Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bliss and Bravery

Written by Chloe

I'm not too late for confessional, am I? Because our Sundays have been taken over by football. And our evenings have included a lot of television. And both of those have sometimes meant a laptop or smartphone out at the same time. Electronics have outnumbered the people in the room.

The truth is, I have a really hard time with being away from the distraction of media.

We've talked a lot in this space of 'unplugging.' But the difficulty in this is that it requires us to plug in, to completely engage in real life. And engaging in what you really love without distraction is weird. Counter-cultural, even.

When my family is unplugged I have nothing to keep me from facing our reality.

My husband has dreams that are bigger than a 9-to-5 job.
My political views make me uncomfortable with the Big Bank that holds our mortgage.
I often choose to shop a large retailer instead of a mom-n-pop.
I spend a lot more time reading about other people pursuing their goals than I do actually working toward my own.

Unplugging makes me uncomfortable because I long for a life completely different from the one I find myself leading.

“If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are—if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.” -Joseph Campbell

This late fall and early winter, you’ll find me attempting to follow my bliss:
  • I am turning off the computer and lowering our grocery budget.
  • I am spending less time on blogs and more time in books.
  • I am finally reading my camera’s manual.

Those sound so exciting to me. Life is easier in bullet points, I think. But the heart of the matter is that those bullet points are paving the way for the really hard Unplugged Reckoning at our house.

By limiting my aimless online time, I am hoping to work out the logistics of a big move. From the suburbs to a rural lot. From a mortgage with a company I loathe to a very small rent check that we pay to a man who lives in our community. Half of our current square footage. Four times the flexibility in our monthly budget.

This move, one that we already know some of our closest friends and family do not understand, will require me to be the bravest I have ever been. And this bravery has been brought on by unplugging from normal and plugging in to my bliss.

How could taking Unplugged time help you to follow your bliss?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Unplugging... The Old Fashioned Way

Written by Ellen

Unplugging in our home happens on the weekends. 
During the week, our family of five uses the computer quite liberally. My husband, a software engineer, works from home (yay!) Many of my sons’ assignments are on-line programs and my daughter’s reading program is from a website. 
The workweek requires a fast internet connection and enough computers (we have two) to service all five of us. It can be tough to get everyone the time he or she needs. 
On the weekends, rather than work, life happens. 

Our favorite way to unplug involves connecting with our good friends, and happily, new neighbors. We moved to our current home last May and quickly struck up a strong friendship with our “back door” neighbors. 

They have three boys, all close to my children’s ages. Each child pairs up with his or her playmate, or they mix it up. They love to play together, bike to school together, and seek each other out at home or at school.
In fact, our home has become their home, and vice versa, and the children (and often times myself!) will run over for a quick chat (or a cup of sugar).
We adults discovered that we all play bridge. This happy coincidence meant extra playtime for the kids and more together time for the adults. It’s a win-win. 
Since my main way of unplugging on the weekends is to prepare for the week ahead (in the kitchen), it is easy and rewarding to prepare a delicious home-cooked meal for my friends. If I say I’ll do a soup and muffins, they will always show up with wine. It’s that kind of friendship. 
After the kids munch homemade pizza for dinner, we adults settle in to our yummy meal, followed by as many hands of bridge as we can squeeze in. We are only interrupted if the kids need help, which is seldom, since they play so well together.
In fact, we are often treated to a run-by costume parade as the children, deep in their imaginary world, fly by us in search of something. Their made up games take them inside, outside and even into the garage. There is much laughter.
Sometimes we will put a movie on for them and they snuggle up together, wrapped in blankets and surrounded by stuffed animals. We adults continue to deal and bid, play and laugh, drink wine, and enjoy each other.
It is the highlight of our week, and something we try hard to do often. 
This ritual of ours hearkens back to the afternoons I remember from my childhood. Happily reading, nestled in a window seat next to shelves and shelves of books, I remember the clinking of ice in scotch glasses and the snapping of cards - my grandmother’s bridge games. 
My husband remembers it too, from his own childhood. His youth was filled with bridge (for his parents) and playtime with neighbor kids (for him). 
We both cherish the sounds, smells and rituals of our weekly reconnection with our friends. It refreshes and restores us, and reminds us to breathe, and to live. 
Have you found an unplugged moment that takes you back to your childhood? 
Do you think “unplugging” helps us find the moments we have in common with our parents and grandparents?  

