Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Benefits of Walking to School

Spring has finally sprung, and like dormant bulbs emerging victoriously from the soil, our neighborhoods are beginning to awaken from their winter slumbers. Neighbors whom we haven't seen since December are out and about bringing order back to their ravished yards. We all seek the same thing: sunshine and warmth to nourish our chilly, darkened souls! Pardon the drama, but it's been a long winter!

My son, Anders, and I have been walking the half mile to his elementary school together since September and are relishing the warming weather with no loss of love for the freezing days of deep winter. We walk in all kinds of conditions-- light rain, wind, cold and snow-- leading one of my son's friends to ask whether we even have a car! We do, but my son and I really enjoy those 20 minutes together in the morning and here is why:

1. It's great exercise! If I estimate that we have walked 150 of the 180 days of school at 1 mile round trip (for me), that totals 150 miles throughout the school year! And, that doesn't even factor in the times I walk to pick him up at the end of the day, which is often.

2. Not only does the exercise contribute to our overall health and fitness, it offers a chance for Anders, a very active 10-year old, to burn off some energy before having to sit all day and focus on his school work. There are countless studies supporting the connection between an increase in physical activity and an increase in cognitive performance. Some schools have even instituted mini exercise breaks throughout the day to capitalize on these benefits.

3. Similarly, walking home from school gives Anders a chance to decompress and burn off some pent up energy before having to dive into his homework once he gets home in the afternoon.

4. The dog gets exercise too!

5. We save on gas, which is both good for my wallet and the environment. If we use the estimate of 150 miles (see number 1) for just morning drop offs, and estimate an average car gets 20 miles/gallon, that's about half a tank of gas per school year. If you factor in afternoon pick-ups, the total jumps to about one full tank of gas per school year, or roughly $50.00!

6. But, perhaps the greatest, most rewarding part of walking with Anders is the time we get to spend together. In a house with 5 people and 4 animals, quality one-on-one time is regrettably scarce. The 15 minutes it takes to get to (and from) school gives us a chance to talk about all kinds of things, from the profound to the mundane. We talk about what's happening at school, concerns over family dynamics, when the next Wimpy Kid is coming out, crazy dreams and even how to tackle world peace! As Anders approaches adolescence, I am acutely aware of the big changes ahead. I know there may be a time in the not-so-distant future where I won't be the person he turns to first about the issues concerning him. It is my hope that the foundation of communication we are establishing now will see us through the middle and high school years.

Admittedly, walking to school does add a bit of extra time to our already hectic morning routine, but it has been incorporated into the timing of the daily schedule and therefore, just that, part of the daily schedule. I would strongly encourage anyone living in close proximity to their child's school to make the effort at least once a week to walk or bike the distance. The benefits are priceless!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Shopping Hangover

I’ve done it once again.  I went into a hereto unnamed big box store with the intent to by 3 items: orange juice, a drain catch for the kitchen sink, and tampons.  I walked out with none of the above items and 100 dollars poorer!  The moment I got into the car that icky, dirty, I-just-did-something-bad feeling washed over me--“shopping hangover!”  I knew instantly that I didn’t need most, if not any, of the stuff in those bags: Halloween socks, um no; 2 more brightly colored camis, I have at least 10 already; 2 more boxes of cereal, we’ll eat them but not necessary; stocking stuffers for family members, probably not.  Then why do I feel the need to purchase superfluous items, especially when I know it’s going to make me feel bad?  Well, because I am there, the stuff is there, and it’s cute/yummy/irresistible.

A very wise friend of mine once offered a  sage piece of advice when confronted with this dilemma: JUST DON’T GO IN!  Meaning don’t even step foot or tire in the parking lot to begin with.  If you know you are prone to buying unnecessary junk, limit the times you spend in tempting locales, especially if you are shopping because you are bored or killing time.  I have heeded this advice many times and headed off the dreaded shopping hangover by going for a walk instead, or reading a book/magazine, cooking something (see below), writing poetry, meditating, etc.  But, what about the times when you really must go in because you really do need something (like, ahem, toilet paper say)?  Or, the times when your resolve fails you and you just need a shopping fix? I offer a mental checklist of questions to ask yourself as you hold that cute rubber ducky with a witches hat in your hand:

1.  Do I really need this? Enough said!

2.  Where will it ultimately end up in my house? For example, will it end up on the floor in one of my kids’ rooms, or in a bin of forgotten toys?  Or, ultimately and more importantly, in a landfill?

