3 Things I’ve Learned From Nora Ephron Recently

A high school friend got married the weekend before last, which was the perfect excuse for me to drive to my hometown of Shady Grove for a few days.  I love everything about going home, from sleeping in the twin bed of my childhood to eating my dad’s ever-perfecting sourdough toast for breakfast, to partaking in miscellaneous projects with my parents (and siblings, if they are home), to the now familiar drive from Providence to south-central Pennsylvania. 

There are many times when I wish I lived closer to Shady Grove because proximity would enable me to enjoy all the benefits of home – particularly quality time with my family of origin —more often than I currently do, but taken in and of itself, I don’t mind the driving distance.  It’s actually an aspect of going home to which I look forward.  With a thermos of coffee, a stack of audio books, the heat turned up, and a queue of podcasts, I find the drive comforting, cozy and entertaining. 

On this most recent drive, I listened to the second half of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and an episode of each of my favorite podcasts (Happier and Jesuitical) on the way to Shady Grove, and a few more podcast episodes and Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman on the way back to Providence. 

It would be an understatement to say that my return drive to Rhode Island was enjoyable.  I loved every single word of Ephron’s collection of essays.  She’s a witty and hysterical writer, one of the funniest I’ve encountered, and the audio version of her book was made even better by the fact that it was read by Queen Nora herself.  Naturally, she knew just which words to emphasize, where to whisper and when to pause dramatically.

I’m on a Nora Ephron kick, now, and I’m learning things in addition to laughing my head off.  Here are three lessons I’m taking away from her fantastic work:

1). The dinner party rule of four: in her essay “Serial Monogamy: A Memoir,” Ephron chronicles the cookbooks and chefs who influenced her personal cooking and hosting style, and she pays special tribute to Lee Bailey.  She writes:

The most important thing that I learned from Lee was something I call the Rule of Four. Most people serve three things for dinner — some sort of meat, some sort of starch, and some sort of vegetable — but Lee always served four. And the fourth thing was always unexpected, like those crab apples. A casserole of lima beans and pears cooked for hours with brown sugar and molasses. Peaches with cayenne pepper. Sliced tomatoes with honey. Biscuits. Savory bread pudding. Spoon bread. Whatever it was, that fourth thing seemed to have an almost magical effect on the eating process. You never got tired of the food because there was always another taste on the plate that seemed simultaneously to match it and contradict it. You could go from taste to taste; you could mix a little of this with a little of that. And when you finished eating, you always wanted more, so that you could go from taste to taste all over again.

There’s something so charming about this Rule, isn’t there?  It’s both simple and playful, and – unlike a complicated recipe or an elegant environment – easy for someone like me to adopt. 

2). The worst possible thing could turn out not to be the worst possible thing:  In You’ve Got Mail, Meg Ryan’s character Kathleen is devastated when the corporate chain Fox Books drives her small children’s bookstore – The Shop Around the Corner – out of business.  Why wouldn’t she be?  Being forced to close doors is every small business owner’s worst nightmare.  But closing these doors ends up opening a different set of doors for Kathleen.  No, I’m not talking about the relationship she develops with Mr. Fox himself; she begins writing children’s books.  This turn of events might be high on the cheesiness scale, but I do think it illustrates a true point: we don’t know what life holds, and staying hopeful and open in the face of adversity could lead to new and exciting opportunities.

3). The familiar is funny and interesting: “Write what you know” is an age old piece of advice that probably anyone who has ever written anything has heard.  Cliche as the advice may be, Nora Ephron proves that it’s sound.  She writes about the contents of her purse, her apartment building, her love-hate relationship with beauty products, parenting and food.  There is nothing – absolutely nothing – exceptional about these topics, but Ephron succeeds in crafting superb essays about them because she pays close attention to the details, and because she is so honest and open.  This is a realization worth keeping in mind, for both writing endeavors and being a good conversationalist!

Photo by Daniela Cuevas on Unsplash

School of Life

Some lessons you have to learn the hard way.  Some lessons you have to learn the hard and expensive way. 

