Blogging, humor, Just For Fun, Veganiness

My First Time at a Hippie Commune, I Mean, Omega Institute

“Do you think they’ll have coffee?” my sister asked, peering over the edge of a wide toll bridge that would take us past the Hudson River towards a small town in central New York state.

“I was just thinking the same thing!” I said, slapping the steering wheel. “We’ll have to ask as soon as we check in.”

After a two and a half hour car ride from our hometown in New Jersey, we arrived at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York on Friday afternoon, leaving plenty of time to have dinner before our weekend workshop began at 8:00pm.

Go-Jules-Go-Omega-title-image

Omega is a nonprofit, mission-driven, and donor-supported educational organization. For more than 40 years we’ve been a pioneer in holistic studies – helping people and organizations integrate personal growth and social change, moving beyond ‘the way it is’ toward ‘the way it can be.'” –Omega Institute website

We wound through bumpy, forest-lined roads until we pulled into the main driveway. A tan, golden-locked young man greeted us with an easy smile and glazed-over eyes.

“Hey there! Staying here or are you a commuter?”

“Commuter,” I replied.

“Right on. You can go ahead and park in either of these two rows. Have a good one.”

When we’d spot him later that evening, we’d find him still perched at his station, but holding a guitar. We parked the car in the gravel lot and joined a long line in front of a building at the main entrance.

Eventually receiving welcome instructions and a map, we moseyed uphill towards the dining hall.

“I feel like I’m in Dirty Dancing,” I said, gazing at the casually dressed men and women wandering through Omega’s plentiful cabins and gardens. There was something serene about the timeless energy surrounding us. Or maybe it was just the lack of wifi.

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Someone definitely needs to put this in the corner.

As calm and quiet as the campus seemed, the institute was fully booked for the weekend and the food hall was hopping, hundreds of people lined up at the (mostly) vegan buffet.

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Commuters like us (we were staying at an off-campus AirBnB) had to pay a mandatory $110 “commuter fee” on top of the workshop registration fee in order to enjoy the food and campus amenities. (Coffee, the staff assured us at registration, would be available in the morning, along with milks made of everything from hemp to rainbows.)

We filled our plates and fruitlessly searched for the vodka station balanced our cups awkwardly as we tried to find a table outside.

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I think someone forgot to turn on the air conditioning…

All of the tables outside were large enough to accommodate at least eight people; luckily, I’d spotted the phrase “communal dining” in the brochure and had spent the prior two weeks practicing my fake niceties.

“What workshop are you here for?” I asked the man across from me, wondering how many chanterelle mushrooms I could shove into my mouth between questions.

“Psychic Detective,” he replied, spearing a chickpea and giving me the kind of bright-eyed, smiling response usually reserved for preschool teachers and cannibals. “How about you?”

I inhaled dramatically before replying with jazz hands, “Your Spirit Guides Await!”

Omega-spirit-guides-await-registration-letterHe nodded as if I’d just said “the sky is blue” and we went on to cover all of the other usual platitudes for the next hour before finding an excuse to leave. The question he never asked, and that I imagine you’re wondering at this stage:

What the f&@% are you doing here?”

I blame meditation. After just a few short months of daily meditation, my sister and I found ourselves exploring other metaphysical curiosities, from oracle cards to crystals to chakra-balancing. Poking around these avenues ignited a spark in both of us that felt too intriguing to ignore.

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Plus those crystal balls really bring out the crazy in my eyes.

With time to spare before our workshop began, my sister and I made our way down the hill towards the community lake, passing several people lounging in hammocks. We plopped down in two empty chaise lounges by the water and watched a few kayakers drift lazily in the distance. One of the staff members raked the sand in front of the water for a solid fifteen minutes, a concentrated frown on her face.

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The result of her efforts.

“Do you think she misunderstood the term ‘Reiki’?” I asked at one point.

My sister rolled her eyes at my pun and answered, “Do you think people take the kayaks out just to smoke pot?”

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A solid theory.

Neither of our questions were answered because we spent the rest of the weekend sitting barefoot in a small, brightly lit room with one instructor and eighteen strangers, meditating and channeling spirit guides, angels, and for one unlucky classmate not used to a plant-based diet, farts.

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Elizabeth Harper, a walking fairy our instructor, explained in a lilting British accent that we all have one main spirit guide with us throughout our lives, along with one main guardian angel, but you might have other spirit guides with you for specific life events or goals. You can tap into these all-knowing, all-loving energy forces at any time, most especially through meditation. I would tell you more, but apparently I can make a lot of money offering this kind of instruction.

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Photo credit

So, did I receive any meaningful guidance or insight throughout the weekend? Yes.

