Friday, August 26, 2011

The REAL hurricane survival guide

Water, canned food, batteries, flashlights, check. Yes, you should do all of the crap that The Weather Channel and your homeowners insurance company’s website and the National Hurricane Center tell you to. If you don’t live in a usual hurricane zone, think about buying some Plylox online if you want to protect windows or glass doors with plywood. Get cash and gas and fill your bathtub with water, blah blah blah. But here’s the stuff you REALLY need:

D batteries. As soon as the possible hurricane is announced, buy all of the D batteries in a 10 mile radius. OK, maybe that’s too many. But buy a few big bundles at Costco. When everyone figures out two days before the storm that they need D batteries and all of the stores are sold out, your D battery stash will make you either (a) a hero, or (b) rich. I was at Walgreen’s yesterday picking up some last minute supplies, and while I was in line, no fewer than six people came in looking for D batteries. (They had been sold out for days). Whoever has the D batteries has the power.

A trench coat. Because what is more awesome than standing outside the grocery store or Target and whipping open your trench coat, muttering, “Wanna buy some D batteries?” Note: this will probably only work before major storms. I wouldn’t suggest trying this on a random Tuesday. (But if you do, let me know how it goes for you.)

Toilet paper. NO! NO! NO! You do not need any more toilet paper than usual. Why do people stock up on this? We are not going to be defending our toilet paper stashes with shotguns and looting in the streets. We’re just going to be camping in our houses for a few days and eating peanut butter and jelly. You do not need 36 rolls of toilet paper, I promise.

Ant spray. You’re gonna be moving stuff from the backyard and patio into some sort of storage. This is stuff you don’t move often. Ants will be living in/under some of this stuff. Not just living, but breeding, forming colonies, planning hostile takeovers, building high-rise condos. You’re gonna pick up a Little Tikes picnic table or a long-abandoned beach bucket and find ten-bajillion ants frantically moving eggs trying to find new safety. It will suck. But it will suck less with a big can of ant spray. My inner Buddhist cringes, and so does my inner environmentalist. I didn’t kill the nests of spiders I found even though they were really, really gross, but ants... shudder... I’m sorry ants, just no. Buh-bye.

Toys from the dollar store. No power means no TV. No Wii. You need novelty. One gallon of water per person per day for at least three days? One new toy per child per hour times 14 awake hours per day for at least three days. Cost per child at the dollar store? $42. Value of not listening to bored whining for three days? Priceless.

Booze. You need it. No power means no TV. No facebook. No twitter. No TV for your kids. You need booze. I won’t speculate on quantities per day, but you don’t want to run out. Booze will make the hurricane into a party. Wheeeee!

Condoms. No TV. No facebook. Seriously, when the power goes out there is Nothing. To. Do. Get whatever you need to get your mojo on, because at some point, you’re gonna get bored, and if you have a partner, they’ll be there all sexy and bathed in candlelight and looking like fifteen solid minutes of entertainment. And if you don’t have a partner, that’s no deterrent. You just won’t need the condoms (but you might need some extra batteries).

Naughty foods. In the great hunkering down of a storm, I say screw the diet. You might STARVE! You should fatten up in case civilization as we know it comes to an end. I know I said there wouldn’t be looting, but there might be. You don’t know. The extra fat on your ass from that bag of Fritos or Otterbein’s chocolate chip cookies might just SAVE YOUR LIFE! Why risk it? Fatten up.

Buckle up, my east coast readers, and try to enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

You know that rhythm thing I do?

I just got back from a blissfully rejuvenating trip all by my lonesome. No kids, no husband, just me and my little carry-on-size suitcase. I ate my fill of all of the things that are harder to come by in suburban Maryland: Indian, Ethiopian, stunningly good sushi, a burrito the size of my head, a Whole Foods smorgasbord, and two “It’s It” ice cream sandwiches. When people asked where I was going, the answer always started with the same question: “You know that rhythm thing I do?”

TaKeTiNa, a.k.a. that rhythm thing I do.

