Wednesday, December 31, 2008


A student told me that in the Dakotas, this combination of dirt and snow is called "Snirt."

Once you get past the ick factor, the snirt can be rather beautiful.

These photos were snapped Monday, near the fancy brown health club.

Today, the world has a dusting of brand-new powdered-sugar snow - just in time for the new year.


Of course New York City has to outdo Chicago. Again. This snirt mountain near the main library was snapped by Catesey, also on Monday:

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


This is a sight you don't like to see first thing Monday morning - or any morning.

That would be the sight of the car you drive, up on a tow truck with a man named Rahul.

The poor car had been acting up since the battery died in Dreyfus's driveway on Christmas Day.

Dreyfus got it going again with his supercharger.

But on Friday morning it was dead again, so I cabbed it to the yoga studio.

SportMarty and I replaced the battery that afternoon.

On Saturday, it started OK but stalled on the way home after looking at an apartment (Yes! I looked at an apartment!). It did not want to re-start.

Other drivers on Ashland Avenue honked in anger as I motioned for them to go around.

The car turned over and over. Finally, it started. Then it stalled again, just as the engine light came on.

After some time it started again, and let me drive it home and park it in a safe place.

That night I looked up possible problems on the Internet and talked it over with Dreyfus; perhaps the idle was off because of the dead battery. Perhaps we'd installed the wrong battery. Perhaps we'd crossed the connections.

The next day the car started, and I drove it to class. The engine light came on, and it stalled as I pulled into the parking space.

When it finally re-started, the engine light blinked on and off, and there was a clicking sound coming from the shifter console that coincided with the blinking. It would not shift out of park, and the brake would not engage.

It was a case for Car Talk, but I had to teach.

Just before I did, the car stalled for good, and refused to re-start. It tried and tried but the engine never caught.

A lovely student drove me to my next class. Afterwords, I took the El to the car and tried to start it. Nada.

The next day I used the newly-renewed AAA membership (thank you, Mrs. Dreyfus) to tow the car to the mechanic.

At Dreyfus's urging, I told the mechanics, in detail, about the sequence of events and the car's current symptoms. They said they'd never heard of anything like that.

Some hours later, they called to say they needed to put in a $450 distributor in order to start the car. They could do nothing until it started. Once that happened, they could try to figure out the blinking and clicking problem.

I reluctantly gave the OK, after telling them I could not afford to spend a fortune (especially on top of last month's $500 brake job and next month's $110 rent increase).

Plus I was beginning to enjoy not having the car. The combination of taxi-subway-bus-bike-walking was wonderful.

I got plenty of fresh air, and being with other people made me feel like a part of something bigger than myself, rather than alone in my little pod. Plus it was a relief not to have to deal with traffic and parking. It slowed me down, and made me feel rather sattvic. I decided I liked it, and even started entertaining thoughts of getting renouncing Coche-Coche (my name for the car) and joining the local car sharing service.

Later the mechanic called to say that a new relay had solved the clicking problem. It was only $58.

After hanging up, I looked online, and learned that the relay could have been the problem all along.

So when I picked up the car, I asked as much. "Couldn't the relay have been the cause of all the problems? Why did both things go bad all at once, plus the battery? Are you sure the distributor was bad?"

The proprietor's eyes became somewhat vacant. He sputtered a bit, and said that yes, ahem, the distributor was bad, and that's why the car had been stalling. Or something to that effect.

And I wondered if I'd caught him in a $450 lie.

And I thought, Well, if he did lie, it hurts him more than it hurts me.

Karma again.

And I more or less let it go.

More or less.

Monday, December 29, 2008


Today's mail brought bankruptcy notices from two different employers*: Bally Total Fitness and the Chicago Tribune.

I quit the former last year.

I technically still free-lance for the latter, whose letter says that "Unfortunately, bankruptcy law prohibits us from making payments for many goods purchased or services provided prior to the filing date at this time."

Fortunately, they already paid for my October Chicago mag article about local reality TV show winners (for which I interviewed Stephanie Izard days after she won Top Chef, as well as supermodel Jaslene Gonzalez, biggest loser Bernie Salazar, Gina Glocksen from American Idol, Tamara Hill Garner from What Not to Wear, and - my favorite - the salty grandfather-and-grandson-team (Nicholas and Don) from 2007's Amazing Race).

Interestingly, everyone said the same thing in terms of advice for would-be contestants: Be yourself.

Which sounded quite yogic to me.


