Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Journaling the Seasons

Written by Jessie

 “To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.”--George Santayana

Last summer, through the simple falling of a leaf, I came to fully appreciate the true beauty of how Mother Earth moves through her seasons. 

Though I have always understood how each season begins with a specific positioning of the sun, I had not been mindful enough to appreciate how exquisitely the Earth sways through the seasonal year--ever cycling; never stagnant. I learned that it’s the tiniest changes in our environment, and our activities therein, that truly “make” the seasons. 

In my lifestyle and spirituality, I attune myself to Mother Earth and her cycles. Through mindful observation, I have fostered a relationship with the Earth, and deepened my appreciation for my place the dance of life. 

One of my favorite ways of staying in tune with the shifting world is journaling the changes I see. For the last year, I have documented the little changes in the outside world—the color of leaves, the first flower to bloom. It has been an eye opening and satisfying activity, so I’d like to share it here with you!

Here's what you need to get started:
  • A Journal: I prefer Moleskin brand journals for their ease of use, durability and longevity, but a spiral bound notebook also works well. On the first page, give your journal a name. I call mine “Seasons: A personal observation”. Number the pages and add a table of contents for each month.
  • A Pencil or pen for scribing your words: I like to use a pen to write with so my words will keep for years to come. I also keep colored pencils nearby for illustrations.
  • A quick walk outside or a window to gaze out: This is a wonderful opportunity to familiarize yourself with the flora and fauna of your neighborhood. Or, grab a cup of tea and curl up in a seat by the window. Look/listen for things you haven’t noticed before. 

Let’s Get to Journaling!

Below are the things I put in our family journal. 
Use these ideas as a guide for your own journaling style.

The Weather 
I try to do my note taking in the evening just in case there is a sharp change in weather in the afternoon. In my area of the world, this happens quite often. 

Moon Phases/Sunrise-Sunset
I live my life by the changes of the moon, so I follow her phases carefully. I document new, halves, and full moons, and how I'm feeling emotionally at those times as well as the mood of the family as a whole. There is a great deal to be learned from the energy of the moon and it's worth taking a look at what she's doing. I also like to take note of what time the sun rises and sets. It’s neat to see a time log of solar change. 

Plant and Animal Life
What is happening outside? What plants do you see? What colors are the leaves? What flowers are blooming? See any bugs? What about the wildlife? I write down anything that seems interesting and different, but I will also take note of things that seem "normal".

Seasonal Celebrations and Family Life
Holidays, Sabbats (8 neo-pagan religious festivals marking the phases of the changing seasons), and birthdays are always noted as they play a big role in my family’s seasonal lifestyle. The start of school and the loss of teeth are important, too! I've also noted memorable gatherings on occasion. For instance, one extraordinarily cold night in February, three feet of snow fell and we were unexpectedly snowed in at our friend's house for two days. We hunkered down, all six of us, and together enjoyed the beauty and peace of the experience. It was one for the "history books"!

Make your journaling a sensual experience! 
  • What do you see? Are the leaves changing colors? What flowers are in bloom? Any wildlife to be spotted? The 90,000 snow geese that migrate from the arctic tundra to my area each year are a sure sign of winter.
  • What does the air feel like? Any smells wafting through? In the springtime, the sweet scent of tulips, daffodils and tilled earth travel from the farm fields into my town. In the summer, warm nights are delightful.
  • What sounds do you hear around you? The song of the red breasted robin is like the “starting bell” for our spring. 
  • What foods are in season in your market store? What favorite foods have you made for your family? For us, strawberries are the true beginning of summer. The first Honeycrisp apple eaten is also the beginning of autumn.

I don't dedicate much time at all to writing these few things down, so don’t feel like this activity should be time consuming. Take a few minutes once or twice a week, perhaps on a lazy Sunday, to reflect on the things you noticed that week. Write down what is meaningful to you. Soon you will begin to notice the beauty of the little things and how the seasons blend into each other. Happy journaling!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Nice Day at Home

Written by Adam

Here's a great day:

  1. Wake up an hour later than usual and be okay with it.
  2. Make a breakfast of warm apple pie and Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream coupled with the Sunday paper. 
  3. Take a "break" from lounging and do something constructive though completely unnecessary.
  4. Have a big midday meal followed by the aforementioned pie and ice cream, go back to the paper.
  5. Wander around and do something else, come back for pepperoni, cheese and crackers, more of that pie and ice cream, and the paper. 
  6. Repeat number five until bedtime.

That is how my Sunday unfolded, though I planned otherwise. My plans originally revolved around a day hike in the Yale Forest area of Connecticut. 

