche at the chiringuito? But I look ahead. A pop-art Buddha I got in Siem Reap sits atop the TV stand we got from IKEA. He reminds me to focus.

I make sure I’m in the proper position.  Feet parallel, big toes touching at the top of the mat. I fan my toes to the best of my ability, which has never been all that great.  I engage my thighs and think about rotating them slightly inward. Everything lifts up. Core is engaged. I shrug my shoulders and let them fall down and back. A quick tilt of the pelvis towards the legs makes sure I am aligned correctly.

I take a slow, deep breath and am ready to begin the first movement of Sun Salute A, aka Surya Namaskara A.

I pause.  It’s been a while since I’ve done this. It’s not like I don’t know how. It’s not like I haven’t done literally hundreds, if not thousands, of these in the last 20 or so years.  It’s not like I didn’t do around 40 of them a week for a few months when I started Ashtanga last December. Then I tore my adductor in February. A torn adductor does not a happy asana make.

I’ve been thinking about restarting my practice for several weeks now.  I know I’m better, but I also am well aware I’m not fully recovered. Like my groin, my mind is torn between knowing the yoga could help me heal faster, but could also re-aggravate the injury if I’m not careful.  And so I’ve been, perhaps, erring on the side of caution. I don’t exaggerate when I say I am petrified of pulling something new, or fucking up an injury that hasn’t quite healed, or just being in pain. There’s been too much pain the past several months. I’m not used to it. Nor do I want to put myself in a situation where I have to get used to it.

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Friday Night Writes

Ten things I did/learned this week …

  1. Finished teaching for the summer. Another great group of kids. They made me laugh, didn’t make me fear for the future, and taught me a few things along the way.
  2. Started official training for the half-marathon in Valencia.
  3. Decided to do more than my silly (although apparently we’ll-received) posts on the Aaptiv Facebook page and revived the half-marathon blog I started about a year ago
  4. Failed to let go of being irritated by someone I don’t really know. I’ve gone and wedged an online person under my skin, to the point of dreaming about them and waking up furious. I’m an idiot. Memo to self: either turn it into a story or get therapy.
  5. Booked tickets to Boston / Ptown, so Bobapalooza Stateside’18 is officially a go.
  6. Immersed myself in the new Anne Tyler. Debating whether or not to buy a cactus. I’ve decided to try to channel the goddess and reframe irritating people as quirky characters who can be written about with warmth, humor and compassion.
  7. Quickly realized that I will most likely fail at #6.
  8. Finished a month(ish) of padel classes with three of the most charming torturers instructors. They challenged me while making me laugh and taught me: better to approach things from the side, prepare as quickly as possible, remain open, and the use of force usually means a loss of control.
  9. These lessons apply to padel as well.
  10. There is a sequel to Uno called Dos, although I haven’t played it.

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Hace demasiado tiempo

It´s been almost 5 years since I’ve been here.

It´s been almost 5 years since I started this blog, which I’ve written in a handful of times.

It’s been almost a year since my last post.

Time for a change, I think.  Not quite sure what that’s going to be, but I keep hearing / feeling /thinking about putting something out there.

#staytuned #talkingtonoone

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Mokai Mouths

Mokai being the local chirringuito (seasonal beach bar/café) where I’ve hung out the past few summers.

This was from an exercise I did for a writing workshop.  Task = go to a cafe or restaurant you frequent and pay attention to people’s mouths.  Focus more on observation than story-telling.

____________________________

Blonde beardy boy, neither hipster beardy (is that’s what he’s trying for?) nor Spanish sexy beardy, sucks his fingers, one by one, then wipes his mouth with a reasonably useless scrap of a napkin that comes from the dineresque dispenser/menu holder. He continues to chew once his fingers are out of his mouth. Was he sucking his fingers with a mouth full of food?

His girlfriend is also a chewer. Her left cheek is fuller than her right, like a chipmunk favoring one side of its mouth. Maybe she’s just been to the dentist. Maybe she needs to go to one.

***

The older local people here tend to keep their mouths closed more than the younger tourists. They speak when they have something to say, enjoying their time and soaking in in the salty sea air, as opposed to succumbing to the urge/need to fill the breezy void with their desire to be heard. Sometimes it’s more pleasant to listen to the sea than to hear yourself speak. Maybe they’ve learned that with age. Or maybe they’ve just run out of things to talk about.

***

The black straw of his raised drink hovers a few inches below his mouth, like a mini microphone. He runs his tongue between his teeth and the insides of his cheek while he’s talking, trying to dislodge whatever’s left of his lunch before he slurps down that last slug of sangria. Setting his glass down, he scratches and tugs on one ear. His mouth simultaneously open and closes, a ventriloquist’s dummy whose controls are attached to his earlobe.

***

There’s a new waiter this year, not an unusual occurrence. He’s a bit more efficient than previous models and friendly, albeit a bit aloof.

