Moveable feats

Recovery continues to be a good slog. I can drive now, and use a cane much more often than crutches. I’ve been to the store more than a few times, take myself to the swimming pool, and attend physical therapy as an outpatient nearby. Sometimes, afterwards, I’ll pick up a coffee, and because I don’t have the hands available to carry it up to my apartment, will take it to a nature park I liked to walk in and just sit on a picnic table looking across the field at the big oak tree to drink it before going home.

Slowly relearning my gait. The great thing is that most of my physical therapy exercises can be easily incorporated into my yoga routine.

I had done some yoga before – 30 days of bikram yoga maybe 6 years ago, a little yoga my last year of college for gym requirements, and a little while living in Muenster, Germany, which I quickly ran out of time to attend regularly. I enjoyed the stretching, but didn’t really capture any earth shattering tangible benefit enough to stick with it. Bikram in particular was really competitive with people in all sorts of very fancy yoga attire, a lot of investment in yoga as an industry, which made it seem even more flim-flammier. And Bikram himself was just another case of clay feet. Ultimately, I preferred to take my exercise outdoors, I’d rather go for a walk in nature. Plenty of my friends and acquaintances have enjoyed and sworn by yoga over the years, but I never thought of it as something that I really needed or wanted to spend much time on, maybe a little too navel-gazing. My former girlfriend had a consistent Qi Gong practice for awhile and I learned some of that series and sometimes I’d join her for group sessions, but again, I was never a strong adherent.

Reading about trauma recovery and how yoga brings one into one’s body (van der Kolk) has compelled me to give yoga another try. I got a deck of yoga cards and a new fancy ecologically-friendly mat to avoid the PVC chemicals in my old one. The cards are great because they tell you exactly how to do each pose, and you can pick which ones to do. There’s also Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube for some routines. All of this has worked out splendidly. The first month I did this (maybe 2-3 times a week), it even seemed to miraculously get rid of my PMS. I can’t claim any sort of brilliant breakthrough – my PMS seemed to return the next month though maybe less intensely, but it seems beneficial enough in many ways to keep sticking to it. I just can’t wait to get back on my bike, in my kayak, or out on the trail though. Patience.

The other new thing in my life has been cooking. It’s ok, yes, quite embarrassing that it’s only now, but I’ve found a magical cookbook. Ok — so why now? As a kid I had a lot of issues with the textures of foods, and for this reason rejected various food items, including most meat. The texture of meat was so upsetting that even in middle school I’d slip my meat to the dog under the table. My mom was a fantastic cook as I was growing up, and we ate dinner together as a family every night. Mom was territorial about her kitchen, as it was pretty much one of her only domains of activity. Most of her recipes were very complicated and needed a long list of ingredients. She had a million different kitchen gadgets. For her birthday or Christmas she wanted even more, or sets of expensive dishes which were so far outside of my and my sister’s allowance or holiday budget that my dad would step in to help fund them, or sometimes my sister and I would team up to purchase her a dinner plate. As a doctor’s wife, she could have all of it. But it was never like one could just go into the kitchen and make oneself a sandwich. She would be hovering there, ready to become upset if everything were not done or replaced just so. There was special bread that was stored frozen and which, after taking a piece would need to be re-swaddled exactly as it was in the saran warp, the delicate toaster that had to have the handle ever so gently raised, there were special toppings in different jars, most of which I didn’t totally like or some of which was being saved for other things, or my mom would be hovering in there and presenting me with several different overwhelming options and the whole thing became so complicated that most of my on-the-go snacks were just cheerios to get out of there quickly. Food was also her currency of love, but it became smothering really fast, and it also became her main realm of communication and negotiation, where she would try to get me to eat things I didn’t want, no matter how many times I said I didn’t want any, and then she would get hurt feelings if I didn’t as though I had rejected her personally rather than responded to my own needs. The idea of falling into such a trap of being stuck endlessly in the kitchen with all of my energy and creativity and validation wrapped up in just kitchen things frightened me so much that I simply avoided anything to do with cooking, because I would grow up to have a Career and Power and Travel in the external world – many better things to do and realms of influence – and not be stuck doing trivial homemaking. Add to this that I was messier than she could tolerate, dropping crumbs, coffee grounds, etc., and my being in the kitchen with her was a recipe for disaster.

