A Whimsical Vacation

I woke up in my own bed this morning after a week at the beach, wondering: What is a vacation, really?

Is it breaking the habitual patterns, and living pattern-less for a while?

(I almost wrote: Living a more “natural” pattern.)

Maybe. Let me just explore it here for a bit.

I consider myself very lucky because I get to determine my life’s pattern to an extraordinary degree.

By that I mean that everything I do is something that I like to do, and choose to do. I don’t have distasteful things thrust on me as a result of the vicarious whim of some other being (like a boss or a superior) who may, (misguidedly) think that I ought to do something other than what I like or choose to do. But even the things I like and choose sometimes feel like they OWN me.

I love to teach yoga, for instance, and I have made a deep commitment to teaching yoga in the form of a lease agreement, a website, and ongoing classes.  It’s what I DO and I love it, but it shapes my day in a very particular way.  (I am thinking of this “shaping” the way a jello-mold shapes jello.)

I have made a yoga-shaped dent in this mold and into this dent I pour my time and energy.  There are other things that “dent my mold,” too, things I have made commitments to such as meditation, a writing practice, dog-ownership, house ownership, and a particular geographical location.

All these things shape my days.  For instance, I have to make sure I get to bed at a particular hour every night because I teach an early morning yoga class.  I have to walk my dog, because I have chosen to share my life with a pet.  I have a deep need to shape the floating contents of my brain once a day (at least) so I have a writing practice.  I need a certain period of quiet and introspection each day to insure balance and happiness.  I live in a particular geographical locale that demands adjustments from season to season: snow shoveling and leaf raking and plant watering–to name a few.  So this is the “mold” I have made.  I made it, but it also makes me.

For instance, today I will go to the studio and mop it, and clean mats, and vacuum, not because I necessarily want to do those things, but because I want to practice in a clean, dust-free space in the morning.

For most weeks and months of my year, I operate within this pattern. It makes me and I make it.  But when I go on vacation, I do not have this mold, this pattern.  I float free and fluid.

On vacation, I don’t have a business, or a dog, or students. I don’t have a lawn to mow or plants to water or even reliable food “staples” in the fridge with which to cobble together a dinner, or even a breakfast.  There is no mold, so I am free in a most peculiar and exciting and wondrous way.  “Wondrous” because I am constantly asking: I wonder what I will do today? The whole day is entirely up to me.  I can be completely whimsical.

I love the word “whimsy.”  It’s often used to condemn irresponsible, thoughtless behavior, and adults who are described as “whimsical” are often thought to be childish or wishy-washy, or un-count-on-able.

But that is precisely how I want to feel on vacation.  If I feel like reading all day?  I read all day. If I feel like taking a nap? I take a nap. If I feel like eating ice cream, drinking beer, going for a walk, riding a bike, taking a photograph, dancing to loud music, pounding a half-dozen crabs with a wooden mallet, taking a yoga class, sipping some Perrier, watching people walk the boardwalk, I do it.  There is no pre-set mold I have to conform to.  I have no commitments. I do what I feel like doing in the moment.  I am totally and unabashedly, whimsical.

I learn a lot about myself whenever I take a vacation. (And my vacations are not all of the purely whimsical variety.)

Last year I spent a vacation climbing mountains in Yosemite.  There was very little “whimsy” in that vacation.  There was a lot of planning, and thinking and strategizing.  There was a beginning, a middle, and an end to each hike, (as well as mile-markers), and these hikes required determination, and persistence and sometimes even “gutting-it-out” moments.  And that too, felt like breaking the mold, freeing myself from some pre-determined formula of living.  Each hike had a very definite shape (geographically as well as psychologically) that demanded a commitment.  But it still felt like a true vacation because it smashed to smithereens the usual jello-mold that shapes the majority of my days, weeks and months.

This morning I woke up in my own bed for the first time in a week.  “Yes.  Here is my life,” I thought.  “The cat needs her flea meds today, there is a lot of laundry to do, I need to get to the studio and check on things.”

Today I am starting to pour myself back into my mold, but I can still feel that whimsy in my bones.  My skin is browner and warmer than it was a week ago The range of my eyes have still not adjusted back to the near distances, but are still set to the focal distance of a horizon line where the sea and sky meet.

At the beach, I got everywhere I wanted to go on a pink bicycle.  As I pedaled to yoga class, the juice bar, the beach, I found myself thinking, “I really LIKE who I am at the beach. I LIKE living whimsically.  I like this me who gets up before dawn, who sips coffee watching for the reluctant sun to peek its red head out of the sea, who allows herself to drown for days in a long novel, who dances with complete abandon to throbbing, primal beats in a loud crowded bar all night, then staggers home, wet and dizzy with happiness.

I returned home last night from this vacation wondering if there was any possible way I could keep even a little bit of this whimsy in me as my usual life resumes.

