Travel Thursday: Minnesota via Instagram

// Thursday, April 9, 2015

Every Thursday, I’ll be posting about travel. More often than not, it will be a look back at recent trips I’ve taken, such as the British Virgin Islands, which I wrote about two weeks ago, but sometimes it will be a place I’m itching to go to, or a place a friend has visited and I can’t stop thinking about. This is a new series, and one that’s likely to evolve over time.

Last week, when I talked about the roadtrip to Minnesota I took with my boyfriend, I was really just writing the first half of the story: because once the roadtrip ended, I spent four days both playing tourist and hanging out with my boyfriend’s family (and their adorable puppy – this picture is from July, but how cute is she??). It was a wonderful, wonderful trip, so here’s a look back at playing tourist in Minnesota via Instagram.

tt2-09-nacho-mamasWe wandered around Stillwater on Friday, Nacho Mama’s in Stillwater for lunch – super cute interior, but neither one of us were particularly impressed with the food. He’s been there before and really enjoyed it, but this time around not so much.I had the El Cabo Wabo Sandwich, and everything was drowning in ranch sauce, and in spite of the assurances I received beforehand, there was so way to avoid the excessive jalapeños both on and in the bread.

tt2-10-book-teaHOWEVER: after lunch, we went into a few of the local used/rare bookstores in the downtown, and things picked up considerably. I know this sort of display isn’t unique to Stillwater, MN, but it made me smile all the same.

tt2-11-nancy-drewAND THEN THERE WAS THIS. My one regret from this trip is that I didn’t purchase this book. I couldn’t quite justify the cost at the time (wasn’t terrible, definitely – very reasonable, considering, but more than I was willing to pay for a book at that moment), but this was a first edition of the original 1930 version of The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene. I was obsessed with Nancy Drew growing up: on one trip to Florida, I brought five books with me and read more than one complete book on the plane ride there from Boston. And I still have all of the (modern) versions of the (original) series: needless to say, I probably maybe almost definitely should have bought it? But oh well. If it’s there the next time I’m in MN, I might.

tt2-12-babar-portrait BABAR. (See also: used/rare books bookstores are the best. Also, so much childhood nostalgia – though the one thing I ended up buying was a used Kurt Vonnegut hardcover, which I’ve yet to actually crack open. I showed some restraint, at least, re: wanting all of the childhood things. At least in terms of purchasing them, anyways. I liked this poster (piece of art?) a lot.)

tt2-13-stone-tap-portraitWe met T’s cousin for dinner and drinks at the Stone Tap Brewery in Hudson, WI. I was super impressed with the beer flight I had. I learned I liked saisons! I loved three of the four of them! I do not remember what all of them were/all of their names. Beer names and types: not something that sticks in my brain. That said: the Left Bridge Farm Girl was my favorite.

tt2-14-five-wattFive Watt Coffee. This is their menu: enough said. We both had the orange blossom special, and yum does not even come close to describing it.

tt2-16-mall-of-americaGratuitous picture of the roller coaster in the center of the Mall of America, because I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that this a thing that exists. Also, I knew going in that the mall was gigantic, but I definitely didn’t have a good grasp of what that actually meant. There are duplicates of stores. And a roller coaster. And a ferris wheel. America is a very strange place, sometimes.

tt2-19-indeedSaturday night at Indeed Brewing Company It’s a wonderful spot – great beer, great atmosphere, great food trucks according to others (we didn’t have dinner there), great gift shop. (I may or may not have a shirt or two and some pint glasses. Like I said: great place.)

tt2-21-chimborazoAfter we had post-family-Chistmas-party beer at Indeed, we headed over to Chimborazo in Minneapolis, a delightfully wonderful Ecuadorian restaurant. Everything we had was absolutely phenomenal. If you ever find yourself in Minneapolis, I seriously cannot recommend them highly enough. Great space, great staff and service, great food.

I’m not sure when the next time I’ll be back in Minnesota is, but it’s nice to know that I’ve got a ready list of places to which I want to return when we’re back in the area. Also, I’ve started following on Instagram both Five Watt Coffee (link) and Indeed Brewing (link) on Instagram, and it makes me want all of the things. Mostly coffee. And sometimes good beer.

Have you ever been to Minnesota? Any recommendations for the next time I’m there?

The Importance of Positive Spin

// Wednesday, April 8, 2015

I struggle – maybe more than I should – with where the line is between focusing on the good and/or being cautiously optimistic and feeling like I’m avoiding reality with regards to the thing that isn’t the silver lining. That’s not to say that there are Terrible Things in my life: just that I’m human, and like everyone else I have my moments of doubt, of feeling like others are doing something better/worse/smarter/dumber than I am and not knowing where the actual reality line stands. But by and large, I’d classify myself as fully aware of reality with a healthy focus on the importance of positive spin, on finding the good, of realizing that low moments can bring out the best in those around me. (The above image is from a note this summer, courtesy of my wonderful roommate and friend, when some personal things were all sorts of terrible, and I came home to find a vase of flowers and that note on my bookcase. Because sad, stressful things can lead to realizing just how cared for you are: people around me have so much love and strength.)