Most people haven’t heard of TaKeTiNa yet, and I haven’t talked about it here before. For me, it was the first thing that helped me to silence my chattering mind, the first thing that opened my door to one-ness with the universe, the first thing that really transformed how I AM in the world. So what is it? For the official word on that, check out the official page, but here’s what I have to say about it. TaKeTiNa is a way to make music and rhythm using your body. It’s a way to bring anyone, even people with no musical background at all, into a complex rhythmic musical experience in a group. So you get deep connection with a group and the magic of being part of creating multi-layered music. There’s something about music and rhythm in a group that is already transcendent for many people. People who do drum circles or chanting are tapping into that same something. If you want music in a group, there are a lot of ways to find that.

But for me, the crucial and perhaps unique element of TaKeTiNa is that you can’t do it with your brain. It all sounds simple. You step in one pattern, clap in another pattern, and do call-and-response singing with your voice. But in my experience, even highly trained percussionists who think that they can hold any polyrhythm with their bodies can’t brain-power their way through TaKeTiNa. The pathway to finding these rhythms is letting go of trying to “get it right.” In order to bring in the claps, your footsteps fade into the background. You forget that you’re stepping, but your body keeps the pulse going. Like new moms, who find that they are rocking a baby even when they are not holding one, your body has the power to hold a rhythm without your conscious direction. And then as the leader’s voice calls evoke a third layer of rhythm, the claps too can fade from your awareness.

I don’t understand why this happens, but giving my body all of that stuff to do, while letting my brain take a break from being in charge, opens a door. I have epiphanies and see myself very clearly. I feel bliss and love and connection to the universe. And I change. All of the places where I am stuck are lit up like beacons. Or maybe they are the only things not lit up. My whole self is filled with love and light, EXCEPT for those places where I am stuck, so it makes them very easy to see.

This is all getting pretty esoteric. Let me be more concrete for a moment. I credit TaKeTiNa with my ability to manage my depression without antidepressants.

I have struggled with my mood since adolescence. Depression was a heavy water-filled blanket that covered me from time to time and made it impossible for me to see, or breathe, or be. The first time I tried Zoloft, it was a revelation. You mean, I could be a little bit sad and not have that feeling take over my entire nervous system? Wow! I felt like I finally understood how “normal” people felt. I thought I would be a lifer. But over time, I found that I couldn’t cry at beautiful poignancy. I became less interested in art and music and… just life. I was fine, and not depressed, and OK, and just fine. It wasn’t good enough. Going off the meds was scary, because I remembered what it was like not to be fine. I remembered how dark things could get, dark enough to make “fine” seem like bliss. But fine wasn’t bliss. I wanted bliss. So (with my doctor’s supervision), I tapered and eventually stopped my happy pills.

The sun was brighter. The grass was greener. I was alive again! I could cry when things were heartbreakingly beautiful. Then the depression wave came again, like I knew it would. But I had new tools. My experiences in TaKeTiNa had opened a door to show me how to be present with negative emotions, to acknowledge and see those emotions without letting them take over completely. How does stepping, clapping, and singing in a circle do that? I have no idea, but it did.

I spent three years in a training learning to lead TaKeTiNa workshops. Twice each year, I spent 2-3 weeks at a retreat center outside of Portland, Oregon learning to play the instruments needed to lead this work, learning the nuts and bolts of how to do it, and by far the most challenging component, learning to get my ego and my dysfunctional patterns out of the way so I could be there for a group and allow the kinds of transformations to happen for them that had happened for me. In the middle of the training, I popped out a couple of kids, and they were quite… distracting. But for three years, I did deep soul work with the same 20 or so people. We examined the patterns in our lives that kept us from being authentic. We looked at the scariest of old wounds and started working to heal them so that we wouldn’t be triggered by people who came to our workshops (or if we were triggered, at least we would know it, rather than reacting unconsciously). We laughed and cried and made music and hugged and drank wine and had deep true talks and became a family.

