December 31, 2011

A New Year, and Just One New Resolution

It’s that time of year when everyone’s thinking about New Year’s Resolutions, diets, workout regimens, and cleaning closets (myself included).  While I am all for self-improvement, a long list of to-dos, and to-bes for that matter, can get very overwhelming, and therefore unattainable.  That is why I’ve decided to set just one goal for the New Year, rather than multiple goals as I’ve done in previous years.  My new philosophy is that setting a goal that is achievable, even if it is a less ambitious goal than what I might otherwise want to set for myself, is more realistic and will likely result in success rather than failure.  (I hate failure -- don't you?)

After all, what’s the point in a New Year’s resolution if it lasts only a few weeks? 

That’s why, out of all the resolutions that I’ve pondered over the past few days, Working on improving my posture is the one that might actually last through February, and better yet, be one that I’ll remember.  A ridiculous New Year’s resolution, you might say?  I beg to differ.  First, improving posture is one of those things that can benefit other aspects of well-being: decreasing back pain, upping one's confidence, increasing oxygen flow, and well, let’s be honest here – it makes you look thinner.  And, second, it’s the kind of resolution that is almost impossible to give up on. 

Though many of us strive for perfection in various aspects of our life – the New Year being the pinnacle in which we strive for attainment of that perfection – why can’t we settle, or better yet, accept our flaws?  Chinese philosophy says that lifelong self-improvement is generally a natural byproduct of self-acceptance and increased self-awareness.  Anxiety over our imperfections is never very productive, especially since some of our imperfections are uncontrollable anyway. 

And really, why do we need a New Year to have a clean closet or two?  

December 26, 2011

The Significance of Exchanging Holiday Cards

One of my favorite things about the holiday season is receiving Christmas cards from friends and family, particularly those that I haven't heard from in the past year.  There's something sacred and intimate about sending and receiving during this time of year, when life is so busy and hectic, that we take the time to handwrite our best wishes and news updates for the past year to the people in our lives we care about.  It may be the only time of year we take the time to exchange these niceties, which is why the exchange of holiday cards is so special. 

For almost as many years as I have been sending out holiday cards in my adult life, I have been sending a card to my former 4th grade teacher, Miss Levesque.  I hate to cast favorites, since I have had many good teachers (as well as some rather crummy ones) in my student career, but Miss Levesque wins 1st Prize, which is in part why out of the 35 or so cards I send out (which were probably even less this year), she is a recipient every holiday season.

Though the messages we exchange are not long, Miss Levesque and I share with each other the goings-on for the past year -- where we've been, what we're doing, where we're going -- and more importantly the shared sentiment of wishing each other a happy holiday and a healthy new year.  Every year I look forward to her card written in her idyllic, old-fashioned scroll, exactly how I remembered it from well over a decade ago. 

This year Miss Levesque's card contained a rare treat -- a photograph of my 11-year-old self, standing next to my science fair project that year entitled, "Observing Different Kinds of Hair Under a Microscope."  Wearing a headband and a purple t-shirt (how I loved that t-shirt -- I wore the thing 'til it had holes in it!), bangs cut into wispies like Vada Sultenfuss from My Girl, that was the year of the microscope for me, as well as the year for tween shyness when everything seemed to make me blush.  It's quite amazing to think how a photo can contrast and compare with how we remembered such a time in our lives.

With Christmas behind me, and a New Year fast approaching, I am thankful for the people in my past, present, and future, particularly people like Miss Levesque who are part of my past and continue to be part of my present and future life, even through a simple exchange of a card at Christmastime, in the years ahead.

December 18, 2011

'Tis the Season for Cookies

I wish I made cookies more than twice a year, but I don't because I simply have no self-control around them.  I am the human-sized Cookie Monster, googly eyes and all.  From the potentially salmonella-laden dough (I know, I know -- I am aware of the risks), to the slightly underbaked cookies that come straight from the oven and whose flavors aren't fully realized yet, to the one-day-old cookie that is the perfect coupling of both tender and crumbly -- each life stage of the cookie is dear to me.

My excuse whenever I make cookies is that they're not for myself but for others.  I feel less guilty this way, even if -- let's be honest -- the cookies are kind of for myself, too.  The truth is, I might even like cookie dough more than the finished product itself, but I am an equal opportunist.  When the dough's all rolled up into pre-cookies, I will long for them to be baked, when I can pluck one from the cooling rack, and pop it into my mouth, still too hot that it burns my tastebuds.  (No matter, though; it's worth it!)

I love all cookies, from frosting-covered sugar cookies to pecan sandies to chocolate crinkles, but I am especially gaga for chewy ginger cookies, especially this recipe, which I spent my Friday night making for friends and coworkers, and yes, for myself too.   

Soft Ginger Cookies

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup vegetable shortening (preferably non-trans fat)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Sift together the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the shortening and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, then stir in the water and molasses. Gradually stir the sifted ingredients into the molasses mixture. Shape dough into walnut sized balls, and roll them in the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Place the cookies 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet, and flatten slightly.
  3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

December 13, 2011

The Art of Good Decision Making

It's in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.  Choose now.  Choose well. 
-- Anthony "Tony" Robbins

Not even knowing who Tony Robbins was, I came upon this quote in an article I was reading in Vanity Fair last week, and was so inspired by it, I hung it on my fridge where it's been ever since.  Not only is it beautifully written, but it's a poignant message -- honest and illuminating and true.  Destiny comes not from karma, but from the decisions we make, whether good or bad.  Life is summed up by a series of decisions.  Every day we're faced with the decision of getting up early to workout or to sleep in, to read the newspaper or to not read it, to stop for the pedestrian at the crosswalk or to speed right past.  Other days, we're faced with bigger decisions -- to get married or to remain single, to have children or to have lots of cats, to buy a bigger house or to stay put.  And still, we're faced with smaller decisions that can alter the way our lives are forever -- to smoke that first cigarette, to take a different route home, or to strike up a conversation with the stranger in the fishermen's sweater. 