My dad describes these lessons as having “high tuition in the School of Life,” a metaphor that has at least made me smile through the tears as I’ve lamented to dear-old-dad more than one expensive error in the past. 

Recently, I have made a few pricey and extremely frustrating mistakes.  I misread a text from an airline notifying me of a delayed connecting flight, and ended up missing the first flight.  I didn’t realize that a magazine subscription was set up for automatic renewal on an old (but not-cancelled) credit card, and so I missed a payment and had my first-ever late fee.  I backed into a fire hydrant, majorly denting my bumper, while making a seventeen-point-turn to get out of a dead-end street. 

What bothered me most about each of these situations — more than the toll they took on my bank account — was how sloppy they made me feel.  With each mistake, I found myself baffled by the fact that they were happening, and inwardly revolting: I’m not the type of person who misses flights and neglects credit card payments and drives badly.  I’m responsible!  I’m organized!  I’m careful!  I hate to be melodramatic, but the blunders messed with my sense of identity.

Education is an investment of resources, financial and otherwise, and this is as true for the School of Life as it is for grammar school, secondary school, college and graduate school.  As with any kind of investment, the hope is that the value gained exceeds the expenditure.

So, here’s to finishing these particular courses in the School of Life with good notes and significant insights!  Here are some key lessons that I’m taking away from a missed flight, late fee and a dented bumper:   

  • Read any text with important information twice.  Or three or four or five times.  Read it out loud.  Read it to a friend.  Do whatever it takes to make sure you really take in the information.
  • Don’t set up automatic renewals for magazines. 
  • Cancel old credit cards (or that one old credit card). 
  • When backing up, anytime, look very, very carefully. 
  • Don’t be afraid to tell a passenger that you need a moment of silence to concentrate. 
  • Remember: there isn’t a type of person who makes mistakes.  We all make mistakes because we are human. 
  • Give grace and hugs to people when they make mistakes.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Broadcasting/Narrowcasting: Summer Reading

I once caught the end of an NPR interview in which the speaker commented that the news is no longer broadcasted, but is instead narrowcasted.  He explained that news’ sites, shows and programs do not offer a breadth of stories and perspectives that is representative of the world in which we live, that their content is narrowed to reflect the ideas, leanings and priorities of a particular set of hosts and listeners. 

While this interviewee certainly wasn’t the first person to claim that the media is biased, I hadn’t heard the broadcast/narrowcast turn-of-phrase before, and his word-choice struck a chord with me.  I can’t remember the name of the interviewee or the interviewer, let alone the broader topic of their conversation, but this idea grabbed my attention because I see it at play within my life.    

It concerns me that, like a particular channel or anchor, I narrowcast the input of stories — and therefore, the output of opinions, ideas and beliefs — within my life.  For work and leisure, I read and listen to not only a certain type of news and theology (read: liberal), but literature and even fluff (i.e. lifestyle blogs) as well.  I typically don’t expose myself to content with which I fundamentally disagree.

Noticing this inclination, I decided to make a concerted effort to read one book (starting small and not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good!) this summer that is off my usual beaten path.  I chose Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand, because it’s one of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s favorite books, and Ryan isn’t the first person I’d ordinarily go to for reading recommendations.  Additionally, Ayn Rand is one of those names that comes up again and again, and I like the idea of being well-rounded and able to understand references made to her work. 

A few observations about Rand and Atlas Shrugged:

It’s a good thing I borrowed Atlas Shrugged on my kindle, because I probably wouldn’t have persisted in cracking it open if I had known that it is 1,168 pages. 

It was really hard to get through the first half of the novel, but starting at about 60% on my kindle progress report, I found myself actually enjoying the book.  There is something to be said for a riveting plot line and likable-ish characters.   

Rand does not convince me that laissez faire capitalism is the golden ideal, mostly because I can’t get behind the premise that “good people” will rise to the top if they work hard enough.  In a culture plagued by systemic racism, sexism and xenophobia, I don’t subscribe to the myth of meritocracy.  But by offering me a glimpse of the world through the lens of a laissez faire capitalist, Rand does help me to understand why so many politically conservative individuals feel the way they feel (and disdain public assistance programs and government imposed business regulations). 

