Tag Archives: NYC

Bocci and Dancing Egrets: an Invitation to Play

I am loving that the long-awaited spring has finally returned.  NYC and Newark, like much of the country, had a particularly harsh winter.  We had our highest bill ever for the gas heating.  It was a chilly and long, if beautiful and snowy, winter.

A few clear signs that spring has arrived:  I see an occasional egret, its snowy-white body with a long neck and beak, in the Meadowlands of NJ from the train.  The cherry blossoms are (finally) beginning to bloom.  Independence Park across the street is teeming with people playing catch, shooting hoops, and–most notably–there are usually three or four soccer games going on simultaneously.

A new sign of spring this year–bocci games in the park.  Several of us use a site called Nextdoor to share local happenings, and I was delighted to see an open invitation on the site to come play bocci on the weekend.

You may ask, what do egrets and bocci have in common?  Playfulness and joyful presence.

During winter, many of us huddled indoors, conserving energy.  The warmth of spring is an invitation to play.  Whether the egret doing its little dance, flapping its wings, or whether the bocci and soccer players in the park, play allows us to be present, to enjoy our surroundings and the activity we’re engaged in.  Play lets us abandon our worries and immerse ourselves in the pure joy of living.

If I were writing a word-chain, it would be something like:  play-nature-joy-peace-movement.  Physical movement helps us not to stay stuck in tired mental or emotional energy.  When walking in the woods or splashing in water, we let it go.  We move into a new energy.

Play also lets us be creative, spontaneous, open to new ideas.  How could that not spill over into the rest of our lives?  When we’re open to being playful, we see creative possibilities that before, we were unable to see.  We can be more flexible at work.  We see new ways to be healthy–solutions, rather than problems.

So enjoy the unveiling of spring, and let yourself be carried away by the sheer beauty of it–fragrant cherry blossoms, yellow wildflowers, dancing egrets and all.

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Weekends in Newark: Nicer than You Think

There is nothing like the weekend.  It’s been said before.  Still, there are times when I wake up from a nap, make myself a cup of tea with soymilk, and sip it on the living room couch, looking out the window onto snowy Independence Park, and am struck with so much pleasure and gratitude that I’m nearly incredulous.

I’ve lived in the house that I share with my husband, our cat, three sets of tenants (and their dog and two cats) for a little over two years.  We spent the first three years of our marriage in a 3-bedroom apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where we rented out the other two rooms.  It was supposed to be temporary, but we hadn’t planned on it being 3 years.  That’s a long time for a married couple to share a kitchen and bathroom with roommates!

Granted, the location was amazing, with Manhattan just two stops away on the L train, cafes aplenty outside our doorstep, and a backyard with a cherry tree, fig tree, and grapevines…yes, trees grow in Brooklyn.  Once, a NY Times reporter contacted me for a story on the number of responses Williamsburgers get to Craigslist ads for subletters, and it’s true, there was no shortage of interested parties.

Regardless, a certain strain was inherent in our living situation, so moving to our own house has been a little piece of heaven.  I’m still getting used to having a guest room, living room, and dining room.  I don’t have to guess if it’s our food in the fridge or someone else’s.

My husband doesn’t even seem to mind taking out the trash, a job that we (thankfully) assigned along traditional gender lines.   Maybe he enjoys the feeling of proprietorship.  (It’s *our* trash, well ours and the tenants’, ha ha).  In any case, I get it–when I mop the kitchen, something I could probably stand to do more often, I have the feeling that this is *our* floor.  It’s a feeling I never had as a renter.

I should take this opportunity to clear the air and share that we live in Newark, and it’s a lot nicer than you think.  🙂  (Don’t tell too many people, though, or you’ll drive up the cost of living.)  We live in the Ironbound, a mostly Portuguese and Brazilian neighborhood 22 minutes on the PATH train from World Trade (hence the title of this blog).

Purchasing a multi-family house with three bedrooms for ourselves wouldn’t have been possible in the urban core of Brooklyn.  We just have to put up with the occasional response, “you live in Newark?  You just hear Newark and you think…” (then they make a face, trailing off).  People’s memories of the ’67 riots die hard.

