Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Ahh, August. The month when many of us, at least here in the US, vacate. The pace of life slows down, work is left behind (ahem....), the suitcase gets packed, and the daily routine is temporarily disrupted. By the time you read this, I will have joined the masses who are on vacation this month.

Let's look at that word – vacation “A period of suspension...normal activities are suspended...freedom or release”. And I love the origin of this work (but I'm geeky that way): 1350-1400; freedom from something; see vacate, -ion)

Suspension, freedom, release, freedom from something. No wonder we quest after vacations.

There are many ways to vacate. Yes, you can take days off from work, spend oodles of money and visit an exotic location. I have done this and will continue to do it. But this is Creatavita, my friends, so we must think of another way. What if you:

Wandered around your town? Two years ago, on a Thursday afternoon in August, I left my house. While I had some ideas about what I wanted to do, I had no specific plan. Right there, no specific plan – that's a vacation for me. I took the train to Center City. From there, I meandered, through Chinatown (of course I ate),  Franklin Square (boy, has that changed), the National Constitution CenterNational Constitution Center and even took the El to Northern Liberties. Wandering around alone, with no purpose, seeing places and areas in Philadelphia that I had always intended to see. Delightful. The cost of this day? I'll say $50, but the admission to the National Constitution Center was about $20.

Changed something in your life? Vacation can also mean something changes around you. A routine, an item in your life, a habit. The Beloved and I are presently taking a vacation from our bedroom rug. This rug is a gorgeous Oriental which we both love. We had to move it out of the room this spring when we sanded the floors. The floors look fabulous with a sheen that comes not only from the finish, but from our collective sweat and grit. Plus, the summer was approaching. The deep red Oriental suddenly felt heavy and unnecessary. So we left it in the attic and plan to retrieve it in the fall. Guess what? Almost three months into this vacation, I still have a moment of bliss when I look at that beautiful floor. The cost of moving the rug? Since I was the one dragging it up the steps, about 125 calories off of my body. That would be what we call a win-win situation.

Here's another example. One of my students has been struggling with a song for the past month or so. A challenging piece both vocally and dramatically, he was always way too spent when he finished singing it. He brought the song to his lesson today and son of a gun, if that song didn't sound significantly better. I asked him what happened. He reminded me that I had told him to, get ready, “take a vacation from that song”. So he did. Didn't look at it, didn't think about it for 7 days. Time away so the music could marinate in his body and presto, chango, the song is working for him. The cost of staying away from the song? Nothing.

Stepped away from the screens? What if you didn't watch television or, gasp, didn't go on Facebook? Even for one day? What would that feel like? Like so many others in our connected society, I regularly attempt to detox from technology. It isn't easy, but I find I'm less likely to react quickly to life's little fun events after these detox sessions. The cost of stepping away from the screens? Zilch.

Said “see you later” to media? I have this article by Dr. Andrew Weill (Spontaneous Happiness and other goodies) taped to the wall above my desk. This forces me to read this quote every single day:

“Not only do we suffer from nature deficit, we are experiencing information surfeit.” 

which reminds me to turn off the noise and limit my media intake. Remember, the 24-hour news cycle needs you to pay attention so they can pay their bills. This means there is a lot of unnecessary information being thrown out at all of us, hoping we'll stay tuned. Don't. Get the information you truly need and then turn it off. The cost? Another freebie. You're welcome.

Went Outside? Most of us spend way too much side inside. Take that cup of coffee and open the door. Look up at the sky. When was the last time you actually looked up at the sky? Listen for the birds. I give you permission to stay out there as long as you want. The cost? You guessed it. Free.

Breathed? Many of you are now rolling your eyes and saying, “oh boy, here we go, now she's going all crunchy-granola on us.”. Fine. Think that way if you want. But let me tell you, as a voice teacher there's many a person out there who could benefit greatly from good-ol'-stop-thinking-and-breathe-into-your-body. Whether they choose to use that breath for singing or for living, I don't care. And while you're focusing on that breath, go ahead and imagine that you are on vacation. See if you can trick yourself into taking a break from everything around you. Another Freebie.

Freedom from something

See you later.

Sunday, August 5, 2012


I accomplished a goal today.  Yes, I'm proud of myself, and yes, I'm telling you.

My article on our recent trip to Egypt was published in the Personal Journey column of the Philadelphia Inquirer Travel section.  Of course I want you to read the article, so here's the link:

But more importantly, I want you to know how this accomplishment fits into Creatavita.  I'll quickly enumerate the ways in this post and elaborate later.

#1 - Persistence, Patient Persistence.
I first had the idea to submit an article to this column back in 2006.  Yes, you read that correctly - 2006, after a wonderful experience in Turkey.  In fact, I recently threw out the paper draft of that article.  Don't worry, I saved a digital copy.  For various reasons, I didn't get to writing the article until this spring.  That's okay.  The important lesson here is that writing an article mattered to me and I stuck with it.  Being patient enough to know that the right time would come and then being persistent in finishing the article when that time came is what is important.

