Slowing down this year was more than a treat, a luxury, an indulgence. It was an absolute necessity. It was suddenly as though I was moving through cold maple syrup, sticky and sweet but slow slow slow…I am not sure I ever gave myself permission to check out so completely–to detach from work, from the phone, even from large swaths of my community who I normally need like oxygen and water. I let it all slip away and fell into a space that was silent and warm.

The sap is starting to rise again, and its as though that period of deep rest fed me. I think it fundamentally changed me.

But I know myself. I know that I could easily forget what I learned throwing myself into new adventures and bliss. So I am easing back in, all the while integrating what the hush and quiet taught me.

1. Lighting candles and singing old hymns and spirituals is very nourishing.
2. Everything that is important enough will find a way to get done. The rest will find a way to stop pretending to be important.
3. Lighting a fire or simply lighting a candle is an instant way to sanctify a space and make it holy and peaceful and a little bit juicy.
4. Gifts freely given don’t need to be given on any specific day.
5. Anger is OK. It can carry you somewhere if you let it. It is as holy as bliss.
6. Its important enough to slow down enough to make my bed every morning and take the time to apply moisturizer to my feet. If I am moving too fast to do those two things, its a bell reminding me I am moving too fast.
7. Filling my house with art made by friends makes me happy. Hanging up my own art makes me even more blissed out.
8. I don’t really need coffee if I take the time to drink my tea.
9. There are three reasons (and only three reasons) to do anything: a. To bring me joy. b. To bring me peace. c. Because something needs to be done. Doing things because they will pay off one day, or to be a good girl is a fast track, surefire, express train ride to misery. Don’t do things for those reasons. Anymore. Ever.
10. There is always enough time. Always.

Five things I know
That apple pie is a pretty strong motivator
That wearing a great t-shirt can make me feel strong
That the earth is holding me (and you too!)
That laughter and sweetness and happiness can be found even in the midst of heartbreak and frustration
That really knowing much more than this is over rated

Five things I don’t know now
Where all my socks go
Why the cats can’t seem to get along
Why the lights are always on in Max’s room
What is going to happen next
How it is all going to work out

Five things I am truly grateful for
Max
The kitten’s soft fur
The way Rosie cat will sleep on my hip every night
A comfy bed
A warm house and clean water

Five things I am holding space open for
Slowness and space
A great cup of tea
An abundance of silliness and kindness
Creativity
A comfortable place to sit

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It has been pouring rain for days here–a warmish/coldish gray autumn rain. It is washing everything clean, helping the leaves to let go of the trees, helping the streets to be clean. Something about the rain this time of year makes my heart swell with gratitude. Here are a few other things that are breaking my heart wide open:

1. Walking by a library today and peering in at the stacks–rows and rows of books and magazines and the smell of old paper. The fact that the library exists makes my heart sing in a way that is embarrassingly geeky.
2. Dinner with three dear girlfriends at Mandalay Restaurant and Cafe. Sitting back and listening to three such beautiful women talk.
3. Chai tea. Warm and frothy.
4. The kitten curled up on my lap while I type. This amazing kitten who will sleep tightly curled up with Max all night, bathing him in adoration.
5. Sitting with an amazing gift from the Universe, sent by design to help me open up to abundance.
6. Singing a lullaby to a soulsister having a miserable day.
7. The smell of Max’s hair after his shower. The way he says my name when he is half asleep.
8. The sounds of the rain, fast and furious and constant on my roof, on the windows, in the trees.
9. An amazingly beautiful duvet cover purchased for practically nothing that fits my room perfectly and might just be the Meggy-est duvet cover on the planet.
10. Walking through a downpour this morning under my amazing red umbrella feeling safe and warm and protected.
11. The fact that I have art, created by people I love, all over the walls of my house.
12. Good books that keep me company while I ride to work on the metro. In my backpack now: Oliver Kitteredge and The Gift of an Ordinary Day.
13. Candles. On my altars, in my room, warm and bright. I will light one for you, ok?

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1. Listen to the wisdom of 4 year olds.

2. Dance freely without worry about what you look like.

3. Curl up on the couch and let someone sing you to sleep.

4. Say yes when you want to and no when you don’t.

5. Go on secret missions with young friends (like my dear John) to leave message of hope around the city with sidewalk chalk.