He repeats my order back to me in English, even though I gave it in Spanish. He sounds Eastern European, and I remember him doing the same thing a couple weeks ago. Is my Spanish so shit that he needs to check his understanding? Does he just like to practice? Does he want me to know I don’t have to try to speak Spanish because he’s more comfortable with English?

He looks a bit rough around the edges (in a good way) and his rare smile reveals crowded, crooked and tobacco-stained teeth. He looks more like a carny than a chirringuito waiter (again, in a good way).

***

She licks her lower lip before bringing the cigarette to her mouth. Her face tightens as she inhales, like she’s sitting on a vacuum cleaner that’s pulling everything inwards. She floats her hand to the side, like Norma Desmond motioning to someone in the wings, trying keep the cigarette away from her and her friend (yes, yes, yes, darling, it’s a terrible habit but one must have a vice, mustn’t one?). Her face is now relaxed, lips full and mouth open. She gazes at the cigarette like it’s a camera attached to her selfie-stick arm. She makes an open-mouthed fish-lip face as the smoke wafts from her body in a lazy cloud.

Her friend waits for her to re-engage in their conversation, her own mouth alternately occupied by a skinny, hand-rolled cigarette and one of the two black straws sticking out of her fruity cocktail. Her mouth bobs between the rollie and the straw, then back to the rolli, never missing a beat. Like she’s doing alternating sets of two different exercises at the gym. Her lips are always slightly apart unless they’re engaged with smoke or drink.

***

Some guy joins another guy, who has been sitting with his mobile since I got here, at his table. They exchange hellos and consult each other about beverages, then order dos cañas, por favor (draft beer is always a safe bet, and they score points for being polite) from the carny camarero.

The newcomer is very chatty (perhaps nervously so) and clearly Spanish, what with the way the tip of his tongue darts in and out between his teeth while making that sound that lives somewhere between “s” and “c”. His tablemate, who has long since put down his phone, grins to one side, his lips semi-revealing what appears to be perfect, glistening smile. The grinner’s eyes never leave chatty boy’s mouth. He leans in ever so slightly.

If one were to fill in the thought bubble above his head, it’d read something like “I’m not really thirsty. Let’s get to part two of this Grindr date so you can put that tongue to better use.”

***

She’s the only person here wearing lipstick, a pinkish coral. She has mirrored, oversized tortoiseshell shades. Her highlighted hair is pulled back into a lazy ponytail. She drinks white wine and talks on her mobile … the old-fashioned way, holding it against one ear. She sets down the wine and slowly raises one patata brava at a time to her mouth, using an oversized toothpick as a skewer. She gently holds the cube of deep-fried starch between her front teeth while she pulls the stick out.

She has some more wine.

When she eats her hummus-covered pita, she puts it in her mouth then bites off a corner. She places the rest back on her plate before closing her mouth.

No food ever touches her lips.

I will have to try this at home

She never stops her cell phone conversation.

Her earrings are amazing.

***

Carny camarero delivers the beers to chatty boy and his still grinning friend.  They thank him (ever the polite ones) and ask for la cuenta (when he has the time). He walks over to the touchscreen that’s mounted on a pillar. His mouth moves as he taps in the commands needed to print the bill. Is he talking to himself? Reciting lines for an audition? Practicing his English or Spanish? Quietly telling off the table who recently left without leaving him a tip?

***

It’s almost 25° out, but the guy sitting next to me is wearing a knitted cap. Coldplay fans never die, they just grow ginger caterpillars under their nose. His moustache looks like it has wax in it.

Maybe his girlfriend wanted a mustache too, but since she couldn’t match his she has opted for a piercing between her left nostril and upper lip. There is a beauty mark under her right nostril in the same area. Never confuse symmetry with balance.

***

The French waiter from last year (somehow more kissable than last season) brings a picture of orange something (a quick carta consultation says it’s cava with mango and peach) to mannequin mouth and his buddies. They’re clearly here for the afternoon.

And things are getting serious: they are now drinking without straws.

What is that boy’s name? I asked him countless times last year and it never stuck. They usually don’t return for a second season, but that’s no excuse.

His chin fuzz is a lit little less wiry this year and a little more filled out, but still not enough to be called a proper goatee. His smile is a little more genuine than I remember. His teeth are whiter. His arms are more defined.  His haircut a soupçon more stylish.

He says hola to me as he sidles between the tables and I nod and say bon jour. Does he remember me or is he just being friendly?

He flashes that smile, his upper lip lined by a pencil-thin moustache … more because that’s all he can grow than because he wants to make an ironic statement.

Chirringuito waiters are rarely just being friendly.

Yes, totally more kissable this year.

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¿Como se dice, ‘Grand Slam’?

“Let’s go down to that healthy Italian place down the street that we liked. They serve breakfast.”

It was such a good idea.