In some ways, the realization that we can shape our destiny may seem more frightening than if we think we have no control over it.  Personally, I find it rather empowering to know that our destiny can be molded with our very own hands.  Think about it.  You could have your dream job/partner/house/etc. if you're willing to make the right decisions (and in some cases, sacrifices) to get it.  The caveat to that, of course, is that you must know what your dream job/partner/house really is first.  Many of us don't take the time to reflect on our dreams, on what we really desire, without succombing to the assumption that the mainstream standard must be what we want, because that's what everyone seems to want.  Wrong.  (Sorry, but big weddings and expensive college tuitions weren't what I wanted, so I chose neither, and things turned out alright for me.)  The second caveat is that you must be willing to work for it, but seriously, what good things don't require a little hard work anyway?

My best friend Carrie often says that her biggest pet peeve is when someone says in contempt to another person's success, "It must be nice." (She actually just got her dream teaching job, and I am so flipping proud of her, but I digress.)  I agree with her.  No, it isn't "nice."  One's achievements in life are not simply plucked like an apple from a tree; they are not handed to us.  Such achievements take focus, work, dedication, and good decision making.  But decisions do not always have to be right to be good ones, of course.  Sometimes a few bad decisions along the way are the best opportunities for learning and for realizing that, "Oops, I guess I don't want that after all," or, "Oh, damn -- guess I better not make that mistake again because that could've really fucked it up." 

But if the life that we've been granted consists of a series of decisions, don't you owe it to yourself to think hard and make the right choice, for you?  Remember:  to be, you must do.

December 8, 2011

The Catharsis of a Good Cry

I’m not one who cries at the drop of a hat.  At best, I cry maybe a couple times a year, but in the past four days I’ve cried twice.  The first session happened last Sunday when I got unexpected news that my family had decided not to come over for lunch after I had spent nearly two hours preparing a feast for six.  “What’s the matter?  Did someone die?” my husband asked me, a worried look on his face as he halted the treadmill to an abrupt stop. “No,” I said, sniffling and whimpering, wiping away the tears with the backs of my ketchup-stained hands (I had been making meatloaf -- a prized recipe I love.)  “They’re not coming,” I said, burying my head into his chest, sobbing.  (I am usually not this dramatic, I swear.)

Well, just four days later, without no apparent warning to myself or to my poor spouse, Crying Episode #2 happened.   “Where are you?” my husband called from downstairs.  “In here!” I called from the bedroom where I was folding laundry and listening to The Roots’ newest album, lost in my own thoughts.  “I have a funny story to tell you.”  He proceeded to tell me the story, which wasn’t as funny to me as it was to him, transpiring into me bursting into tears for no apparent reason at all.   "Can you tell me why you're crying?" he asked.  "There's no reason," I said.  "I'm just feeling emotional!"

It's true.  I have been emotional.  In the past two months I have sold my house, packed and moved, have been doing lots of business travel, have been working lots of overtime, and have been renovating my new house.  This all has contributed to surges of emotion, consequently some tears. 

The truth is a good cry is quite cathartic.  It cleanses the soul; it releases inhibitions.  More importantly, it forces us to take a new perspective on a situation.  While we can’t always prevent imbalances in life, personal experience has proven that these usually even out over time, as stressors wane and life returns to normal.  Life is funny like that.  My recent, unexpected crying episodes are signaling my body to rebalance itself, and already, it's been pretty good medicine.  Maybe I should cry more often. 

September 3, 2011

The iPod Doesn't Lie

If you’re anything like me you probably have thousands of songs on your iPod, enjoy making numerous playlists for various occasions and moods, and regardless, have those certain songs that you listen to over and over again. 

Still, taking inventory of the most played songs on my iPod surprised me.  In particular, my Top Most 30 Played smart playlist revealed that I have played Incognito’s “Out Of The Storm” a record 66 times, the most played song on my iPod.  At 23 plays, Beyonce’s “Love On Top” is the least played of my Top Most 30 Played songs.  Interestingly enough, most of the songs are in the R&B genre, except for George Benson’s “Breezin’” (at 33 plays), Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgettin’” (at 32 plays), two tracks by Esperanza Spalding (at 38 and 31 plays each), Ashley Tisdale’s “Hair" from her so aptly entitled album, Guilty Pleasure (at 31 plays), and two tracks by sassy pop songstress Jessie J (at 27 and 28 plays, respectively). 

At 81.8 GB of music, my iPod is getting close to capacity, and while I have probably an equal amount of R&B, pop, classic rock, alternative, hip hip, and electronica on the device, this list doesn’t lie.  With the exception of playing certain songs a ridiculous amount of times because they are/were new and I just couldn’t get enough, most of these tracks are representative of what I want to hear over and over again.  And, let's be honest here, I love my R&B. 

 What are your Top Most 30 Played songs?  It may surprise you -- then again, maybe it won't!

August 26, 2011

The Power of Flowers . . . Wild Ones, That Is.

I'll be the first to admit it.  I'm not the kind of gal who likes receiving flowers.  I actually usually get kind of annoyed when I do.  I know -- that's a real bitch of a thing to admit to . . . but it's true.  There's something so planned and contrived and orchestrated about the whole flower thing that I just can't get excited about it.  To me, it's one of those generically romantic things that rubs me the wrong way, kind of like weddings, which I also am not fond of.  (I actually really think weddings are a real waste of energy and money, but that's for another day and time.)

Besides, flowers from a florist are way too expensive to last only a week.  What really charms me is something special and original, like, I don't know, a big cylinder of Cheese Balls or something.  But that being said, I actually do love flowers, particularly the kind that spring from the wild and brush against your legs when you're taking a walk on a summer morning or that catch your eye at the farmstand, such as these beauties that I picked up for less than four bucks earlier this week.

They might've been the prettiest bouquet I've ever seen, probably because they were so natural resting in water, held together with a rubber band just waiting for me to pluck them from the wooden crate.  They didn't try to be prettier than they were; there was no pretense in their packaging; there was nothing planned or contrived about them -- they just were.  These are the kinds of flowers I love -- the ones that symbolize the unexpected pleasures of life, rather than the planned ones.  Kind of like life.  Because some things are better unplanned.

