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: