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Posts tagged ‘family’

Urban Hiking

view from twin peaks, san francisco

view from twin peaks, san francisco

What an absolute gift it is to have a day off in the middle of the work week.  Disrupting the usual cadence of work week/weekend, a mid-week day off feels a little bit like suspended reality (it’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to my dream of freezing time, ala Evie in that old show Out of This World).  It’s a day set aside for one thing: leisure.   And for my family today, that leisure was an urban hike.

Ever since living in New York City in my 20s, I’ve loved urban hiking, but look forward to it even more now that we’re not city dwellers.  Good old off-the-beaten path hiking is great too (and if you’re into that, check out this list of 43 Hidden Hikes to Try This Summer), but urban hikes feel adventurous.  Cool.  Unexpected.  Hip and fit at the same time.  Navigating gritty sidewalks, people of all shapes and sizes, and pungent smells…delighting in delicious surprises and beautiful vistas en route…and seeing a familiar place with fresh eyes, urban hiking helps you feel like a tourist in your own backyard.

Today we hiked along the Bay in San Francisco, checking out the America’s Cup staging area, stopping to play in the sand at the beach, starting at our reflections near the Palace of Fine Arts, talking about the varied architecture, smelling the flowers, and stopping for ice cream along the way.  San Francisco offers endless routes of challenging and easy hiking punctuated with hidden ge,s like the Seward Street Slides and Baker Beach and the wildness of Glen Park Canyon and the swings and staircases that appear out of nowhere.

San Francisco is urban hiking mecca (I read a great story about LA a few months ago too), but I’m sure there are beautiful options across the country.  And here are a few simple reasons to give it a shot:

  • No gear required (we bring a backpack for our 3-year-old, but that’s it)
  • It’s free (unless you get lost and need to use mass transit or a taxi)
  • It’s environmentally friendly (if you live relatively close to a city)
  • It’s social (you can visit people along the way)
  • It’s yummy (goodbye trail mix, hello crepes)

What do you like most about urban hiking?  Do you have a favorite hike to share?

Weekend Reflection: Five Things That Stuck Out


Life is full of transitions — big ones like getting married or having a child or starting a new job, and small ones like watching day turn into night and shifting from weekend to work week.  These transitions are a great time to reflect — even if just for a few minutes — on what’s going well and what’s not.  They’re a good time to check in about whether we’re rested or tired…energized or ambivalent…taking care of ourselves or not…and prioritizing the things that matter most.  I consciously thought about these things for a few minutes as I drove to work this morning, taking stock of how the weekend went and what intentions I want to set for the week ahead.  Here are some reminders I’m holding onto as the work week begins…


Little Eyes Are Watching: Our 2-yr-old daughter was busily working on her own in the kitchen yesterday.  I assumed she was “cooking” something in her play kitchen until she told me it was time to begin “spin class.”  She told me she had water and pistachios ready in case we got hungry and thirsty, and she was ready to turn up the music and SPIN (note: she has never been to a spin class…she’s only heard me saying that I’m going to one…so her version of spin class was literally SPINNING, until I was sick and dizzy and ready to fall down).  The point here is: as parents and as people…we don’t always realize how our behavior is impacting the people around us.  If I had spent the weekend watching TV, my daughter likely would have organized a Downton Abbey marathon…not a spin class.  Health begets health….something I posted about a few weeks ago in Cheering Us On.


Deliciousness Can Be Easy: My mother-in-law was visiting this weekend, and she’s a great cook.  What I love about her cooking sensibility is that she focuses on simplicity, and she proves that great cooking doesn’t need to be complicated.  She made a beautifully seared prime rib, roasted potatoes and spinach and mango salad with seemingly minimal effort.  No recipes required.  I covered this idea of simple meals in an earlier post — 3-Ingredient Meals — and I love seeing it in practice.  It’s a great reminder that time need not be a barrier to healthy + yummy cooking.


Technology is Complicated: If you missed it, this New York Times essay, “How Not to be Alone” is thought-provoking as we think about the role technology plays in our lives and how it can shape our behavior.  Here’s a teaser that might make you want to take five minutes to read this: “I worry that the closer the world gets to our fingertips, the further it gets from our hearts.”  If you’re interested in the conversation about technology and well-being, here’s an earlier post about the power of unplugging.


