Tonight I Googled myself to see what strangers might find when looking for me on the Internet. “Olivia Watkins” I was disappointed when the first search result revealed another Olivia C. Watkins – Clare, not Catherine. Two more results down and there I am. My Twitter account. My Facebook Account. Two websites I own (although one I’d completely forgot till now). Then an obituary for Olivia Rae Watkins from a town in Mississippi a few hours away. She was 17, a high school senior. A few years ago, the father of a young girl in Mississippi also named Olivia Watkins sent me an email asking if I would correspond with his daughter so that she might have someone with her same name, but more grown up with whom to talk. I wasn’t certain that the inquiry was well intentioned or if it was a man pretending to have a daughter with the same name. I never responded. I wonder now if that was the father of this young girl. I wonder if I missed the opportunity to know her. Olivia Rae died 23 days ago. She was driving home late at night, the news coverage says, when her 2005 Toyota lost control and drove off the side of Branch Farm Road into a tree. She died on the scene. Her photo shows an engaging young woman standing next to a horse. Her t-shirt has had the sleeves cut off and script screen print on the top left chest says, “Southern Belle.” Despite her ponytail and sweaty brow she is wearing dark eyeliner and bright blue nail polish. It’s foolish to think that I am connected to her, but my heart sinks as I read comments about the accident. The story of her life should be first, not below the fold.
I’ve only been a customer for a few months, but I already love you and come back to you constantly. Your classes keep me sane when work is too crazy and I can’t get to a yoga class in person. Your lectures help me delve further into my practice and deepen my understanding as a newbie yoga teacher. When I can’t sleep at night, I pull up David Wagner’s Back to Sleep meditation to help me rest. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the end of it because it always puts me to sleep.
Lately, you’ve been stressing me out a little more than helping me. It’s the patent issue.
For months, my friends and yoga teachers have been talking about this. For months I’ve defended the concept of the intellectual property patent created to protect a certain style of filming a yoga class. I get it. It would be like someone writing a short story exactly like my short story with the same characters and plot lines only with a slightly different twist. But when I defended you to my friends, I said that it was unlikely that the patent would mean current yoga videos would have to come down — ones that have already been filmed and are live on websites across the Web. “They are a yoga company,” I argued, “their goal can’t possibly be to cut out all the competition, just to protect their hard work and make sure blatant copycats don’t try to put them out of business.”
That was what I thought until I read this letter: http://yogainternational.com/article/view/open-letter-to-yogaglo. I am so disappointed. I love Yoga International just as much as I love you, YogaGlo. Please don’t make me choose. That’s like one friend asking me to stop hanging out with another — friends don’t make friends choose, especially when they are both wonderful and enriching.
I’m going to give you a little more time, YogaGlo. I’m not going to walk away just yet because I have faith that you’ll do the right thing. You represent yoga teachers and students. We are a community that grows together. When we make it a point to separate ourselves and try to demean or diminish our colleagues, we all suffer. Going after each other does not strengthen our community, it weakens us.
I am posting this letter to my blog and sharing it on a few social media sites and with my other Southern yogis. I hope that in time you will do the right thing and allow folks like Yoga International keep their videos up online for us all to use. I hope that you demonstrate the characteristics and qualities that yogis are supposed to live.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. You can find me at www.sweetolivewrites.com if you want to get in touch with me.
CYT and yoga practitioner since 1998
Last week Nick Hwang mentioned that he wanted to send out a Christmas card to our friends and family with a photo of us in it. Adorable, right? Trouble was that we were less than 20 days away from Christmas. How in the world would we find a photographer with availability that we could afford who could get us images in time to have cards printed and mailed?
I sent a few photographer friends messages to see if they had any immediate availability. There are so many talented people in Baton Rouge and I’m lucky to know many of them. On a whim, I also sent a message to a photographer who is dating a former coworker and friend of mine. I’d been stalking her photos on Instagram and Facebook for months. Natalie Mancuso captures stunning images that are more than pretty pictures, they tell a story.
Fate must have aligned in our favor that day, Natalie emailed me back quickly and said she had a cancelation for the coming weekend. We picked a time and met up in an empty field off of Highland Road on Saturday.
Maybe it was all that Instagram stalking, but I felt totally comfortable with her as soon as the shoot began. She was kind, easy going and so energetic. I LOVE the first few images she shared with us on Facebook and can’t wait to see the rest.
The most incredible part of the day was how much we synced instantly. After the shoot, Natalie, Nick and I sat down for coffee and talked about everything from photography to fracking in West Virginia. Needless to say, I’m new-friend smitten.
