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What to Do the Day Before Armageddon

Tree smashes car during stormSaturday very much had an end-of-the-world feeling to it. Hurricane Irene was cruising up the East Coast at a stately 14 miles per hour. It would hit us the next day. Filling stations were running out of gas. Supermarket shelves were emptying. Parts of New York City were being evacuated. Spielhalle Disqus

I decided to take Amelie to the county fair. Unfortunately the folks running the place were shutting it down. Hell, I thought, there’s a full day left before the end of the world, why end the fun prematurely? I squinted up at a glowering sky. It hadn’t even started raining yet. Amelie was howling with disappointment.

So I took her out for pancakes. See below as she demonstrates proper pancake-eating form. She had a stomachache afterward, but it was worth it. Just the sight of those pancakes and that pastry cheered her right up. This, I thought, this is how to spend the day before the end of the world.

We shopped for toys and books, and then we hit the movies with popcorn and ice cream and then took a turn on some coin op rides at the mall. Rain was spitting down on us as we left, but we were feeling no pain by then.

Amelie demonstrates the proper way to eat pancakes. Don't forget to drink your syrup.

The wind tore down some tree limbs in our yard during the night, but thankfully did no further damage. The power went out throughout our town around five in the morning. We got a flat tire driving through the debris-filled streets after daybreak.

Three days without power, running water, or a flushing toilet have tested our patience, but I keep thinking of those pancakes and Amelie’s delighted laugh as she hoisted that mug of maple syrup, the first-grader’s ale.

By this morning, power had been restored to the town, thanks to help from utility workers imported from Kansas (I felt like cheering when their trucks rolled in like the tanks of a liberating army). We still can’t flush the toilet at home or take a shower, but at least now we can work at our office. We’re back in business. I have a backlog of work to do, but I’m writing this post instead.

How would you spend the day before the end of the world?

What Will You Do With Your One Wild & Precious Life?

Remember when you were a kid and you played and played for hours and time didn’t exist? You were lost, blissfully lost, in the flow of life. Be there for a moment. Small feet in the sand. Sound of the surf. Or maybe just you and a sketch book, graphite on your fingertips. Linger there. Listen for messages.

Going back to the kingdom of childhood is one way to retrieve a dream of who you might become, or who you always were but somehow left behind. You lived completely by your nature. Barefoot, preferably. When a fancy took hold, time became elastic or disappeared altogether like wonder bubbles hitting the pavement.

Lately I’ve been tending the garden of my dreams. I’m keeping Mary Oliver’s famous question in mind about my one wild and precious life. It makes me quiver, as good questions do. It keeps me honest. I see that I’ve got some weeding to do. I need to yank out any duds and make space for the seedlings and tight sweet buds that have been there all along.

One of the great things about creating this blog is that I have heard from so many of you about how our posts have made you think and dream and question and take action in your own lives. Ultimately this blog is not just about me and Michael and our family. It’s about you. What would you do with a year dedicated to dream time? One of you called this blog “a mirror.” One of you took me aside yesterday and whispered, “You inspired us. We’re going out West for a while, just as we always meant to do. We’ll hike and roam for weeks on end.” I’m beaming for you.

Meanwhile, take the invitation. Go back to “that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories.” That’s Rilke on childhood. If you feel like it, tell me what you find there. Seeds await.

P.S. We dig getting your emails! But we have a hunch that fellow readers would like to hear your thoughts as well. If you receive this blog by email, click on the title next time you’re inspired to respond. That will take you to the page where you can post a comment right on the blog for all to see and enjoy. We’ll love you for trying!

Less Clutter, More Joy

Illustration by Annie Internicola for Less Clutter, More Joy in Chronogram

Less Clutter, More Joy for Chronogram magazine by Annie Internicola

This month marks my first as health and wellness editor for Chronogram, one of the Hudson Valley’s most popular magazines. I’ll write a feature story just about every month, and for April I’ve dug even deeper into decluttering as a path to a healthier, more balanced life.

As Michael has mentioned, letting go of the clutter in our lives has become very important in our year of living adventurously. I interviewed five experts on decluttering working in our locale. One of them, Sarah Stitham, does amazing work combining her training as a certified professional organizer with her talents as a life and wellness coach. Stitham says that the key to staying organized is to have a clear vision of what brings you joy, purpose, and vitality. Once you have that vision and are ready to bring it into being, decluttering is easy. You’ll know exactly what can stay in your life and what needs to go.

Here are three tips from Sarah that didn’t make it into my article.

1. Take mini vacations. Give yourself retreat time (even if it’s just a few hours) so you can really think about how you can live in sync with your true passions and values. Bring a notebook.

2. Schedule in time to really complete a task. Mealtime should include clean-up (bye-bye, sink full of dishes) and laundry should include folding and putting away items (sayonara, piles of clothes). You’ll see how living without loose ends does wonders to reduce your stress level.

3. Leave time in your schedule every day for spontaneity. Go on a bird walk with the kids, have coffee with a friend. Think of decluttering as a way of making room for a life of balance and joy.

Sarah lives in Olivebridge, NY, but she works with clients nationwide on Skype. Read more about her and others in my full article, “Less Clutter, More Joy,” in Chronogram.

Notes from a Month of Music & Joy

We are 30 days into Our Year of Living Bigger, and let me tell you: stuff is HAPPENING over here. Music is happening – or something sort of like music, though perhaps not yet. You see, I’ve had just three guitar lessons. But my fingers are sore in a way that feels surprisingly good, and even makes me a bit proud. I’m on my way.

Stuff is happening with our kids, too. Amelie at 5 is learning to read, and it’s magic to watch. Jade at 22 months is starting to express herself in something very much like English. And I do believe she is at the height of her Cuteness Powers.