I am wondering if there some way I can protect a little part of me from completely jelling into duty and schedule and responsibility.  I am wondering how to keep some of my “jello” liquid and sloppy and drippy, and not have it harden into the mold of the calendar, the season, and the to-do list.

5 Things To Do While You Figure Out What You Want to Be When You Grow Up

I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up until I was 51 years old.

When I finally found “my thing” it wasn’t the thing I thought it would be, and it certainly wasn’t anything anyone would ever pay me to do.  But by that point, I didn’t really care about money.  All I really wanted was to know.  I wanted to know finally, definitively, and without a doubt what I was put on this earth to do, before I left it.

The day it dawned on me, the day I figured it out, that was the day I discovered such a deep, rich vein of contentment, happiness and stability within myself that I’ve been feeding off of it ever since.

Now I’m growing and evolving and learning to play this game of life for some really serious points.  No more dinking around. No more hand-wringing and wondering.  And what a relief it is, let me tell you.

When you finally know what you want to be when you grow up, this rock-solid self-knowledge allows you to even “settle” and take a job “just for money,” without any qualms, because you finally know what your real work is, and you don’t have to worry about being mistaken for a checker at Wegman’s, for instance, or a barista at some coffee joint.   If people ask you what you do for a living, you can tell them your job title, but then add, “But what I really am is a (fill in the blank here) which in my case was “a writer and a teacher of yoga.”  And smile.


Soon after I became certified to teach yoga at age 51, I found a little space to rent, just to see if I could get anyone to practice with me. It was a risk, for sure, but now, miraculously, I have a sweet little studio and every week a whole bunch of people come and practice with me. I’ve been consistently making the rent doing what I was put on this earth to do for the last 7 years.

Before I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up though, I must have read every book written about how to find your “vocation” or “calling.”  But it wasn’t until I started actually doing things, these 5 practices specifically, and doing them consistently, even religiously, over the course of a few years, that everything started to fall into place.

These practices will give you that all-important “self-knowledge” I was talking about. And I guarantee, you won’t find your vocation until you gain some measure of that.

So, if you still don’t have a clue about what you’re supposed to be doing with this “one wild and precious life” of yours, start with these 5 things.  They were the keys that unlocked everything for me.

1. Make Lists

Actually, 2 lists. In the first one, list all the things you Love/like.  In the second one, all the things you Hate/dislike.

Why do this? Because the act of listing these things will bring you into sharp focus. You might not know what you want to be when you grow up yet, but at least if someone asks: “Who do you think you are?! At the very least you’ll be able to say, “Well, I am a person who prefers chocolate over vanilla, and baths over showers.”

I keep my lists on tadalists.com.  That way I can edit them and even share them with others if I want.  You can check out my “Likes” list here. And my “Dislikes” list here.  Remember too, that your lists are an ongoing project and will evolve and change over time, just like you, so keep adding to, and subtracting from them as you think of things.

2.  Play A Daily Game of Freeze Tag

Remember Freeze Tag? If someone tagged you, you had to stand like a statue until someone “unfroze” you?  Yeah. So here’s what you do: you take a timer and set it for 10 minutes.  Sit down in a chair and don’t move a muscle for 10 minutes.  When the timer goes off, you’re “unfrozen.”  If you do this every day, you will know what you want to be when you grow up very, very soon.  Some people call this “meditation” but you don’t have to.  Just sit down, shut up, and don’t move for 10 minutes (minimum) every day.

3. Make More Time For Stuff You Like To Do.

(Unless the stuff you like to do involves passively staring at screens.) Watching football on TV, or playing on Facebook doesn’t count.  Make less time for screen-staring, and spend more time building a rock garden, or an ultralight plane in your garage. Sew a quilt or write a novel. Make a complicated new recipe or train your dog for an agility competition.  It doesn’t matter if nobody will ever pay you a dime to do this stuff, if you love to do it, you need to build in some serious time in your life to do it.  Don’t neglect what you love.  Remember: What you love is who you are.

4. Find a Body Practice You Can Do Consistently, And Do It.

Run, walk, do tai chi, practice yoga, bike, hike, swim–it doesn’t matter. Just make sure it’s something you can do in all kinds of weather, and without a lot of equipment, and without a partner.  You don’t have to do it every day, just most days.

5. Streak Something.

Find something you can do every day and do it.  Build a streak.  You might even make your body practice your “streak thing,” thus taking care of # 4 and #5 in one fell swoop. I have had “yoga streaks” and “workout streaks” and “writing streaks” and “meditation streaks.” I have a 103 day writing streak going on 750words.com at this very moment.  Doing something every day, no matter how small, insignificant or silly it might seem, builds stamina and endurance and discipline. It will make you proud of yourself.  It will make you stable.  And when the streak ends (which it will, inevitably), you can start all over again, or streak something else.

