What’s Your Patronus?

expecto patronumLast spring, I wrote a post called The Lesson of the Boggart. It was one of the most popular posts from my Blogger days (I switched to self-hosting on WordPress shortly thereafter) and one of my personal favorite book-centric posts. In the post (which I hope you’ll read) I wrote about the genius of J.K. Rowling, using a dark creature to symbolize fear, then creating a spell to vanquish that fear with laughter and comic imagery. There are many of these symbolic life-lessons hidden in the Harry Potter series. One of my favorites? Expecto Patronum!

A patronus is a spell cast to fight the effects of dementors, the darkest creatures in Harry Potter’s world. It requires the caster to summon an image of happiness, then project that happy feeling through the spell Expecto Patronum, which creates an etherial creature to expel the dementor, even while the dementor is working to drain all happiness from you and ultimately to suck out your very soul. Expecto Patronum is an important weapon in Harry’s arsenal; he and his friends wouldn’t have survived past book three without it. It’s a difficult spell that needs a lot of magic behind it, but the key is that happy thought, which has to be powerful enough to fight the overwhelmingly powerful dark creature. Many times in the series, Harry was unable to summon a happy enough thought at first, and it nearly killed him.

We don’t live in Harry Potter’s world, and we don’t battle dementors on a regular basis, but we do battle different dark creatures. National tragedies: gunmen in schools, destructive hurricanes, terrorism. Poverty. Lack of resources. War. On a personal level: Depression. Negative body image. Physical and emotional abuse. The list goes on; all, like Harry’s dark creatures, are rooted in fear. How do we, as individuals, combat them? What happy talisman do we carry inside us, ready to be summoned, ready to save us?

In other words, what’s your patronus? Continue reading

Spring Bucket List

DSCN1040It’s already April 21, but it’s only felt like spring for a few days. Everyone in the Northeast is going around saying what a hard, cold winter it was, and how happy they are that spring has arrived. I feel the same, with one caveat: I know how quickly “happy for spring” can turn into “it’s summer already- where did the time go?” We anticipate something, thinking that the anticipation will make the event extra special, but when it arrives, we soon take it for granted. We get over a cold, and within a day, forget to appreciate clear nasal passages; we buy a new car, and within a few weeks, stop enjoying the new-car smell and feel; we lose a few pounds, and soon decide we want to lose a few more. Our happiness levels out shortly after the change in circumstance.

So, in the spirit of maintaining gratitude and savoring the moment, I’m continuing with my tradition of seasonal bucket lists. I had a lot of fun with the Fall and Holiday lists; now it’s time for the Spring edition! Continue reading

One Weekend, One Meeting, Changed Everything

In the spring of 1999, I had a big decision to make. I had been accepted to all three colleges I applied to, the three best schools in the state for music education (debatable, of course, but approved by all my music teachers). Ithaca was out; though I loved the school, it was much too expensive, and my parents were determined that I enter adulthood without debt. My choice was between SUNY Fredonia, and the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam. I was inclined to go with Fredonia. I’d spent a week at a camp there the previous summer, and really liked the school and the flute teacher. She’d even promised me a spot in her studio without having to do an official audition. Conversely, I’d only applied to Crane because all my music teachers told me I had to. I’d been there the previous winter, on a school orchestra field trip that included a performance at Crane and a weekend in Montreal, and I’d thought Potsdam was the ugliest place on earth. It was February, which meant it was freezing and covered in slushy, dirty snow. I hated the way the college buildings rose out of the earth like rectangular brick prisons (the Crane building itself had very few windows, and the ones it did have were narrow slits). I’d auditioned for the flute teacher off-site, and he’d been very kind, even taking the time to work with me a little extra after the day was over, but I didn’t know him as well as the Fredonia teacher. Fredonia seemed the obvious choice.

And yet the following year found me, not at Fredonia, but at Crane. I grew to love the town, the people, the rigorous education and musical training, and especially my flute professor. I even loved the prison-like Crane building. I’m more loyal to Crane than possibly any other institution on earth.potsdam tower

The change came about over a weekend in the spring of 1999, when my father insisted we give Potsdam “one more shot.” Continue reading

The Writing Relationship

images-1I’ve had a relationship with Writing for most of my life.

