Ing Well by Ing Good 

Follow up on all those New Year's gerunds.

Right about now, we're coming up with every lame excuse in the book for not fulfilling our resolutions — and even for not making any in the first place. It's too late, we say, to learn French, or circumnavigate the globe. Or it's too soon, to start worrying about colonic buildup, maybe, or buying a boat. If we could only take the excellent skills we pump into excuse-making — all that creativity, all that originality, all that persistence — and apply them to making actual plans and not breaking our promises, just think how much happier we'd be. Okay, a bit sweatier: Stairmasters and saunas and even studying take their toll. And a bit stressed-out, sometimes. Answering phones at a crisis clinic and staving off cravings are no picnic in the park. But by year's end, we'd have almost forgotten the once-familiar sound of our own whining. That alone would make the world a better place. Read the following and you'll no longer have any excuses.

QUITTING

Cold turkey makes great sandwiches, but it's oh-so-bracing. Sometimes stopping bad habits is easier when you're not struggling to go it alone. Dozens of local groups offer meetings and buddy programs for folks fighting everything from overspending to procrastinating to crystal meth. Gamblers Anonymous (GamblersAnonymous.org) meet in Oakland, El Cerrito, and Walnut Creek. Nicotine Anonymous (NICA-NorCal.org) meets in Alameda, Albany, Berkeley, Oakland, and Livermore. Debtors Anonymous (NCDAWeb.org) meet in Berkeley, Oakland, and Walnut Creek. Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous (AnorexicsandBulimicsAnonymousABA .com) meets in Berkeley and Oakland. Some prefer to sow the seeds subconsciously with hypnotherapists such as Berkeley's Debi Livingston (IshiHypnosis.com/debilivingston), who volunteers at Berkeley High School to help students quit smoking.

LEARNING

Saying your brain is already filled up and its neuronal pathways crusted over is just another cop-out. Maybe you can't learn Mandarin as swiftly as a kindergartner can, but who's to say when class is ever really dismissed? Accredited colleges including Cornell (eCornell.com), Gonzaga (Gonzaga.edu), and Notre Dame (STEP.nd.edu) offer innovative "distance-learning" programs culminating in legitimate degrees without your ever having to set foot on campus. Not seeking a diploma, just a quick dip in the sea of knowledge? Albany Adult School (Albany.k12.ca.us/adult) offers popular classes in music, cooking, language, design, birding, and law. Or brush up on brushwork at Berkeley's Kala Art Institute (Kala.org) and ponder prophets at Lehrhaus Judaica (Lehrhaus.org).

VOLUNTEERING

Moping in a morass of self-pity? Giddily guilty because life gave you too many goodies? Helping others — whether you call it caring, charity, or payback — is a perfect prescription. Roll up your sleeves. Earn in karma what you don't earn in cash while teaching English with the Diablo Valley Literary Council (Members.tripod.com/~DVLC), distributing meals with the Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB.org), exposing tykes to tenor sax with Music for Minors (Geocities.com/music4minors2), or averting emergencies with the Contra Costa Crisis Center (Crisis-Center.org). The warm fuzzies get literal with groups such as Island Cat Resources (ICRAEastBay.org), Home at Last Animal Rescue (HomeatLastRescue.org), or Yggdrasil Urban Wildlife Rescue (YUWR.org).

ADVENTURING

Wide-open spaces and wild times aren't just for dreaming about. Or reading about. Or even postponing, when you live in a landscape blessed with sea, slopes, and so many thrillseekers that brisk risks always beckon, just minutes away. East Bay-based scuba clubs such as Alacosta Divers (www.alacosta.org) and caving clubs such as Diablo Grotto (MuseumCA.org/diablo) organize day trips, and Bay Area Skydiving (BayAreaSkydiving.com) — based at Byron Airport, near Livermore — teaches brave souls aged eighteen and up to jump out of planes. Play shuffleboard in the buff at Castro Valley's Sequoians Park (Sequoians.com), a family-oriented nudist club where ogling isn't allowed, even at the luaus.