Yet I feel like I’m in Europe or South America.  My hairdresser kisses me on the cheek.  I can get a “galao” (Portuguese for latte) for under two bucks, and an excellent fish dinner at any number of restaurants.

There are tons of cultural amenities.  We live near NJ PAC, where we’ve heard the NJ Symphony Orchestra, and brought my family to readings at the Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festival.  My brother-in-law gave us a patron’s membership to the Newark Museum one Christmas, whose Asian, American, African, and Classical art collections we’ve enjoyed, as well as the Ballantine House.  There’s excellent hiking 25 minutes away–not to mention Branch Brook Park in Newark proper, with the largest collection of cherry blossoms in the country.

I’ve gotten involved as a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters, which paired me with an amazing 10-year-old girl.  We go on “dates” as she calls them, to all the best that the area has to offer, both in Newark and nearby towns (like the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn where we saw “A Christmas Carol,” and Turtle Back Zoo).  I’m hoping to take her to the Newark Museum and the Dodge Poetry Festival later this year, and perhaps to see a game at the Prudential Center (where the Super Bowl Media Day was held).

snow

It’s good to have a home, and good to have a neighborhood.  I’m grateful for small pleasures on a wintry day, like writing my blog with the cat on my lap and a cup of tea, watching late-afternoon strollers in the park and hearing the chatter of birds.

What are you most grateful for about your neighborhood and home?  Do you have any special morning or evening rituals?  What do you enjoy about weekends where you live?  I’d love to hear from you–please leave a comment and click “share!”

Trapeze: Your Bravest, Most Fulfilled Self

On my 35th birthday last summer, my husband and I went to my friend’s trapeze show at Pier 40.  On a fairly major birthday, I couldn’t think of a more fun, inspiring activity than to watch my friend and her classmates fly through the air, with views of the NY skyline and the Husdon River in the background.

I admire my friend for many reasons. She follows her passions with a sense of adventure, pushing herself to do things that are a little scary.  I love her commitment to her vision of her ideal life.  It would be easy to settle for what is already known, safe, and comfortable.  Instead, she embraces the amazing life she has today and risks moving towards an even more amazing life.

Not everyone needs to go to trapeze school (heck, most of the country doesn’t have a trapeze school within 100 miles), but there are so many ways we can practice courage in our everyday lives.  It’s exciting to challenge ourselves, to have something to work towards–whether in our career, health, or personal development.

This year, I’m excited about writing this blog, connecting with readers, and growing my coaching practice (read more about that here on my Coaching page).  I set goals for myself such as posting twice a week, reaching out on social media, and reading other coaches’ blogs to clarify my own approach to my practice and to connect with a community.

Change is risky–I’m not in control of the results–but doing something new can be worth the risk.  It can actually be costlier not to risk doing something differently!

I need courage to balance my coaching practice with my work in publishing and music; spending time with family; and self-care.  However, I wouldn’t trade any of it–I’m very grateful for an abundant life.

I admire my parents for their courage, as well.  My mother was a university English professor who completed her dissertation when I was in my teens and early 20’s.  The experience impacted her so profoundly that she started her own business, NW Coaching, as a dissertation and life coach, helping others to complete their own dissertations by setting goals and breaking them down into manageable baby steps.

My father showed persistence and dedication in his lengthy career as a government economist and senior executive.  He honored his top values, family and career.  It couldn’t have been easy to balance the two.

It can be gutsy to work hard, and equally gutsy to work less.  My dad transitioned from a busy career to retirement, and is now enjoying pursuing other interests and spending more time with my mother and his extended family.  My mother also left one of her jobs to spend more time with my father.

Life presents us with all sorts of choices that have the potential to lead us into our most fulfilled selves.

What’s one area of your life where courage could be an ally in making great strides towards your goals?  What area of your career, health, or personal life do you most want to improve or enhance?  What are you passionate about?

How daring and fulfilling a life could you live, if you allow yourself to picture it?