I was formally introduced to Writing in kindergarten. I learned about her, letter by letter, and I understood her mentally, but sometimes our physical relationship struggled as my 5 year-old hand shook and cramped, holding the pencil over the special dot-dash paper.

As I grew, Writing became something I needed to convey my thoughts in school. I used her to tell my teacher what I wanted to be when I grew up (at the time, a restauranteur), to organize all the information I’d learned about mourning doves, and to express myself in letters to friends and cards to family. I liked Writing about those things, and my ability to do it well made me feel “good at school,” but I never considered spending much personal time with Writing.

In middle school, my maturing thoughts and feelings became too mixed up to straighten out in my head, so I turned to Writing to help me untangle, grow and become who I wanted to be. I wrote big, in sketchpads with colorful markers. I chronicled my life. Sometimes I thought about using Writing to tell the stories I made up in my head- my “imaginings,” as I called them, in homage to Anne Shirley. I’d start a story now and then, but I didn’t understand enough about the art of storytelling to continue them. Writing and I were personal friends, but I wasn’t ready to take it to the next level. Continue reading

How Do You Keep Healthy Habits When You’re Sick?

tired dog

A resting role model

I’ve had a sinus infection for about 5 months now. It started in November as mild congestion in the mornings and evenings. I saw my doctor about it in December, and she diagnosed it as a sinus infection, but it was mild enough at that point that we chose to treat it naturally, with nasal spray and steaming techniques. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough, and at the end of February I had an awful week when I was exhausted with a clogged nose, drippy throat and painful stomachache. My doctor put me on a course of antibiotics (milder ones, as I’m still nursing) and that helped for awhile. A few weeks later, though, it was all back. I went on a second course of different antibiotics. That helped too, for awhile. But last week, a few days after I finished the pills, I started getting congested and tired again. A lot more tired, in fact. It’s been a tough week, as I’ve been fatigued, and Edwin has a cold. It’s a lot harder to keep a sick kid happy and distracted when you’re too exhausted to do anything fun. Today I’m going to see an ENT to see if something else can be done.

In the meantime, I’ve found it very difficult to keep up with my healthy habits, especially my “moderator” habits. In general, I’m a disciplined person, and after instilling and committing to a healthy habit, I don’t have too much trouble maintaining it. But when I’m sick, everything goes out the window. All I want are sweets and carbs. Continue reading

“Doing” or “Not Doing”- Is “Doing” Always Better?

There’s a saying people use sometimes to decide whether or not to do an activity: “When I’m 80, will I be glad I did this (skydive, go to the theater, leave the house) today?” This question is designed to push the person toward activities that create memories. And while that’s a noble goal, I don’t think memorability should be the only criterion. Just because something will be memorable doesn’t mean it will be enjoyable.

Here’s an example of a time I said “no” to a very memorable event, and didn’t regret it. When I was in college, I had the opportunity to do a summer semester teaching music in England. I was in a group of five girls, and in between our teaching assignments, we did a lot of traveling together. Just by happenstance, we were in England during a major historical event: Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee celebration, the 50th anniversary of her coronation. (We were also there while England was competing in the World Cup, and it was so much fun cheering on David Beckham and seeing the white flag with red cross hanging on every house and pub.)

My four friends decided there was no way they were missing the Jubilee celebration parade. For a week, they all tried talking me into going with them to London. I thought about it. I knew it was a memory I’d be able to tell my grandchildren- that I saw the Queen of England ride by in her carriage. But how much of her would I really get to see? How many hours would I have to wait, on my feet, in a crushing crowd? Continue reading

How 5 Minutes Can Make Your Day 100% Better

imagesI’ve had a pretty ordinary week, with a couple of extraordinarily productive days. Looking at which days were productive, and which were just average, helped me to see a pattern. I’ve recently started setting my alarm clock, even though Edwin’s an early riser and I don’t really need it. My rationale was that if I got up at the same time every day, instead of potentially varying it by 30-40 minutes, I might re-tune my body clock so I feel more refreshed when I wake up. But it had an unintended side effect: on the days Edwin slept a little later than my alarm, I got a few minutes to write in the mornings. One day this week, I got a whole serendipitous hour. That was obviously the most productive day. But I found something interesting: even on the days I only got 5 minutes, I saw a big boost in productivity. 

What did I do with that 5 minutes? Continue reading