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Chandra's Blog


Entries in running (5)


Every day I hate yoga a little less...

A confession: up until yesterday, I could not touch my toes. I first realized this in the presidential physical fitness challenge, fifth grade. I couldn't even come close. On a good day, I can graze about halfway down my shins. I blame this on genetics--my family of origin, with a few exceptions, are woefully uncoordinated and inflexible--and eighteen years of regular running ratcheting my hamstrings.

Yoga Utila--sunset practiceBecause of this humiliating fact, prior to our move to Utila this past summer, I have only dabbled in yoga at eight waddling months pregnant, where any inability to reach my toes could be blamed on the human being slung around my midsection. I used inversion (headstanding) to successfully turn Max, who was breech, and the meditation time to dream about the little person I would soon meet.

Still, after the babies, with no excuse for my lack of flexibility, and the baby weight to lose, I popped the kids in the stroller and returned to running. In my late teens, I'd found this, a solitary athletic pursuit where you are your own goal setter and the only person who views your shortcomings, when you break stride going up a rough hill, is yourself.  (You can read more about my relationship with running here.)

This past August, we packed up the family and moved to the South Shore of Utila, where my husband warned running might be limited by terrain, bloodthirsty bugs, island dogs and water boundaries. He suggested this was the place to try something new--with the wide ocean just steps from our front door and our new neighbor Andi had recently started a yoga studio. Yoga Utila is a grassroots organization that welcomes visiting instructors, provides discounts to Honduran locals, and donates to those in need--providing hardship families with things like electricity and medical care, and feeding and sponsoring homeless dogs. It felt like something I wanted to support. With some trepidation, I bought a mat at Five Below in the States, and threw it in my bag.

I gritted my teeth through my first few weeks of classes. The kids were with a Spanish tutor in the mornings on the South Shore so I was using the time to ride into Town by boat, write and exercise. My first class was Ashtanga, fifty percent English and Spanish, one hundred percent misery. I hated nothing like I hated downward dog--a cruel hamstring torture and humiliating arch exposure. Until you have walked through the gritty streets of Utila Town in flip flops, you have never been so self-conscious about flashing the dirty soles-that-should-be-touching-the-mat to the yogis behind you. Who, I might add, are all doing it right, like they know what's coming next, like they have done this hundreds of times. I was not listening to my breath or quieting my thoughts. I was wondering what was the difference between foreward fold and half-lift--other than that in neither of them was I anywhere near as sandwiched as I should be? And how many times were we going to keep doing these same poses--and what the hell is the difference between chataranga and a push-up?

Kids Yoga on Coco's Dock over the oceanI only went back to be polite to Andi, who was giving me rides into town, because I wanted to like it, and because it was there. When in Rome...

I tried Anusara, intro to yoga, gentle yoga and Ashtanga again. The only part I looked forward to (other than the lolling around and the little lavender pillows over the eyes at the end) was the fact that it took place on the outdoor dock of Coco's bar over the ocean and in tree pose (which I actually didn't suck at) I could enjoy looking out to the lighthouse on the reef as my drishti. And every time Andi said in the opening, "You are here, practicing yoga on a dock over the ocean in the Caribbean. Welcome the sights and sounds of the sea and the community to be a part of your practice," I realized just how lucky I was. The trouble with yoga was not the instructors or the inspiritaional location; it was me.

I still sort of hated it, even as a month passed and I realized I was improving in the tiniest of increments. It was a surprise one day when I went to a beginner's class and felt that it was too slow, too easy. Over time, my heels inched a little closer to the mat, while I cursed through my clenched teeth in downward dog. My mantra was a very un-yoga:  I hate this I hate this I hate this--peppered with expletives.

Plus, to be honest, it didn't feel like a sport. Yoga didn't give me the same rush or sense of accomplishment as running, not that I was finding much of that in my ten-minute-mile stumbly, stunted jaunts runs back and forth on the South Shore, carefully watching every placement of my feet on the uneven terrain.

I confessed my true feelings for yoga one afternoon to a group of full-on converts.

"Why do you hate yoga?" A friend's husband asked contemplatively in his lovely Norwegian accent while we sipped coffee on his porch looking out over the sea. 

"Because," I sputtered, "because I'm so bad at it!"

"But... you cannot be bad at yoga. You can only be new to the practice."