August 18, 2011

Gaga For Grilled Cheese

I don’t know what it is, but lately I can’t get enough grilled cheese sandwiches.  I had it for dinner Monday night; I had it for breakfast yesterday morning.  I wanted it for lunch today, but I didn’t have access to a stove.  The best grilled cheeses are made with the humblest of ingredients.  It’s not about being fancy, organic, or gourmet here; it’s about recreating the iconic childhood favorite, the way my mom (and sometimes my dad) made it on rainy days, flattened with a spatula and blackened on a cast-iron griddle.  While it’s great paired with Campbell’s Tomato Soup, in my mind there is nothing more satisfying than grilled cheese and a tall glass of ice-cold milk. 

Now that I’m an adult, I’ve revised the version my parents made for me ever so slightly.  I’ve determined that my favorite bread for grilled cheese is J.J. Nissen Canadian White.  It’s doughy, slightly sweet, moistness provides ample heft for grilling and complements nicely with the tanginess of the cheese.  As for the cheese, the star of the show, I prefer Kraft 2% American Cheese.  I am no snob when it comes to American food given that one of my favorite American dishes is a burger and fries, but my only preference here is that the cheese must be white and not orange. 

I line two pieces of cheese on one side of the bread making sure that it’s evenly distributed.  Oftentimes, I peel a piece off of one of the slices to make sure all portions of the bread are covered evenly.  On special occasions I smear on a dollop of mayonnaise to the other slice of bread before I combine the pieces.  Or, on even more special occasions I will add a little bit of peanut butter.  Call me crazy, but these condiments (never combined, mind you), take the grilled cheese to another level.  The peanut butter idea was all mine, but the mayonnaise suggestion was one I learned from an article I read in Bon Appetit.  After reading that, I bet you’ll try it. 

While my mom always used a cast-iron griddle, I only sometimes do now.  It does a great job of forming a nice crust, but in my mind the beauty of making a grilled cheese is that it’s the ultimate lazy [wo]man’s comfort food, and that should not require me to reach on top of my fridge to pull down a heavy griddle.  So, on a stainless steel 10” pan I add a tablespoon of butter and turn on the stove to let it melt.  Once the butter is a small pool I swirl it around in the pan and add the bread and cheese.  I cover the plan and let the sandwich grill on medium for 2-3 minutes and then flip it for the same amount of time. 

As soon as it’s tawny and crisp looking (a little less charcoaled than how my mom made it), I slide the grilled cheese onto a plate.  I break the ultimate food etiquette rule by not cutting it in half so the cheese remains preserved in the sandwich rather than oozing over into the plate.  That is key.  Finally, I pour myself a glass of milk, pull out a magazine (a phonebook will do too), and munch away at my grilled cheese.  So simple, so basic, and it still just doesn't get much better than this. 

August 13, 2011

Simply Satisfying

As I write this, it is 7:55 a.m. on a Saturday morning, and I am feeling especially relaxed because it’s already my second day of the weekend – of a long weekend.  Yesterday, I spent my day off doing random things like washing my floors, going to Buen Apetito for lunch, calling Garnet Hill to exchange a pair of French blue ballet flats for leopard print, running errands at a leisurely pace, catching up on my favorite blogs, watching my husband install a curved shower rod in our newly renovated bathroom, and buying local produce at my favorite farm stand. 

It was the kind of day filled with simple, seemingly mundane things that become enjoyable when there are no other distractions in the world.  When the task at hand is suddenly the most important thing, such as analyzing different trashcans at the store, for instance.  Or, at the farmer’s stand there is the possibility of making a spontaneous decision to buy a bouquet of flowers, in addition to your usual collection of tomatoes and cukes (I didn’t, but I thought about it).   And, perhaps most importantly, about what style shoe to purchase.

My Friday off was perfect in that unplanned, summertime, simple-life kind of way, right down to the perfectly breezy 74-degree air and cumulus clouds in the sky.  While I don’t need to be reminded about the beauty of a day off here and there, it’s appreciation in the simple things that make life something special, such as Mexican food and leopard print. 

August 3, 2011

In Defense of The Sandwich

Something I’ve learned about adulthood is that life gets crazy sometimes.  Not in that voluntary add-everything-you-can-think-of-to-your to-do list, such as cleaning the closets or sweeping the garage, mind you, but crazy with things that actually need to get done.  Things with deadlines.  Or, really, multiple things with multiple deadlines.  You know, important work stuff. Things that get your head spinning in multiple different directions, when you feel like you don’t even have enough time to take a sip of tea or eat your lunch, or remember to eat lunch, for that matter.  I am not the only one with a crazy busy life.  Those with careers and kids and houses – it’s all the spice of life that not only makes us crazy, but brings us a certain amount of contentment, too.  Being busy makes us feel necessary, validated, and purposeful, in a sense. 

But, when things get so busy it’s easy to to take care of ourselves a little less, such as not eating enough vegetables, exercising, or flossing.  There are certain things that I make sure to keep up with even when I’m stressed out and overworked, such as working out everyday, eating healthy, and taking my vitamins. There are other things that I tend to let slide when I've got too much going on, such as sleep.  I do my best to get enough of it, I really do, but sometimes my Type A mentality  just doesn’t let that happen, and I’m left lying wide awake in my bed worrying if I sent the correct version of a document to a client.  While maintaining a sense of normalcy in a state of chaos takes a lot of work and conscious effort, I’m learning that life is always going to be chaotic and busy.  The days of half-days at kindergarten are long since gone.  Because of that, life is too short to save the simple things for tomorrow. 

Lately I’ve been scarfing down my lunch while staring at a computer screen because I’ve just been too busy to take a lunch break.  You know the feeling, right?  But today, after countless days of working straight through, I shut my door and forced myself to take 20 minutes step away my computer while I ate my lunch and stared into space.  What a vacation that was.  I felt like such a rebel to myself!  Amazingly, the yawns that I had had all morning were cured, and I was able to get through the day with clarity and efficiency.  More importantly, the day did not wiz by in that all-work no-play blur, because I took a few minutes for Sarah.  This reminded me that taking time to step away and relax even just for a few minutes is necessary for productivity.   While rituals are important, especially in attaining a higher level of creativity and spiritual attainment, the essence of taking time to recharge is perhaps a more fundamentally base need to the functioning of the human mind, because it serves the purpose of allowing us to maintain efficiency and productivity.  To be the best versions of ourselves, sometimes we have to take a little quiet time.  Kind of like nap time for adults.   