I’ve been thinking about that recently, about Reality versus Negative versus Positive, and then today at lunch, I read an article in The Wall Street Journal about the importance of positive spin on personal stories with regards to staying healthy. I don’t read the WSJ all that often (I’m not a fan of the writing style, or the direction they’re more inclined to lean than other papers I read), but my joint office suite has a full subscription, so every day there’s a current paper that floats around the office kitchen. It makes for good lunchtime reading, especially now that I’m trying to focus on not using my phone as an idle-I’m-sort-of-bored-while-eating-this-sandwich activity. But anyways: the full title of the article* is, “It’s Healthy to Put a Good Spin on Your Life: How we construct personal narratives has a major impact on our mental well-being”; while that is not a novel concept, and parts of the article are sort of a stretch, the tagline is worth remembering, worth internalizing. (A sidenote: I’m so used to reading about various new exercise crazes that when I first saw the print headline and associated athletic picture, I honestly thought the article was going to have something to do with taking a spin class. I’m glad I was incorrect.)

Today, two days after Easter, the above article was what I needed to read. Holidays – no matter which ones – almost always highlight certain aspects of family dynamics more than other regular days, and I like to maintain a healthy perspective. I had a wonderful (secular) Easter, but still: holidays. And given that most of the office talk on Monday revolved around the general mostly-secularly-meant, “How was your Easter?”, it seems even more appropriate to think about the ways in which people present narratives and the broader (personal) implications of such presentations. The article touches on two studies published last month (which I haven’t had time to read yet) the fact that good spin is more than just always finding the positive: you need to acknowledge the negative, but focus on the positive – the silver lining, so to speak. (The article also includes a list of steps/guidelines on the best ways to foster framing narratives in positive, good-for-your-mental health ways. Again, nothing groundbreaking, but the sidebar on personal accounting is worth looking over.) What positive spin comes down to is this:

“You can’t impact every event of your life,” says Jonathan Adler, lead researcher on the study and an assistant professor of psychology at Olin. “But you have a choice in how the narrative plays out. You tell the story and the story really matters.”

The story is what lasts: you have to accept all facets of the story, but you get to decide the story that lasts, to an extent. Because what you tell yourself and what you tell others is what sticks, what forms itself into solid memory and feeling of memory. It’s not about the fact that you can’t run a triathalon, though that is a fact of the story; instead, it is about the fact that you have more time with your family, with yourself, with others. It’s like the sayings about college: you don’t remember sitting for every exam, though you did (or will, or whatever), but you remember the times with your friends, with your classes. Time has a funny way of sanding down the stories we tell into what matters. And that, at the heart, is what makes positive spin, positive presentation without negating the bad, is so important. Because it’s all about how you frame it, and how you frame it is how you see it for years to come.

On a much less serious note (or more serious, depending on your degree of religiousness): if you celebrate Easter, or Passover, or any other holiday around this time that I am forgetting: I hope it was/is/will be wonderful.

Do you think that the putting a positive spin on personal narratives is important?

*The Wall Street Journal‘s paywall is ridiculous, and I’m not actually sure how long this link will link to the full text of the article, but at least this way if you’re inclined to read it and you’re late to the game, you have a shot at finding it.

Travel Thursday: Roadtrip to Minnesota via Instragram

// Thursday, April 2, 2015

So! In putting together this post and going through pictures, it occurred to me that I never actually got around to writing the post I meant to write about roadtripping out to Minneosta in December to visit my boyfriend’s family for pre-Christmas Christmas: I want to talk about the drive out there, about time spent playing tourist, about the coffee. And I plan to do that one of these days – or, at the very least, write a review/cheer/love letter to Five Watt Coffee in Minneapolis, which was amazing. I’m hoping to do that soon (god am I behind in things I want to write about, while also trying to write actual words in a way that is not just documenting, but. There is time, and I will make more.)

But anyways: for now, I’ve decided to structure Travel Thursdays in such a way that I’m working my way backwards. Last week was the BVI, from January; the next couple of weeks will be about Minneosta, from December; and so on. I was originally going to make the roadtrip to Minnesota and time spent in Minnesota one post, but after going through only iPhone pictures (admittedly we didn’t take many DSLR pictures on this trip but there are still more than a handful), I only managed to narrow it down to twenty-two pictures. Which seems like kind of a lot, and more than a little overwhelming to read/view in one post. This week is the roadtrip; next week likely will be the rest.