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Rediscovered Blessings

Written by Jessie
Keeping peace in one’s heart and gratitude in one’s mind while experiencing difficult times can be a challenge. Many families are struggling with hardships and facing sacrifices, and as a result, lifestyles are changing. 
He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.  ~Epictetus
My family has experienced its own recent changes and a great sense of loss settled into our minds. Seeking refuge from worry and confusion, we began to rely on our moments of “unplugged” time for guidance and clarity. These times were a blessing indeed! With a bit of mindfulness and appreciation, we quickly learned that the things we thought we could not live without were not really things, but instead were the tiniest of experiences.
Moments of joy, beauty, and love are sacred to us and, in thanksgiving, are truly cherished. 
Below are just a few of my family’s rediscovered blessings:
  • Billowing blankets are a great comfort
  • Baking with Grandma creates a deep connection
  • Reading by candlelight brings peace
  • Sunday dinner reconnects us each week with our (now six person) family
  • The sound of the wind in the trees is Mother Earth’s music
  • Bubble baths and warmed towels are a joyous event
  • Singing along to daddy playing guitar is inspiring
  • Family is the backbone of our life; we are strong when we are all together
  • Furry friends enrich our lives and provide support
  • Books, pens, and crayons are therapeutic and stir our imagination
  • Hot chocolate, popped corn and a movie on the laptop are a “getaway”
  • A stocked pantry and a full refrigerator gives a sense of security and wellbeing 

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.  ~Thornton Wilder
Taking a step back to reevaluate what tiny experiences you treasure can open you up to a multitude of blessings you may have overlooked. I encourage you to take a few minutes of your “unplugged time” (preferably with tea in hand and family close) to ask yourself these questions:
Where does my gratitude truly lie?
What things do I cherish?
What experiences are sacred to me?
What simple beauties might I be overlooking that bring joy into my life?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Unplugging the Guilt

Written by Angela

I am a mother of four children.  Our eldest child, Doran, lives with autism.  This means the family lives with autism, and all of the unpredictability, and differentness that brings.  Doran’s spirit is as beautiful as any child’s, but it would be dishonest to say that autism does not change my parenting, our family, or affect how we approach the world.  My child, who is charming and blessed with a wicked sense of humor, can also bring my husband and me to our knees.  After a full-bodied tantrum, the whole family is exhausted.   I am left wondering yet again how much his behaviors stressed the other children, and whether Doran will ever have any relief from his struggles.  
I was guilt-ridden about all of the attention my husband and I pay to Doran to keep his moods and behaviors in balance.  I felt guilty about how much time was taken up with appointments and how much the other children couldn’t do because of Autism.  As a result, my husband and I overcompensated on weekends.  We would take daytrips on Saturdays and Sundays, make sure our eldest daughter got to her ballet class, and any other thing we could think of to make the weekend “fun”.  We were gone so much household chores were often neglected and put off until they became overwhelming.  Helena, my oldest girl, started to complain about “always going somewhere”.  It was all too much in the name of fun and relaxation.
Then came Unplugged Sundays.  At first, even though I was excited about Unplugged Sundays and wanted to include them in our family tradition, I worried that I was adding on something else-overcompensating yet again.  What I have found is that the opposite happened.  Because we are unplugged no child is competing with electronics for our attention or for attention from each other.  On Sundays our time stretches out more without the computer or a video buzzing away in the background.  Our children are more attentive to us, to each other.  Things have slowed; we are no longer “always going somewhere”.  
My guilt is unplugged.  I don’t worry about compensating for Autism so much now.  I know I have time to be present with each child because our calendar is cleared and roomy for at least one day.  I know that no matter how challenging the week has been with behaviors and appointments, we all have time to just be with each other.  This makes for happier parents, happier children and a cleaner house.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

It’s Not Just for Sunday anymore…

Written by Stephen

Forgive me, for I have sinned.  I am, in fact, writing my “Unplugged Sunday” post on…Sunday.  The irony is as thick as oatmeal around my house today.

