Archive for February, 2011

Taking stock.

I stopped working three months ago. It’s been a surprisingly busy time, encompassing the holidays, an engagement, and assorted projects, but I’ve started to feel a bit aimless in the last week or two. I’m going back to work for a while starting tomorrow. With the wedding two weeks away, it feels like a good time to take stock.

What I’ve done:

  • Planned a pretty nice wedding weekend, if I do say so myself.
  • Started a blog and spent at least one day a week writing. Well, almost.
  • Found the kind of work I wanted: a five or six-month gig with lots of big writing projects and nice attorneys to work with.
  • Cooked for a lot of people for a weekend at a ski lodge—a lovely experience that I probably wouldn’t have taken on if I had been working full time.
  • Found once-a-week volunteer work that will allow me to explore a different type of legal work than I’ve done before, and help people at the same time.
  • Lots of yoga and running. Not surprising, because these things always work for me.
  • Read some books. I think I’ve been reading more than I used to, though it hasn’t been life-changing. Awakenings blew my mind the most. After reading The Year of Living Biblically I decided to re-read the Bible and it turned out to be fascinating, but I’m still in Genesis. I need to get the e-book version so I can read it in public.
  • Cooked tons of tasty food. But I don’t think I’m cooking more than when I was working. Then, I needed the pleasure of cooking more to feel like myself, but now I worry about it being a time-filler and I don’t cook every day, or even most days.
  • Wasted a lot of time on the internet. I think a little bit of mindless internet browsing is a fine treat, but there’s no question I’ve been overdoing it. Too much reading about television shows and weddings.
  • Learned how to put on makeup. I went to a MAC counter and acquired a whole new set of makeup and some instructions. I had never done this before; I was pretty clueless and using stuff I’d had since college. It might seem like a small thing but I’m enjoying it and I think it was long overdue.

What I haven’t done:

  • I haven’t spent any time listening to the German language CDs on my iPod. I planned, if I gained a good basis in the language, to reward myself with a month or so in Berlin taking language classes. But it hasn’t been a priority at all. If it’s going to happen, I’m going to need to figure out a way to fit it into my life and make it a habit.
  • I haven’t written any fiction. This is probably first on the priority list from here out. Like learning a language, I’m going to have to make an effort to fit it into my life and I haven’t yet.
  • I haven’t read quite as much as I thought I would. I thought I might have so much free time that I would just spend whole days reading whatever struck my fancy. This hasn’t happened more than 2 or 3 times. I don’t know whether I’ve been putting my time to better uses, or just filling it up.
  • I haven’t stuck to a daily yoga practice. I bought a book, Om Yoga, for a boost in terms of structure and ideas for a daily practice. The book is helpful, but the daily practice is not happening. I’ve been going to classes about twice a week and practicing at home maybe once a week.
  • I haven’t been vigorously trying to develop business. I’ve been doing the minimum. I think this is because I’ve had other priorities, and I’m okay with that, but I know it is also possible that I just don’t want to do it. I am going back to work just as it feels right, so no harm done yet (probably).

My assessment: I’m happy with where I am and how I’ve spent the last three months.

For the next month and a half, I imagine I’ll have to focus on the wedding, honeymoon, work, and volunteering, and there won’t be as much time to explore new things or start any new projects. But I want to be mindful and be prepared to set new goals in a couple of months when the wedding is over and I’ve settled into a work routine.

The mystery of wedding photography.

I’m perplexed by wedding photography.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past couple of months reading wedding websites and forums. (I have a solid excuse for this, because I’ve been planning my wedding.) I am struck by how much people seem to care about wedding photography.

We decided not to have a photographer because we just didn’t care about having professional photos. So why spend the time and money? I felt like it would add an extra element of stress to the wedding day, in addition to being pretty pricey.

But I’ve noticed that a lot of people seem to feel that it is one of the most important aspects of their weddings. They dedicate a large portion of the budget to photography, even when that budget is pretty limited, and even when the wedding is just a visit to the courthouse.

I’m perplexed because photography seems to be viewed as much more indispensable for weddings than for other important life events: a bar mitzvah, the birth of a child, a college graduation. I’ve thought about it a lot now, because of course this made me wonder if I was making a mistake by foregoing wedding photography.

The first explanation that comes to mind is that this day is just different. It is so important that it must be fully documented and preserved.

But that doesn’t resonate with me. For one, I’m not that keen on taking pictures most of the time. When I’m someplace interesting or doing something fun I prefer not to worry about documenting it on film (if other people send me their pictures, great, but if not, I’m okay). I kept losing cameras and finally I just decided to not replace mine. It takes me out of the experience to think about taking pictures, and I don’t feel that I’m lacking in photographic documentation of my life. I have more pictures than I can ever enjoy. I think my wedding day will be the same. I’ll remember it just fine through the photos that family and friends will give us, or when we are in the same neighborhood as our venue, or when we hear a song from the day.

I also wondered if I was having a different experience than other people because the wedding doesn’t seem like that big a deal to me. Am I less in love? I don’t think so. I’m really excited about getting married, and about my partnership with my fiance. I have tons of moments with him when I feel full of joy, light, and contentment. Those moments are what matter to me.

