Sunday, December 23, 2012

Our alterna-eco evolving-as-it-goes along Christmas

Growing up, I never had a Christmas tree. Or colored lights. (The electric menorahs seemed like a joke next to houses lit up with Santa and a full set of reindeer.) I imagine I felt a tiny bit deprived, but mostly, I was excited to light the candles and spin the dreidel and get my share of presents. I liked to perpetuate the myth that Jewish kids got eight gifts, one for each night, to make myself feel like Chanukah was indeed a superior holiday.

Now I'm married to a man who isn't Jewish (he's Unitarian, which is kind of as close as Christian gets to Jewish) and he feels strongly that decorating for the holidays is a ritual worth pursuing. And I've discovered that hanging ornaments is a little like looking through old photo albums; you get glimpses of the child you used to be in the homemade painted macaroni ornaments. We  don't get a tree, but my husband cuts boughs from the yard, and we adorn them with lights and sparkly spheres. And then I wrapped our forlorn-looking pile of presents in glossy magazine photos. It gave the pile a pop! Have I started a new family Christmas tradition?


Thursday, December 13, 2012

The perfect gifts for me--a rarity

I had dinner with a former colleague from SELF tonight and it made me a little teary. For one thing, she has been traveling (both of us are globe-trotting fiends) and she brought me back gifts from Italy.
But not just any gifts from Italy. She managed to find me just the type of things I would pick out for myself if I  happened to be wandering the streets of Roma. Delicate Italianate stationary, good Italian chocolate and a beautiful rustic wooden cheese board from the outdoor market in Florence, with rough-hewn sides and a smooth-yet-textured finish. It made me sad about the lack of a decade-long "work family" for the moment, though the wonderful thing about Good Housekeeping is that it has put me back in touch with colleagues I worked alongside in my 20s. But I am in the midst of a major life transition and I am trying to take all these comings and goings with a measure of slightly wary but optimistic adventure.

Ciao, belli!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Fame, fortune and fun

One thing that's wonderful about a big life change (such as, um, getting laid off from a job you've been at for 11 years) is that everything is upended, you're vulnerable and you put yourself out there in the world in a new way. I've been seeing people I haven't seen in years, asking advice of  friends and former colleagues, getting different perspectives and basically gathering lots of information as I figure out how to shape this new phase of my working life. The best advice I've received in the last two months--or, at least, the advice that has resonated with me most--tells me a lot about what I need to do over the next year or so. Instead of giving in to my tendency to panic and fill up my time, I must make space for writing--for the time it takes to formulate good ideas, to sit quietly, to put words to proverbial paper, to pitch  ideas and stories. I have to turn down projects that, as one friend so wisely said tonight, don't fulfill at least two of the following three criteria: fame, fortune or fun. "By fame," she explained, "I mean writing for a venue that I'm excited to work at. Fortune is obvious. And fun is something I'm excited about."

Another friend put it this way: "I don't take on any project that doesn't meet my 80 percent rule: I have to be at least 80 percent excited about it. That seems like a reasonable bar to me. I have severance. I should use that cushion to give myself the luxury of reflecting on and choosing mindfully rather than reflexively saying yes to stuff because it will pay the bills.

I am grateful for smart women friends who speak frankly to me about life in the freelance world.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I miss the drama of an office

That is what I've just realized after Day 2 of my fill-in stint at Hearst's Good Housekeeping. (Soon to unveil a very chic redesign!) I feel more alive when I'm in an office full of people--efficient, like a real professional versus how I feel when I'm typing away in my bedroom dressed in not-so-clean yoga pants. I'm a people person, that annoying monicker, and I derive mental sustenance from watching the interplay of other human beings, figuring out the dynamics, the heirarchy, the systems. I like the mix of familiarity (I know how to edit in my bones; it's automatic) with the unfamiliarity (so I'm supposed to attach a purple sheet to the manuscript to indicate what? I also like the feeling of being the new girl yet also having to dive right in and just learn it. (After all, I'm getting paid by the day.) All of this is burnished by the amazing-ness of the Hearst Towers, the most beautiful office I've ever worked in (Worldwide Plaza was a close second, especially from the 37th floor), but the 28th floor isn't bad either. Today, I pulled my desk chair into a spot of sunlight in my office and read while stealing glimpses at the tips of skyscrapers below and the blue, blue sky. (And have I mentioned the sunsets?) I feel lucky right now.

