Serenity in Taxes…Hmmm

Who doesn’t need a little love in their life during tax season? April 15th seems to sneak up fast every year but we all know the cold truth; we always know exactly when it will strike. Suddenly paperwork takes over everything else, invading family time and quiet team. It may be the only time we resent making money as we may face an unpleasant surprise of a new tax bracket.

So rather than focus on drudgery, take a breather from the paperwork. Remember that whatever the outcome, dollars do not control our destiny even though it certainly feels like it in the moment. Remember to be grateful for what you have.
Carve out a moment to embrace love around you. Hug your little one, be it a baby or a puppy. Lean over and give your spouse a smooch in the middle of your tax fight (am I the only one??). Walk away from the paperwork or blaring screen, step outside, and breathe in some fresh air. It is good for the soul. Phone a friend. Reconnect with what really makes the world go round. Money helps but it ain’t what controls the world. (Hint: Look up!)

I actually prepare my own taxes and I always cry out in prayer even with an advanced degree in tax. Minutiae is not my friend. So in the midst of it all, I make time to step back and remember what brings joy and fulfillment. It ain’t Uncle Sam for me!

Grab a cup of tea, glass of water, or ice cold lemonade. Kick up your feet for just a moment and give a mental thank you to all the good in your life. Leave the tedious taxes behind for a moment and remember all you have to be grateful for, including everything that makes your taxes more complicated: family, a job that brings you purpose, and a house that brings your comfort. If these don’t apply, appreciate the supposedly “EZ” return, enjoy what you have, and live with expectancy of the dreams in sight. Wishing you all a little serenity this tax season. See you after the 15th when I have time to write a decent post again.

Zen in Piping Hot Coffee

Finding zen in the morning coffee.

Morning coffee. There was a time I used to drink my morning coffee hot. I ran to different courthouses in a single morning, accruing miles and stressing the clock. I argued before judges and with other professional arguers. I guided my scared clients, drunk clients, angry clients, belligerent clients. I faced down jail time, financial ruin, demise of reputation (of my clients, not my own). I fended off deadlines. All while wearing heels and a skirt and a made up face. All while drinking a hot cup of coffee each day.

Fast forward to the arrival of little munchkins. Four years knee deep in diapers, sippy cups, obnoxious cartoons, laundry, dishes, dancing, playing, nagging. I juggled a case load of legal fights with hot coffee but somehow I failed to find the time in the harried pace of motherhood.

Here I am. Four years of cold coffee. I don’t mean the fashionable iced coffee or the hipster cold-brewed coffee. I mean the old fashioned coffee straight out of the pot coffee of our forefathers. I no longer juggle make up, unpredictable clients, and dry cleaned suits. I still wake up early but without the demand to be articulate and composed. Yet I can’t manage a hot drink in the monotonous but hectic mornings of motherhood. Each day I carefully pick my timing. The kid are calm or sleeping. Yet, somehow in the five minute window of brewing, fights break out, Matchbox cars crash, diapers need changing, and snot needs removing. When a moment of calm trikes again and I realize my craving for a little self-indulgence and morning pick-me-up, I turn and see my sad, lonely cup of Joe.

I miss my hot coffee. But I embraced my new reality and switched to ice coffee. Only to discover it too becomes sad with neglect, lukewarm and diluted with melted ice. And it got me wondering, what my hang up is about coffee? Parenting has required many changes to my routine and (hopefully) temporary sacrifice of my personal desires. Coffee seems so miniscule in the scheme of parental sacrifices. But it is symbolic of our need for a breath in our day. A moment to collect our thoughts and reconnect with our inner self. A moment to pray or just be silent. A moment to rest and regroup for another day’s demands and adventures. No matter how busy life gets, we must take the time to restore our spirits. Even if its just a minute with our coffee, hot, iced, or lukewarm.

