The other day I sat down for a Skype chat with educator Kendra Delano, an expat first grade teacher living in Mexico. While she wore a sleeveless blouse, I froze in my long-sleeved Germanic garb. Such are the differing lives of two Americans living elsewhere.

As you all know, the Power of Slow was born in an ice cream parlour with a mind-boggling assortment of flavors. I made the choice to walk at the pace of an ice cream-licking three-year-old when I saw that rushing created unhappiness (not to mention indigestion!). It got me to thinking about all things time and space and child-like wonder. The next thing I knew I started to question all kinds of things, including how our contemporary pace of life isn’t sustainable.

Same Day, Different Choices is a Web site and book dedicated to teaching children (and those who love them) how to make powerful choices. We all can. At any age.

Think Sliding Doors for kids. Haven’t seen the movie? Rent it. It’s a classic demonstration of how your life can take a different twist, depending on the choices we make. In the end the truth comes out, regardless of choice. The question is, which path will you take to get there?

Fast or slow. Anger or compassion. Chocolate or vanilla. You choose.

Give my brief chat with Kendra a listen. Then let me know what you think.

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My dad occasionally sends me really cool stuff that he finds along his cybertravels. This one made me weep (I’m a sucker for Tim McGraw anyway). This young girl, Stacy Westfall, rides her horse with neither saddle nor bridle. She doesn’t speak, but gives her horse commands using her bare hands and legs.

May the power of slow embrace you with warmth and joy and remember to always live like you were dying…and, oh, this one’s for you, Dad. I love you with all my heart.

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Summer Solstice Poll

June 20, 2010

Waiting sucks. Or at least we think it to be a minor annoyance. While waiting can offer us the opportunity to savor, you task-minded folks may appreciate these tips for those places when hanging around feels more like a time drain than a dance!

Doctor’s office

Bring along thank-you and birthday cards. Write them while you are waiting.

DMV

Download a few job-related podcasts. Listen to them onto your iPod while you’re waiting in line. Take notes until your number is called.

Movie theater

Fandango.com allows you to purchase tickets for participating theaters in advance.

While you wait, bring along that magazine you never seem to find time to read. Flip through it before the lights go down. If you’re with children, play a word association game. Bring your own candy. It saves time and money!

Grocery store

Make a list. Even if you forget it, try to recreate it before entering the store. Be strategic. Most fattening foods are in the middle aisles so steer clear of them. Circle the store once, going down only those aisles that warehouse the goods you need.

Bank & post office

Practice deep breathing. As you wait in line, take in a long, five-count breath. Breathe out for six. Repeat several times.

Outlet stores

Go on an off-day (middle of the week is often good). Avoid long holiday weekend visits. Grab as much as you can without exceeding the allowed limit of items to make the dressing room wait worth it. Tag team with a girlfriend so she can bring you the appropriate garment size and color. Besides, what’s better than girl time at the mall?

Theme parks

Google it before you go. Make a list of the must-do rides and be flexible on all the rest. Bring a few snacks in your bag so you’re not spending half your day at the concession stand line. Be mindful of holidays and peak times. Avoid them if at all possible.

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TV Diet Part II

June 1, 2010

Tracey Frost, founder of the New York-based community center, Citibabes, provides great guidelines to move your kids away from the screen and into the green this summer.

- Ignore the Whining: It’s important for parents to understand that for children, TV may always seem like the more fun alternative. There will probably be a lot of whining when you turn the TV off and plan a “real world” activity, but I promise: once the kids are engaged, they forget all about what they are “missing” on TV.

- Think like a TV Producer: Examine your child’s favorite TV shows from a television producer’s eye and pick out exciting elements of that show you might be able to turn into a real world activity. Do your children love action and superheroes? Find a comic book shop in your neighborhood and make a trip. Is it fantasy they enjoy? Go to your closet and play dress up or, better yet, bring some dress- up clothes to the park for an afternoon of make-believe. For instance, if your child is obsessed with Dora, pack a backpack for the day, draw a map, and go on your own “exploration” of your neighborhood or city. Sure, children love watching their favorite characters on TV, but they love playing their favorite characters even more.

- Live Performance: One of the joys of living in New York City is the sheer amount of live performance available to families, from puppet theater to Broadway shows, there’s something for every child out there. I strongly encourage families to seek out local community theater, dance or music and exposing children to the energy of live performance. It’s a wonderful counterpoint to watching something on TV and you can discuss the differences between the two when the curtain falls.

What are the best TV shows for kids? While Tracey didn’t want to name names, she says she selects shows by their level of participation such as those shows that invite kids to get up, dance and sing along. I can’t see my eleven-year-old getting jazzed to do that, but she gets a lot of exercise just going to school and back every day. A little vegging out in front of the tube on vacation and weekends is okay as long as it’s not the only way they enjoy the slow.