Without further ado: a roadtrip to Minneosta via Instagram (and some regular iPhone pictures). Also, an adorable puppy that I very much wanted to transport back with us to Massachusetts.

tt2-01-dieselPre-roadtrip coffee and breakfast at Diesel Cafe in Davis Square. They’re wonderful, and we spend a significant amount of time there on weekends and some mornings before work, though trying to get better about making weekday coffee at home, because fresh roasted beans from Tonx Blue Bottle are great). Diesel, therefore, was a given on the Tuesday morning we left for our roadtrip. Excellent coffee + delightful food = happy passenger and happy driver.

tt2-02-i80-paThis was my obligatory, “I just took a nap at a rest stop?????” bathroom mirror shot. Because, why not. Also, I was tired. This picture came out far better than it probably should have, I think.

tt2-03-indianaSnow in Indiana. Also, my first time in Indiana. There were so many trucks.

tt2-04-chicagoChicago! From the interstate, but whatever. This marks the first time I’ve driven through Chicago and only the second time I’ve “been” there. (Though the first time, I did actually spend time in the city, but not enough that I’ve formed an opinion of it yet.) In spite of what I’ve been told, we didn’t hit any traffic at all. I was pleased.

tt2-05-wisconsinObligatory roadtrip progress / we’re kind of sort of almost there picture. Wisconsin!

tt2-07-accurateArrived in Minnesota! This is the next morning, and a very accurate representation of a lot of things. Hi, can you tell I like turquoise? Also coffee and notebooks and maybe my phone?

tt2-08-puppyPupppppppy. Cutest dog in the world. I very much wanted to bring her back to Massachusetts with us. Also this picture was taken about two minutes after the prior one, and I love that a lot. So many happy things.

Minneosta was absolutely wonderful – and not even that cold! I know it changed later in the winter, but it was definitely warmer than Boston at the time, which was funny. I love catching up on posts like this, but I’m very glad it’s officially spring in the present.

What’s your favorite photo?

Travel Thursday: BVI via iPhone

// Thursday, March 26, 2015

I’ve been trying to think of a good way to incorporate all the travel I’ve done and all the pictures I have from said travel into some sort of series. I decided the best way to do that was a take on #tbt (Thowback Thursday): from now on, more or less every Thursday, I’ll be posting about a recent or semi-recent travel experience I’ve had, ranging from international (like this one) to weekend trips to local travel and everything in between.

Without further ado: select highlights from the British Virgin Islands, via iPhone. All of these were taken during the sailing trip I took in January.

bvi_1-hook-line This is the only photo of the group not from the BVI, though it is from the trip: we flew down from Boston early Saturday morning and spent Saturday on St. Thomas so that we could catch the ferry over to Tortola early on Sunday. We’d gone to Hook Line & Sinker when we visited St. Thomas back in March last year, and we enthusiastically recommended it as the place we should eat while on St. Thomas. We weren’t disappointed – highly recommend them as a restaurant. (although: do not believe the menu when it says you will get, essentially, crab cakes, because you will instead get many, many very large crab legs, which were very tasty but very difficult to eat. I, unfortunately, do not have a picture of the plate. Fortunately, there isn’t a picture of me struggling to eat them.)

the bitter end!

the beach in anegada, bvi

foxy's, jost van dyke, bviNot pictured: the rest of the t-shirts, stickers, license plates, and miscellaneous items of clothing that were hanging from every possible rafter. Foxy’s is the best: so much character (and excellent food).

wandering around jost van dyke

still more wandering around jost van dyke

dinner at foxy'sWe ended up – by chance! – at Foxy’s on a friday night, and on the weekends they have a bbq buffet: you get two plates, which you need to fill completely the first time around, as you can only stand in line once, for a flat price. While it might not be apparent from this picture, those ribs were the best ribs I have ever had in my life. SO GOOD.

sunset!

Today it’s cold and rainy, and I’m missing the sunshine and warmth. Spring is technically here, but it doesn’t quite feel like it. I can’t wait until it does. Fingers crossed it’s soon.

running forward: literally and figuratively

// Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A point of (blog) maintenance: I cannot for the life of me figure out if there is a way around the fact that featured images do not show up in the subscriber emails (or, apparently, in the wordpress.com reader). I’ve tried a couple of things, but to my knowledge they haven’t worked. It’s a known Jetpack issue, but it’s still frustrating. SO: dear readers, if you’re not seeing the header image with the posts (should appear under the title, before the text), and you’d like to, please click through to the original post. Because I do put a decent amount of thought into the images I choose for posts, so. Yes. I’d love to share them with you if you’re interested. And if you’re not, no problem at all, but I wanted you all to know they existed.

On Monday, I went for my first run in over three months. The last time I went running was also the first time I ever not only ran in a 5K but also completed said 5k (or, realistically: had ever run 3.1 miles), which strikes me as sort of funny. Firsts and lasts, and such. (PS: I linked both pictures because I like the first one better, but the second one has my finisher medal, which is an important detail.) I’d planned to run more this winter, but Boston being Boston, and this winter being this winter (it was close, but we’ve officially broken the snowfall record), it just didn’t happen. It was too dark, or too snowy, or too icy, or too cold – or a delightful combination of all of those. And somehow, before I knew it, three months and change had gone by, and I hadn’t gone for a run. And I’m not a runner by nature: so those three months off meant that the mile and a half I ran Monday hurts. Not too bad, but more than it should, and more than I’d like it to hurt. (That said: I also ran faster than I thought I would, so I kind of accidentally screwed myself. And it was super cold: note, in the image above, the super fashionable SmartWool outdoor/not running socks I’m wearing.)