Make New Friends, but Keep the Old: We spent time with three different out of town guests over the weekend (mother-in-law, old friend from Wisconsin, and old friend from Calgary), and I was reminded how important it is to invest in lifelong relationships.  I know it’s cheesy, but I’ve always loved the piece about friends in that famous Baz Luhrmann “Sunscreen” poem/song: “Understand that friends come and go,but for the precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.”  Both new and old friends add huge value to our lives…and seeing old ones face-to-face is an important reminder that we need both.


The Power of Focus: I don’t have any weekend revelations about purpose to share — after all, it was just a weekend!  But I did do a bit of thinking about focus.  We went to a park Saturday that’s famous for kite-flying, and I loved getting lost in the moment while watching the colorful kits swirling in the air (similar to the Hockey Moments I covered a while ago).  Our lives have the potential to be totally absorbed by distraction, making focus elusive.  Jonathan Safran Foer quotes Simone Weil in the loneliness essay I mentioned above: “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”  This is so true…generosity to others…and to ourselves.  This leads to my intention for this week…FOCUS.  Less email, more making stuff.  Less breadth, more depth.  Less interruption, more impact.


What’s your intention for the week?  And does it stem from something you did, read, heard, or realized this weekend?

Making Memories

photo by counselman collection, via flickr creative commons

photo by counselman collection, via flickr creative commons

“When people say that time goes by too quickly, I generally respond that time goes by at just the right pace.  But today, when I think back on the day you were born, that five-year chunk of time seems to have passed very quickly….you’re growing up in an interesting time, as there are lots of social changes afoot (legalization of gay marriage was a huge social issue in the past year) and technology continues to evolve at rocket speed….I was just looking for the email address I reserved for you when you were born and wondered to myself whether email will even exist when you’re old enough to use it….This year has been filled with tragedies in Newtown and Boston and around the world, and every time one occurs, I have to shift my mind away from the fear that it will happen closer to home and find strength in my confidence that you are going to contribute to making this a more peaceful and happy world….I love you with every bit of my soul.”

These are a few excerpts from the birthday letter I wrote to my son last night.  Every year on my children’s birthdays, I pour myself a glass of wine and take some time to pen a letter re-capping the past year in their lives, my life, our family, our corner of the world, and the broader world and society we’re part of.  My plan is to hold all of these letters and turn them over to the kids when they’re ready to fly the coop…giving them a glimpse into what happened in our lives and in the world as they grew up.

I generally don’t make cakes (I’m a crummy baker) or cool Pinterest-ready gifts on kids’ birthdays, but I do try to “make memories.”  Knowing I lacked the discipline to keep up with a traditional baby book, when I had children, I decided these letters would be the way I’d try to connect the dots for myself and our kids.  I do this because as time goes on, the events of our days and lives start to bleed together.  And an annual milestone like a birthday offers time and space and reason to extract the events and ideas and emotions that stand out over days and months and years and lifetimes and keep them in the forefront of our minds.  In the case of the letter I wrote last night, it’s also a great way to help my children (someday) understand who I am…not just as their mom, but as a person.  I freely write about my own hopes and fears, my own passions and projects, and my own frustrations and celebrations — to remind myself and teach them about the constant juggling and tradeoffs involved in life….and to remind them that each of us is our own unique person on this planet.

Not everyone likes typing letters like I do, and that’s fine.  There are tons of amazing forms of self-expression — songs, videos, drawings, handmade cards, etc.  For example, every year on our anniversary, Sean and I pull out a nondescript book that sits on our bookshelf and together jot down a few notes of trips we took, job highlights and challenges, friends we made, things that happened in the world, etc.   This weekend’s New York Times featured drawings authors made of their children at specific ages, accompanied by a brief 1-sentence summary of the parent’s greatest fear.

The practice of making memories will look and feel different for anyone who does it, but the point is that taking time to make memories — both for yourself and for your loved ones — can be a powerful way to anchor our past, direct our futures, and knit our common experiences together in really special ways.

What do you think?  Do you do anything special to mark the time between birthdays, anniversaries, or even just calendar years?  What do you do, why do you do it, and who do you share it with?   