We putzed around the flat for about a half an hour, as they didn’t open until 10am and we didn’t want to be the first to arrive.  We took the scenic route, along the river, which led me to teach Larry a little bit of Spanish. “¡Joder, hace frío!”  Then again, it’s a Bank Holiday weekend in London, so foul weather is pretty much guaranteed, despite yesterday’s sunny lulling into a false sense of security.

Fifteen minutes later, we’re coming up on the front doors to the restaurant. The windows beforehand didn’t give too promising a view. It was dark, there were chairs on tables, and it seemed to be more of a construction site than an eatery.  A handwritten sign on the door told us that the venue is closed to do maintenance issues.

“Maybe we can head over to Borough Market and see what we can find there,” he offered.

“And so the adventure begins”.

“Last time this happened, we ended up in Shoreditch,” he said.  That’s an adventure I didn’t particularly remember, and one I didn’t fancy repeating. All I wanted is some scrambled eggs and bacon, or maybe some French Toast, being it was torrijas weekend back in Spain.

And so we walked towards Tower Bridge, because despite having (unsuccessfully) done this before on previous trips, there was bound to be something along the way that wasn’t a chain with pre-fab fare or an overpriced coffee shop (not that those two things are mutually exclusive, especially in this part of Blighty).

Crossing Tower Bridge, it seemed this year’s Easter bonnets were trending towards the toque.  The top of the Shard was covered in clouds, and gray skies were the backdrop for innumerable self-portraits.  Used to be you dodged umbrellas in this city.  Now you had to dodge selfie-sticks.

We found ourselves on Shad Thames, as Borough Market was a goal too far.  As far as adventures go, we’re really not that adventurous. Already we’d decided we wouldn’t be walking back home. None of the restaurants there were serving yet, despite advertising their brunch menus.  No worms for these early birds.

Ah, The Blue Print Café (yes, it has an accent) was perched atop the shop of the Design Museum and through its glass walls we could see a couple of tables seated with breakfasters.

“That looks promising.”

We climbed the steps to the second floor and were greeted by the smartly-clad, broodingly-cute host with the neo-traditional Eastern European accent (once again I wondered, who is going to work in London restaurants if the Leavers win their Brexit vote?) who assured us, “Yes, vee have zee brunch menu.”

Apparently the Design Museum was geared towards minimalism, as the menu offered us Eggs Benedict, Eggs, Florentine or Eggs Royale.

“At least we’re not spoiled for choice, ” I said. Poached eggs, no matter how you fancy them up, are not my favorite food in the world, but was hungry and it wasn’t getting any warmer outside.

We asked if the regular menu was available. The waiter said he would have to check.  When I was a waiter, I pretty much had to know what was available and what wasn’t … but those were different times.

It turned out that it was brunch or bust, so we brunched.  Our eggs, mine Benedict and his Florentine, came garnished with the white of the plate.  There was no messing about with garnish or potatoes or any kind of side dish.  This was minimalism at its finest. It wasn’t bad, and it certainly wasn’t as pretentious as “the pork and periwinkle foam” that I was reading about in a self-congratularoy essay on menu offerings by a self-proclaimed “critic and food writer” in this week’s FT Weekend Magazine.

“Do you want anything else?” Larry asked me as the waiter cleared our plates away.

I was still hungry, but there was nothing on the menu worth ordering.  Well, in fact, there was nothing else on the menu.

“Do you think we could find a Denny’s?”

 

 

 

 

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Hace mucho tiempo, ¿no?

Soon it will be three years since I’ve been here and I’ve written, what … well, very little. On here, at least. So much for an account of my move to Spain.

Big changes on the horizon, and I feel like I want to start writing something again for the interwebs, but don’t know what. I think blogging is pretty much irrelevant these days, unless there’s a focus, a raison d’scribble.

But what would that be for me?

  • The travails (and mini-triumphs) of teaching English? Nope, a million of those.
  • Hey look! Another expat! Yawn.
  • Meandering musings of a museless malcontent? Alliterative but, uninspiring.  And I’m trying not to be negative. Too much of that out there already.
  • How much I hate like feeling I’m always starting over. Mr. Beckett, I am not.
  • The BBC list, as I called it yesterday … Bobby’s Bad Choices.

I dunno. Watch this space. Doubt anyone is anyway … so maybe if I put it out there some thing will happen.

There is one thing that sticks in my head ….

  • “Your life …” someone commented on my book of face today. I reckon it does look good on paper, but then again I’m not one to Facebook all my neuroses. More power to those who find their power that way, but not for me, muchas gracias.
  • “I envy your life,” one of my students said last week while we were talking about travels and adventures and whatnot. Then again, he’s 19 and I’m .. . not.

What they seek vs. what I know/think.  Hmmm.

Let’s see if something doesn’t happen. How about one decent post a week. About something. Let the theme come as it may.

Or not.

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