Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Joy time

The serendipity of the season reminds me how good it feels to be delighted, amused, surprised. When I think back on the year, I realize that entire days have gone by when I deprived myself (because of busyness) from including a pleasurable activity. This is not to say that each day didn’t bring moments of joy. But I am referring to things just for me, like getting a massage, painting with watercolors, going to a movie, reading uninterrupted for an hour, taking a long walk. I have decided that next year, I will begin each day with a simple plan for joy. Every day I will choose an activity I LOVE to do. No matter how much my family needs me or how many commitments I have, a day will not go by without a large dose of joy of my own choosing. I make a list of my thirty favorite pastimes, including those that I haven’t done in awhile (enough for a solid month of fun). Next to each, I write what has prevented me from engaging in the activity. When I am conscious of the obstacles, I am able to think of ways to remove them. Tomorrow, I begin a joyous new era. ******************************************************************** The great use of life is to spend it on something that will outlast it. —James Adams Making more money was once my excuse for why I didn’t make more time for my family. I was driven and ambitious. The next plateau was where my dream house would be built. The next vacation beach was the one I would relax on. But when I arrived, I still wasn’t satisfied and I spent my time making more plans. When my grandmother’s heart began to fail, my Poppy conscientiously cooked meals, scrubbed every surface clean, ran the errands. He was now a very busy man. Yet every evening after dinner, he stopped working to savor a peppermint ice cream cone and a slow dance with Nana on the terrace. Afterwards, he tucked her into bed, making certain she noticed his cool hands on her forehead. He did this because, looking back over a lifetime of moments, he knew he would not regret a few spots on the wall, but rather that they had not danced in the warm night. Why must we wait until “goodbye” reveals how much we cherish each other—what a treasure our time spent with loved ones truly is? When my children ask for my time, I often struggle with the momentary desire to finish “my work.” But once I filter out what is not important, I remember that paying attention is a gift and is the right thing to do. Nothing is more compelling to me than a family moon walk in our neighborhood followed by a good story read together by nightlight. It is that simple.

Monday, December 29, 2008

One button at a time

Does it have to be done? Does it have to be done now? Can I delegate it? Does it have to be perfect? Is there a simpler way to do it? —La Leche League I clear the way for a simpler life. I leave spaces in my day and remove the word “hurry” from my vocabulary. I prune every unnecessary obligation. “Less is more” is my call to inaction. I stop rushing and notice how impatience in my tone of voice and gestures falls away. I no longer feel compelled to hurry my pace, robbing myself of the leisure to touch the world around me. To slow down, I remember this chant: One button at a time. One spoonful at a time. One step at a time. One moment at a time. One place at a time. One decision at a time. One way at a time. One day at a time.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Make time for me

Fifteen years ago tonight, I treated my four year old son, Jake, to a holiday night of sweet treats and amusement park rides on the rooftop of the Emporium, a now defunct department store downtown on Market Street. My own mother used to bring my sister and I there every December to eat crunchy corn dogs dipped in yellow mustard and ride the ferris wheel high above the twinkling city lights, snuggled in our parkas against the brisk air. This was one Christmas tradition my Jewish parents allowed me to experience despite their refusal to decorate a tall tree with ornaments and place a crystal angel on top. The night I took Jake, I did not share his exhilaration and happiness. My husband and I had recently separated and it seemed as though I was the only parent standing alone waving at her child as he whizzed by on the miniature train. I stared at the mothers and fathers holding hands, snapping Polaroids™, watching the images of their children with hands and fringed wool scarves flung into the air materialize on the white squares of photo paper. I spiraled down into a mood so low that I forgot to keep my eye on Jake as he snaked through the crowd to ride the roller coaster. I was paralyzed by the depression. I stood still and felt as cold as an ice sculpture. I didn't hear the music of the carousel. But from the din, Jake's laughter and urgent "Mommy, watch" snapped me out of my funk. I didn't want to destroy his fun and managed to gather the energy to use up the rest of our ride tickets and find the corn dog stand. We somehow caught the right streetcar home and once Jake was sound asleep, I placed a chunky sandalwood candle on the floor in the middle of my dark bedroom, lit the wick, and sat cross-legged in front of it's glow, waiting for clarity. I was mesmerized by the blue and yellow flame. Soon, my chest began to heave and primal sobs burst from my mouth. I was afraid the wracking sound would scare Jake so I pressed my palm over my lips. A movie of memories flooded my mind. I “watched” a little girl in a red and green plaid jumper begging her Daddy to dance with her. The word "homesick" underscored my recollection of a childhood wishing for more time with my Dad. I let the story unfold over an hour that late night. I immersed myself in homesickness; I learned to access old, stagnant emotions by giving myself the space and time to see through to the truth. And then I let go what didn't work for me anymore.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Calm and Confident Moms: Shedding all that I am not