All of this was to answer the question of where I went last week. Many of the people in my TaKeTiNa family went on to the next level of training, to learn more about how to lead people deeper into rhythm and transformation and bliss. And last week they had their “final exams.” These beautiful people, my family, are scattered around the globe, including several from Australia. And many of them were going to be in one place for a week, stepping and clapping and singing and learning and changing. We don’t have the money for me to be flying around and renting cars and stuff, but some things are important enough to ignore that reality, and this was one of them. So I went.

I stepped and clapped and sang. As I lay on the floor after one journey, looking up at the reclaimed wood beams, I had a deep epiphany about the beauty of imperfection. That it is the things about ourselves that we struggle with the most that make us the most beautiful. That the places inside that are not perfect are what bring depth and meaning to our lives. Simone Siva, beautiful grounded soul, thank you for that. In another journey, a wave came over me, a pocket of sadness and grieving that had been put off and needed to be expressed. It spilled out my eyes in that safe space and a piece of my heart moved towards healing. Grady, wild vulnerable powerhouse, thank you for that. In yet another journey, my steps became a dance and I was suffused with such joy I thought I would burst open and become a being made of pure light and love. Robert, deep authentic trickster, thank you for that.

So that’s where I was last week.

(Well, that, plus seeing a few other old friends, and eating my weight in ethnic food.)

If you’re thinking, “Where do I sign up?” Here are some events coming up:

September 16th-19th in Alameda, CA

Or, the same weekend on the east coast, September 16th-18th near Atlanta, GA

There are teachers all over the country (and all over the world) doing this work. Right now, the North American teachers are not compiled in a handy dandy list, because we JUST (I mean, within weeks) formed an official entity and are in the process of getting a new website up and running. I’ll post that link here when it exists. San Francisco Bay Area teachers have a meetup group for their events.  [Edited to add the link.  Here is the website for TaKeTiNa in North America!!]

Until the North American website is set up, if you are looking for a TaKeTiNa teacher in your area, you can leave a comment here with your general geographic location and I will try to point you in the right direction. You can also join the TaKeTiNa facebook group for event announcements, or to ask about teachers in your area or teachers willing to travel to your area.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Blitz

Maybe you’re not like me. Maybe you can go to bed with dishes in the sink, and toys all over the house. Maybe you can relax with a glass of wine on the couch even though every surface in your visual field is covered in Cars the Movie cars and Polly Pocket Disney Princesses.

If so, you’re lucky. I wish I could. But no. Call it sub-clinical OCD or sensory processing disorder, call it what you like, but I can’t sit down and watch True Blood until there is some semblance of order imposed on the chaos. I can’t relax when there is just STUFF everywhere. So most nights, I do a tidying blitz. Here are some helpful tips if you want to try it:

1) Blitz while the kids are in bed. Sure, I know, we should be teaching them to clean up their own crap. And I do that. During the day, we have teachable moments and whatnot about picking up our toys. But you can’t blitz with “help” from the small ones. They keep pulling things out as you are putting them away. And they’re just IN THE WAY! This is a blitz, people. You need to move fast. No tripping hazards a.k.a. children allowed.

2) Look at the clock when you start. A proper blitz should take about 15 minutes. If it is taking longer, you are not blitzing, you are cleaning. That’s fine. If blitzing sends you into some sort of insanity involving wiping down baseboards or cleaning under the oven, it’s OK. It happens sometimes. But you can’t do that every night or blitzing will seem too daunting. When you’re done, you want it to have felt easy.

3) Do the big stuff first. Train tracks all over your foyer? They all go into the same basket! Easy! Two-hundred foam blocks dumped in the middle of the floor? Quick to pick up but makes a big visual dent in the insanity. It’s like an instant reward to keep you motivated.

