Archive for October, 2008

Spiritual Lessons for Our Kids

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

I’m doing research for a new book and spent part of the day reading Deepak Chopra’s “The Seven Spiritual Lessons for Parents.” It’s such an encouraging and thoughtful book. I love his writing — so clear and simple — and I love his ideas — so far-reaching and generous.

He writes about some of the principles that he used, unknowingly, while raising his own children. They make such sense, yet are not instinctive for us Westerners. One of the principles is to understand that, ultimately, you cannot control your kids. By that he means that children are their own separate selves, and we are privileged to be their caretakers and to have such great influence over them, but we cannot make them into who we want them to be, we can only help them be their best selves.*

In many ways that’s the hardest lesson of all for parents: learning to let go.

We feel such a great responsibility towards these little beings in our care, and we can barely help trying to mold them to fit our own dreams. The real trick is how to help and encourage them, how to instill our own core values, and yet also let them be themselves and live their own dreams to fruition.

It’s all an exercise in being humble and grateful, and doing the best you can!

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*By the way, he does not mean we can’t guide or discipline them!

A Call to Action

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

I read an article a few days ago in the NY Times about living green. Instead of feeling inspired, I came away feeling kind of defeated. So often, when we read about zealots — people who take our little ideas and turn them into big, dramatic action — we feel, well, kind of pathetic. Sometimes it seems like it’s just too hard to live in a way that doesn’t end up dooming our planet, so we give up even trying.

But then I was intrigued by this final thought:

“What does a life with less energy look like?” she said. “It’s fun to try to get the most out of the least. It’s like a party game.”

So instead of seeing it as a chore, let’s approach this as a game. Everyday I challenge myself and my children to treat the world with greater care and respect.

Here are the small steps I have taken, along with my family, to minimize our impact on the environment:

  1. WASHING IN COLD WATER: I am using cold water Tide and washing whites and colors in cold. Proctor and Gamble are clients of my husband’s and he told me once how frustrating it is for them trying to change the habits of consumers because we are as stubborn as donkeys! Apparently, cold water Tide washes whites IN COLD WATER just as well as in hot water. Yeah! Also, you can use a lot less.
  2. RE-USING PLASTIC: I am rinsing out my ziploc bags. As long as you have somewhere to dry them, this works just fine.
  3. CUTTING DOWN ON LAUNDRY: I go through the hamper and take OUT the clothes that do not look or smell dirty.
  4. LOWER THE HEAT: This will be hard to keep up once it gets really cold, but we’re keeping the thermostat at 63 degrees this year. Kevin chopped tons of wood and we will start using fires more regularly to heat the house.
  5. RETIRING THE GAS GUZZLER: We have an ancient Landcruiser that we love. This year, it’s going into retirement.
  6. REPLACING LIGHTBULBS: The incandescent bulbs are much nicer these days, and it’s not so hard to get used to their light. You won’t believe how much less frequently you have to change them. Save money, save energy!
  7. DOUBLE-SIDED PRINTING: In writing my novel, 400 + pages long, I have probably used 5,000 realms of paper. To minimize waste, I single space when printing and re-use the back side of paper to print revised drafts.
  8. TAKING THE TRAIN: I can either drive and park for $11 or take a train and pay $10 for the tickets. The train is restful and low stress. I read the whole way, and my little walk through the streets of Boston to the office is invigorating.
  9. RE-USING STYROFOAM COFFEE CUPS: Easy–this one’s a no-brainer.
  10. USE ALL LEFT OVERS: I know people who never keep left-overs, and to me that seems outrageous. We just had the most delicious and nutritious chicken soup last night that my husband made from the chicken bones left over from our roast the day before. Felt like a free meal… and no waste!

A Call to Action Day #5

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

Hm. I’m racking up failures more often than successes these days. I had to run the dishwasher half empty twice today just to figure out that yes, I am right, the damn thing is not working properly anymore.

Is hand-washing everything better for the environment or worse?

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SCORE CARD:

Failure # 2 billion and three: ran the dishwasher two times just to figure out its kaput.

Failure # 2 billion and two: Then, this morning, I saw a huge, pristine piece of paper towel, with two tiny damp spots in the middle, lying on top of the trash.

