Party of 4 » The Plan one family's yearlong dare to live their dreams Tue, 27 Dec 2011 15:54:46 +0000 en hourly 1 Wrapping up a Year of Living for Our Dreams /2011/12/wrapping-up-a-year-of-living-dreams.html /2011/12/wrapping-up-a-year-of-living-dreams.html#comments Tue, 27 Dec 2011 15:54:46 +0000 Michael /?p=930 Amelie on the Beach in Virgin Gorda, BVI

It’s been a year since we set out to live for our dreams. Our project has been to dare each other to do all those things we’ve always wanted to do but somehow couldn’t find the courage, the money, the time for. We gave each other and ourselves a year with the idea that we could probably do just about anything we set our minds to for a limited duration.

We started by plotting out a series of adventures, and pushed each other out the door to experience them. Wendy went to India. I started flying lessons. We made friends and made music. We clutterbusted, loved, meditated, traveled, played, and then the most amazing thing of all began to happen. We opened ourselves to new possibilities.

We found that by giving each other license to live more fully, starting in specific, well-defined ways, we set ourselves free in spirit as well as in body, opening ourselves to opportunities that we couldn’t have imagined in advance. No longer confined by our perceived limitations, we we began to feel a strong sense of abundance in our lives that wasn’t related to the size of our bank account. We began to live each day with a renewed sense of adventure, and increasingly to let go of plans to allow the unexpected to happen.

Our last great adventure of the year was to travel to the Caribbean as a family. We enjoyed bright sunshine and warm water for a December week completely disconnected from the Internet, with our computers left at home and our iPhones locked away. Without the distractions of work, school, household chores, and electronic media, we had the time and the space to reconnect with each other in beautiful surroundings, with lasting results. We’ll be back next year.

We’ll return to other adventures we began in 2011 as well. I’ll take another retreat, though likely not to meditate this time; next time I put my life on pause I want to finish a novel. Wendy will return to Asia, but this time I’ll come along. We’ll hit Singapore first, and then probably Bali. We’ll keep paring down the clutter in our lives, leaving only what’s important, which continues to be each other, our dreams, and the things that bring us and those around us joy. The space in our lives is there, and the opportunity, to live adventurously for the rest of our lives, thanks to our year of living for our dreams.

What will you do in 2012? Where will you go?

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Revisiting Our Dreams /2011/09/revisiting-our-dreams.html /2011/09/revisiting-our-dreams.html#comments Sat, 10 Sep 2011 10:58:52 +0000 Wendy /?p=889

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” – Goethe

Many years ago I put these words on my college application, alongside a pencil drawing of an open hand that was not half bad. I chose my school, Vassar College, in no small part because I fell in love with an amazing tree that defied gravity to stretch a single solid limb across the lawn in front of the amazing, cathedral-like library. I spent a lot of time in that library.

Now the quote comes back to me with all the force of its exhortation. All year long, this Party of 4 project has incited my family to live with Goethe’s brand of boldness. It’s not easy to maintain that, but we’ve accomplished a lot. A trip to India. Flying lessons. Ten days of life-changing meditation. But round about midsummer we lost a bit of momentum, or at least, I did. My guitar teacher moved to Colorado. A nationwide franchise took over Michael’s flight school. Our finances were feeling the pinch of my India trip.

To get back the spark, I feel it’s time to revisit our original plan and make a few changes. The blogging diva Gwen Bell creates a “life list” of sorts every year, and then around midyear she revisits and revises it. I think this is wise, because we are not the same people we were in January, or even last week. We’re always changing, and this is a good thing. It’s a sign that life, energy, and the creative spirit are flourishing within us.

So I’m reevaluating. I’m letting go of a couple of the dreams that feel too much like type-A deadlines to me. Learning French, for one. This just might not be the year for that one, and I can let that balloon go. Instead of pressured goals, I’m opting for experiential dreams. I have discovered that I simply do not need one more item on my to-do list.