4) Don’t try to use just your two hands. You can’t carry enough. You’ll be spending all of your time walking from place to place. For a super quick blitz, I have been known to use my shirt or skirt held up like a hammock to pile toys into. You can cram an awful lot of Mario characters and Cars the Movie cars into a shirt-hammock and then take them all at once to where they belong. But if you would have to make more than two or three shirt-hammock trips, grab a laundry basket. Pile the stuff into it and then take the whole thing into the playroom for sorting.

5) Put the stuff away. As tempting as it is to just leave it all in the laundry basket, don’t. It makes the house look clean. It’s tempting. But the first thing the kids will do in the morning is dump the laundry basket onto the floor. If stuff is put away, you won’t have to blitz the same items again tomorrow unless they actually play with them.

6) No piles. I’m not saying I NEVER wind up with a pile of preschool artwork, but the goal should be to put stuff away (see tip #5), not to relocate the mess. Do you have a place where you put preschool artwork? (And if you don’t, you should.) Either hang it on the wall or fridge, or throw a name and date on the back and put it away. Do you have a place to put bills that need to be paid? (Again, if you don’t, you should.) Put bills and to-do items there. Same with coupons, catalogs, etc. Whatever you find that you tend to form piles of, make a place for it. I found that we always had a pile of shoes by the back door. Now we have a beautiful fair trade African basket there for them, so when I find shoes around the house, I can just throw them into the basket.

7) Make liberal use of the cordless stick vac and hand vac. What’s that you say? You don’t have a cordless stick vac or hand vac? Well, you need them. They are awesome. I have written before about my undying love for my stick vac. I will now add to that my love for my cordless hand vac. We’re not talking about proper vacuuming here. For that, you’re better off with the real thing. But for blitzing, you just want to get rid of the major dust bunnies, dead stink bugs, crushed Cheerios and whatnot. Light, cordless, quick, perfect. Make your house less disgusting without actually cleaning. Stick vac for under the dining room and kitchen tables. Hand vac for corners so you can suck up the cat hair tumbleweeds without having to move stuff. Some stick vacs have a removable hand vac built in. Genius. Some stick vacs work on carpets too. Swoon. Be still my heart, you sexy stick vac, you.

8) Hang a bag by the stairs. I’m lucky. We live in a one-story rancher. I have always liked ranchers because (a) I grew up in one, and (b) I tend to fall down the stairs a lot when I am around stairs. I don’t know why I fall down so much, but I am definitely stair-challenged. Maybe it’s because I am always focusing on 10 things and am perpetually 5 steps ahead of myself, and that doesn’t work so well when I should be focusing on not falling down the stairs. But anyway, most of our stuff lives on one level of our house, and for that my stair-bruised butt and I are very grateful. But for stuff that needs to go into the basement, I can easily put it in the bag at the top of the stairs and then take it all down when I’m done (or not… In my case, the stairs to the basement are behind a closed door, so that stuff just lives there for months until the bag is full or I am cleaning for company.)

9) If you feel tired and annoyed before the 15 minutes are up, it’s OK to stop. A good blitz is energizing. You are a wildly efficient tidying machine! You accomplish in 15 minutes what it takes lesser humans hours to do! After all, the kids don’t care if the house is a mess. Hopefully your partner doesn’t care, or if they do, they had better be blitzing with you. If you’ve read this far, chances are YOU are the one who cares whether or not your house looks like a toy store threw up in it. So if you don’t feel like blitzing, don’t. Your kids will be just as happy and well-adjusted living in squalor. Maybe even happier and better adjusted, if you are more well-rested and relaxed. You’re blitzing for you. If it sucks, you can totally stop.

10) Have a post-blitz plan. Blitzing can easily turn into a martyr-producing hour-long cleaning slog if you don’t have a solid plan in place for what happens when your 15 minutes are up. A bath. A glass of wine with TV. A little treat. Five blessed minutes of silence in a room all by yourself. Whatever helps you to exhale and recharge. You just did something other than sit on the couch while your kids were asleep. That’s a Big Deal! Now take some time for you. You deserve it. And it will feel nice to take that time for yourself in a slightly less disgusting house.

Happy blitzing!!

