Monday, September 29, 2008

Wanted: The Courage of St. Michael

A game of tug of war in Central Park - 1st graders to 12th graders on the same team. Mr. Stevens is the referee. Who says there's no place to play in Manhattan?

Waldorf children acting out a "The Tale of the Buffalo"

Actors ready to go "onstage". All ages - from 2nd grade to 12th are in this play.

Mr. Stevens' 1st grade. All in red to celebrate Michaelmas. Rudolf Steiner School, Manhattan.

It's been a long week. Then again, it's been a long eight years for some of us. We could use a little courage.The feast of St. Michael, known as Michaelmas, is celebrated mostly in Europe. According to Wikpedia, "The Archangel Michael is one of the principal angelic warriors, seen as a protector against the dark of night, and the administrator of cosmic intelligence." Come to think of it...we could use a little cosmic intelligence, too. Lee told the children a story of Angel Michael today and his courage against the ferocious dragon of evil. You will see him standing with one foot on a dragon and a sword lifted to the heavens. He is there to give us courage as the days grow dark - whether literally or metaphorically so. Seeming a little dark around here lately --- if you know what I mean.

The children are all in red because as Michael swoops across the heavens, his fiery sword touches the tips of the trees and turns them to gold and orange and red - giving us the colors of autumn.

In a Waldorf school, this festival is celebrated every year with the children on September 29, the Feast Day of St. Michael. (Waldorf is not strictly a "Christian" school, but celebrates many of the Judeo-Christian holidays. The curriculum includes blocks on all of the world's primary religions.) It has always been one of my favorite festivals and this one, my first at the Steiner School here in Manhattan was not a disappointment. I love the idea of celebrating courage - not a hawkish, warrior-like courage - but a deep, abiding, inner courage.

Today I watched children from Lee's first grade class meet their "buddies" from the 12th grade, who gently knelt to say hello, then rose to take their hand to lead them off to play games. Soon enough the first graders were galloping on the shoulders of these gentle giants. I watched them work together to create a play that told a Native American story of how man was given care over the earth and all living things. (Right...that happened.)

How quickly the time will pass when the little ones will be the Seniors. Lee's last class of first graders are 22 and just out of college. What courage they need to face the world now and how grateful I am for the Waldorf education they have had. Kids and parents just don't forget a day like this. I know because my own children went to a Waldorf school.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ten Things I Can't Live Without

Okay, that's a little dramatic. But, I love those articles in Elle Decor or wherever they are. Someone famous gets asked what they can't live without and they list the things with photos and most of the things cost a gazillion dollars and then two of the things are from nature - peonies or lilacs or their Jack Russell, Andre.

So, I'm driving home tonight from dinner with my friend Lucy. Well, Lucy and her husband, David, took "our" apartment in Florence this summer per our urging and tonight at dinner she showed me the pictures on her computer and I literally got goosebumpy and teary when she said her most memorable moment was when they threw open the doors to the terrace and opened the shutters on the window only to reveal Il Duomo. I know the feeling and it can't be beat.

It made me think of the things I have most cherished in life and one thing led to another and I decided to do a Top Ten List of My Own. But I think I'll do it in the "LIST" side of the blog so it hangs around for awhile - would love to hear yours! Please respond in any techno way you can do it. Not to worry about form - it' s the feeling that matters. Bring it on.

What are the top ten things you can't live without??????

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Damn Hippies

Lee Stevens in Rome, 1972

I just found this while cleaning out a box of stuff - telephone cords, a nail clipper, a fire alarm, oodles of photos of my children and this. This absolute gem of a photo of my husband in 1972 in Rome where he went to study Gestalt Therapy. His dear father, Lee, Sr. (who passed away this summer) used to talk about the "damn hippies."

No man deserves care-free hair like this.

Isn't life fabulous? This leaves me speechless.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Yoga Diary - Getting by with a little help from our friends.

John Lennon.

Well, one thing about me....when I latch on to something, it's like superglue - you can't pry me away. But, how long my little love affair with yoga will never know. So, that is the caveat. Next week it may be Pilates.

Today I went to yoga again. Same teacher - same thing, only fewer people (all women) because the class was at 9:30 instead of the 4:30 hour as yesterday. One observation. When i started yoga in 1973, there were a lot more men in the class - maybe the majority. I have my theories about this, but I'll leave that for later. (And I am not convinced history proves me right, anyway.)

So I am doing my yoga - slowly, which I prefer. We are practicing balance poses. They are kind of hard for me - not mortifying like a full backbend (which I wouldn't even attempt right now) - but just kind of hard. One yoga teacher told me that balance poses are a metaphor for life. She said, "Don't worry about being steady. We are always adjusting in life." I've remembered that.

And today, while in the half moon pose, which is standing on one straight leg - bending forward to put the hand on the ground while the other leg sticks straight out the back (so you look like a "T" with an extra leg), the teacher said, "Use a block for support if that is helpful."