It wasn’t until I started making and tending my lists, sitting still every day, carving out time for the things I loved to do, moving my body, and building up long streaks of discipline, that it all  fell into place for me.

I wish I had started doing this stuff sooner. It would have spared me a lot of “path errors” and saved me thousands of dollars in books. You should really try it, especially if you are still wondering who you are, and what you are going to do with this “one wild and precious life” of yours.

If you start today and keep at it, I’ll bet in less than a year, you’ll know what you want to be when you grow up.  And when you do, write and tell me what it is, okay? I’d love to hear.

(This is a short excerpt from a book I am working on called “How To Win The “Well-Lived Life” Badge For Your Tombstone or Urn.”))

November One-to-One

Mall of Louisiana, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Int...

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This past weekend we took a fun + business-y little over-nighter trip to Rochester.  I had an appointment on Saturday at the Apple store for a lesson on podcasting.

People have asked me from time to time to make a yoga CD that they can use at home when they can’t get to class.  I like that idea, but I like the idea of podcasts better because they are easier, they can be short and sweet, and I can change up the routines all the time.  Unlike a CD which has only one workout, with podcasts my students can have access to lots of “mini” classes. And best of all, I can offer them for free.

When I bought my Mac just about a year ago, I was really nervous about transitioning from years of working with PCs.  Turns out there was nothing to worry about.  And although I am sure I am not exploiting all the wonders of my MacBook Pro, I’m definitely getting there.

The guy at Apple who gave me my “One on One” lesson was great.  Not only did he know the program (Garage Band) but he knew how to teach it to me.

That’s a really important distinction, too, because a person can be the most talented programmer, or guitar player, or chess master in the world and not know thing one about how to teach that skill to another person.

In order to teach, you have to know how to break the material down into easily digestible bites so your student can absorb it.  Otherwise he or she will just sit there being wowed by how much YOU know about your instrument or whatever, but never learn how to do it, or play it herself.

Because of the excellent teaching of Brian, I think I can actually do a podcast now. And it was fun learning!

And speaking of “digestible bites,” we took a little “time-out” from The Cleanse while we were away.  We had our usual big meal at lunch time at P.F.Chang‘s, a Chinese place, where we really didn’t go off the plan at all, but then at The Bonefish Grill we had wine with dinner, and then dessert.  It tasted really good, and best all there were no gastrointestinal repercussions afterwards.

The official end of the cleanse is this Friday, but I will probably continue with it.  I feel like an old pro at this now.  By the middle of last week, I was feeling absolutely no cravings for anything and I was just starting to see results in the mirror.  It feels stupid to quit now, just at the beginning of the “dramatic results.”

One thing I have learned this time through Clean is that if I want to see dramatic results in my body, I have to strength train.  No two ways about it.  Must be done.  My fancy scale is showing a significant weight drop, but my body fat percentage hasn’t moved at all.

That’s gotta change.  I have to stop crying whenever I so much as think about lifting.  Why does lifting weights make me feel like I’m being unfairly punished?? I need to get to the bottom of that one.  Quick!




Back to Ithaca

Diner off of State St. in Ithaca New York. Ith...

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I started back with my writing group in Ithaca today.  I thought long and hard about doing it this year because although I love it, the time commitment is intense: 3 hours of drive time, 2 hours of writing, lunch with Zee, shopping at Wegmans, and then home just in time to make my 5:30 class.

Where is the time for my fundies? The yoga? The meditation? The writing? The work on The Manual of Me?

(yeah.  Not happening.)

So I have decided to just go every other week, instead of every week.  But oh, it was such fun!!  I wrote about the beach today, in a way I would never have written in my personal journal, or here.

Writing, when I know that I will have to read it out loud is so much different than writing for myself or even writing here, where I will just be read, not heard.

Writing in a group is a performance.  It’s improv. It’s like that show Whose Line Is It Anyway? Zee throws out a prompt, and we scribble for an hour.  When the hour is up, we read what we wrote. It’s gonzo, skin of your teeth writing.  It’s SAT writing, only much more forgiving and fun. (And afterwards we get to go eat Indian buffet at Diamond’s.)

It breaks me out of my pattern; releases me from the relentlessness of my self-imposed gerbil wheel of disciplines. And that’s a good thing.

But tomorrow?  Oh, tomorrow I will go running and write double, and do double yoga and catch up with all the stuff I let go today.

I will atone.

Fun Meter

My “Fun Meter” has been trending heavily toward “Empty” lately, and this sad state of affairs has been bringing my Vibrometer readings down into the “Getting Things Done” range, rather than keeping it up in the “Radiant” range, where I like it.

So in a desperate  attempt to break this trend, G and Fred and I went to Darien Lake on Saturday for some thrills and chills and high adventure on roller coasters.

