Sunday, April 20, 2014

filling the bank

We don't have AAA roadside assistance. If our car broke down, I suppose we'd just wait for a passing motorist to help or we'd call a tow truck and foot the bill. Based on a story I heard on NPR yesterday, most likely we'd be coughing up some cash for the tow.

Justin Horner first told his story in the New York Times and I heard him retell it to Lynne Rosetto Kasper on the Splendid Table. He broke down the highway and waited and waited for someone to help him; he was about to give up when an immigrant family pulled over and spent three hours helping him fix the flat tire. Not only did they help for hours but they refused his $20 and instead gave him a tamale for lunch.

Mr. Horner now stops to help others on the side of the road, "filling the bank" he says. And when the recipients of his help thank him, he tells them what was originally said to him: "Today you, tomorrow me."

Paying it forward, filling the bank, increasing your karma. If we stop for a moment to observe the interconnectedness of our lives with other members of our community and if we stop for a moment to notice how our actions affect ourselves and others, it's easily apparent that paying it forward is easy, beneficial, nice, and necessary.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Mindful Monday

I've been thinking about my screen time. Am I addicted to the screen? Facebook, email, sailing blogs? Despite the fact that I don't even have a smart phone, I easily log in 3 hours a day online. It seems like  the minute I get a spare moment to myself I flip open my computer and check my email and Facebook. I leave a few comments in one of the groups I belong to, maybe I upload a photo, check the weather, scan the news headlines.

I love the internet for the social connection it gives me when I could otherwise live a rather isolated life, at home with the girls for many, many hours a day. I love the support it provides via a mom's Facebook group; I love the inspiration I get from a women sailors group; I love how sailing blogs feed my wanderlust; I love the connection I make and keep with friends and family that life far away.

Two years ago I gave up Facebook for Lent. And I was fine. Totally fine. I honestly don't know if I could do that again. I rely on it too much for technology-facilitated human interaction. (If that becomes a catchphrase I hereby trademark it!)

But I need to insert a little balance into my daily life. I've written about this before: Hans and I put the girls to bed and immediately get on our individual computers and start "looking things up." That inclination has lessened since the weather has gotten nicer. We've been sitting on the back deck more, talking about our upcoming trip south or weightier issues like urban poverty and economic mobility.

I need to be a little more mindful about my free time and how my time usage makes me feel immediately after the fact and several hours later. Was I productive? Did I relax? Am I reenergized to give more of myself to the girls?

Thursday, April 10, 2014


My boating family; living our life the way we want; the way that works us.
Like many other sailors, liveaboards, and parents, I've been following the rescue of the Kaufmans aboard s/v Rebel Heart closely.

I met Charlotte Kaufman online a few years ago when I was pregnant with my older daughter. She wrote a blog about living aboard with a baby - what worked, what didn't - it was exactly what I needed to read when I was trying to figure out how we were going to welcome a newborn baby aboard our floating home. She introduced me to an online community of boating families, many of whom I am in touch with on a regular basis. She set up a couple groups on facebook that I belong to that support me in my two major life endeavors: sailing and parenting. When Charlotte and her family cast off the docklines from Mexico and started their voyage across the Pacific Ocean, I was excited and followed her near daily blog postings.

So when I heard the news that they had put out a call for help and a rescue was underway, I was shocked and worried. It was made even more poignant for me since just days earlier I had received a photo of the girls in the mail from Charlotte. It is displayed in a prominent position on our boat and I say a little meditation each time I pass it.

Of course armchair sailors and critics abound and every news article, video, or blog posting is filled with criticism of the Kaufmans for taking their children sailing. My immediate instinct was to go on the defensive; thinking of all the reasons why going cruising with kids is beneficial. I wanted to shout these reasons from the rooftops. But there has to be a better use of my voice and this space. (Not to mention that a lot of people are already doing this, very eloquently.)

I exchanged a few comments with a friend this morning about what the real takeaway can be from this whole media frenzy: instead of judging other people's parenting decisions, let's reflect on our own lives.    We can learn so much from observing others. Instead of attacking someone else's way of life, use it to reflect on your own way of life. People choose lifestyles that can be so different from our own or so similar. This, to me, like travel, is fascinating--not grounds for criticism.