It’s the good kind of hurt, though: the one where tired, achey muscles the next day (or, erm, days, because I’m feeling it today still) mean that I’m moving forward, working my body in ways that I hadn’t done for too long. It’s the healthy kind of soreness: just enough to know that I’ve put in work, that I’m getting stronger, that I will get stronger still. And in the near future I’ll go climbing again, and the cycle will continue. For now, though, I’m running forward, even if the only area in which I’m running is the literal one. If the weather is decent tomorrow, I’ll be running again. Because moving forward is important, even if it’s only, hey, I did a thing with my muscles that I didn’t do the day before.

In a different kind of running forward: time goes really fast. And I know it’s cliché to say this, but I feel like each year legitimately does move faster than the last. Today marks two years since my first day at my current job: I don’t know where the time has gone, but it’s sort of nice to know that I’m established right now in what I’m doing, even if I don’t yet know when or where my next step will be (and for now, I’m quite content to be where I’m at: I’m developing quite the varied set of skills, and the people I work with are by and large great). It was still a Realization this week to realize that today would be my two year work anniversary. I’ve come a long way – moved forward a lot, as an employee and as a person – over the course of these two years, and it’s nice to (a) be able to personally see that and (b) have others tangibly appreciate that.

This week, really, has reminded me how much everyone, and everything, is running, in their own ways and on their own terms. At face value, the title of this post is misleading: I don’t have grand plans or concrete ideas of what the future holds. But here’s the thing, and this is what I’ve been thinking about all day: you can be running forward without sprinting. Maybe it’s just because we moved the clocks ahead recently, but I’ve been hyper-aware of moving forward (because of the clocks “springing” forward, maybe? (forgive me…)). And I can improve myself by running to meet whatever comes head on. And it might be because I’m not a natural (or graceful, or excellent) runner, but I’m cautious when I run. I cover ground more quickly than when I’m walking, but I’m more focused on the world around me, taking in both the good things and the potential hazards. And that’s how I want my life to be as well: not overly cautious, constantly moving forward, conscientious of whatever risks, and bringing it together with a semblance of balance.

yes please (but i wish there were a comma): a review of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please

// Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Last week, I finally read Yes Please by Amy Poehler. I’ve been meaning to read it since it came out this past October, enthusiastically saying, literally, yes, please, when both my boyfriend’s roommate and my downstairs neighbor offered to lend their respective copies to me, but time got away from me, and I didn’t end up picking it up until this week. (I ended up borrowing it from my neighbor after my roommate borrowed it, if that detail matters.) I liked Yes Please a great deal, but I wasn’t in love with it. One thing I did love, though, was how much she brought up Burlington, which is literally one town over from where I grew up. I loved reading about her childhood/adolescence in Burlington, because there were a whole lot of parallels, and it’s fun in the “wow, the world is small” sense to see someone famous reminiscing about a town with which I am so familiar.

I’m late to the Amy Poehler game: until I discovered and started (binge) watching Parks and Rec this summer, I didn’t really know who she was other than vaguely recognizing her from SNL, which I watch occasionally and also infrequently. I like her writing style enough, but I was frustrated by how often she talked in circles – mentioning a thing and then dancing around it for several pages before returning back to her original point. A little bit of self-depreciation is good, and appreciated, but it got to the point where it seemed like she was intentionally writing filler for her own book. Her not-infrequent acknowledgments that the book was difficult for her to write and that she’s better in person only served to highlight some of the sections that were struggling more than others. I love her writing in terms of Parks and SNL, but something felt a little flat here. (And I really wish there were a comma between yes and please.)

That said: I think Yes Please is a worthwhile book, and it’s a quick and enjoyable read. Some of her advice pieces (or maybe most of them) might border on the cliche, but they’re statements that are worth hearing, worth reading from the pen of am intelligent, influential woman who can powerfully impact so many young women and girls. That power, though, is at the root of the underlying problem I had with the book: I wanted it to be better, to be more, to figure out if it were a memoir or a call to action. I know it was both, kind of, but it could have balanced them in a more coherent way. But on the other hand, her voice is very similar to how I think, how I write when I’m not self-editing, so in that sense I liked it a great deal.

And there are moments which are absolutely wonderful, like this one from the intro:

… You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing. That is what I know. Writing the book is about writing the book.

So here we go, you and me. Because what else are we going to do? Say no? Say no to an opportunity that might be slightly out of our comfort zone? Quiet our voice because we are worried it is not perfect? I believe great people do things before they are ready. …

Is it cliche? Maybe. Definitely. Absolutely. But is it true; is it necessary to have someone write those words when it’s basically a given that millions of people will read them? Yes please. Which is, I think, the heart of the thing: if somehow the whole book had been like that, I would wholeheartedly, four hundred percent recommend it. As is, I recommend reading it, but with some caveats.

