Embracing the Unfamiliar

I love the familiar.  I like routines. I get up at 5:30, check email, read for a bit, wash my hair, get dressed, leave for work at 6:45.  You get the picture. I love holidays and the way we serve the same foods on the same plates to the same people in the same way.  I like the rhythm that goes with our family events. On birthdays, we always decorate the birthday person’s chair, serve their favorite breakfast (which always includes a few candles and some singing, of course),  then open cards followed by gifts. I guess all of this familiarity makes me feel safe. I feel like I know how this goes. I know what’s coming. There won’t be too many surprises.

I love to travel. I know this sounds a bit counterintuitive, but what I love most about traveling is that it hurls me into the unfamiliar. Suddenly there is no routine, I don’t know how to get around, the food and sometimes even the language are unfamiliar.  (During a recent trip to Italy, I wasn’t even able to order a cup of coffee! I asked for a “Cafe latte, per favore.” and ended up with a cup of hot milk! Traveling pushes me to try new things, to be brave, to be uncomfortable, to outgrow myself. It energizes me.

This week my husband and I traveled to Charleston, South Carolina.  We had to completely depend on my sister and her husband to get around (They live just outside the city.).  We ate new foods (I even ate a baked oyster, and I really don’t like oysters, but it tasted OK!). We were on a completely different kind of schedule. My sister and her husband are both self-employed, so their schedule goes something like this:  Wake up early and do some work. Cook and eat a big breakfast. Work for another hour. Head to the beach for a long walk with the dog. Come home. Work a bit more. Run a few errands. Head out to show us some sites. Come home. Put in another hour or so of work. Make some dinner. Watch the news. Eat. Watch a movie. Sleep. This rhythm was so completely foreign to the way my husband and I live and work. It forced me to completely let go of the familiar and embrace the unfamiliar.  It was hard. It was a bit uncomfortable. I had to push myself to do it, but once I did, it set me free!

As you might imagine, I do love coming home and falling back into the supportive arms of familiarity, but I’m already looking forward to our next trip where I can embrace the unfamiliar once again!

In Relaxation Mode Already!

Today is my second day of a weeklong vacation, and I’m already starting to feel the calm.  The week ended with a full day of professional development (I had taken on the task of preparing for and delivering two full workshops with my colleagues.)  followed by a nice dinner at my dad’s.  Saturday was also busy with a trip to New York to help my niece and  spend some quality time with my daughter eating a great brunch, walking, and taking in the Frida Kahlo show at the Brooklyn Museum.

But today has been one of those wonderfully unscheduled, quiet Sundays.  We really didn’t have anything to do (a rare treat, really), and without school tomorrow, I did not have all of that Sunday afternoon planning and organizing to do.  So we relaxed.

Ate a late breakfast.

Walked the dog in the beautiful winter sunshine.

Had homemade chicken soup for lunch (thanks to my husband).

Finished one book (Becoming Michelle Obama) and started a new one (Harbor Me).

Had an afternoon cup of tea.

Wrote my blog post.

Took a second walk with my dog and some friends in the late afternoon sunshine.

And tonight I plan to hunker down, watch a movie, work on a craft, and go to bed whenever I want to.

I don’t know if I could do this on a regular basis, but I’m sure enjoying it right now!




Morgan Writes Her Life Story…..So Far….

Over the past few weeks, my daughter Morgan has been sharing her writing with me and with her older sister, asking for feedback on her application to a graduate program in dance.  Reading Morgan’s writing has given me another window into who this woman is, how she sees her life and the world, where she has been, and where she is heading. It has also shown me the power that comes with writing your life story.

In Morgan’s application, she weaves through her life story in an interesting way.  She begins the piece with a conversation she had with a professor in college, realizing that she could do SO many things in this life.  She then walks us through her life at the moment, working for a up and coming fashion design house, living in a beautiful old city in Italy, traveling the world, and all along the way, no matter how busy her life gets, finding ways to sustain her need to create and to move.  It is here that she shares her epifany: Her desire to dance will not take a back seat. She needs it, intellectually, physically, and emotionally.

Morgan then takes us on a short tour of her childhood, looping back to her early dreams of being a dancer (“I had never seen such beauty as the lightness and subtlety of Gelsey Kirkland, and I thought that there could be no better luxury in life than walking around in the middle of the night with a silk nightgown and a candlestick.”) and then an ice skater (Tara Lapinski was her idol here.).  And then there is her decision to study dance in college, and the eventual meeting with the dance professor whose conversation launches this essay.

As Morgan drives toward her conclusion (including, of course, why this university should accept her application), she describes her ideas as an artist.  I am blown away by the way she conceives of her dance. She talks about how she often thinks of dance in a structure similar to that of a short story collection, where “small snippets of human emotion that are not necessarily related, but work together to inform one another, create an entire sphere and environment that the reader slips into.” She talks about how she thinks about dance, along with her physical and emotional need to study this art form in a community of artists, and to then share her understanding and passions with her own students at some point in the future.

Reading Morgan’s writing has helped me to understand my daughter in new ways.  It has also pushed me to examine my own life and ask the big questions, “Am I pursuing my dreams?  Am I letting my real desires take a back seat? Am I doing everything in my power to live a full and meaningful life, for myself and for others?”

The Well Challenge

On a weekend in early January, I was reading the New York Times and came upon the NYT 30 Day Well Challenge.  Since the New Year was already upon us and I had yet to come up with a resolution of any kind, I figured I’d take this on.

I like a challenge.  I signed up.

The challenge was built around four words that promised to lead to a healthier life (and who doesn’t want that?).  The four words were: Move, Nourish, Refresh, Connect.

These seemed like simple, yet important ideas. 

The first part of the challenge was to reflect and set a goal. Here’s what I wrote on day #1:

I move, but I need to move more.

I nourish, but I’m sure I could eat healthier foods and try out some new things.

I do refresh, but need to do a great deal more of this.

And I’m pretty good at connecting.

So…I think Move and Refresh will be my focus areas.

I hope, at the end of the 30 days, to feel stronger, healthier, more grounded, more connected, and more prepared to live this life that lies ahead of me!

Today is day #28 of the challenge.  I have been a faithful participant. I have completed all but two of the day’s challenges (one was to eat less bread at breakfast – not sure I can manage that one, and one was a meditation – I’ve flagged that and plan to do it sometime soon…see, not so good at the refresh part). I do feel a bit stronger, a bit more refreshed, connected, and nourished.  I also feel proud. I’ve taken on a challenge and I’ve succeeded.

I feel like maybe I can answer Mary Oliver’s question at the end of her poem The Summer Day with just a bit more confidence.

The Question:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

My Answer:

Move, Nourish, Refresh, Connect