I met a group of friends with their kids at a playground this morning; all moms of kids age 3 and under. They all wanted to talk to me about Rebel Heart. Their responses were something like this: "People need to mind their own business." "This is precisely the kind of thing are tax dollars are for: car accidents, rescuing people from burning buildings, and from the ocean." "People need to get a life." (The last one, referring to the critics.) None of them were sailors, only a few had been aboard my boat to see firsthand what a liveaboard life is like, yet they all were basically saying: "Mind your own business." Hearing their nonjudgmental comments was like a breath of fresh air.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mindful Monday: multitasking

I used to wear heels every day - black, patent leather. I loved them. I wore pencil skirts and button down shirts. I rode the metro to work and did the crossword puzzle and listened to NPR en route. At the same time. When I got to work I checked my email and flipped through the stack of papers next to my computer. At the same time. I made phone calls and alphabetized my stack of filing. At the same time.

I was a multi-tasking master. Oh yeah. I felt competent and efficient. "Ability to multi-task" was a prominent bullet point on my resume.

Now I actively try not to multi-task. I've read about flow theory and that make sense to me. Ten years ago when my Spanish was pretty good, I would suddenly realize that I was having a conversation with someone in Spanish without trying to translate what they were saying or trying to figure out how to conjugate a verb. I was completely engrossed in the task at hand and, without knowing it, I was in flow. Flow theory demands a single-minded focus on one activity. Such focus can lead to joy, competence, and a high quality end-product.

Multi-tasking, on the other hand, is defined by dividing your energy and concentration to various tasks, at the same time. Three jobs are done at once; productivity is high; quantity is high. But what about quality? If I'm trying to make muffins and feed my 12-month-old at the same time, it only seems inevitable that I'll leave out the leavening or use salt instead of sugar. Sure, I can make muffins and feed a baby at once, but would those muffins be edible? Multi-tasking emphasizes quantity over quality, while flow encourages the opposite.

Illustration credit:
I would love to experience flow on a daily basis, but it's nearly impossible when I am taking care of two young children. I'm always being pulled from one direction to the next. If, by some miracle, they are both happily playing without me, I rarely get involved in my own project because I know the tranquility will only last for a few minutes.

Multi-taskers are able to produce a lot by the end of the day, yet the final product may be shoddy, lacking in creativity, or riddled with mistakes. Yet flow may be hard, if not impossible, to achieve in a typical work environment because of external demands: the phone, email, coworkers. Is there a middle ground? I think so. I think it's possible to strive to create a daily environment that is more conducive to flow.

The next time you're doing three different things, stop. Stop doing one thing, finish the two you were working on and then complete the third. Instead of making a phone call to a relative and doing something else at the same time, sit down and simply talk on the phone. Wash dishes in silence. Watch TV and do nothing else. (No knitting, no checking email, no folding laundry. Eating chocolate is okay.) Do one job at a time at work. Less emphasis on multi-tasking can lead to higher quality work and a more peaceful, less stressful work environment. It's worth a try.

Children don't know how to multi-task:
Freja exhibiting intense concentration as she learns to use scissors.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Cohousing, collectives, communities

photo credit:

I've always been intrigued by the idea of intentional communities. Instead of living as a self-contained uint where a family or couple or individual is wholly responsible for their housing, their meals, housework, childcare, and all the money needed to support this venture of daily living, members of an intentional community pool their resources, talents, and labor for the greater good. Think of the possibilities. Shared meals (and shared cooking and dishwashing); shared childcare; shared gardens and shared produce; social activities.

I used to joke that I was going to form my own collective, but I wanted to make the rules. I called myself the Benevolent Dictator. Rules about tidiness and a clean house would be strict. I didn't like the image of the 1970s commune with compost fermenting in the kitchen corner and a self-composting toilet in the bathroom. I envision separate living units but also a shared space. Members can choose their level of community involvement based on how they feel on any given day. Shared dinners once a week or every other day. Movie screenings, music sessions, community gardening, ad hoc childcare--the idea is codependence, interdependence, yet each member is able to maintain their own space and privacy.

I'm not the first person to dream this up. Collective living has come a long way from the hippy communes. I read an article in the Christian Science Monitor that highlights a number of different cohousing arrangements from separate yet connected houses for retirees to houses in San Francisco shared by young professionals who share a desire for social change. The documentary Happy takes a look at a cohousing community in Denmark where members buy or rent their own living space but share all meals and outdoor space. Here's a nice reference page that explains cohousing.

My own marina is a version of a collective living community. We share dock space, picnic/bbq/deck space, bathroms, a bike rack, and a washer and dryer. We have a message board. We have frequent get-togethers in the warmer months. Our community is aweseome. Great friends, great neighbors. We all care about each other, we all look out for each other, and we all have our own space (our boats!).

The idea is to make connections with our neighbors and fellow citizens. We can share ideas, share work, and share both sorrows and joys. Humans are social beings, yet most of us also value our independence and privacy. I see the modern cohousing movement as a great bridge between privacy and communal living - one that can elevate any member's wellbeing.