Yes Please just felt like it could have and should have been pushed a little further. Amy (can I call her Amy?) joked (“joked”) in the intro (and throughout) about how difficult it was to write the book, and joke or not, the apparent trouble she had writing it hummed under the surface of the words more than it should have. But I still very much enjoyed reading it, and I recommend reading it. But take Yes Please for what it is: a humorous, delightful, somewhat superficial, and enjoyable read by an awesome, inspirational woman and brilliant comedian. Writing a book doesn’t need to be her forte: she’s already shown how much else she can do, and I have the utmost faith that we’ll only see more wonderful projects and inspirational moments and words from her. This book is not all of the things, and it feels that way, but only because Amy Poehler has set the bar so high through everything else she does.

write what inspires you

// Sunday, March 15, 2015

I recently read an excellent post (discovered via where my heart resides‘s Facebook page) about seeing the beauty in what you have, about finding inspiration from others instead of discontent from the comparison between their lives/moments versus yours, and it reminded me of back when I used to write creatively, back when words were pretty things to paint with, to make art with and hope that someone would read it the same way, hear it in the voice I meant to convey, so that the commas were pauses and stops and hidden thoughts, so that the repetition was something more, something magic.

I want to write like that again.  I want others to feel, and I want to feel, rereading my writing (in that limited way that you can, when it’s your writing and not something you’d never thought to phrase that way), the way I just felt reading about apple slices and comparisons and forgetting the here for the there. Because there are so many things expressed in that post that I have thought in far less eloquent terms; if I could write something half as pretty as that post, I would be happy. Things like this secondary opening, with the emphasized line about moving out of the way, which subtly becomes a refrain:

The second happens, for me, in another manner entirely. It’s hopping on my phone to Google a recipe in the grocery store and I find myself habitually opening Instagram – oh, I’m sorry, I’m totally in your way, let me move over here by the oranges – and gracious, that stir fry photo she just posted looks way better than the sauteed kale I’d planned for, and yes, I have snap peas at home, maybe I should pick up some water chestnuts and sesame oil?

Except that, most times, it’s not about stir fry at all.

It makes me think of that poem about oranges, that isn’t about oranges at all except that it is. But (after a decent amount of Googling, because “I titled it ORANGES” was not exclusively a line in that poem…), what I am really referring to is the poem Why I Am Not A Painter by Frank O’Hara, and not actually a real poem about oranges, and I didn’t remember that, instead I remembered the lines that resonated with me from the poem:

Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. …

There’s something to be said for the fact that I until just now I had no conscious recollection of what that poem was called, or who wrote it, but I talked about painting with words. That’s what I want to get back to: the place where everything blends and blurs together and fiction as reality just as much as reality is fiction.

I wrote a lot of words about how a dinner party inspired me, but what I forgot about is just how much words inspire me and how much the written words of others can serve as a catalyst to ignite thoughts you didn’t even know you had. I forgot how much a gorgeous standalone piece of writing doesn’t need the context of the author: I’m not familiar with Design for Mankind at all, other than reading that one post. And I’d forgotten how that can come to be, how a piece of writing can just click. So this is my way of encouraging you, of asking you, to write what inspires you. Because wonderful pieces of writing can grow up and out from that place.

This weekend has been all about spring cleaning, about organizing and starting fresh so that things – and ideas – don’t get buried in clutter or winter dust but instead come back into the daylight. I’ve dusted every nook and cranny of my room and swapped out my warm and cozy plaid flannel duvet cover for my less warm but more cheerful ivory floral spring/summer one. The weather app on my phone might say that we’re getting snow squalls this afternoon (?!!), but I’m ready to welcome spring with open arms. Today is for writing (and a few errands and the last bits of cleaning I have left), for appreciating that spring is only five days away.

introspection and dinner parties (or: apparently dinner parties inspire me to write a lot of words)

// Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A disclaimer: the impetus for this post came from a dinner party that I went to a few weeks ago, where I was reminded of the importance of living in the moment, of how certain experiences cannot be had without spontaneity, of how the real human connection that comes from being in the physical presence of others cannot ever be replaced completely by moments happening through and amongst the internet. And it prompted me to think a lot, and to therefore write a lot of words.

A not-at-all-shocking confession: I spend too much time in front of screens. Some of it is necessary; some of it is for fun, personal growth things (hi, blog! also learning to code more); some of it is just wasting time; and some of it is connection masquerading as wasting time (see: maybe 1/3 of time spent the internet; if I were pressed, I’d say 1/3 learning/growing/reading, 1/3 connection-maintaining, 1/3 idly spending time). The more I’m trying to prioritize what I’m interested in and the more I’m trying to connect and disconnect and write, the more I’m realizing that finding a balance isn’t a simple, one-step process. There’s a lot of trial and error, as well as a surprising amount of anxiety around self-applied pressure to figure it out correctly the first time, to suddenly be able to do All Of The Things while also having free time (and also trying to find time to Visit All Of The Friends without all of the failing; haven’t had success with that yet).

