Just doing it.

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The thing is in the doing.  Thinking about doing is almost always scarier than actually doing.

Expansion and contraction of time.

I wrote these words on my drawing pad right before I went to bed the other night.  (Yes, I bought myself a drawing pad, and yes I have used it a couple of times to make truly awful sketches.)  I didn’t want to open up my computer and I didn’t really want to write anything in the moment, nor did I want to forget those two thoughts.  And I am glad I wrote it down – those ideas have been bouncing around my head for a few days.

Although those are two separate thoughts, they are intertwined for me at the moment.  I am 4 weeks into my new not-working-in-an-office life.  When I think back to my last post – the early morning of my first non-office day, I was thinking about the doing.  What seemed so scary then is now the new normal.  I can’t remember the quote exactly from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but the author talks exactly about this phenomenon.  When you are looking towards the future and the unknown it can seem daunting, but when you are in the middle of it, taking it one step at a time, that fear dissipates and you become wrapped up in just doing.  I want to take that to heart – every single moment of every single day – because it would be easy to fall into the trap of worrying about what comes next.  I also easily fall into the trap of thinking I will be rewarded if I accomplish something – write a novel, take good pictures, draw a nice sketch, etc.  But yesterday I realized something I already knew deep down inside.  I had to turn off my mind to realize it but here is what popped up: “Life is its own reward!”  The reward isn’t in the external achievement, but being able to embrace the moment, even if you have a throbbing headache and you haven’t gotten out of your pjs by 3pm, like me the other day.

And that is when I started thinking about the expansion and contraction of time.  I took a leave of absence from work in order to be more present for my son’s senior year of high school.  Yesterday I got an email about his graduation date – late June.  That is 9 months from now – gee – that hit me as symbolic!  I have nine months with this boy before he heads on to a new chapter!  And for me – I have nine months in this current chapter of self-discovery.  A few months ago, if you asked me, a school year felt like a long time.  Now I see that 10 months, quickly turns to nine months, which turns into eight months, and so on until you are counting the days and the experience will be over.  So like a loop- I return to my first thought – “The thing is the doing.”  Just do – and keep on doing.  The time will pass without me having to fret or worry about it, so focus on the days you have, be grateful, savor the small moments, and do things.  Do  scary things.  Do things that put you out of your comfort zone, because once you do them, you realize the scary part was thinking about it, not actually doing.

How to be a successful writer in two steps. Or one.

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Here it goes:

  1. Write. Just write. Computer, longhand, with a stick in the sand. Dealer’s choice.

2. On some public forum, like medium, hit the publish button.

Step 2 is optional.

This is along the same lines of how to get a bikini body.

1. Put a bikini on your body.

I have recently subscribed to the school of not giving a flying f@ck… don’t get me wrong, I care deeply about a lot of things. The world hurts my heart. I would lay down my life for my family. I over think almost everything. I scrutinize,analyze,obsess. The one thing I currently can’t care about, is if my writing will embarrass me or if I will fail.

You see, if I wanted perfection or every comma in the right place I probably wouldn’t write. A friend and I are trying to push each other towards creative goals. She recently told me she was working on a story, creating an arc and plot. Well hell, I have certainly heard those words before but not once, let me repeat NOT once, did those thoughts ever enter my mind. My thought process is usually put fingers on keyboard and see what happens. If I am entertaining myself and if it is turning into a readable essay, I keep going. I may revise a bit. I then take a deep breath and hit publish.

That said, if I went back and read some of the things I wrote, I would probably cringe. So I don’t go back and read old stuff. My plan is not to beat myself over bad grammar or wild, meandering trains of thought. My goal is to keep writing. Keep developing, keep working.

And along the way I found out a few things:

  • I have a voice
  • My voice is getting stronger over time
  • Writing is therapeutic for me
  • And, low and behold, some people even seem to enjoy hearing what I have to say

In case it helps you… here my past 2 years of how I got to this point.

1. I made a conscious effort to start a blog. I used WordPress.

This put me into the mindset that I wanted to have a finished essay that I could publish as often as possible — every other week, once a month, somewhat regularly. Putting a little money behind it psychologically helped push me. I think my subscription is $100 a year. I am sure you can get one for less. I am a huge fan of journaling and I have been doing it since I was a kid,but there is a different thought process when you know you are going to send it out to the world. Many blog posts have come from journal entries. They just get cleaned up a little more.

2. I started out blogging about things I observed and enjoyed: a flower shop, a bakery, etc.

Actually, my real goal had been to provide a forum for my photography with an a essay to accompany. Along the way the photography became an accessory to the writing.

