Random Thoughts (U.B.C. – Day 12)

Saturday.  It’s one of those charged concepts.  Does it mean a day of relaxation or a day to get twice as much done around the house because my husband is home?  Usually the latter.  Yesterday was no different.

Starting out early because The Boy awakened us at 6:25am, I tried in vain to coerce him into slumbering longer.  I summarily informed him that if he was going to wake me so early, he was forbidden to speak with me until I had my coffee.  He seemed to grasp that he’d crossed a line and was remarkably silent until I’d sucked down two cups of java. Read more

Monday Morning Eternal (U.B.C. – Day 7)

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No matter where I am in my life, Monday mornings bring much baggage. When I was in high school, Monday mornings were difficult because I had to go back to rising early and schlepping off to school. I actually did walk about a mile each way to school, so in the cold of New England winters, it was a brutal walk. Of course, I didn’t help matters by wearing my little white Keds and flats with bare feet as I slogged through the slush and ice, but I can be forgiven for that; I was a teenager. Read more

Ultimate Blog Party 2014 (U.B.C. – Day 5)

Happy day five of the Ultimate Blog Challenge! Happy Saturday! Happy April 5th! Happy whatever it is you might be celebrating today!

You can sense a theme here. I’m having a happy day. A party day. I woke up refreshed and rested after a full eight hours of sleep. Yes, you read that correctly. I – mother of a 6 year-old boy, a/k/a perpetual motion machine – got eight hours of sleep last night. I feel like a million bucks, and I woke up happy and energetic for the first time in I can’t remember how long. I was up at 7am making pancakes, for freaks’ sake. It feels as if I could conquer the world today. I plan to do just that. Read more

Ultimate Blog Challenge – Day 1

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Since the blogging goals I set for myself have been thrown so far off track by life, I decided to jump into April with both feet and join the Ultimate Blog Challenge and post new content each day. I can’t promise mind-blowing thoughtful and philosophical content each day, but I can promise that I will post something every day during the month of April, even if it’s just a selfie of me bashing my head into the nearest wall. Haha, I’m just kidding. I think. Read more

Letting Go

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I‘ve been having a lot of trouble letting go lately. No matter that I know I need to do it, I can’t seem to let go: of my anger towards people whom I believe are acting in ways to harm my family or who are acting so selfishly that harm to others is inevitable; of the unattainable perfectionism that often grabs me by the throat and threatens to shut down my breathing when I fight her; of myself. I know it‘s unhealthy to focus and obsess, but I can’t seem to get my head wrapped around letting go and relinquishing control. Read more

Yoga is My Friend

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I love yoga. It is my go-to workout for everything from simply feeling good about my body’s physicality to needing the hour or more of meditation and silence. I am a serious practitioner. By serious I don’t mean that I practice every day or that I have mastered all of the advanced asanas, just that I take my practice seriously and use it for the intended purpose: silence and concentration on the self and the moment. Read more

Cleaning House

I’ve been cleaning out my house for, well, it seems like forever. The reality is that while my house may be clean, it is cluttered. Extraordinarily cluttered, by my child’s things, my husband’s things, and a lot of my things.

I am claustrophobic, so much so that I cannot even pull the covers up over my head, so much so that if my space is too cluttered, I start to lose it. I like to have my things contained in an organized fashion. I’ve been known to refer to The Container Store as my spiritual home. I have turned The Boy into a convert, and he likes to have his Lego blocks organized either by the complete set or color and lined up on a bookshelf for ease of access. It sounds crazy, but he actually plays with them more if the blocks are organized and he can find them easily. Read more

Keep a Contented Heart in November

Well, here it is again. That time of the month. The time when I drag out my muse’s guide to finding happiness and write myself notes on the next layer of my happiness and joyful cake creation. Here’s what Ms. Muse has to say for the month of November.

Keep a contented heart.  A contented heart is a even sea in the midst of all storms.  So said William Secker in his treatise The Nonsuch Professor in His Meridian Splendor, published in 1660.  Amazing that it’s the same some three hundred and fifty years later.

a) Laugh out loud.

She’s right. I should laugh out loud more. We all should laugh out loud more. It just feels so gosh darn fantabulous when we do it. The sun seems to shine brighter for a few moments, the air seems to warm, and the endorphins rush through our bodies. It can change my whole outlook on a day.

