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Hello, Skagit Valley

I took a break from blogging for a while, and for that I apologize to all of my readers (i.e., my mom). In December and January I was really busy working and fell out of the habit, but at the moment I’ve got plenty of free time. Not to mention, my husband and I just embarked a big new adventure: a job change (his) and a move from Seattle to the Skagit Valley.

We moved to La Conner. It’s a tiny town—about 900 people—but it’s a local tourist destination with an artistic bent and (it seems) a disproportionate amount of activity for a town of its size. We live in town, so we can walk to restaurants, the library, the grocery store, and the excellent yoga studio next door.

It’s just that now, instead of 100 restaurants to choose from, there are 6. And instead of the Pike Place Market next door, there are a handful of family farm stands within walking or biking distance. In one of my first lessons on country living and local food, I was momentarily surprised when we visited the local farm stand and realized there were no vegetables for sale because they had just been planted. Living in the city, it’s easy to forget that there are things like growing seasons.

Image

I pass more horses on my daily run now

Our new apartment is only 67 miles away from our old apartment, and we’ve already been back to Seattle three times since we moved two weeks ago. (I’ve got two more trips planned in the next week.) So in some ways, it’s not that big a change.

In other ways, we might as well have moved 1,000 miles away. We’re far enough from Seattle that we really don’t know anyone here and we’ll have to meet new friends in the area. And though I’ve explored a lot of Washington—mostly the mountains—my only experience with this part of the state is driving through on the way to Canada or the San Juans. I’m looking forward to spending the summer getting to know the area. I’m also looking forward to cooking—with fewer restaurant options than in Seattle but local, farm-fresh food in abundance, I’ve got no choice but to step up my cooking and expand beyond the six or seven (admittedly delicious) dishes I’ve gotten into the habit of making all the time. So here’s to a summer of delicious food, new friends, and new adventures!

One of us is right.

An actual exchange in my household this morning:

My husband (pleased with himself after doing something little that made me laugh): I think being with you has made me funnier than I used to be.

Me: I agree. I think you’re goofier because I’m so loving and you feel so comfortable with yourself now.

Him (simultaneously): I think it’s because of the harsh sandpaper of your judgment.

Hmmmm.

Cookies, and working from home.

Three Girls Bakery in the Pike Place Market has delicious cookies. They taste like they are 50 percent butter, and the texture is a perfect combination of softness, firmness, and chewiness. This is the third day in a row I’ve stopped there for an afternoon snack.

This is one of the reasons I love working at home so much: when I was ready for an afternoon break today I decided to walk through the market to pick up what I needed for dinner and look for stocking stuffers. I also found a good new source of Sichuan peppercorn for my Chinese cooking experiments, Market Spice. All in all, it was so much nicer than taking the elevator down to a Starbucks and back up to my office without going outside or seeing anything different on the way.

I also took a break this morning to try to make my cat ride the Roomba, which obviously is very important and would never happen in an office.

Now I’m just wasting time, and I should either go for a run or go back to work. I suppose this is the peril of working from home, along with never taking a shower or wearing anything but yoga clothes.

Sylvia Plath in Bhutan.

I found this on the ground near the primary school in Samtengang, a village in Bhutan. English is taught in the schools, but it still seemed charmingly mysterious, and I took a picture.

Of course, few things are really a mystery anymore with the internet. So when I was going through old picture files tonight and found this, I googled it. It turns out it is part of a poem, Mushrooms, by Sylvia Plath. And so, because I love a good poem, here is the missing beginning and ending:

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

***

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.

A few practical ideas for feeling grateful more often.

This time of year, of course, you hear a lot about gratitude. There are lots of reminders to be grateful, and articles like this one, touting the health benefits of gratitude, including better health, better sleep, and less anxiety.

I buy it. The older I get, the more I’m convinced that once a basic level of needs is satisfied — shelter, food, water, human contact — how happy you are is largely determined by what goes on inside your brain.

This is not to say that I’m good at this, because I’m not. My talent lies more in finding the flaws in any situation than finding the positive. I’m just persuaded by the idea. So, with Thanksgiving coming up, it seemed like a good time to try to incorporate more gratitude in my life.

But another thing I’ve learned is that it’s hard to develop new habits.

I had to develop a habit of being neater when I moved in with my husband after living alone in increasing sloth for years, and it took time and repetition. And I can’t count the number of times I’ve told myself that I was going to do 30 push-ups a day or spend five minutes a day meditating, only to have it last for a mere day or two. Similarly, I know I’ll never sit down daily or even weekly and make a list of things I feel grateful for, at least not more than once or twice.

So I spent some time thinking about practical ways I could remind myself to feel grateful that I would actually carry through with, until — hopefully — it becomes a habit. I think these ideas might work for me, and maybe serve as inspiration for someone else.