And then Yoga Utila moved all but their sunset classes to a real studio space over the supermercado, andKim, center, sunset yoga three visiting instructors came to the island, which is how I ended up on a steamy Monday morning in a freshly-painted studio in an Ashtanga class with Kim Johnson from Kansas City. Because the purpose of Ashtanga is to heat your body from the inside, sweating is encouraged. No air conditioning, no fans, on a ninety-degree, humid day in the Caribbean. Kim, a former fitness competitor led the class like an athletic exercise--fast, hard, challenging, a pose for every inhale and exhale. I didn't have time to generate my loathing for down dog, because I was jumping through to triangle! It was pure exhilaration.

I have never sweat like that in my life. Not in summer field hockey camp, not in labor, not in my longest runs in Grand Cayman. Sweat ran down my arms to pool on my mat, stung my eyes and snaked up inside my nostrils while in headstand. The class went long, almost two hours, and I left feeling completely high. My experience was enhanced by having slept over at Andi's the night before where she talked me through a history of yoga/primer--complete with print-out visual aids. Going into this transformative class, I had the basic knowledge that for every bending movement, there would be an extension; so this was the difference between forward fold and half-lift! 

Since then, I admit that every day, I hate yoga a little less. Kim and I have talked about how I can continue to do both yoga and running, depending on what I need, and yoga will help my running, (but running won't help my yoga). On my last class with her before she returns to the States, we all dashed through a rainy season deluge, starting out as soaked as I usually end my classes with Kim. For the first time in our opening downward dog, I felt something I had been anticipating--the soles of my wet feet, my heels, kissing the floor.

Afterwards, as we said goodbye, Kim pointed out the improvement that has come with continued practice, the ways yoga is changing my body, and my demeanor.

"Well, yes, but I still can't touch my toes." And as I went to show her, I realized I could. 

* *** *


 Huge thanks to Andi Ryon, for founding Yoga Utila and leading inspiring classes, to Aura for my introduction to Ashtanga, to visiting instructors Rachel and Amber for welcoming me and the boys into your classes and to Kim, for truly beginning the transformation. 



La Vida Tranquila -- Night Run 

Tonight, as the sun slid down over the casuarinas and the boats made steady progress in front of our house, home from a Saturday at the Cays or back from Town, I was reluctant to run. It had been a full day-- we passed on going to the Independence Day parade in Town and kids yoga on the dock to stay home. We made a stack of thick coconut pancakes and Toledo bacon for breakfast, followed by a family boat trip along the dive sites of the South Shore. We dropped in and out of the water, snorkeled the cave at Big Rock and searched for J's kiteboarding leash in the shallows. We didn't find his leash, abandoned during a dicey shore landing last week, but we did meet a bad-tempered spotted moray. 

Amigo is always up for a runA sunny day on the water takes it out of you, and after editing for the rest of the afternoon, I was ready to sit out and drink a glass of wine at sunset, but Amigo insisted we go. I'm not much of a distance or a speed runner but I am doggedly devoted to logging some miles at the end of the day. (I talk about my relationship with running in this essay.)

After weeks of flip flops, my sneakers feel like stones, like 80's aerobics ankle weights. Tonight I saw fingers of lightning on the mainland, and heard the rustle of wind in the sea grapes. Rain would be good news for our cistern, which ran dry again this week, but bad for my iPod. I went anyway. In spite of the heat, I layered up against mosquitoes and bad weather, sprayed myself with bug juice, called my perro and set out.


The first part of our run is along a narrow trail through a tangle of sea grapes, palm and almond trees, ten yards above the shorebreak. I had my headphones on, so I didn't hear them rustling in the dried leaves and underbrush. Amigo was in a feisty mood, nipping at my side, and when we hit the open beach, he leapt and twisted in the air beside me, demanding attention and some training, so I didn't notice them at first. When I finally looked down, they were everywhere. Dozens of land crabs on the white sand, dukes up, boxer dancing in their side-stepping sashay from the bush to the water.

We had just arrived on Utila when this happened before, a month ago, walking home from the marina after a boat ride home from dinner. One of them managed to find her way up inside my bootleg jeans; I screamed like a gringa. It is breeding season for the Cardisoma guanhumi, or Blue Land Crab. After mating, the females carry their eggs, as many as 700,000 under their armored bellies for two weeks, before they bring them down to wash them and deposit them in the shallows. This happens most often around full moons in the nights from July to November. 

I jogged in the soft sand past the soon-to-be-opened restaurant, west, where it is wilder, where rutted Polaris tracks covered in island pine needles mark the trail along the beach, and everywhere, skittering out of my way, confusing Amigo, there were crabs. I made noise and watched my step, until I came to a point where I simply couldn't go anymore. From the water to the treeline, the ground was a carpet of crabs.

I realized the kids would love to see this and Amigo and I raced the mile home. We abandoned music and came back with Hayden and headlamps as the light was nothing more than a watery gray by then. We ran, clapping and laughing, as more and more came out under the cover of darkness. 