6. Welcome someone who needs you into your home.

7. Then, let the kitten sleep on your bed (as if you have a choice).

8. Call your cousin (or whoever it is in your life who you know loves you to your toes).

9. Take pictures of everyone you love and the things that fill your heart with gratitude.

10. Drink chai tea.

11. Laugh completely and entirely–don’t hold back, even if you need to lay down on the floor and tears are pouring down your cheeks.

12. Take a long bath followed up with a warm shower.

13. Skinny dip every chance you get.

14. Read out loud. Snuggle long after the little one has fallen asleep.

15. Make guacamole and eat the entire bowl–or save some for lunch. Or eat the entire bowl and then make some more for lunch.

16. Get lost in a book.

17. Take the metro. Take walks.

18. Tell the people you love that you love them–even when, especially when, it might seem like it is coming out of the blue.

19. Get new glasses so that you can see clearly.

20. Clean out the closets. Clean the floors. Clean the bathtub.

21. Head out into the woods and stay there for a few days.

22. Cry when you need to.

23. Play your guitar–loudly (even if its badly). Play only for yourself if you want.

24. Wade in the water’s edge. Let your feet sink into the mud and get all sticky.

25. Move into action even as you sit in stillness.

26. Cook dinner with your dear ones and eat it outside.

27. Go out for icecream and let it drip down your face and get on your nose.

28. Drive to a farm and pick fresh berries, peaches, plums or whatever is in season.

29. Light candles and say prayers just sit silently and hold hard moments for what they are. Trust that “All will be well and all manner of things shall be well.” Whisper it until you believe it.

30. Throw your arms around the people who delight you.

Inspired by the gorgeous Jen Lemen and my dear cousin Leenie both who have reminded me that the only time I am ever unhappy is when I find myself wanting the joy I don’t have and ignoring the crazy joy exploding around me.

The summer has raced by at epic speed. I don’t know why, but I am always amazed and shocked when August announces herself. While I have come to terms with the fleeting qualities of spring, autumn and winter, I never quite believe that summer passes. And when it does I always get a tiny bit frantic.

On Saturday, a friend commented that I had this spazzy energy about me, like a juggler desperately spinning way too many plates. I am sure you know that feeling too. I was spinning way all these plates, while hopping on one foot and, having dropped quite a few, I was dancing around to avoid cutting my tender feet on the shards of the broken ones that lay strewn all around me.

One of the luxuries I have given myself this year is a week of stay-cation, strategically placed the week before we go away and right before school starts again. It is a week to focus on nothing but catching up, cleaning up, looking up, dumping out, digging out, sweeping out, starting fresh, starting over, just getting started. It officially started on Saturday. But my friend knew that I was in no place to start such a week. It was true–I had a bit of deer caught in the headlights kind of look. Too many things to do–too many things on my mind. I would start one project and then look at the dishes piled high in the sink. I would start to clean the dishes but then think I really needed to start a load of laundry to maximize the time. In the first hour or so of my “Week of Productivity”, I thought I would never get through the day, let alone the week at all without making myself crazy.

But then, the answers came.

They came because I was reflecting on the spazzy, plate spinning voices in my head. The ones who keep it all going, my 47 things, for better or worse. These mental to-do list spurting gremlins reminded me of those people at meetings. You know the ones–the ones with really important contributions who insist on being heard at exactly the moment when their idea takes everyone off track. The ones who you love to have in your meetings for their creativity and their persistence, but you hate to have in meetings because they move the meeting farther and farther from its goals.

The key to managing these people (and my gremlins) is I think we all know–acknowledgement. At work, we use the old facilitator’s trick of keeping “a parking lot”–the big piece of paper where we can put the stuff we need to get to–just not right now. There is something magic about writing it down. It creates a kind of peace. We are heard and so we can stay focused.

I am whispering what I did this week here to you, just in case, you know, you feel this way too sometimes. I swear its magic.