Failure #2 billion and one:  After lecturing the kids about making good choices to help the environment, I shut off NINE LIGHTS last night after everyone was in bed. NINE!

Failure #2 billion: Couldn’t get the soup guy to accept my used container.

Success #2: Re-used my Dunkin Donuts styrofoam cup and survived the server’s horrified expression.

Success #1: We bought three big plastic Gatorade bottles on the way back from the Cape today. We will wash them out and use them as water bottles.

A Call to Action Day #4

Friday, October 17th, 2008

Oops, a couple more failures.

Failure #2 billion and one:  After lecturing the kids about making good choices to help the environment, I shut off NINE LIGHTS last night after everyone was in bed. NINE!

Failure # 2 billion and two: Then, this morning, I saw a huge, pristine piece of paper towel, with two tiny damp spots in the middle, lying on top of the trash.

My evil son wiped his damp fingers on a sheet of paper towel. Two inches from his wet digits hung a freshly-cleaned cotton kitchen towel.

Sigh. I guess habits are hard to change. Us humans, we come from apes, after all.

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SCORE CARD:

Failure #2 billion: Couldn’t get the soup guy to accept my used container.

Success #2: Re-used my Dunkin Donuts styrofoam cup and survived the server’s horrified expression.

Success #1: We bought three big plastic Gatorade bottles on the way back from the Cape today. We will wash them out and use them as water bottles.

A Call to Action Day #3

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

Okay, today took the cake for weird-reaction-to-my-heroic-new-environmentalist stance.

I was working downtown again. There’s a great Lebanese place across the street from my office that sells soups. I took in my nicely rinsed out plastic soup container. The one the grumpy guy behind the counter had given me just a few days earlier.

This time, the look on the guy’s face was not one of horror, but anger. What the hell do you think you’re doing? he seemed to be thinking.

He scowled, grabbed the container and threw it on the table behind him. He said, “If I took back these things I’d save myself $3 – 4,000 a month!”

I thought… surely that’s a good thing?

Then he relented a bit and admitted, “You could sue me for finding something in your soup.”

God damn,  litigation rears it’s ugly head? I’m just trying to reduce the size of landfills, man!

Failure #2 billion: Couldn’t get the soup guy to accept my used container.

Success #2: Re-used my Dunkin Donuts styrofoam cup and survived the server’s horrified expression.

Success #1: We bought three big plastic Gatorade bottles on the way back from the Cape today. We will wash them out and use them as water bottles.

A Call to Action Day #2

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

Success #2:

I took my used, large styrofoam cup back to Dunkin Donuts this morning and asked them to refill it.

The guy looked  at me as though I had a booger hanging off my eyebrow. He said, “You want it in here?! It’s dirty.”

“Yeah, I know,” I answered, checking my face for weird stuff before realizing he simply thought I was nuts.

“Ok, so I’ll put it in here, right? You don’t want a new one?”

Sigh. Honestly, I never thought trying to save the environment would be considered this, well… this aberrant

Success #1:We bought three big plastic Gatorade bottles on the way back from the Cape today. We will wash them out and use them as water bottles.

A Call to Action #1

Monday, October 13th, 2008

If there’s one single thing that struck me from the Presidential Debate the other night, it was one audience member’s question about what we can sacrifice, as individuals, that will have a positive impact on the future.

Obama’s answer was: we must all take responsibility, right now, for how we treat the environment. Take small steps toward changing habits. Don’t think about it, do it NOW.

My God, this is so obvious! My brother had been preaching this for decades. He rinses out Ziplocs, turns off lights, doesn’t buy anything with excessive packaging and offsets his carbon footprint whenever and however he can. He leaves a small footprint on this world of ours.

My household of five has the footprint of Godzilla. We produce scary amounts of trash. We throw away too much food. Our electricity bills are astronomical. We wear clothes once and then wash them. We take long, hot showers. We drive too-big cars. We pretend to care about the earth, but we don’t care to change our habits.

Then why, I wonder, did Obama’s simple statement feel like such a call to action last Thursday? Because finally, FINALLY, I feel as though we can and MUST actully begin living more thoughtfully.