In an ideal world, I would love to completely unplug every Sunday, and then write (on Tuesday!) sharp, poetic prose about how I used this time to connect with god, my kids, and nature.  But my life is busy and it doesn’t always conform to an ideal schedule.
So, what to do?  Despair?  Give up the diet because I gorged on ice cream one night?  Get fitted for a hair-shirt and gear up for some serious repentance?   I think not.
I have a smart friend who told me a long, long time ago “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”  Admittedly, when he said it, and for some years afterward, I had no idea what he was talking about.  But it is a phrase and an idea that has stuck with me, and grown on me, over time.  
I think for most of us perfect is rare.  And in many ways, that striving for perfection can create its own negative momentum—if things aren’t perfect, if I don’t do it perfectly, I have somehow failed, or it’s not worth doing.  That is no longer true for me.  
Honestly evaluated, I don’t do anything perfectly.  I am not a perfect parent.  Not a perfect writer.  Certainly not a perfect husband.  I fall sometimes when I ski.  I’ve burned toast.  Well, you get the idea…
So here’s what I do.  I try not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  I try to unplug on Sundays, but if it doesn’t work out, I unplug for part of the day.  In a bit, when I’m done writing and answering some business email, I am going outside to shovel snow and play with the kids.  I’m going to the gym and we’re going to cook dinner and make chocolate chip cookies.  Truthfully, because of some looming deadlines, I might have to work later tonight.  So if all goes well, I will have unplugged for about six to eight hours this Sunday, and that’s okay.

But get this—sometimes I unplug on Tuesday afternoons for an hour.  And I try to unplug after 9 p.m. a few days a week, and read a book, or just sit quietly.  Like power napping (and I am addicted to power napping), these breaks throughout the week are refreshing, and empowering.    
The theme for me in “Unplugged Sunday” is to recognize that I benefit from regularly disconnecting to technology and connecting to myself and my family.  If that happens for the whole day on Sunday, great.  If not, I take a chunk.  And maybe grab another chunk later in the week.  
A few ways I try to regularly unplug on days other than Sunday:
  • I NEVER take my smart-phone into the gym.  
  • If I have space, I put away my computer and phone and go for a walk at lunchtime.  
  • I consciously unplug at a certain time several nights a week.  9 p.m.?  Time to SHUT IT DOWN.  
  • On the days I pick my kids up from school I TURN MY PHONE OFF till after dinner.  This give me several hours where I am forced to stop multi-tasking and focus on them, which is a good thing. 

Another great idea is to set times when you let other people know that you will be UNAVAILABLE.  My Jewish friends and relatives call this The Sabbath.  But it works.  I often tell people I work with that I am unavailable from 3-6 p.m. during the week.  I explain that I pick my kids up from school and we make dinner together, and that I will return calls and emails after six.  And you know what?  They get it.  They respect my choice and usually honor it.  I figure if Armageddon is imminent I’ll probably hear about it, and short of that I’m not really interested. 
So forgive me my sins.  And I will forgive yours.  If you manage a perfect unplugged Sunday, congratulations.  If not, that’s okay.  Take what you can get.  Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  And look around and see if you can surreptitiously unplug for a bit during the week—though it can feel illegal to miss calls and texts and take a few hours to answer email, I guarantee it will all be waiting for you when you plug back in.  
Unplugged Sunday—it’s not just for Sunday anymore.   