I am fortunate for a lot of things, one of them being my job.  That is clear, as I would not take it so seriously if it didn’t fulfill me or stimulate me the way that it does.  Just the same, though, it is not my end-all be-all.  There are a lot of things I value in life; however, when things are crazy, it’s easy to forget that there is life beyond that chaos or that it is necessary to take time in the midst of  that chaos for the sheer pursuit of efficiency.   Equally as important, if not more important, though, is taking time to take care of yourself.  This takes effort and time when we feel we don't have enough of it, but which transcends into more time because life feels fuller, more complete, less rushed.  I will say, that sandwich never tasted so good.  I might try it more often.   

July 24, 2011

RIP, Ms. Winehouse

“Holy shit -- Amy Winehouse was found dead.”  That’s what my husband said to me reading his newsfeed on his Blackberry while we stood in line at Starbucks waiting for our mocha frappaccinos Saturday afternoon.  (God, we sound like such yuppies, but what can I say?  That's what we were doing.)  He continued to ramble on – actually making a poignant remark about how Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Kurt Cobain died at the same age, and I interrupted him to say, “Just wait a minute.  I need to have a moment.”  Stunned, I stood there waiting for my beverage, while I processed the tragic news. 

I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised, or so stunned.  After all, it was no secret that Winehouse was a hardcore addict – both a troubled alcoholic and drug abuser – who had been in and out of rehab numerous times over the past few years.  But still, there is an almost assumed immunity in the young and the extremely talented, that I thought Winehouse would’ve been exempt from the kind of tragic death that might consume an ordinary person overtaken by such an illness.  This may be a wrong assumption, but that’s the kind of musical genius I thought she was, that I think many people thought she was. 

In the past couple days, though, I’ve seen a lot of comments, namely on Facebook, by people saying that her life was a waste, and why should her death be such a shock when she was a one-hit wonder anyway?  I would venture to say that those who were not impacted by her death the way that her fans are had not subjected themselves to the talent that was Amy Winehouse, which I think is sad.  I don't think it's necessarily sad that they were not impacted by her death, mind you.  We're all affected by things differently (personally, I thought the reaction over Michael Jackson's death was a little overdone), but it's sad for someone to not have known her genius, that she was far more than just a "one-hit wonder."   

Her album, Back to Black, released first in 2006  won her six Grammys.  And let’s be honest – it’s a mother f’ing masterpiece.  Her first album, Frank, had less notoriety in the U.S. because it had only been released in the UK, but it is probably equally as good.  (I recommend “You Sent Me Flying/Cherry” and “Take The Box” – two notable standouts on that album.)  Sadly, she had not released an album since Back to Black and before her death, but those two albums – whether you’re an aficionado of R&B or not – will go down in history as cult classics. 

I think some of the animosity toward Amy Winehouse is the manner she supposedly died – over a seizure related to excessive alcohol consumption.  That doesn’t take well to a lot of people.  Coming from someone who is pretty anti-drug herself, I totally get that.  And, in a way, she opened herself to some of that flak as the result of her big radio hit, “Rehab.”  But that’s what made her so appealing – that raw grit that not only described her vocal appeal, but her lyricism as well.  Winehouse was not known for her beauty or for her put-on charm.  In that sense, she was a musician, tried and true.  There was no staged charisma; the essence of her appeal was in her I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude – not in that annoying hipster way – but sadly, more likely as a result of her energies being consumed by her addiction. 

Despite that, even when she appeared visibly intoxicated during concerts she was incapable of escaping her gift, that astounding voice and presence that was unique to only her.  Whether you were a fan or not, it’s a sad day when a musician of her caliber leaves the music community, because she touched a lot of people – both fans and musicians alike -- as well as lent a unique sensibility to the music industry; there was simply no one out there like her.  Drug addiction and alcoholism aside, she was a  powerhouse of a vocalist and songwriter-- a true musician who happened to leave us just a little too early.  Beyond that, I guess I have nothing else to say, other than, RIP, Ms. Winehouse.  You will be missed.

July 17, 2011

The Family Bond: Blood Is Thicker Than Water

Growing up, if someone told me that I would one day have any kind of relationship with my brother that was anything but tumultuous, I would’ve called you nuts. Both middle children, I, on the younger side of middle, and my brother on the older side, we were like oil and water. Aside from both being caught in the middle, our only similarity was that we bore a similar physical resemblance. My brother Joe, a bull by birth, frequently teased me and beat me up, a sensitive fish. My first black eye was from him, as well as my second, if I can remember right. To him I was a “dog” with a “pot belly” who wasn’t allowed in the fort he had built with his friends. The only times we got along was at Christmastime when we bonded over the new Super Nintendo or when he sold me used goods in exchange for my allowance, such as his leather Raiders baseball  football cap and Arrested Development album he sold to me for $14.

During our teenage years, our differences became much more glaring, in part because of his introduction to drugs and my retreating to my own adolescent angst, which consisted of Ben & Jerry’s and Fiona Apple. Then, the only times we got along was when he was high and I had services to offer, such as a ride to his girlfriend’s or to his dealer’s house. Otherwise, he was stealing my CDs and foreign-coin collection for dope, and I was finding ways to prevent him from doing so, such as shackling my bedroom door with a lock and key -- which worked just some of the time.

When he was 25, my parents gave him a one-way plane ticket to California. Seeing him off, I would’ve been content never to see him again in my life. Just reflecting back on that makes me shudder at the frigidity of that former thought. A year and a half later, I was sending him letters to his new home, a halfway house in San Rafael. His process of getting clean and going through therapy is what marked the dawn of a new relationship between Joe and me – one that would ultimately be one of the deepest bonds I would ever have with a family member.

Last fall, I saw him for the first time in six years. He was tall, built, and had eyes just like mine. He was eloquent and polite, a good communicator, interesting, and sarcastically charming. He was the same brother I had been having phone conversations with since he’d left the halfway house, but he was nothing like the brother I had known in person years that last time I had seen him. This version never existed to me in real life before.

