one family's yearlong dare to live their dreams

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?

Coming down to Earth

Hudson River at 3,500 feetShamans and meditators work their whole lives to achieve this perspective. I got it in 1.3 hours of flight over the Hudson River Valley. Overflying your normal existence—seeing it laid out below–changes you.

My instructor had me taxi down runway 15 at Kingston Airport and lift us up into the air at 60 knots to sail over the Kingston-Rhinebeck bridge, and head north along the Hudson.

I practiced some turns before heading us west, back across the river and to the Catskill Mountains. Then we truly entered another world. Greg had me fly through a mountain pass to gaze down on a verdant valley below. Out we flew through another pass, and then headed south around the curve of the mountains to overfly Woodstock, my home.

Reality began to set in when Greg demoed proper turns, banking us at 45 degrees, left and right, and back again repeatedly, until I felt rather airsick. My turns were decidedly sloppier, and much less steeply banked.

The illusion was broken. I was no flier, just a dreamer sitting in my queasiness. “I’ll bring us in gently,” said Greg. Back on the ground, Greg told me he was getting laid off as another company bought the flight school. He told me not to be discouraged. I presented a credit card at the front desk to pay for my $213 lesson, keenly aware of the expense as an added weight to the burden already on that card.

Past the halfway point of our year-of-living-adventurously project, Wendy and I are dragging the ground. We’re still paying off that trip to India. Continuing flight lessons are an unaffordable luxury. Hours to meditate or practice guitar turn out to be equally unaffordable expenditures of time.

Money is fuel in the tanks. Time is altitude to maneuver. Like millions of others, especially these days, we’re short on both. But we’ve seen life at 3,500 feet. We know what’s important to us and what isn’t, what’s worth working for and what’s not. For starters, we need to spend less time earning more money. I have some ideas for doing that.

What’s holding you back from living your dreams? What can you do about? Leave us a comment to share your ideas.

Life in 3D

I’ve been trying to put my finger on what makes flight so compelling to me. Now, after my introductory lesson at Kingston Airport, I think I’ve got it.

It’s a matter of perspective. Even here in the country, we’re surrounded by people. Scrabbling around on the ground, we have to make way for each other, go around obstacles, never seeing beyond the next hill or corner. It’s life in 2D. We live that way our whole lives, and we’re used to it.

But when you climb into the cockpit of an airplane, you leave all that behind. After a running start, you leap into the sky, and suddenly you’re living in 3 dimensions.

When my instructor and I took off, we had the sky to ourselves. There were no stop signs, traffic lights, no traffic at all, no obstacles to where we could go, not even a cop to tell us to slow down or signal our turns. We were free. Free to move up or down as well as left and right. Free to turn, bank, or climb or descend as we pleased.

C-152 approach to KingstonThe Hudson river flowed below us, wide and mighty, no more just an expanse to cross, but a gently curving length, whole and majestic, like the mountains to the west. The treetops covered the now-irrelevant roads. The city of Kingston glittered, sharp edged in the sunlight. “I don’t care how fast a Ferrari is,” remarked my instructor, “the fastest way from point A to point B is a straight line.”

And then there’s the landing, as much a miracle as flight itself. Working throttle, flaps, rudder, and ailerons, Greg slowed us so that we floated down to kiss the runway so gently I hardly felt it, and we were rolling in 2D again. “Hello, Mother Nature,” he said, with evident satisfaction. Because as transcendant as flight is, a safe return home is never to be taken for granted.

Needless to say, I’m hooked.

Pulling the Plug

Wendy and I have been talking a lot lately about pulling the plug on our various digital devices. We all of us in our family experience the frustration that comes with trying to connect with someone who is physically present, but has their attention on a smart phone, computer, or TV. Jacked in, they called it in the science fiction circles I used to run in. Then it referred to a plug hardwired into your brain that you would physically plug into “deck,” some type of computer.

Turns out you don’t actually need a cord dangling out of your head to turn off the outside world and do away with all those pesky human interactions like paying attention to your kids or playing with your sibling. Any old device with a screen will do just fine.

Last weekend we stayed near the beach in Rockport, MA, courtesy of We hunted for shells and beach glass, spent time with friends, and explored a new town. We still had our devices with us, but their hold on us was loosened. We connected more with each other, and we thought about possibilities.

Now we’re plotting our escape to somewhere with no cell phone coverage, no Internet access, and no TV. Somewhere inspiring, somewhere warm in winter, somewhere to get tune with each other. Then, when we get home, we’ll put the TV in storage and leave our smart phones and computers at the office for a while and see how that goes.

Have digital devices begun to take over your life? Do you have a place to go to unplug? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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!

Flying Dream

K20N photo by Julie Sitney

Photo of Kingston-Ulster Airport by Julie Sitney

Driving along Highway 209, just before I hit the bridge into Rhinebeck, I always turn my head left for a glimpse of the single engine airplanes parked on the flight line at the Kingston Airport.

There’s no passenger terminal there, no jets taking off and landing, not even a control tower, just those little airplanes.

Once in a while, I’m lucky enough to catch a glimpse of an airplane coming in for a landing. When I was a kid and I heard an airplane passing over my house, I would race to find one of my toy airplanes, and hold it as high as I could near the window to fly along with the real one, adding my own back-of-the-throat growl to that of the real engine. My favorite daydream was to imagine that I had wings growing from my back. I would try to imagine what it would feel like to run as fast as I could, and then push off the ground and sail into the air.

As an adult I started my journalism career writing about modern-day barnstormers who flew a rocket powered airplane with old-fashioned stick-and-rudder controls out of the atmosphere. Besides that of watching SpaceShipOne fly firsthand, a memory I’ll always treasure is sitting across a restaurant table from one of the pilots afterwards, enthralled by his description, complete with hand gestures, of his flight.

And yet, I’ve never taken seriously the idea of flying myself. There’s something about a dream sometimes that just doesn’t seem like it could ever come true. Until now.

I have an appointment with a Certified Flight Instructor at the Kingston Airport. Soon I will turn off the highway at the airport instead of driving past. I’ll climb into a Cessna 152, and I’m told, take off for an arial tour of my own neighborhood on my very first lesson.

I’ve already told Amelie to look up from the playground at camp that day when she hears the growl of an airplane engine. I’ll waggle the wings to wave to her and her buddies. Maybe one of those kids will have a toy airplane with them, and they’ll hold it up against the sky, flying a dream too.

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