Monday, November 14, 2011

Food and Connection: Coming Together Around the Table  

Written by Elaine

Unplugging can be a challenge. It seemed much easier when our daughter was younger. I work from home and am online most days. Chloe (our teenager) often has to use the computer for homework, and of course there is the iPod. Who doesn’t enjoy listening to music? My husband spends most of his day working on computers or network systems. It seems that one of us is always plugged into something. 

It's a dilemma. When the days are shorter and nights are longer, there's even more of a temptation to go our separate ways and disconnect from each other. So what coaxes us to unplug and come together as a family?  

Food.  Preparing it and eating it. Once the hearth was the center of the home — both a literal hearth at the fireplace, and a metaphorical hearth, the place the family gathered for warmth, light and sustenance. Today our kitchen is the hearth, the heart of the home. It is where we gather together, whether it's just the three of us, our extended family or members of our community. 

My husband, daughter and I make the effort to unplug and come together most nights at dinner time. Not only do we go offline and put our electronic devices down, we gather together with the intention of connecting as a family. We do this by preparing and eating our meal together. The kitchen is mostly my domain. Most days you will find me in there cooking up something. But at dinner time I let go of controlling my beloved territory by bringing my family in to help in the preparation. There is always salad to make, things to chop, drinks to pour and a table to set. 

By participating in the creation of a meal, we become connected not only to our food, but also to those who grew it and those who are eating with us. Giving thanks is an important part of this process, and it creates an even deeper connection with the food we are eating. My family is blessed to live in an area where we have access to just about everything we need locally. We know the face of the farmers who provide us with our eggs, most of our produce, our chickens and any other animals we consume. This deepens our connection to our food, to each other and to our community even more.

The silver rain
The shining sun
The fields where scarlet poppies run
And all the ripples in the wheat
Are in the bread that we do eat
So when we sit at every meal
With grateful hearts we always feel
That we are eating rain and sun
And fields where scarlet poppies run
— by Alice C. Henderson 
(This is our favorite family grace said or sung before meals.)

In a world where being constantly plugged in is the norm  . . . sharing our meals (unplugged!) is one way we keep our family connected.

How does food keep you connected to your family and community?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Alpaca Medicine

Written by Nicole

We’re moving to the mountains, but we’re taking the public with us. 
That is what David, the owner of Paca Pride Guest Ranch, said to us as he led us around the grounds of his permaculture-style Alpaca farm. On the outside, David and his partner were living in the heart of a vibrant city, both with successful corporate jobs yet on the inside felt a sense of disconnect.
So they made a huge decision to leave the city life and head to the mountains where their hearts already lived. And it would have been easy for David and his partner to buy a small cabin in the woods and live a simple life “away from it all.” It would have been easy to try and remedy their sense of disconnect by doing their own thing entirely. 
Lucky for us they didn’t do that. Instead they followed their hearts and opened their home to the public. They healed that sense of disconnect by engaging with their surroundings, providing a home to a growing pack of rescued Alpacas, and by literally reviving the land they purchased using mindful permaculture techniques. Every square inch of the property has a purpose and function beyond its natural beauty.
Our family decided to spend one of last month’s unplugged days visiting this Alpaca farm, and I couldn’t help but notice this underlying theme: that we disconnect from our computers and devices not as a way to disconnect from life. No. We disconnect from technology so that we can connect with the living, breathing, beating pulse of life. We unplug to connect in-the-flesh with beautiful, creative souls. To learn. To grow. To flourish. That is what David did when they moved to the mountains and invited everyone else to visit them too—he unplugged from his disconnect in order to connect and engage in a deeper way with life. 
Aside from leaving Paca Pride Guest Ranch feeling refreshed by my surroundings, I felt inspired by the commitment to sustainability that the owners have there.  And beyond that, I left feeling more hopeful about the direction of our collective values for the future. 
This unplugging thing is really something.