*The parent company of the Chicago Reader - where my byline appeared for over a decade - has also filed for bankruptcy protection.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Today the temperature is in the lower 60s, it's raining, and there's a tornado watch.

Prediction: No one will be going out on New Year's Eve.... because everyone's going to be sick - sick, I tell ya!

Our bodies just. can't. take. this.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A DEAD BATTERY... what the car had this morning when it was time to drive downtown to teach.

(This would be the same battery that died due to neglect when I was in India. It is the same one Dreyfus tried to resurrect at his house last night. It is now officially out of commission).

It was difficult to walk to the nearest intersection, as the entire world was covered in ice this morning. Again. This time it was even thicker and slicker than usual. So I avoided the treacherous sidewalks and took the high road - walking in the middle of the street.

The cab I caught drove 15mph the entire way downtown. Even on Lake Shore Drive. Despite the generous road salt.

* * *

Later, I took the Ravenswood El (elevated train) back north to teach the day's final class.

The glowing box on the right serves as a heat lamp for frozen passengers.

This is what's left of the Cabrini Green public housing complex.

The Ravenswood or Brown Line runs entirely above-ground, and provides some excellent views of the city's backside.

Everything looked quite painterly today due to the combination of rain, fog and blurry CTA windows.

There were also very few people around.

So it looked (and felt) like a ghost town.

* * *

Later, Sport Marty showed me how to install a new car battery, which turns out to be a lot easier thank you'd think (as long as you don't lose the nuts that hold it all together).

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Wednesday, December 24, 2008


The car got stuck in the yoga studio lot at 6:25 this morning.

I was shoveling when a pair of homeless men appeared like angels, and offered to help.

"I'm homeless, not uselss!" exclaimed the 53-year-old African-American man, as he heaved with all his might.

The same cannot be said of the able-bodied young man who walked across the parking lot amid all of the spinning and striving, and walked back a few minutes later holding a giant cup of coffee. He did not stop to help.

Later I realized I knew this coffee-toting fellow - and called him on it.

"You walked by without helping!"

The white, thirtysomething fellow pleaded ignorance.

"I was in my head, I guess."

Sadly, he does not practice yoga - where the goal is to get out of the head, and into the heart.

The homeless fellows got it right, though.

They knew to help when they saw someone struggling....

Although they didn't want the homemade organic vegan cookies I offered (who could blame them?).

They did take a ten-spot though.

A small price to pay, for making my day. My week. My year.

And more impetus for making the annual contribution to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.


Photos snapped this morning, during the rain.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


That is how we are feeling in Chicago after three snowstorms, an ice storm and two days of -30 windchill -- all within eight days, right before Christmas.

We expect this in January, spread out over four or five weeks. But not in December.

So we are tired. Not as tired as the Germans after World War II - as rivetingly depicted in the film I just watched, Germany: Year Zero. But still quite tired.

During the first snow storm, it took people four hours to get home from the city. Four hours!

During yesterday's storm, it took a full hour to get from a teaching gig in Oak Park to a downtown yoga studio - a drive that usually takes 15-20 minutes.

People are tired of it.

They are walking around hunched over, their mouths shaped like mail-slots.

It's time time to finish Christmas shopping, but they're just not up to it.

No one wants to go out if they have a good parking space. (The snow was incredibly heavy when it was time to shovel. If people didn't do it that afternoon, it was frozen solid and immovable the following morning. In fact, some cars were literally frozen into place when the deep freeze took hold. Instead, most people took their chances, gunning the tires, and didn't bother to shovel. The result is that the side streets are filled with hazardous grooves; you don't want to park there. And there only a few good parking spaces on the main arteries. They aren't safe, either. You risk being towed from these main arteries if the snow on the street is deeper than two inches - which it has been quite often of late).

You see a lot of cars parked at jaunty angles; it seems the driver got into the spot partway, and then gave up. Better to let the thing get hit than to risk frostbite trying to dig it out.

The most common sound you hear these days is wheels spinning, as cars attempt to extricate themselves from parking spaces.

You also see a lot of seemingly able-bodied people walking past these spinning wheels, and refusing to help.

The air is heavy with the smell of road salt and burning rubber.

We are also early with ice-related injuries this year. I know one fellow who broke a rib after a fall, and a student knows someone else who did the exact same thing.

And we're just two days into winter.....

One can't help but ask, what did Chicago do to deserve this battering?

Any ideas?

I have two:


-corrupt politicians

A better question might be - why do we live here?