#2 - Have A Plan
For the last two years, with the assistance of one of my Best Friends, I've been following a program called Best Year Yet (Best Year Yet Book).  We are definitely going to discuss plans like this in a later post.  I've never found a perfect one, but there's no doubt that my present work with Best Year Yet, assisted by a Best Friend, has helped dramatically.  Writing this article was one of 10 goals (I know you hate that word) I wanted to accomplish in 2012.  Knowing that goal was sitting on that list and knowing the Best Friend would ask me about it once a month gave me incentive to stick with the plan.

#3 - Be Flexible
Wait.  Didn't I just tell you to have a plan?  Now I'm supposed to be flexible as well?  Come on!  Yes, that is correct.  A plan matters, but knowing when to change the plan matters as much.  The Turkish experience was incredible; someday I'll write that article.  But when I returned from Egypt this winter, I knew I had to change the subject and write about my Egyptian adventures.  Trusting my instinct to be flexible, to put aside the Turkish experience for the Egyptian adventure, was important.

#4 - The Beauty of Assistance
I am by nature an independent person.  Some would say stubborn.  I wouldn't disagree.  We'll discuss further.  Not my stubbornness, but the beauty of assistance.  Over the past two years, I have made a conscious decision to ask for assistance.  When it came time to write the article, I asked another Best Friend to edit.  Of course she was happy to assist.  Invaluable?  Yes indeed.  Her edits and comments gave the article a much-needed clarity.

#5 - Be Reasonable
My goal was to write a 500-word article.  My goal was not to write a book.  My goal wasn't even to have the article published, as I knew I had no control over whether or not the article would be published.  My goal was a reasonable challenge which involved nothing but my energy and my actions.

One more word about our trip to Egypt.  Phenomenal.  Okay, a few more words.  The people at Deluxe Travel organized an amazing itinerary for us.  Yes, that's a shameless plug for Mona, Mohammed, Yassar and all the other wonderful Egyptians we met.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

One And Done

If you're a faithful follower of Creatavita, you've already noticed my obsession with time.  In my quest for a flourishing life, I am continually challenged to find time for the things that really matter.  I bet you are too.  Sometimes the biggest challenges are solved by the smallest solutions.   Such as.....

One and Done

When The Teen was born, like many first-time parents, I found the concept of time was, shall we say, altered. Entire days could go by in a flash. I found myself torn between wanting/needing to spend time with this brand new human and getting to the necessary tasks of living. If you're a parent, you know what I'm talking about. Heck, if you're a human (and I assume the vast majority of you are), you know what I'm talking about. There are these periods when the speed of life seems to enter some odd, cosmic zone where everything happens too fast.

Add to this experience the fact that I am highly organized. Some would say hyper-organized, some might even say obsessive. Let's save that for a future post. Whatever you want to call it, I admit to being a person who likes to organize my day. This quality does not go well with a baby. Not at all. I found my to-do list expanding and my anxiety level rising. Even more importantly, I KNEW these were days that would never be back, ever. One of the certainties of life is this: Babies are born and immediately start to grow. Usually up. I had to find a solution.

Don't ask me how it happened, but I decided I would zero in on one task every day. Early in the day I would ask myself, “Self, what is the one task that will make your day feel complete?” The task could be as simple as write a thank-you note, work on one measure in a piece of music, or find a song for a student. In fact, I encouraged myself to keep it simple.    And of course it wasn't simple every day.  Yes, some days the task was larger than I wanted or somehow became more complicated.  Yes, I got frustrated.  Still, on most days, once that task was done, the rest of the day was open, free, mine to enjoy. I encouraged myself to focus on what was accomplished and the time I now had to be with The Baby Who Is Now The Teen or with my work, and not on what wasn't accomplished.

Miracles. I tell you people, miracles. I began to enjoy The Teen's babyhood, my motherhood and my career.  I didn't worry that some student didn't get their lesson time scheduled immediately or that the dust was prominent on the furniture. I also found myself mentally clearer , much more realistic about how much time I actually had AND definitely more able to prioritize what was truly important.

The Teen is now, well, a teen, and couldn't care less if I spend a millisecond with him. Yet, I've returned to One And Done many times. I find it particularly helpful when my workload is heavy or during those lovely times we call the holidays.  In fact, I'm using it again as I write this; recently we've had delightful family members visits, the studio is full, there's fun summertime performances happening, and The Beloved is on the Disabled List due to rotator cuff surgery last week.  Enough activity to, well, let's just say, increase my workload.

I already know I'm not the only person on the planet to benefit from this simple solution. Two falls ago, I received a phone call from my niece. She had recently moved from clean, kind Wisconsin to gritty, hyper New York City. The tone of her voice made it obvious that she was about to crawl out of her skin. She was in a completely different environment and the prospect of being there for a prolonged period of time wasn't feeling so good at that particular moment. I could, as we all say, feel her pain. So what was my advice? You got it – One and Done. I was thrilled when she told me later that this simple approach got her through those first months in New York City, and that she, like me, still returns to One and Done frequently.

Like all new habits, incorporating One and Done into your lifestyle could possibly be challenging. We modern-day humans aren't very good at change. Don't be surprised if you actually feel more anxious initially. Give yourself a set number of days, say, one week, to try this idea out. You can always return to your previous anxious, frustrated state if this small solution doesn't work for you.