Strength of Koi

Golden hues shimmer in the water.  Orange, red, yellow, brown, white and black swirl around. Translucent fins dance through the water, reminscent of scarves suspended in water.  I envision myself suspended in water. My thoughts ebbing and flowing like the dancing fins.  Shimmering light in golden hues surround me. I loosen up. I release control and let the water dictate my motion.

While I see grace in the koi, koi symbolize strength in Japan. They are known to climb waterfalls and swim upstream. They also have long lifespans and survive many different conditions. If you have never heard about koi invasion of the Illinois River, you can see a clip of their takeover here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLmJjRqXDCo. Koi is prevalent throughout Japanese art. The photo above is a prime example, with koi intricately carved into a single piece of wood.

As turbulent waters arise, I will aim for grace and strength like the koi. After all, every storm ends and calm returns.

Art in Motion: Museum of Art in Atami, Japan

Staring at an artistc masterpiece for minutes on end.  Perusing ancient statutes, paintings, and handcrafted pottery. Sitting before a behemoth Miro or Picasso, mesmerized by bright colors. Hours on end staring at Van Gogh’s chunky brush strokes from every angle.  Days spent wandering museums from Amsterdam to Paris to St. Petersburg to New York City to Madrid. Then along came a baby.

My love of museums didn’t stop and I kept trucking. With my baby tucked in a baby carrier, we journeyed through the Louvre and the Norton Simon Museum. But then he turned into a rambunctious toddler . Once he wouldn’t stay in a baby backpack, I thought my museum wanderlust was resigned to stimulus overload at children’s museums. And then I had a second child and became scared of losing my kids in the whirlwind of motion at the kids museum.

Yet, at, here we are at an art museum at last. We are in Atchi, Japan, known for hot spring inns (onsen ryokans) that are centuries old. It is also known for MOA, Museum of Art, standing over the city on an oceanside cliff.  I don’t know what got into me but I decided to take the family to the museum. The sky looked with rain clouds waiting to burst, so we drove off to the museum.

The ride alone was worth the trip. We swerved through curvy local roads and spied on life outside the touristy resorts. Around every bend, ocean vistas appeared. The feeling of impending death on narrow, curvy roads in Japan never gets old. As the museum neared, we drive through a bamboo forest wonderland. The museum appeared, with Roman Greco columns of white. So….Japanese…

Museum of Art, MOA, Atchi, Japan

 

Suddenly the anxiety creeped up. Our relative was dropping us off with no car and two kids at an isolated museum. We would be there for hours with two nap-deprived kids. And onward we go!

The museum is sandwiched between a bamboo garden and an ocean side perch. There is not a bad view in sight. The vastness of the ocean and the high-in-the-sky bamboo dwarf  my stress. I am reminded that the world keeps on turning to the hand of an awesome Creator, and I start to settle into zen, kids and all.

Ocean Vista

This museum is like the Getty in Los Angeles; you can come just for the view and the grounds and have a wonderful time. Oh wait, there is art to be seen? Who wants to be indoors with this view?

Old me would grab a map and plot out a whirlwind tour through the key collections. New me is focused on finding the cafe. Nursing hunger pains! Plus, well-fed kids are less cranky. We find the restaurant which overlooks the museum gardens with floor to ceiling windows. Better yet, the food was so delicious, we ordered another round! The restaurant sticks with local ingredients and the freshness is clear. We had a pork meatloaf (in Japan, this is a hamburger) served on a sizzling black stone. It was surrounded by local mushrooms, radish, potatoes, eggplant, and onions, all sizzling in the pork juice. Everyone, baby included, indulged in it. Highly recommended! Go for the view and be surprised by the food.

image

The next stop was the tea rooms. The museum houses an indoor tea room constructed gilded gold. It is perfectly preserved. I loved it for the history and a love of all things tea. The boys loved it for it’s blinding shininess.

 

Golden Tea Room

 

Afterwards, we traveled outdoors to the other tea room, one that actually serves tea! The museum garden contains a classic summer residence with ancient Japanese architecture and gorgeous gardens. We could have spent all day there. The kids loved roaming the moss-sprinkled pathway, destroying the zen in the rock garden, and roaming around ancient corridors. I loved immersing myself in a bygone era and the serenity of the gardens. I am also a tea nerd, and loved drinking freshly made matcha (green tea powder) in the tea room overlooking the gardens.

