Monthly Archives: January 2014

Thirty: Stop Profiling Me

“Whether people like it or not, my marketing thought is if you keep something in front of people for too long, they get used to it.”  – Shahrukh Khan

I was an ’80s kid who wanted sugary cereals because of all the dancing toucans and tigers in the advertisements. Still, the marketers were sending this message out to millions of families with the knowledge that kids like sugar and fun, and kids craving sugar in the grocery store are pretty persuasive little consumers. It’s not pretty, but I came out of high school wanting to dive into the advertising industry. I liked to write and making floor wax and laundry detergent seem appealing to others seemed like a good challenge.

Things are different thirty years later. As my generation links up on Facebook with lost loves, pen pals, and high school besties that we used to write actual letters to, eerily-interesting advertisements (strategically targeted towards me) flash on the screen. We can earn points for filling out consumer surveys or by watching advertisements when we are finally at the day and age where viewing commercials is an optional activity. There’s so much effin’ information to sort through, but if the right information is wrapped up in a bow and well placed then it might sell a few units…and sometimes I am the fool that falls for it.

I came across the term “Waldenlust” for the first time recently, defined by Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin as, “Fantasies of the freedom that dispossession would bring; nostalgia for earlier, supposedly simpler times; and reverence for the primitive, which is assumed to be more authentic and closer to nature.” I think I might have a case of Waldenlust. I’m already that ol’ lady who says, “When I was a kid…” when the reality is that this kid was pretty heavily marketed to. I would stare at the television for hours because it was what was around to interact with. I didn’t critique or question media because that wasn’t something I was taught to do by the adults in my life.

University felt like an all-out rebellion against marketing. The poor advertising director at the campus newspaper had so few leads to follow since we’d drafted pages of company names that were on our Ad Boycott list. I rarely shopped retail and I had no t.v. set. Calls were made to my land line and messages were left until my voicemail filled up. A Political Science professor burst my bubble by saying that people almost always would sell out their privacy for convenience.

I fear that he’s right. I willingly plug myself in to all sorts of devices and apps and services all in the name of feeling connected, but so much of that time is manipulated away from the cause and towards an ad. I absolve myself from guilt by muting commercials when they come on in the kids’ presence, but I always have a nagging feeling that I am slowly turning them into tech junkies too. At least once a year, my family needs an all-out technology detox where I don’t pull out my smart phone to take a picture or text a message about how great this moment is.  And we are pretty good at that when we can get there: enjoying human (or feline) company, delighting in lazy snuggles in front of a sunny window, and so on.

I’m passing the buck here, but I feel that all these devices lead me straight into hyper-states. Too many emails. Too much time in front of a screen. Too many minutes on social media. I know the responsibility is mine, but I would like guidance on this.

How do we lead balanced lives around all of our gadgets? 

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Twenty Nine: Small Moments

“Do you know how there are moments when the world moves so slowly you can feel your bones shifting, your mind tumbling? When you think that no matter what happens to you for the rest of your life, you will remember every last detail of that one minute forever?”  – Jodi Picoult

At first glance, this day was as “normal” as every other day. Stretch. Check my email. Get my kid dressed and off to school. But with a second glance, there were several unforgettable moments of sheer sweetness.

It was “World Market Day” today. My husband and I had been helping our daughter make Guatemalan worry dolls over the last couple weeks, and today she would trade all these little beauties for other crafts and handmade foods made by her classmates. As us parents were hovering and waiting to help, my parent friend came over to say hello. She lives nearby and she had seen me and my son skipping down the road a couple of days ago. She was totally open about how it got her all choked up to witness this little moment, and that in turn got me choked up. I truly value the people in my life who share – their time, their wisdom, but most of all the emotions and experiences that make us less than strangers to one another.

