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Here we are, at the end of September, and it feels like autumn has truly arrived. I am reminded of everything I admire about this vibrant, intriguing, fleeting season. The crisp, cooler, shorter days whisper quiet hints to us as the sunshine beckons outside to enjoy the earthy, damp smell of the beautiful leaves. And after a delicious morning spent in an apple orchard, picking favourite varieties and those of which we’ve never heard before, we are grateful to return to tend to the hearth. Autumn inspires me to decorate our home with bright gourds and leaves that we collect on a hike in the nearby forest, then dry to flat perfection between the pages of a favourite book in preparation for making garlands and various abstract ikebana creations.

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The hazy, humid, air-conditioned days have made way for the in-between season. It’s not chilly enough for the fireplace, but I feel a tingle of excitement when I open the drawer containing my knitted accessories. Soon. Soon, my feet will luxuriate in the softness of the funky bright-coloured wool socks I enjoyed knitting in the warmer months. I will slip into them upon returning home in the evening, wrap myself in blankets after Wanderlust Juniors will have gone to bed, and spend a lovely date with myself on the living room sofa, drinking tea while journeying through the Scottish Highlands or North Carolina (I’m continuing to breeze through the Outlander books and am currently reading book No. 5 in the series).

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The late summer harvest Ratatouille was delicious. Now is the time for deep-dish apple crumble, apple cake, and cranberry-apple pie that I will serve to friends and family when entertaining. Butternut squash has returned to our kitchen as a guest of honour featured in soups, risotto, and pizza. Pumpkin spice muffins are a weekly menu staple. Having grown up in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, pumpkin was not featured on my list of autumn favourites, but once I discovered its beauty, in my mid-20s, I learned to appreciate autumn even more than I ever before thought possible. It just wouldn’t be the same without the pumpkin, the squash, and the gourds. It also wouldn’t be the same without the rainy days, and apples, the cranberries, the soft scarves, hats, mittens and socks hand-knit by a loved one. It wouldn’t be the same without the memories that transport us back to the autumns of our childhood. Never am I more aware of the fleeting nature of time than during the bright and joyful and the rainy and cool days of October.

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Is the world rushing someplace, or is it that we need to slow down our own pace? May we harness our favourite moments of Autumns past and direct the nostalgia toward the creation of new memories.

What is on your list of autumn favourites? Please leave a comment below.

LessonsFromMyGrandmother

I have been thinking about my grandmother after sending a birthday card to her a few weeks ago. She and I are separated by an ocean and several countries on both sides of the body of water. We do sometimes chat briefly on Skype, but my favourite method of communication with my grandmother is via beautiful stationery and pens. Letter-writing is a magical ritual for me, one that I started practising in childhood. The tips of my fingers buzz with excitement when I pick up from my mailbox not a stack of bills or ads that waste paper, but a handwritten letter from someone I love. My eyes light up at the treasure I am so fortunate to have received. Sometimes, in those letters, my grandmother, in the famous health-conscious and orderly Virgo fashion that I admire, includes a clipping from a Russian newspaper: an article that discusses health issues and provides practical tips. Sometimes, she includes notes in the margins. Most often she writes, “Please pass this along to your parents.”

Babushka has always cooked healthy and delicious meals for us from scratch, always using the full ingredient, never generating more waste than absolutely necessary. When making her famous meat pies, she reserves the bones for broth. She has also always been a fitness role model for me, finding any excuse to move, whether going for a jog, cross-country skiing, or simply dancing about the living room while polishing the hardwood floors with a rag under her slippers (oh yes!) She is most awesome.

Rather than following the modern-day version of a healthy lifestyle that revolves around fads such as juicing, fasting, and restricting ourselves in one way or another, I have learned from my grandmother that diet and exercise trends come and go, and instead of adhering strictly to a specific regimen, we must re-evaluate and redefine our own meaning of a healthy lifestyle.

Last weekend, on a rainy, windy afternoon, while nursing an annual cold that somehow sneaks up on me in September, I felt inspired by the autumnal mood to browse my wardrobe of cozy knit sweaters and contemplate a pair of new riding boots to replace a pair that I wore loyally for five years until they no longer looked presentable. That’s not all I contemplated. While considering the clothes that suit me best, based on my current style, I also reflected on the importance of taking inventory of our health priorities. Autumn reminds me to bring the focus back to my non-negotiables, asking myself, “What does being healthy mean to me?”

