one family's yearlong dare to live their dreams
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Double-dipping: What Keeps Us Going

Graph of the sock market going downIt’s 1:58 a.m. I woke up just now from a dream in which Samuel L. Jackson shot me with a .357 magnum revolver, twice. I seemed to be a youngish Harrison Ford. I crawled around my house looking for escape while Jackson pursued me in leisurely fashion. While he prowled downstairs, I kicked out a window screen, hoisted myself, inch by painful inch, onto a spreading oak reaching out over our roof. I went the only way I could to get away: up.

The first recession blew away our savings and knocked down our income. I don’t know what a second shot would do to us.

But the choice of actors playing roles in my dream is telling. On some level economics is all a game of pretend. Certainly our esteemed leaders in Congress seem to think so. And, too, I was an actor early in my life, once upon a time with a lot of promise.

This is what a midlife crisis feels like: you’re halfway up a big tree, and you can’t help but look down.

Wendy and I started our year-of-living-adventurously project with the lessons of the Great Recession fresh in our minds: that what really matters are not our material possessions, but each other and our girls. We set out to discover what else was truly important to us, and our lives have been improving in countless ways.

And yet everything we do seems to depend on money. Money equals time equals freedom. I had intended to write a post on how we’re now boldly charting a course away from our monkey work jobs and into more of the work we find fulfilling. But now fears of another recession have me thinking more  about surviving than thriving.

And yet, what really matters shines through: a few minutes alone with Wendy while the girls sleep later than usual; the smoothness of Jade’s cheek as I kiss her and tell her I love her; her squeals of delight as I push her in a shopping cart as fast as I dare up and down the aisles of a store; Amelie’s delightfully musical laugh when something strikes her as funny. Fear may drive me from bed in the night, but these are the things that keep me going through the day; these are the things that matter.

Are those downward plunging graphs in the news keeping you up at night too? In times of crisis where do you turn for solace?

Tsunami survivors show what’s important

Tsunami damage in Kamaishi, Japan

Destruction in Kamaishi, Japan. Photo: Department for International Development/Ed Hawkesworth

The BBC’s Roland Buerk filed an audio story this week in which he interviewed survivors in the tsunami-ravaged town of Kamaishi.

Listen to “Silence reigns in shattered Japanese town” on the BBC website.

The story made me sit up in bed at 2 a.m. when I heard it lying awake with the flu. A man and his wife pick through the ruins of their house. The man also had his company office in his house. All gone. He picks up a saucer, perfectly preserved, an artifact from a life irretrievably gone.

“What is this plate?” asks Buerk. It’s a saucer given to the couple by their daughter from her travels in London. But the cup that went with it is gone. “This plate,” marvels Buerk, “it’s perfect. There’s no chips. No crack. Nothing.”

Next the man shows Buerk a safe he has managed to salvage. “Are the documents in there?” asks Buerk.

“Many,” says the man.

“Where’s the key?”

“Key? Haven’t,” says the man, and laughs.

“You haven’t got the key, only the safe.”


“And no key.”


“You seem very cheerful, surprisingly cheerful.”

“My family all safe. And company member all safe.”

These people, in these extremes, know what’s really important to them. Strip away everything: the house, the business, all, or almost all of your possessions, all that really matters is your family and the people you spend time with. This Japanese couple know that they are fortunate compared to their neighbors who lost friends and family in the disaster. They know that life for them will go on.

While nowhere near as extreme as that faced by the Japanese, it was a crisis that launched Wendy and me on our path to live more adventurously. We lost half of our income in the Great Recession. We didn’t know how long we’d be able to make our mortgage, how long it would be before we lost the house like hundreds of thousands of other families who couldn’t make their payments, when or if our income would recover. That coupled with the onset of serious illness was what caused us to reexamine our lives.

We discovered that home was not the physical structure we lived in. It was where our family was. As long as we were all together and could stay healthy, we had a life worth living. All the stuff we owned, what we did for a living, how many cars we had, none of that really mattered. All that mattered was that we were together. Now that we have recovered, in all senses of the word, we’re keeping our focus on what matters: each other, the people in our lives, and the experiences we have.

There’s real power in this. As the Japanese teach us, if you focus on what’s truly important in life, you can laugh in the face of disaster.

Travel Breaks the Heart Wide Open

“Mama, don’t go.”

The words, breathed by my five-year-old after I told her about my trip to India in April, lodged themselves in my heart. She wrapped her peach-fuzz arms around me and squeezed – as if my insides didn’t hurt enough already.

In about six weeks I will board a plane for the other side of the world. I’m excited about what awaits me there. Yet as my departure date approaches, I find myself swerving into bouts of sheer anguish at the thought of leaving my small girls.