The Yale Forest is conveniently located near Bigelow Hollow State Park. I thought a day on the Nipmuck Trail followed by some canoeing on Mashapaug Lake would work out nicely. I even planned a bit of a picnic. Heather has hinted that it's wonderful to take a break from food preparation duties once in awhile. No problem, I can cook.

Well, Sunday rolled around and it was hot and muggy and I was feeling like a day at home instead. The appropriate people agreed with my assessment and that was that. A little flexibility goes a long way in our lives.

A quick trip to the store and I picked up the food items I had in mind for our hike, to have at home instead. I planned my old standbys - roasted chicken and macaroni salad. They work for picnics because they can be prepared ahead of time and taste good cold. Add some green salad and a few nibblers (for example, cheese, crackers, sliced fruit) and we are good to go for the day, on the trail or at home.

I also picked up a copy of the New York Times to peruse. I know e-readers and online news are the wave of the future, but I love sitting around reading the Sunday paper. 

Once home with my parcels, Heather and I retired to the living room (Emily still sleeping) to enjoy warm apple pie, ice cream for me, and the newspaper. Unconventional breakfast fare perhaps, but highly enjoyable. That set the tempo for the day. I had a few things that needed attention but really looked forward to a come-what-may day.

Having decided to stay home, my idea was to have a big lunch cover the bulk of the dining for the day. Grazing here and there all morning, have the big meal around noontime, then browse the rest of day on the leftovers and snacks. It was so simple to prepare the chicken and macaroni salad, I have no excuse for not doing it more often.

I filled the day with easy tasks - reading the paper, splitting and stacking firewood, bathing the dog. That newspaper consumed a good part of the day and I have yet to finish it. I find Internet news articles to be okay for a flash of information, but rarely do I read a whole article. Furthermore, I notice some Internet articles are there just for the scoop - a snippet of a story but no facts or in-depth information. It is disappointing. 

I need to remember to keep the Sunday paper coming. It is one more link to an era when, because things took more time, we had more time.

Next week ambition will rule the day. We have a full weekend of activities, and the foliage is starting its march across our area. Perfect time to take my planned hike and get back outdoors.

How was your weekend?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Saying Yes

Written by Jonah Lisa
As a mother and wife, I am asked so many questions each and every day that life can sometimes feel like a long string of NOs.

Can we finger paint?
Will you bake us a cake? 
Can I have a lollipop? 
Do you want to go for a walk? 
Can we go to the park? 
Will you read me another book? 
Will you play soccer with me? 
Can we go swimming? 
Did you call the insurance guy? 
Will you play Candy Land with me? 
Will you play Candy Land with me again? 
Water Balloons!

I try to say yes as often as possible but children arenʼt known for their impeccable timing. For that matter, neither are husbands. And with all the absolutely necessary daily and weekly tasks, making room for YES can become a challenge.

Yes takes time. Yes takes patience. Yes can be messy. And loud.

So Iʼm trying something new with my family. On Sundays, Iʼm trying to make a place for YES.

Getting into the right frame of mind is the first step. I remind myself Sunday morning of the kind of day I really want to have. Unplugging from screen and information overload is wonderful but I donʼt simply want an unplugged day, I want a day full of something better.

I want a day full of YES!

Can we build a fire in the firepit? YES! 

Can we have blueberry pie for dessert? YES! 

Can we camp out in the yard tonight? YES! 

I want a day with the time, energy and fortitude to do the things I may be too tired, or busy, or scheduled or just not prepared to do during the week. I want a day of being fully present with my husband and kids. And an Unplugged Sunday is really the perfect day to do it.

Hereʼs the little secret to making this not share your plans with the rest of your family. Chances are, if you tell them ahead of time that youʼre going say yes all day, youʼll end up eating ice cream for dinner with a table full of naked people. At least thatʼs what would happen at my house.

Just set your intention, be open and prepared for whatever they bring to you, and let things unfold naturally. Iʼve found that it takes the stink off of No throughout the weeks in the middle, too. And if nothing else, itʼs a fun experiment to try out every once in while when morale is low. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pre-Autumn Sunday

Written by Adam

To everyone who emailed and left comments about joining our group of writers - we'll be in touch later this week. 
We've had a great response, thank you!


Work week.


I have to figure out how to make the Sunday replace the work week.

I sure do love Sunday. The powers that be misplaced my smartphone sometime Saturday evening to be sure temptation was nowhere to be found all day Sunday. We are entering my favorite time of year in New England and non-stop outdoor activity will fill the calendar from here on out.