Talking with Natalie also reminded me how difficult it was to find folks that I felt I could be myself with in Baton Rouge. This city is wonderful for its hospitality and sense of community, but that sense of community can also make it difficult to be an outsider. It can also be tricky to find your niche in a city that is dominated by higher ed, oil and gas, and government jobs. Being a writer, artist or photographer can be tricky. There are networks of creative types here, but they can be tough to find and infiltrate.
That being said, I’m so glad to have made a new friend in Natalie and I’m looking forward to sharing the rest of the photos she took for us this weekend. If you’re looking for a photographer in the Baton Rouge area, I highly recommend checking out her work.
In approximately 75 minutes, I start yoga teacher training. I am terrified and excited. I am curious and cautious about what I may learn, both about yoga and about myself.
A few weeks ago, my brother-in-law grilled me about my relationship to yoga. He wanted to know if I was “legit.” I’m still not sure what he meant entirely, but he nodded in agreement when I told him that I approach yoga as a way to frame the rest of my life. When things get difficult on the mat, I have to push through them. I hope that in doing so I am preparing myself to tackle difficult situations off the mat.
Truth be told, I don’t feel well when I don’t practice for a long period of time, I lose focus. My temper shortens and I let the world settle in on my shoulders.
Though I’ve been practicing off and on since I was 14 years old, I have mostly approached yoga through the asanas. It is only lately that I have begun to teach myself to meditate and have begun reading more about the other “limbs” of a yoga practice.
Today, we are gathering for our first lecture series and a special ceremony. We will be setting intentions for our training. I’m still not sure what that intention will be except to keep my heart and my mind open.
Have you gone through a similar experience before? How did you approach it?
I am grateful, oh so grateful, for the blessings bestowed upon me. I know there will be hard times, still. Some linger with me now, hanging like an ill-fitted dress in the back of the closet.
Oh, but the blessings. There are so many that my heart pumps fiercely when I think about them:
- The job. After a brief exploration of a world mostly foreign to me, I’m back where I began in public service — the Department of Health and Hospitals as its press secretary. Not only do I get to work with so many of the incredible, dedicated people that I worked with four years ago when I was there first, but I also now get to work with my friend Christina.
- The community of faith. Last year, Nick and I joined University United Methodist Church. It has become home, and the members and leaders have become our friends. I am sad when we are unable to go some Sundays, but can’t get too far without hearing from Lee or Jay (at Ingleside now). I’ve never had a church community with whom I felt connected, but this is it. I am home when I am there. Also, it doesn’t hurt that the choir’s songs are warm and affecting. Nor does it bother me much to be surrounded by the beautiful stained glass windows that line the chapel walls. Seriously, stop in some time just to see the art; stay for the coffee and friendship.
- The new niece or nephew. My sister, Heather, is about to pop — bringing the third Mulroney baby into this world. I can’t wait to be an aunt for a third time. I miss Elodie and Aidan (first two Mulroney babies) terribly, but know I’ll get to see them soon too.
- The new Denoyer baby. Nick’s sister Gloria and her husband Aaron are about to have their second baby, a new little girl. Baby Natalie will have a little sister and we’ll have a new love to shower with affection.
- Everything. Nick, my family, my friends, everything.
I can do nothing but smile and be happy at the thought of these blessings. I am so happy to be here, of all places, in all times.
For what are you grateful? What makes your heart burst with joy?
Memory is a tricky thing. I should say now that what follows are purely my memories and I cannot attest to their accuracy. They are, however, very fond because they are of a woman who loves me very much and spent the better part of my life trying her hardest to get to know me, to make me feel loved, and spoiled me with peanut butter/sugar sandwiches and bunny milk — Nana Brown.
My parents divorced before I was old enough to know the difference and not long after, they both married other people. I was blessed with four parents, a new step-sister and four sets of grandparents. Later, I would gain two more sisters and a baby brother. The love I was given was, and still is, far beyond anything most children could hope to receive.
Today is the birthday of my step-mom’s mother, Nana Brown. Because I can’t be with her today, I want her to know how much I truly love her and how grateful I am for the love she gave me throughout the years. It started, from what I can remember, with bunny milk, and peanut butter sandwiches with sugar.
Bunny milk, despite its name, is not made from or by bunnies — surprise, surprise. Bunny milk is, however, one of the most delicious treats my five-year old taste buds had ever encountered. Nesquik sold, and likely still does, a powdered milk flavoring for strawberry milk. On the little pink box was the Nesquik bunny rabbit with his long, fuzzy ears and ridiculous grin.