Freedom: Envisioning the Life You Want

In my first post on this blog, “Living Joyfully,” I shared that each year I choose a word to set an intention for my year ahead, and that in 2013 it was “joy.”  What I didn’t share was that in addition to the word I choose for myself, a dear friend and mentor also gives me a word; her word to me was “faith.”  I have been practicing these a day at a time, perfectly imperfectly.

In 2014, my word for myself is “compassion,” both for myself and for others.  I can only be as compassionate with other people as I’m being with myself.  If I’m hard on myself, telling myself that I’m not progressing fast enough on my goals, and using negative self-talk, guess what?  I’m usually hard on others, too.  Whether or not I say so, I can start thinking as if I know what they should be doing, which is always a dangerous place to go.

On the other hand, when I’m gentle with myself, I’m able to be more loving and accepting of others.  Sometimes that means using self-talk as if I were an 8-year-old girl.  If I forget to bring or do something, if my first thought is, “of course you forgot,” I’ll tell myself, “re-do,” as bravery coach Kate Courageous blogs about.  Then I literally tell myself, “it’s okay, sweetie, here we go…”  As ridiculous as it might feel at first to talk to yourself as if you were 8 years old, it’s even more ridiculous to address yourself in a way that’s shaming.  (Brené Brown has written powerfully and prolifically on the impact of shaming language.)

My mentor’s word for me in the coming year is “freedom.”  I probably wouldn’t have chosen this word for myself, which is why she’s my mentor.  We hear a lot about freedom in this country.  The Bill of Rights enumerates several freedoms we possess:  speech, religion, press, assembly, and others.  When I drive on the BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway) or take the Staten Island Ferry, I enjoy seeing the Statue of Liberty, that iconic gift of the French to Americans.  We take these political rights for granted today; of course I can write a letter to a newspaper; of course I can go to any church to worship.

Yet what else can freedom represent in my life?  How can I move toward greater freedom, to come more fully into the person I was made to be, so that I can have an amazing life, and be of greater service to others?  What limiting beliefs are stopping me from embracing an even more amazing, truly free life?

In the disciplines of psychology and coaching, much is said of the limiting belief of scarcity:  not having enough, and not being enough.  It seems part of the human condition that these fears rear their ugly heads subconsciously at least some of the time for most of us.  As Brené Brown  identifies, the simple act of articulating our fears or feelings we’re ashamed of having, and particularly sharing them with someone we trust, weakens them.

Once I identified “I won’t have enough” as an under-the-surface limiting belief, I was able to construct a positive belief to replace it:  “everything I need will be provided.”  This lets me choose to focus on a positive, rather than a negative, belief.

There is always presence and absence in our lives.  Our perspectives are simply the result of a decision of where to place our attention.  When we focus on absence, we experience more absence.  If we focus on what is present in our lives, we attract even more abundance and life keeps getting bigger.

What’s a limiting belief that’s holding you back?  How would it feel to counter it with a positive belief?  Please comment and share!

The Meadowlands: Finding Peace in Unlikely Places

I have a couple of commuting options from my home in Newark, NJ, to my magazine publishing job in midtown NYC.  I can take the PATH, a light rail train that is convenient but rarely has a free seat during rush hour; or I can take NJ Transit.  Both are prone to delays, particularly during rush hour, but NJ Transit has two advantages.  First, I always get a seat in the morning.  Secondly, part of the ride is through the Meadowlands, a surprisingly intact natural oasis just miles from factories and the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels.

During the migratory seasons, I love being on the lookout for birds.  I often see a pair or a family of ducks swimming in the stream alongside the train.  (In spite of the Audubon’s birdwatching weekend my husband and I took in Cape May, the epicenter of avian migration, my bird identification skills are less than stellar, but my avian appreciation is sky-high.)

My commute varies in length depending on congestion, but it’s typically an hour and 15 minutes door-to-door.  That includes a brisk walk through the Ironbound, a train ride, and a transfer to the subway.  I’m thankful that I don’t spend that time behind the wheel of a car.  Nevertheless, it behooves me to spend those 12 1/2 hours a week wisely.

