Make 2013 your best year yet!

Here’s my plan; feel free to copy or modify.

During the night of my birthday, I usually celebrate the tradition of getting a brand new planner for the New Year, filling it out, and generally enjoying the meditative time spent planning. I know, it’s weird, but it’s my thing.

This year, I bought a 2013 Planner Pad for Mother’s Day, so you can bet I’ve been filling that baby out all year long! I suppose that sounds even more weird, but you have to understand that I homeschool, I take classes, teach classes in co-op, work, have book releases to track—so it’s functional as well as fun. I plan book lists for themes, when to get cards and gifts for people, group play dates, class schedules, and more—as well as general fun things, like holiday advents.

So on my birthday this year, I planned two things to make it the best year yet:

  1. Daily physical activity
  2. Monthly themes

This might sound simple, but there are some specifics to consider. I always plan daily physical activity, but no matter what I call it—exercise, workout, etc.—it always sounds like such a chore and I dread it. So for 2013, I named each month’s movement something new, such as moxie, gumption, and fettle. I know they don’t make actual sense; I don’t care! The point is that these words get me excited, and I’m cultivating them by moving my body.

For the monthly themes, I am doing something every day. For example, in January, I’m striving to be positive every day, while in February I’m doing one selfless act every day. I’ll also be facing a fear daily, taking a photo daily, making something new every day, and more throughout the year. Don’t worry; I scheduled two months off because I anticipate burnout, too!

What I love about these things are that they are scheduled for me alone, not my family—so it feeds my need for daily stuff to check off without making us have to be somewhere every day. This year, I think I overscheduled us just a bit—there are just so many cool free things going on!—so next year I’m planning on actively loosening up the calendar a bit for them while keeping my hobby going for myself.

What kinds of things have you always wanted to do? What things do you want to try, fears do you want to face? Try mapping out your 2013 ideas sometime this weekend and see how it makes you feel.

Living out my childhood dreams

And just having fun with it!

When I was 6, I knew I wanted to be a singer.  To be specific, I wanted to be a Vietnamese singer.  I grew up listening to the music, and Vietnamese karaoke was a big hit during my childhood years.  Unfortunately for me, it just wasn’t meant to be.  I never got the big break I wished for.  So no, I don’t currently sing for a living.  Nonetheless, I am able to regularly live out my dreams.

Turns out, the thing that really gets me going is not making it big.  I can be rather content with performing for a small crowd.  I don’t have my heart set on living the style of the rich and famous.  I just genuinely enjoy being on stage, and giving it my all with my acting and singing.  

I am a local performer.  People do not chant my name when I walk on stage.  However, I am able to get a good amount of the audience that I am entertaining to hang on to my words.  They laugh when I play a comedic role, and they reach for the Kleenex when I sing about a broken heart. 

Whenever I am on stage, I am no longer me.  Nor am I a star.  Instead, I am whatever character I happen to be portraying for the song or skit that I am performing. 

Although I might never break out of the local scene, I am still happy to be given the opportunity to perform on stage.  I enjoy connecting with others through my singing and acting.  So in a way, I am living out my childhood dreams.  I just can’t quite quit my day job.

“At least he didn’t try to kiss you!”

One’s outrage is another’s reminder to fully live.

Last night, while working a register at work, my husband was high-fived by an intellectually disabled young man who was excited about his mother purchasing cookies. “Cookies! Yeah!” he said, beaming at my husband, who also proclaimed his excitement for cookies. The young man had to have been in his mid to late teens, and he waved at my daughter and me in a friendly fashion as well.

“You’re lucky he didn’t try to kiss you!” remarked the girl working opposite my husband. “He did that to me the other day.” She rolled her makeup-caked eyes as if it were devastating news, something we could all console her about, when all I wanted to do was adolescently roll my eyes back at her. This young man had much more verve, much more love for his life, than she likely ever will. He will never be as bored as she proclaimed, never complain about the rain as she had done; he was bursting with far too much joy for such things.

I understand unwanted affection. I was attacked as a child by an intellectually disabled boy at daycare when I was four years old. I remember getting the shots afterward, the fear I’ve felt toward men, and I don’t like to be touched without my permission. Personal space is incredibly important to me.

But I also understand people like this young man; I have lived with them, worked with them, tutored them in college. Not every one had this same ecstatic outlook—but many did, and many do. I appreciate this kind of open, unadulterated joy in a way that this girl—who was probably just too young to understand it—did not, and it made me a little sad.

What if we all were to embrace every day, every cookie purchase and high five and yes, attractive person, as if it were brand new? As if we had something so wonderful to celebrate, not just on Christmas or a birthday, but in the checkout lane of our local discount store?

High five, young man. I hope that joy permeates through your family and everyone you meet. I hope I can carry that joy, or something like it, in my own, too. I hope the next time I curse the rain, or a runny nose, or the pain of someone who doesn’t understand me, I will remember you, and your absolute happiness over a package of cookies. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Desert Camping

As children, many people have fond memories of going out camping with their family.  Yet as adults, not all that many people continue the camping tradition.  Well how about creating some new good times by going on a camping trip with some good friends?  However, this time try something a little bit different.  Camp out in a desert for a change.