Hayden among the 'Cardisoma Guanhumi'

Generous, Hayden suggested we go back for his brother and sister, so they wouldn't miss this incredible experience. Another sprint back, the ground crawling with them, and now it was truly dark. A cloudy sky, night bird sounds, the increasing wind, the hum and slap of the unlit boats making their way on the ocean, we brought Piper and Max out to the beach. Running was impossible this time. They crawled over our feet, danced out of our way, their eyes glinting. Our lights picked up glowing underneath the crabs, covering the sand and sparkling like diamonds, too far up the beach to be bioluminescence and first I wondered if they were lost eggs, but it was greenish blue gleam of tiny spider's eyes. 


On the way home, we laughed and dodged and made noise, feeling them pass over our feet, marveling at their size, their numbers, hundreds, thousands, "Infinity!" Piper suggested. Amigo darted between us, highstepping like a nervous show pony. We stayed out until the raindrops chased us home. 

* *** *


Monday Musing--It's Just a Number, Right?

A few days ago, I hopped on the scale to get the base reading for a puppy weight check. What? What's that?The scale must have been on a grout line or something, but no... there it was. It wasn't horrible, but it was a number I haven't seen since I was on my way up or down from having a baby*. And while that would be a welcome surprise, I'm pretty sure that's not the case, as a decision we made in early 2008 would make that somewhat of a medical miracle. 

I should be clear here--I'm not popping any buttons, we're talking maybe three (five) pounds, but when I reflect back, I realize that putting on my favorite Lucky jeans has been making me feel more breathless than fortunate recently. 


So what's the story? I read author Nichole Bernier's clever interview about what gives when wearing the hats of writer and mother, about how it is difficult to keep more than three balls in the air at once. This year, I added the new ball of having my kids home all the time to my juggling routine, so there was WRITING/BOOK TOUR, HOUSE, KIDS/HOMESCHOOL. Like Nichole, I watched exercise fall out of rotation more and more. (And if you ask my husband, he might point to a few other items that have been more backburnered this year. Yes, I'm talking about the ironing.)

The kicker is, I do exercise; I still run, but it's the same 3-6 mile routes I have since I was eighteen. In the winter season, I play ice hockey, and there's co-ed field hockey once a week March-November. But I don't go to the gym. I haven't since 2007, when I had my kids on a delayed vaccine schedule and we renamed the day care room at LA Fitness "the germ" for everything they brought home from there. The most serious 'workout' I do is the Gilad fitness show on cable--not rigorous and so ridiculous to squat and curl in my living room where swinging a weight too wildly could brain one of the kids bopping and sweating alongside me. 

While I went through the usual teenage weight angst, rib-counting and dieting dramas, as an adult I have been lucky. Pregnancies were kind to me and breastfeeding melted the pounds right off again. I eat pretty much what I want, play the sports I like, and I look pretty much the way I want to. (Though of course who is ever really satisfied?) Part of this is because a lot of the things I like are relatively healthy--roasted kale, quinoa, grilled tilapia and grape tomatoes with a little shredded cheese stick is one of my all time favorite meals. Our family doesn't eat much meat and we've been gluten free since 2005. As a result, we don't eat out often. My biggest vices are bacon and dairy--I could go the rest of my life without ever having another bagel, but removing cheese from my diet is unthinkable. And then there is the sugar in my tea, a must. And white wine... 

So how to handle these unwanted extras on the scale? Do I tell myself it's just a number, and focus on the more important things? Could it be that I'm crossing over into that new phase of life where, post-35, a woman has to work harder, literally run to stand still?  Or maybe I need to do the hospitable thing and invite these three (five) random pounds to stay? After all, they got up in the dark with me on those early writing mornings and kept me company while I drank sugared jasmine tea and wrote about a fictional marriage falling apart. These three (five) pounds traveled all over the country with me on book tour, eating nachos everywhere from the deep South to the Pacific Northwest. (It's a disorder--if there are nachos on the menu, even in a Chinese restaurant, I am literally unable to order anything else. Ask J about the crab shack in Outer Banks.) I'd like to be a gracious host, but I don't think the pounds can stay. Summer is here and trust me when I say with my short legs, 'mom-style' tank suits do me no favors; I've got to be able to sport a two piece. The extras must be cut.


My first line of attack has been to add a little more intensity to my runs--to pick a route with the hill I mention in this essay more frequently and try, despite the summer humidity that makes it feel more like swimming, to go more often. 

