one family's yearlong dare to live their dreams

Our story on the Equally Shared Parenting website

Check out the Equally Shared Parenting website for a feature on Wendy and me and our year of living adventurously. GTA V Download

Speaking of adventures, Wendy leaves for India today! Send her your bon voyage thoughts. She will be meditating, chanting, downshifting to India time, doing yoga, and God knows what else until April 24. I’m eagerly awaiting her blog posts and photos!

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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.


ESP for Fun and Profit

There’s a movement afoot that doesn’t have nearly enough traction, but it should embraced by anyone who wants to be a parent and also have a life. It’s called Equally Shared Parenting, or ESP. The book of the same name by Amy and Marc Vachon is its manifesto.

ESP busts some myths about parenting and it’s what makes my and Wendy’s year of living adventurously possible.

Myth: Moms are natural nuturers, not dads. This is just an excuse for dudes to avoid diaper changes and sleepless nights. Sure moms have boobs and wombs, but dads are just as well equipped in every other respect to care for kids. Just ask any pair of gay dads.

Myth: A parent can’t do equal justice to a career and parenting; your choices come down to having kids and a truncated or nonexistent career, remaining childless, or outsourcing childcare—either to your  co-parent or a nanny. Typically the mom is the one who ends up ditching her career to care for the kids, while the dad remains a wage slave. That’s a shame because the truth is you can have it all.

Myth: The hard work of maintaining a household as well as raising kids has no monetary value. Sure, society tells us this, but it simply isn’t true.

Wendy and I divide all of our work–home and otherwise–equally. Even our checks get made out to both of us. That means the one doing housework and childcare at any given moment is getting paid the same as the one working at the office. We know that the at-home backup is essential to getting client work done, even if our clients don’t.

All of this adds up to a lifestyle that allows both of us to pursue our passions while spending equal time with the kids.

On April 8, Wendy will board a plane to India. This week and next she gets to focus full time on preparing for her trip, finishing off her work obligations, packing, and doing last minute planning, while I hold down the home front. I’m her coach each day, getting her out the door early while I get the kids dressed and fed and ready for their day. And I’ll be her backup and support here at home while she spends two weeks following her bliss halfway around the world. Next month our roles will switch while I spend a week and a half on a meditation retreat.

ESP makes it possible. We wouldn’t have it any other way.


How to Make Friends

Two little girls in Washington, D.C. c. 1939-1945

Two little girls in Washington, D.C. c. 1939-1945. Photo: Transfer from U.S. Office of War Information, 1944

What is a friend? That’s the question I’ve had to answer in this, my month focusing on friendship as part of my yearlong project with Wendy to live more adventurously.

I started the month with the vague idea that I wanted more friends in my life and to spend more time with old ones. I’m ending the month with a working definition of what a friend is that should continue to serve me indefinitely.

Step one was to make my life more conducive to friendship. My typical work day began at 4 or 5 a.m. so that I could work before the kids got up. Unfortunately that made it hard to socialize when most people wanted to, at the end of their work day. So Wendy and I cultivated a babysitting team, which we now have in place, so that I could work more reasonable hours. Now I don’t fall asleep during social engagements. Big improvement!

Next I set out to present a more friendly face to the world. I set the simple intention to look for opportunities to make friends wherever I find myself. This involves taking a risk at times, offering something of myself, as well as listening to what others have to say about themselves. This has been wonderful too. I’ve discovered that if you treat everyone you meet as a potential friend, they tend to respond in kind. And I find that by probing gently, I can get past small talk fairly quickly to get to topics of conversation that are meaningful to both of us.

Finally, I’ve been trying to get out of my usual surroundings more, to seek out new places to meet people. A couple of highlights from my month of making friends:

At a trade show, I dropped a superhero reference, with my friendship intention in mind, and I was gratified to find a fellow superhero fan manning a booth. More than that, it turned he was from my hometown and that we had shopped at the same comic shop in the 1980s! We talked happily about our favorite comic writers and titles for some time.

At a conference, I sought out someone I had admired from afar, and found that the feeling had been mutual. Now that we were meeting face-to-face for the first time, it was as though we both felt we had a lot of catching up to do. We talked into the night, long after others at our table had drifted away, exchanging ideas about writing, flying, the nature of creativity, our families, and other topics close to our hearts. Key to this interaction was my intention to approach him as a potential friend rather than just as a professional associate.

Now I’m looking to local events and encounters for friends that I can spend more time with on a regular basis. Although, I’ve come to the conclusion that physical proximity is not an essential ingredient in a friend. However, presence is.

Presence is at the heart of my new definition of “friend.” A friend, I’ve come to believe, is someone with whom you share a mutual liking and who gives you their undivided attention. Could be just for a few minutes. Could be over a period of years. But a person who disconnects from our increasingly wired and interconnected world long enough to focus on you, just you, for however long, is giving you something special and is worthy of the title “friend.”


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.”

“Yes.”

“And no key.”

Hai.”

“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.


Creating a Spiritual Journey

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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