The only time I remember having bunny milk was at Nana Brown’s house. When I stayed with my Dad and step-mom during summer vacations and over the holidays, I often spent afternoons with Nana while everyone else was at work. My biological mom, still very focused on healthy eating, wasn’t a big fan of sugary drinks so I wasn’t going to get this treat anywhere else. Nana Brown would break out the little pink box and together at her kitchen counter we would make bunny milk.
And, as if that wasn’t nearly enough sugar, Nana would make me my favorite sandwich — peanut butter on Wonder Bread with sugar. The crusts, of course, had to be cut off.
The sugar content from bunny milk and my favorite sandwich must have made me nearly unbearable as a little girl, running around wanting to play and wondering when we’d be leaving the house to go on an adventure. Nana Brown surely must have been the bravest and coolest person I knew in all of my childhood years. And together, when my parents were off at work, she and I shared our sugary treats — just us.
The truth is, I didn’t love Nana Brown just for bunny milk. I loved, and continue to love her dearly, for the way she welcomed me into her home, her family and her heart. It can be tricky, as I have discovered over the years, to have a family of “yours, mine and ours.” It isn’t just easy to transition a strange little person into a grandchild, but somehow she did it with a great deal of grace so that I never knew any different. Nana Brown became my friend and my nana. Plain and simple.
As I grew older, Nana and I drifted apart. This, I’m afraid, is largely my fault. As my mom and step-dad moved our family across the country, a new place each year, I grew more and more distant from my family in North Carolina where Nana Brown and many more of my relatives still live. As a pre-teen, Nana Brown took me to work with her in a small gift shop in historic downtown New Bern. The shop was beautiful and I remember being so proud that I got to help out at the store.
As high school and college came and went, I stopped seeing Nana Brown as much as I had before. I struggled to split my time between my family members across the country and neglected the friendship and love that Nana so freely gave to me. Now, after a few years of rushing home to North Carolina as frequently as possible, I have been able to visit more frequently with her, although not nearly as much as I’d like.
Today, because it is her birthday, but also just because, I want her to know how much I love her and the am grateful for the love she showed me for so many years. I will never forget our afternoons together and the bunny milk she made for me. True love doesn’t come in a Nequik box, but it can be shown over a glass of bunny milk made for a little girl by her nana.
Today is all about looking ahead. As per any presidential inauguration, there was an inaugural address mapping out the direction and the course for the next four years. I, like many spectator/participants, will be watching closely in the coming years to see what gets accomplished and what does not. Certainly, the president has set a high bar for his next term. It is expected of the office that he will make clear his intentions on where and how he’d like to lead the country. But not only does he have to promise the nation monumental change, he has to follow through.
Reading the address, I wondered what it would be like if we were all asked to lay out the course of our lives for the next four years. What do we plan to accomplish? What would be our guiding principles? What challenges are we most focused on addressing? And then, at the end of those four years, how would we measure up against the things we said — the things we promised to those around us and to ourselves.
Recently, my boss asked me what my five year and 10 year plans are. He wanted to know what my goals would be for my career and how I planned to get there. To be honest, I was at a loss for an answer. I have no real clue what my long-term goals for my career are right now. I’m not sure if I want to end up in government/crisis communications, marketing, policy, back in journalism or (gasp) in law. The future, as I understand it, is not entirely up to me. For all of the plans I’ve made, very few have come to fruition. I have, however, had incredible experiences, been challenged and driven to take on projects with the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill that I never thought possible. I haven’t landed where I thought I might, but I don’t regret it for one minute.
That being said, I do know some things for certain — who I want to be in four years. Jobs change rather frequently in the new economy. The one thing that I can control is who I am in those jobs and with the people around me.
I want to be thoughtful, kind, driven and honest. I want to love passionately and work hard. When life gets rough, I don’t plan to crumble beneath the weight of the broken pieces on my shoulders. Instead I will brush them off, pick up what is usable and make something new.
As for the tangible plans of how I want to change my career, if I will seek a graduate degree or move home to the Carolinas, I’ll wait to announce my four year plan to the world. Frankly, I plan to work diligently to get my life in order and to grow closer to family and friends who matter most. That is enough for now and those, in the end, are the things that matter more. As long as I keep writing and spending time with those people I care about most, I think the next four years will turn out just fine.