Here is the current list of my health non-negotiables:

Sleep: I need seven to eight hours of sleep at night. I can sometimes get away with six hours of sleep, but if I miss out for two or more nights in a row, I quickly become irritable and end up unsuccessfully fighting unhealthy food cravings.

Movement: I love my daily 5 a.m. wake-up routine that includes hot water with lemon, followed by cardio or weights, then yoga. This regimen allows me to set a positive tone for the day. Some mornings are gentle for me and at times, I spend 30 minutes in restorative poses. From time to time, I sleep in and squeeze in just 10 minutes of yoga later in the day. The key is to follow one’s intuition. On most mornings, my intuition tells me to get up and get moving because it provides me with an energy burst that carries me through the day.

Cuddles: Cuddling with my children is mandatory, particularly when it’s the last thing on my seemingly never-ending ‘to do’ list. I sometimes fall asleep in one of my children’s beds, too exhausted to fight sleep. I find the same ‘to do’ list waiting for me the following morning, when I’m better able to discern the real priorities on that list, allowing certain other items to marinate for the time being.

Nutrition: I know that certain fats, processed sugar, and other substances are not healthy. I avoid certain additives at all costs. Yet, I no longer make a big deal over a bit of processed sugar added to home-baked goods, or the creme brulee I enjoy twice a year. Although I am most certainly an abstainer, I do make exceptions for dessert on special occasions. As I delve deeper into my self-learning process, I have been avoiding snacking because I find that I feel better when I eat three solid, wholesome, nutrient-packed meals on a daily basis. Intuition has become my best buddy.

Smiles and Laughter: When I feel tired, the corners of my mouth refuse to turn up. All the tiny muscles in my face feel cynical, sneering at everyone and everything around me. On those days, I force myself to smile and witness my energy change. Then, I remind myself to get to bed early that night, even if it means falling asleep with my children while rubbing their backs. And truly, that’s one of the sweetest, most calming methods of relaxation and meditation.

That’s my recipe for today, in honour of my Babushka: sleep + nutrition + movement + cuddles + smiles and laughter. The execution of this intricate balancing act is not always simple, but we can always do our best.

What is on your list of health and wellness non-negotiables?

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Welcome to a bonus edition of Dharma Wanderlust Musings, with Mr. Wanderlust himself. You often hear about me, but not directly from me. Mrs. Wanderlust has kindly allowed me to borrow this space to tell you in my own words about a new project about which we are very excited: Sea Turtle Conservancy Collection.

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When we launched the Dharma Wanderlust shop several years ago, the primary goal was always to use our craft to give back to and enrich the community in any way possible. For me, this is done through woodworking. We not only obtain our wood from sustainable sources but also ensure that a tree is planted for every item sold. With that, we give back more to the planet than we take, thus ensuring the continuity of the beautiful trees that are so vital for the health of the earth.

As I observe our kids play in the sand on the beach in the summer, I remember how I used to frolic in the ocean waves as a child, watching fish and jellyfish float by. I would not want that beauty do disappear in the future. As I visit the seaside more and more with my family, I get influenced by what I see and am exposed to. Many of our recently created wooden items incorporate nautical elements or were influenced by water in one way or another.

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About 70% of our planet is water and we should try our best to keep it clean, not to over-exploit its resources and protect the creatures that live in the waters around the world, as we are all connected. We as humans might be at the top of the food chain but ultimately we rely on the tiniest phytoplankton and zooplankton at the bottom of the food chain for our ultimate survival as a species. Once the bottom falls out, there might be trouble ahead. We believe that all humans should become the shepherds of both land and sea and do what we can to keep Earth healthy and clean.

That’s why we are thrilled to be a cause-related partner of Sea Turtle Conservancy, the world’s oldest sea turtle research and conservation group.

For this partnership, we have created a special line of handmade sea turtle-themed items. For every sale of an item from the Sea Turtle collection, 20% will be donated directly to STC.

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We thank you in advance for your support.

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On the Tuesday after Labour Day, I logged into my Facebook account to post an update on the Dharma Wanderlust page. Although I do not typically browse my newsfeed, I had a few spare moments and decided to scroll down after seeing an adorable photo of a friend’s daughter ready for her first day of the new school year. I clicked ‘like’ and continued to scroll down, clicking ‘like’ on many similar photos of children starting kindergarten or Grade 1. I enjoy seeing updates about friends’ children. Then the realization dawned on me that of all the parents on my Facebook Friends list, Mr. Wanderlust was one of the very few who did not share a picture of our kids donning backpacks and big smiles.