And maybe my wedding will be full of those moments. I’m open to the possibility that it will, but I don’t know. Big social occasions are hit or miss for me. Sometimes I love them and sometimes I just want to sneak out early and be home alone. I won’t have that option at my wedding! I’m also a little nervous about being the center of attention and feeling responsible for everyone having fun. So while I think the wedding will probably be great, I know it’s also possible that it will be be stressful and tiring. I’m okay with that. I know myself, and I feel like I’m set with the things that are important to me. I’m having the wedding mostly, and happily, for other people, including my fiance.

I’ve also thought about it in a different way. Most of the wedding photography I’ve seen is really lovely, and people do look beautiful in it. Perhaps people want the chance to be the stat of their own photoshoot or movie for the day, looking glamorous and beautiful and interesting.

Connected with this, I wonder if there is an age gap at play. At almost 34, I’m older than the average bride. In the U.S., that’s 26, though I suspect (or hope?) it would be older if you looked only at college-educated brides or those with a graduate degree.

I feel like there is a definite gap between people my age and those even a few years younger in terms of the technology and media we grew up with.

My parents had Prodigy internet service when I was in high school, but I didn’t encounter the internet as it exists today until I had my first job in 1998, after graduating from college. That’s also when I started using email regularly. I signed up for Myspace around 2005, when I was 28 and in law school, and Facebook when I was 31.

I think that people who are even a few years younger than me—and definitely 26-year-olds—grew up much more influenced by the internet and the individual media and social sharing that come with it. It’s now de rigeur to document and share everything in one’s life via the internet. My teen-aged relatives continually alarm me with the way they live their lives in public, with every teenage emotion and melodramatic impulse displayed for public consumption online. I also notice the effect in myself. When we are doing something interesting or take a good picture I immediately think about putting it on Facebook. And when we come home from a particularly good trip we always post pictures on Facebook. It’s become part of the experience.

So I wonder, is this what is going on with wedding and engagement photography? Is the experience not complete until it is documented, recorded, and shared with the right amount of style?

A tip for packing light while looking good.

As a recreational traveler, hiker, and backpacker, I don’t know how I lived without Icebreaker until I discovered it in late 2008 during a trip to New Zealand.

If you’re not familiar with it, Icebreaker is a New Zealand-based line of merino wool clothing for outdoor and athletic activities and travel. Two and a half years since my discovery, I’ve accumulated four shirts, pants, long underwear, and a dress.

My first buy was a long-sleeved baselayer. I’ve worn it, on average, once a week for more than two years—pretty much every time I go skiing, snowshoeing, or hiking. The only flaw I’ve noticed is a slight tendency to develop small holes from wear. This has happened in the places I’m most likely to tug at it (the bottom of one sleeve and the right bottom side of the shirt). I also noticed a small hole in my Icebreaker pants where I caught them on a thorn while cutting brush on the side of the mountain. Not bad considering the heavy use I’ve put these items of clothing to.

The most striking thing about Icebreaker gear (unlike capilene and polypro) is that it really doesn’t hold smells. At the end of a sweaty day there might be a faint wet-dog aroma, but it goes away upon drying. I’ve tested this many, many times. I’ve worn the same baselayer skiing for two or three days in a row. I wore my sleeveless Icebreaker top on a five-day backpacking trip through 90-plus degree temperatures. It was repeatedly soaked, SOAKED, in sweat, but I could have worn it out on the town the night I finished the trip and no one would have been the wiser. Other fabrics just don’t work like this. (I should say that I’ve never owned any Smartwool, a competing brand of merino wool clothing. It probably works just as well, but I’ve always opted for Icebreaker because I prefer the design.)

As great as Icebreaker clothing is for outdoor activities, it’s even better for traveling. On a backpacking trip, a certain amount of stink is to be expected. You can live with it. But travel is different. I want to fit in and look at least minimally stylish when I’m in a city like Istanbul.

I also want to pack light. I’m more of a budget traveler than a backpacker–I go to restaurants and take cabs, and if I stay in a hostel it will usually be in a private room–but I hate lugging around a bag filled with dirty clothes. And there are obvious advantages to carrying luggage on a plane instead of checking it.

So I want to pack clothes I can wear over and over again, and Icebreaker is perfect. It doesn’t smell, it holds its shape, and it stays looking clean. Even better, it does all those things with great design. For me, Icebreaker is a magical combination of utility and style. It’s a bit more expensive than comparable non-wool products (and it’s hard to find sales of any note), but I think it is worth every penny.

I like cooking better than going to court.

Last week, I cooked for about 80 people at a ski lodge over a weekend. Then, I went to court to evict someone.

Both experiences involved hard work and stress, but the results were pretty different. I learned more about myself, and how I want to spend my time.

I volunteered to cook for the weekend at the ski lodge (which is, amazingly, entirely volunteer-run). The most I had ever cooked for was 15, and we expected at least 60 at the lodge. We ended up having 80-120 at different points throughout the weekend.

I started preparing weeks ahead of time. I put a lot of thought into a menu that would be relatively simple to make for as many as 60 times the number of people I usually cook for (i.e., two).