So my family has replaced French lessons for now with a plan to unplug together in a beautiful and inspiring place (I’m rooting for an obscure Caribbean island, or off-the-path Mexico). And above all these past couple of months, we’ve realized that feeding our creative spirits is as essential to us as food and sleep. Michael and I have both rededicated ourselves to creative writing–yet without those type-A demands and pressurized goals. It’s about creative play, and we’re taking cues from our 6-year-old, who is amazingly adept at this art. Now I’m writing poems again, Michael is back to penning his children’s book, and we’re both loving the process, the experience of creating itself, for its own sake.

Letting a dream go can feel just as bold and exciting as setting one into motion. Try it: Take a look at your life list. What can you edit out? What can you put in its place that really captures who you are right now, fully engaged in the intoxicating flux and flow that is life on Earth?

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In Defense of Passion /2011/07/in-defense-of-passion.html /2011/07/in-defense-of-passion.html#comments Sun, 03 Jul 2011 20:52:56 +0000 Wendy /?p=674 In January my family set out to live more passionately. We decided to challenge each other to try new things in 2011 and then chronicle them in this cute little blog you’re holding in your hands. Michael called it the Living for Our Dreams project. But something about that label made me resist: Living for our dreams sounded too selfish and too navel-gaze-y. I was all for the project, but wary of the narcissism it might announce to the world.

Despite my concerns, I climbed on board. The project has given us a jolt of positive energy and has upped the happiness quotient in our little house exponentially. I even think it’s making Michael and me better parents. We have more to give.

So why do words like “dreams” and “passion” have to come with an apology or a disclaimer? I just read a great piece all about this subject by Lane Wallace in The Atlantic“The Value of Following Passion in a Jobless World.” Wallace just spent the past year and a half researching a book about passion and people who lead passionate lives. She found that nothing backs up the stereotypical beliefs about passion-followers: That they are hopelessly idealistic, selfish, or irresponsible.

Instead, says Wallace, “I would argue that passion is one of the most important elements in any effort to improve a community, build something of value in the world, and even survive tough times or a daunting economy.” She defends passionate people as those who have the courage and perseverance to pursue an alternative potential future. They’re survivors.

I think I can hang my hat on that. Viva passion!

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Fruits of the Journey /2011/06/fruits-of-the-journey.html /2011/06/fruits-of-the-journey.html#comments Sat, 25 Jun 2011 00:22:52 +0000 Wendy /?p=648

We’re halfway there. In January our family set out on a yearlong quest to live more adventurously, planting a few new seeds in the garden of our lives. Now here we are in June, already reaping so many exotic and unexpected fruits from our escapades.

Among the highlights were a long-awaited trip to India for this yoga-loving Mama and a 10-day silent meditation retreat for peace-seeking Daddy. In a way, the whole family was with us on each of these journeys. All four of us are now, by contact, a bit more worldly and much more Zen.

Michael has become an Olympic-level meditator (if there is such a thing, which unfortunately there isn’t) who sticks diligently to his 2-hour-a-day sitting practice. I have taken to calling Michael “Buddha Daddy” when he calmly shifts me out of an agitated state with a suggestion to “Let it go.” But really, the whole family has taken notice of his more positive outlook on life and his deeper enjoyment of, well, everything.

And my trip to India made quite an impression on Amelie, who turned 6 yesterday and is now a kindergarten graduate reading at Level G. The English major in me could not have been more thrilled to discover that my journey halfway around the world inspired a poem that she wrote at school:

Mama’s Home
by Amelie

Looking at the pretty, sparkly jewelry
Smooth and soft
Rough presents
Everything smelled like India
Everybody saying exciting yells
Everything was different!

What’s next for the Party of 4? Stay tuned (and say a little prayer) as Michael begins flying lessons next month. And we have a few more surprises to yank out of our magician’s hat during the rest of the year. So stay with us and see if we can pull it off. With two small kids, incessant deadlines, and hardly time enough to make dinner most nights, we’re never quite sure that we can manage much of anything. But by some happy accident, we do.

Party on, and peace out.

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Creating a Spiritual Journey /2011/03/creating-a-spiritual-journey.html /2011/03/creating-a-spiritual-journey.html#comments Tue, 22 Mar 2011 03:40:53 +0000 Wendy /?p=475 In less than three weeks I will hit the pause button on my life as a mother in Woodstock, New York, and I will press “play” on the soundtrack of my spiritual journey to faraway India.