Here are some of Tracey’s favorite alternatives to TV viewing:

- Make your own TV show or Movie: Create your own characters, costumes, plot and scenery for a class movie. Let the kids hold the camera, yell “Action” and direct their friends for hours of excitement.

- Make your own Storybook: Whether it’s a story about a television character your child likes or something they’ve made up completely, have your child narrate while you document their words verbatim. Help them if they’re stuck by asking questions about the character and plot, but try to let the child create the bulk of the tale’s action. When they’re done, divide up the words on several pages for the child to illustrate like a real storybook.

- Scavenger Hunts: Scavenger hunts are great warm weather activities that get kids out of the house. We actually use them a lot in the club in our preschool class, whether we’re learning about Australian animals or going on an African safari – we hide stuffed animals around the club for children to find. You can take this game outside very easily, either in teams or one-on-one with your child. Variations include doing a photo scavenger hunt where you take pictures of things on your list or the more traditional version where children have to retrieve items or information from various neighbors or local businesses.

- American Idol Sing-off: Turn on the CD player, if you don’t have a karaoke machine, and let your kids belt it out. It’s fun to play dress up before the big “show”, maybe choreograph a few moves and, at the end, you can even record it and play back the video for all to watch before it’s time to go.

Art imitates life. It’s fun to have a blend of both as Tracey suggests. With her tips it truly is possible to embrace the power of slow without drooling in front of the tube for hours on end.

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A recent joint study on the effects of TV viewing on young children by the Universities of Montreal and Michigan found that by fourth grade the children who had watched several hours of television a day at age 29 months experienced a 7% decrease in classroom engagement, a 6% decrease in math achievement and a13% decrease in time spent doing physical activity. In addition, it was found that those same children had a 9% increase in soft drink consumption, a 10% increase in consumption of snacks, a 5% increase in Body Mass Index (BMI) and a whopping 10% increase in classmate victimization by the fourth grade.

As a TV actor, I’m certainly not saying television is the root of all evil. I’m saying we need to bring more mindfulness and discretion into how much of it our children consume.

Citibabes founder Tracey Frost took these stats to heart. Her New York-based community center is not only for kids, but also for parents. The purpose is to educate them while creating a safe place for kids to play.

“As a mom whose priority has been to educate and enrich my children’s world as much as possible,” she admits,”my first reaction [to this study was] completely one of guilt. While I am neither a child psychologist nor researcher, I am a mom, and it’s difficult to hear studies like these and not feel defeated in some way. Most parents I know educate themselves on the dos and don’ts of parenting, but we’re all human. Perfect parenting is an unfair goal.”

Offering enrichment classes such as the ones available at Citibabes is one way to get kids moving. “When it comes to TV,” Tracey says, “we reserve judgment and, instead, try to create a vibrant world of real-life experiences. Everyone can agree that real quality time spent face to face with other people is more fulfilling than virtual experiences.”

When I asked Tracey what we could do to create healthy viewing habits in our kids, she suggested the following:

- Role Model: The best thing you can role model for healthy TV viewing is, ironically, turning the TV off. Showing kids there’s more to life than a video screen is key which is why getting outside to the park, the beach, or just running some errands models the fun of physical activity over being a couch potato.

- Conversation starters: One thing that comes naturally to grown-ups that may not be easy for kids is the importance of discussing what’s happening on TV. When my husband and I watch TV, there’s always a conversation to be had whether it’s debating a point that’s been made or sharing complimentary information about the topic we’re watching. We try and modify that in an age-appropriate way whenever we watch TV with the kids. Asking questions about what we just watched is the best way to get kids thinking actively about what can turn into passive viewership.

- Reward: Sometimes the power of television is too seductive for kids, not unlike sugar and sweets. So, just like we’ve made dessert a “treat” after a healthy dinner, you can extend that lesson to watching TV. Make a chart for the fridge – and include the whole family – indicating what physical or “real world” activities were done for the day in order to “buy” TV time. An hour at the park might mean an hour of your child’s favorite show. A half-hour of reading a book might mean 30 minutes of playing games on the internet. Instituting a system of checks and balances may seem too rigid, but for young children who like structure and reward, the strategy works and you can always ease up as they get older.

So what do we do when they wing about wanting to watch just one more show? Tune in next time when Tracey offers up ways to draw the line and provide TV viewing alternatives.

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It’s not just me. Time perceptions really do inform how we live our lives. According to John Byrd and Philip Zimbardo, two psychologists from California, children’s ability to delay gratification led to improved standardized test performance later in life.

Wow. A marshmellow today or two tomorrow. Which one would you pick?

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It has been almost two weeks since I have enjoyed more than an hour of silence during the daylight hours. My children have been home on Easter break for that time. Thankfully, the weather has allowed for more outdoor play (and indoor sanity for me).

Max Ehrmann says:

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.

