Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Yoga with Ace: Was this guy Fred Astaire, Frank Underwood, or Chuck Yeager?

It was six-fifty in the morning and my mother and I stood by the water cooler at the gym, talking, as one is supposed to do by water coolers. We were on vacation but had woken up early to do yoga so we could relax. Sure, that doesn’t make sense, but that’s never stopped me.

An elderly gentleman, not much taller than I am, with white hair and wearing a sharp looking polo shirt and nylon sweats came over and introduced himself. He said his name was Lloyd and he asked if we were there for the yoga class.

 “Indeed we were,” I said.

 “Well good,” he responded. He was the teacher.

The spinning class soon wrapped up and Lloyd led us into the studio, taking his spot in front of the mirrors.

I’ve been doing yoga for about sixteen years and have never sat before a teacher who looked like an old Fred Astaire and sounded like Kevin Spacey in "House of Cards".

Lloyd had his regulars, whom he greeted with sincere pleasantries. The yoga class, and the health club of which it was a part, served not only our vacation suite, but the residents of the community. Most of the folks were retirees but, as I learned, these folks were fit.

Lloyd led us through deceptively challenging movements, his version of “Hatha” he explained. He never put his foot over his shoulder or stood on his head, but he was the real deal.

As the class neared an end, he sat cross-legged and read from a book.

“Circumstances, “ he read, “are largely determined by the discipline we employ, the friends we keep and the rules we choose to follow.” Namaste.

Then he invited my mother and me to attend the seven AM cardio dance class he taught the following morning.

I was game. So the next day I once again woke up early and headed to Lloyd’s class at the gym. I noticed a different group of regulars this time, but loyal students all the same. Lloyd put in a CD of upbeat music, a generic remix of tunes from the 90’s that kept our heart rates up. He led us through the grapevine, some basketball shuffles, jumping jacks, and more dance moves. We never shook our hips, but this older southern man in the well- pressed clothing could move.

The second part of class was floor work with weights. I hate weights. But I did what Lloyd asked. How could I not?

It was time to say good-bye, finally, and I explained that we’d be heading back home soon to New Jersey.

“Y’all come back and see us,” he said.

I left the studio and headed straight to the water cooler.

“Excuse me,” I said to one woman who’d been in class with me, “but I was just wondering if you knew anything about Lloyd. He seems so versatile.”

He was also charming, broke every stereotype I didn’t realize I carried, and was an example of how to age.

“Well,” the woman said, “I don’t know much. But he’s retired Air Force.”

Turns out Lloyd used to be a fighter pilot.


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Sunday, March 16, 2014

We Serve No Wine Before It's...

The weather in Tuscany was mild and dry in the spring of 1997, suggesting the vintage would be one of the best years. When my husband and I arrived in the fall of 2002 on our honeymoon, we bought a few bottles of this promising year and shipped them back to Boston. The Chianti bottles were put in a box labeled “Olive Oil” and arrived unbroken, ready to be admired, but never opened.

We took the bottles with us when we moved to an apartment in Connecticut, to an apartment in New Jersey, to our first house in New Jersey and finally to our second house in New Jersey.

A decade went by and I bought my husband a few more from the same vineyard, this time picked out at a liquor store near a mall instead of in the halls of the Italian estate.  Nothing beautiful about Joe Canal's liquor store, but the familiar label connected us to a place and time we missed.

Last Sunday, to celebrate my 40th birthday, my husband made dinner and the girls and I set the table. It was still light out, thanks to the time change, and something about the late afternoon seemed quiet and calm, the opposite of the agitated anticipation I’d had leading up to the day.

“I thought we’d have the wine,” my husband said, taking a bottle out of the refrigerator where he’d placed it earlier in the day. I caught a glimpse of the label. Badia a Coltibuono. Probably the one I’d given him for our tenth anniversary from the liquor store. Special, but not, too special. Not one we’d picked out when we were twenty-eight and and didn’t have much to worry about except how much bubble wrap it took to protect a bottle of wine disguised as olive oil.

He took the cork out of the wine to let it breathe. A few minutes later, he got me a glass.

“1997?” I yelled, looking at the date on the bottle.

He poured the wine into my glass. I stared at it a while. No going back now.

I sipped.

How do I describe it?

It was uniquely still. Simply happy with what it had become. I don't think that's a perfect metaphor for my own process of aging, but perhaps I can hope.

A New York Times article from 1998, “Wine Talk; Italy's 1997 Vintage: Poised for Greatness” quotes an owner of Badia a Coltibuono, Emanuela Stucchi-Prunetti discussing the wine’s prospects when it was still all conjecture: ''It was certainly a good year,'' she said, ''but high sugars and consequent high acid levels can cause problems in the cellars.''

What would Ms. Stucchi-Prunetti say now, sipping this wine of high expectations?

Had the high sugars caused a problem? Was it somehow dusty?

For us, it didn’t matter. We’d waited. I am not even sure what for--the birth of a child, the birth of a second child, fifth wedding anniversary, tenth wedding anniversary, minor triumphs, major ones.

Was there ever the right time?

“Let’s wait," I'd have said, if my husband had asked me.

But I'm glad he didn't.

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Friday, March 7, 2014

This is 40. (more tips the parenting magazines won't tell you)

This Sunday, I’m going to a Happy Hips workshop at the cozy yoga studio down the street. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to go to Lowes afterwards and check out the wall ovens.

And I’ll turn 40.

So I am a little worried about the wall oven. Every time I burn the sweet potato fries I blame it on my current one, which must be twenty years old, and, now that I think about it, half my age, but, you know, in terms of home appliances—old.

The Happy Hips, well, I suppose I do carry tension. I’m working on the multiplication tables. If it weren’t for six times seven, I think I’d be a whole lot less stressed. But what can you do? Numbers are so sequential. (That’s what I tell my 8 year old, the reason I’m revisiting the times tables, by the way.)

Speaking of numbers, 40 doesn’t bother me. In fact, I’ve felt forty for the last fifteen years. I only started looking this age, though, after I had kids. I’m not sure how that happens but it must have something to do with them sucking the life out of you.

Or maybe collagen.

So, no midlife crisis for me. I have started doing yoga at 5:45 in the morning, and I’m back to getting Rolfed, a process that feels a bit like someone taking a rolling pin to your connective tissue, but my posture’s really improved. And that’s important when I’m at ballet--waiting for my kids. That’s right, no crisis in identity; I still drive a minivan.

As for goals, the great thing is that the ones I made last year haven’t been met so I don’t even need to make a new list. That’s one of the benefits of a school year in which the kids haven’t actually gone to school much because of the polar vortex. I haven’t procrastinated; I’ve been trapped in my home with munchkins who drink Swiss Miss.

Turning forty is a blessing, I know that. And in many ways I feel I’m finally getting started. But 1974—the year the universal bar code was first used on a pack of chewing gum—seems like a fuzzy Polaroid photo away. As the distance between then and now grows each year, I can't help but feel the gap between the world I was born into and the one I live in now. And in that sense, this is 40.

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Tips the Parenting Magazines Won't Tell You is an occasional series, made more occasional by my new schedule. Read more in the series here.