Thursday, January 8, 2009

Men are from Mars. Women are from wherever they can get five minutes peace.

The balance of power in my house has shifted. For the past fourteen years, we have been evenly divided between male and female energy. Even though my son was just barely 2 when my daughter was born, we still seemed to be equally balanced because I had all the female pets on my side. Not to mention, that a toddler, even one who learns to make car vroom sounds before he speaks, still loves his Mommy in a way that doesn’t shift until he realizes that she can embarrass him at the hockey rink by calling out “Shoot, Honey Buns, Shoot!”.

With the leaving of my daughter to prep school 4 ½ hours away, I am now outnumbered in my home. Please don’t get the wrong idea. I adore my wonderful husband and my now 16 year old son is growing up to be a fine young man. However, there are times when I feel like the odd “man” (pun fully intended) out. It wasn’t expecting it but the situation just seemed to sneak up on me, as if I awoke and the entire planet had been taken over by aliens. The problem was that I happened to love these aliens and gave birth to one of them. It started with little things…..the TV permanently fixed to the NHL network, toilet seats being left up and a lot of sports equipment being shed around the house. Then, it progressed to our meal choices moving in the direction of meat and potatoes, almost exclusively, and annoyed eyeball rolls when I suggested chicken and big salads. Finally, it’s emerged as a whole new male bonding ritual that involves a vocabulary I simply don’t understand, much less speak. These involve grunts, short hand phrases and insults (like “Sieve”) that are simply beyond my level of comprehension.

In reality, I do realize that I’m incredibly blessed. I have healthy children, and a husband that deeply loves me, despite his annoyed comments of “Why do you put green stuff on my plate ? You know I don’t like it.” I have reached the point of melting down at them, but it never works…they simply give me the look as if to say “Treat her gently…she’s likely to blow a gasket”. I have politely, and gently, requested explanations of what they’re discussing. Most of the time, I simply don’t ‘get’ their “Dummies for Hockey” (or military history, or cars, or other guy stuff) versions, which only frustrates them more. Little by little, I’m learning to adjust my own way of thinking, to appreciate the little gestures of peace they do make (such as Josh bringing me home my favorite coffee and Biscotti) and to appreciate them as completely different species of animals. I am learning to approach these interesting, frustrating, funny and confusing men I live with as Jane Goodall would approach a new family of chimpanzees: with quiet respect, sitting and observing and not stepping in before I realize what I’m talking about. I had no idea I’d end up an anthropologist in my own home. But, the approach is helping me process their moods and behaviors, as well as deepening my own understanding of testosterone. My mom once told me, “Never respond in anger, and never take anything personally”. I’m repeating that as my mantra every day. It also helped that she told me this when we were the overwhelming force in my growing up home: it was the two of us women, our three female dogs, and my poor dad with all that female energy.

The fact is, men and women do process things differently. We respond differently to the same situations and we react differently to the identical stimuli. In Yoga, I try to offer poses that will balance the “male and female” or, Yin and Yang, energy in the class. Therefore, in addition to offering the traditional male based Warrior poses, I always to counter that pose with Female Warrior, or Goddess. This seems to not only bring a sense of completeness into our class period, but also to our bodies and inner natures. I also feel much clearer when I add these wonderful poses into our practice…and into my daily life.

For now, my life may not surrounded in femininity, but I also know my own limits. If I find myself cranky or short tempered, simply because the men are being men (and not intentionally rude), I realize I can remove myself from the situation. I can take a hot bubble bath, make a nice cup of tea, or a write a blog article to channel my thoughts. I can talk to a friend, paint my toenails and slip into another room to watch “When Harry Met Sally”. In short, I can create my own girl world in Manville. It’s not always easy, but hopefully, I will be able to decipher their language before long. And, short of that, perhaps I can teach them mine.
On the one hand, we'll never experience childbirth. On the other hand, we can open all our own jars. ~Bruce Willis, on the difference between men and women

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Keep, Sell, Give

As I begin the process of decluttering our house, I realize that it’s not always an easy process. I look at a room, or even a corner, and I get overwhelmed, not knowing where to begin. Using the tricks of the trade from HGTV’s show, “Mission Organization”, I’m beginning by using the process of KSG. It’s not a secret Russian spy organization, but an acronym for “Keep, Sell, Give”. As I go through a space the first time, I immediately out anything that’s trash. That’s the first part of sorting. If something is broken, missing parts, cracked, chipped or otherwise useless, it goes straight to the rubbish or recycling bins. Then, comes the tricky part: how do I decide what to do with the rest ?

The first letter in the acronym, K, is my husband’s favorite of this trio of organizational tools: Keep. The terrific guy I’ve shared my life with for more than two decades is a pack rat. He is descended from a long and proud line of pack rats. As my husband grew up, nothing that was salvageable was ever gotten rid of. Things could be fixed, reused, stored and pulled out ‘just in case’. I have to say that a part of me admires this recycling attitude because nothing ever goes to waste. The problem becomes when the saved items overgrow your house and take over your barn (or your attic or your basement). Even if they’re organized into a somewhat cohesive way, if we really want to cut down on the stuff that we have, even ‘tidy junk’ is still junk. So, I ask myself, and my beloved, these questions “Will we ever use it again?”, “When?” and “Why?”. Most of the time, these are easy questions to figure out. But, if you find yourself wondering why you possibly need 22 fleece blankets, with various logos on them, or four sets of china dinnerware, you may want to move onto purging those items that would be wonderful and helpful….to someone else in their house.