I like to think of this as a spiritual odyssey, filled with yoga and temples and meditation and the names of the sacred. But really, I have no idea what this journey will turn out to be. A fellow yogi told me, “Whatever you expect of India, it will be something else entirely.” So I will go with openness and no expectations. India has its own plans for me.

I have just a few hopes and prayers for how things will turn out. My initial fervent wish is that I will survive my first day of travel, which will be a doozy. Four flights (yes, four), starting with a red-eye from JFK to Cochin by way of Dubai. Then two one-hour plane hops to Mysore by way of Bangalore. I will arrive at my destination two days later in god knows what state (sleepless, no doubt, but mercifully pumped up on adrenaline and novelty).

In Mysore I plan to seek out an octogenarian Ashtanga yoga master named BNS Iyengar (not to be confused with BKS of the eponymous Iyengar school). Like his more widely known namesake, Mr. BNS was once a student of Krishnamacharya, who is considered the grandfather of modern yoga. Not a bad pedigree. I also like the idea of studying with someone in his 80s who has a lifetime of intensely dedicated yoga under his belt. But Mr. BNS, and India, might have other ideas for me. Another teacher might step forward. Anything can happen.

In the evenings I hope to study philosophy and chanting with a Sanskrit scholar of renown in Mysore and abroad. I have her name and address, and I’m told that this woman of vast knowledge holds classes in her home after dinnertime daily. I will show up and hope for the best.

On the weekend I plan to visit Sera Mey Monastery in Byllakupe, a Tibetan Buddhist outpost. A friend is lovingly arranging for a monk to meet me for a grand tour of the temples. I hear that the sound of monks chanting wakes you at dawn. Here’s hoping that I don’t sleep through it.

Really, it’s a Whitman’s sampler of a yoga holiday in Mysore. I will be there only a week – just enough time to peek behind the curtain of a world of mythic importance in yoga circles. The next week, it’s off to Kerala for a friend’s weeklong 40th birthday celebration. If you have to turn 40, this is definitely the way to do it. About a dozen of us will sleep in a 300-year-old heritage hotel in Fort Cochin, take a cruise of the languid Kerala backwaters, and explore tea and cardamom plantations at the Munnar hill station. I might just have to put a strike-through in “spiritual” for this part of the journey so I can work in a few really great shopping sprees and Ayurvedic massages.

But we’ll see what India has in store for me.

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Goodbye, Doubt. Hello, Midlife Crisis! /2011/01/hello-midlife-crisis.html /2011/01/hello-midlife-crisis.html#comments Tue, 18 Jan 2011 00:06:32 +0000 Wendy /?p=272  

Heads of State / NY Times

We’re 17 days into Our Year of Living Bigger. Michael is learning to fly, at least virtually. I started guitar lessons with my contagiously enthusiastic teacher. Someone in a government office is renewing my passport so that I can get to India in April, and hopefully to France with the family in August. So far, so good.

Yet, as is the case I imagine with any ambitious project, I’ve had moments of self-doubt. I’ve allowed my inner critic to slip in and ask nagging rhetorical questions like, Why are we doing this? Are we being selfish, to want so much? Will our project result in any good?

Then I came across a couple of newspaper articles that helped me stuff a sock into the mouth of that tedious naysayer.

First I read “The Happy Marriage Is the Me Marriage,” by Tara Parker-Pope of the New York Times, who argues that today’s happiest and most sustainable marriages are those in which spouses actively help one another learn new things, have fresh experiences, and take part in a process of mutual self-expansion. Right on! I think Michael and I are on the right track, no? At the very least, our project will make our marriage – and our family – stronger in the long run.

Then, appearing in the Times‘ magazine a week later, “Fear (Again) of Flying” by Judith Warner casts an eye over a raft of new memoirs published by fortysomething women, concluding that today’s female midlife crisis is no longer a rebellious flight from domesticity, as it was in the 1970s. Instead it’s a spiritual “turning inward” – a journey taking place within the boundaries of home and family life. I love this – and I can’t wait to read some of these memoirs, including the yoga-influenced Devotion by Dani Shapiro and Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer.