I think it comes down to whom a person is willing to extend the benefit of the doubt. 

Rand (and her type) gives the benefit of the doubt to the capitalists, assuming that work ethic and integrity enable them to make profit; therefore, they should be able to enjoy the full fruits of their labor.  I give the benefit of the doubt to all the men and women whom I believe are at their core as capable and intelligent as the capitalist, but through the harsh cycles of poverty and oppression, have not been granted the opportunities and privileges to rise and thrive.  Ultimately, we’re going to “side with” the people to whom we give the benefit of the doubt, and support policies and laws that support them.  For Rand, this is the capitalist; for me, this is the vulnerable.

In short, Atlas Shrugged wasn’t the total chore to read that I thought it might be, and it did broaden my perspective (which is what I hoped it would do; I didn’t expect conversion).  I also found some common ground with Rand, which came as a surprise to me.  We both distrust the “men is Washington” (her chosen delineation for politicians) who make the decisions and laws that impact both the individuals benefitting from capitalism, and those benefitting from public assistance.  I’m not rushing to borrow Fountainhead but I’m glad I challenged myself to step outside my ordinary reading zone and try something new. 

Other Books That I Read This Summer

Sisterland: A Novel, Curtis Sittenfeld

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo

The Book that Matters Most, Ann Hood

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain

The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy

Option B, by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

Up a Road Slowly, Irene Hunt

Photo by James Barker on Unsplash

September is the other New Year

“January is the official start of the new year, and I always get a burst of renewed zeal at that time, but September also gives the same feeling of an empty calendar and a clean slate. The air seems charged with possibility and renewal.” – Gretchen Rubin

I’m with Gretchen Rubin: I always get a burst of renewed zeal in September, as well as in January. (I get the same feeling in my birthday month of March, too, and come to think of it, in June, when summer begins.)  Each of these times of year feel replete with potential and a spring is added to my step when considering goals, habits, and plans.  Oftentimes, I set a fresh batch of resolutions during these clean-slate moments, but I also like to use the months as opportunities to check in on myself and the goals that I set in one of the previous “new-year-periods.” 

A little over halfway through the calendar year, September feels like the perfect time to see how I am progressing with my 2017 resolutions: to celebrate what I’ve accomplished, to recommit to goals behind which I may have lost momentum, and to decide where to focus my goal-meeting energies in the last few months of the year.

Celebrations

  • Decrease sugar consumption — dessert is definitely a treat, not a habit, at this point.  This is probably the first time this has ever been the case for me, at least since I was a child and my mom had the keys to the cookie jar.
  • Complete 12 weeks of Kayla Itsines’ SWEAT workouts — done!  I’ve kept up with her workouts or other ones since completing the round.
  • Sibling connection — I’ve talked to each of my siblings at least once each month since setting this resolution. 
  • One adventure per month — going strong, and I just need to continue.
  • Get organized with “giving.”  Caleb and I have figured out which four charities we’d like to donate to annually, one per season
  • Meeting with a Spiritual Director monthly has been a great source of strength and joy

Areas requiring some recommitment

  • Flossing daily.  I was so, so good with this one…until we went abroad for the month of June.  Something about travel and flossing just didn’t seem to click for me.  But I’m recommitting now, and am going to do what I did for the first five months of the year and not miss a day.
  • Acknowledge birthdays.  Ditto on flossing story and recommitment. 
  • Blogging one time per week.  Ditto on flossing and birthdays.  Clearly, our European adventure messed with some of my resolutions!  It was totally worth it, but now that we’re back, it’s time for me to get back on track.

Still to do

  • Read Middlemarch
  • Cook or bake a recipe from the cookbooks I have yet to try something new from

A few new goals

  • Tidy up the house each night before going to bed
  • Meal plan and schedule exercising at the start of each week (or few week period)
  • Pray the daily examen each day
  • Listen to the news one way of my commute each day.

Do you think of September as a sort of new year?  How are your 2017 resolutions progressing?