Breathing has been a helpful exercise for that soulful peace of which ole Max speaks. If I were being completely honest, I would say breathing has kept not only me, but also my children, alive.

Breathe the slow smooth air. Ahhhh!

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Ah yes, universal unfolding! Don’t we love it when things go well! It is easy to embrace the notion of “all is as it should be” when things are going our way. It is distinctly harder to accept this universal law when things are less than rosey.

Max Ehrmann says:

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Just this morning my daughter and I were having a conversation. Well, I was talking and she was nodding her head in that vigorous “hey, I’m ten and what you’re saying makes no sense” kind of way.

“You can shape some of how your life unfolds.  The rest is left to attitude.”

Not sure it sunk in, but she seemed to want to understand me even though it most likely sounded like gobblety-gook oozing from my mouth. How we view the world has a great impact on how things occur for us.

How’s the unfolding going for you?

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Do Busy Moms Have Time?

April 1, 2010

After reading Washington Post staff writer Brigid Schulte’s time starvation manifesto, “The Test of Time: A busy working mother tries to figure out where all her time is going,” I couldn’t resist but to reach out to her to share the power of slow. I felt an affinity for her and her struggles. It seemed like the right thing to do.

She sent a lovely response, agreeing to meet for coffee if I was every in the area. It just so happened I would be. So we sat down for a chat while I was in Washington, DC in mid-March. In our one-hour discussion, we covered a lot of ground, which she wrote about in today’s Washington Post.

We talked at length about our lives as working mothers, the constant external pressure to keep it altogether, and our intense need to do this despite how taxing it can be. Her children are roughly the same age as mine (primary school); like me, she works in a deadline-driven environment, often from her home office; and, like many people, she struggles with the clock.

That is where our lives diverge.

Somewhere along the line, I consciously decided to disengage from clock combat. I began to look at time as a resource I could work with, not against. It was a subtle, yet profound paradigm shift that leaves me feeling calmer when life gets messy.

With two kids life is often chaotic and loud and odiferous. Just yesterday my son dropped a strawberry on my favorite pants, staining them a lovely red hue. We learned that berries really can stain. But we learned something else, too.

Boundaries matter.

This mind-shift of time-as-friend-not-foe happened because I saw how my children, back when they were age one and three, lived in a timeless state. To them the clock meant nothing. So why did it mean so much to me? What would happen if, for a moment, I stepped out of time altogether and walked more slowly to the car, to the grocery store, to the laundry room? What would occur if I took the risk of slow-poking it to work, thanking the fourteen-wheeler for giving cause to ease off the gas for the ten-minute ride?

Wonders occurred. My life occurred. I occurred.

Sitting in the trendy metro-area coffee shop with my new Post pal, I delighted in Brigid’s company as she admitted she delved into the procrastination chapter of The Power of Slow first. Life can be so overwhelming! Where to start! Working toward deadlines seems to help. It must as she manages to meet her timelines like everyone else. But along with the workaday routine, she is accompanied by a deep feeling of dread. Tell me really, she said to University of MD leisure studies professor John P. Robinson, where does my time go?

She even went on the Dr. Phil show to address this same issue.

It got me to thinking.

Where are we spending most of our time? If I were to calculate how much time I spent in my car, for instance, while in the US for just that week, I would say a good deal of our time is spent inside our vehicles. How can we cut down our personal traffic? Is it feasible?

Telecommuting arrangements are one way to navigate the time continuum. For moms who work without pay (read: full-time parenting), how can we carve out moments of time for ourselves? In a past essay, entitled “Minute Snatchers ~ How to Be a Writing Parent” I called time carving  minute-snatching. I’d snatch a few minutes during naptime to write. In fact, I wrote three books that way. It was fulfilling because it gave me a sense of control, something many moms struggle to regain in their lives dictated by so many external demands.

Having blocks of time seems like a luxury, yet it is possible. It really is about task management.

My kids, for instance, are home for a two-week Easter break right now. Like boomerangs that hover low to the ground, then high in the sky, they double sling-shot their way through the day. Sometimes, they make arrangements with their friends; at other times they are sitting on my lap, asking what they can do. Just when the pain point of their boredom gets unbearable, they come up with an idea. I call it skating on the fringe of creativity. They need those unstructured days to feel the timelessness of youth. Then there are moments in which they are in structured play, such as a two-day riding camp. It is about blending both to find the optimum experience.

Sometimes we fail. Sometimes we don’t.

Think of it this way: when you fill a tablespoon with water, what takes longer? Running the water at full speed or raising the faucet handle just a tad to fill it once without spilling?

The other day my son ranted about how his jacket wouldn’t zip up as he hurridly struggled with the zipper.

“Sometimes slow is faster,” I said in my best mommy voice. He smirked as I showed him what I meant.

Today he proudly showed me he could zip it himself.

“Look, Mom!” he beamed. “There really is power in slow!”

Why yes, honey, I’d say there really is.

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