We consciously choose to not share pictures of our children. In fact, if my personal Facebook account were public, to a scrolling stranger who does not know me or anything about my family status, I might look like a woman in a dating relationship. I’m a parent who occasionally blogs about her family, without sharing too much personal detail.

As part of my Mindfulness practice, I think thoroughly about the subject matter of my blog posts. After I write the first draft of a post, before I sit down to edit it, I ask myself:

Why did I write this? Why do I want to share this? Who is my audience and what might they think of this story? How would the publication of this story make me feel? More importantly, how will the publication of this story affect my family?

Social media and blogging have many merits, but they also allow certain aspects of our lives to be opened to a wider audience, inviting various opinions, whether or not we actually care about them. My children do not choose to have photos of them or stories about them shared with the world outside our home, with people they do not know.

Mr. Wanderlust and I connect with many people online via our social network pages. There are many whom we have never actually met, whom we know only through interaction via this blog or through another online community. We are not comfortable with the notion of certain people looking at pictures of our family. We are not comfortable with the idea that a friend of a friend might be reading stories about the silly things our children did when bored on a Saturday afternoon. If and when I do write a story that involves my family, I edit heavily, doing my best to discern the neutrality of the story.

Respect is the core factor. I do not share photos of my family or friends without their permission; my children are currently too young to understand the myriad implications of using social media, so the decision rests with us, their parents. Some might accuse us of being too paranoid. To some, we might look like parents who don’t focus on our children as a priority because we never write about how proud we are of their progress at school, with sports, etc. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We are of the opinion that certain stories are private to us and should stay private, shared only with a select small group of people whom we truly trust and whose judgment matters to us.

When a friend who lives in the same city gives birth to a baby, I prefer the first introduction to be when I visit that friend at home, rather than through pictures posted online minutes after the baby’s entrance into this world. I have cringed many times upon reading a status update or seeing a picture that I have deemed to be too private. I have felt like a voyeur intruding on someone’s privacy by inadvertently getting a glance into that part of someone else’s life.

Several years ago, I used to share photos. Perhaps, I might have been called an over-sharer. It was my mother’s question after I posted a picture of myself rocking a pregnant belly that first prompted me to question my online presence. My mom, who spends very little time on social media, asked me why I would want to share a picture of my pregnant self when those who see me every day already know how I currently look, and those who do not see me every day probably do not need to be privy to certain updates. My mom, in her traditional worldview, reminded me of the importance of protecting what is most precious to me and mindfully creating karma. Every action is a catalyst for a reaction that we often cannot predict.

At the time when I received this advice from my mom, I was taken aback, explaining to her that I shared because I enjoyed the connection with the online community. I feel happy for others when they post their pictures and stories, and at the time, I wanted to also share my own joy with the world. My mom didn’t press further, but her words led me to re-evaluate my habits.

Today, my personal Facebook page is fairly bare, devoid of the pictures and status updates I once used to share. I might not appear very exciting, but I feel comfortable with this. These days, this blog is my connection to the online community and by writing a post only once a week, I not only provide myself with an opportunity to discern, to edit each story several times, but also to create more time to focus on what is most precious to me: my family.

What is your take on sharing photos and stories of your children on social media? What guidelines do you follow? Please leave a comment below.

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“So, where are we going, exactly?”

“It’s on West 89th Street, past Broadway,” I told Mr. Wanderlust.

We had inadvertently taken the express subway train north toward Bronx, and had missed our stop. After getting back on a southbound train to backtrack, we walked along Central Park West and then continued our pleasant sunny stroll through Upper West Side, admiring the brownstone buildings on our way to search for Kathleen Kelly.

I first watched You’ve Got Mail in the year 2000. My mom, sister and I had rented the movie on a Saturday night. I was riveted by the beautiful New York setting of the film; the precious children’s bookstore, The Shop Around the Corner, central to the story; and the old school-style romance between the two main characters, with a modern day twist. I also became fascinated by Meg Ryan’s adorable character of Kathleen Kelly, her love of literature, and particularly Jane Austen; her optimism; her understated style; her quirky mannerisms; and yes, even the decor of her apartment. I wanted to be Kathleen Kelly, or at least to have her as a BFF. This wasn’t the first time I wished that a fictional character were real, but I remember how strongly I felt the inspiration to be like Kathleen Kelly.

