Sunday, July 14, 2013

Upsides and down of the country

I don't know if it's because I was born in July or that I have lived near beaches for most of my life but I'm never more relaxed than when I'm around (or in) water. Today, instead of swimming across the lake once, I did it two-and-a-half times, surveying Randy's zip line progress from the soft ripples. At one point, we took the canoe and ferried the cable across the water, to get to the perfect tree (in Randy's mind). This day has been about being outside, living in a bathing suit and wet hair, feeling the sun on my face and appreciating that I get to be in the country for the summer. A perk of living a new freelance life and being in nature.

Scary spider in the gazebo
A downside of the nature thing: BIG BUGS!

But I also feel as if I'm doing more relaxing--and exercising--in a natural way, throughout the course of the day. I'm getting into a more intuitive rhythm with my body (sounds New Agey, I know), something that can be tough to do when you work in an office from 9 to 5. Sitting all day is something I am not missing.
Though I'm still putting my feet up plenty--especially in the gazebo. I have a special seat where I can prop my feet on the rails and look out on the stream.

Randy, on the other hand, has been feverishly developing the zip line. He is a man with a mission. Luckily, neighbors have been over to help. Which is a good thing, since I'm not lifting 20 foot ladders. Sorry, Randy. Ah, the limits of love.
But I'm proud of his perseverence and grit. You can see the progress, below.

Fifteen days and counting!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

On the Verge of Fifty

Hello, all--it's laggardly me, scheduled (if all goes well) to turn 50 in 16 days. I have neglected this blog pretty much since I made the transition from full-time at SELF to a freelance writer/editor, and it's kind of taken me this long to get comfortable with it. (I'm resilient, but at a slow pace.)

Well, I finally think I'm adjusting. Because I'm not just liking, but loving life here in the rural Quiet Corner of CT. It's kind of a life-changing thing for me to be living out of the city, a place I have always loved and have never wanted to leave. But I am being seduced by nature. Every morning, my husband and I get up and dive into our little pond and swim across, about 800 strokes RT, sometimes twice a day. I have a nice amount of work and often I do it in the gazebo, overlooking the stream and pond, my feet propped on one of the knotty cedar railings, the burbling of the water my soundtrack. (I know, it sounds almost melodramatically bucolic.)

I've been writing, editing, and getting into a new life rhythm, one that definitely feels healthier than eating out every night after sitting at my computer all day, albeit with the occasional 30 minute run tossed in a few times a week. I'm feeling stronger now than I have in a while--lots of trekking from barn to gazebo to beach to house and back again--and, the fact that we've had a broken refrigerator for nearly 3 weeks now means we've pretty much been eating raw foods. Plus, I launched my first successful Gazebo Workshop, a weekend retreat for the personal essay. (Next sessions are September 7-8th and 19-20th.

I was worried about being lonely here, but it turns out I don't mind being alone with my work during the day--in fact, it's nice to know there will only be quiet, no interruptions, and the option to jump in the lake or go for a run whenever I feel like it. I've always needed quiet to work well--now I have it in spades, other than the sounds of water and birds and, occasionally, outdoor equipment. It's been interesting, too, living with my husband 100 percent of the time. A big adjustment to the marriage, as we shift from the ideal to the real, a sometimes- bumpy transition, I'll admit, but a necessary one. When you're married, your partner really does see your worst (and best) sides, and yet they have to love you anyway. I think that's character building. :-)

Below, a few highlights of summer, so far, including a video of Randy's latest project--the raising of an 800-foot zip line that will stretch from a maple by our deck across a meadow and over the water to a little island, some beaching in Maine and other fun stuff. I will try to keep on this in these last two weeks of my 40s--I think it's going to be an interesting, different and soul-expanding decade.

Happy on the beach (Ocean Park, ME)
Better than fireworks
Lobster roll with a view

Friday, March 8, 2013

The wisdom of teenagers

For the past 48 hours, I've spent more time than usual with folks between the ages of 14 and 17. And learned a few things. Last night, I took my nephew and his friend to see a 60s-era group at the Blue Note, called the Jazz Crusaders. Both boys go to LaGuardia, a performing arts high school (aka the "Fame" school), and both are wild about music. They spent the half hour before the show started talking about jazz riffs and minor scales and improv wars in 8th period. When I asked them if there were cliques in their school, and what they were, they answered, "The drama kids. And the art kids. And the dancers. And the instrumentalists." Sigh. In my high school, it was the nerds (my group, though we liked to call ourselves the smart kids), the jocks and cheerleaders (also known as the cool kids, aka the mean kids) and burn outs. Wish I'd gone to LaGuardia.

After the concert, my nephew, who plays the trombone, decided he wanted to try and ask the leader of the group, also a trombonist, some questions. So he waited outside the little room where the musicians were eating, struck up a conversation with one when he happened to come into the hall, and soon after, got invited back into the room with them, where he spent 15 minutes getting a lesson on technique and advice from the masters. As for myself, I was lurking shyly outside the door, realizing that my nephew was braver than I am in this regard. (I get tongue tied around people of note, whether musicians or any other celebrities, however minor.) I admire my nephew's confidence. I need to borrow some of it.