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My classmate Gale received this channeled message for me from my spirit guides, including the symbol. Obviously, I am destined for superstardom.

Did one of my spirit guides look like Zac Efron? Yes. Did I love not stressing about finding vegan food to eat? Yes. Did I mention the farter every chance I got? Yes. Would I go back?

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Um…YES.

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Just For Fun

The Creepiest Thing You’ll Almost Barely Hear

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Photo credit

A few weeks ago at work, I overheard someone say, “A.S.M.R.” Normally when I overhear things at work, I stare at my computer screen for a minute, open my Google doc titled, “New Ways to Avoid People,” and start furiously typing.

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This time I hesitated for only a moment before popping up and walking two cubicles down.

“I’m so sorry I totally meant to didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I heard you say ASMR and I just had to come over. I’m Jules, by the way because despite the fact that I’ve sat two desks away from you for a year I’ve been really busy with this whole Google doc thing. I’ve been listening to ASMR for ages and everything you’re hearing about it is TOTALLY true!”

Many years ago, a fellow blogger clued me into this newfangled phenomenon called Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or, ASMR. “Just watch this and keep an open mind,” she said. “I swear it’s not dirty.”

As I watched this pretty, whispering blonde woman, grateful I was in the privacy of my own home, I suddenly felt tingles on the sides of my scalp. It was so pleasant, in such a benign and innocent way, that I laughed out loud. It was similar to the feeling I used to get when my sister or a friend would brush and braid my hair. I’m pretty sure it’s exactly how a dog feels when you scratch behind his or her ears in that juuuust right spot.

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You know what I’m talkin’ ’bout.

I began a nightly ritual of falling asleep to these videos, my ex chiding me as I’d put on headphones. “Gonna listen to your whispers?” he’d tease. He was the only one who knew about this little routine, because, well, it was a little…weird.

Until now!

As my work conversation proves, ASMR has exploded over the past six years. Some people theorize that the sound of a nurturing woman’s voice brings us back to early childhood. Many people, like me, use it as a sleep aid.

Where there used to be half a dozen ASMR “artists” on YouTube, there are now thousands. The woman above, Maria from Gentle Whispering ASMR (my personal favorite), has well over a million YouTube subscribers. Even people like Olivia Munn are hopping onboard. I’m pretty sure there’s now an ASMR artist for anything you can dream up. Turning library book pages? Chewing gum? Folding towels? Scalp massage? (I would keep going but I’m afraid of what I might discover.

If you’re looking for a little soul-comfort food, I highly recommend browsing YouTube and picking up some dreamy tingles, free of charge.

Hear Here are some of my ASMR favorites:

  1. Gentle Whispering
  2. Goodnight Moon
  3. ASMRrequests
  4. Heather Feather ASMR
  5. Latte ASMR

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Have you heard of ASMR? What do you think?

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humor, Just For Fun

I’m gonna get WEIRD with it.

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“So the ultimate goal, really,” the instructor said, brushing back a curly red lock that had broken loose from her bun, “is to start seeing the whole world this way: a universe filled with divinely placed signs and symbols to help guide you.”

I shuffled a large, colorful deck of cards for the tenth time, glancing around the room at the handful of other students. There was the older woman who introduced herself as a teacher’s assistant, a gray-haired man with turquoise beads around his neck, and someone about my age, in her mid-to-late 30’s.

We sat in the brightly colored yoga studio barefooted, having all been instructed to remove our shoes and wash our hands as soon as we had arrived.

“When you first get your cards,” the instructor continued, “you’ll need to cleanse them. For today, you can wave them over one of these candles, but make sure to pause on each one.”

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If I burn these I’m going to be really pissed.

She then explained how to develop our own interpretations of the “oracle cards” in our hands – oversized decks depicting vivid images and words.

“They come in all kinds of themed decks,” she went on, adjusting her blue-framed glasses, “and you can mix them however you’re called to.”

We spent the next two hours learning about the importance of color, challenging our initial associations between words and images, and tapping into our “inner knowing.”

Fast forward a week later, and I found myself registering for this:

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Yup. That’s right. Part two. I went back for more.

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I mean, you can’t be an oracle card expert without learning how to create your own…intuitive…spreads…right?

Before the end of the second class, I was accurately predicting which cards I’d turn over – from a deck I’d never seen before!

So what was I doing there? Did someone drug me? Threaten to steal my dog? Promise free tickets to see Darren Criss and Lea Michele?

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Oh wait. That’s already happening. I love you, Jenn! Photo credit.

Last summer, I started tugging on a thread that quickly unraveled, revealing a treasure trove of paths to explore. By “following my allurements,” as a favorite teacher of mine likes to say, my love of learning and reading returned with a bang, hidden in a pile of metaphysical books and podcasts.