Calm and Confident Moms: Shedding all that I am not

Shedding all that I am not

I cultivate the special quality of being content with very few possessions. Millions of people around the world wear clothes discarded by others, dwell in makeshift homes, eat less than their hungry bellies yearn for. Though I need not worry about scrounging for my next meal or that I will shiver tonight, I adopt a non-clinging attitude towards the material world. Excess surrounds me in this gift-giving season, yet I find myself easily shedding all that I am not. I am not a party girl. I am not a parent who showers my children with toys. I am not a fashion queen. I am not a stressed-out, last minute-obligated-to-get-you-a-gift shopper. What I am is a person who enjoys giving from the heart, giving time and experiences, giving gifts that are evergreen because they are chosen by me with thought and care. Conversely, I strive to receive with attention and model for my children the way to open gifts mindfully, honoring the gift-giver at the same time as the recipient.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Tall oaks from little acorns grow.

I've watched the trees closely as long as I can remember and along the way befriended a forest of favorites. There was the generous flowering plum in the front yard on Stratford Drive that blossomed in April, and by July was laden with shiny little plums. I would shimmy up the trunk, balance on a thick branch, and pluck and eat the tart fruit until my stomach groaned. Through 30 summers at Lake Tahoe, I measured the growth of a Ponderosa pine sapling I discovered as a toddler growing next to the redwood deck. By the time I vacationed with my own children at our summer house, that courageous tree was taller than the roofline and was my father’s gauge for whether or not he could take his grandchildren out on the lake for a boat ride. If the tip-top of the pine was still, needles steady, catching the sunlight, we knew the lake was calm. But if the crown was swaying, Papa called off the trip. He knew the white capped waves would toss and bump his little fishing boat and make it difficult to navigate through the rocky cove. But my favorite was the weeping cherry tree I called Pom-Pom that showered me with petal confetti as I lay daydreaming on the lawn. I loved to watch a pair of robins add one thin twig, a piece of torn newspaper, another bird's lost feather, to their nest in the crook of that happy tree. I passed many long spring Saturdays staring through the wizened branches at the blue sky and passing clouds. I wrote my first book under Pom-Pom and vowed one day to publish a thank you poem for my treasured trees. I wanted to show my appreciation for the gifts of courage and hope that trees give to the world—beginning life as a curious seed, growing willfully up through the dark soil, branches reaching skyward anticipating the sun and rain, then later kneeling down to nourish earth with its crunchy, golden leaves. And beginning all over again.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Give me a happy day.

I've watched my two children and their circle of friends grow through the ages—a rainbow of faces and personalities spanning our family life. They all seem to want (and need) the same direction from us, their grown-up guides. * Give me a happy day. * Answer what I ask. * Be calm. * Help me stand. * Show the good. * Listen to my song. * Belong to me. * Dream with me. * Hug me close. * Bring me magic. * Show me the way home.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Transform your house hell into home heaven

My house used to look like yours. Through my Little Moments of Peace practice, I figured out the baby steps I needed to transform my house hell into home heaven. Here's the first step: 1) Choose the one room you spend the most time in. (I know there are many you inhabit daily but you must choose one and only one. This room could be your bedroom where you can sneak away from the rest of the mess to refresh and renew yourself. Or it could be the great room where your whole family congregates.) Once you've chosen the room to declutter, gather 6 boxes or bags and a sharpie™. Label the containers with action verbs as follows: Toss; Recycle; Donate; Sort; Move; Treasure. Now choose just one drawer or shelf or corner. Do not allow yourself to ponder the clutter in any other area of the room. Dump or move the contents into the middle of the space. Every item must be moved out from the mess to another clear space. Dust/wash the once cluttered space. Sit next to the "junk" pile and pick up every single item. Ask yourself: Do I love this item? Is it beautiful and worthy of display? Is it a treasured memento or keepsake that can be labeled and packed away in storage? Is it broken? Should I repair it or not? Have I used it in the last three months? Could someone else use and appreciate it? Is it a piece of paper I can sort later or might I recycle it now? Decide which box/bag the item belongs in and drop it in NOW. If you have to think for more than a few seconds, put the item in the "keep" bag for the time being. You can deal with that box later. Make sure you keep moving and that your energy doesn't thud from indecisiveness. Once all items are sorted through, 1) take the "toss" bag and empty it in the garbage can 2) take the "recycle" bag and empty it in the recycling can 3) put the "donate" bag in your car or a corner of your garage (to be removed later) 4) put the "sort" bag in a closet or a corner of a room where you can later quietly deal withone bag at a time 5) pick up the "move" bag and redeposit each item where it belongs in your house (if you can't easily find a place for each item, consider putting it in one of the bags that's leaving your home.) 6) carefully wrap and box all treasures, place them in a cardboard box or plastic container, label the outside with the word "Treasure," your name, and today's date. If it's full, tape it up and place it in your basement or attic or upper shelf of the hall closet. If there's still room left, continue to add treasures you discover as you purge. Look at the one small space you cleared! It is clean, dust-free, and ready to accept items that truly belong there. Or not! You decide if the space should remain clear or can be put to functional use. You will begin feeling a welling up of energy and will want to keep going. Choose the next logical drawer, corner, shelf and repeat the action steps. Only work while you have energy. You might want to limit this to one hour a day. But by all means keep going while you feel the fire! I look forward to hearing about your process. Feel free to ask me questions as you proceed.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I have just one day, TODAY ...