New England has true changing seasons. Winter is really winter, followed by Spring that arrives with blossoms, an unmistakable scent in the air and the infamous mud season in the northern locales. Sometimes there is a blur of spring into summer, but the end of school helps darken the line. Summer to fall again has distinct boundaries leaving no doubt change is in the air.

Autumn is my favorite time of year. The temperatures are perfect. The scenery spectacular. Biting insects on the decline (though  a week ago they were out in force for a final assault). The harvest festivals and country fairs. Cool mountain hikes culminating in warming sunrises and foliage vistas. Steel toed boots and flannel shirts smelling of fresh sawdust. The swing of the splitting maul and scent of fresh stacked wood. Fall reverses the clock and takes us back to the land and our heritage. I look forward to it all with great anticipation.

This year's transition happened in the last couple of days. We awoke to a less than subtle forty degrees on the old thermometer. That is about a twenty-five degree drop from a few days ago. Fortunately, we are always ready for such an occurrence and quickly had a fire in the hearth. 

I have a special place in my heart for fire. Fire is primal, the key to human survival. Fire appeals to the senses  - crackling logs, hints of woodsmoke, vibrant orange, red and blue flames, radiant warmth. Food roasted over an open flame is unrivaled. Fire is safety, security, and home. 

Therefore, save the unfortunate instances of dormitory or apartment residence, I have always lived with a fireplace in my house. It is a domicile prerequisite, slightly below a suitable roof and just ahead of indoor plumbing. Woodstoves have a similar effect, but I've had disagreements with them in the past and prefer open fires.

After a breakfast of hot apple pie, we lightly scheduled the day. We expected perfect temps and arranged ourselves for a favorite hike at the Ruby Fenton Preserve. We've mentioned this hike before, but it bears repeating - it is quintessential New England. Hardwood groves, bubbling streams and beaver ponds, meadows of golden rod and thickets, low human attendance.  I don't mean to gush, but in Connecticut it is a welcome oasis.

Another great thing is the trail guide provided for identification of key features. The guide reminds me that nature is not just for my viewing pleasure. Nature is working hard to sustain life. For example, the guide indicates an area of red oak that may be considered "waste." From an economic perspective perhaps, but it is vital to the ecosystem - controlling erosion, purifying the water, and providing food and shelter for various wildlife. Waste indeed. Only someone removed from the process would misinterpret its worth.

We easily passed through the woods, waded in the stream, and explored the flood plains left by the recent storm. Even the hurricane plays a part in natural renewal. Old weak trees are removed to allow the undergrowth to thrive. Flooded areas leave vernal pools teaming with amphibians. Pretty fantastic stuff.

We ended with a cornucopia picnic. Gala apples we picked Saturday, cheeses from Sugarbush Farm in Woodstock, Vermont, sour dough bread and olive oil, various nuts and chocolate covered pretzels, and fellowship with our neighbors who joined us for some outdoor time. We sat by the beaver pond, watching a mallard watching us. Light breezes and warm sunshine completed a perfect pre-autumn day.

Late afternoon saw us at home with another perfect fire, a stack of Vermont nature guides and the Backpacker Gear Guide. Just "chillaxing" as all the kids say. It was everything we want Unplugged Sunday to be. 

Of course, I included some mental preparation for this - 

I really need to make Unplugged Sunday include Monday. Probably Tuesday as well. And Wednesday....

Friday, September 16, 2011

Unplugged Sunday -An Invitation

Written by Heather

From the beginning, our vision for Unplugged Sunday has been one of community. We imagined a place of diverse interpretations and manifestations of an idea.

There are so many ways to leave it all behind you once a week, to drop into the moment with family, a friend, or yourself.

For our family, unplugging from the Internet is the most critical factor. Some people don't really use the Internet much during the week and would like nothing more than to curl up on a weekend afternoon with a cup of tea and their laptop. To them, surfing blogs, checking out new music, or skyping with friends is the perfect way to unwind. 

Maybe the one thing they really need is to just be home, computer and all.

We definitely use our car as part of our unplugged day. We live in an area that we do not love, so getting out of town is almost always on the agenda. Other people welcome one day a week of not being on the road. I have two friends that do that. For one of them it's part of their religious practice, for the other it's more aligned with this "take a break" mindset that we share here. For the both of them, their door is usually wide open on their "no car day," happy to receive visitors in their home... they just won't be venturing out in a car themselves. They love it. Once a week, no car.

What about you? Where do you fit in to all this?

Everybody has their unique spin on Unplugged Sunday. For some, it doesn't even happen on Sunday, for others it isn't a full day. And the activities (or deliberate absence of)... well, therein lies tremendous variety as well. We believe the more variety, the better.