 

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Resolutions

A post or two back, I wrote about my words for 2017: Perspective, Prayerfulness and Poise.  I’m letting those words propel me, like the wind behind a boat, into this year that I hope will be one of growth and goodness. 

resolutions-image

But, we all know that a boat needs more than a bluster to venture far.  A rudder to guide it, a centerboard to balance it and a sail to catch the breeze are as necessary as the wind, and so, too, are some specific smart goals to accompany my words for the year.  Smart goals are goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based, and they’re meant to add focus and specificity to one’s actions. 

I love the idea of having a word (or three, in my case) to give an overarching theme to the year, but I know that it’s the practicality of smart goals that will make living out my words possible.  With this in mind, I have created a few smart goals to accompany each of my words for the year.

Perspective

Most of my smart goals are related to Perspective, for a few reasons.  First, it’s my primary word for the year; prayerfulness and poise stem from it and I hope lead towards it.  Secondly, it’s a bit of a catch all.  The place where I most need perspective is work (I need to not let the petty (and legitimate) frustrations, the causes for anxiety, the at-times-annoying people get to me the way I do), and I’m of the mind that focusing on all the joyful, successful, meaningful and life-giving aspects of my life outside of work will help me remember what is important, thus giving me perspective when I have to deal with the inevitable challenges at work.  For this reason, I’ve crafted a whole slew of goals that will direct my attention outside of work.  That’s perspective after all, right? (one of my favorite definitions: a true understanding of the relative importance of things).

  • Try at least one new recipe from each of my cookbooks.  I have all these great cookbooks, but every time I want to try a new recipe, I look on pinterest or elsewhere on the internet, not in them.  I thought this would be a good goal to help me enjoy my home more… and delve into a hobby that I always take pleasure in, cooking.
  • Read Middlemarch.  I have a “Read Before I Die” list and, for the past several years, have tried to read one or two books off of it each year.  This is the year for Middlemarch.
  • Go on one adventure a month (I have a list of adventures, which I’ll discuss in a different post).
  • Complete a full twelve weeks of BBG (this is the exercise plan that I use fairly consistently — I really like it — but hop all over with; having consistency and a sense of completion but completing the full 12-week cycle will be satisfying).
  • Decrease sugar consumption by taking sugar-free weeks, or weeks with sugar just one or two days.  There is no reason that I should be having dessert every day, if not multiple times a day.  With 28 upon me, it’s time to change this.
  • Acknowledge birthdays. Send cards, texts, emails or phone calls.  Do something to celebrate and connect with the people I love. 
  • Blog 50 times.
  • Connect with my siblings monthly, at minimum.  My brothers and sister, along with Caleb and my parents, are the people who matter most to me in the world and I almost always have fun and feel lifted up when I talk/text/snap with them.  And yet, I don’t do it enough. 
  • Get organized with giving.  I donate here and there, but in a highly disorganized fashion.  I want to consider what causes and organizations I value and admire (and Caleb, too) and get organized about making donations to them. 

Prayerfulness

  • Reflect/journal for at least fifteen minutes each day. 
  • Continue to invest in Spiritual Direction, and integrate what Rosemary (my Spiritual Director) has to say to me into my life. 
  • When I have a lull moment — in the grocery store line, or the shower or the car — give a “help, thanks, wow” prayer: ask for help with something I need, say thanks for something I’m grateful for, and lift a word of praise.
  • A feeling of skepticism accompanies most of my moments of prayer; let the skepticism go

Poise

  • Wear heels more, because: look good, feel good, do good.  Or, as William James more poignantly wrote, “Actions seems to follow feeling, but really actions and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not. Thus the sovereign voluntary path to cheerfulness, if our cheerfulness be lost, is to sit up cheerfully and to act and speak as if cheerfulness were already there.”  In other words, if I look poised, I will feel more poised, and I will be more poised.
  • Floss daily and take vitamins at least a few times each week.  Flossing is one of those things that I have known for a long time I should do regularly, but just couldn’t have been bothered about it.  I figured that 2017 was as good a time to commit to this as any, and I knew that developing this healthy habit would help me feel on top of my life; the same goes for vitamins.  These goals loosely tie into poise for the same reason as wearing heals.
  • Before going into situations that I know will push my buttons, prepare myself: take a deep breath and say a prayer for composure and remind myself that I have agency and the ability to be poised.  Then go act accordingly!