I took the block and placed it under my hand so that I didn't have to bend quite so far and it really helped. I found my balance. A little lightbulb went off. Immediately I realized that we need support in our lives to keep our balance. Asking others for help and support is okay.

And that is my John Lennon moment for today. We get by with a little help from our friends.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Yoga Theory

I have a theory which is this: anyone who took yoga in the relative distant past is always looking for his or her first yoga teacher. This is an adaptation of the Freudian theory that all women are looking for their fathers and all men are seeking their mothers. I first started yoga in 1973 in Iowa City, Iowa. I went to a class at a church. It was a long narrow room and the mats were lined up in two rows along the walls of the room so that the teacher could walk between the rows and instruct us personally. Her name? I think it was Barb. I recall exactly how she looked. She was short – maybe 5’2”, slightly stocky, but remarkably flexible and beautiful in a no-makeup kind of way with dark hair, pulled back. And, she was kind and soft and patient. The room was kept dark and quiet.

In 1973, there were no Lycra or leggings. We all wore muslin drawstring yoga pants. They must have cost $7. I probably made mine as I sewed everything I wore then. I guess we wore a t-shirt and that would be it. She burned incense. I presume it was Nag Champa because to this day, I crave the smell of Nag Champa incense in my home. I have a stash of it in Minneapolis. I shopped madly for it in New York and have yet to find the brand of choice. I am sending it by mail tomorrow so it will be there when I next land.

Nag Champa is a positive anchor for me. I burn it every time I clean my house.

Yoga is also an anchor for me.

My husband, Lee, who I met in 1992 and knows that I practice yoga when it is convenient, teases me. “Yes, we all know you practiced with the yogis themselves = in India – in the 12th Century.” Well, he just doesn’t know anyone who has practiced yoga since before the invention of Lycra – that’s all I have to say. That would be moi.

Of course, there is some pressure associated with that fact. IF I have been doing yoga for 35 years why I am I not the most awesome, flexible, pain-free person on the planet? Well, because like many things in my life….I started them but didn’t really keep it up. Motherhood interfered. Divorce interfered. Work interfered. Life interfered. And now I have some aches and pains I barely want to admit to and I am only moderately flexible. I look better in clothes than I do naked. That is the sad truth.

But, whatever….I still don’t own any Lycra yoga pants and never will.

Tonight I went to a class at One-Yoga, a nonprofit studio in Minneapolis, which I have grown to love. Why? Because it has the attitude of my circa 1973 yoga class. The real deal. No aerobics yoga. I was disenchanted when YOGA made the cover of Time magazine several years back. It had become way too mainstream and that bummed me out.

But I’ll go back this week, because there was something a little “Barb” there. There was incense, there was some chanting music in the background, but, mostly, there was very little Lycra. People were in shorts and tees, sweats and tanks. It’s my kind of yoga. She was kind and offered rest. She helped you when you needed it. You shut your eyes and don’t even notice that anyone else is in the room. I may have found my first yoga teacher again.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


The bags for extra clothes at the back of Lee's 1st grade room.

Mr. Stevens preparing a drawing for his students.

A corner of the 1st grade classroom at the Rudolf Steiner School - Manhattan.

I am crazy for my husband. I said good-bye to him in New York on Sunday - kisses at the door of a Super Shuttle. I flew to my home in Minneapolis.

On Monday, he began a new life - teaching (rather taking) a group of 25 first graders at the Rudolf Steiner School in Manhattan. It is a Waldorf school. In the Waldorf method, the teacher moves with the children from 1st through the 8th grade. This is a DESTINY thing. Not a job. A spiritual path. He, along with the parents, is partially responsible for the souls of these children. Because, when you are with children from age 6 to age 13, you are more than incidental in their lives - you help shape their lives. I am madly in love with him tonight.

He has taught this class for two days. (The first day was celebratory and ritualistic - the beginning of a new year and a new first grade.) On his first full day he told me about how it rained all the night before and when the children arrived, they went to the terrace outside their classroom - open to the sky. There are deep dirt-filled tubs - some planted, some ready for spring bulbs. On Tuesday, they were filled with earth worms crawling to the surface and the children had so much fun with them. In the end, they left them safely in the dirt. But remember, these are New Yorkers! How many have yards to dig for earth worms? This must have been a special treat.

Today's story was simpler. He says the children are incredibly sweet. Just before they went out to play (in Central Park!) Lee looked down. Charlie, an especially dear and small boy, was sort of hanging out right near him. Lee said, "What's up, Charlie?"

Charlie said, looking up (and remember this is only the third day of first grade!) "You are the best teacher I've ever had, Mr. Stevens." And he gave Lee a big hug around his leg.

I adore this man. My son has friends who are 22 who make 10 times what Lee makes in a year. It's not why I love him.