What would be the content of your inaugural address? Where are you going in the next four years?
There are so many things that I have been musing on lately so I will do my best to catch up here and share them. Today, though, I wanted to share something immediate and fresh.
This morning I was blessed enough to be able to step away from the chaos of the week by stepping onto the mat with the community at Mulananda Yoga. I’ve been taking classes there since late in the spring and and love the space, the instruction and the other students. Not only am I challenged through poses on the mat, but I am centered through the attentive meditation and chanting at the beginning of class.
This morning, Alicia (our teacher) challenged us to focus our practice on impermanence. Certainly, the notion that nothing in this life is forever can be disconcerting. When things are great, we want them to last. But when things are bad, we can take refuge in the notion that this too shall pass. I believe what she was really asking us to do was remember that in the beautiful moments of life, to savor each second, and, in those not so beautiful times, to remember that things will change, develop and we will not forever be burdened by the pain, discomfort or hurdles that face us in those moments.
How do we do this? How do we let go and accept the impermanence of life and of the challenges we face?
I am certain that the only permanent thing in this life and the next is God. So accepting that reality and the notion of impermanence means placing my faith in a loving, forever God that guides, challenges and comforts me — whether I am in yoga class or facing difficult times personally.
For now, I am also learning to trust in my body, particularly on the mat. In a class like today’s heavily based on flow, I don’t often face asanas that make me pause and wonder if I’m going to fall flat on my face. Alicia included a number of chair poses, a thigh-exhausting pose that many yogis despise. My least favorite is by far triangle pose (or any variation on triangle). I’m always tempted to move out of the posture to adjust something, my hips, my shoulders, to “make sure” my torso is elongated while rotating rather than crunching in the twist.
Today, we did revolved triangle. For me, this is one of the worst postures ever available on the mat. I want to run and hide. I didn’t however, I stuck with it. After all, the pose wasn’t going to last forever.
But triangle pose doesn’t scare me. It doesn’t challenge me to put faith in my body. That was what happened after class.
As we were rolling up our mats and talking, Alicia reminded us that tomorrow Mulananda has a Level 3 class. Level 3 scares me. Level 3 makes me feel weak just thinking about it. Level 3 requires things like being able to straighten your legs in wheel pose. It means lots of inversions and arm balances. About the most complicated arm balance I can (barely) do at this point is crane pose and typically I bruise my arms from digging my knees into the wrong spot when I practice it.
My friend and amazing yogi, Chelsea, has been telling me that I should go for months and I always come up with a reason to skip it. I’m too full from lunch after church. I need to work editing this fisheries report. I have to feed my cat/wash my hair/begin cooking an elaborate dinner that will take all afternoon.
This time, when Alicia brought up the class I decided to ask:
Me: So if I attend the class and I’m not strong enough for some of the poses, may I skip those ones?
Alicia: Of course. Plus, you’ll learn the steps that will help you get stronger and prepare you for the more complicated poses. Can you do a handstand?
Me: I’ve never tried.
Alicia: Want to now?
So I did. I didn’t exactly make it all the way up into the handstand against the wall, but I started the process of learning to feel what it is like to push my body a little further than it is comfortable going. I also learned that I have to have a little faith in myself.
I’ve been practicing yoga, thanks to my mother, since I was about 14. I haven’t always practiced consistently, but I always end up in the same place — back on the mat. I’ve learned to trust myself in crane, balancing on my wimpy little wrists that look like they belong to a 12-year-old girl. Now it is time to trust myself a little more.
So this is it. I’m going to this class on Sunday (tomorrow) and I’m going to trust my body. After all, nothing is permanent in this physical life. I can, at least for now, trust my bones, my muscles, my tendons and my teachers to take me to the next level in my practice. Maybe I’ll not only learn how to do a handstand, but to stand up to the challenges that I face off the mat.
What scares you (on the mat or in life)?
Namaste and may God bless you. 🙂
Po-boys. Fried catfish. Bread pudding. Beignets.
I love New Orleans food. I dream of New Orleans food. I also can’t eat most New Orleans food any more.
A series of (day job) work meetings had me in New Orleans for several days in a row recently. I adore every visit to New Orleans, no matter how brief — unless of course I get stuck on I-10 all afternoon in traffic. This trip was no exception to that rule. After a day of meetings and work from the hotel lobby, I escaped with the help of the valet guys and made it to Sean Johnson’s Flow class at Wild Lotus on Perrier Street Uptown. There was singing, chanting, breathing exercises and plenty of arm balancing. I was a happy, happy girl.