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This led to a daily meditation practice, which led to more reading, which led to the aforementioned class and which will soon lead to a “Find Your Spirit Guide” weekend retreat at Omega Institute and a Quantum Hypnosis Healing Therapy session in August.

Along with sharing all of my embarrassing snafus and guilty pleasures, I’m letting this smelly cat out of the bag.

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My dad always pegged me for a Phoebe. Photo credit.

Astrology? Reiki? Past lives? Numerology? Near death experiences? Crystals? Sound healing? Chakra balancing? Spirit animals? Astral projection? Telepathy?

Jules-abduction

BRING IT ON.

The more I’ve explored, the more I want to know. The humorist in me loves that this is all just another way of following the classic improv mantra, “Yes, and.” The humane educator in me loves that this is just another way to acknowledge we’re all connected. The chipmunk in me loves that this is just another way to guarantee I’ll find some nuts. The project manager in me loves that this isn’t woo-woo at all; as Carl Sagan put it, “science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.”

I’m finally finding words to articulate the strange things I’ve always experienced. And, the funny thing is, the more I’ve started opening up about this, the more I’ve found like-minded chipmunks everywhere. I mean seriously. Ya’ll were holding out.

Anyhoo. I’ll make sure to send postcards from down the rabbit hole.

Jules-rabbit-hole

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All right, ‘fess up. Who’s with me?!?!

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Just For Fun, Kvetching, New Jersey is breathtaking

Snow Many Women, Snow Little Time

Ah, snow.

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It blankets the drab and sometimes unforgiving world in a pristine swath of white, sparkling like a new beginning. You always know it’s going to snow because of the sky and the smell. And the stillness. The wind quiets and the clouds create an alabaster ceiling. If you breathe in deeply, your nostrils tingle with a chill that’s more inviting than foreboding, and you’ll catch the faintest hint of ice, a scent that’s almost impossible to describe.

Ah, snow.

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God%^*&@#$^*!!!!

Every March the clock springs forward giving us more precious hours of sunlight, and at least in New Jersey, a crocus or two pops from the ground, winking and promising that Spring is nearly here.

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We make plans, eagerly lugging our bicycles and gardening tools from the basement, and then Mother Nature says, “Psych!”

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I suppose it makes sense that the ones who face Mother Nature’s wrath head on have something huge in common: gender.

During last week’s nor’easter, I received text after text from female friends and colleagues. It looked a little like this:

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Over the next 24 hours, my gal pals rallied as they faced everything from:

Broken equipment…

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snow-shoveling

…to driving 40+ miles to work…

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…to fixing a broken generator…

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Yes, sir ma’am. These ladies put the “win” in “winter.”

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I’m hashtag blessed to have so many women in my life who handle Mother Nature’s little curveballs with poise wine, grace vodka, and humor. It doesn’t hurt that they now write blog posts for me, too.

How are ya’ll doing? Everybody good? Have (girl) power?

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humor, Just For Fun, Kvetching

Failure is totally an option.

About a year and a half ago, I visited my brother and his girlfriend in Tucson, Arizona. I was eager to see the sights, and after a little coaxing, we drove the long, meandering 25 miles to the top of Mt. Lemmon. Sunny and 60 degrees at the base, there was snow at the summit. Between that and an elevation gain of over 5,000 feet, I never expected to see this:

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Photo credit

Almost immediately, I began planning my own Tucson cycling adventure. I would bring along my sister and a close friend, and together we too would conquer Mt. Lemmon.

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Easy peasy. Photo credit

We arrived in Tucson last week with grand plans: Climb a mountain and drink all the beer.

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A flight of brewskies at noon o’clock the day before an endurance event. Duh.

When I asked my sister and friend if they wanted to drive up the mountain for a sneak peak peek, they gave a resounding, “Hell no!” We had recently done some long, challenging rides, and felt cocky confident.

Tour-de-France-lies
Remember this one?

The night before our trek, a man named Robert met us in a dentist office parking lot with three rental road bikes.

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You say “a strange man asked you to meet him in the bushes just behind the dumpster” like it’s a bad thing…

“Eh, it’ll take you a few hours and three bottles of water to get to the top,” Robert said. “I’ve done it a bunch of times.”

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Okay, Robert! I trust you, Robert!

The next morning, when we finally arrived at the base of the mountain (a 45-minute drive from our AirBnb), I looked at my sister. “Oh my god,” I said. “I left my helmet in your suitcase.” My sister spun around and spotted another cyclist in the parking lot. “Excuse me,” she called. “Are you from around here? Do you know where we can buy a helmet?”