Secondarily, I have examined my diet and I've come up with a few likely culprits:

1.) Nutella--I buy this in the jumbo size jar and Pippi and I have 'tella toast 'n' tea almost every morning. People we stayed with on book tour could not believe the amount of Nutella we can go through in a week. This is not negotiable. Do you see this face?

Morning Ritual

Would you leave this face hanging when it came time for our morning ritual?

2.) Summer mojitos-- every summer, the mint patch under our cherry tree goes wild, and J and I are forced to harvest it, to keep it in check with nightly mojitos during our evening walk. These are his amazing concoction of muddled fresh lime and mint, ginger ale, Bacardi and sugar on the rim. Swoon. There are so many reasons I love this man.


Which leaves us with this:

3.) Grilled vegetables-- this is the only other thing I can think of. It's summer, and we're grilling more, which means asparagus and sweet potatoes and peppers and onions drizzled in olive oil outside on the grill. Olive oil is fattening, right?


So the cut that needs to be made is obvious. It seems a shame, with summer's bounty and all, but I sure am going to miss those veggies. 


* *** * 


*This is not entirely true. Other than pregnancy, there was one other time when I weighed more than 125. It was at the end of my freshman year of college. Seventeen years old, at The University of the South, away from home for the first time, I discovered beer. Thursday nights, my roommate and I would buy Falstaff by the $10/case (it's no wonder I still don't like beer with that as my intro!) and there was no amount of D3 field hockey or dining hall salad bar (albeit with liqui-lard ranch dressing) that could combat guzzling those before heading out the ATO house to drink more of it while standing on our heads. A complete cliche, I gained the dreaded freshman fifteen. 


Writers on Wednesday -- Maya Ziv

Today I have the distinct pleasure of bringing someone from the writing world, an editor at HarperCollins who worked very closely with me to bring CHOSEN to life, the lovely and talented Maya Ziv. Maya graciously answered many questions, some submitted by readers, some I just dreamed up, to share with you the life of an editor and some inside scoop from the ever-changing world of publishing. Welcome! 



1) What was the first book you ever loved?

I feel like I never know how to answer this question! I can say that as a young girl, I was absolutely obsessed with the Cinderella story. I had versions from all around the world and watched the Disney adaptation—and any other adaptation I could get my hands on!—about a million times. I also had a tape deck (so dated now!) on which I played the Disney soundtrack so many times my father almost broke the tape on purpose. It was this fervent obsession that made my aunt, also a book editor, comment that I was a born English major.


2) What originally drew you to the publishing world?

 Not to be corny, I was just born a reader. I was one of those kids that ate books, and unfortunately, was not very strong in other areas (read: math and science). When I was nine, we had “Take Your Daughter to Work Day”, and I couldn’t go with my mother, who’s a therapist, so I went to work with my aunt, the book editor. I walked into Simon & Schuster, saw the rows of books, and fell in love. I think what also helped was that for lunch we went to the 21 Club and I ate french fries. I think it was the french fries that really sealed the deal. I still have a note that I wrote that day stating my intention to be an editor when I “grew up.”


3) What is the publishing accomplishment of which you are most proud?

That’s a good question, one that I’m not sure I can answer. I guess a touching moment that stands out to me, was the first time I gave a debut author an early copy of his finished book. It was the first book I had worked on and so, in many ways, I think I over-identified with it. We both teared up looking at it, and it hit me that we had created something tangible that was indeed out there in the world. 


4) Readers ask me all the time if it hurts the author when they buy my book for their Kindle or other e-reader. I've always figured a sale is a sale is a sale, and at least it's probably harder to loan someone a book that you bought electronically. What's the inside scoop?

My personal opinion is that sales are sales, and while e-books are undoubtably here and making an impact on the market, I don’t think it’s a negative thing at all. Change is scary (I’ve always hated it!), but in this case I think it’s exciting.


 5) As part of a major NYC publishing house, what do you make of conversations like this about prominent writers abandoning their publisher and going out on their own? What about for the everyman? 

I’m embarassed to admit that sometimes I’m so caught up with emails and manuscripts that I don’t actually follow some publishing stories enough to form an opinion, so I feel a bit uninformed to make an intelligent answer. Re: the argument that there may not be a need for publishing houses, I always direct people to Laura Miller’s excellent piece on Salon. As someone who has been up to my elbows in slush, I think it makes a great point! 


6) Another stock question, but one I know some of my readers will want to hear the answer to: what is your best advice for a new writer trying to get his/her manuscript published?

 My best advice is to revise your manuscript until you would want to send it out yourself. And then read comparative titles, see what’s working in the market. And lastly, build a platform: Network with other authors, try to get pieces or stories published, gain a following on a blog, Facebook, or Twitter. I think the best thing an author can do is be informed and engaged in the process.