3 . After a few months of the travel tips type blogging, I felt like doing something different and I wrote a blog about my feelings on a certain topic. I just wanted to do it. It was a bit scary laying myself out online for others to read real feeling. I am certain I would not have gotten to that point unless I had already been writing and publishing for several months.

4. Feedback is helpful,but don’t worry about it. I love getting positive reactions,but I like to think I would write no matter what. Sure I would love more readers, a book deal (do they even exist?), someone to pay me for putting my thoughts out there. In the meantime,I am going to just keep writing and hitting publish. Voila! I’m a writer. And…drum-roll…you can be too!

5. And by the way — I just decided i want to be a painter. So, in the spirit of my own advice, I am going to do just that. Watch out world.

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When is a turtle more than a turtle?

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The other day, I carried a turtle all around Paris.  I have become that person.  Years ago when we lived in Africa, a friend from the embassy told me the story of an American lady living in Africa who wanted to return to the US, but she also wanted to travel with a turtle in her pocket.  Because you can’t always have your cake and eat it too, the turtle was denied at the plane.  Hysterics ensued, the lady refused to give up said turtle, and embassy authorities were called in to mediate.  I don’t remember the end of the story, but I am picturing the two: lady and her turtle, sitting happily together somewhere in the middle of Africa watching a sunset and drinking a Tusker beer.  At that time, I didn’t really get it.  Now I am wiser. This was not lost on me the other day as I paraded from taxi, to metro, and finally on foot with a small turtle tucked into my backpack– all the while nursing a terrific hangover that under different circumstances would have kept me in bed most of the day.

Back to the beginning:  My son was given a turtle.  I told him I wanted absolutely nothing to do with it.  Dad said he would handle the turtle during upcoming summer break and move to a new apartment.  Dad traveled, Dad forgot. Seventeen year old son in tears.  Mom caved.  Mom gets the turtle.  Those are the basics of how I ended up with Squirt in my backpack.At the time, perhaps because of hangover, I didn’t not really pause to think why my son was crying over a turtle that he had for about 6 months.  What I didn’t see at the time, was that the turtle was a gift from a friend, it was a tie to the previous school year and all that happened, including the death of a friend’s mom a week prior.  What I didn’t see was that 17 is still young and still boiling with emotions.  I didn’t see that giving up the turtle meant moving on.  I see that more clearly now.

After agreeing to figure out the turtle situation (nooo, I don’t mean flush him down the toilet) I helped my son empty the stinking (literally) tank, pack it up, and put Squirt safely in a plastic case for transport.  My first stop was to drop off some things for storage.  With no firm plan and only 24 hours left in Paris to figure out Squirtgate 2016, I dropped the very large and unwieldy aquarium on the side of the road as a free give away.  Travelling lighter now, I considered my options.

My first and favorite plan was to find a Chinese restaurant with a fish tank and quietly slip Squirt into the tank while I distracted the waiter with questions about vegan dim sum.  I was actually plotting out how to do this… I could actually, in my mind’s eye, envision myself with a large menu distracting the waiter, flipping pages, dropping something, then slipping Squirt to his new home.  I mean if you visualize something, it can happen, right.  At least that is what they say.

Option two: drop Squirt off at the lake in the park and let nature take its course.  A bit harsh, but then he may provide a swan or fish some extra protein.  Or he might live happily ever after, who am I to say?
At the time – I didn’t know there was an option three – give him to BFF in Paris and let her figure this out.  I love this plan and I didn’t even have to visualize it!  What I love even more, is that after 12 moves in 22 years – I can say I have a BFF in Paris!.  How did I ever get so lucky?  Being a nomad is emotionally exhausting.  (Is this what my son was feeling, too?)  I have been graced with amazing friendships over the years – people I can count on all over the world. People who I can leave a turtle with.

As I may have mentioned, I had a hangover and so did BFF.  Some friends and I had an impromptu reunion the night before and one glass of rosé led to another, one cigarette turned into another, one conversation turned into another, one Justin Beiber song turned into another, and around 2:30a.m., BFF and I were staggering home.  (She says I made her walk, I say we couldn’t find a taxi.)  So, by the time I got the turtle the next day, I decided I needed a five minute break before taking Squirt to his final resting place, err I mean home.  I stop into BFF’s house and proudly announce: “Guess what I have in my backpack?!  A TURTLE!!”