We were prepared to drive to the nearest Walmart, but our new cycling friend, Gary, rummaged in the back of his car and pulled out a well-worn white helmet. Without a moment’s hesitation, he walked over and began fitting it on my head, pulling the chin strap tightly.

“That should work,” he said with a smile and a nod.

“Crap,” I told him. “I almost got out of this.”

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Goddamn you, Gary.

By then it was 9:30am, and the sun felt like it was sitting squarely atop my borrowed head gear. We took off and before long, everything hurt. Numb hands, aching legs, and dull chills – everything I’d dreamt of and more.

Two hours in, my sister and I stopped for our 87th break and said, almost in unison, “Well, I can’t breathe and I’m out of water.”

We were at mile 7.

Of 25.

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But our cycling gear made it the full 2,433 miles home – right at the weight limit! Which is especially impressive when you consider how much shame was inside.

P.S. – Here’s our friend at the top. She’s a machine. Ain’t that right, KB!

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She was really impressed with the view.

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Blonde Moments, humor, Just For Fun

I Can’t Believe I’m Telling You This.

When I pulled up to my rental cottage in northern Maine this past weekend, I let out out a sigh of relief. Ten hours in the car with a distressed Labradoodle, two wrong turns, and a long, steep decent via gravel road had been worth it.

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I had booked the cottage nearly nine months earlier, anticipating my summer residency, a week-long retreat required as part of my Humane Education Masters degree program. (YES, it’s a THING.)

I knew after nine-hour days of singing Kumbaya and braiding my cohorts’ armpit hair, this New Jersey native and closet introvert was going to need some alone time.

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I think we all remember what happens when Jules tries to be a team player.

I arrived at my little rustic gem with a view and, per the check-in instructions, headed straight for what I thought was the front door. “Doors will be unlocked,” the instructions read. “The key will be inside in an obvious location. Should you need a spare, it will be under the back doormat.”

I jiggled the handle. The deadbolt, apparently, was working overtime.

I jumped from foot to foot, having had to pee for what felt like 127 hours.

127 hours

I walked around the side of the cottage and saw another door. “Ah, of course,” I said to myself. “This must be it.” I turned the handle and once again – door locks working the night shift.

My bladder screamed as I tried both doors again. I checked and rechecked under both doormats. Uncle Jesse, my dog, bounced around me as if to say, “Is it time to go back to Jersey yet?”

I groaned loudly and walked back to my car to retrieve the check-in instructions. I called all four numbers listed on the paper and not a single person answered. My bathroom situation went from a slightly unpleasant Kevin Costner film to Waterworld.

Waterworld

I looked around surreptitiously. People were sitting on the porch at the house to the left, but they were almost entirely shrouded by trees. The house at the top of the hill had a partially obstructed view of Fort Knox my cottage, but, maybe no one was home?

There was no time left to wonder. I grabbed a battered box of tissues from my car and tiptoed to the side of the cottage. With one more wary glance up the hill, I said, “F*ck it,” and, well.

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Like we haven’t all peed on the side of a rental cottage in Maine.

The relief was as sublime as the view. I was a woman on a mission now. After wrestling with several ancient windows held secure by what I think were pine tree shivs, I managed to pry one open.

I climbed inside, unlocked both doors, and started unloading my overstuffed car when I saw a man walking down the gravel driveway. He looked like a cross between a young(ish) Jeff Bridges and a basket handwoven by fruitarians.

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That rug basket really pulled the room fruit together.

I gave a shy hello, crusted in sweat, shame and ten hours of car funk, assuming he was headed towards the small staircase that led to the coastline.

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As he neared, it started to feel increasingly awkward. Maybe he was one of the numbers I’d just called? I took a few steps forward and held out my hand.

“Hi…. I’m Jules. …I’m renting the cottage for the week…?”

“I just happened to notice you pull up,” he said. “I live in the black and tan house that’s shaped like a teepee built in 1971 by a blind nudist colony.” He pointed up the hill, his long brown locks swaying in the breeze.

“Oh, yeah, so,” I stammered. Holy hell. He saw…everything. “I couldn’t find the key and no one answered the emergency number, so, I peed my brains out on the lawn and climbed in through the window…”

“I think I know where the key is,” he said without missing a beat. He headed towards the porch and knelt down by a crack in the wooden staircase. “The owner was just here two days ago.” He handed me a small silver key. “Want to give this a try?”

“Wow,” I said sarcastically. “I feel really secure now.”

He laughed and waited for me to try the key, making small talk about my dog and having once lived in New Jersey. Rattled, I tried to shake him off, and he soon headed down the stairs towards the water, as if that had been his plan all along.

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And perhaps it was. Say hello to my new makeshift curtains.

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