1. Buy some pretty cards, like these or theseand use them for thank-you notes. Putting aside thank-you notes for gifts received, I’ve probably written one thank-you note in my life for every 10 times I have thought about doing it. But the few times I have actually followed through on my intentions, it made me feel great. Not to mention how nice it feels to receive a thank-you note—recently, I was charmed to receive one from a new resident in my building after she got locked out of her apartment while she was moving in and I let her use my computer and phone. I sincerely love pretty note cards and this would not only give me an excuse to buy some, but hopefully give me the kick in the pants I need to actually write thank-you notes.

2. Pick an activity you already do every day and set an intention of feeling grateful at the beginning. I practice yoga or run nearly every day. Setting an intention for your yoga practice is something yoga teachers often mention but that I never do unless prompted at the beginning of class. I’m probably mangling the concept, but I like the idea of applying it to running as well as yoga. Then, with something I do most days anyway and really enjoy, I can take a moment at the beginning to appreciate it and set an intention of feeling grateful more often. For someone else it could, of course, be a different activity.

3. Get a “gratitude journal” iPhone app. When I wrote above that I know I would never sit down daily and make a list of things I feel grateful for, I might have lied. I think it could happen–if not every day, at least once a week, with the right iPhone app. I’m already in the habit of using my phone to remind me of things, and I’m also in the habit of pulling it out to entertain myself whenever I’m waiting in line for more than 30 seconds, walking down the street, on public transportation, and so on. I could see myself using those moments to make a quick entry in a gratitude journal.

 

No. 97 on the list of parts of daily life I don’t understand.

Every time I go to the gym, I’m asked if I want to use a locker. I almost never do, except when it’s really cold out and I had to wear a bulky coat to walk to the gym.

What can I say? I come prepared–I change into my workout clothes at home and only bring what I need with me. I don’t understand why so many people need a locker. Can’t they leave their excess baggage at home? I guess it’s possible that a lot of people don’t go straight from home to the gym, so they need to change their clothes. I’m also given to understand that many people like to shower immediately after working out,  so maybe they are using lockers to stow shower supplies as well.

But the really mystifying part is that they don’t just ask if I want a locker, they also ask if I have a preference for which locker I’d like to use.

I sincerely can’t understand why anyone would care which locker they use at my gym. I myself can’t muster the slightest preference, though I often feel as if I’m disappointing the helpful gym employees.

Keep in mind, you can’t store things in these lockers from day to day, so nobody needs to use a particular locker because their things are already in it. The lockers are all the same size, and it’s not like there is a fancy new wing of the locker room and an old section in need of repairs. It’s all the same. It’s not that big; no lockers require substantially more travel than other lockers. No part of the locker room is visible from outside (I wouldn’t want to use a locker in the part you could see in either).

I’ve never asked anyone about this, so maybe I’m missing something obvious. I just totally don’t get it. But, at the risk of sounding too judgmental, I think that if you care at all about using the same locker every time you go to the gym, it’s probably time to shake things up a bit.

Big excitement in my household this morning.

evidence

I live on the fourth floor of an apartment building in the city. It’s not Manhattan, but there’s more concrete around than grass or trees.

After I got a kitten a few months ago, I had the idea of putting up a window bird feeder so that my cat could be entertained by birds at the window. (The only thing below the window in question is a roof a couple of stories down; there’s no risk that the bird feeder will come loose and fall four stories onto the head of an unsuspecting passerby strolling down the sidewalk).

I knew it was a long shot that any birds would use my feeder–I thought at most a few seagulls might dive-bomb the window–but I decided it was worth a try.

It took a bit of work. I had to find a bird feeder that would attach to the window with suction cups but that wouldn’t look too terrible stuck there, disrupting the view.

Then I needed food. My neighborhood pet store had only two options: a huge, expensive bag of bird seed and a small, cheap block of suet with bird seed scattered through it. Of course, I went with the cheaper option.

I knew on some level that “suet” equals “animal fat” but it looked inoffensive in the package, so I was unprepared for the horror that awaited me when I opened it. Not only was bird seed scattered through the suet, but glistening caterpillars and plump grubs were also implanted throughout  the waxy lump.

I persevered, trying to wedge the larvae-crusted suet chunk securely inside the bird feeder, all the while leaving greasy smears of suet all over my apartment and the feeder. I quickly realized, however, that I couldn’t stick a chunk of fat to the outside of my west-facing window in the summer: it would soon turn into a stinking, rancid mess. So I threw the whole mess out, ran the bird feeder through the dishwasher, and bought a bag of bird seed.

Months went by, and nothing disturbed my bird feeder. Last week, I thought it was probably time to give up and take it down.

And then, this morning, my husband called me into the living room with a level of excitement in his voice that is literally unprecedented in the time I’ve known him. I knew immediately what was up.

triumph!

Sure enough, there was a small brown bird sitting on the windowsill. It flew away, but it has already been back to peck at the seed.

I feel triumphant. My theory is that all it takes is one–that little bird is probably now telling all of the birds it knows about a great food source, and word will spread like wildfire through the urban bird community.


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