Lest you think it's over....the forecast for Wednesday morning is freezing rain (and flooding), followed by blowing and drifting snow in the afternoon.

Photos above were snapped well before the current snowed-in condition of the city.

Monday, December 22, 2008


Normally on Mondays I do a fruit fast; watermelon in the warm weather, and pineapple / oranges in the winter.

But not when the windchill is -30, as it has been yesterday and today.

It's so cold, the chimney smoke is blowing horizontal....

It's so cold, I've unearthed the long underwear, snowmobile gloves, down jacket and Sorel boots.

It's so cold, the city is taking old people and their pets to warming centers.

It's so cold, even the style-conscious Dorian Black wore a hat yesterday.

It's so cold, no one is coming to class (yesterday there was exactly one student at the 10am class - and the hardy fellow jogged there!).

So instead of fruit-only, I'll try instead for a a day of liquids; of fresh juice, Dharma's breakfast blend (sprouted raw almonds, banana, and apple cider) and soup.

* * *

Apparently it is also too cold to shop today.

The post office was nearly empty.

There was a parking place right in front of the store I grudgingly had to visit at the busy Clark / Diversey shopping area.

(Somehow, though, it's not too cold to urinate al fresco)

And there was exactly one other customer at Old Navy, where I was obliged to purchase a gift card.

There was even rock star parking in front of the Middle Eastern Bakery in Andersonville.

If only it hadn't been necessary to scrape ice off the insides of the windows each and every time I got into the car.....

Sunday, December 21, 2008


This - the shortest day of the year - is a good time in which to remember this mantra from the Upanishads:

Om Asato ma sat gamaya
Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya
Mrityor ma amritam gamaya
Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi

Lead us from the unreal to the real
Lead us from darkness to light
Lead us from death to immortality
May there be Peace Peace Peace

(Brhadaranyaka Upanishad — I.iii.28)

This is the mantra that Mysore teacher Sheshadri (and his guru, BNS Iyengar) chants so beautifully with students before the asana practice. It's easy to learn, and may make you feel better than chanting, say, AC/DC's "Let There Be Rock." Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Friday, December 19, 2008


Now that I'm thrice a great aunt, I must do a bit of shopping for the holidays (most of the rest of the family does a not-so-secret Santa; on Thanksgiving everyone puts their wish list (not to exceed $50) in a hat, and pulls a name; we also do a white elephant gift exchange, which is usually results in great hilarity).

I prefer gifts that are simple, educational, and not made of plastic. This year I bought a couple of Christmas gifts in Mexico, but did not get a chance to pick up the thing that most piqued my interest - colorful nontoxic Caribbean puzzles made of reclaimed wood. The tiny kiosk was always closed when our endless dinners of green juice and soup finally ended.

Back home I've been trying to shop as locally as possible, in order to support small businesses and people I know (and who support me!). The other day I picked up some wonderfully offbeat children's books by local author and avid ashtangi Amy Krouse Rosenthal. I bought them at the local feminist bookstore, Women & Children First. Happily, the independent store was filled with shoppers - even though we were in the middle of Tuesday's paralyzing snow storm (which is not to be confused with today's paralyzing snow storm).

Yesterday I found some sturdy and creative items at Majamas in Oak Park - a store featuring women's clothes that are designed in-house and manufactured in Chicago and Pennsylvania. It's located next to Yoga Trek Center and owned by another lovely ashtangi - who, incidentally, has designed the most comfortable and versatile yoga pants I have ever worn. She also carries a few select children's toys and clothing that her own kids have enjoyed, and steered me towards some things for the girls - who are two months, two and four.

Next on the list is candles from Wax Man, which makes everything on-site and is across from the Chicago Yoga Center.

If there's anything left,* I may also may get a thing or two at ashtangi-owned green gift store It's a Cooler Planet in Roscoe Village.

It's a long-shot, but perhaps they carry environmentally-friendly, locally-made reed diffuser sets - which are also on the list....

Where are you shopping this year?


*Another Chicago-centric item I love, but don't need to purchase at the moment is the Bra Baby - which was invented by yet another local ashtangi and Dharma Mittra yoga enthusiast (and old friend), Laura Engel. It's a little cage-within-a-cage that allows you to throw your bras in the washing machine without worrying they'll lose their shape. Each one comes with a handy breast self-exam card to hang in the shower.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Mexico was amazing.

Can you say "Six days with Dharma Mittra?"