Vacation Recipe

Thanks to the generosity of my parents, grandparents, and now in-laws, I’ve taken many — and all kinds of — vacations over the course of my life.  I grew up taking three primary forms of vacation: extended family gatherings (whether that be flying out to California to spend a week with my grandparents, a family reunion with my mom’s ten siblings and a whole slew of cousins, or spending a week with one of my aunts), site-seeing focused and educational road trips, and outdoor activities (camping/hiking/canoeing adventures).  My in-laws added variety to the mix with their traditional family vacations falling more in the categories of beach weeks and Disney trips. 

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A hiking trip this past summer with extended family

I will gladly take just about any free outing, and I’ve enjoyed each of these vacations in their own right.  But the thing is, these aren’t necessarily the kinds of vacations I would choose to go on if I were paying for them myself.   I say this not to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth, but rather, to reflect on just what it is that I would delineate “the dream vacation.”  It’s worth considering, because as I get older, I’ll be planning and funding more and more of my own adventures. Why not know what will leave me feeling most satisfied?

Right before Thanksgiving, Caleb and I spent the better part of a week in San Antonio, Texas.  The American Academy of Religion (AAR)’s annual conference brought us there, and Caleb spent at least part of each day at AAR related activities, but I was free to spend my time however I liked.  San Antonio wasn’t my favorite city and I probably won’t go back there, but the vacation was ideal in than I spent my time more or less exactly as I would like to on a vacation.  Looking back on my week in San Antonio, and considering the other vacations I’ve taken over the course of my lifetime, I’ve concocted a recipe for the perfect vacation…or at least, my version of it!

Dream Vacation Recipe

The Basic Outline

25% Active experience of the vacation locale: Learning about the place or local culture via museums, tours, other cultural activities (even just going to Mass in the city’s Cathedral).  I feel as if I most experience a place when I learn about it. 

15% Passive experience of the place of vacation, whether that means taking a walk, eating local food, or people watching from a park bench. 

15% Personal time.  This is a four hour window to spend on my favorite activities, like reading and writing.  Unrelated to the particulars of a vacation location, these activities deserve dedicated vacation time because they are the things that I choose to do when time allows, but that I don’t necessarily get to spend significant amounts of time on in my everyday life.  If you aren’t going to spend vacation time — time meant to maximize pleasure — on favorite activities, when will you?

10% Social.  This is either time devoted to the people with whom I’m traveling — just sitting with them in the vacation house living room, or taking a walk together, or lingering over coffee — or time spent visiting local friends.  Obviously, socializing can also occur during the other portions of a vacation, but time dedicated particularly to nurturing relationships feels very important.

35% Rest.  That’s about’s 8.5 hours of non-planned and completely free time, most of which I imagine will be spent on night-time rest.  I don’t want to return from a vacation feeling utterly exhausted, so adequate sleep is a must.

^^ Active Experience of the Vacation Locale in San Antonio.  We toured the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.  I LOVE the National Park Service and so appreciate the amazing job they do in educating and delighting tourists with their educational programming and affordable (free!) presentation of historical sites and information.

Other necessary ingredients

Exercise.  I always feel best if part of each vacation day includes some sort of movement, like walking, hiking or cycling. 

Good food.  I’m a foodie and I love trying local restaurants and flavors, but I’m also happy to eat delicious home cooked meals, particularly when a vacation involves a rental house.  I’m not a snob here: when I say good food, I include hotel breakfasts and hot dog stands.  One of my favorite ways to eat on a vacation is  by having brunch or lunch out, and then a light dinner, or just snack or dessert in the evening.   

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The Riverwalk, a popular tourist activity in San Antonio. Meets several of my “criteria”: passive enjoyment of a place, exercise and social (walk and talk!)
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A fantastic Ansel Adams exhibition at the Briscoe Western Art Museum
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The San Fernando Cathedral, where Caleb and I went to a bilingual Sunday Mass, a spiritual and cultural experience!