Yes. I see this outside my office window. See the river at the upper righthand corner?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Dipping back into the office life

Tomorrow I start a brand new gig at Good Housekeeping magazine, 3 days a week, until the beginning of January. With my dailyworth.com gig, that means I'm fully employed past the holidays. The work is flowing in. My anxiety is abating. I am grateful for friends and colleagues who keep steering opportunities my way, and am working on having faith that they will keep on coming.

Very, very excited to have a light filled office and to be working with many people that I have crossed paths with over the years (magazine publishing is a very, very small world). After the dislocation of the past few months, a dose of familiarity will be comforting. The trick will be to figure out how to juggle the day jobs with the other work I've taken on (not to mention doing my own writing). But I am definitely not complaining. Busy is good. Juggling is good. The busier I am, the more I get done. And now, time to wrap up the day, shut down the computer and share a glass of wine with my honey, who is working in the next room. Another perk of the freelance life. No commuting to be close to the one I love.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Schedule, shmedule

 A few things I've discovered about the structure of my day in my new, freelance phase of life:

1. I am not a morning person. (Okay, that's not a discovery. I've always known that) But now that I work for myself, I can get up at an hour that feels most comfortable for me, which is to say 9 am or so.
2. It takes me a while to get going, between doing a few chores (emptying the dishwasher, laundry), checking Facebook, sipping coffee and going for a run
3. I agonize in those morning hours before I actually start being productive, and seriously question whether the freelance life is for me.
4. I eventually start getting productive at around 2 or 2:30 and hit a real groove between 3 and 7, after which I close my computer and marvel at how what started out seeming like a potentially wasted day turned out okay after all. Metaphor for my life?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Dancing in the gazebo on a glass floor...

to Kanye West's "Good Life." After a somewhat hasty post thanksgiving breakfast with family this morning at my sister and bro-in-law's house in Hudson (and a lovely, leisurely run that was decidedly easier than yesterday's, despite scarfing down my bro-in-law's amazing cooking), hubby and I drove back to Connecticut and did a major shop for our thanksgiving-esque meal with more friends and family tomorrow. We are serving his famous "Mexican veggie lasagna," garlic bread and green salad (kind of a turkey antidote), and it is so nice to be able to do all the prep the day before. But first we high tailed it out to the gazebo to catch the last of the sunset, sit by the fire and have a glass of wine. (Gotta mix up  work and play.) Snuggling turned to singing, singing turned to dancing, dancing turned to swing dancing on the glass floor above the stream. (I was a little hesitant to dance on it, but Randy, physicist that he is, assured me that they'd calculated the weight it could hold and a truck could safely drive across it.) I think all married couples need to dance in the moonlight at least once a month. It should be part of the wedding vows--much more fun than honor and obey.

Don't forget. I am going to put something grateful in every post. This one is full of gratefulness.

video




A gazebo video and the building blocks of Mexican veggie lasagna: fresh cilantro, lots of veggies, sour cream, ricotta and cheddar cheese filling plus a game sous chef!



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Some things to be grateful for two months in...

1. Wonderful friends, family and a hubby who are supporting me during this newest phase of my working life.
2. The ability to go for a run smack in the middle of the work day, when I'm most in need of a break.
3. Enough savings to allow me to turn down work I am not excited about.
4. Ideas percolating.
5. A haven in the country and a nest in the city.