Six days with Dharma Mittra in the jungle, that is.

Usually, you see him in the rajasic (active) jungle that is New York City.

But this time he was in a sattvic (pure, peaceful) environment called Otam. It's a wonderful green shala in an eco-friendly community called Pueblo Sac Be in the middle of the jungle. Everything on the premises was made without machines. We practiced in a palapa - an open-sided structure with a thatched roof made of dried, woven palm tree leaves.

And when you looked up you saw this:

The intensive reviewed and built upon everything we learned in the teacher trainings: pranayama, the koshas, the yamas (ethical roots), concentration and meditation, purification and psychic development, the gunas, the Bhagavad-Gita and so much more. Plus there were Dharma's mind-blowing asana sequences and countless opportunities to do forearm balances.

It was Dharma in the morning, and Dharma in the evening. In candlelight.

I think he deepened the spiritual practice of everyone who was there (and some even began to see the Self within the self).

* * *

I roomed with three wonderful women in a hotel rustico in town. The shala was 8km away from the beach, in a lush jungle dotted with cenotes (fresh water sink-holes).

In the community's common space there's an amphitheater, bathrooms, buildings, cenotes and whatnot:

* * *

On our first night in town we tried to find a market where we could buy fruit (on two evenings we ate watermelon on our balcony, while bats pretended to dive-bomb us). Everyone pointed in the same direction, and said "Wal-Mart." We thought they were joking... until we got to the end of the street. It was the land of rajas (activity), but we had to do it.

The following day we found Maru's organic place, and on the way we saw this arco, or rainbow:

On Friday - the day of the Virgen de Guadalupe Festival - we saw a rainbow around the moon:

Later I learned from Torsten that it means cold weather is coming.

* * *

In town you would also come across curiosities like this:

* * *

Our chartered bus was rather festive. This wheel detail is for tire magnate Dreyfus of course.

* * *

I only went once to the beach, which was more than enough. A mi no me gusta mucho a la playa.

* * *

I spent three afternoons in the jungle instead of going back to town between sessions. One of them was spent engaged with people - the two other yogis who opted to stay and the owners of Otam, Maru and Torsten. They built the whole place by hand, from nothing, and it's all eco-friendly, from the dry toilets (where you cover your waste with sand, like a cat, and it's later used as compost) to the solar power used to light the evening yoga class. (Their lively dogs, by the way, are named Frida and Max).

After an involved tea ceremony with a man from Russia, we made our way to the top of the tower where Torsten lives. There were solar panels and breath-taking views of the jungle, etc.

* * *

On another afternoon in the jungle, I breathed and meditated and rested. Dharma says that spending one day in contemplation is greater than bathing 1,000 times in the holy Ganges River.

In the middle of the contemplation, the eyes became distracted by some movement on the ground.

There was a line of vertical leaves, moving from left to right.

Upon close inspection, I saw that they were being carried by tiny worker ants a fraction of their size.

They were marching steadfastly towards some goal, which was far, far away (and which I could not discern).

Never once did the ants stop and rest.

There were many obstacles in their path, including a hill of debris.

They went over it, without slowing down.

They did not seem to worry that the end was not in sight.

And whenever they eventually dropped off what they were carrying, they took the same long road back to point A, to pick up another load.

On the return trip, they did not dawdle or stop to commiserate with their fellow ants.

I could not imagine those ants complaining about the bus ride to the shala....

Or giving up after 14 breaths in forearm balance.

I learned a lot from those ants.

* * *


After studying my passport, the Customs agent in Charlotte asked me how long I'd been gone. "Six days," I said. "Then you don't know yet about your governor," he said, and proceeded to tell me about Blago's alleged attempt to sell Obama's senate seat. (It's pronounced "Bluh-GOY-a-vich," by the way). Welcome to America.

And on the way home from the airport late last night, the rain began to freeze and turn to sleet. The temperature plummeted as the night wore on, yet still the sleet/whatever came down. This morning the world was covered with ice - including the car I drive. I tried to open the door and it was frozen shut.

I eventually got it open and scraped off most of the ice before making my way to teach.

I had to make all left turns to get there, as I could not see out the right windows.

The side streets were unusually slick, and I nearly slid into several cars. Several times.

Later I learned that in order to save money, the City of Chicago is not salting side streets this year. (Apparently paying off lawsuits is cheaper than road salt)

Yet I bet they still have funds to lure the Olympics here.

Bienvenidos a la selva indeed....