This weekend completely out of the blue, I came home from my morning walk to find a package at my stoop.  In it was a beautiful porcelain teapot and teacup from him. Possibly one of the most thoughtful gifts because of what it represented – one of my favorite rituals of tea drinking and the deep bond that my brother and I now share, despite our differences and our past. Because of our history, my brother knows and understands me like very few people do; I believe this to be true of my understanding of him also. The kind of relationship we’ve been able to build in spite of, or perhaps because of our history, says something about the depth of our loyalty to each other and the deep love we have as brother and sister, as well as about the intimacy of family in general. Blood really is thicker than water.

July 8, 2011

All In The Ritual

I’ve been thinking about rituals lately – the things we do to relax, to center ourselves, or to be reminded that life has a deeper purpose beyond the mundane goings-on of everyday life. Rituals can be anything as simple as washing your face with a particular facewash every morning or practicing yoga after work or something more indulgent such as getting a pedicure or a massage on a weekly basis. Whatever it is, having rituals reminds us to slow down and reflect, allowing us to recharge so that we have the energy to engage more fully in life, whether in our careers, our studies, or our creative pursuits.

I have practiced the same rituals for a while now – listening to music, drinking tea, exercising, and having solo time. I am lucky that I can share a few of these rituals with my husband, but probably my favorite ritual is that of being alone, such as in the comfort of my own space in my study where I have a nice set of speakers and a subwoofer to blast music from.  (If you're going to take listening music to the ritual level sound quality is important.) There I sit in my stuffed chair, sipping tea (another ritual that I enjoy during this time), leafing through magazines, writing, and/or just daydreaming.  Most importantly, my ritual is experienced by simply being in the moment.  Sometimes I’ll do this for 15 minutes; other times I do this for an hour or more. I always know when I’ve had enough, which is marked by that feeling of replenishment and a desire to re-enter the world.  This is when I know that my ritual is working.

While the technical definition of ritual is a "religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order" (, I believe the key to practicing rituals is that they be whatever it is you feel like doing, rather than something you feel you should be doing, practiced in a manner that feels almost spiritual or meditative. Sure, my ritual of sitting by myself and listening to music and drinking tea may sound boring and a complete waste of time to some, but to me it’s always the perfect remedy when I’m feeling overworked, overtired, cranky, or uninspired. A little soul time always makes me feel like I’ve regained a part of me that has gotten lost in the shuffle during the day or after a long week.

I watched a great documentary last week called All In This Tea, which, in addition to following an American man in China in pursuit of the finest teas, showcases the ritual of tea drinking, which is what got me on the subject of thinking about this ritual thing. In China, tea drinking is all about the experience of the act itself and relaxing, not letting other distractions get in the way. Whether it’s drinking tea or washing the dishes (whatever it is that you identify with) the notion of being present in the moment is the essence of what participating in  ritual pursuits is all about.

July 3, 2011

All-Americana Fare

Though it may be a somewhat unexpected combination, lobster and homemade popovers suggest a certain kind of Americana in my book.  A welcome departure from the traditional summer BBQ fare, it was a perfect meal for a low-key dinner on the eve of Independence Day.
Homemade Popovers
I absolutely love popovers, but I had never made them myself before, probably intimidated by their supposed tendancy to prematurely deflate during the baking process.  But by following the directions closely from this classic recipe from The Gourmet Cookbook, they turned out to be divine -- perfectly puffy, flaky, and tender all at the same time.  Pared with fresh lobster that I bought pre-shucked at my local fish market and steamed broccoli, it was delicious and uncomplicated, and one that felt appropriately celebratory in that all-American kind of way.  Happy Independence Day!


I saw this little message on one of my newly discovered favorite blogs, Johan + Francoise, and I had to share it because I thought it was simply perfect.  Actually, the entire blog is full of deliciously inspiring eye candy, but this poignant little quote struck me, in particular.

Isn't that great?

June 30, 2011

The Art of Solo Road Tripping

This week I had to travel to Albany for work. Given the option to fly or drive, I decided that it made more sense to drive since there is no direct flight from PWM to Albany, and with the ever-present potential for a delay or a cancellation with flying, travel time would probably turn out to be a wash between the two means of transportation. Nevertheless, I was not looking forward to the long drive by myself. I had never taken such a long road trip by myself (yes, it’s true), either to someplace I’ve been before or to a city I’ve never been to. In any new situation, my default reaction is to experience a bit of dread, in part because I fear that something will happen that is out of my control (case in point being the handgun debacle that happened last week). This time, though, I told myself that I wasn’t going to let myself feel any kind of dread, and that I was going to just embrace the situation, which was a perfect opportunity to practice what I've been preaching. (If you remember I’m working on enjoying this whole journey v. destination thing.)

While I initially felt a little overwhelmed at the prospect of driving all the way to Albany and back all by my lonesome, once I figured out my route, reserved a hotel room, and rented a vehicle with GPS, my worry was mostly alleviated, and I was actually kind of looking forward to the trip. Really! Though I genuinely love to travel, I am a “comforts of home” kind of person. It may sound corny, but music, books, certain foods, and rituals allow me to feel like I’m at home in my heart. The upside of traveling by myself – as opposed to a stranger – is that I was able to surround myself with these things.

Though the destination was reasonably far away I was only going to be gone for a day and a half.  I uploaded my iPod with some fresh playlists, downloaded an audiobook (Object of Beauty by Steve Martin, which was effing delicious – love him, love his writing), and made sure to pack some healthy snacks. As much as I love deliciously indulgent food, I hate deviating too far from my normally healthy eating routine when traveling, especially when it’s work travel. I packed light, but made sure to bring my sound machine (a key for hotel slumbers), a couple issues of Elle, and some flannel PJ bottoms. I also planned to watch The Bachelorette in the hotel. (Yes, I have horribly tacky TV taste, and I'm okay with that.)

It may not have been ironic that I stayed at the Homewood Suites, a chain I’ve never frequented before. The place was equipped with a separate living and sleeping space and, not that I needed it – a fridge, range, and dishwasher. Kind of sad that I had no one to enjoy it with, it nevertheless made the evening kind of delightful in that manufactured home-away-from-home kind of way. While the bed wound up being a tad too squishy for my firm-bed taste, it was a pretty decent set-up, especially for a three-star hotel. And very clean. As you know, Sarah likes her clean.

The longest, single span, covered bridge in the world, in Blenheim, New York.