I love roller coasters!  The scarier and more extreme, the better. Darien Lake has a few rides that are quite decent.  Here’s my review:

First stop: Sky Coaster.  Sky Coaster is a kind of bungee jump.  They take you up 180 feet over a pond and then someone (in this case, me) pulls a rip cord and you fall straight down to your (imagined) death, but just before death, you fly out over part of the park.

There’s a YouTube of it here.  Fred, G and I went up as a trio.  I thought it would be scarier than it was.  It was a definitely a rush, but not terrifying.

Next: Ride of Steel.  This used to be called “Superman: Ride of Steel” but they apparently had a copyright issue, so now it’s just “Ride of Steel.” It’s the best coaster in the park and therefore it had the longest line.  It’s a little over 2 minutes of ride time and we waited about a half hour to get on.  It was good, though.  A well-designed coaster with just enough time between “thrills” for your mind to comprehend the thrill before the onset of the next one.

Unlike the Mind Eraser, which is just a mess of a coaster: up down, twist right, twist left.  It left my spine a wreck, and my mind, sadly, un-erased.

The Viper is a nice old-fashioned coaster, modern and smooth with a bunch of nice thrills and a tunnel to scream through to boot!

G won a hard-fought game of Whack-A-Mole, we played multiple games of SkeeBall, and we wagered some woman that she couldn’t guess G’s age and she won yet another stuffed thing.

We looked at the Sling Shot ride, but nobody screamed on it, so how thrilling could a ride be if it didn’t make anybody scream?  So, pass.

A little disappointing for me was the absence of the photo booth where you get to take those little photo strips for a buck.  Also, there was no Fortune Teller Marionette in a box.  What is up with that?

When I got home, my neck was totally whacked out and I needed a chiro appointment, but my “Fun Meter” was back on track and trending toward “Full.”

Summer fun, done.  Almost….

Solstice Bike Ride 2010

I don’t know what it is, but every single time we go on an adventure, G winds up “saving the day” in some way.  She remembers the key thing that everyone else forgets, or rescues someone from disaster, or has the right tool and/or the know-how to fix the car.

So yesterday, on our big 45 mile ride through the Canyon, we passed a family who was consoling a little girl who was crying.  It didn’t sound like a “serious” cry to me, more like a “whiney” cry, so we passed on by–or at least Fred and I did.

G, unbeknownst to us, stopped.  Fred recognized G wasn’t behind us, and we stopped to wait for her to catch up.  I drank water, ate a Cliff bar, and still no G.

Fred and I realized in that moment that we were no longer one racing team, but two: Fred and I were “Team Shithead” and G, “Team Good Samaritan.”

We headed back to find her, but by that time she was headed back to us.  Turns out the crying girl had tumbled down the embankment on her bike and might have broken her arm.

Luckily, G still had a lot of med supplies in the panniers from the Half Marathon, and was able to splint and immobilize the little girl’s arm until her parents could get her to the ER.  She Band-Aided her knee, too. And all this in the time it took me to drink some water and eat a snack.

It was a gorgeous day on the trail and we had another fun ride. Last year we went the full 64 miles but felt no need to do that this year.  Last year we discovered that the last 20 weren’t all that picturesque so we stopped at Slate Run this year and it was the perfect distance.

Here we are:

G, Fred and Kath Solstice Ride 2010

And here’s a clip of the ride, the crunch of the gravel and Fred asking some kayakers about water-striders in the creek.

Caterpillars, ew.

So,  we are now experiencing a Hitchkokian plague of caterpillars here in the formerly serene, but now roaring, town of Manhole, and you know what?  I am strangely okay with them.

Everybody else is freaking the hell out, spraying, squishing, and ew-ing all over the place as they walk through curtains of caterpillars, picking them out of their hair, their pockets, even their ears.

They’re starting to eat the trees, these caterpillars, and sometimes, if you’re quiet enough, you can here this buzzing sound in the air which is the sound of their collective munching.

I must say I am enjoying these caterpillars, first, because everyone else is freaking over them; and secondly, because they are temporarily distracting me from the plague of  the roaring, belching, gas trucks.

After the caterpillars eat their fill of the trees, they’ll morph into something else and the leaves will grow back. The caterpillars are a naturally occurring plague, like wildfires in the west.  You can try to control them, but it’s best to let them just burn themselves out.

I read somewhere recently that if you want to be happy, you have to find a way to fall in love with reality.  If your happiness always depends on things going as you wish or desire, your chances of achieving happiness are slim to none.

Whereas, if you are able to accept, and even enjoy, any reality (that you are not able to manipulate to please yourself), then you will have a real shot at true contentment and joy.

I can’t control the caterpillars, or the gas trucks, but I find it curious that people will freak over, and want to spray to get rid of,  a hungry little bug, yet not even see the long-term effects of the gas “play.”