The market was utter madness, albeit adorable, and it had completely overwhelmed my girl. She refused to walk around the room to ask others for trades and her stall was quiet for a few minutes. But then she had a rush. A sweet little girl (who had once been our neighbor years ago) recognized us and exuberantly offered her fan in trade for a doll. I emailed her mom to say hello, and she told me that her daughter had shared the doll with her younger sibling as she’d promised earlier that morning. There was another little boy who just sat in front of the worry dolls longingly. He must have traded all his wares, but he stood there just staring at the dolls.

Fast forward to bus pick-up time and I was caught in a torrential downpour. I sat under my umbrella for several minutes waiting for a flash of the school bus yellow on the horizon. Finally, the bus arrived and my daughter was the first to climb down the steps. I handed her an already-opened Dora umbrella, and she got the biggest smile on her face.

A couple of hours passed and my family had just finished dinner. The kids were wily, so we let them play around. I have several plastic buckeyballs that are safe to chuck around indoors, and my husband was playing catch with our son as our daughter curled up on my lap. Eventually, she rolled into the play and time slowed down so much for me that I seemed to be catching every detail of her smile as she chased her brother in glee. I couldn’t help but think that if I were to die tomorrow then this moment might very well be the moment that flashed before my eyes.

So there is my day. No theme. No great life lesson pondered. Just a beautiful collection of moments.

Are you paying attention to the moments unfolding around you?

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Twenty Eight: Looking at Myself through the Words of a Hero

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There are people that come in and out of our lives with great force and impact – lovers, friends, distant cousins, coworkers, and so on…until you get to people of notoriety that we have never met, will likely never meet, but whom have had a profoundly sweet influence on us. Pete Seeger was one of those people. I celebrate his life today with some of my favorite quotes from the folk music icon.

“There’s no such thing as a wrong note if you’re singing it.”

My daughter is surrounded by music. I have tunes playing all day. Her father is a musician with an extensive LP collection. Her three-year-old brother makes up little jingles. When little miss breaks into song, she hits some unusual notes. She comes up with elaborate verses about unicorns and monsters and her cats, and it really is truly amazing. Nothing holds her back.

I envy her and her youth because she understands this quote so much more than I. She hasn’t internalized years of self doubt or criticism that she stops the creative flow. It’s coming out and it’s beautiful because it simply is.

“I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other.” 

This quote resonates with me as I live in a cohousing community: 23 private units on one property with shared spaces and amenities like a common house. I can imagine Pete and Toshi attending monthly meetings, and figuring out how they (in their 90s) would have contributed their fair share of the work load to be done around the property at work parties. Cohousing in a modern American environment is far from perfect, but it shakes a stick at the loneliness that can stem from busy urban lives. I think that these “small villages” Seeger spoke of are everywhere – collectives that grow out of a common interest, passion, or lifestyle – but they aren’t where we live, and hence we can make the choice to avoid daily responsibility to them and their members if we wish to.

It’s a very important thing to learn to talk to people you disagree with.”

Several years ago, I was involved in the hiring process at the non-profit where I used to work. There were several candidates, but one seemed to rise above the others. My supervisor turned to the hiring team and said, “Beware of leaning towards the candidate that seems to share the most in common with you.” That has stuck with me ever since. It is easier, perhaps, to make progress with those that share our ideas and visions for things, but that might not be the truest form of progress.

I saw it this year at a PTA meeting; a parent questioned what the actual PTA board guidelines were that we were being asked to ratify. No one could produce them. Then he showed up at a board meeting, and despite my best efforts to make him feel welcome he was on the defensive and hard to talk to. He was a thorn in the side, but it was he that was vigilant at pointing out inequities and areas for improvement with the PTA.

I believe that most of us shy away from confrontation and conflict resolution because we are afraid of the time and energy it will demand of us. There seem to be less minutes in the day for anything other than punching in and out of the time clock at work and making three decent meals for oneself. The beauty is that I disagree with people everywhere! There’s always somewhere to practice compassion and honest communication.

“I feel that my whole life is a contribution.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all said this about ourselves? I will aspire to embody these words for the rest of my days. They don’t require the utmost levels of confidence or self esteem but self love – an understanding that in every moment and with every breath we have the potential to bring change and love to the world, and even when we don’t we are still part of the fabric of life. Thank you, Pete, for your words and all 94 years of positive change that you brought to this world.

How do things change in our lives when a hero passes on? Do we start to inherently value their works in a different way?

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Altered photos from Flickr Creative Commons; “Pete Seeger’s Peace Machine” by Paul VanDerWerf, “OWS and Pete Seeger” by Daniel Latorre, and “Pete Seeger” by Jim the Photographer.

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Twenty Seven: Off Track

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“We’re all off track most of the time. Just realizing this is a significant step….Knowing we’re off track is really an invitation to realign ourselves and recommit to our destination.”  – Stephen Covey

Today a message popped up on my phone to congratulate me on a full month of exercising every day. Sweet! Let me disclose that I have never stepped foot in a gym, and I lean towards slow exercise like walking, tai chi, or yoga. So this new year obsession with tightening and toning my muscles (ahem, flab) is strange and left field. I am, however, the sort of person that nerds out to the nth degree on researching a new hobby. I have enough affirmations and tracking devices to keep an entire basketball team motivated and on track. Except, wait, didn’t I just get off track myself?

I haven’t set the bar super high, figuring that this new goal would be obtainable if I gave myself some leeway. Basically, I have a Seven (minute) workout app that tracks my progress day-by-day. I expect that I can complete the bare minimum of one seven minute workout a day. Honestly, I don’t know why I even missed that one workout.  It would have been more interesting if I had missed it on account of some great drama, but alas it just slipped my mind. Life is what happens when you’re making other plans, right?

I’m on that teeter where I feel like I could be on the slow descent into breaking this new habit. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. There is a deeper agenda here though – a mission to find my own strength. I have not pushed myself to lose weight or judged my body since I gave birth. I am indifferent to the “real woman body” posts as much as the “super toned had-my-baby-two-weeks-ago” posts because at the heart of it is a heavy and hurtful judgment to the other camp. When I was a teenager, it was all about bashing Gap models for their impossible thin-ness. I was that skinny, and it got really old hearing the “Are you anorexic?” questions. (As an aside, would that question ever convey genuine concern to someone who might be struggling with a serious debilitating disease?) When my children were born, my weight shifted dramatically; the pounds fell down my body like a mudslide to settle on my hips. It is what it is, and it interests me to see how my body has changed over the years.

I am not looking to bench press a heavy weight. I am not interested in joining a gym. I want to develop some fun and healthy ways to get my heart rate going every day. I want to be able to do enough songs on my Zumba app to wear my kids out before I fold myself. I want to know that if the apocalypse struck tomorrow and the only clean water was in Canada that I could walk there (with a kid strapped to my back.) And I want to prove to myself that I have the courage to show up for that every day. For me.

How do you stay “on track”? What is your motivation?

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Photo from Flickr Creative Commons, “Train Tracks” by William Warby

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Twenty Six: Shopping with Kids

“The quickest way to know a woman is to go shopping with her.”  – Marcelene Cox

If that is true, then it must also be true that in order to know the limits of this woman’s sanity you must take her shopping with her kids.

I had a gift card that had been burning a hole in my pocket over the last few days, so I packed up the kids and took them shopping. We had two stops before we reached the gift card store, and theoretically I should have been more prudent with my time and kept those stops short. Sometimes I shake my head at myself: I’m 39 and I’ve been a mom for 6 years now. I should know how to balance the need to get out and have a good little shopping session and spending time with my kids.