Right on cue, her son says: “I want a turtle!”  (Even though they are moving in a few weeks and they may be the crazy Americans with a turtle in their pocket on a plane.  I have to think that because of hangover, BFF’s reasoning powers were a little slow.)  Squirt had just received a call from the governor and had a few weeks of reprieve to safely swim in his tank!!

Oh, but … I had left his tank on the side of the road several blocks (which felt like miles) away.  Squirt safely with boy, I trudge down the block to see if the tank is still there.  Praise the lord – no one decided they needed an aquarium in the 30 minutes it was left there.  I carry the glass tank back to BFF’s house, and set ‘er up. Squirt has never looked so happy.  Actually, I couldn’t tell.  He’s a turtle.  But I sure felt relieved and so did my son.

Now, I am feeling deeply indebted to BFF – but then I remember a time months ago when I gave her my Teva sandals to wear while I strolled on the feces covered streets of Paris barefoot, carrying her Louboutins, because she couldn’t walk another step in heels .  The balance might not exactly be even, but who’s keeping track?  That is what friends are for, right?

P.S.  I sent a sneak peak of this story to BFF to give her a morning giggle.  She promptly wrote back: “Not to go all dark on you, but can you read this at the after party at my wake.”  Please note she didn’t ask me to give the eulogy, but I guess after party will do.

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Magnifying Mirror Woes

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Don’t look too closely in the magnifying mirror!
During my recent travels – I learned a very important life lesson in well-being- DO NOT, whatever you do, use the hotel magnifying mirror.  And if you have one at home that you like to use – you are a stronger person than me!  That tricky little mirror, attached to the larger bathroom mirror – is not my friend.  I have lived my many years without one of those things, and certainly no good came of spending a week alone in a hotel with that magnifier staring at me every time I went to brush my teeth.  I realized I look much much better from a distance, perhaps with sunglasses on, when you are squinting in just the right light.  Contemplating every pore , blemish, and stray hair is not for the faint of heart.  I quickly learned to avert my eyes and only glance at the dimly lit mirror on the closet door.  I looked a heck of a lot better when I wasn’t staring myself in the face, up close and personal.  From the normal mirror – I could consider myself, if not decent, at least not a freakish.

Which brings me to this week.  I was washing the dishes on Sunday.  Washing the dishes happens to be my favorite, meditative household chore.  I like standing at the sink and letting my mind wander.  Washing and mind wandering, I was really trying to think of what I am good at, my strengths – and then it occurred to me – I am great at navel-gazing.  (I just looked up the definition of navel gazing: “self-indulgent or excessive contemplation of oneself or a single issue, at the expense of a wider view.”  Yup, that’s me!)  But really, is it good to be good at that?? Just like the magnifying mirror – every thing looks so harsh from up close.  It is easy to focus on the small things and forget the big picture.  As much as I like to have something I am good at – I may have to give that one up.  So I am going to give up the navel gazing skill and take to heart the lesson I learned about the magnifying mirror – DO NOT be tempted to use it!  Better to take the the long view.  And if there is a bit of fog and mist, so much the better.  And pro tip #1: if you are using a camera, choose the softening/blur filter!  Used wisely – it is a great great friend.

Stockholm

Expat /trailing spouses are everything!  Ok, Ok – I swear the next post will be about a scrumptious bakery or intriguing museum- but in the meantime, I have to give a shout out to expats everywhere, especially my fellow trailing spouses*!  Why you may ask?  Because they are simply amazing.  Not only are they the glue for their families, but frequently they are the glue for their community, rallying friends and newcomers to make a new post seem less daunting.

This past weekend, a group of expats invited me on their weekly walk around Djurgården, one of Stockholm’s many, and perhaps most scenic, islands.  Walking and talking with these expats – mostly women who, like me, have moved here because of their husbands’ jobs – was a breath of fresh air literally and figuratively.  These trailing spouses reminded me of how extraordinary, and difficult, and beautiful it is to lead the life we do.  Here was a group of friendly, outgoing, intelligent, accomplished, and caring women who had once or twice or five times picked up and moved their families to a new place.  Not only had they settled their family and created a new life and home, they had also formed friendships, made walking buddies, traveling buddies, cooking buddies, everything buddies – and they were doing it in style!  I have encountered many women like this over the years whether in Paris or Zimbabwe – and they all have a few things in common – resilience and an ability to connect.