Adirondack Chairs at Mine Kill State Park, New York

Thanks to some well-chosen tunes and my audiobook -- and probably most importantly, the GPS -- the drive to Albany and back to Maine went by as fast as any solo road trip could go. And while I’m learning the importance of being outside my comfort zone it’s becoming apparent to me that the only way to enjoy being out of the zone is to just take the reins and not allow myself any room for fear, reminding myself that the situation will be nothing but a positive opportunity. Making that conscious effort really works -- it’s amazing. So, while I’m happy to be back home, it feels like less of a relief than similar situations in the past because I allowed myself to feel only a limited amount of dread and fear in the first place.  As a result, it turned out to be a pretty fun experience, not to mention the fact that I saw the longest, single-span, covered bridge in the world in Blenheim, New York.  It's not every day that you see one of those!

Travel grub.

June 26, 2011

Local Loadie

This evening's dinner was a salad made entirely with local fare: smoked Maine shrimp, wet goat cheese with rosemary, fresh baby spinach, sugar snap peas, chopped tomatoes, and broccolini.  It was deliciously satisfying, healthy, and took no more than ten minutes to prepare.

It's so easy to eat foods that are healthy and locally grown this time of year, one of the dozens of reasons why summer (especially in Maine) is just so great. One of my favorite places to shop for local goods is Barrels Community Market in Waterville, Maine. All their offerings are either grown, baked, or produced here in Maine, all for very reasonable prices.  Love it.

June 24, 2011

Man With A Handgun

After dinner on Wednesday night, my best friend and I spontaneously decided to take an evening stroll. Little did we know we were in for one of the scariest experiences of our lives. Taking a typical route in the sleepy neighborhood where we both live, we were dishing on the things that we normally conjecture about -- relationships, jobs, food, et al. About ten minutes into the walk on a quiet side street, we spot an SUV parked haphazardly in front of a house, the passenger door open, with a man lying on his back, knees bent, seemingly still. We look at each other, and wonder aloud if we should check on him.  I walk around the car to the man on the ground and ask, “Are you okay?” Confused and out of it, he replies, “Yeah . . .” at which point he reaches beside him and picks up a large handgun which is laying beside him. (Yep, you read right.)

Before I can see what he does with the gun, I turn away, heart pounding, sweat surging from my pores, and my friend and I walk away as quickly as possible.  Every stride I take, I am expecting to feel a bullet in my back.  As soon as we reach the cross street, which feels more like three hours than 30 seconds, I spot a man mowing his lawn and sprint toward him, blurting out in a hushed voice, “There’samanovertherewithaGUN.” He lets go of his lawnmower, which rolls into the road, and darts to his cell phone that is sitting on his front stoop.  He calls 911 and then hands the phone over to me so I can provide the details – color/make of car, street name, color/detail of house, color/make of car in garage of house he was parked in front of, the upturned can of Rockstar strewn beside him, etc.

Grateful for an above-average visual acuity at this moment, it occurs to me that you just never know when you’re going to have to describe a man with a handgun. Riddled with fear and adrenaline and relieved by the sound of sirens in the distance a few minutes later, my friend and I continue our walk in the opposite direction. I am not dead, I soon realize. We are not dead. (And I learn later that the man with the gun isn’t dead, either, thankfully -- although perhaps he is not feeling so thankful.)

I am a strong believer that every experience we undergo in life – whether good or bad – has the potential to make us better, stronger, more compassionate human beings. Though coming upon a man with a handgun was nothing short of frightening – and the last thing I would’ve expected on an evening stroll in June – the aftershock of it granted me the stark realization that being alive is not only precious, but being alive and happy, and more importantly, being alive and happy with people in your life who you love and who love you, is the most precious of all. (I’ve also come to the realization that people who drink Rockstar will forever frighten me.)

June 21, 2011

The Substance Behind "The Secret"

After hearing about The Secret for the past couple years and in the mood for a different kind of book than I normally read (i.e. fiction), I thought I’d give it a try. Having a vague idea that the book’s premise was something about unlocking one’s greatest potential through the powers of positive thinking, I thought it would be an inspiring, if not, entertaining, little read.

Truth be told, the book does come off a little hokey, and as someone who is not typically compelled to works of the self-help/spiritual genre (although I'm finding myself drawn to this genre lately -- The Four Agreements is next!), I maintained a hefty amount of skepticism while reading the book, which I think was a wise idea. The main takeaway is that you can achieve/possess/have whatever it is you want by putting forth positive energy into the universe.  And, while it's undeniably a bit hocus-pocus sounding, the underlying message is that, within reason our dreams – which are deeply unique to each of us – can be achieved through focus, determination, and most importantly, positive thinking. I believe that to be true. I may not be able to win the PowerBall through expelling positive thoughts into the world (although the book says it can be achieved – I say that’s hogwash, but who knows).  However, I do agree that certain, reasonable goals and wants can be achieved/obtained through the power of positive thinking.

Think about it. Negativity is self-defeating. If you say you can’t do something, you’ll never be able to do it. But if you say you can, whatever it is you want to achieve will automatically seem -- and therefore be -- attainable, achievable, easy, even. But achieving something is not possible just by wanting it, The Secret says. Oftentimes, people confuse want with an ability to achieve, but many times that want is paired with “I can’t”, resulting in a psychological inability to achieve that want. Personally, I believe that to be true.

For example, a year ago I told myself that I was going to lose 10 pounds. While I had wanted to lose it for a while before that, it was a bit of a struggle for me because I always felt like my body didn’t want to weigh any less, and therefore I was incapable of being lighter. When it occurred to me that I was setting up limitations for myself, it suddenly became much easier to get down to my goal weight. Sure, it took determination and consistency, but it didn’t feel any more difficult than what I was doing to maintain my weight before. In fact, obsessing on the “I want” less and focusing on the “I will” more resulted in greater achievement.

Though this is a rather shallow example of the powers of positive thinking, it is one that reenforced the overarching ideology of The Secret, even if some of the teachings of the book should be taken with a grain of salt, of course.