Michael asks why I worry. I try to explain that it’s not worry; it’s anguish. Anguish at the thought of missing even two and a half weeks of their tender little lives. Of course my sweet peas will be in good hands. Daddy will take care. Grandma and Grandpa are moving in while I’m gone. My girls will be much too busy and excited to miss me. There will be nothing to worry about, nothing at all. I know this.

Yet living adventurously and globally, if only briefly, seems to go against every good maternal impulse. I find myself talking about this with almost everyone I meet, in search for some kind of solace. Many friends have chimed in sympathetically. Other mothers have told me with the pride of a lioness that they couldn’t leave their kids at all. One friend confessed that even going to work part-time is a hardship; when she comes home at night she might spend an hour just sitting in her sleeping baby’s room, listening to him breathe.

The scent of motherly one-upmanship is everywhere in this age of family bed and Olympic-level breastfeeding, of attachment parenting and make-your-own baby food (and by God, make it organic!). It’s hopelessly out of date – so 1970s – for a mother like me to confess a desire to see the world. And then to actually do it! Well, then.

Outside influences aside, a mother’s love is strong stuff. Car-lifting, bullet-dodging stuff – the stuff of adventure movies. Planning a journey has proven this to me like nothing else I’ve encountered so far. The knowledge that I’m leaving has thrown my love for my children into bold relief. Everything they do glistens with an aura of impermanence and heightened importance. Their morning mama calls. The chilly school-bus drop-offs. Their fish-slippery limbs after bath time. The bedtime story snuggle.

I haven’t gone anywhere yet, but I’m someplace else already. Thanks to my near-future journey, I’m living inside a big, Technicolor love. And for that I am grateful.

Meanwhile, I’d welcome fresh perspective from you, fellow sojourner. Thank you for your comments, which breathe life into this blog.

Valentine Eye Candy

Another Valentine’s Day has come and gone, strewing its sugar hearts and paper doilies, its cupids and faux red velvet. Let it be known that the Party of 4 did its part to give the uber-cute holiday its due. Here are a few remembrances.

Michael’s gift to us: homemade chocolate-chip scones.

A breakfast date. (Psst – This is the secret to avoiding exorbitant prix-fixe Valentine dinner menus. Breakfast! Remember this for next year.)

Playdates for our girls, hyped up on sugar and Hallmark hype.

Real handmade cards made by real handmade people. Next year, when I can be sure that she won’t eat it, my toddler Jade will get one too. But for now I suppose we ought to put a lid on all this, shall we, lest we die of cuteness overload?

Spiritual intimacy

Shiva and Shakti by AlicePopkorn

Shiva and Shakti. Photo: AlicePopkorn

Many years ago I went target shooting with a friend of mine and his dad. My friend pulled me aside to tell me about some advice his dad had given him just before my friend got married (and that had him concerned). “Son,” my friend’s dad had told him, “enjoy your fun now; after you get married, you’re not going to get much of that.” Actually, his language was more colorful, but you catch my drift.

I glanced over at my friend’s dad. The dispenser of marital wisdom was at that moment reloading a .357 magnum revolver. He had the gun pressed between his legs as he sat, feeding bullets into the chambers, with the barrel pointed downward. The symbolism was inescapable: after you get married, you might as well trade in the equipment you were born with for an external substitute.

I’ve never accepted that. But it passes for conventional wisdom in a lot of circles. And now, between work and two kids, and all the other pressures of life as a so-called responsible adult, I can see why. Who has the time for sex? Who’s in the mood after struggling to get kids to bed and the kitchen cleaned up before collapsing into unconsciousness at the end of the day?

Actually, in the spirit of our living-for-our-dreams project, I’ve started to ask the question a different way: do I have time to share intimacy with the person I’ve chosen as my life partner? And what does intimacy mean, really? I’ve begun to think the answer might lie within a body (if you will) of Tantric wisdom that treats physical intimacy as a spiritual path. Sex in this light isn’t just about getting it on, but can be about reaching a deeper state of shared awareness, a step closer to God.

Love/marriage/sex as a spiritual quest. That’s something I can get behind, and so can Wendy. She’s already halfway there as a teacher of yoga.

My preliminary reading suggests that spiritual intimacy can be approached simply by creating a sacred space (can be a bedroom) and time (an hour seems minimal) when nothing else is allowed to intrude, and committing to fully seeing, hearing, feeling, and breathing with your partner.

We tried it out last night after we got the kids to bed, with no expectations. What resulted was an intense feeling of closeness that reminded us of the early days in our relationship. And what happened next, well, Wendy would rather I didn’t go into detail. Suffice it to say, I don’t see any firearms in my future.

We’ve committed to engaging in this practice on a regular basis. And I’ve started a search for a guru….

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