Friday, May 25, 2007


Part of teacher training at the Iyengar yoga studio where I attend class is to keep a daily practice log. I'm not in the teacher training program, but I do sometimes keep notes on my practice just to see what it amounts to on paper and to master the Sanskrit names of the asanas (poses). Today's practice looked something like this:

INVOCATION to Patanjali, the codifier of yoga. As I begin chanting, the dog and the cats come racing to see what's up. Buddy (the dog) licks my face energetically.

--Uttanasana (2 minutes, with head supported on block and blanket)
--Adho Mukha Svanasana. I alternate legs in the one-legged variation we learned this week to get the heel on the floor closer to the ground.
--Trikonasana. As I extend to the right side, I catch the slatted blinds reflected in the framed photograph of the House on the Hill, my mother's great uncle Virgil Hines's home in southern Missouri. I've just been to that part of the world to scatter my mother's ashes. I like seeing my life (the blinds) overlaid onto hers (the House on the Hill).
--Utthita Parsvakonasana
--Adho Mukha Vrksasana (full arm balance). We're learning to do this pose free standing. Going up into the pose farther away from the wall is the first step. I start nine inches from the wall, and as I kick up, my foot scrapes hard against the marble top of my great grandmother Covert's parlor table. China goes crashing, and the animals come racing to see what's up.
--Sirsasana (6 minutes, without wall support). I took a year off my yoga practice recently because of hamstring problems. I returned about four months ago, a little creaky but still strong. Before my leave, I'd been able to routinely go up into and come down out of headstand in the center of the room. I've been frightened to do so, until today. I am able to stay up for six minutes and come down, for the first time in a long time, without crashing to the floor. Legs poker stiff and core muscles firm.
--Janu Sirsasana. This forward bend incorporates a difficult hip/groin rotation and demands an intense stretch of the extended hamstring. It has never come easily, and I resist the pose's difficulties. So I keep at it.
--Padmasana. Another difficult pose requiring openness in the hips and knees. I'm getting to the point where I can fold both legs into the body for the full lotus pose instead of only one leg at a time. I close my eyes and fold my hands in front of my chest in namaskar. The animals sense a change of energy and come racing to see what's up.
--Supta Virasana (4.5 minutes)
--Supta Baddha Konasana (5 minutes)
--Sarvangasana (5 minutes). We learned a variation of shoulder stand this week whereby the practitioner somersaults up onto a bolster or pile of blankets to get into the pose. The bolster helps lift the body and prevent the settling into the hips and stomach area that often comes as the practitioner remains in the pose for some time. Sarvangasana is meant to soothe the nerves, which in the early years of practice seemed laughable. I am better able today to relax the neck and throat and to unclench the teeth. My shirt slips down a bit in front, exposing my stomach muscles, which I admire. I pull my mind away from this momentary distraction.
--Paschimottanasana (3 minutes). Another difficult pose for me these days, so I keep at it. We are taught to exhale tension in the stomach and groin to better surrender into the pose. Just as I feel a bit of surrender, the timer goes off (2 minutes). Our teacher says a true yoga pose begins only after the practitioner stops fighting against the asana, so I set the timer for another minute.
--Savasana (22 minutes). This pose always concludes a yoga practice. We've been doing increasingly longer savasana in class. This is the first time I've done such an extended savasana at home. I work on letting go of words and on allowing the energy to release into the back of the body, like blood settles in a corpse (savasana means "corpse pose" and is practiced to tame the breath and the mind). The oldest cat, the one who is most keenly attuned to shifts in energy, settles into the narrow space between my ankles. I feel contentment.

Friday, May 04, 2007


"Grease and gravy," commented the desk clerk. "That's what we're all about down here!"

I chuckled in response to her comment, a coda to the discussion about Southern cooking we'd had with the hotel desk staff since arriving the night before. Just off the interchange of Interstate 70 and state highway 63 in Columbia, Missouri, the hotel was our stop for the night en route to the Missouri Ozarks to scatter my mother's ashes in the landscape of her family roots. The city is also the place where my sister and I were both born.

For dinner that night in Columbia, we indulged in chicken-fried everything, green beans with ham, mashed potatoes, white gravy and biscuits, and coconut cream pie. When we got back to the hotel, the young woman at the desk showed off her own meal--brought to her by her roommates--of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, biscuits, and greens. "We mix greens with cabbage down here and add hot spices," she clarified.

The next morning, news of our meal had spread, and the morning staff asked for a full report of our choices. They listened intently and with genuine interest, smiling with a kind of pride as we talked about the central ingredients of Southern cuisine.

The fried chicken recipe we make at home, in the faraway North, was given to SJG long ago by a coworker from the Deep South. It's spicier than the fried chicken my mother used to make (she seasoned the chicken with salt and pepper only). It is delicious, easy to make, and tastes even better the next day.

Southern-Style Fried Chicken
6 skin-on chicken thighs or drumsticks
1 or 2 cups white flour for dredging
1/2 cup canola oil
4-6 bulbs fresh garlic, squeezed through a garlic press
salt, pepper, paprika, dried dill, and cayenne--all to taste

1) Rinse chicken in cool water.
2) Put the flour in a plastic bag; dredge the chicken in the flour.
3) Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan (we use a cast iron pan) until nice and hot.
4) Put the chicken in the hot oil, skin side up.
5) Squeeze the fresh garlic into the sizzling oil (rather than directly onto the chicken pieces).
6) Season the chicken with salt, pepper, paprika, dried dill, and cayenne.
7) Brown the chicken on both sides.
8) Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Place the chicken on the foil, skin side down. Re-season with the spices (except the garlic).
9) Bake in a 350-degree preheated oven for 30 minutes.
10) After 30 minutes, flip the chicken so that the skin side is up. Bake another 30 minutes more.

Serve with mashed potatoes, white gravy, biscuits, and greens or green beans. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Crossing the Piney

I crossed the River Styx today,
Its current hard and swift.
In swallows' dip and swoop,
In vultures' circle dance,
I let her go at last.

Sparkle sun and light-blast lustre
below the limestone bluff;
All green and smooth
the water there,
While down below
In rippling current's flow
The petals loosed, the ashes too,
I gave her back at last.

On memory's tide
In fading golden hues
I crossed the River back again.
The water cold
Its promise sure
To take her home at last.

--for my mother (above)