Not that it’s been easy here in music land. I have lamented my lack of finger strength and my lack of finger length. I have expected more bend-ability from my lithe yogi fingers. And I have wondered where on Earth I will possibly find the time to practice guitar in a life that already feels like an overpacked grocery bag splitting apart at the flimsy paper handles.

Yet I’ve had my small successes – and yes, joys. I have released a few beautiful E chords and A chords and D chords into the ether, admiring them as they go. When my indefatigably enthusiastic teacher shouts “Goooood!” after a particularly successful note, I feel the way I imagine my five-year-old feels when I stick one of her adorably imperfect drawings up on the refrigerator. A person can get hooked on praise like that.

The music is coming and so is the joy, albeit in pieces. When Michael and I remember to honor one of the simplest tenets of our manifesto – “No whining” – we find that our household joy increases a thousandfold. I agree with Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project book and blog, that one of the key secrets to turning around a bad mood is “Act the way you want to feel.” If you want to feel joyful, she suggests, try going through the motions first, like an actor on a stage. Most of the time you end up convincing yourself with your own performance.

The ancient yoga sage Patanjali had a different way of talking about essentially the same thing: “When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana” (Yoga Sutra 2.33). As a bonus, the Sanskrit phrase is so much fun to say. How can we possibly go wrong?

And yet we can, and we do. Parchment-paper wisdom can slip mysteriously out of reach. The urge to kvetch, useless as it is, can be tempting. So we are taking the joy piecemeal, when and where we can get it: in a Level 1 reading book, in a new word from the mouth of a babe. We are taking the music, too, one clear and dazzling note at a time. I have a hunch that it will all add up to something pretty great.

10 Small Joys

photo by Debra McClinton

Our house is hung with a necklace of icicles. It’s a sign of poor insulation but a source of endless magic to my five-year-old daughter. “Mama, look – I found a double icicle!” says Amelie at the window, pointing to one with a thick top trunk that splits into two spindly prongs. “Beautiful,” I say approvingly. We both stand and admire its crystalline brilliance before continuing with our morning.

It’s easy for kids to find little amulets of beauty and joy everywhere. Why is it harder sometimes for us grownups? I woke up this Monday in January feeling the need for a boost. And perhaps since I’ve been reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project (a feel-good book as well as a popular blog), I found myself composing a “joy to-do list” in my head to get me through a cold month with a lighter spirit. If you, too, could use a January pick-me-up, try out one or more of these and see where they take you.

1) Throw your legs up the wall. You don’t need a yoga outfit, cushion, or eye pillow (though the last two could make your experience extra delicious). Just find a nice clear wall space (or move some furniture aside), sit sideways close up against the wall, then recline and throw your legs straight up against that solid support. If you stay a good 10 to 20 minutes and really let go of everything, you’ll slip into a dreamy zone that’s a potent antidote to jet-lag, insomnia, stress, and modern life in general. It’s a one-way ticket to bliss. Really, it’s that good.

2) Sing. In our Party of 4 calendar for 2011, January is actually Music & Joy month. Hence this long joy post! The music will get into full swing later this week, when my soon-to-be guitar teacher returns from a trip. In the meantime, I try to sing with my girls as much as I can…and wherever people will tolerate us.

3) Bake. I love to bake, and as an elementary-school mom I finally have found my calling in life. There’s a bake sale every other week it seems, and I always bring a plate of something. And I can’t go too long without filling our cupboards with something moist and sweet. My baking bible is Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. Her NYC Black-and-White Cookies are through the roof.

4) Give a Kindness. I see a lot of hitchhikers in Woodstock, and I always find a way to talk myself out of picking one up – especially when my kids are in the car. But yesterday was different. It was cold. It was a long uphill hike to the monastery, where this Tibetan woman was obviously going. So after passing her and nodding my head no, I thought, “Why?” I turned the car around and told her to come in. My girls were with me, and Jade, not yet two, didn’t like the idea. She got fussy. But somehow Jenny and I managed a bit of conversation before I dropped her in front of the monastery’s stately entrance. As we wound our way home down the mountain, Amelie and I talked about how good we felt knowing that we had helped Jenny in this small way. I still feel the glow of it.

5) Grow Something. I’m a wannabe gardener, a daydreamer with my head in the flower patch but my ass planted firmly in a chair. These days it seems I can hardly keep a succulent alive on the windowsill. This season, though, I’d like to return to my once-loved pastime of forcing paperwhite and hyacinth bulbs. I love the utter extravagance of a winter house drenched in summer fragrance.

6) Get Out with the Kids. The playground is crusted with ice, and cabin fever has set in. Amelie loves sledding, but Jade thinks that snow is some kind of terrible joke and she will have NOTHING to do with it. So we are down to Sunday brunch out, playdate swaps, and the indoor playspace. If any of you parents out there have other ideas, AT ME. This one is not so much for joy as for sanity.

7) Make Soup. If we can manage to get a pot of something bubbling on the stove, I know that everything will be okay. Soup is love. It’s the life force, in liquid form.

8) Girls’ Night Out! Got one planned for Sunday, actually. (Ready, ladies?)

9) Say Yes. To cutting out paper snowflakes. To tea parties with teddy bears. To holding the kids by their ankles till they scream with joy. This is for the little ones among us.

10) Have a Retreat Day. I’d love to go someplace like Kripalu for a few days of R&R but that’s not going to happen. So I’ve decided to reserve a day for my ideal retreat schedule: a yoga class, vegetarian lunch, meditation at the monastery, and a $25 pass to a day-spa with hot tub, sauna, and pool. All of it is within a five-minute drive from my house, and very affordable. Michael will understand, and besides, I’ll reciprocate by giving him his own retreat day. I need this for my soul.

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