Why camp at a desert?  Some of the most stunning US National Parks are on desert land.  The desert is where you will find some of the most uniquely beautiful plants, wildlife, and rock formations.

Camping in the desert requires you to take some precautions that you usually don’t have to take at other types of camping destination.  The desert is hot, and if you are not careful, you can put yourself in an uncomfortable and risky situation.  Always try to bring a good amount of sunscreen with you into the desert.  Apply it liberally onto your skin prior to entering the desert land.  Then reapply the sunscreen often, during your time outside. 

In addition to sunscreen, you are also going to need plenty of water when camping in the desert.  Having some Gatorade or Powerade is also a good idea, since all of that sweating is going to cause you to lose electrolytes.  Also, bring some food with you.  Something that is easy to carry—like trail mix—is always a good idea.  That is because in the event that you get stranded in the desert, you definitely do not want to be without some food to eat.  

Chuck E. Cheese Memories

I remember when I was still a youngster, my favorite place to be was always Chuck E. Cheese.  True to the slogan, I truly did have fun being a kid whenever I was at Chuck E.  Cheese.  That was why every chance I get, I would ask my parents and relatives to take me there.  In fact, quite a few of my birthdays were celebrated at Chuck E. Cheese.

At my house, there were not too many games to entertain me.  Plus being the only child, I did not really have anyone else to play with at home.  That was why it was so much fun to be at Chuck E. Cheese.  They had so many cool games, and kids were everywhere for me to play with.  Whether it was my birthday or not, going to Chuck E. Cheese always made me felt like I was at a great party place.

Another thing that I enjoyed about going to Chuck E. Cheese was the pizza that was served.  My parents and the adults ate some other stuff like hot wings and salads, but for me, it was all about the cheesy pizza.  I especially loved it with the sausage and pepperoni on top.

You know what else I have fond memories of from going to Chuck E. Cheese.  It’s the prizes that I got to pick out at the end of the day at Chuck E. Cheese.  The prizes were nothing spectacular, but I loved the fact that I had earned them with my game-playing.

Do You Like to Dance?

So you want to have good times… maybe you want to become more active or lose a little weight this year. Then I shouldn’t have to tell you… DANCE! Dancing will get you active and you’ll be burning calories. This will help you lose weight and gain muscle and all that good stuff; though really… to make any real changes, you have to make a lifestyle change.

You know that saying “dance like no one is watching”? Well, there’s a reason why it’s so well-known and regarded, because dancing is a form of self-expression. It’s a wonderful way to release all that negative energy that’s built up in your system after a stressful work week without taking it out with a verbal lashing on the poor fool who thought it was a good idea to ask if you picked up milk at the store on your way home tonight.

So expel that rough week by getting up off the couch or chair and just put on some music that gets you moving. No one has ever received simpler advice. You should dance just to dance, because you feel moved to. Here’s a video of a little two year old girl dancing purely because it’s what she loves to do!

If that isn’t enough for you, consider enrolling in a weekly course at your local community center or dance school. An instructor can guide you as you free yourself with open body swaying and movements. You’ll probably feel more energized and excited about your life, overall, as a result too.

Call To Action: Guerilla Philanthropy

Follow a new kind of giving back, anonymously doing something for random people in your community just because.

When everyone seems to be scraping by, it can be difficult to feel like being charitable. Lines like “selflessness”, or “doing something for the common good” can sound naïve, or even ignorant. However, it might just be what everyone needs to hear. So it went in a little locally-owned coffee shop in Bluffton, South Carolina, called the Corner Perk. Two years ago a woman walked in and placed a $100 bill on the counter and told the barrista to use it to pay for everyone’s drinks until the money ran out. Over the last two years the gesture has caught on, and now the coffee shop has become somewhat of a local bastion for paying it forward.

This got me thinking about the different ways in which we, as individuals, can “pay it forward” (to borrow a rather cliché ten-year old term) in our own communities in ways that are tangible and visible to us and the people we regularly interact with. We’ve put such a premium in broad, large-scale charity (not that it’s a bad thing) that we sometimes neglect the community right outside of our window. With the economy being what it is, there’s plenty of homegrown suffering. That’s why, in a parody of what has come to be called “venture philanthropy”, I propose we start a little “guerilla philanthropy” right here in our own communities. Much like the anonymous good Samaritan that left $100 spot on a coffee-shop counter, in what ways can we pay forward a little generosity in our own communities? Beginning with the case of Central Perk, here are a few ideas.

Find a local business that seems to cater to good people, has a good standing in the community, and drop a little extra money in the “penny” plate. It doesn’t have to be a hundred dollars, but even $10 is likely to get some people’s attention.

Talk to schools, many of who have community-service hour requirements for high school students, about organizing some community service projects. It could be as simple as randomly shoveling driveways or doing yard-work in the neighborhood.

Buy groceries and leave them on random doorsteps. I know this may have a creeper factor, but you never know who’s having trouble footing that grocery bill each month, and would love to find an extra loaf of bread and gallon of milk sitting on their doorstep some morning.

I’m sure, with a little forethought, you could think of plenty of other ways that you particular community could use a little “guerilla philanthropy”. Organizing a large enough group in a given community to pay it forward, even (especially) anonymously, could have a huge impact on the climate and morale of your neighborhood, community, and city.

Decentralized Dance Party

Do you enjoy going out dancing?

Do you enjoy losing yourself in the music alone or with your partner? This is a fun past time for sure. Though I bet you don’t enjoy the creepy guards feeling you up and giving you a stern eye as they manhandle your ID. Then, of course, there is usually a cover charge to get in to the venue.

I bet you don’t like that extra expense of drinks either. Most bars mark up their drinks by as much as 5 times the cost of the alcohol, depending. Read more here. My suggestion to avoid all of this and still dance your butt off is to partake in a Decentralized Dance Party.

What is a Decentralized Dance Party? It is exactly what it sounds like- a party that has no centralized location. One of the party organizers will carry a mobile radio transmitter via back pack or cart. Then hundreds upon hundreds of people (who are in the know) will carry around boom boxes and stereos tuned into the same radio frequency. Heck, you could even plug in to this party via your Walkman, but you wouldn’t be able to hear the debauchery going on if you’re tuned out on your ear buds or headphones.

With this simple recipe you have an instant party. The best part is that it’s completely portable. Last night, Tom and Gary from the DDP came out to Seattle for the first Decentralized Dance Party in the United States. Tom and Gary and the rest of the DDP crew hail from Canada.


Photo credit:

Getting Ready for 2012

2012 is already here for most of the world, and in a few hours it will be here for my family and me as well. Are you ready for the big year that many claim will be our last on the planet?

While I am not drinking the Apocalyptic kool-aid just yet, I will acknowledge that any day could be our last on the planet—as an individual or as an entire species. So it’s always important to live this day as if it were your last, to the best of your ability. What will that mean for you in 2012? For me, it means living a more meaningful life, trying to worry less and play more, and generally stay on top of things so I can maximize the use of my time. Yes, we’ll see how that works!

Here are some nifty things you can do to get ready for the New Year upon us.

  • Check out Gala Darling’s list of 10 fantastic ways to get ready for this year. She has some awesome tips, such as clearing out your Google Reader (I totally need to do this, as well as my overloaded bookmarks bar), changing something about your appearance that you’ve always wanted to do, and changing all of your passwords. Sound advice, as is often usual from Gala Darling!
  • Bless your space. We always do a few feng shui moves on New Year’s Day in our home, as well as bless our space with a sage smudging—which we do on the first of every month. Feel free to use our blessing if you like: “Health, wealth, happiness, love; As below, so above.”
  • Try one of Marc and Angel’s challenges for 30 days of growth. Though I don’t always agree with them, I love Marc and Angel and they often offer very useful tips and advice for everything from money to love, organization to what’s important in life. Any one of these 30-day adventures would make a difference in your life; imagine what one a month would do!
  • Create your own 101 things to do in 1,001 days list, a Living to Do or bucket list, or other dream wish list. Goddess Leonie makes an annual planner that is perfect to use if you are just starting out with something like this, and it’s very affordable and lovely.
  • Clean out something. Whether it’s your filing cabinet or medicine cabinet, fridge or footlocker, it’s bound to help you out this year—and make you feel accomplished already!
  • Make a New Year’s affirmation instead of a resolution.

Public Art Project in New York

Imagine you’re strolling through Central Park.

You look up to see a cloudless sky. The sun is shining. It’s a beautiful day in New York.

Yet you feel lonely. The city has a sort of intimidating presence. There are all of these nameless, faceless people milling about everywhere. They all lead busy lives. They all have a story to tell.

As you continue down the path you manage to almost trip over something. You bend down to find yourself reaching for a disposable camera lying in the middle of ground, dangling from a bench by a string.

You snap a picture of your face in the bright sun. You shield your eyes with your hand on your forehead and give the camera a big grin. This is exactly what you’re supposed to do. Cameras were invented, if only to capture a brief moment of the story behind those (no longer) faceless, nameless people.

Katie O'Beirne recognizes this fact. This is why she started a public art project in Brooklyn, New York. This all started as a weekend project, O’Beirne placed displosable cameras in places such as Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Bridge Park all across New York. With those cameras, she attached a note encouraging passerby to take pictures. On the note she states they can take any kind of picture they want, but the more faces, the better!

Film isn’t cheap and O’Beirne is no different than every other poor college art student out there. She used to alert others of her project. She raised $3,402 total. Her goal was $500. Evidentially people believed in her vision. She has taken her project past New York and has launched cameras as far as Stockholm and Tokyo. She was interviewed on NPR and for the LA Times. You can view a video of some of the collected pictures here.