He's smart. (He's writing his Ph.D. dissertation on "The Future of Ego"- something which even his dissertation editor had to clarify, it is so frigging esoteric!) and he is kind. He makes me laugh. (He's a great lover.) He loves kids. What more can you ask for?

Monday, September 8, 2008

I'm Home...oops. I'm in one of my homes.

I'm trying to be careful about saying that Minneapolis is home and New York is where I go to visit a couple of weeks each month. I'm one of those woo-woos who think that how you think and what you say actually creates your reality. So, I am trying (as I already said) to be careful lest I end up never living in New York with my beloved because of my language.

So, I am in Minneapolis. It was eerie getting out of the cab. It was dark. There were no lights on in my apartment. I had picked up the wrong key in NY and didn't have a key to get in so I had to call my friends to get one (they had kindly been helping me with my cats.) I walked the 2 blocks to their home in utter quiet except for the modest crying of young child getting into a car with its parents. The contrast to New York was stark. Minneapolis was cool and beautiful and had that crisp feeling in the air.

I had to sleep under both my down and my quilt without Lee there to keep me warm. I didn't sleep well in New York because it was quite warm - and on the 4th floor (no AC) even warmer. I'm not a fan of sleeping in heat. Que sera. I left a small carbon imprint for the last two weeks. Little cooking, no AC.

My apartment here seems gigantic and rambling and empty. I miss that it is not beautiful anymore. It is 1200 square feet compared to the 450 in NY. Isabelle is in Madison. Lee is in New York. It is only me and Pinky and Isis, the cats. I realize how much more room Americans have than they really need. I think it is definitely easier to take care of less. I can clean my whole New York apartment in less than an hour. I mean really clean - tub, sink, toilet, floors, kitchen, bedding, etc. - things I don't do here because I have a housekeeper. Of course, that is easy too, come to think of it.

Being here with no responsibility for another living thing except my 2 cats and one plant requires that I actually get things done, however. It is a bit overwhelming. But time to dig in. Thank god I love my work.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Dark Mood...with a Wardrobe to Prove It

The elegant Babe Paley - known for her "beauty, manners, and kindness"

I'm in a decidedly dark mood. And I am buying black to prove it. Well, I suppose it could be that I'm buying black because I'm in New York, but I like to imagine it is more symbolic than that. I am a left-of-center Democrat and this last week's shenanigans with Ms. Alaska, whom I now like to call "Babe Palin" in hopes of inspiring a comparison to the real Babe Paley - one of the most stylish and smart women of the 2oth Century known for "beauty, manners, and kindness" - has got my undies in a bunch.

I just want my country back and until I get it, I'm going into mourning and wearing black.

Now this isn't all bad. I love black. it is easy to coordinate. Black goes with black. Of course, I love black with navy (like the French). And I love black with brown. I don't love black with white. Oh, nooooo. It's too upscale suburban mall. Navy and white, yes. Black and white, no.

So, as I needed some new things for fall and to lift my spirits and to feel like a New Yorker, not a jeans and cotton t-shirt Minnesotan (which I am!), I went to Banana and Gap (GAP is good this fall - a new designer!) Of course, I am drooling all the way down Madison at the more expensive shops. I carry a little drool bag with me so as not to make a mess on the sidewalks of New York. The Eileen Fisher store just beckons, as does Agnes B., and a little shop on my corner that sells French sailor shirts. But, with the cost of moving to New York, we are Gapping it and black it is.

By the way, as a sanguine, I ask that you not hold me to my promise to be in mourning until we get our country back. I may change my mind tomorrow if I find a great pair of green shoes.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Chez Stevens New York

Overall of apartment - facing north with the beautiful northern light.

Detail. Wall waiting for art.

Detail mantle with my beloved Buddha painting. Where that goes, I go.

The quiet bedroom. Or should we call this a sleeping closet?

The table we rigged with a 40 x 40 marble from Room & Board Outlet Store. Just perfect for us.

We've been here a week. I have purchased the wastebasket and hangers that were required to feel officially done with moving in. I've fussed with the art (and can't wait to get more!) It is all in place. So here are the photos. We love it here. I am so happy in an all white, light-filled room. It feels spacious even at 450 square feet.

And the place got even brighter yesterday when Lee determined to clean the dead bird carcasses off the windows. It had been driving him crazy. I am capable of selective attention. So he found the perfect tool at A Gracious Home (the single most amazing "hardware store" I've ever seen in my life!) And, for two hours he delicately used this tool to remove the film of guts and grime off the windows. He even cleverly tethered the tool to his wrist with one of his ties! lest he drop it - it wouldn't smash the head of a passerby. Remember this is the 4th floor of an old building with 11 foot ceilings so we are up here in the trees.

Enjoy Labor Day. We are taking the day off from laboring and going to the park.