Bamboo with Wild Lillies

 

Entry to the Gardens

Former Residence

Tea Room

Eventually, we went inside to see the art.  We spent all of our time in a temporary exhibit about light. The kids, and the grown ups, loved it. As a result, this is my only photo of traditional Japanese art forum the permanent collection:

Japanese art

In the end, my kids taught me a new way to enjoy museums. It turns out I am less cranky when I am well fed. The art was more enjoyable on a full stomach. But beyond that, they forced me to slow down and really live the experience. Did I see every masterpiece in the museum? No. Did I read about the history and symbolism in the pieces? No. Did I stop, breathe, stroll, and take in the grounds and residences like a local from the past? You bet.

Light art

When it came to the actual art, my son introduced me to the joys of more experiential art. We spent half an hour in front of an interactive screen projection where our sillouhettes controlled the movement of colorful balls (see the featured image of this post). My son ran back and forth between colorful light displays. As his face lit up with wonder, so did mine. He reminded me the world is magical and the best art is to be fully enjoyed. And whatever you do, take the scenic route. (This includes the museum’s endless elevator corridor, filled with colored lights and surround sound symphony music).

This elevator has at least four sections this long and seems to travel to the center of the earth.

This elevator has at least four sections this long and seems to travel to the center of the earth.

Ocean View Hot Springs: Getting My Zen On in Luxury

I am buzzing from the hot spring high. Fifteen minutes in the natural, hot, bubbly springs will loosen your muscles, soak away your cares, and force you to let loose. Then you hop out and get right back to the craziness of toddler, baby, and in laws. But it is such a nice way to bond as a family!

Traditional Japanese inns, called ryokans, are clustered throughout the country. Many ryokans also have hot springs, or onsen. The whole family dresses down (or dresses up in my Western view) into ukatas, which are casual cotton kimonos. They are so comfortable that many people sleep in them. There are no shoes allowed in the inn. Everyone wears slippers in the common areas and goes barefoot in the onsen and in their private rooms.

Once you change into your traditional Japanese pajamas, you head to the hot spring. As per my previous post, you get naked with the whole family (usually single gender but not always). You bathe before entering the springs. Today’s bath took place outdoors with an ocean view. Then, you slip into the hot spring and let your body adjust to the heat. Slowly, your body and mind unwinds. I take in the view of the bay and the city lights. Fifteen minutes later, it is time to cool off in the nude in the fresh ocean breeze. If I stay any longer, I run the risk of falling asleep. Then, bathe again. There are usually a variety of spa products to pamper yourself, and of course you can purchase them later if so inspired.

Once double bathed and fully refreshed, it is time for endless food in your room. Ryokans often serve eight to twelve courses, including sushi, wagyu beef (heavily marbleized), and an array of Japanese delicacies. Today we indulged in local, sweet lobster, both grilled and raw sashimi. Another specialty item was steamed abalone. We ate on pillows and a low rise table. It allowed the kids to run around the tatami floor in between courses. Relaxing fun for everyone!

For a little more self-indulgence, I took a nighttime dip in the onsen. Fully relaxed for bed….until my baby screamed for attention. Getting my zen on indeed!

Sashimi

Appetizers
Abalone steaming up!

Travel Tips for One and All

I read lots of articles about traveling. Many of the points are recycled and old hat. This article contains 35 useful tips, most I never heard before. I can personally vouch for the tip about booking aisle and window for two people traveling together, especially with a lap child. If the plane is ji t full, you may get a full row to yourself. Even if the plane is not full, you wull ease the tension with your airplane neighbor by offering them an aisle or window sw at when they thought they would be stuck in center. http://news.distractify.com/dark/trivial-facts/24-travel-tips-that-will-change-your-life-forever/?v=1