June 17, 2011

Fashion and Identity

Steampunk fashion. Ever heard of it? Neither had I, until my brother Joe mentioned it the other day. “I think I’ve finally discovered my style,” he said. Intrigued, he told me to check out The Gentleman’s Emporium, an entire online store devoted to “authentic period clothing.” The site contains everything from canes and suspenders to vests and field trousers. Steampunk Threads, another online outfitter, describes steampunk fashion as having “a definite Victorian look and feel, often embellished with wildly creative bits of hardware or technology that might have been conceived by a Victorian mind.” While it’s hard to envision a 6’2” man with arm-sleeve tattoos sporting a top hat and monocle, I have to say that it’s pretty great that at 32 he’s been turned onto a fashion that he identifies with, even if it’s one that dates back to the 19th Century.  I always love a good paradox.

Original Interpretation of Steampunk.

Contemporary Interpretation of Steampunk. 

Reflecting on my own style and fashion sense I have always been drawn to a version of the classic aesthetic. What can I say? I love nautical stripes. When buying a piece of clothing, I always ask myself, “Is this too trendy? Will this be out in a year?” Because if it is, I’m most likely not going to buy it, unless it’s $20 or less, which is just why H&M is so great. I certainly don’t mind paying good money for clothes, but generally only if it’s a well-made, timeless item, such as designer denim, probably my biggest fashion fetish.

J. Crew.
What I love about designer denim is that it is typically made in the U.S. with good-quality fabric. Most important, though, is that the fit is always so well proportioned. To me, shelling out $170 for a pair of perfectly fitting Paige Denim (my personal favorite brand) is completely worth it, not only because the quality and the fit, but also because (a) they will likely never go out of style and (b) it’s the primary component of (in my opinion) one of the sexiest female wardrobes – tight jeans and a t-shirt. Jeans are an everyday staple for me.  They're kind of my Steampunk.

Ad for Paige Denim.
Along with a good pair of denim, a classic fashion sense allows me to feel comfortable being me without feeling like I’m posing or attracting too much attention or being too consumed by what’s trendy, which ironically makes me feel free to take on pieces of other aesthetics at any given time. To me, the neutrality of a classic style allows me to be an amalgamation of everything I want to be, because I hate being boxed in. (Hell, even making the statement that I like a classic aesthetic makes me cringe a little, but if you looked at my closet that’s mostly what you’d see.)

What's great about fashion is that it's whatever we want it to be -- for Joe right now, it's Steampunk.  For me, it's a Classic embodiment, with a twist of whatever I'm in the mood for.  And while my brother and I differ a bit in our fashion aesthetic, what we do share is an awareness of our chosen styles being in harmony with our identity, which along with us, evolves over time.

June 9, 2011

Going "Off The Grid"

Sometimes I think of myself as a city girl disguised as a small-town girl. While it's not something I'm necessarily proud of, I love cities so much, that when I plan a trip somewhere an urban center is always where I want to go. Seldom do I consider going to the beach or the mountains or on a cruise. While I know I'll need to eventually expand my horizons a bit, it's pretty much all about the city for me.  I don’t know, maybe living in Maine my whole life has made me take rustic beauty for granted, although maybe that’s too harsh, because whenever I go away somewhere I am always happy to return. Relieved in a way.

But this weekend, for the first time in my adult life, I am taking a weekend getaway not to the city, but to the woods. There will be a cabin, a boat, a potbellied stove, and (thankfully) indoor plumbing, and no Internet or access to cellphones -- for an entire 48-plus hours. This, I must say, is one of the most exciting things about the trip, not because I dislike the Internet or cellphones (obviously.) But for the first time in God knows how long, I’ll be disconnected from the constant, ho-hum whir of technology for more than eight hours, and that will be pretty nice, I think, maybe even necessary.

During my getaway, I expect to take in at least one moose siting, as well as lots of other wildlife, and likely lots of blackflies. I’ve armed myself with some indulgent reads (Candace Bushnell, anyone?), my Canon G-11, and bug dope, and beyond that, I don’t think I’ll need much else. Maybe some snacks. You gotta have snacks . . . although I hear the home-cooked meals provided morning, noon, and night are pretty special.

Ultimately, my trip to the woods will be a nice exercise in just being for a couple days. Because there’s something a bit compelling, albeit a bit foreign, about the practice of being these days, don’t you think?

June 7, 2011

Nude v. Naked

I didn’t watch the MTV Movie Awards on Sunday night, but I wished I had, #1, because Jason Sudeikis was hosting (seriously – how can you not have a crush on the guy?) and #2, because of Reese Witherspoon’s acceptance speech in which she said:
I know it's cool to be bad, I get it ... but it's also possible to make it in Hollywood without a reality show.  When I came up in this business, you made a sex tape and you were embarrassed and hid it under your bed and like if you took naked pictures of yourself on your cell phone, you hide your face!
For those of you living under a rock, and haven’t heard about or seen actress Blake Lively’s nude photos, this was clearly in response to that, as well as to the reality TV darlings – the Kim Kardashians and Paris Hiltons that we love to hate but can’t seem to get enough of. (This is what the media does to us, friends.)

Anyway, watching the clip of Reese’s speech made me reflect on the theme of women dumbing themselves down or slutting themselves up in an effort to try to be noticed or recognized – on the major scale to become famous or on a minor scale to get attention from the opposite sex. This is not a feminist issue, might I add, but a self-valuing issue. Why should anyone feel the need to reduce one’s self to just a naked body? Granted, it’s the oldest trick in the book, although if you think about it, everyone’s got a little T&A . . .

But it’s what you do with that T&A that counts. A little T&A used in the right place at the right time, as an accompaniment to smart and interesting, is undoubtedly sexy, the opposite of slutty, the opposite of naked. (Well, at least I think so. Some feminists may disagree.) T&A used at the wrong time, on the other hand, in the wrong place, without any provision of talent or smarts, is just boring. It is. 

For full disclosure, I admit I did take a peek at Blake Lively’s pics, and she looked like any girl with a good body. I’m not sure why I was surprised by this – maybe because she’s a celebrity – but it nonetheless made me recall this thing I learned in Art History class my freshman year in college, that is the notion of Nude v. Naked. Nude is sexy and intentional; it’s art. Naked, on the other hand, is self-conscious and exposed; barren. In a sense, Naked represents the Paris Hiltons and the Kim Kardashians of our society. (I leave Blake Lively off the list because she is a girl with some redeemable value who cheapened herself by making a really dumb mistake – there’s still hope for her.) But as for the Parises and Kims, they may not always be naked, but for now that’s what they are – caught in that strange place in society, where they are both a source of entertainment for their shameless exposedness and a laughing stock, for their lack of demonstrable talent and foolish plugs for every product possible.