What do I do to ensure I laugh out loud at least once a day? For starters, I have a child who is learning to read and sometimes mispronounces words in such a way that I can barely even understand what he’s trying to say. My child also loves to sing, and I mean loves it as if it’s his favorite chocolate treat. He belts out whatever tune he is listening to, and at times it’s all I can do to keep the car on the road I’m laughing so hard. Which makes him smile and sing more loudly, which makes me laugh more…. You get the picture.

I also read amusing books. Currently on my nightstand is Jen Lancaster‘s The Tao of Martha.  Ms. Lancaster is a seriously funny woman who doesn’t take herself too seriously. Consequently, when reading her books, of which there are many, I tend to laugh out loud and try to live my life with the same grain of salt approach she seems to espouse in her essays.

Laughter is good for anything that might ail us. We all need more, so I’m going to continue laughing and smiling and feeling good. It helps me get through the days when the sun doesn’t shine so brightly, which was a lot of September.

b) Use good manners.

I have my mother and Emily Post to thank for my somewhat rigid adherence to “proper” and “appropriate” behavior. My parents drilled me like they were each an Army Drill Sergeant to ensure that I knew and utilized manners. Proper table etiquette, even when all we were eating was grilled cheese sandwiches. Thank you notes for everything and in a timely manner, e.g. no later than two weeks after the event, the gift, etc.

One year for Christmas my mother found and gifted me a book on manners penned by none other than Ms. Emily Post. I still have it on my shelf with the the note-filled margins, underlined text, and dog-eared pages. I still consult Ms. Post regularly, but these days it seems that most of her advice is considered antiquated niceties that we can all eliminate from our lives due to the instantaneous and often impersonal nature of the digital age. I disagree wholeheartedly and so stick to the advice and manners that have gotten me this far in life.

Several years ago I bought the updated version of Emily Post’s book for my two step-daughters.

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I thought that as they went out into the world as young women and began interviewing for jobs, receiving engagement, wedding or baby gifts, knowing how to deal with the acknowledging and thanking people for their kindnesses would be helpful, especially since so few people attend to social niceties these days with the advent of e-mail. I gave the books with that precise sentiment.  As both opened the gift in my presence, they both said thank you, having such a resource would be great.

Two years later?  Both books are still sitting on the shelf in their respective closets upstairs, unopened. One moved out and left her copy here.  Does anybody want to purchase a slightly used copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette? I can give you a really good deal!

c) Give positive reviews.

I consider this up there with manners. If I’ve received good service or had a good experience, I say it. I shout it from the rooftops. I am a firm believer in the maxim that if you let people know they’ve done a good job, that will make them want to do it again and again to get the feel good rush from positive feedback.

Accordingly, I’m one of those people on Amazon and Yelp and Open Table who reviews service providers. If the meal, the product, the service has been good, I let the provider know. Of course, I also let them know if it’s been bad, but I think it’s just as important to put out good vibes into the world as bad.

d) Find an area of refuge.

I’m working on this. I actually reclaimed my sunroom over Labor Day weekend and made it into a sitting/reading area.

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However, it’s off the kitchen, so although it’s a lovely spot in which to have a cup of coffee and chat with Ernie Hemingway or a friend when children are playing, it’s not really a refuge. Too public. So I’m looking for different space in the house.

Our house has a central family room where everything happens. We also have a formal living room, which at this stage of our lives is largely unused. The only time it sees traffic is when the Christmas tree goes up and when packages are delivered to the front door. It also tends – like so many other open spaces – to attract junk and become a storage area when it’s not being used for the Christmas tree.

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For some time, I’ve been planning to make the back corner of the room into a quiet area where I can meditate and practice yoga. It’s sunny and bright, and the farthest corner of the house away from the main traffic areas, so it feels distant. Just what I need for quieting my mind and soul.

Of course, I have an office, too, but currently it’s situated in the laundry room on the other side of the master bath, and over the garage, so it’s not quite as isolated and quiet.

Plus, it’s cold. It is so cold that even when the heat is on, I need an electric space heater to keep marginally warm. It is so cold that once the outside temperature drops below 40 degrees, my cat won’t even hang out in there with me. It is so cold that the winter after we moved into our house we needed to install heat into our garage to ensure that the pipes for the laundry didn’t freeze. I don’t know precisely what the previous owners did about that particular problem, but I don’t care. I now have a garage that stays at a relatively balmy 55 degrees all winter. Getting into a cold car is not really a problem, unless of course, I’ve been lazy and haven’t put the car into the garage, nor is frozen pipes, truly the most important thing.

My husband decided several months ago that his office, located off the family room, should be mine so that I wouldn’t have to spend so much time upstairs away from the central living area, but it’s still got a lot of his books and other stuff in it, so it doesn’t feel like mine yet.

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Maybe I’ll work on getting the walls covered with my stuff and then I’ll want to use it more. I’ll keep you posted.

For now, though, I think my quiet area in the formal living room – or the Christmas tree room as we call it – is my best bet. I’ve got a folding room divider that I’ll put behind the couch, a meditation chair for which I’ve just redone the cushion, my super thick yoga mat, and a Bose sound dock into which I can pop my iPhone to play ocean music. Now I just need to get all the junk out of that room.

And did I forget to mention that Thanksgiving is at our house?  Namaste.

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Contemplating the Heavens

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Another month has passed, and here I am back to add another brick to my happiness home. According to The Happiness Project, August is the month I’m supposed to spend contemplating the heavens. The “to-do” list includes the following:

a) Read memoirs of catastrophe.

I’ve always loved a good catastrophe memoir or story, even movies. Maybe loved is too strong a word; I’ve always been drawn to them. I’ve read The Buffalo Creek Mining Disaster by Gerald M. Stern, Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson, The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough, Columbine by Dave Cullen, and most recently, Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala. I’ve seen Titanic, The Impossible. I force myself to watch 9/11 every time it is re-broadcast so that I never, ever forget.  I own a copy so that when my son is old enough we can watch it together and he will know what I cannot explain.

I cannot articulate why I am so drawn to these stories. Perhaps it is a curiosity to see how the survivors made it out of the horror that engulfed them. Perhaps it is a hope that by reading about the details, I can somehow avoid ever being in such a horrific situation. Intellectually, I know that I can never be so careful to avoid every bad thing that could befall me, but the control freak in me screams differently.

My gut tells me that the real reason is the human connection I feel when I read and watch, the vicarious fear, grief, pride and exultation that emanates from these survivors as heat radiates out from a fire. I never want to lose that connection, so I read and watch, and for a few moments I suspend reality to be in the shoes of the storyteller. Then, when it’s over, I am grateful for everyone and everything in my life anew.

Which brings me to my next assigned task for August….

b) Keep a gratitude notebook.

This is actually a really good idea, one which I plan to implement for at least thirty days beginning tomorrow. Even if I only do it for the month of August, I think it will be a great exercise to make me truly consider my life and things and people that have been meaningful to me, things and people for which I’m thankful. Now, if only I could find the right notebook in my pile to make into the gratitude notebook … Orange? Purple? Pink? Red? Green? Hmmmm……

Can you tell I have a bit of an obsession with Moleskine notebooks?

c) Imitate a spiritual master.

A spiritual master? I’m not even sure what that’s supposed to mean! Is it someone like Gabrielle Bernstein, motivational speaker and life coach? Or is it someone more like the wonderful rabbi at the temple where my family and I are members?

I’ve always subscribed to the journal of “I’m not really religious; I’m just spiritual.” The trouble is that I’ve never quite known just what that meant. I think I’ll tweak this third of Gretchen‘s tasks for August a bit. Instead of imitating a spiritual master, I’ll try to find my own spirituality and be my own spiritual master by incorporating into my daily life the teachings that most appeal to me and that have the most relevance to me.

When I was pregnant, I approached my rabbi with the question as to how I should deal with Yom Kippur. I had always refrained from taking in any food or liquid for the 24 hour period of atonement, but being pregnant I didn’t think that was a particularly prudent course of action. My rabbi told me that one of the most wonderful things about the Jewish faith was that it was forgiving, and fluid, meaning that I could observe the holy day to the best of my ability within the limits of my physical condition, and, in fact, I was not to endanger myself or my unborn child by refraining from food or water. The following year, I sought her counsel again as a nursing mother. I received the same advice peppered with even stronger language. Since my child’s only source of nutrition was breast milk, I could not partake in the fast because to do so would be to endanger his life.

I enjoy my religion. I enjoy the camaraderie of Sabbath and holiday services. Mostly, however, I enjoy knowing that I can interpret my relationship with my God, and I am not told how I must conduct that relationship.

With that in mind, I will research spiritual masters, and incorporate what I like best into my existing relationship with my God. Perhaps God will be my spiritual master. After all, God loves all humans equally and allows for many different expressions of appreciation and interaction, so there is no reason I cannot incorporate different expressions and interaction into my daily spirituality.

August is for contemplating the heavens. I wonder if that includes watching storm clouds approaching and holding my face up to the cool winds that roll in just before a soaking summer storm.

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