Thursday, January 29, 2009

On the road again !

I’m one of those crazy people who loves car trips. Since I’ve been taking car trips since I was a little girl, I can honestly say how much I can remember about each and every one of them. I remember leaving our house in New York at the beginning of every summer to drive to Maine. I remember getting the “hump” (or the middle seat) every year because I’m the youngest. I remember stopping at funky places along the way to eat. Some looked like giant cattle yards with oversized plastic cows out front. Others looked just like enormous pirate ships, stuck by the side of the road, with no ocean in sight. I also remember the fun of going to LL Bean in the middle of the night as a stopover. Most of all, I just remember the fun of setting out of the trip. Sure, we whined and pushed each other around in the backseat, but most of all, I remember all of us being excited to go on our trip. The break in the routine, and the joy of setting off on an journey, was something we looked forward to all year.

Obviously, now that I’m a mom and have children of my own, I’ve done my own fair share of car trips with them. With babies in car seats, I learned every changing table between Midcoast Maine to New York City. I learned where every family friendly rest stop was, and what great ‘kid activities’ places were on the drive. When we began traveling in different parts of the country, we learned in just a second, how to sum up the kids’ tolerance level…and if we could squeak just another hour or two in before we stopped. We have had some wonderful memories, listening to books on CD, talking and laughing, and even playing games in the car. Yes, we had times of the children taunting one another with “I’m not touching you”, holding a finger two inches away, and my own brilliant parenting retort of “No one touch anyone every again !”. But, for the most part, our trips were filled with the exhilaration of seeing new places and experiences new things.

Now that my children are in their teen years, our trips have given us more time for in depth discussions. Because my son plays hockey all over the Northeast, it’s given me time to get to know him all over again….who he is now, what his hopes and dreams are, and honestly, to listen to his opinions as a smart young man. It’s also given him pause, as a driver in his own right, to learn that his mom isn’t the best driver in the world. My daughter attends boarding school two states away, and while we miss her horribly, we have come to love the drives back and forth. My husband and I take turns having her all to ourselves. Those four hours in the car give each of us the most amazing quality time for in depth sharing, and a great deal of laughter.

Plane travel is a mode of transportation we have to use, given that half of our extended family lives on the West Coast. It involves long lines, angry people and a great deal of waiting around. It means taking off your shoes, being subjected to searches and lots of delays and lost luggage. We do like that we can go across country in 7 hours by plane. But, I think that plane travels loses something of the essence of a journey…the intimacy of it, and the ability to fully enjoy the trip. By car, there is no danger of lost luggage or an overbooked flight.

Long car trips aren’t without their drawbacks, of course. Stiff backs, aching muscles and too much fast food can wreak havoc on our bodies. One of the best twists in Yoga is the seated twist. This can relieve back pain and help to reset your spine. It can easily be modified to do in a chair (at a rest area) or even if your own car’s seat, when you’re not driving. Keeping both hands on the back of the seat, and bringing your torso to face the back, you will be able to alleviate all that tension very easily, by breathing into the twist, and doing the pose slowly. Of course, taking breaks to drink plenty of water, to eat healthy food, and to go for walks, are also simple ways to fight car trip fatigue.

So, pop in a great book on tape, or blast tunes from your favorite CD, and hop on the road. You never know what adventures will take place along the way.

Travel is more than seeing the sights. It is a change that goes on deep and permament, in the ideas of living. ~ Miriam Beard

Monday, January 26, 2009

Don't let it in the house!

(Note: I originally posted this on the Clutter Club blog, but thought it would be fun to share here, as well.)

I'm a history buff, especially when it comes to pop culture. I can picture snippets from almost every decade and can easily imagine myself as a 1920's Flapper or a 1940's USO girl. But, when it comes to classic movies, I have to say that the 1950's were a great time for exploration on film. Nothing seemed to capture this moment in filmography better than the Monster Movies of the 50's. We can all easily picture James Dean and Natalie Wood from this era. But, we can just as easily envision the "Creature from the Black Lagoon" and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". Although I wasn't born until the mid-60's, I remember staying up to watch the "Creature Feature" on Friday night television, where these classics would be replayed. One question I always asked myself was, "Why do they let the monster in the house?"

I think we can ask the same question of ourselves about clutter. Why do we let it in the house? We try so hard to stay on top of our mess, to create an organized system and to maintain a sense of structure in our daily lives. But, we turn around, and like a monster from an old scary movie with bag masks, there it is! The Clutter Monster has snuck in again! It comes in with stacks of mail, in our carry bags from the day's events and from duplicating things we already have.

This said, I have a secret weapon against the Clutter Monster:the trash can! The best way for me to get control of clutter is not to go into the house with it. When I come home, I walk right over to the trash can in the garage. I look through my mail, and unless it's a bill or something important, I pitch it right away. (If you live in a place that recycles junk mail: Mazel Tov! Just put it into your recycling bin.) I also make a point of going through my tote bag, the car, and anything else that might make its way into the house and evaluate

it quickly. Does this really need to come inside? Is it actually trash? Unless it's something that's critical, or will need to be used soon, I will either pitch it, recycle it or put it in a 'give away' bin that I keep next to the trash can. When I go to the dump every week (for those of you who don't have curbside pick up---it's a northern New England ritual), I also stop off at the local charity shop, and drop off my give aways then.