3.  Is there a ridiculous amount of packaging with said item?  Again, which will end up in a landfill.

4.  Could I make this item myself? Now, I realize that many people don’t think they have time to make granola bars or homemade lasagna, but you’d be surprised!  Check out Michael Pollen’s new book, Cooked, for a really interesting, enlightening read.  I’ve found  becoming more self-sufficient is really gratifying, but more on that later! 

5. Could I get this item or something like it at a second-hand store?  Buying second-hand always makes me feel so much better about my purchasing power.  I am saying NO to unnecessary packaging and consumerism, while at the same time giving  perfectly good items a second life AND keeping them out of the landfill.  And, if you buy on consignment or through a charitable foundation (e.g., Salvation Army or Goodwill), your money will go to someone who needs it instead of to large corporations, who do not!

Are there better uses for my money?  Charity, vacation fund, education fund, etc.  There are ALWAYS better uses for your money than cheap, plastic rubber duckies!

Now, we all slip from time to time, as I did today.  Instead of beating yourself up for it, repeat the mantra “just don’t go in” next time.   Maybe go through some of that extra stuff in your house that you wouldn’t mind giving away, thus giving someone else a chance to reuse your goods instead of buying new.  And if you are really feeling remorse, find that receipt and return it! 

Happy (Un) Shopping!


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Seasons of Change

This is the kind of day poems are made of
The verses all but write themselves:
The sapphire blue sky, cloudless
The trees a palette of crimson, flame and gold
The water sparkling a thousand diamonds
The autumn sun deliciously warm

As I stand at the river’s edge,
I am reminded—
I have never gazed upon these waters before
And I never shall again
Though this is a treasured place in my heart
And I visit often

There are stories in this river
This the great gurus knew
I listen
And somewhere deep inside
I hear
These waters flow through me
Mixing with my blood
Merging with my essence

Wisdom gazes lovingly at me from across the shore
And to her I bow
Buddha smiles at me from beneath the gentle current
And to him I bow
I bow to the tremor that joins me
With them
My words are an inadequate homage
But in this form it is all I have to offer
Let it be complete

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Finding A Space of My Own

I love my home.  My family lives on a dead end street surrounded by  woods in a close-knit, supportive neighborhood.  My kids walk to school almost every day, and we are in walking/biking distance from swimming (in two of the city pools or the Merrimack River), a local ice cream shop, hiking trails, and many of our close friends.  The one drawback is the house itself.  While I absolutely adore our little bungalow with the big yard, our family of 8 (including the 2 dogs and a cat) is bursting its seams.  As my mother never hesitates to remind me at each visit, we have way too much stuff in way too little space.  In attempt to create more space, we’ve expanded in every direction possible: an addition added off the side for extra bedrooms, a deck out the back for warm weather enjoyment, and a partially finished basement for a playroom.  Not another inch can be squeezed out of our poor old house, yet I am not willing to move from this place we’ve made our own. 

So, what is a weary, privacy-starved mom to do when she needs to get away for a few minutes and breathe?  And how is she supposed to establish the meditation practice she so desperately needs when there are children and animals to distract her around every corner?  Enter what my kids affectionately call “mom’s nook”. 

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The second floor of our home is just one room, my bedroom.  Ordinarily, I don’t spend a lot of time up there because of the constant clutter.  It’s the only room in the house no one sees, thus it tends to accumulate a lot of “I’ll put it away later” piles and “the vacuum is too heavy to lift up the steep stairs” dust bunnies.   Until recently.  Several months ago, I transformed an unused corner of the spacious room into my own private sanctuary.  A folding screen  physically separates this oasis from the chaos of the rest of the room, allowing me to pretend it doesn’t exist (out of sight, out of mind!).  Within, I’ve created an altar of sorts, which is bathed in natural light  and adorned with greenery and sacred objects, there to remind me of my true path.  Walking into this space quite literally feels like a warm embrace-- my breathing slows and my muscles relax.  And, for those few stolen moments, I can let it all go.  Bliss!

Having such an area to call my own has made committing to a meditation practice a little easier both logistically and mentally.  I’ve created a space that I actually want to retreat to.  My kids are drawn to my nook, as well.  My oldest, an 8-year old boy in every sense, has actually tried sitting quietly with me there, a feat I don’t think I can quite make anyone who doesn’t know him truly appreciate.  My daughter has begged me on several occasions to create a similar area in her room, and my youngest, a toddler in every sense, really likes to smell the incense!  While I am happy to share my space with them, they know that when I am in there, it is my time for quiet reflection.  And a peaceful, relaxed mom makes for a happier family!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Precious Moment

My to-do list hovers above like a thundercloud

Bulging, roiling, ready to burst its seams, releasing its flood of tedium:

Laundry, dishes, meal prep, housecleaning

But beneath the gathering storm, I sit with you, an oasis of peace

Your head is nestled in the crook between my neck and shoulder

At almost two, your body will soon outgrow this spot, but for now it’s a perfect fit

You’re having trouble falling asleep

Your toddler bones itching to move,

Your curiosity unquenchable

So we rock

Back and forth

Back and forth


So slowly and rhythmically that my own eyes are growing heavy

To give in to the doze would be to sacrifice this rare, beautiful moment

Not yet

So we rock

Back and forth

Back and forth

Your limbs grow heavy, and in the end, mine too


As any mother knows, my job is never done

The chores are infinite and will be there when I wake

These moments, however, are fleeting and numbered

So for now, I have nothing to do but rock with you.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Greening Christmas: A Progress Report

At the end of last year's Christmas season, I wrote a blog post (January 2011) lamenting the excess and waste that seems synonomous with the holidays and vowed that the next year would be different. Well, it's Christmas 2011 and I am proud to say that I wasn't just blowing smoke! Determined to cut down on the amount of paper I use to wrap our gifts, I saved a bunch of wrapping paper from last years gifts (my kids are surprisingly gentle unwrappers!) and upcycled my own paper from package "stuffing" we received throughout the year.  


While I haven't tackled wrapping the kid's gifts yet, I have finished with my husband and extended family (sister, mother, grandmother, etc.), and can say that about 90% of their gifts were wrapped with reused/repurposed materials!

While making your own wrapping paper does take more time, it is certainly cheaper (I used stencils and paints I already had) both in the short and long term, because you can bet after all that work I am going to try my darndest to save every scrap for next year!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Keeping the Peace Through Humor

I was really intrigued by an article written in our local newspaper by a fellow yogini proposing the adoption of a new hand gesture that would indicate, “Oops, my bad!”  I would use this gesture daily!  She proposes some way of indicating to an offended party when you know you messed up, like when you don’t stop for someone in a crosswalk, or cut ahead to a newly opened register in the supermarket when others have been waiting longer.  I always feel so guilty when I realize what I have done, but have no way of rendering an apology aside from a sheepish look and embarrassed  half-wave.  

Well, I have determined another instance where I need some sort of code word or hand gesture to indicate feelings or reactions that I just can’t muster the energy to explain or rescind.  Lately, my husband and I have been working really hard.  He has been putting in really long hours between working at his day job, maintaining a very popular blog, and writing a book.  His long hours and physical and mental absence trickles down to long days for me with the three kids and a home to manage basically on my own.  Needless to say, we are both fried!  As often happens when two adults are running on fumes, we bicker about really stupid things, but don’t have the time or energy to set things straight.  What I propose is some sort of code word (preferably something ridiculous) or hand gesture (again, the sillier the better) to break the tension between us and show each other that we get it.  We understand that we are being stupid because we are way overtired,  feeling underappreciated, and craving intimacy by way of a decent conversation or heartfelt cuddle. 

I recall a time in the car when my youngest was inconsolable and nothing any of us said seemed to make him feel better.   Seemingly defeated, we all fell silent listening to his wails, when out of know where, my husband turned to Benjamin and blurted, “poop poopy do,”  as if that were the hidden password to his happiness.  You had to be there, but the kids and I started busting up at the inanity of it!  And, I think our reactions finally calmed the baby.  So for our family I propose “poop poopy do” as our code word, our “my bad” go-to statement.   I am fairly certain that it will at least elicit a smile, if not a hearty snort.  Because, laughter truly is the best medecine, and heck knows we could use more of that these days (laughter not medecine!).