If our Grand Project is a midlife crisis (and Michael and I are amused to acknowledge that it is!), then bring it on. Bring on the journey to India, the Native American sweat lodge ceremonies, the lessons in flying, music, French, and letting go. I’ll take all that over a fancy red sports car any day. Ultimately these things will spirit us, and our children, to much more exciting places.

Meanwhile, I’ve shooed away my inner critic, at least temporarily. I’m sure she will return, and I’ll have to work harder to hone my message of resistance. Maybe it will help to give her a name. The mommy blogger Alice Bradley, of the famously funny Finslippy blog, recently dubbed her own “judge-y voice” Wanda. I see mine as a stern-faced, thick-ankled taskmaster of Eastern European descent. I’ll call her Helga. I like this, because the act of naming her seems to take away some of her power.

Get lost, Helga! Go get your own midlife crisis, okay? I’ve got work to do.

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A New Year’s Manifesto /2011/01/a-new-years-manifesto.html /2011/01/a-new-years-manifesto.html#comments Tue, 04 Jan 2011 04:59:40 +0000 Wendy /?p=215 Ah, it’s 10:55 pm. The kids are asleep. The house is clean and orderly for the first time all day. The dishwasher is humming its soapy, comforting tune.

It’s the perfect time to write a manifesto.

When Michael and I first conceived of this Party of 4 blog and project, in our rush of adrenaline and enthusiasm we decided that we wanted it to contain a manifesto of sorts. We wanted this project to inspire and energize not just ourselves but everyone who reads about it and touches upon it. And the perfect way to do that is with a call to action.

In the meantime, serendipitously, I came across the Internet presence of Gwen Bell, who has written a great piece on her blog called Create Your Personal Manifesto. It’s bursting with advice and tips on how to do just that. And I enjoy the manifesto graphic pictured here, which I found on Etsy. When you’re about to write your own manifesto, it’s a good idea to read a few first just to get in the spirit.

Michael and I came up with a rough draft of our manifesto on New Year’s Day, over samosas and malai kofta at an Indian restaurant in Kingston, New York. I will now attempt to polish and shape each of our statements into something that is, if not elegant and declarative a la Ralph Waldo Emerson, then at least fairly readable. So here goes.

Party of 4 Manifesto

We refuse to believe that A LIFE OF ADVENTURE is incompatible with a life with kids.

Material things have a lesser value than RELATIONSHIPS and EXPERIENCES.

Our job as a couple is to NURTURE and PROTECT each other’s dreams.

EQUALLY SHARED PARENTING shall be the new world order.

May we be true to ourselves.

May we remember to pause and SEE THE MAGNIFICENCE in everything, especially our children.

Marriage is not the death knell of PASSION and LOVE.

Home is where we have our FAMILY – not our mortgage or our stuff.

We don’t stop growing after bringing kids into this world. In fact we owe it to them to keep EXPANDING OUR LIVES and moving toward our dreams.

May our actions be fueled by JOY rather than fear. May we live in openness to POSSIBILITY and CHANGE.

No whining.

No clinging to the past. No self-indulgent bouts of torment or nostalgia.

In uplifting ourselves, may we also UPLIFT OTHERS.

So there’s a start. It’s a selection. I’m tempted to add a few items from my own personal belief system, such as EAT CHOCOLATE or Unroll Thy Yoga Mat Daily. But I need to stay true to our Party of 4 theme. So there you have it.

Have you ever thought of writing your own manifesto? What would you say?

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Reflecting and Manifesting /2010/12/reflecting-and-manifesting.html /2010/12/reflecting-and-manifesting.html#comments Wed, 29 Dec 2010 06:38:49 +0000 Wendy /?p=186 As I mentioned several posts ago, I’m following the Reverb10 project, which offers tools for reflecting on the past year and manifesting what’s next for 2011. It’s fun and addictive. And it just so happens to dovetail nicely with the spirit of this Party of 4 blog, which is designed to be manifestation in action.