When looking at my recipe, I realize that some vacations are simply not reconcilable with the proportions that I’ve prescribed.  For an example, hiking in the Sierras for a week will not include 4 hours spent daily on writing or cultural activities.  That’s okay.  I have full confidence in my ability to enjoy a vacation that doesn’t fit the recipe prescribed, and I have experience to confirm this (heck, some of my happiest memories are from outdoor adventure weeks, and I’m sure that I will continue to prioritize bi-annual hikes, as well as weeks spent in Disney World with my in-laws).  The point of analyzing my imaginary perfect vacation proportions isn’t to determine whether or not to partake in a vacation (relationships matter more to me than having my exact vacation preferences met), but have a sense of what most satisfies me for my own planning purposes, as well as to set reasonable expectations when entering non-chosen family vacations.

As always, self-knowledge is key and thoughtfulness when attending to life and its happenings is never wasted.

What I Read This Summer

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I was once very impressed when a former (beloved) supervisor of mine told me that he has a cyclical system for reading books, rotating through the genres: history, theory, fiction, biography.  Inspired, I decided that I would develop a system as well, though I had very little interest in reading books about history, and one in four biography seemed like a bit much.  I’m interested in “theory” (which, perhaps embarrassingly, I translate to broadly mean anything in the psychology/pop-science/self-help/case-study/spirituality umbrella) but I typically like to read theory alongside something lighter…namely, a novel or collection of short stories.

Taking all of this into consideration, the system that I developed was much less specific than my supervisor’s: I would try to balance fiction and non-fiction.  This framework turned out to be less of a system than a reflection of what I was already doing, because I have yet to consciously choose fiction/non-fiction based on what I last read…but still, looking back on what I read this summer, I’m evenly split.  And summer is an indication of my true reading tastes, because I give myself lots of freedom in the summer to read whatever sounds interesting in the moment of my library perusing, and I have less frequent reading group meetings in the summer than otherwise, so I’m determining a larger extent of my reading choices.

So, un-persuaded by other book group member’s requests, or by my conscience urging me to read something “deeper,” “more educational” or “useful for work,” here is what I read this summer:

  • My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante
  • Object Lessons, Anna Quindlen
  • Tiny, Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed
  • French Women Don’t Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano
  • The Nest, Cynthia Sweeney
  • When Women Were Birds, Terry Tempest Williams (Girlfriends Book Club)
  • The Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison (Athenaeum Reading Group)
  • The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt (Audio Book)
  • Heartburn, Nora Ephron

My favorite non-fiction: Tiny, Beautiful Things.  My favorite fiction: The Goldfinch.  I will highly recommend TBT to anyone who isn’t offended by talk of sex and drugs, and who isn’t afraid to feel deeply and likely shed some tears.  Likewise, I highly recommend The Goldfinch, though with caveats: it’s dark, it’s intense, and it’s troubling.  I finished it almost two weeks ago, and still think about it on probably a daily basis.  If you are willing to be consumed by it, though, it’s a gorgeous and captivating story.

Labor Day Musings

It’s Labor Day, marking the end of summer and the beginning of fall, as far as I’m concerned.  And also as far as I’m concerned, it’s been the perfect weekend for this transition.  Saturday was warm and sunny, and Caleb and I spent the day in Keene, New Hampshire, soaking in one last summer day trip.  We toured the Horatio Colony Museum (a fantastic tour! Engaging, informative, private, and free!), had a delicious patio lunch at Stage, walked through the town’s weekly Farmers’ Market,  happened upon a special weekend art fair, went to Mass at the local Catholic church, and meandered through Keene State College (a beautiful campus, and, interestingly, one of the few liberal arts state schools).  Today, on the other hand, has felt perfectly autumnal — cool, windy and grey — and I’ve spent the day inside drinking coffee, writing, reading, and organizing my life (cleaning out my desk and catching up on e-mails, mostly; it’s amazing how much inner order can come from having order in these two realms).

