City Girl vs The Desert: Bliss On A Vegan Yoga Retreat

hiking yoga creek

This past week I went on a retreat as part of Cloud Nine Yoga’s teacher training program. It was the Moving Your Prayers Retreat and boy did I pray for a miracle. I pouted and complained to my family how the desert and I were not friends. Sleeping under the stars in a sleeping bag where a coyote could potentially eat me up was not a pleasant thought. My idea of communing with Mother Earth is going to the beach, feeling the cool breeze on my skin, jogging through Golden Gate Park and enjoying a glass of vino in wine country. I feel absolutely electrified when I dine in a quaint restaurant eating savory foods, while people watching as they stroll by. The desert, not so much.

As I prepared for the retreat I begrudging drove myself to REI to purchase a sleeping bag. He asked my height and weight and showed me varying styles. He then selected a sleeping bag and asked me to get in. Staring at the ceiling, he zipped me up when panic set it. My heart started beating a million beats per minute and my body got clammy. I tried to get my arms out of the cocoon and I furiously started to kick. He unzipped the sides and I kicked the top layer off of me. I sat up and began to sob, “I have to go camping and I don’t camp and I’m scared a coyote is gonna eat me up.” Being a good and kind salesperson, he calmed me down and suggested I get a bigger sleeping bag. I told him I needed him to pray for me because I was about to embark on an unknown journey and he tenderly agreed and said, “God Bless” as I carried my new sleeping bag out to the checkout counter.

When I got home I called my friend from my teacher training program who was also going on the retreat and had another patatús (conniption).  She then gave me the best news ever. The retreat site had been relocated because it was a mad mess after the Coachella concert. The retreat was now going to be held at the Tuscan Hills Resort and Spa. Yahoo! The uncanny part is I always tell my family that one day I’m going to have a villa in Tuscany and here it was, a version of my dreams coming true. Thrilled beyond belief I packed my luggage and set off to commune with Mother Earth at a resort, exactly how I love to feel connected.


Afternoon yoga under a shady tree.

It was a lovely place, with lovely beds, and most importantly a lovely toilet complete with an indoor shower. We made our way to meet the other 27 yogis and sat in a circle as our dynamic retreat leader, Erika Faith held opening prayer.  I noticed a familiar face and tried to figure out how I knew her. Turns out, Stephanie and I went to grade school and high school together. Oddly enough I had dreamt of her 8 months prior.

We practiced yoga 2-3 times a day.  I fell asleep during two of the yoga sessions. I knew I was tired, but I didn’t realize just how tired I was. After morning yoga we’d have our vegan breakfast.  I understood vegan meant no meat, but didn’t know it meant no butter. I looked at the ezekiel bread and popped it in the toaster hoping it would taste like buttered toast, but it didn’t. By the third day of eating oatmeal and quinoa I started fantasizing about a  hearty breakfast from the Milbrae Pancake House. I guess God thought I could handle this version of “roughing it”. I wasn’t too sure.

Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

On the day we went hiking I shellacked my face with SPF 70, put on my obnoxiously big sunhat and even donned a pink tutu in honor of my roomy who was celebrating 30 grand years on this planet. She brought tutus and fairy wings to share and was ready to trek the hills in fairy dust style.  We were asked to walk in silence and to “move our prayers.”  As I hiked up the hill I noticed that while I was not physically being challenged, I was emotionally challenged. I was out of my element in terms of scenery.  I was stressing about my face getting sun since I have melasma.  I was also hot and sweaty and annoyed with the pink tutu. I was craving a meat lovers pizza and empanadas Argentinas.  Knowing I was being ungrateful and dramatic I imagined myself telling a war torn victim how I was being “tested” living on a vegan commune on a resort with a plenty of luxurious amenities at my disposal. I knew in my I heart I would not have the gaul to say those words. To pacify my restless mind I retreated to the book I had begun to read, A Paris Wife by Paula McLain. I wondered how Hadley and Hemingway were faring as they struggled to cross the snowy mountain.

After the hike, we made our way to Belle Marie Winery where we were greeted by the owner, whose gracious and cheeky humor was appreciated. As I sampled the varying wines it dawned on me that wine is usually paired with salami and cheese. When the lady came to pour my glass I asked her if there was any chance I could get some.  She said it was sold in the main tasting room. My mouth began to salivate and my stomach begged for me to get some. I discreetly made my way to the main tasting room. I bought a small box of Ritz crackers, a package of salami and cheese as well as a bottle of pinot noir.  The cashier put my items in a cute paper bag and I quietly walked outside to the picnic area.  Once outside I sat on a bench and opened the package of salami and cheese only to be bum rushed by several non vegan yogis. “Where’d you get that?” they asked. “I bought it inside.” “Can I have a slice?” they begged. Before I got a chance to fully enjoy my snack, the salami and cheese was devoured.  A few minutes later the young lady sitting in front of me said, “I’ll be back, I’m gonna buy some more.” And when she came back, we vultures where there, ready for the taking.

Beautiful ladies doing 8 angle pose.

Beautiful ladies doing 8 angle pose.