Tonight I’ve been thinking about some of the prompts, or questions, that Reverb10 has sent my way (and the way of some 3,000 other participants). Perhaps you, too, can use these questions for reflecting and manifesting – turning them over in your mind like stones, as Reverb10 creator Gwen Bell suggests: ”You see the question, and you turn it over, that stone in your pocket, for the first time. You approach it with beginner’s mind. It unlocks itself for you.”

So here goes. Five hand-picked Reverb10 prompts for you, and my answers.

Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you? - Gwen Bell

My word for 2010: SURVIVE. It’s been a year of challenges, a year of assaults on some of my most basic needs: health, money. If you know something about the chakra system, you could say that my root chakra took a heavy round of artillery fire in 2010. But I survived. Michael and I and our family survived. Perhaps that’s why we are so hungry for a big, life-affirming project of our own right now.

My word for 2011: THRIVE.

How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year? – Jeffrey Davis

In various moments with my children, I took the time to really see them, and really hear them. I consciously slowed down time. I called my attention to the shine in their eyes, to their perfection and magnificence. Like all children, my two girls live so perfectly in the moment and are deeply connected to the source of life. It’s magic to pause and be in that place with them.

What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?Alice Bradley

I let go of some fears this year, and hallelujah to that! Several months ago I remember sharing with some yoga students my new mantra: “The panic is optional.” And it really is optional. I come back to this mantra when I need to remember that.

Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011?Caligater

Oh, I love this, because I’m a big fan of community. For the past 10+ years I have found my deepest sense of community through yoga. For over a year now I’ve been teaching a yoga class that speaks to our need for community and connection. In fact I wrote an article about it in Chronogram magazine this month. Yet call me a walking contradiction, because I will also fess up and say that if it weren’t for yoga, and if it weren’t for my stimulation-craving kids, I’d probably spend most of my days holed up like a chipmunk in winter with my thoughts and work. Michael has the same tendencies. It’s a good thing we have yoga and children to shoo us out the door.

In 2011 I’d like to find more community online, connecting with intimate cyber-cities of creative and passionate people.

What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out?Susannah Conway

I can think of two wise decisions. 1) Renewing my vows with Michael on our 10-year anniversary. I’m thinking that more will come out about this in a future post. 2) Creating our Year of Adventure project, and this blog to go with it. Both decisions called upon the power of words – both involved giving precise verbal expression to our deep-held intentions. Which is always a good and fruitful idea.

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What Is Your Superpower? /2010/12/what-is-your-superpower.html /2010/12/what-is-your-superpower.html#comments Fri, 24 Dec 2010 06:33:13 +0000 Wendy /?p=180 Everyone has a superpower. Mine is insomnia. Since the fifth grade I’ve faced bouts of sleeplessness, and in college, poring over books, I learned to turn my protracted nights into an academic coup de grace. I came to accept and even love the solitude and starry peace of the nighttime hours. Sleep is for sissies, haven’t you heard? It’s kryptonite.

And so I am awake in my blissfully quiet house on this eve before Christmas Eve. I am awake and thinking about the uber-ambitious project that Michael and I have on our hands with this 2011 Year of Adventure, which begins in (gasp!) just over a week. How will we possibly do everything we are setting out to do, along with the usual demands of a life filled with deadlines, dishes, kids, laundry, dinner, diapers…did I mention kids? I think the insomnia will come in handy.

A few readers have asked recently about our kids, and where exactly they will fit into our Grand and Ridiculously Far-Reaching Scheme for 2011. We plan to take them right along with us on many, though not all, of our adventures. It was Amelie who chose French as the language we will learn, and she is angling for a trip to Paris this summer. This same five-year-old is eager to join me in guitar lessons. She will not go to India with me, nor would she be caught dead meditating for 10 days with her daddy in the Berkshires, though she will jump at the chance to fly an airplane with him.

Jade, just 21 months old, has her own goals and dreams. It will be difficult to pull this wee child away from her most diligently executed toddler project: the complete destruction of our possessions and home. She is making steady progress daily, having broken several glasses and ripped apart many an artful pop-up book. She is now working hard on dismantling the door of the TV cabinet. Thankfully, Jade has another job that she also happens to be very good at: Being adorable. This has saved her butt on many occasions.