I love it when time and circumstances line up in this way, creating a special kind of space for transition and for paying attention to time (the passing of it and the looking towards it).  It helps me to give thanks for the past, honor the present, and look forward to the future, and to overall cherish the sacredness of life.

Reflecting on the past and setting intentions for the future help me to cherish the sacredness of life, as well.  And so now, to reflect on my summer and the goals that I set for it…

Honoring Summer

  • Take a day trip to a new location each week that doesn’t involve some other sort of travel
    • There were many trips, day and otherwise, this summer.  In a whirlwind of the first weekend of June, we went to Port Clinton, OH to see Aunt Barb, to Cleveland for a dear college friend’s wedding, and to Columbus for our precious niece’s Baptism.  Later in June we spent a glorious week in Kiawah with Caleb’s family (but first, a weekend in Charleston) and a special long weekend in Shady Grove for my sister’s pre-wedding festivities.  We went to Bristol, Little Compton, Concord and Keene, and spent several individual days or parts of days in Boston seeing friends (and we hosted several different friends in Providence).  And we spent a stellar seven days hiking in the Sierra Nevadas, with our very best of friends (cousins and siblings).  We packed the summer with activity.hike
  • Eat/drink on the deck/patio of a new (to us) restaurant each non-travelling week
    • There was no shortage of good food this summer.  Enough said.  
  • Talk to an old friend on the phone/facetime/skype every week
    • Several weeks ago, I modified this goal to say that if, in the last three weeks of summer, I caught up with five old friends, I would call the goal complete.  And that I did!  
  • Write one blog post each week
    • I skimped on this goal these past few weeks, but feel satisfied with the time I spent writing for other, non-blog endeavors, so no hard feelings on this one.
  • Complete a few projects that have been on my list for ages:
    • Create a photo wall to display recently taken pictures
      • Yes!Magnet wall
    • Complete a writing project
      • Written!  Submitted!  Accepted???  I hope!  But, as I know all too well, I can’t control outcomes, only inputs.  So, I’ve done what I can and am letting go of the rest.
    • Buy and fill in a birthday calendar
      • Yes!
    • Hang artwork that has accumulated
      • Yes!Gallery Wall
    • Learn how to use Caleb’s camera
      • Yes!  …with lots of practice needed, of course.  And what better time and place for practice than in a New England autumn?!

Apartment-versary

Apartment

A year ago today, Caleb and I packed the last of our boxes, watched as movers emptied our Somerville apartment, dropped our keys in the landlady’s mail box, and followed the moving truck to our new apartment in Providence.  We carried boxes up to our third floor “Victorian Treehouse” (our tree-line view inspired this nickname), debated the ideal placement of our bed, and mourned our beloved hand-me-down red couch as we realized that it wouldn’t fit through our narrow doorway.  At the end of the day, exhausted, we ate Indian food at a now-favorite local whole-in-the-wall gem.   

While my predominant thought at the moment is how glad I am that we’re spending the day in a coffee shop writing instead of bleeding money, sweat and tears in the moving process, I’m also feeling reflective as I consider the year that we have had in Providence.  Anniversaries, like holidays, endings, and beginnings, are a good opportunity to look back on the past, feel appreciation for the present and look towards the future.  And I think that this act of looking back, examining the lowlights and the highlights, can help me to soak in the beauty of the present and move forward with energy, joy, and grit. 

Historic Homes Providence
Photo credit: America Pink

Hard stuff about my first year in Providence

  • I was homesick for Boston for much of the year, and if I am being completely honest, much as I have come to love Providence, there are things that I still miss so, so much about my old city.  I miss the MBTA.  I miss the vibrancy of my old Church.  I just miss the specifics of Boston: the old brownstones of Commonwealth Ave and the lively activity of Harvard Square and the rarified air of the Boston Public Library and narrow little streets of Beacon Hill. 
  • It was crazy hard to make friends, and so I felt lonely for a lot of the year.  I’ve made some friends and am building relationships, but I still don’t feel at my old-social-level.
  • Working at a job that requires a significant commute and a significant amount of evening and weekend hours is less than ideal.  It presented a stumbling block socially. 