For the most part, my kids are really sweet and fun in public. We strolled through the thrift store after unloading several bags of donated items. We love thrift stores. They are filled with treasures waiting to be discovered.  My kids know I can lean towards buying ridiculous things, so they don’t think twice about holding up a freakishly-scary clown knick-knack or a dog bowl when we don’t have a dog. (Ahem, there is a reason that Macklemore won a Grammy for “Thrift Shop” tonight; I literally almost bought neoprene kayaking shoes for the Polar Bear Swim I’m going to do 11 months from now.)

My team was already growing weary and snacky in the thrift store, but we had two other stops to make. Arms were grabbing at anything and everything, and wasn’t it reasonable that I should limit how much I  pawed the merchandise. And it all grew much less fun for all of us. We drove over to the shop where I had the gift card, and I was basically like a big gust of wind that blew the kids from one department to the next. I spent out my card and we were on to the last stop, Trader Joes. We had blown making it home in time for lunch and my brood was headed straight for an all-out blowout if I didn’t get them a snack.

Sometimes, I just have to stop where I am and take stock of my attitude. Shifting my perspective is the best thing I can do in most situations to improve things. Now I know this life lesson through and through, but practicing it in the moment can be really tough. I decided to combine this with two other life lessons I know well: one, if me and my kids are grumpy then eat, and two, provide my kids with opportunities to choose. The kids will eat anything from a sample counter; I’m sure I’m not the only parent who has fed their child lunch from the Costco sample counters. They perked up, so I rode this wave of giddiness and offered them the opportunity to choose and carry a snack for later. Bingo! This was now their shopping trip too.

So what have I learned about myself by taking myself shopping? I like to shop alone. I don’t want to be rushed. I need to bulk up on protein beforehand and carry a couple of power bars in my purse. Shopping is a sport, but not a team sport for me.

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Twenty Five: Right Tired

Relics from my day: a found ponytail and a crotch rock that has to go pee.

Relics from my day: a found ponytail and a crotch rock that has to go pee.

“You never get tired unless you stop and take time for it.”  – Bob Hope

As a Stay-at-Home-Mom, I have aspired to be anything but. I value the time spent at home, but I like to get out in the world with my kids…and today delivered.

I coordinated a small group of my immediate neighbors to join a neighborhood-wide clean-up. This meant collecting the tools soon after breakfast and bicycling down to Garbage Bag Central to get the city trash bags, so they’d pick up the refuse at the end of the day. The crew gathered for a brief time and went out to their stations. I had my 3 and 5-year-old sprouts with me, and they were game for the adventure. It is always inspiring to see how easily they take to community volunteering; without any set example of indifference or non-participation, they are civically-active little ones. We found tossed out disposable cameras, candy wrappers, reading glasses, and…wait for it….a ponytail. Drivers-by slowed down and chatted us up and I connected with several neighbors I don’t get to see every day. It just felt good to do good.

This brought us to lunch time. My husband hadn’t had a laborious start to his day, so he suggested a mountain hike for the afternoon. Meh. But it was an abnormally warm and sunny day for late January, so we loaded snacks and kids into the car and drove east. Let me say that I think my kids are super-human. My three-year-old walked straight up a rocky incline, “I am the Weader! I am weading the way!” It was a busy trail and we spent as much time letting others pass as we did hiking, so when we came to a fork in the trail we took the lesser-traveled path. It was quiet, lush, and the forest felt like it was ours alone.

I have been struggling with how to instill a “Growth Mindset” in my daughter. I can wrap my head around applauding her effort rather than praising her achievements, but it can be challenging parenting a young girl who wants to give up so easily. So much can be learned in the outdoors; Daughter was curious how far we were walking, so my husband drew her a map of the loop and explained that we wouldn’t be doubling back over the terrain we had traversed. One concern begat another, but I kept repeating “One foot in front of another”. Eventually, she got it (I’m still working on that life lesson.) and before we knew it, she had walked close to five miles. Peaceful drive as the kids slept on the way home? No chance – all that clean mountain air fired them up.