I made a spreadsheet with all of the ingredients for each meal, the number of people for each meal, and the estimated quantities per person. I learned this way that I needed, for instance, 683 slices of bread and 485 ounces of beans. I got a food worker’s permit and scoured the internet for advice on cooking in large quantities. I started shopping two days ahead of time and went to five different grocery stores (with a couple of panicked last-minute runs to my local store as the numbers kept growing on Friday afternoon).

I had a knot in my stomach and a stress-induced headache when we headed up to the lodge on Friday night. But once we started cooking on Saturday morning, my tension mostly went away—although I worked pretty steadily throughout the weekend and I didn’t fully relax until Sunday lunch was over. Everything went smoothly, the food seemed to go over well, and there was plenty of it. I was never faced with 100 hungry, grumpy skiers. Instead, people seemed happy.

And it was fun. I wore my cute apron from Anthropologie. I liked serving the food, especially warm chocolate chip cookies. Simple, but who doesn’t love ‘em? I took joy in the six lovely and organized bowls of spices—cumin, oregano, salt, chili powder, cocoa, bay leaves, and cinnamon—I measured out before preparing three huge batches of chili.

I’ve felt proud ever since. Being able to provide food for 100 people for a weekend makes me feel good about myself. It makes me happy.

Then, I spent Monday preparing to go to court for a hearing on Tuesday. My fiance owns a few rental properties and had to evict a tenant. We’re both lawyers, so we decided to muddle through it ourselves. I have experience with litigation and I have more free time, so I took the lead.

By Monday night, I was pretty miserable. I was tired of trying to figure out exactly what paperwork we needed, of organizing copies of documents, of preparing for everything that could come up. I felt a lot like I used to feel when I was hating my job: like there was a black cloud of misery hanging over me and shadowing everything.

In the end, of course, it was no big deal. The tenant didn’t show up and we got the outcome we wanted. But I don’t feel like I did after cooking. I don’t have the same sense of pride and happiness. I’m glad it’s over and I won’t be happy if we have to do it again.

It strikes me now as a nice controlled experiment in another way, too. Handling the eviction was exactly like the parts of my job I didn’t like: going to court, and in a type of proceeding and case I’d never been through before. But, I was doing it completely voluntarily, to help someone I love, and I had a fairly direct financial stake in it. Despite these things, I still kind of hated the experience. It solidifies for me that while there are aspects of legal work I really enjoy (writing, analysis, research), I don’t want to go to court or be on the front lines, as it were. I just don’t enjoy it, and I don’t get satisfaction from it.

It just might be better to put my energy towards things that do make me happy. It seems obvious in retrospect, but I’ve been working on figuring this out for more than a year.

My wedding registry is two-thirds freeze-dried camping food.

My fiance and I are planning our wedding relatively quickly (less than four months from engagement to wedding), so some aspects of it have received less attention than others. Our strategy is to make decisions quickly and move on instead of agonizing over them. (That is not totally honest. In reality, our decision-making process looks like this: I go back and forth between options for a couple of days, have the same conversation with my fiance eight times, read online wedding forums, and call my sister. We make a decision, and then we have the same conversation three more times before he convinces me to move on.)

And that is how we ended up with a wedding registry consisting mostly of freeze-dried camping food.

We created a wedding website about a month ago, when we sent out electronic “save-the-date” messages. Soon after, with about two months to go until the wedding, we tackled the task of posting registry information to the website.

We definitely didn’t want china or towels or anything like that–we already spend a fair amount of time trying to get rid of the things we accumulate so that we ourselves will fit into our apartment. We decided to register at a wine shop and at REI (we may not need household stuff, but we can always use more wine and gear). It turned out to be hard to find things we wanted from REI that were in an appropriate wedding gift price range, so I registered for tons of freeze-dried camping food.

I will be really excited if people buy it for us. We do a lot of backpacking, and I’m too cheap to buy a lot of freeze-dried food. It doesn’t make sense, because if we stayed in town for the weekend we’d easily spend more on food than we do for a weekend of camping. Nonetheless, I usually stand in front of the freeze-dried food display for 10 minutes collecting things and then putting them back because I decide they are too expensive. We’ll just eat Clif bars for breakfast. And who needs dessert? (Camping-me does, but preparing-for-camping-me is ascetic). I’m also  averse to carrying extra weight and cleaning dishes, so we end up eating a lot of cold food.

It may seem unusual, but I’m looking forward to a summer of feasting on fancy camping breakfasts, dinners, and desserts that I would never buy for myself. Not only that, if we are ever trapped inside the apartment or there is a serious food shortage in Seattle, we’ll be in a good position.

It’s Thanksgiving all year long in my bedroom.

I read years ago that pumpkin pie is the top scent that turns men on. It sounds like a tip from Cosmo but I think it might have been an actual article reporting on the result of a scientific study. Although now that I’ve just written that out, Cosmo (or a similar magazine) seems again like the most likely source.

But it stuck with me, and I buy pumpkin-scented candles all the time. My fiance knows what I’m up to, and it doesn’t seem to have any effect on him.