So I’m cutting myself some slack. I’ve been holding myself to impossible standards, and because of that, I haven’t been able to fully appreciate what it is that I’m actually accomplishing. And I’m accomplishing a lot. I’ve made time, tangibly if only occasionally, to write (see above image, which was taken while I was spending my lunch hour writing and drinking coffee at the North End location of The Thinking Cup, which I should do a post about one of these days, because it is lovely), and I’m keeping up with my Q&A a Day: 5-Year-Journal. I’ve been (with only a few exceptions) much better about getting enough sleep, and on work nights I’m (almost, but not always) in bed by 11:30. I built a website as a gift, largely because I thought it would be a great gift but also in part to see if I could. (Realization: as much as I’m ehhhh on fully mobile responsive, mobile-first websites (I’m a dinosaur, I know), Bootstrap is great.) And I’ve been going climbing on a fairly regular basis and getting better about my nightly routine (morning is okay, working on making it better). Basically, what this translates to is that for the first time I can think of recently, maybe ever, it’s three months into the 2015 and the resolutions I made are being put into practice constantly. But it’s still hard not to lose perspective, to feel like I could constantly do more, do better. So I’m reminding myself, here, publicly, that I am Doing Things, and doing them well, even if there is – and always will be – room for improvement. Because that’s what life is: constantly, continuously, improving and growing.

I have noticed, however, that I’ve been stretching myself a little thin, so I’m working on that. Because I’m busy in general and I’m trying to form new habits and routines (writing more, creating more, etc.) and I’m also working on Doing Things More, which is good (wonderful, even!), but I’m finding it hard to let myself schedule down time: time where I can write if and only if that’s what I feel like doing, or read, or maybe just be, focusing on life out the window or thoughts via my ceiling (to be honest, whenever I think that I cannot help but feel of I’m trying to be a variation of Stephanie Plum, who frequently describes her thinking position as laying down on her bed with her eyes closed). Sidenote: if you’re ever looking for a fun beach/summer read, I highly recommended – with caveats – the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich. The first twelve books (One for the Money through Twelve Sharp) are great. Beyond that, they…are less great, so I am not wholeheartedly recommending those, but they’re still fun to read (well, kind of) if you been into the series from the beginning. ALSO: one of my most entertaining book reading memories, in hindsight, is reading Hot Six in study period in middle school, and having the boy next to me loudly – and indignantly – ask what I was reading because he, ahem, misread the title, and the teacher, from whom I was sitting about a foot away, do a hilarious double-take. That was in eighth grade, so while it was super awkward at the time, now just makes me laugh. Probably shouldn’t have been reading that book in eighth grade, though, because while I was able to very convincingly say that the title was “SIX, like the NUMBER”, the play on words was not unintentional, title-wise. But I digress.

My digression, though, is also my point: I haven’t had made enough time to just let my thoughts wander and see where they go. Granted, in this case, those thoughts are tending towards beach reads and the thought of future warmth (17 days until spring!), but there’s nothing wrong with that. My lack of making time is on me, and I’m going to work on it. I just need to focus on finding a balance.

That’s where the dinner party – which happened a few weeks ago now – comes in: the mother of some friends was throwing a dinner party, and my boyfriend and I were lucky enough to receive a spur of the moment invitation. The guests came from different age groups, different life experiences, different cultures; and we all just clicked. Given how varied and diverse the group was, the night really got me thinking about the importance of finding middle, common ground; how that applies to life in general just as much as it does to relationships or opinions or politics or what have you.

The night started with conversations and drinks; conversations spilled into (absolutely delicious) dinner, accompanied by wine and candlelight. And then! And then there were performances: spontaneous piano and guitar playing by hosts and guests alike; singing opera and pop songs spanning decades; poetry reading. I hadn’t realized dinner parties like that – nights like that – existed outside of the 1950s-ish. I come from a small family with limited social circles (this generation, anyways: apparently my grandma could throw quite the dinner party, but those years were long gone by the time I entered the picture). It was a wonderful, wonderful night. At face value, it was just a night of conversation, food, wine, and music, but it all blended into something bigger than the sum of the parts. And it got me out of my head and into the bigger picture. I was inspired by so many of the people there on so many different levels.

I recently came across an old article in The New York Times about how dinner parties are “endangered”, about how they’re no longer the dinner parties of bygone eras. The article is from 2012, but it’s more relevant than ever, discussing how we’re too busy and overscheduled to possibly find the time. But what the article touches on, but doesn’t really delve into, is that what is under threat are the formal dinner parties, the ones with rules and assigned place-settings, because the social dynamics and norms are shifting. At its heart, though, the article is optimistic, implying that dinner parties – in some form, at least – will never go away, because they evolves as we evolve; because there is middle ground:

There is no leveler quite like a dinner table, said Mr. Hitz, a longtime bicoastal whose dinners at his California digs, an aerie perched high above Sunset Boulevard, tend to be populated by Hollywood types from across the demographic spectrum. “The 20-year-olds enjoy the 90-year-olds,” he said. “And I can assure you the 90-year-olds enjoy the 20-year-olds. …. “If anyone tells me, ‘I’m freaking out, I have six people coming to dinner, what do I do?’ ” Mr. Hitz said, “I say serve chicken potpie and a salad, make sure there’s plenty of wine and keep the lights low. How can it go wrong?”