HOW TO STOP SPINNING PLATES
1. Take one day to drop all the plates. Plan nothing. Let everything fall. Visualize them falling, smashing, it all coming apart. Don’t rush, don’t do on the anything on the “to-do” list unless you must for personal safety of you or your loved ones. This is important to start the reset button. Its OK, I promise.
2. Visit with people you love. Eat good food. Soak in the sunshine.
3. On the next day, take out a piece of paper and a pen. Write down everything you think you need to do, no matter how small, no matter the priority. Don’t edit the list. Don’t categorize. Don’t make it neat. This is the parking lot this is where you place everything that might needle you all day. As you write down each thing, imagine yourself, actually placing it in a basket to be dealt with later. Promise yourself that one by one these things will get done, no matter how long the list. If its here on the list, it is safe.
4. Fold up that piece of paper and put it and your pen in your pocket.
5. Start one thing on your list. When your mind starts in with the to-do list ask yourself if it its already on the list. If it is, tell yourself its on the list, you can let it go. (If its still bugging you write it down again). If its not or you are not sure, take 5 seconds to write it down, imagining it safely going away, out of reach, into the basket to be taken out in due time. Get back to what you were doing.
6. When you are done, cross that thing off and then pick another thing to do.
7. Anytime the “to-do” gremlin comes to call, acknowledge him, write her ideas down quickly, without editing or categorizing and then get back to the issue at hand. Write down anything that comes to mind. Appointments (lab work done Tuesday 8:30), phone calls (call Kaiya, call Erica, call Max’s dr to set up appointment), things to pick up at the store, anything that is distracting (remind Max to find the flashlight when he gets home).
8. When you have no more space on the paper, get a fresh sheet of paper. Write down the things you still have to do. Leave out the things that you have already done. You can get rid of duplicates. You will find that after a day or so, the gremlin has fewer and fewer ideas. If she hasn’t slowed down, thats OK–you can staple another sheet of paper to this one.

So far, this has (I think) made me more productive. More importantly it has made me sane. We will see the final results at the end of the week.

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Inspired by Jen and her supersisters over at PBS:

25 Things I Know Now As a Parent

1. That I really don’t know much.
2. But actually, if I listen to my heart, I can always find the way.
3. That waking up a 4:30 am to catch a morning flight to the meeting so I can stay at home for the swim meet is always worth it.
4. That every thing changes and nothing stays the same and the harder we hold on, the faster it slips away.
5. Breakfast for dinner is always acceptable.
6. Kindness is learned just like language–by imitating your parents.
7. Laser tag is actually a fun thing to do on a rainy winter night.
8. Physical affection is like water–kids can die without it. Unlike water there is always an infinite amount flowing as long as we pay attention.
9. Board games are a great invention.
10. Making an itunes playlist of favorite songs and saying “we need to work until the music is done” is a great way to make chores fun.
11 Especially if the chores are the kind you can do while dancing.
12 When doing chores, it is really critical to make space for dancing.
13 Fear is kind of like a fog that dissipates as soon as you acknowledge it and give it its due.
14 Italian ice is generally not an acceptable dinner but sometimes when it is too hot, its ok to say “just this once”.
15 Noone is ever too old to be read out loud to.
16. Chores are great for self esteem.
17. Creating a regular practice of being quiet for a time is helpful for everyone in the family.
18. There are days, weekends and even whole weeks at a time when chores need to go out the window.
19. Bubbles are fabulous to store in the car and pull out when you are stuck in crazy bumper to bumper traffic.
20. Sometimes, your role is to be the center of your kids universe. Sometimes it is to be the captain of a team of other people who will show them the way.
21. There is something magical about trading cards. Especially hockey cards.
22. Sleep is really important. It can change everything.
23. No one knows my kid the way I do. Noone who knows how to respond like I do. But still, its useful sometimes to see him through the lens of the other people who love him.
24. It is really important to model trying new things and being ridiculously unpracticed at them.
25. Teaching my son to to learn from his failures is more important than teaching him to succeed.