We would like to invite 8-10 people to join our inspiring group of regular writers. A while back I put the call out for people to guest contribute (a one time sort of thing), and so many of you were interested! So I put together a very thorough, multi-page pdf and emailed it off to everyone who expressed an interest... no response. I think my overly detailed Virgo self scared everyone off! I'm very sorry about that... sheesh... But I assure you, this is a very laid back group to be a part of. I think any of our writers would attest to that.

So I've revised that way too long pdf and am including it as a download today. Check it out, and I hope you are inspired to connect with us. 

Click here for download: Unplugged Sunday - An Invitation

We have one day a week opening up in our editorial calendar and feel the best way to fill it would be with a variety of stories, the tales of your unplugged moments and days. An ever growing community of regularly contributing storytellers. 

Wondering why all the cupcakes? It's 40 degrees here this morning! I've got baking on my mind.

We are planning some seriously crisp, sunny, bug-free hiking this weekend. Wishing you a wonderful weekend, on whatever trail you travel down. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Purpose and Vision

Written by Damien

Almost every activity has it: the event. For some sports it is the race, for others it is the tournament. For musicians, dancers, and actors it is the recital or the performance. For artists it is the exhibition.

The purpose of the event is to showcase skill. Whether it be by a battle for the prize, or to capture the hearts of the audience. Sometimes both.

The event gives purpose to all of the time spent practicing. It provides a source of energy and motivation. For some, the motivation stems from a desire to win, or at the very least be a worthy competitor. For others, the motivation comes from wanting to accomplish a goal - to cross the finish line and hopefully do a little better than before. And for non-competitive activities the motivation comes from a desire to put honed skills to work in a venue where they can flourish.

Assuming that you have decided to give this Unplugged Sunday idea a try, have you given any consideration to purpose and vision? Can you use your one-day-a-week activities to build something bigger than one-day-a-week?

For our family, our version of Unplugged Sunday revolves around hiking outdoors, the further from civilization we can get the better. One day a week (usually Sunday) we go hiking for the entire day. This activity is the norm for us, part of our regular routine. The thing you may not know is that this practice was birthed from a desire for something bigger. It was envisioned as the means to move us closer to goals that we haven't realized yet. Our weekend hikes are just part of the training routine.

In addition to our weekly hikes, we keep things interesting and exciting by working-in bigger events on a regular basis: Once a month instead of our day hike, we go for a multi-day trip. A trip where we put our hiking skills to use in a bigger theater. These multi-day trips are our family equivalent of the tournament weekend or dance recital. They are a lot of fun and immensely satisfying.

Every time we plan one of these trips, we nudge the bar up a little higher in some area. Sometimes the kids can be a little skeptical, they don't always feel keen to push themselves. I am always careful to make sure that we won't be pushing beyond our capabilities. But I do like to make it a bit of a challenge in some way. 

Here are a few examples of our accomplishments:
  • We feel a great sense of accomplishment. Especially when we know that it was a new milestone. Our kids really are proud of their achievements. They appreciate the satisfaction they get from pushing a little (sometimes beyond their comfort zone) and accomplishing a goal.
  • It gives us something to plan and prepare for. Regular multi-day trips give our weekly hikes more purpose; the opportunity (and the reason) to fine tune things in between. We test gear. We make changes. We learn how to be better prepared for next time.
  • Family holidays and vacations have more meaning. We are much more intentional about how we spend our non-working time. Our vacation/travel/holiday time has become less about vacation and leisure and more about lifestyle. This doesn't mean we don't rest or have down time, we do, but it looks much different than it did in the past.

As much as we get from our multi-day trips, you might be surprised to find out that they are still just part of the training. Kind of like a local tournament that takes place before regionals and nationals. They are part of the vision, but not by any means the end.

Our weekly training sessions are strung together between events which will hopefully lead to even more exciting things in the future.

Without going into the details of our family vision (that would require multiple posts), this is what we have found: stringing together our one-day-a-week activities with a common thread has given our Unplugged Sundays more meaning than just a day-off... and has brought with it excitement for the future.

Does your family's life have an over-arching vision and purpose? 
How is your Unplugged Sunday fitting-in towards that end? 

Monday, September 12, 2011


Written by Adam

Ten years ago I entered my Copyright Law class, sat down and prepared for an hour of lecture. Then I overheard another student say, "we've just been attacked." It took a little time for the student body to gather in the lounge and witness the events unfolding on the newscast.