Highlights of my year in Providence

  • There is good, good food in this city.  We could go to a new restaurant every week and still have more to explore.  There is great coffee shop culture, and a huge variety of food, and lots of places with amazing ambiance as well as eats. 
  • Being able to live in a place where we can afford a beautiful apartment is a gift.  I love our sunny kitchen, and our spacious dining area, and our cozy living room.  I love our gallery wall and my yellow desk and our little parking spot and our wood-paneled stair case.
  • I’ve found special, life-giving communities in my new city.  The two that come to mind are the Chaplaincy Center, though which I’ve gotten the opportunity to work in a variety of clinical settings and meed a wide range of people whose work and ways of being I admire, and the Providence Atheneum, that gorgeous little library that also serves as a magnet for smart, witty and creative people. 
  • Having a car (which we likely would never have in Boston) enabled Caleb and I to explore the New England area more, which brought us a lot of fun this year.  Favorite trips included Portland, the Cape, Newport and Bristol. 
  • I love living in a walkable city. Even though Caleb and I have a car, we more or less only use it when taking trips, or when I commute to work.  This feels like a priority for me in terms of places that I live. 
  • This city is clean and has beautiful architecture and landscaping.  I really value being in an aesthetically pleasing environment. 

Lessons that I’ve learned/Themes of the year

  • There’s no way out but through: moving is hard, making friends is hard, starting from scratch in terms of networking is hard.  It will always be hard before it becomes easy.
  • Things take time: building a sense of community, making friends, and finding special places.
  • Distance relationships with people I love are worth spending time and money on nurturing.  Having a car made driving to visit my family and friends in PA possible, and so I found myself going often.  The time and energy are worth it.  The same goes for friendships in Boston.  It’s worth spending money on a commuter rail ticket to meet a friend for coffee; it’s worth driving in to the city to meet with my old book club.
  • “Going for it” with persistency is hard, but worth it.  I have a hard time pushing myself to put myself out there.  It feels scary and exhausting.  But that’s the only way to meet new people, get integrated in a community and take on new roles. 

Designing My Summer

SummerA few weeks ago, Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft discussed “designing the summer” on their podcast Happier.   They spoke about how their days of a three-month-summer-vacation are long over, but somehow, summer still feels set apart from the rest of the year.  Perhaps more accurately, they long for it to feel set apart from the rest of the year, and regret that often the season just passes them by without actually being any different, despite the mental feeling that it is different from the rest of the year.  Together, they “designed the summer,” each naming specific things they would do to make summer feel set apart and special (for an example, Gretchen will devote two hours each summer morning to re-reading some of her favorite books). 

The topic resonated with me, especially considering the fact that this is the first year that I don’t have some sort of official “summer break.”  I’ve actually felt a bit glum entering the summer, mourning the fact that the days are longer and the weather is golden and I still have the same work obligations.  I have always looked towards the summer as a time to relax, rejuvenate, travel and have some fun, and I want summer to remain a time for all of these activities whether or not my day-to-day life differs as drastically as it did when I was a student and had summers “off.” 

Listening to Gretchen and Elizabeth as they brainstormed convinced me that the antidote to my grieving the loss of an extended summer vacation is to design my summer, to come up with a few activities that will make summer feel like summer.  My season was kickstarted this past week during a beach vacation with my in-laws, and as I sit here in the Charleston airport, returning home, I feel truly in the summer state of mind.  I’ve mulled over various ideas these past few weeks and am settling on these five, effective immediately.    

Designing my summer

  • Take a day trip to a new location each week that doesn’t involve some other sort of travel
  • Eat/drink on the deck/patio of a new (to us) restaurant each non-travelling week
  • Talk to an old friend on the phone/facetime/skype every week
  • Write one blog post each week
  • Complete a few projects that have been on my list for ages:
    • Learn how to use Caleb’s camera
    • Create a photo wall to display recently taken pictures
    • Complete a writing project
    • Buy and fill in a birthday calendar
    • Hang artwork that has accumulated