... and I'm going to be happy in it. —Groucho Marx In each bedroom of our home, my family awakened today. Our feet touched the floor and we set out on an unknown road. Some days, my tracks are first on the path. Other days, my children lead. Every step takes us to a place with a new view. Happiness and love or sadness and fear? The power of choice is ours. I choose a happy day. Sprouting in September: THE HAPPINESS TREE: Celebrating the gifts of trees we treasure http://us.macmillan.com/thehappinesstree

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Children are mirrors.

My children show me a true picture of myself. Knowing this helps me become more conscious of my words and actions. When I see a reflection that displeases me, I try not to feel guilty that I have set less than a perfect example. I use the information I have learned from them to improve myself. By talking to even the youngest children about my process, I teach them how to deal with a life they will lead as imperfect people. They will make mistakes. They will fail at times. They will hurt other people's feelings. It is my job to teach them how to repair and forgive, how to accept weaknesses as well as strengths, and how to love themselves as much as I love them. What do you see in the faces of your children?

Monday, June 09, 2008

A human being needs only half a mat ...

... when awake, a whole mat when asleep. —Old Japanese saying I contemplate the simplicity in this wise and humble teaching and decide to spend more time on the floor. Though I don't sit on a tatami mat to eat or visit with friends, I imagine how content one can feel occupying just a small space. We are all the same in our desire for a full belly and time to linger with those we enjoy. An hour on the floor with my family gives new meaning to the phrase "down to earth."

Bathroom solitude

How I have come to love the lock on my bathroom door. I sneak inside and pray that no one under ten saw me slip in or heard the surreptitious click. I am grateful that quiet privacy is assured for a few sacred moments, that I am protected here in this snug, little room from two sets of curious, prying eyes. I sit down on the toilet, glad to be off my feet for only the second time today, and truly appreciate that I haven’t fallen in. I am alone. This is heaven. It is tranquil in here. A fine layer of condensation clouds the view out the window so I rub an oval patch dry and peek through at a bird winging by. She is alone, too. And free. Sometimes I mourn the loss of my freedom. Recently I was thumbing through my pre-motherhood scrapbook and found a cartoon of a man holding a set of jail window bars in his hands and pushing with all his might against the metal with one raised foot. His face is anguished and I imagine his agonized grunts as he tries to escape. But there are no walls surrounding him. He is in a prison of his own making and simply needs to drop the bars and walk away, free. The door knob begins to rattle furiously. Time is up. I look at the clouds in the sky one more time, then flush and open the door. My children are waiting, glad I'm back. And so am I. I choose to surrender to the next moment as Mom, knowing that soon enough I'll find another little moment of peace.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Out the door with ease

A flurry of agitated activity marks my departure from home. The phone rings as I pull the door shut and I jump back inside, jarred by its urgent shrill. I answer with a clipped tone of voice. Instead of telling my friend I will call her back later, I talk for several minutes, am now late for my appointment, and after hanging up, groan internally, Why did I pick up the phone? I rush out the door. My pace is hectic and driven. My face wears a look of consternation. I am unpleasant. I drive too fast. I feel impatient with the slow strollers in the cross walk and stressed by stop signs and the wink of red brake lights. I don’t notice the scenery of my drive, just the confounding obstacles. When I arrive at my destination, I can't recall the streets I drove to get there. Today I decide I must transform “leaving home” into a more peaceful set of thoughts and actions. I will change the way I think about my availability by telephone. I will stop hearing the ring of the phone as urgent, knowing that it is a privilege for—not a right of—the caller to reach me. I will allow voice mail to answer and return calls when I am able to give mindful attention to the caller. I listen to the way I express it is time to leave: I have to go. The message this sends to myself and others is: I am at the mercy of time, of someone else’s schedule. I change this to I am going now, an assertion that I want to go, I am ready to go. I do not need to ask permission or make excuses. I am going now. I feel the power, the pleasure, the I AM in that affirmation.