7) I know you're a runner--what do you listen to while you run? 



I actually don’t listen to anything! It’s me time—thinking through things, composing emails in my head, going over a mental to-do list. It’s my only real destresser.  


8) What book do you most wish you had been part of? 

 I’ve never been asked that, what a great question! I know I should be adventurous and name a book that involves time travel or exotic places, but the truth is, I’ve always longed to live in a Jane Austen novel. I want to take walks with Elizabeth Bennett and be friends with Emma. I know those women comparatively had very dull lives, but I’m a sucker for the clothes and for the period language. 


9) What author would you most like to have lunch with? Why?


 Well, when I was in elementary school I won a tea with Judy Blume, which is pretty much the highlight of my childhood. As an adult…I think Laurie Colwin. I just love her books and aesthetic so much, that I envision her making us a delicious homecooked meal while she gives me sage advice. Does that make me sound completely selfish?


10) Which book would you most like to see adapted to film?

Tricky question! Too many that I just can’t think of. I’ll stick to the classics and say that as much as I LOVED the Anne of Green Gables movies, there could be room for a new adaptation. 

11) In the movie version of Chosen, who would you cast as the main characters? 

After seeing Water for Elephants I am completely confused about casting direction. For now, I can definitively say Rachel McAdams as Chloe. (Chandra, do you want to kill me?) CKH: No, I can see it. I was thinking Claire Danes, because she does such a good job of being an ugly crier and wearing her anguish on her face, but maybe she's getting too old to be Chloe? 



12) Top 5 books of all time?
Disclaimer: This question changes everytime someone asks me, so this is the answer as of today:


Cowboys Are My Weakness by Pam Houston

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Happy All the Time by Laurie Colwin

The Known World by Edward P. Jones

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen


Diverse enough for you?

13) What's on your nightstand now?

Ha—what isn’t?! Bossypants; As Always, Julia; The Saints Will Find Their Way; Persuasion


14) What great question didn't I ask that I should have?

Q: What book has motivated you to do something new? I have to say that Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia motivated me to start cooking more, while Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project helped me implement small changes that made day-to-day life seem more manageable. 

 * *** *

BIO: Maya Ziv grew up in New York City, and after a stint in the Midwest for college, returned to New York to work in book publishing. An avid reader and runner with sadly no other real hobbies, she lives in Brooklyn, NY. 

You can find/follow her on Twitter: @Maya784



a good day

I've been living in three worlds these days--an uncomfortable feeling. 

There's the real one, where I'm a mom shepherding my kids through the transition to summer (we brought forty-two books home from the library yesterday!) and their chores and their fun, and I'm a wife, a gardener, and when I can grab it, a reluctant runner.

Then there's the CHOSEN life, preparing for the promotion and release of this novel. Meetings with my publicists in New York, articles and essays swirling around, jotted down. 

Then there's my current writing life, my new novel, where I've been in the most painful part of the homestretch for the past few weeks. Wanting to wrap it up and get it to my agent by deadline, worrying that it's not done, not right, not quite good enough. I worry that I have made characters too real, too flawed to be followed. Ironic, since the working title is FOLLOWING. 

Plus I tried to do the caveman diet for a week. Dumb. Cheese helps me write, I swear.

Last night, my brother suggested we try this running route that I have been dreading, six and a half miles that ends with a brutal quarter mile uphill. He's an English teacher, a good writer, and though he keeps a better pace, he's kind enough to slow it down for me, my favorite running companion.

He let me talk, the whole time, about my book. About the ending. Huffing and puffing along, I wheezed about my ideas and worries, twists and reveals, Easter eggs and closure. (Thanks, B!) We tweaked, and debated, compared to other works.  Sucking wind up the final hill, I suddenly had it. The ending!

I came home and took the kids swimming, jotting down watery notes while I timed them holding their breaths, cheered their underwater summersaults. I wrote until my eyeballs were dry at midnight. I sat down this morning and dashed the rest off, a sprint to the finish. And I finished it. 

In my CHOSEN life, I learned that NY Times' Lisa Belkin wants to run my essay on Why I Choose Homeschooling--a favorite, heartfelt piece of mine. (I'll post link when it comes available.) Thanks, Jocelyn! 

And in my real life, my boys weeded the shade garden without argument, my daughter beamed when I picked her up from music class, and I found four Calvin and Hobbes books my son doesn't have to take with us to his all day annual craniofacial team appointment at CHOP on Thursday. 

A good day--off to the pool.