Trusting Our Guts

photo(18)This morning was one of those mornings when I felt like I’d run a marathon before I even left the house.  Jolted out of a dream at 6am by the sound of two sets of feet running full tilt into the bedroom, I went through the usual motions – brew coffee, give breakfast options, cook breakfast, start making lunches, set table, serve breakfast (my kids are still too little to make their own breakfast).  As soon as two steaming bowls of oatmeal were on the table, a three-alarm tantrum began.  “I don’t want oatmeal…I want eggs!  I want eggs!  I want eggs!  I know I didn’t say it, but I want eggs.  I WANT EGGGGSSSSS!”  This went on for twenty solid minutes, at which point my son finally bellied up to the table and said he’d finish his (then cold) oatmeal if I’d make him some eggs once his bowl was empty.  Impressed by his problem solving, I conceded, knowing that I had 25 minutes to shower, get dressed, get them dressed, finish the lunches, get my work stuff together, COOK EGGS, and get out the door.  Needless to say, I’m lucky my clothes matched.

The day progressed at a similar pace – albeit with rational grown-ups, not tantrum-y kids — until my meetings ended at 2pm.  My brain was tired from work and my heart was still unshakably heavy from the seemingly endless morning tantrum, and I knew I needed a re-set in order to make the rest of the day productive.  So I gave myself one.  I laced up my running shoes and headed out of the office for a 40-minute loop in the sunshine.  Transported by Pandora’s “Dance Cardio” station, my frustration quickly faded away, opening up space for new energy and fresh thinking.  After just a few minutes of running, I was able to focus on what I needed to do in the afternoon.  As my stride evened out, my perspective shifted, and I returned back to my afternoon workload in a much brighter place.

I bring this up because although I write a lot about (and wholeheartedly believe in) planning and thinking ahead and optimizing and being proactive, the reality of life is that gut feelings…reactions…instincts often trump all of those things.  Structure and guardrails and commitments are there to guide us and remind us of what matters most and how we want to live.  They’re there to push us to do things like wake up in the dark to squeeze in a workout or clean our veggies on Sunday so we don’t eat cheese and crackers for dinner every night.  But life doesn’t always go according to plan, and spontaneous decisions are sometimes the best way to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves in the moment.

Today trusting my gut meant taking a run in the middle of a busy workday when the rational side of me would have said “you don’t have time.”  Other days it means ordering take-out because I would rather spend time with my kids than cook.  And sometimes it means letting my kids play on their own because I need to talk to my best friend on the phone.  Being able to trust our guts and act on what they’re telling us takes practice and a few “wins” to show us that it paid off.  Today’s run was one of my wins.

How do you make in-the-moment trade-offs that help you take care of yourself?  When have you succeeded?  Have these trade-offs ever backfired?

Cheering Us On

daddy sign

Girls don’t do those long races…just boys do,” my 4-yr-old son informed me knowingly as we drove out to watch my husband’s 50-mile trail (running) race this past weekend.  I asked him why he thought that, and he replied, “if girls did them, you’d be running today too, mom!

Flattered that he thought I might be an aspiring ultra-marathoner (which in case you’re wondering, I’m not) and relived that he’s not sexist, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond.  “Your dad’s insane…I’m not” didn’t feel quite right.  “I don’t want to be arthritic when I’m 45” is probably a bit over his head, I thought.  And “believe me, I’d much rather be on a trail than sitting in this car” sounded spiteful.  So I settled on the truth.  “Daddy loves these races, but I love other things.  We both spend our time doing things we love…just because we choose different things doesn’t mean they’re only for boys or only for girls.”  And on we went to the race, where we all cheered for every single “boy” and every single “girl” who came through the aid station.

My son’s question was important, both because of what he asked and what he didn’t ask.  I’ve never heard him say anything like “why is daddy spending the whole day running?  Why isn’t he with me?”  He’s never upset when I head out for a bike ride or a yoga class…in fact, I often find my kids with yoga mats outstretched — practicing their own downward dogs — when I get home from yoga.  Just as parents want their kids to be happy and free, I think kids…even little ones…want their parents to be the same.  And even more, they are watching our every move.  If we think running is cool, so do they.  If we eat asparagus, the odds go up that they’ll give it a try too.  If we play board games, they might opt for UNO over iPad.

This brings me to the next chapter of this blog.  I’m going to start focusing content more narrowly on parents, and what they can do to hack their health and design the lives they want to lead amidst the emotional and structural challenges of raising kids.  This is not turning into a parenting blog.  It’s not turning into a family blog.  It is a blog for the GROWN-UPS.  There are a ton of amazing resources out there focused on taking care of your kids and families (and I’m not trying to undermine the importance of that in any way)…but this one is about taking care of YOU.  It’s about staying connected with who you are at the core and what you care about most and what you’re working on in your life.  It’s about the constant shifting of priorities that mark these years.  It’s about the focus that brings peace, and the experiences that connect us.