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Mr. Wanderlust and I enjoyed a wonderful quick getaway to New York City over the weekend for some couple time. I had previously visited Queens and Long Island, but had never been to Manhattan and felt elated at the opportunity to enjoy a few days in the city. Of course, I also wanted to pay a visit to an old friend.

Approaching the house in which Kathleen Kelly ‘resides,’ I looked up at the front door to see it open. I actually let out a quiet gasp as I watched a woman in her mid-30s exit the building, dressed in a yellow cotton tank top, black cropped leggings and running shoes, with two large canvas bags slung over both shoulders. As she walked toward her car, parked at the curb, to deposit the heavy bags in the trunk, she glanced at me briefly with a blank expression on her face. I image she must see many tourists like me on a daily basis as they approach the building timidly, snap a selfie, giggle self-consciously and walk away, muttering quietly about how nerdy they feel.

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I crossed casually to the other side of the street and took a photo of the building from the sidewalk. In my periphery, I watched as the woman drove away, then sprinted back across the road and up the cement stairs toward the brown wood and glass door, channeling my best impression of Kathleen Kelly returning home after a busy day at The Shop Around the Corner. Mr. Wanderlust directed me through a few more poses and I gingerly stepped down the stairs again, shaking off the feeling of intruding in some way upon the privacy of the residents upstairs. I imagined them sitting at the front windows above me, glaring at me and shaking their heads with a bored expression on their faces, thinking, “There goes another one.” I had to steal a quick glance toward the third storey windows. No one there.

Before walking west toward Riverside Park, Mr. Wanderlust offered to take a photo of two women who, like me, had quietly stopped in front of the entrance to take a selfie. He directed them to walk up toward the front door for a similar picture of the one he took of me.

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The following morning, after breakfast at the beautiful lounge of the boutique hotel where we stayed in Midtown East, at 7:30, wearing the little black knit dress I had packed for the trip, I paid a visit to a favourite spot of another dear BFF, Holly Golightly. This time, we didn’t have to travel far. After a five-minute walk along an almost-empty 5th Avenue, Mr. Wanderlust and I had the street to ourselves, just like Miss Golightly, greeting the sun’s sparkle as it bounced off the perfect diamonds in the window of Tiffany & Co.

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“I should have stopped at Starbucks to buy a coffee and croissant, just for the sake of the photo,” I half-joked.

“It would have been your second breakfast of the morning, at Tiffany’s.”

“I suppose you can cross two items off your wish list,” Mr. Wanderlust announced to me several minutes later, as we walked toward Rockefeller Center. I sighed in response.

“Yes, I suppose you’re right,” I smiled up at him. “It’s been a perfect weekend.”

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This fall I want to colour in my fancy adult colouring book, creating a chaotic yet somehow comforting piece of art that no one else might ever appreciate but one that would speak for itself, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind that I am the one who created it.

 

I want to let go and make art the way children make art, with complete abandon, and preferably while humming a silly tune to myself. My children will ask what song I’m singing, then likely join in.

 

I want to gather nature’s treasures – acorns, leaves, and twigs – and then glue them, tape them, plaster them all over my tiny writing corner currently covered in journals, colourful pencils, and yarn.

 

I want my fingers to move on their own while I decipher a new-to-me knitting pattern without ever thinking of it as complicated. Instead, I want to open my mind, open my heart, and allow the creativity that resides within me to flow right out of my fingertips, extending through the bamboo needles and weaving, weaving, weaving magic.

 

I want to knit. I want to knit many comfortable pieces that might never be worn but are created from my heart.

 

I want to work with colour. I want to fill my world with colour, never thinking about old favourite hues or seeking to narrow down what does and does not appeal to me or to someone else. One day, I might like blood orange; the next, I will be drawn to ocean blue. Then, I’ll spin them together into a swirl of emerald.

 

I want to give. I want to give more to my children, to my partner, to my parents.

 

I want to tour my favourite museum in the forest, admiring the new works on display, already perfect in their raw, unfinished form.

 

Nature wants, but is never wanting.

 

How about you? What do you want to do this fall? Please leave a comment.