CLEANSING

In cultures around the world, a new year's dawning means it's time to get clean: ritually, symbolically, scouring the scunge inside and/or out. Margaret Cho helped squelch the shame surrounding colonic irrigation, aka colonic hydrotherapy, in which practitioners such as Berkeley's Lisa Wetmore (TheColonicShop.com) use rubber tubes and abundant warm fluid to clear the intestines. Exfoliate elegantly with a rosemary- citron Dead Sea salt scrub at the Claremont Resort and Spa (ClaremontResort.com). Do it together with couples' treatments at Ethereal Cosmo Day Spas in Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek (CosmoSpa.com). Or do it at home with the help of Ellen Tart-Jensen's book Health Is Your Birthright, from Berkeley's Celestial Arts.

READING

You've put off Beowulf and the collected works of Viktor Frankl for waaay too long. Curl up with a good one on a bayfront bench at Richmond's Point Isabel (EBParks.org/parks/ptisable.htm). People's Cafe (PeoplesJoint.com) in Berkeley has amply filled bookshelves. Check your local library or bookstore for reading clubs. Kensington Library (Contra-Costa.lib.ca.us/programs/ken.html) and Albany Library (AC Library.org/branches/alb) have well-established groups; Oakland Library has groups at its Lakeview, Melrose, Golden Gate, and Dimond branches and a teen group at its Martin Luther King Jr. branch(Oakland Library.org). Barnes & Noble (BarnesandNoble.com), Borders (BordersStores.com), Orinda Books (OrindaBooks.com), and Diesel (Diesel.booksense.com) sponsor groups galore.

PARENTING

An empty nest seems impossible to even imagine right now. But sooner or later, little fledglings find their wings and fly away — and it's only then that you realize you'll never get these days back. Make memories. Fatten those photo albums. Feed hens at Fremont's Ardenwood Historic Farm (EBParks.org/parks/arden.htm). Swim and fish at Pleasanton's Shadow Cliffs Park (EBParks.org/parks/shadow.htm). Laugh and cry at performances by the award-winning East Bay Children's Theatre (Childrens-Theatre.org). Organizations such as the Amador Mothers Club (AmadorMothersClub.com), Parents' Resources and More (www.pram.net), and Lamorinda Moms' Club (LamorindaMomsClub.org) offer companionship and planned activities. For an extra jolt of significance-juice, the family that volunteers together sheds joyous tears together.

JOINING

Lonely? Longing to linger with like minds for hiking, jai alai, or listening to the baritone brilliance of Burl Ives? Online national networks such as Tribe.net and Meetup.com help you hook up with groups near you that share your passions. Dog-walkers in Dublin? Ale-slurpers in Albany? Heck yes. For the shy or immobilized, these sites also include cybergroups. And the Groups section on Craigslist (SFBay.craigslist.org/grp) is updated constantly by local folks who want to bowl or bash Bush or practice the Japanese tea ceremony with you. Established associations perpetually welcoming new members include the East Bay Chess Club (EastBayChess.com), East Bay Barefoot Hikers (Unshod.org/ebbfhike), East Bay Astronomical Society (EastBayAstro.org), and the East Bay Star Wars Fan Club

RECONNECTING

Remember his goofy cackle? Remember those after-school Risk games and Cheez Whiz wars? Good times, good times — with great folks. But where are they now? Sometimes it's not better to let bygones be bygones. Searching for long-lost friends, classmates, exes, and even relatives feels a bit like sleuthing, a bit like stalking, a bit like being marooned in once-upon-a-time. Ancestry.com and Yourfamily.com help you seek kinfolk and configure family trees. Classmates.com and Graduates.com help you seek old pals and colleagues; some services are free, but others require subscription fees. LongTimeLost.com is a free software application powered by (what else?) Google.(www.ebstarwars.com).

WORKING

When you read about the Pennsylvania waitress who's been happily slinging hash at the same roadside diner for over fifty years, do you envy her contentment, think she's lucky just to have a job ... or shudder as you imagine yourself doing the work you're doing now half a century hence? Being unemployed is almost always scary. But so is squarely reassessing your career choice and deciding to change it. Employment coaches such as Oakland's Marty Nemko (MartyNemko.com) and Don Marx (CareerCoachBayArea.biz) offer personalized services for a fee and helpful tips for free; Marx heads job-related meetup groups as well. Check out trends, listings, and job-fair calendars in the California Job Journal (JobJournal.com) and East Bay Business Times (EastBay.bizjournals.com/eastbay).

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