I use the time in a few ways.  I admit, I start out by checking email, weather, and taking a quick peek at Facebook.  Next, I typically share a moment I’m grateful for on Happier, an app dedicated to noticing and recording moments of happiness.  Then I turn off my iPhone and meditate, pray, or do some reading to tune in spiritually and center me in the present.

If I’m on NJ Transit, by this point the train has passed the winding Passaic River that empties into Newark Bay, affording an unexpectedly lovely view, and is approaching the Meadowlands, pictured above.  The stadium where the Seahawks trounced the Broncos on Sunday is in this ecosystem.

Nature centers me and offers me a happiness unlike any other  Whether I’m hiking at the Cumberland Gap on the border of TN/KY/VA, or looking across the sound at Martha’s Vineyard, there’s an ineffable vastness and serene beauty that engulfs me just by seeing it.

I have noticed it can be tempting to tune out the beauty of nature either because we’re used to it (it feels familiar), or we don’t expect it (it seems incongruous).  Who would expect such a beautiful area with ducks, reeds, rivers and streams in-between two major northeastern cities–with factories on the horizon, no less?

Yet there we find ourselves, myself and the other morning commuters, and we’re presented with a choice to tune into our surroundings or to tune out, lost in the distractions of our smartphones or our own whirling thoughts.

For today, I choose to tune in, to soak in beauty where I find it, no matter how little I expect it or how easy it would be to overlook.  Then, when the train takes 40 minutes instead of the scheduled 20, I will have filled myself up with all the goodness and beauty available to me in that moment.

And when I feel flustered again later in the day, I can recall it in my mind’s eye and again find a moment of peace.

Herald Square: Staying Sane in an Overstimulating City

I work in midtown NYC in the publishing field.  I often walk to the PATH train at Herald Square after work, instead of taking the subway.  It gives me time to call friends or family, lets me fit in some exercise, and I can save the $2.50 for a trip to a cafe in my Ironbound neighborhood of Newark.

One person I often call on these walks is my 94-year-old grandmother.  She always wants to know where I am and what I see as I’m walking.  She lives in rural Indiana and I imagine she would be taken aback by just how busy NYC is.  This is true year-round, but it particularly strikes me in December.  There’s no shortage of sights and sounds to take in–some positive, like the lights at Macy’s; others negative, like the sirens that make me plug my ears–but all of them stimulating.

How do we survive so much stimuli in a place like NYC without becoming overwhelmed, particularly for a highly sensitive person like I am?  For me, the answer lies in filtering the sensory stimuli, deciding what is most important to focus on.  Letting the rest go, and letting what’s interesting be heightened.  This way, I can appreciate the beautiful parts of my surroundings (the iceskating rink at Bryant Park), and pay little attention to what I dislike.

What’s even better is when I can apply this filter to my own thoughts.  Perspective is so powerful.  What is it like to focus on life events that displease or discourage me?  Conversely, what is it like to appreciate the good in all my experiences?

Two of my character defects are negative thinking and perfectionism.  My character strengths (whew!) include gratitude and curiosity.  I have practiced paying attention to which thoughts could allow me the most insight, and infusing that perspective with curiosity and gratitude.  For example, although I am tired after work, isn’t it good to have a choice of whether I go to the gym, and how hard I work out once I’m there?  What if I focused on what it would feel like to go for an easy jog?  How would I feel 10 minutes into the run, and again after I’ve finished running?  How would I sleep afterwards?  Isn’t it good that it’s a choice to be curious about, not a rule to beat myself over the head with?

My choices have consequences.  I’m grateful that I can experience the results of my choices and notice what does or doesn’t work, in a way that’s loving and observant, not judgmental.  I can change my perspective, like closing my eyes when the train is packed to capacity.  Or I can change my actions–like walking a half-hour and making a phone call instead of cramming myself onto the subway, on days when that’s the last thing I feel like doing.

And when I feel like I’ve made a lousy choice or am having a lousy day, I can see it instead as a chance to practice having a creative perspective.

How would it feel to tweak the thoughts and actions that we choose on a daily basis?  How many possibilities would open up?

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