I firmly believe that we can only help our kids become the best version of themselves if we are the best versions of ourselves.  And when we’re doing those things, our kids will be there to cheer us on…just as we are for them.  As I’ve said before, the kids will be alright.

P.S. If you’re not a parent, it’s my hope that you’ll still find lots of interesting ideas on this blog.  Again, it’s a blog for the grown-ups, so if your “baby” is a company or a hobby or a sport or a book or a band, I encourage you to stay tuned!

My Cohousing Dream

cohousing community in denmark; photo by seier + seier via flickr creative commons

cohousing community in denmark; photo by seier + seier via flickr creative commons

I recently watched the documentary Happy, an hour-long 2011 film that tells happiness stories from around the world.  Perspectives from both everyday people in places like swampy Louisiana and Kolkata’s slums, as well as leading experts in positive psychology and happiness get at the essence of what really makes people happy.  The messages are familiar (money doesn’t equal happiness), but the way it’s told is beautiful and human and real.

I was pretty sleepy when I watched it, so i admittedly drifted in and out of portions of the film.  But one segment really stuck with me.  It was about the world’s happiest country at the time (SPOILER ALERT): Denmark*.  This wouldn’t have been the first country I would have guessed, but when I heard it, it made sense.  Great public programs, excellent education, low unemployment, a strong middle class, and strong societal feelings of trust and safety all contribute to high happiness, as measured by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Happy Planet Index (HPI).  But the story that stuck with me most was told by a woman living in a “cohousing” arrangement.

As wikipedia describes it, a cohousing community is “an intentional community composed of private homes supplemented by shared facilities.”  Residents share in everyday activities such as cooking, dining, child care, gardening, and governance.  Basically, it’s like college/retirement homes, but everyone has their own full house and the community is more varied and multi-generational.  The cohousing movement began in Denmark in 1964 when an architect brought together a group of friends to discuss possibilities for a more supportive living environment.  Cohousing is now a well-established housing option in Denmark, and it continues to grow around the world.

The woman interviewed in Happy about her cohousing arrangement was pretty convincing (she jolted me out of near-REM sleep).  She cooks just a few times a month…her children have built in playmates…she can run out to the grocery story to get milk anytime because there is someone around to watch her kids…she has grown-up friends to eat dinner with every night…she has more amenities/facilities than she could ever have living on her own.  In short, she has community — something we know from research has a strong positive impact on our overall well-being.

I love love love the idea of cohousing.  Yes, maybe because it’s just an idea for me now and I’m not packing up our stuff in a Penske quite yet, but maybe because it’s something we as a society actually need.  People don’t consistently live near their parents and siblings anymore.  Housing is insanely expensive in some places.  Neighborhood schools aren’t always a given, reducing the natural community that they bring.  Finding good childcare is time-consuming and stressful.  And people are overall maxed out.  Life really does take a village.  And I’m not talking about a clothing optional, Big Love kind of village…just a normal, hip, cool, interesting one full of varied and curious and compassionate people.

So if I could design my own community, here’s what it might look like…

  • Mixed ages — elderly people, families, 20-somethings…united by a common commitment to community
  • Shared meals — maybe as a large community, maybe in smaller sub-communities
  • Guest housing — for family members and friends from out of town
  • Big, beautiful garden — manageable with lots of waterers…
  • Swimming pool — of course
  • Outdoor showers — because I love them
  • Art room — for kids and grown ups
  • Ample space in each single home — privacy would be even more important in a cohousing situation

What do you think?  Does this idea make you want to learn/explore more or buy a single family compound on 20 acres where you wouldn’t have to interact with anyone unless you made a big effort?  Do you know anyone who lives in a cohousing community and loves or loathes it?

*Note: Denmark is no longer the world’s happiest country, according to the Happy Planet Index (HPI).  Costa Rica took its place in 2012.

Family Values

my family values living an active life.

my family values living an active life.

I have a new-ish friend named Chantal.  I liked her right away when I met her for lots of reasons – she’s genuinely and intensely curious about other people, she’s a voracious learner, she’s hilarious, and she asks really tough, big questions that make me think (for example, she recently asked me casually to distill Sean and my parenting philosophy).  But beyond all of this, she achieved total awesomeness status in my mind when I found out she made t-shirts for her husband and daughter a few years ago that said FLICE. Read more

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