Then, today, I volunteered to help out a former SELF colleague who is now student teaching at the Lab School, another NYC public high school. She is doing a project on kids and writing, and she asked me to come in and talk to the kids about personal essays and the writing process.  I spent the day there, starting at 9:30, taking questions from four 11th grade English classes.

It was quite the experience to be plunged back into high school, with the lockers and kids sprawled on the floor between classes, most looking, as my nephew does,  caught between innocent childhood and impending adulthood,  with child-like faces on hulking or voluptuous bodies. People truly in a physical limbo state. (Mental and emotional, too)

I was nervous about whether these kids would care about what I had to say, but they'd read a few of my essays and blew me away with their thoughtful questions on writing, writer's block, my process (wish I had one!), the pros and cons about writing about people you know, etc., etc. As the day passed, I started feeling like: These kids see me as a writer. I need to write, damnit. I need to have a process. They wanted to know if I sat down and wrote every day. (Nope.) And other things along those lines. I told them that sometimes adults needed to work on their discipline, too, and gave advice on how to soldier on, even when you don't feel like it, advice I need to take myself.

One girl said to me, and I'm paraphrasing, because English wasn't her first language, "How come you choose to write about not  having confidence when so many other people glorify themselves? I like that you don't pretend to be so great. Thank you."

I need to spend more time around teenagers.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A taste of Italy

Maybe it's because I have una amica from Italy staying with me for two weeks, or perhaps it's because I've finally put some of the finishing touches on my upcoming trip to Rome and Venice with my nephew, Caleb, but my head and heart (and stomach) have been in my favorite boot-shaped country, lately.

Today, I had lunch at a voce with a former colleague at SELF. Below, the amazing brussel sprouts and foccacia, along with a window-side view of Columbus Circle. Which looks much nicer from above than when you are in it (as is the case with many things).

And the other night, I dragged my friend to my favorite neighborhood Italian spot. I know better than to try and suggest that visiting Italians eat pasta, but I did manage to get her to sit at the bar and talk with Maurizio, the charming Sicilian bartender, who proceeded to pour us several glasses of (free!) wine. (What can I say? I'm a good customer.) Around us sat visiting Italians, talking in that mellifluous tongue I love. (But still can't speak.) It was like a little bit of Rome in New York City. What could be better?

Monday, January 28, 2013

What it's like working at home...

...after 27 years of the corporate life.

1) Some days I stay in my pajamas.
2) Most days I exercise.
3) Often I get to focus for four hours at a time without interruption, a luxury. (No meetings! No incessant email! )
4) A 9 AM cup of coffee followed by granola and fruit or toast and peanut butter or eggs (when cooked by my husband).
5) A mix of taking care of business (insurance, the occasional errand, a doctor's appointment with prolonged bursts of productivity)
6) A real sense of what my time is worth--and what I aim for it to be worth
7) The freedom to close my laptop when I please
8) A six hour work day. Which equals a nine hour work day sans meetings and emails
9) Greeting my husband with a martini at the door when he got home from the office. How Mad Men!

The view from my NYC home office...

...and my country office...

Monday, January 7, 2013

The sound of ice cracking

Tonight, my husband beckoned me out onto our deck at 9:30 pm to look at the stars and listen to...something. He wouldn't tell me what it was; just cautioned me to keep still and listen. Very soon, I heard a timpany-like wave of sound that reminded me of a doppler or ultra sound machine--a kind of whoosh, whoosh that was other-worldly. "That's the sound of cracks in the ice propagating," explained my engineer-spouse. (We were overlooking our pond, which, for the first time all year, had frozen solid enough for ice fisherman to patiently wait for a bass to trigger their tip-ups. I must have heard it at various points in my life, but I never heard it like that, in my own backyard with the stars blazing overhead. (To hear what it sounds like, click here.

I feel very  lucky.

A lone ice fisherman on our frozen pond

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The swapping life

No, I'm not talking about couples swapping. I'm talking about apartment swapping. I spent a good part of the evening prepping my place for a swapper who will occupy my pad starting tomorrow through part of next week, in exchange for letting me and my husband stay in his 300 year old stone house in the Basque country. Oh, and their apartment in Biaritz. Beyond the fact that this is an insanely affordable way to travel well (my site of choice is, I'm prompted to streamline, polish up and put away at home, to make my apartment guest-ready. Very motivating, when you think about the kind of cleanliness you hope for when you're residing in someone else's home.

Of course, I'm willing to splurge for the occasional resort, too. There aren't too many swap options like Jakes, a funky little resort in a fishing community called Treasure Beach, in Jamaica. My honey and I spent the holidays there and we loved learning a smattering of patois, eating jerk everything, and meeting lots of cool people. Below, a local rasta fisherman cleaning a kingfish on the beach. I had a piece for dinner later that night. Can't get more local than that.

Lata, mon! (Pronounced lay-tah, mahn, patois for "see you later!")