Living in Germany after college was the first time I had to really figure out how to feed myself, as a vegetarian this was a bit tricky, so once I found something cheap which was reasonably nutritious that I liked, I pretty much stuck with it for a long time. Often this was a spinach feta roll from a kebap stand, small pizza, or instant meals of some variety. Both then and in grad school, sometimes I would get so wrapped up in something that I would simply forget to eat. The only time I really planned out my meals with significant forethought was for backpacking trips. I also never really wanted to amass many kitchen items at time of life when I was often needing to move. So in this way, I spent may years fairly out of touch with my body and not being very interested in planning adequately to meet its needs. There had been a period in high school when I tried to exert more control than not over what I ate, and cruelly failed to meet some of my body’s needs especially when doing extreme exercise, also setting a bad example for my sister, who then had her own disordered eating after I left for college.

After meeting my German relatives, my aunt-at-a-remove in southern Germany taught me how to make bread from scratch, the really excellent Bauernbrot. It is a long process that taught me to appreciate dough as a living thing. I haven’t yet made it in the U.S., which is mostly a matter of translating the recipe.

I did make a valiant effort to create some meals when I first met my former girlfriend, and ideally I would have liked to have shown up in a more egalitarian way. By then I could pull a few things together (a quiche, a puttanesca pasta, and a salmon recipe, some appetizers, and that was about it), and it was a wonderful surprise to find that we shared the same diet of eating fish, eggs, and dairy but otherwise no meat. She could swiftly pull a fish, a vegetable, and a grain together into a meal in a natural, elegant way with a simple list of ingredients. One always tasted the clean purity of the main ingredients rather than their being obscured by rubs and sauces, as my mom had been more prone to do. It was so uncomplicated, and revelatory that it could be managed with such grace and speed, and so little fussiness. As time wore on and we moved in, my limited repertoire, a few really bad or burned meals, sense of overwhelm and lack of enjoyment in the kitchen paired with her extensive skill, experience and creative enjoyment shuffled me out of doing most cooking. Lucky me – to land with a really excellent cook, and I did sometimes learn a few things, but she seldom followed a recipe as she let her intuitive palette and experience lead the way, so a lot of it was a dance totally unique to her that can’t be followed or replicated. I did the baking, mostly simple bread and cookies, and sometimes took us out for happy hour or a meal but it was really nothing in comparison.

Now that I’m living on my own and having been spoiled rotten by really good food cooked by others for most of my life, it has been time to snuff up my act. For the first months, I was totally overwhelmed by the idea, just barely understanding my Instant Pot which I had invested in the prior year as a craft which could carry me over the sea of separation as I rowed into self-sufficiency. A little robot friend who could reassure me with its programmability for good food. Little by little, I’ve become more comfortable in my kitchen as I grow my repertoire of stove-top cooking with my magical cookbook, and have actually, to my great surprise, found some enjoyment in it. I’ve mostly done a lot of soups. The beauty of the vegetables and the patterns of organic foods bring me closer to nature. I’m getting to know my spices and which sorts of recipes typically need what. How grains are sold, and what to look for. It also gives me a sense of control over my food and knowing exactly what’s in it, and pride of self-sufficiency, so that it’s feeling much less of a chore and headache than I anticipated. There have been smoke alarms, damaged pans, spoiled vegetables I waited too long to use, some mishaps from misread ingredients or inattention along the way (audio books do and don’t make good cooking companions), or just bad meals I don’t like for sure, but I really appreciate the organic nature of it. Sometimes I have my former girlfriend for dinner as my taste tester. The last few meals, she’s been really impressed, which is saying a lot.

Maybe, like yoga, it’s something I just needed to come to and do in solitude without any layers of expectation or pressure. A growing, breathing space.