The next letter is S: for Sell. Most of us have items that we simply don’t use, but do have intrinsic value to them. If you have collectibles or other pieces of value, make sure you get an appraisal from a dealer, or really research your item’s value. It’s only in very rare cases that the average family has items that should be sold through a dealer. Having a lawn sale, posting items in classifieds (such as Craig’s list) or selling them on eBay can help you weed out, while you make some money in the process. It’s not likely you will get full purchase price back, but in my humble opinion, something that is sitting, unused in a basement or cabinet, is not making any better of a return. So, price your items wisely, but to sell. You can use the money you make to pay off debt, plan a trip, or buy organizational equipment for the items you’ve kept.

Finally, we come to G: Give...the aspect closest to my heart. Not everyone needs a set of leaded crystal wine glasses or a porcelain figurine. But, everyone needs shoes, warm coats, clothing in reasonable good shape, and yes, those fleece blankets. Even used, but still serviceable, furniture, lamps and kitchen equipment can go to a home where people have lost everything. There is so much need in our world. There are single mothers who have fled from dangerous homes. There are families displaced by natural disasters. There are those who simply need a way to help themselves. I truly believe that it’s selfish to hoard items we honestly don’t need when there are simple ways we can donate them to those who truly do. So, get that old sofa out of the basement, and donate it to Goodwill. Go through your clothing, and especially, your children’s clothing, and donate to an organization like Planet Aid. Many local churches and community centers also run programs in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity and Dress for Success, and can directly aid local families with your donations. So, think of decluttering as a form of loving your neighbor, too. It's with yoga's open sense to the needs of others, that you can give these items away, and feel positive about your choice to do so.

With the KSG acronym in mind, you can’t fail. Look at the big picture of your home. Then, look at one room. Then look at one corner. By focusing on each of these means to better take control of your home, you will be able to start fresh…and not end up running in circles. With the trash gone first, you can best evaluate the rest of your problem areas. Once your sell and give piles are taken care of, you can focus on organizing the keep items. It's amazing how much space you will find when you get rid of the things you simply don't need.
"Mom, I can't find my shoes!" "Did you look in your closet?" ~ My house on a daily basis

Sunday, January 4, 2009

We are the champions!

When I was in high school, our sports teams came out to Queen‘s “We will rock you”, followed by “We are the champions”, before every game. To this day, when I hear the combination of these pop songs, I still can’t help but be filled with pride, excitement and a sense of belief in something larger than myself. Obviously, these rock anthems aren’t hymns, nor are they patriotic. But, for those of us who came of age during “a certain era”, the songs themselves can fill us completely with a sense of anything being possible, and that victory is surely within our reach, if only we work hard enough. It’s no wonder I have both of these songs on my playlist, to listen to while I exercise. I’m sure I’ve received my share of funny glances as I jog around the track at the Y, attempting not to belt out an off-key imitation of Freddy Mercury. And yet, when I’m jogging, and listening to “We are the champions”, it simply fills me with a sense of empowerment to know that, even though I’m only jogging inside, on a snowy day, I have the possibility to accomplish whatever my goals are. I have the potential to be a champion.

I just finished a book in which this point is beautifully accomplished. “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein is a magical story. The protagonist is Enzo, an extraordinary dog, who is the companion to a Formula One race car driver. With racing as the metaphor throughout the story, Enzo relates to us, his views on what living on Earth has meant, his belief that a dog is the highest form of enlightened being, next to man, and what the heart of a true champion believes. This is not a silly story, but a dignified one, and it moved me deeply regarding Enzo’s life lessons about true championship. Enzo relates to us that a true champion is a good listener, loves others will all his heart, believes in those he loves, keeps his eye on the next turn, never gives up and always finishes the race. There is no dishonor, nor lack of championship if one doesn’t win the race at hand…only in quitting, giving up and letting our fears overtake us during the hardest times of our lives. Because I’m a dog lover, of course, this is a novel that would be appealing to me. However, the grander theme of inner strength was what held me in rapt attention until the very end.

This lends the question: “What IS a champion?”. Is it the woman who climbs the corporate ladder, breaking gender barriers ? Is it the man who, despite his own paralysis, rescues others around him ? Could it be the much lauded professional athlete, who begins an important charitable foundation? Or, is it the single mother, who despite the odds, raises her children, earns her degree and succeeds beyond her own socio-economic barriers ? I submit that these people are all champions. While I applaud those who complete the Appalachian trail hike, those who play on title winning teams and those who set world records, I must say that I believe the greatest sense of championship lies within our internal accomplishments, and not without. I respect and honor people who have dreamed, and finished amazing feats, but I would also speculate that each of those men and women find their inner growth to have been the greatest achievement of all.

During the Yoga classes I teach, I always try to include Warrior II asana. This empowering pose is an amazing blend of physical strength and mental focus. The longer the Yogini holds the pose, the greater the benefit to her body and mind’s attunement, strength and agility. I have found there to be a profound change of many of my students who practice the Warrior series of asanas regularly. One of the greatest challenges I have had, in Yoga classes as a student, was when my own teacher had us hold Warrior for more than 15 minutes. Beyond the ache in my shoulders, and the burn in my quads, I found my mind to wander. My biggest challenge was to remain focused and “in the practice”, rather than allowing my thoughts to drift from ‘This really hurts’ to ‘I wonder what I’ll make for dinner?’ to ‘I really like Tammie’s yoga top’ and back to ‘This really hurts even more !’. Yet, when we were done, I had never felt so empowered in class before.

I invite each of you to look inside yourselves and ask “What IS a champion ?”. Brainstorm on this subject in your heart and in your life. Find out what you value in champions, and what championship really means in grand scheme of life's current direction. Most of all, remember that championship is ultimately not about the blue ribbons or medals. It’s about inner strength, power and joy in all circumstances. The heart of a champion does not always rest in glory. Championship lies in finishing the race with honor.
It's easy to have faith in yourself and have discipline when you're a winner, when you're number one. What you got to have is faith and discipline when you're not a winner. ~ Vince Lombardi