But really, this entire plan involves our children, at least tangentially. For they will be seeing their parents do ambitious things. They will see that it is good for the soul to have dreams and to move doggedly toward them. They will, I hope, learn to think large-scale about their own potential for self-realization in (to borrow from Mary Oliver) this one wild and precious life.

How else will they discover their superpowers?

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Rolling Out a Plan /2010/12/rolling-out-a-pla.html /2010/12/rolling-out-a-pla.html#comments Mon, 20 Dec 2010 05:37:04 +0000 Wendy /?p=159 I’ve never been more excited about a new year as I am about 2011. Having a project – a really big, ridiculously ambitious project – has given Michael and me an incredible amount of energy, and a heady feeling of purpose and agency. It’s better than caffeine, really. If I could put this feeling in a bottle and sell it, I could make some bucks. Big time.

So if you don’t have a project right now, consider getting one. I recommend it. You don’t have to be as crazy and midlife-crisisy as Michael and me! Even a fairly modest project can supply jolts of energy and aliveness that would put Starbucks to shame.

Projects thrive on structure, so Michael and I have spent a lot of time talking about how to orchestrate our year. This is still a work in progress, but here’s what we have so far.

DECEMBER – LETTING GO. This is our ramping up time. We are taking a look at our budget and seeing where we can chip away at our dazzling expenses. We are taking a look around and seeing lots (and lots) of annoying plastic children’s toys that we can pack into boxes and deposit at the nearest thrift shop. We are making space for new possibilities in our lives. It feels good.

JANUARY – MUSIC/JOY. This will be my month to start guitar lessons, and to bring more music into our house and more joy into our lives. Why guitar? Blame it on Julie Andrews. It’s all her fault.

FEBRUARY – LOVE. This is the month in which we will prove wrong that tired stereotype about what happens to love and passion after the beautiful catastrophe of marriage and kids. And I’m hoping that Michael will finally get me that tired and cliched heart-shaped box of Valentine’s chocolates that I’ve secretly always wanted.

MARCH – FRIENDSHIP. Michael has been nostalgic lately about the depth and breadth of his youthful friendships. There is a quality to those friendships forged in pre-family days that seems harder to come by now. So this is the month in which he will return to his social butterfly ways. You can look forward to hearing about some of the real Woodstock characters that he attempts to befriend during this time.

APRIL – JOURNEY. I’ll find my passport, get some vaccinations, and pack up some tummy-soothing meds. For this is the month in which I will go to India. I’m still working out exactly where I will go and what I will do, but I’ll save that for the next post. Meanwhile, I really appreciate all the great India travel advice I received from you readers after I wrote Mapping Out a Year of Adventure.

MAY – SPIRIT. Michael’s dedicated month will feature a 10-day stint at the Vipassana meditation center in the Berkshires. Not for sissies, this one! We’re talking hard-core sitting, hard-core being with yourself without flinching. Michael also wants to revisit the Native American spiritual community that he was a part of in the late 1990s. I can’t wait to hear more.

JUNE – EXPRESSION. Michael and I have long fantasized about immersing ourselves and our kids in a foreign language. Amelie has her 5-year-old heart set on French. We probably won’t be able to swing an immersion experience, but we can dabble in the language of love – thanks to the Rosetta Stone classes we’re already enjoying courtesy of Amelie’s school. And we hope to score a family trip to Montreal or even Paris this year.

JULY – FLIGHT. God help us. Michael starts flying lessons this month. That’s “wheeeee” for him. “Gulp” for the rest of us.

MONTH TBA – KINDNESS. If all goes as planned, by the end of 2011 I will be a guitar-strumming, French-speaking, globe-trotting mama with an enviable love life. But really, I don’t want this to be all about me. I plan to dedicate at least one month to seva – or what is known in the yoga world as “selfless service.” More about that in another post.

Phew! That’s where we are to date with our 2011 plan. We’re leaving the latter half of the year open for now as things develop and change. Perhaps “Sleep” will be a theme for an upcoming month. It is certainly a theme for me right now, as I descend from my project-planning high.

Good night, sweet readers!

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