Kids bathed. Dinner served. Teeth brushed. I figured that I’d fall asleep with the kids after laying down in their warm bed. I woke up thinking it might be 2 a.m., but alas it was only 8:15 p.m. My neighbor had fired up the sauna, so I snuck down and stewed for an hour-and-a-half. Sauna conversations have proven to be one of the greatest ways for me to connect with others this year. It’s dark, warm, and closed in. I feel safe to share more than usual in there. And so I did. Perhaps I should feel tired, but I feel like I bit off a great bite to chew on. I’m ready for another bite.

What would you plan for your ultimate weekend day?

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Twenty Four: World Rhythms

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“Without music, life would be a mistake.”  – Friedrich Nietzche

Music leaves no doubt. It either hits me in the pit of stomach (conjuring sentiment, fear, outrage, or hope), or it doesn’t do a thing. I feel a sense of belonging when I connect with the music. Last night, I got to connect – with my husband, with performers and an audience, and with another part of the world.

Quite by happenstance, I came across a flyer for a show as I delivered my neighbor’s mail a couple months ago. The Krar Collective would not only be in my city but be in a beautiful intimate venue. Dubbed the “Ethiopian White Stripes” for their minimalist instrumentals, the band was sure to deliver; however, I didn’t really get a good grasp on their sound from their 2012 release “Ethiopia Super Krar”. Enter the venue without children and get a decent seat stage right. The opening act was Gabriel Teodros getting the crowd hyped with his Abyssinian-steeped lyrics. He urged the crowd to come up to the stage and dance; I had been expecting to sit all night so I got us up front and center. It set a jubilant tone for the headlining act.

I was no stranger to live music or concerts in my 20s, but since I gave birth to my children music has been savored in the comfort of my home. So it was a genuine treat to feel the vibrations straight from the amplified krar and the simple drum kit. Drummer Grum Begashaw drove a steady beat, and kept my attention focused on the stories told through traditional songs and dances by Krar maestro Temesegen Zeleke and guest singer Beli Nigussie. Nigussie’s dancing transported the audience from the southern Oromo region to the northern Tigray province, and she drove the audience to its feet with her more astounding dances (that are nothing short of acrobatic.) At some point, the Krar Collective let the audience the energy and run with it – celebrating a homeland left behind in body but not in spirit. Young children learning the dances on American soils mimicked Nigussie’s shakes, while African-born adults showed their well-honed dances in front of the stage.

It is nothing short of magic when a small group of people can stand in front of others and not only captivate them but motivate them. In the age of downloads and digitized rhythms, I had forgotten the sublime joy of a live show. The interactions. The movement. The creation of a pure expressive moment. I will keep a closer eye on concert listings from here on in.

How do you celebrate music in your life?

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Altered photo from Flickr Creative Commons, “Womex2011 – Crawfurd2933” by Jacob Crawfurd

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Twenty Three: Captivity

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“Zoo:  An excellent place to study the habits of human beings.” – Evan Esar

“As you may know, some of the stereotyped behaviors exhibited by autistic children are also found in zoo animals who are raised in a barren environment.”  – Temple Grandin

I get “cabin fever” if I’m stuck inside for any longer than 23 hours. So I was ready to get outside today after tending to my sick children and nursing myself back to health over the span of a week. I opted to take my son to the zoo. The irony was lost on me until I started writing this post.

I love the zoo; I just don’t like it very much. I appreciate having close up encounters with animals I’ve grown up only seeing in books or on screen, but I find myself in an ethical quandary about taking pleasure from watching animals in captivity. The animals behave differently in enclosures, appearing sullen or bored with their surroundings or limited company. And yet I’ve also experienced remarkable moments – lions tumbling feet away from me, gorillas showing threat displays to a guide dog, a mother nurturing her young. It’s all so tangible when I am there in realtime to see it all unfold.