The crisis in the stock market has reminded us all that everything we take for granted could change in a heartbeat, and none of us are prepared. My mother used to tell me about her father bringing home suitcases of useless cash after the Germans lost the war and the D-Mark was devalued. I’ve seen pictures; it was a terrifying time. All the old rules were changing, and it was hard for people to accept.

I never really understood how easily we too could fall into the same old traps. We grew up comfortable, expecting to grow old comfortable. Well, this is a wake up call. We need to take responsibility for our own actions, NOW.

Friday night, I sat my kids down and we all pledged to do one thing each day, however big or small, to create less of a negative impact on the environment.

Success #1:

We bought three big plastic Gatorade bottles on the way back from the Cape today. We will wash them out and use them as water bottles.

Gotta Love It!

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

One of the things I’ve discovered I like the most about publishing a book is winning over skeptics. This review by Gayle Weisswasser, who writes a great blog dealing with mainly literary fiction, made my day. How nice to have someone make assumptions that are proven wrong. Gotta love it. My European friends were very similar. With their characteristic lack of ass-kissing or pandering, they said things like, “Well, it’s quite American isn’t it, but awfully good,” or “For a self help book, it was quite intelligent.” Thanks, mates!

Time-Outs in Tough Times

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

Are you feeling flush?

If you’re anything like us, you’re panicking a bit right now. Those few extra hours you pay the babysitter to do laundry, um, over.  That cafe latte every time you happen to pass a coffee place? Over. Dinner out? Over. Vacations? OVER!

Arg, what is left in life?

My husband rates himself as an 11 in terms of frugality (on a scale of 1 – 10 where 10 is insanely parsimonious) and he is freaking out. I would be too, but if both of us were freaking out, where would that leave the kids? Really freaked out!

So here is where I think the yin and yang of life comes into play.Thank god for opposing forces, and the random element. If life were too predictable, well… we’d all be sleep walking.

When one partner is losing his mind, generally the other is calm and collected. When the world is caving in, your kids are peeing their pants laughing at a knock knock joke. When you have no money to blow on extras, you find enjoyment in the little things.

I took a bath last night. I never take baths. It helped me forget the hair appointment I postponed so I could squeak another week out of my gray roots.

Family Trips In Desperate Times

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

I grew up in London and each year around March I start yearning for my adopted home. Back in England, March is when the daffodils come out in a riot of bright yellow all over Hyde Park, the heavy veil of winter nights lifts, and it stops raining 23 hours a day. Spring is fantastic there.

So each year I try to arrange a trip to London with the kids to visit my parents and all my old friends. That way, when March rolls around and I am about to slit my wrists with the misery that = Spring here, I can look forward to getting away and taking a trip down memory lane.

Everyone’s money situation is different, and for some, a trip to Europe for the family is a once-in-a lifetime treat. For me it’ a part of my modus operandi; travel is what I live for. I work so I can travel. I save so WE can travel as a family. The main reason we moved from our beloved California–where I would happily be crocheting a muumuu while sitting in a eucalyptus tree if I could–to the East Coast is so that we could be closer to Europe.

Whoa, hold on to your panties. We better catch up to reality here! Those flights to London used to cost around $300 – $400, and I often had a child on my lap. It was expensive, but worth it. Flights to London now cost $1,300 each, even on the cheap travel websites. OK, we have a free place to stay, but I don’t think United will allow me to take a 6 foot 1 inch-tall 15-year-old as a lap child. Damn.

So I sat on the phone with India for over 60 minutes, twice, and managed to find five tickets on various flights using our mileage. Since the world is coming to an end soon (ha, ha), I figured I better use up every single mile we have before they confiscate them so they can send poor old McCain on a much-deserved vacation to Acapulco.

Then it took me another 43 minutes on the phone, picking at my nails and trying not to freak out, to sort out the wrong tickets they issued me.I don’t mean to sound racist but agent #1 was Indian and very nice, but had a lot of trouble understanding my humor. After five minutes I cut the humor out and started talking as though I was speaking to a dense five-year-old, finishing every sentence with “Is that correct?“Agent #2 was American, and understood everything I said. She found me tickets that didn’t include a ten hour layover in Toronto.

Long story short: When you really, really, really want a time out that seems totally prohibitive and crazy, sometimes you have to be very creative, and PATIENT to make it become a reality. But it’s worth it in the end.