And that’s precisely what I’ve experienced: dinner was simple, yet excellent, and we enjoyed spending time in each other’s company, holding conversations that sparked other conversations, and, later, a long train of thought that led to this post.

dinner party wine & candlelight

So this is my reminder – to myself, to anyone who reads this – to find inspiration from those close to you, from the events you happen to attend at the last minute (upcoming post, by the way: the performance of Cassie & Maggie we attended last weekend at Club Passim because those same friends had two extra tickets), from what you’ve accomplished so far. Because there are so many things by which to be inspired, and mostly it comes down to letting yourself appreciate what’s in front of you.

Have you been to a dinner party, in whatever form? What has recently inspired you?

snow.

// Saturday, February 7, 2015

I have a complicated relationship with winter. I love it, but I hate the cold and it doesn’t take me long until I am just 120% ready to be wearing shorts and sandals and dresses again. This winter has brought that out in me even more than other years, because it was stupid cold with no snow for a really long time, so it wasn’t even pretty, and now we’re buried in snow for the foreseeable future. Because currently my state and my city is buried under over three feet of snow. I’m over winter boots and wanting to wear tights under pants so I can stay warm on the way to work and keeping a spare pair of pants in my desk in case I fall in a snow bank or slip on ice.

Thing is, normally I love this season. When the first snow of the winter happens, I become, very much, Lorelai in Gilmore Girls (apologies for the terrible link; youtube is failing me re: the scene I’m thinking about – but in short: the first snow makes me nothing short of giddy). The snow quiets and blankets and soothes, and the world seems both new and inexplicably old. I love that; I really do.

In the last week, though, we’ve gotten over three feet of snow in the city I live in, in the cities around the city I live in, in practically the whole state. There’s more forecasted for this weekend, and our subway system can’t even handle what we have, and people (like me!) are still going to (or trying to go to) work as usual. It’s a mess, and I’m just as frustrated with winter as everyone else. Commuting in and out of Boston over the last week has been nothing short of both nightmarish and cartoonish. And, from the sound of it, we can’t even expect it to improve anytime soon, as the MBTA is still warning people about future delays.

But here’s the (other) thing, the one that’s more important: on Monday, in the midst of a snow storm (Linus, as it hit the Boston area) and 2.5 hour commute (that normally takes half an hour), I walked through some of the neighborhoods and side streets around Harvard Square. And I was cold and tired and cranky and ready to be home, but I stopped. I looked around, and I took in the silence. I watched an elementary schooler help his dad shovel out their car. And I remembered: this is what winter is supposed to be. Sure, sometimes there are hell commutes and streets that are nearly impossible to drive on – or even walk on. But there’s something about the snowfall itself that’s magic. I don’t want to forget that.

Because it can be terrible, but it can also be beautiful, and wonderful, and look like this:
snowy street (b&w)

So tonight night, when it’s flurrying, and Sunday night, when it’s snowing again in the real sense, that’s what I’ll focus on. I’m not going to focus on the fact that we’re essentially having a four-day snow storm. I’ll curl up with excellent hot chocolate and a good book (a friend lent me The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton, which I haven’t started yet but am excited to read), and I’ll sit and watch the snow. Maybe work on taxes, if I’m feeling the need to be Responsible!Productive, and maybe work on a puzzle with my boyfriend, if I’m feeling Fun!Productive (because: brain exercise).

It’s all about perspective. I hope, if your weekends are snow-filled, that they are nothing short of magical.

on sailboats and sunshine (or: resetting and resolutions)

// Wednesday, January 28, 2015

I spent January 10th – 18th in the British Virgin Islands with my boyfriend and his family, alternating between sailing, wandering islands, snorkeling, and eating good food/drinking cheap but delightful Caribbean beer. It was a week with no cell service (fyi, Verizon, which I have, has no service in the US sense; AT&T can and will frequently pick up a US signal from St. Thomas): I couldn’t call people; I more often not couldn’t receive texts; I had no data coverage. There was extremely, extremely limited WiFi at a few of the restaurants/bars. I checked email about three times? Instagram twice? I don’t think I checked Facebook.

It was wonderful.

I hadn’t realized how much I needed a digital detox, of sorts, but god, did I. It was so refreshing to just be: to sit in the sunshine, on the boat, while we sailed between various islands; to sit at dinner and bring my phone only to use as a camera, to document the restaurant or the meal or the hilariously pink drink, and then put it immediately away; to not feel like I needed to have said phone on me at all times to be reachable, to not feel like I needed to check all of the things just in case someone posted something that was ~life altering~ such that I needed to, you know, read it on social media in real time.

It was a good, welcome, relaxing step back. Does it mean I’m swearing off Facebook or Tumblr or Instagram anytime soon? Nope. But it does mean I’m more aware of my usage (excluding Facebook, which I check for about two minutes once a day anyways now and haven’t used regularly for a long time), more aware of what I’m not missing online and am missing in person. I wrote, a long time ago – before it was in vogue, per se, but I definitely absolutely wasn’t the first person to write it or think it – that I felt as if I were starting to think in 140 character thoughts. That’s not who I want to be. So I’m working at it, by writing more, by talking about writing more, by changing my routine. January hasn’t been as good for writing as I’d hoped it would be, but I’ve been taking pictures and writing words on scraps of paper and in drafts of emails, and. And that is definitely not nothing, and for now, it’s enough. It’s something I’m continually working on.