After yoga class (and after my arms stopped shaking long enough to hold onto the steering wheel in my car), I drove down Magazine Street looking for respite, something with delicious allergy-friendly food and a good glass of wine. I ended up at Salu.
After reading some rather discouraging articles about how chefs are getting tired of trying to accommodate food allergies from picky patrons, I approached the hostess desk and asking if gluten-free, rice-free, dairy-free would be a problem. No, no, no, the waitress consoled me, they were very allergy friendly. In fact, they had a gluten-free menu! Finally, I thought, a city more options.
My waitress brought out the regular menu, instead of the gluten-free menu and wasn’t really up-to-speed on what items were okay to eat. I explained my allergies and she went back to the kitchen to check. When she returned, she listed off a series of items that would be appropriate. Salu is a tapas restaurant that I attended many times in my pre-EoE days.
- Coriander-seared tuna served with mango verde without the lime sour cream
- Seared duck breast with sweet potatoes, cranberries and walnuts
- BBQ pulled pork on corn fritter cakes and cilantro-red onion salad
Dinner started out with a thoughtful plate of cucumber and oranges instead of bread. Props to the kitchen for sending that out. Next came the tuna which was, well, salty to say the least. Sauteed tomatoes and asparagus helped off-set the salt, but I definitely reached for my water more than my wine.
Next came the duck — one of my all-time favorite proteins. I was amazed that it was cooked without butter — usually butter is a key component in helping duck taste rich without being gamy. I should have listened to my instincts on that one. Two bites into the duck and my chest tightened up and the food got stuck in my throat. I’m still not used to this feeling now that it isn’t a constant. I guess being symptom-free for nearly several months makes the occasional encounter that much more surprising and frightening. I starting downing water and pulled out my steroid inhaler.
Puff, puff, drink water.
All I wanted to do was lay down and push my hand onto my chest so it would feel like I were causing the tightness and pressure voluntarily rather than having to experience it without any control over whether or not it would stop. I stared at the plate, not wanting to say anything.
Then the waitress came back out. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “I can’t eat this, I am sorry,” I said, “there’s a butter sauce under the duck.”
“Okay,” she said. My concerns were falling on deaf ears.
“I can’t eat butter,” I continued.
“Oh,” she said. “You didn’t say that.”
“I can’t eat dairy,” I continued, completely baffled.
“Oh,” the light bulb turned on in her head, “I didn’t know butter was a dairy.”
**Brief pause for you to consider the state of public education in Louisiana.**
Needless to say, it was a long night. It was not without lessons for me, lessons that I’ll share with you here:
- If your food allergy is sever, you should mention that.
- Do not assume your server knows what ingredients go into a dish.
- Do not assume your server knows anything about food in general.
- Always try to speak with the person preparing your food.
- The nicer you are, even when things go horribly wrong, the better a night everyone has.
That’s all for now.
One epically slow Friday afternoon at my day job, I sat typing a horrendously long report—the kind that requires its own table of contents. Fridays are quiet around my office building. Rather than fall asleep at my desk, I broke through the silence with a song from Ingrid Michaelson. Then another and another. I listened to just about every song she’s ever released. Her music kept my toes tapping under my desk and my head from nodding forward in a lunch-induced coma. “If you are chilly, here, take my sweater,” she sang to me.
I don’t have Ingrid Michaelson’s entire library on my computer, but I do have Spotify, and this little desktop app lets me stream music straight to my computer. Calling itself the “lean, green music machine,” Spotify certainly has a lot going for it.
Released in 2008 in Sweden, Spotify has grown massively in just a few years. By the time it was released in the United States last summer, it was already available in seven other countries. With 1.6 million subscribers to paid “unlimited” or “premium” versions, Spotify makes music legally accessible online and on-demand for $4.99 for computer access or $9.99 for mobile capability and syncing with your home computer. The promise is that you have all of your music and all of Spotify’s wherever you go and whenever you want.
“It just made sense,” audiophile Micah Nickens told me recently in his cozy studio. Spotify was playing music in the background, and I immediately started asking about the artists, making mental notes to try to find Nickens, who’s also the owner of the Garden District salon Gaudet Brothers, on Spotify when I got home. “I signed up for the free version for three days—but I did the premium right after that,” he said.
What he wasn’t expecting was the full social integration with Facebook that would happen weeks later. Nickens signed up using his personal email address rather than his Facebook account, but this fall, Spotify made it mandatory for new users to sign up through the social networking giant.