The ugly face of the zoo is the irreverent consumer – walking for hours with a screen in front of his face, snapping pictures of everything at any cost, allowing his children to badger animals that have no option but to bear the molestation. It is this behavior that typifies, in my mind, that concept of Dominion over Nature. This isn’t conservation or stewardship; it is entertainment and yet without the tourist dollars, the zoo wouldn’t keep its doors open to the children potentially inspired to be our future biologists, ecologists, and environmental stewards.

It is easy for me to spit venom, but the truth is that I am a hypocrite along with the masses. I continue to purchase an annual membership for the zoo. I bought a betta fish (against my better judgment) from a big box pet store and kept it alive for a few months. I am profoundly affected by films like The Cove or Blackfishbut never get around to acting on my outrage. All these little things chalk up to an inequity between my philosophies about captivity and my practice. I would love to live a life more aligned with my values; I think I need to do some searching to prioritize what values are the most important to me, and to teach to my children.

What are the points of hypocrisy in your life? Are you okay with them?

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Twenty Two: Rest

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“Activity and rest are two vital aspects of life. To find a balance in them is a skill in itself. Wisdom is knowing when to have rest, when to have activity, and how much of each to have. Finding them in each other – activity in rest and rest in activity – is the ultimate freedom.”  – Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

“Rest and be thankful.”  – William Wordsworth

My Dad has never been at rest. He always has a project on the go: restoring a classic car, building a house, learning how to do wrought iron artwork. It is as tiring as it is inspiring! I’ve never been able to live up to his level of industriousness – mainly because I just don’t want to. I’m okay with that, but occasionally I measure myself up against high achievers – Why am I not the master of anything? Hmm…

There’s a lesson in recovering from illness, and being at rest. I don’t write a laundry list of expectations for the day. I am still. I delight in moments instead of achievements. Over the last couple of days, I have taken my son out for short walks so we could get a dose of fresh air. On both days we have ended up in the middle of a big old ball of fun. First, we played tag with the neighbor boys. Well, I wasn’t exactly at rest but my boy and I had no place to rush off to so we were completely there in the moment. I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time, and I’m pretty sure that was good for my health. The following day, my son met up with the same brothers for some serious construction of a fairy house. I gave them the space to do their own thing, but they called me over to see what they were working on. The boys’ mother came out and we ended up in a lovely conversation about what was going on in our lives. Connection: ingredient number two for healing.

Being at rest has created an opportunity for things to arrive in my world. I have had the bandwidth to notice and enjoy these things, and I am slowly feeling stronger.

Are you constantly in motion? What would you gain from resting?

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Altered photos from Flickr Creative Commons, “Sleeping” from Moyan Brenn; “Sleeping Deer Buck” by Jonnnnnn;  “Sleeping Porcupine” by Juan Tello

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Twenty One: Big Picture

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“If you’re reading this… Congratulations, you’re alive. If that’s not something to smile about, then I don’t know what is.”  – Chad Sugg

Over the last few days, I have had a fulfilling email conversation with a dear friend. She has been questioning inspiration, knowledge of Self, and how to deal with change. This is the good stuff, People! I found myself awake in the middle of the night to write an uninterrupted long-winded response. It felt so good to sit down and write my stream of consciousness to take stock of where I really am in the big picture, with the hope that it might help a friend on her own process of discovery.

I still wasn’t feeling well, so I jumped back into bed and put in Tom Shadyac’s “I AM” – a documentary on a Hollywood director’s mental breakdown and subsequent ideological shake-up of what really matters in life. He comes up with two answers he poses to several prominent thinkers: What’s wrong with the world? What can we do to change it?  The synchronicity between the film and my conversation was uncanny which left me with an elated feeling: I’m doing okay in life, my priorities are in the right place, and yes, it all comes down to love, compassion, and connection.

How does art (film, theatre, literature, visual art) inspire you and connect you to others?

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Altered photo from Flickr Creative Commons, “Globes” by Ian McLellan Photography

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