Play along with Jen by making your own list on your blog or facebook and link to it in the comments in Jen’s post over at PBS!

that magic is all around and miracles are unfolding right under our noses and we just need to open our eyes to see them

that chocolate is a health food and chai tea can warm the heart and together they can heal deep soul wounds

that I could lose everything but my child and I would be rich, panicked maybe, but rich…

that dancing is better than sleeping

that connection, family and friendship should always come first

that we all can see right past the walls into each others hearts but most of us are too afraid most of the time

that seeing people–really seeing them without expectations or judgment–is the most radical and revolutionary and scary thing you can do

that tears and laughter both need to flow freely

that cooking for each other and sharing food is an intimate act

that writing and art is soul-saving

that learning to live without fear is a lifetime adventure

that many people mistake security for love and sadly never get the opportunity to learn the difference 

that most answers come from silence

that the great art comes from being awake–to pain, to joy, to fear, to beauty, to love.  Most of us have an easier time being awake to the harder stuff and thats why people think the great artists were all tortured souls

that nothing is all one thing. 

So many of the notes in our holiday card have wished me a happier, easier year in 2009. While I have been touched by the friends who have recognized that this year was a big year, and challenging year at our home I have also been a bit confused. Looking back I feel nothing but gratitude for this year, for the gifts and the growth. Does that sound too Pollyanna? I don’t mean it to be…And its not that I am denying the difficulty of what we have faced this year.  There have been real ups and downs.

Its true that 2008 has been a year that has felt a little bit like spiritual boot camp–but truth of the matter, I like I have been whipped into a new shape. Now that I am through it I can’t imagine where I would be without these trials. Sure, I hope 2009 brings us lots of blessings, but I guess I have stopped trying to define what “blessing” look like.

Still, this whole mental exercise, this questioning why friends thought our year might have been “tough” led me down a trip down memory lane. It lead me to this blog–which I so often don’t go back and read.  Its lead me to want to post here some of the posts that captured my poignant, even if they were impossibly difficult moments in 2008, the ones that make me bow my head in gratitude, some of the moments that were teachers and and now, old friends.   To honor them, these moments and acknowledge them before I bless them and let them go.

Thank you 2008…Thank you for the sweet gifts of laughter, joy, love that I experienced in your embrace.  And thank you for the lessons, the growth and the opportunities you gave me to dive deeper into my own heart’s wisdom. 

  • A Good Year:  The reappearance of my dear Jenni’s cancer called on both of us to question how we would live if we had only a year left.   
  • Somebody Loved:  My divorce hearing in February called me to look back at the journey of love I had been on with Juan, and how at the end of all this mess, I really found myself.    
  • Everyday Magic and the Gift of Wings:  A reflection on what happens when the Universe is in charge  
  • Rum, Serendipity and the Lass…:An ode to faith, the magic in the universe, the gift of friendship and things working out exactly as they should  
  • Transition :  What happens when the bottom falls out and when things get turned on their head.
  • Real:  What Max taught me about seeing and being seen  
  • Held:  My birthday card to myself. 
  • Things that Go Bump in the Night:  On fear and facing it  
  • Stay:What I learned about winter when I finally settled in.  

Number of dogs belonging to hospitalized people I love that I will walk today:  2

Number of bags of dog poop I have thrown out (before lunch):  3 

Number of servings of soup I made and froze this week for delivery:  12

Number of children I will pick up from school or the bus stop to cover our babysitter who is recovering from her surgery:  6

Number of crazy (but purely lovable) dear male friends who thought he might be able to WALK HOME from OUTPATIENT SUGERY on the bottom of HIS FOOT who I tracked down at the pharmacy and drove home:  (thankfully only) 1

Number of times I stopped to say a prayer of thanksgiving for the beautiful life I get to live, the people I love and my ability to give to them, and my healthy beautiful child who has made me laugh several times already today:  at least 100.

Seems like its been a pretty good day.

1.  Sitting on the edge of the the water and watching the sun set with a glass of wine in my hand.

2.  Making tea in a copper kettle.

3.  Feeling the arms of my beloveds around me.

4.  Lighting candles at the dinner table.

5.  Hearing the rain and the wind on the windows.

6.  Being on the Eastern Shore with my favorite people.

7.  Knowing that I will come home to Odette, home at last from the hospital.

8.  The light.  The light.  The beautiful golden autumn light. 

9.  Hungarian mushroom soup.

10.  The Pogues…oh and Freddie King.

11.  Knowing I am loved.   Deeply loved.

What about you?  What is making your heart sing this weekend?