Another great way to keep the Clutter Monster at bay is to have a "one comes in, one goes out" policy. We all have plenty of clothes, shoes, books, and other miscellaneous items in my family. I have instituted a policy of "If you buy a new one, then one like item must be given away." Not only does this help with truly thinking about 'replacement' as opposed to 'aquisition', but it's a great way to keep full closets from getting out of control. I know that if I really need a new black sweater, then one needs to go to "Heavenly Threads", the church's thrift shop. This 'one comes in, one goes out' also applies to my formerly overstocked pantry. I am blessed with a walk-in pantry the size of small room. This blessing led to overcrowding to the point that I didn't know what I had, and was buying yet another box of Rigatoni, when there were already three on the shelf that I simply couldn't see. Now, I make my food shopping lists based on what's 'going out' in the trash.

The Clutter Monster is sneaky. It likes to tiptoe in when you least expect it. But, stopping it in its tracks, by not letting it in the house in the first place, can be one way to keep clutter at bay.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

When life isn't fair....

Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are times that life simply isn't fair. There are days when we do everything right, when we play by the rules, when we are the 'good guys', and yet, we're thrown a curve ball that knocks us out. Sometimes these events are purely random. Other times they're brought about by people who do not wish us well. Often, these two factors come together in order to form a desperate, unfortunate or frustrating situation. We look to the stars and we wonder "Why me? Why now?". We wail, and we fret and our minds twist in complex spirals trying to reason why we were singled out for this burden. But, wrapping our thoughts around 'why' will not solve these unjust events. It's only by rising above them, by taking our eyes off the situation itself to move into view of the horizon, that we can begin to move on past wrongs done to us.

Literature and movies are filled with stories about good guys who have a series of bad things happen to them. Charles Dickens was the great master of the unfortunates in the way of life's tragedies. More recently, the Harry Potter series is an excellent metaphor for a teenage boy, just trying to figure out who he is, while having the misfortune of being hunted by malevolent beings. Harrison Ford's portrayal of Dr. Richard Kimble, in "The Fugitive", takes us on a wild chase of adventure as an innocent man runs for his life, while trying to solve his wife's murder...all while grieving her death. There is something reassuring about knowing that we are not alone in our struggles against events beyond our control. By reading about them, and watching them on screen, we understand that we have a choice to make: we can either succumb to the pain of unjust failure, or we can make the choice to triumph over whatever adversity life throws at us.

In Charles Dickens' classic novel, "Great Expectations", the tragically compelling figure of Miss Havisham, who remains in her wedding dress for the rest of her life, having been jilted at the alter decades before, is a lesson to us all as to how *not* to deal with life's severe blows. The clocks in her home are stopped. The wedding feast is allowed to rot where it was set. Alone, and bitter for eternity, Miss Havisham makes her life a prison, trapped in her own worst moment forever. If Harry Potter shows bravery in the face of unjust odds against him, then Miss Havisham is his foil. She not only gives into her unjustice, but she allows it to twist and warp her spirit into something that is itself evil.

My own family has been beset by unfair blows, several of which have come in past month. We have looked at one another, thought, "We're good people. We pay our taxes, we work hard, and we love our children. We have never cheated anyone, and we live honorable lives." But, still life circumstances gave us pause for a few days, despairing over both the unknown and the unfairness of a series of events. At that point, we began to realize that we could be stymied by the situations in our lives. Or, we could work to better them. We could allow unfair situations to destroy the lives we've worked hard to achieve, or we could teach our children not to give up. My hope is that, even if we can't overcome every obstacle in our lives' paths, we can know we've done our best to walk the path itself.

In my yoga classes, there is very little that gives me more satisfaction than seeing a student achieve an asana she didn't think she could do. I teach a variety of classes, and have a wide range of students in each of them. The most rewarding class I'm teaching right now is to teenage girls. I'm working with a special program to help these young women build up their strength in body, mind and spirit. For too long, these girls have been told that they're overweight, or stupid, or have little value to people around them. I have the honor of working with these girls, to help inspire them to remove the obstacles standing in the way of their future happiness. One of my students came in so hesitantly, I offered to just have her sit and watch class the first time. She was so unsure of herself, she didn't even want to sit on a mat. By the third class, she was moving through her sun salutations, and I could see a brightness in her smile I hadn't seen before. On the fourth class, I was able to help her into a Bow Pose. This young lady was positive she couldn't do it. But, with my help, and encouragement from others in the class, she reached back and grabbed her ankles. Later on, this young girl's mother confided in me that her daughter had been plagued by a serious lung-related illness all of her life, and was told, by a particularly harsh physican she'd never be able to 'do much'. How incredibly blessed I felt to have been a part of this girl's overcoming her own physical, and emotional, roadblocks. Life may have handed her severe asthma, and it may have beaten her self-esteem down for years, but watching the sheer joy on this girl's face allowed me a humble glimpse into overcoming odds.

Life is rarely fair. Good people get bad diseases. Nasty people often connive their way to the 'top', stomping on others to climb the ladder of success. Wretched people can malign our good name. And, children can be so lost in spirit by the age of 13, that they don't see the point of moving forward. But, at just these times, opportunity for true greatness is upon us. We may not always like the circumstances we find ourselves, but we can darn well do our best to make the conscious choice to keep going.