Monday, August 8, 2011

I’m trying to be a good mom here, so will you kids please leave me alone?

My twins are turning four tomorrow and I am working like a mad woman to get ready for their party this weekend. I love planning parties, but here’s my problem. In considering the classic time-money trade-off, I tend to grossly overestimate the availability of my time.

My kids wanted a Mario themed party. Great! Boy girl twins with one theme. That’s easy! I started brainstorming ideas, and asked my husband to help me brainstorm, since he’s really the Mario expert in the family. His idea: Buy Mario plates from the party store and get a few balloons.

In retrospect, I should have listened to him.

But no. Here was my idea. Get old moving boxes from friends, and paint them to look like Mario bricks and question boxes so that the kids could build forts and walls and towers with huge life-size building blocks.

Awesome, right? I had a whole day laid out to work on this while the man watched the small ones. I bought what I now know to be a ridiculously small amount of spray paint, laid out the boxes, and…

…and discovered that spray paint is not what you use to paint cardboard boxes. It looked like colored water sitting on top of the cardboard. A quick trip to the internet revealed that I am not the first person to discover this, and that the best thing to use to paint cardboard boxes is regular latex wall paint.

Hardware store trip, and then commenced Operation Paint a Bajillion Boxes, take 2. It was a success. But it involved 6 hours of crawling on the ground with a paint roller. My back and right forearm were sore for three days. And I still had unassembled and un-decorated boxes. Twenty-two unassembled and un-decorated boxes that were now propped on every surface in my home, because even though they were dry to the touch, I couldn’t stack them or they would stick together.

If I could do the next phase of this project assembly line style, it would probably take me four or five hours. Draw on the brick pattern with a Sharpie Magnum (dirtiest-sounding craft supply ever), glue on question marks and rivets, and glue boxes together. It shouldn’t take that long.

Except that, see, I have these two kids. And even though this Mario party is for them, and they think that big boxes are cool, and they love building with blocks, and they love making forts that they can get inside, at any given moment they would really rather I get them milk, snuggle on the couch, play Mario Kart on the Wii so they can watch, get them a puzzle off the high shelf, and get them some tiny crackers. Time to interruption is approximately two lines drawn on a box.

They feel ignored, I feel irritable, and this has officially become the slowest project in the history of party planning. Staying up until 2am to get some quiet time to work on it did help me get a bit done, but the lack of sleep did not help with the irritability factor. I lost it on my daughter the next morning while trying to order red baseball hats on the internet, because the hats I had ordered from Hobby Lobby were backordered and they didn’t tell me that until I asked, which created a time crunch. Oh, and I also have to cut 15 copies of the M-in-a-circle out of sticky felt to make these hats into Mario hats for the favors. So no, my sweet child, I cannot play with you right now.

And then I looked at her face and felt like the worst mom ever.

I have been spending so much time and effort trying to plan this party for them that I have not been doing the stuff that matters way more. Stuff like snuggling on the couch, and playing hide-and-seek, and pretending to be Bowser and chasing them around the house. So I stopped comparison-shopping for red baseball hats and went to hug my kid.

They will love this party, and will be thrilled to pieces to play Mario in a fort/castle made of moving boxes. They will love that the cupcakes will look like goombas, and that the watermelon will be cut to look like a chomp. They will love the chocolate moustache lollipops if I get around to making those this week. But in the end, they just love me and want me to play with them. They would be happy to play in undecorated boxes, and eat chocolate straight from the package rather than melted into Mario moustache shapes, and eat cupcakes that didn’t look like goombas, and have a mom who was happy and relaxed and available for snuggles and hugs and play.

I wouldn’t have thought I needed to learn that, but apparently I did.

P.S. On the general theme of spending more time with my kids, as I was posting this blog, I went to check on my daughter, who is sick today, and when I came back to finish posting, my son had locked me out of the office. “I think it’s a good idea, so that you can’t go in there,” he said. OK, kid. I get it. I hear you, I love you, and I get it.