That’s what I want 2015 to be. It’s less about the big overarching goals that are damn near impossible to achieve in a tangible sense, and more about the small things that add up to a large intangible delightful mess of things. So my resolutions border on the cliche this year, but they’re important:

1. Make time to write. My eventual goal is to develop a routine, where I’m writing a set number of pages a day, or writing at a specific time every day, or something else along those lines. And while I’ve done well so far at making the time, I haven’t done so well at making it a routine, and that’s something I’m going to work on more. Because, forward.

I also bought a Q&A a Day: 5-Year-Journal (discovered and purchased via this post on C’est Christine), and that’s something I want to keep up with this year. Last year, I (unofficially?) made a resolution to note what I did every day, and I kept up with that for the first time, I think, ever: I had the 2013-2014 seventeen month version of the Moleskine Weekly Pocket Planner, and it was completely full between July 2013 and December 2014. I am so incredibly proud of that (I realize how ridiculous this sounds, because I document a lot of things, but with that sort of thing, in the past I have just sort of…faded). For 2015, I’m using the one I linked to above: it’s slightly smaller, depth-wise, which I like. It’s still soft cover and the same size (3.5″ x 5″), meaning it fits into any purse I carry, which is awesome and also necessary if I’m going to keep up with it.

And, also: I’ll be writing here more.

2. Read more books. Largely related to #1, because more reading means more thinking about words and ideas and having phrases stick in my head and become their own stories. That, and I just miss reading for fun. Last week, I tore through The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer in essentially one sitting, which really should and probably will eventually be its own post because I loved it and it gave me all of the emotions. (Sidenote: In general, for books, I highly recommend Porter Square Books: they’re local, independent, super nice, and super helpful. Second sidenote, should you want one, they still have autographed copies of The Art of Asking in store.)

3. Be better about getting enough sleep and having a regular weeknight sleep schedule. The boat reset my sleep schedule so well. We were going to bed somewhere between 10 and 11 every night, usually closer to 10, and getting up sometime between 7 and 8 each morning. I forgot – it’s so easy to forget – how much nicer it feels to be rested, to have gotten a full night’s sleep. To not feel like I need (versus want) coffee to function at anything resembling a reasonable level. I used to be better about getting up a solid 45 minutes before I had to leave for work – time to make coffee, do my makeup/morning routine, etc., and somehow over the past year I let that slide to get an extra 10-30 minutes of sleep (see also: overtired, thanks to an increasingly wonky sleep schedule).

4. Put more effort into consciously taking care of myself. I don’t not take care of myself now; this resolution is more related to #3 above: I want to make time every day to get ready for the day, whether that’s just putting on basic makeup or painting my nails or having a more consistent approach to skincare (see also: winter makes my skin SO SAD, and I need to work on making it less sad, constantly, and I want to maintain that habit throughout the year). Yoga and climbing also fall under the general consciously-take-care-of-myself umbrella: I want to get back into the habit of going to yoga at least once a week, and I want to get more comfortable with climbing because I enjoy it a lot even if it freaks me out sometimes. Yoga definitely isn’t something that comes naturally to me, and I am maybe the least flexible person on the planet, but that’s what I love about it. It’s work and it’s a challenge and it’s nice to clear my mind of everything to focus on a pose (and not destroying my body while attempting said pose).

Related, but not a separate resolution: pare down my closet/dresser, because I have an increasing number of clothes that I don’t like to wear because they don’t fit right, or I feel like they don’t fit, or I think they don’t flatter and then when I end up wearing them, I feel gross. So I want to purge and donate (or toss, if necessary) anything that falls in those categories, and start fresh. I’ve recently been feeling something akin to overwhelmed by my clothes, and it’s not like I have that much. So I want to work on that, both in the physical and emotional sense of taking care of myself.

5. Create something tangible. I’ve been attempting to learn how to knit/crochet for a while now, and I’ve already set aside my yet-unfinished scarf as an increasingly belated Christmas present for my mom. Knitting/crocheting/etc. is not something that comes easily for me: I do not have a spatial memory/mind, and I can’t visualize things well from patterns and/or watching someone do it in front of me. So it’s a struggle, but I like the challenge of it, and I think it’s a good way to “stretch” that part of my brain. So I want to create something basic (see: the scarf that is nothing but knit/purl/knit/purl, etc.) and something a little more complicated (see: following a pattern and also learning how to read a pattern).

This site, in and of itself, is something tangible, in that weird way that the Internet is. I’m going to focus on learning more about coding (helped in part by my continuing work on the company website for my employer), and I’ve been debating the merits of attempting to create a WordPress theme from scratch just for fun, to see if I can. Should be interesting.

2015 is going to be a good year.