After the second tower collapsed, I was in the car making the hour long commute home. It was an unbelievable day of shock, anger and dismay. Shock that fanatics think innocent lives are expendable. Anger that something so heinous had happened. Dismay for what we knew the future held.

At first we did not know how to process the event, or what to do next. Within a few days we had an idea. Our reaction to the uncertainty and disbelief was to go camping in Vermont. 

You went camping at a time of crisis? Yes, that is exactly what we did. The essence of our trip was to step back and ground ourselves before deciding how to move forward. The world was going off the rails, so we jumped off the train for a bit to make sure we were headed in the right direction.
It was the best thing to do. It was quiet, beautiful, solemn and appropriate. At the time, we did not have WIFI, laptops, or smartphones. We were able to freely meditate, without undue distraction or influence.
The trip reminded us that there is a sunrise and a sunset. Mountains can be climbed or not. You can take a hike or turn around if the trail isn't right for you. Backpacks with three year old kids in them are heavy, but fun. Hot cocoa is always worth smiling about. 

Tomorrow is another day - make it everything you want it to be.
We went back to the woods yesterday. No long excursions in the Vermont mountains, just a quick hike to a favorite river that ran full and fast. We were alone in the forest with the river providing the melody of nature.

Emily plunged in and explored, challenging the current and herself. Heather and I sat on large boulders and watched. The dog swam and stank like old skunk and wet fur. There were no smart phones, lap tops, WIFI, radio or television. And it was just what we needed.
We pray for the hurt, the lost, and the broken. We lift up the needy, hold up the weak. We freely give smiles and wipe away tears. We remember that even on a day of extreme tragedy, there are heroes and miracles. We move forward with grace, love and care.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Go back to your lives, citizens.

Written by Adam

We rejoined "civilized" society in the evening hours of September 4th after about eight days of living pre-Edison. Many areas had power restored immediately or never lost it, while others took an abnormally long time to get back online.

If you had electricity, life maintained its regular pace, while the rest of us suffered through the redundancy of our plight. "Have power yet? No? I don't know how you are managing. Have power yet? No? I don't know how you are managing. Have power yet..."

We managed quite well, thank you. Aside from hot water, refrigeration and Internet access, there was nothing really missing from our comfort. Television? There is nothing on anyway. Lights? We don't need no stinking lights! Vacuuming? What for?

We went to bed at dark, reading by headlamp or candlelight. We awoke when it was light out.  Early to bed, early to rise, that sort of thing. We had evenings on the porch with candles and Scrabble. There were visits with neighbors and guitar playing. It was very Mayberry in a cooler New Englandy way. So it was a bittersweet moment when the power came back on. 

Bittersweet because the experience illuminated how our lives must be plugged in. Obviously, we live in an electrified society. We need it to function in our modern times. I have to iron my shirts for work, run the Mighty Mixer for health drinks (sorry, "green smoothies" sounds funny coming from a man), fire up the modems for Internet access, turn on the power tools (though the chainsaw still got plenty of use), and on and on. 

My work requirements did not stop just because my domestic world was inconvenienced. It did not matter that I was unable to keep up with the speed of the work week. I was like a horse and buggy in an automobile world. Keep up or you're ketchup. 

My goodness how life is exponentially faster with the power on.

I remember learning in Drivers Education class about Velocification. It is the difficulty you have driving at 35 m.p.h. after coming off the highway where you drove 65 m.p.h. I think they made the term up, but the effect is real. It is hard to come down to town speed when you are used to the freeway. 

That is how I felt the week of the outage. I was ping-ponging from the rural back roads of an unplugged home to the electrified interstate of my work day. Frankly, I prefer the back roads - you can see so much more. 

By the evening of September 5th we were back on the highway. Our computers glowed. We watched a couple of movies on TV. Lights burned brightly. For a moment, I even lost my temper when my computer's sound inexplicably stopped working, the laptop went through numerous updates, and Windows went on a pop-up spree - Allow this, allow that... 

We were back to normal.

Meanwhile, our neighbors had their lantern out on their front porch and were playing cards, our power was turned back on before theirs. Dare say I envied them?

Don't get me wrong, hot water is spectacular. I understand why bathing was optional in the old days. Soap refuses to rinse away with cold water, and you are not going to stand in the icy flow trying to convince it otherwise. The decision of whether or not bathing is even necessary was deeply contemplated each day.

However, I can really do without the lights, the television, and the mad ability to produce and accomplish all the time that electricity empowers us with. For a week, everyday was unplugged to a certain extent, and there was that great "vacation" feeling to it.

Now I am longing for Sunday again. After a week of the juice, I really need get some relief from it all. Honestly, I don't think one day a week is enough.