On a recent episode of Girls, Shoshanna, who recently moved to Japan and is enamored with the sights and sounds of a new culture, says, “”I’m great….My life is really perfect.” Only to end up in tears saying, “I’m really sad and I’m really fucking lonely. I’m so homesick and I swear to God  if one more person that I bump into bows and says they are sorry, I am going to fucking cut somebody.”  This made me cry/ laugh.  I have been in her shoes – everything’s going great until it isn’t and then all of a sudden you are crying in your ramen feeling lonely and alone and miserable.  But what trailing spouses have figured out is that although not everything will always be perfect,  if you start connecting and in turn help others connect,  you’ll move through that loneliness – and that is when the good times start!

All of these thoughts were going through my head during the walk, when we passed a wooden pier where a couple was hugging and posing for a photograph. It felt like a perfect metaphor for the trailing spouse phenomenon.  Sometimes you get dropped of at the pier, looking at where you have come from, standing on the edge of the island, waiting for a hug and someone to enjoy the view with you until you are brought onto land.  Trailing spouses do this for each other time and again, and that is why they are my heroes!

 

*For those of you who have not heard the expression trailing spouse – it is a phrase commonly used to describe a spouse, typically the wife, who picks up and trails after their spouse, usually the husband, for career moves.

Watering my garden on a cold wintery night in the middle of Stockholm

20151121_174258-01.jpegHere’s what I know…I know so very little.  Despite being an intelligent being, I overate on Thanksgiving, then did it again the next day with leftovers. I gave thanks, but not nearly enough.  I went shopping and bought things, knowing they weren’t essential and they wouldn’t make me happier.  I searched for things outside myself to bring happiness: the extra glass of wine, the extra piece of pie, you get the picture.  Ahh, the problem of being human, knowing better and doing the opposite anyway. And then dwelling on it!  Time to turn off the broken record, or at least change the tune.

I spent time with family from near and far, slept in late, read, played with my cousin’s baby for the first time, met another warm and wonderful family, heard a story about my grandfather, aunt, and uncle that made me laugh and also brought tears to my eyes.  I looked out the window -some days sunny, some days windy and rainy- watched life move by across a spectacular field and thought about things.

Now back at home, back to my normal.  I watered my little indoor garden talking to and encouraging the little show-offs.  I am picking out some recipes and getting ready to bake.  I will probably catch up on some episodes of my favorite TV shows .  I am settling back into the routine that comforts me, regrouping and recharging before the holiday mayhem.  Won’t say I won’t ever make the same “mistakes” but heck, they aren’t the only thing to dwell on.

Chocolate babka

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I am coming up with a common theme in my life right now, moving is hard.  So I am baking…again.  I have been a baking whirlwind since moving.  My latest creation (not counting the cookies I made tonight) was a chocolate babka.  I am posting a picture because it was exquisite in taste and appearance and I am so damn proud of it.  But more on that later.

Back to moving.
I am currently reading Eat, Pray, Love -yes I am behind the curve on this- and as I read it, one passage sticks with me.  Elizabeth Gilbert recounts, “My Guru always says that only one thing will happen when you come to the Ashram – that you will discover who you really are.”  Well, I don’t think you have to go to an ashram to discover that – just move…across town, across the country, to a new continent, by yourself, with kids. Just move – and then you will discover who you really are.  Making new friends, helping your kids make new friends, starting a new way of life – even if it is exciting and what you wanted, isn’t easy and forces you to dig deep within yourself.  I have moved 9 times in the past 20 years, and I know people who have moved more.  For me, it doesn’t get easier.  It may even get harder as kids get older and you get a bit set in your ways.  It is especially hard if you have to leave a place you feel is really home,a place you love, have wonderful friends, and feel most yourself.  Someplace your kids feel is home. For all of those who have moved, are moving, be gentle with yourself and give it time.  Other than that, I don’t have any particular words of wisdom. And for me, while I am waiting to feel settled (i.e I have no friends to hang out at cafes with) I have been baking.  It is something comforting, something I know I can do. And that brings me to babka – my fear of yeast and pushing out of my baking comfort zone.

I bake, but I don’t like to use yeast.  It is a tricky little living organism.  If the water is too cold, it won’t proof, and if the water is too hot, you’ll kill it.  In my spare time I decided, what the heck, I’ll give it a try.  As I was searching for a recipe to combine two of my favorite flavors , chocolate and cinnamon, I found the babka recipe on Smitten Kitchen.  I couldn’t resist.  So, I gave yeast a chance.  And it worked, not only was the babka lovely – it was delicious.  So, on to my small aha moment.  We are like yeast, especially during a move,  sometime you have to experiment with getting settled, test the waters a bit, not too much not to little, give it some time, but finally you will rise!