After the hiking/wine tasting excursion I looked forward to the body massage I had signed up for. And what happened next was life altering, scary and transformative all at the same time. Poranquí, an energy healer, literally opens up your meridians and helps move your energy. It was the most bizarre, surreal experience that literally took me to another dimension. When I zombied back to the hotel room I asked my roomy, “How come you didn’t tell me it was going to be like that?”  She thoughtfully answered, “How could I ever explain that to you? How could we ever explain that to anyone really?” And she was right. It was an experiential experience. I wonder if that’s what being truly connected feels like.  If so, it’s unreal and magical all at the same time. That night, in need of some comfort food I waited until everyone was asleep. I tiptoed to the vending machine by the pool with my Tiffany coin purse so I could buy cookies.  The coins made lots of noise and I was fearful of getting caught with my hand in the cookie jar. But I was desperate for some sugar.  “C’mon God, work with me please,” I begged. But after the third try I gave up and humbly walked back to the room. My roomy offered me a ripe banana saying, “It’s nature’s sugar.” “Not the same”, I muttered back.

When I got home from the retreat I scarfed down a delicious gourmet burger. I had a wonderfully different experience this past week. True, I was out of my comfort zone, I also met people who were simply amazing. They came from all walks of life and religious faiths. However, on this retreat we broke bread together, we played together and shared our gifts with one another. In retrospect, after being “Poranguasized” as I joked, it’s obvious to me that we aren’t always tapping into the most vibrant part of ourselves. I will be quietly pondering this important truth. In the meanwhile, I will be with Hadley and Hemingway in Paris.




Helping Little Ones Become Metacognitive Readers


Metacognition: Thinking about what you are thinking!

Metacognition: Thinking about what you are thinking!

These past few weeks I have felt as though all of the different reading strategies that are incorporated throughout the day in class are finally coming together. This week’s Repeated Interactive Read Aloud (RIRA) was Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman. In the story, Grace is a little girl who loves to read and listen to stories. She uses her imagination and goes on many fun adventures. Then one day at school she vies for the lead part of Peter Pan in the school play, only to be discouraged by classmates because of her skin color and gender.

Prior to reading a book I remind students that we are metacognitive readers. When asked what metacognition is, they shout, “Thinking about what you are thinking!”  They are also quick to list the qualities of what metacognitive readers do.

Metacognitive Readers:

*Ask questions

*Read the text more than once

*Make Connections (text to self, text to text and text to world)

*Infer (use picture clues)

*Ponder, think and/or evaluate the information given

Throughout the week we discussed the book at length and shared our connections. For example, text to self connections are when a student identifies or relates to something that happens in the book.  These are usually the easiest for younger students to make.

I have a text to self because a girl tell me that I can't do a cartwheel.

I have a text to self because a girl tell me that I can’t do the cartwheel.

Text to text connections are when a reader is reminded of an event or piece of information read in another book or text.  This is why I choose to read several books from the same author.  It helps students pick up on similarities in illustrations, characters and writing styles among authors.

I have a text to text because

I have a text to text because Grace pretends to be Anansi the spider.

In the hopes that they would make this connection, I purposefully read the story, Anansi the Spider: A Tale From the Ashanti by Gerald McDermott about a month ago. They were amazed when they saw Grace pretending to be Anansi the Spider.

anansi the spider

Text to world connections are when a reader connects events from the book to something larger in context. For example, something they watched on TV or in a movie, or read in a the newspaper. This type of connection is usually more difficult for younger students to make. However, I was quite impressed with the level of higher level thinking that was at play in class. Last trimester, for social studies we learned about the United States, its symbols and how it came to be a new nation.  And so, when the students read that Grace was told that she was not a good candidate for Peter Pan’s part because she was black and a girl, the students furiously raised their hands to share their text to world connections.

Some of the comments were, “Abraham Lincoln signed an important paper so that every one could be free.”  “Martin Luther King made rights so that all kids can be whatever they want to be.”  “It doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or a boy or what color you are because democracy means that I can go to school.”  “We’re lucky to live in America because we have rules that say that if you speak Spanish or you’re Latino, or you’re black or you go to a different church, it’s OK and you have a right to be freedom like the Statue of Liberty.”  (That was my personal favorite!)

I have a text to world connection because a long time ago they did not let black people go to school.

I have a text to world connection because a long time ago they did not let black people go to school.

My first graders are not advanced or gifted. As a matter of fact, the majority of them are developing proficiency and are reading about 6-8 months behind grade level.  But at least they are learning to think critically. My team teacher and I had a parent workshop on this very topic last week. We stressed the importance of reading with, too and by, with their children. We stressed the importance of helping them make connections, discussing the story with them and how it relates to the world near and far. We asked them to share their personal stories, struggles and triumphs with their children.  We also reminded parents that the daily reading log is not where a child reads by himself and then a parent signs it.

character analysis-amazing graceOne can do lots with a single book.  It’s the meaningful connections and discussions made that in my opinion matter.  Sooner or later their reading fluency will kick in with continued practice and intervention. But at the heart of the matter is helping children become metacognitive readers, learners, thinkers and leaders.


*I learned these strategies at a teacher conference in early 2000 through the California Reading and Literature Project (K-6 READING RESULTS)*