I’m glad Reese Witherspoon spoke her mind on Sunday night, because it’s sound bites like that which resonate to a society which isn’t always willing to confront the rippling effect of a little T&A at the wrong time and place.

June 4, 2011

The Journey or The Destination?

This morning I woke up at my usual Saturday time -- at around 6:20.  Yes, I know, I'm crazy.  Instead of getting up like I normally do, I went to the bathroom and returned to bed where I fell back to sleep until 7:40. Believe it or not, that’s “sleeping in” for me. Later on, while on my walk on this beautiful day with such perfect air I cannot even describe, I felt myself grumbling about all the things I had to do before I could start enjoying my weekend – finish my workout, shower, wash my hair, shave, blowdry my hair. (I will not bore you with the rest.) Only then did it occur to me as I was showering that this is something I need to work on. It’s always about the finish line, the destination, the end, for me.

In some ways it’s good to be goal-oriented, because shit often doesn’t get done any other way, and I can build and master a list as efficiently as the next one, but on the other hand, it is all too easy to miss life’s precious moments that way. Rushing through life isn’t such a good thing, even if it's in an effort to get to the sweet stuff. In fact, it isn’t ever a good thing. So, as I was showering this morning, for the first time, I took my time going through the motions. And by the time I was all dressed and ready to face the day, I realized that I had been lollygagging for the better part of an hour and a half. It was relaxing, even. It felt good.

I had always heard others recall Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “Life is a journey not a destination,” but I must be a certain phase in my life where I’m realizing the power and necessity of the statement. Oh, well.  Better late than never, right?

June 2, 2011

Share and Listen - "Representing Memphis"

As I wrote in my introduction a few posts ago, the theme of this blog is “everything beyond the box” which includes all that delicious stuff that I love so much.  In keeping with that general theme, I wanted to provide a little Share and Listen about my favorite song of the week – “Representing Memphis” (featuring Matt Berninger and the lovely Sharon Jones) -- off Booker T. Jones's new album, The Road From Memphis.  Actually, the entire album is incredible, so if you’re a soul junkie like me – or even if you’re not – I recommend picking it up.  Fun fact? It’s co-produced by my man Questlove, drummer of the (in my humble opinion) best hip hop group of all time, The Roots.   

In the past week since I’ve purchased the album I’ve listened to the song an embarrassing 35 or so times.  And that’s in the face of consciously trying not to over-listen to the track, even.  Instrumentally, the song builds and settles to a nice, warm, mid-tempo glow with the sweet backdrop of a B-3 played by Booker T.  The entire track is a lyrical devotion to Memphis, and while I have no personal affiliation to the city, it nonetheless gives me chills, over and over again.  The ultimate message the song conveys is the pride one feels for his city in the face of judgment, a theme which transcends to all aspects of life, I think.  Anyway, whatever words I lend to it will do it no justice.  Just listen here:

May 31, 2011

Gotcha Gadget to Goodbye Gadget

I love me some gadgets, I really do, but I have always been a bit behind the times when it came to cell phones.  Feeling a little out of touch, I decided to upgrade my basic flip phone to a smart phone with a data package.  (Yeah, yeah, I know. That is so 2009.) 
I admit that I couldn’t wait for the phone to arrive. To my dismay, though, when it finally did, and I got the thing up and running with all the snazzy apps shining bright from the phone’s display, I realized I wasn’t really into it, that having a fancy new phone with all that the Internet could offer on a pint-sized screen really wasn’t that exciting.  It wasn’t!  Not to mention that typing on a touch screen is the pits.  Why I didn't anticipate that this would be an annoyance is beyond me.

So I did what any normal person could do.  I cleared everything off of it – all the photos I had taken from it (I will miss that feature, I admit), unloaded Facebook, my email, all my contacts, and pulled out the SIM card only to slip it back into my sad, little, cracked BlackBerry Pearl flip phone.  I will say that to my surprise when I tucked the new phone into the box and shipped it off to my cell-phone carrier I had not a single feeling of regretful loss.  I may no longer have a hip new phone and constant contact with the digital universe, and you know what?  I’m okay with that, at least for now . . .  And for the moment, I won’t be pining for the $70 phone/text/data bundle bill, either.
Sometimes life is better on the slow track.  Sometimes.

May 30, 2011

Wanna be creative? Just pencil it in.

I think creativity is important.  Actually, I think creativity is vital.  But sometimes it is hard to find the time and the energy to be creative.  It is easier just to go through the motions of work and routine and to just let our creative dreams go by the wayside.  Tomorrow, I often say.  Next week.  When I have the energy, when I'm on vacation, when I win the lottery.  But the reality is that if we constantly have these excuses we will never pursue our creativity, and the dreams that we say are what's most important to us -- playing the piano, drawing, sculpting, writing, what have you, will go by the wayside.  Life is too short to not be doing the things that make us the most happy, don't you agree?

While I was on the treadmill this morning (I would've preferred to have walked outside but it's an unbelievably hot one today in Maine), I came upon a great little blurb on creativity in Whole Living magazine.  In it, Eric Maisel, Ph.D., provides three steps to creativity, which he says to achieve by doing the following:
  1. Start be making a separate piece space where you can get your creative work done. 
  2. Make sure you schedule the time so it becomes a real item on your schedule -- show up and be consistent.  Finally, enjoy the progression. 
  3. Take mistakes and messes in stride -- the ups and downs are part of the process. 
I was so taken by this that I cut it out and posted on my fridge as a daily reminder to pencil in my creative time.  Many times I think of being creative as a luxury, as an indulgence that can only be partaken in once all my work and chores are complete.  To be honest -- I'm freaking sick of that attitude.  Maisel's advice is helpful because the only way to make sure it actually happens is to simply schedule it in and to just take it in stride, knowing that being creative is all about experimentation and exploration.  Now that's some advice I can get on board with.