It's about two months from my layoff at SELF, and while things are up and down, overall, I'd have to say I'm on a slightly upward trend. I think I could come to like the ability to work really hard for four hours, without the interruption of endless email or a flurry of meetings, then take a break to exercise or throw in some laundry, or run out for an errand. Then come back, work for another hour, then wrap up my day and wake up the next with no alarm. I'm consulting,  learning a lot about digital media and life at a start-up, which is exactly my aim: Take advantage of this time to do things unlike what I've done in the past, and maybe even do things I'm a little scared to do, like... write a book.

After years at SELF covering positive psychology, one thing I walked away with is the notion that the greatest contributor to mental health and well being is the ability to be grateful, and to note it. Studies have shown that people who keep gratitude journals for a month--essentially, writing down 5 things they are grateful for every day--have sustained feelings of satisfaction and better health for months afterward. So on this day before thanksgiving, consider this blog my gratitude journal. I'm going to try to slip in one thing that I'm grateful for in every entry from now on. See if you can find it. Happy turkey day!



I'm thankful that I get to spend time with family tomorrow, among them my parents and handsome nephews.



Sunday, November 18, 2012

Timing is everything

Today, for the first time, I wrote in the gazebo, the thoughts flowing, the stream providing soothing white noise, while my honey worked to build a hutch to store our gazebo supplies. (He's so handy! Gotta love that in a guy.) It's  rare and wonderful--at least for me--to be in a total flow state, writing-wise, where the words just come out ahead of my brain. Sometimes, it almost feels like auto-writing, but it's actually the opposite, because I spend weeks, sometimes months playing with various ideas and first lines in my head before I sit down at the computer. Needless to say, when I do sit down and all that mulling and brooding and procrastinating produces the start to a viable essay, well, it's satisfying.

Of course, it wasn't until after I'd wiled away too many hours on my computer (though I did design my first-ever personal business cards, below) that, refreshed by the third run of the weekend, I was ready to write. I brought my lap top out to the gazebo, where my honey had been laboring all day. I built my first-ever fire (don't be shocked; I was raised a sheltered suburban girl). Then I settled onto one of the paprika-colored sofas with a blanket over me and wrote. I guess it's just like finding love--sometimes it's all about the timing.


A pause amidst hutch-building



Lexi! She wants to be wherever we are. She'll even try to get between me and my computer screen.



I can't wait to get the actual physical versions!

Monday, November 12, 2012

A major breakthrough in my new, freelance life

It's been about a month since I left my former office at SELF in this state:
I
During that time, I've stressed, run numbers in my head, had inspiring lunches, traveled to Europe, run more numbers in my head, nabbed a digital consulting gig that will take me through Christmas, done some private editing, taught workshops at CUNY J-School and MediaBistro, laid awake running yet more numbers in my head and did I mention worry? You'd think that with steady work, severance, a decent emergency fund stashed away and a husband who won't let me be homeless, I'd be able to relax and get into a groove. Far from it, and I was beginning to think that maybe I wasn't cut out, constitutionally, for the freelance way of life. After more decades than I care to name working in offices and getting my two paychecks a month deposited like clock work, the notion that I have to earn in dribs and drabs is a hard one to absorb. But today I had a definite moment of "Hey--I could learn to like this way of life!" The details: I was working on brainstorming ideas for my consulting job and basically spent five or six hours staring at my computer and cranking out relatively uninspired thoughts. I had a nice lunch with my hubby in the middle of that (he's working from here today, and I've turned my small bedroom desk into a nice workspace rather than risking working in the living room where he is and get distracted).

Those are my spiffy maternal grandparents on a beach in Maine, probably in the 20s or 30s.
But back to the story:
After hours of coming up with lackluster ideas, I took a break to go for a midday run (definite benefit of freelance life) then came back and came up with 15 of my best ideas in as many minutes. And when I sent them to the friend I'm working with, she was thrilled, and so was I. For one thing, after feeling stymied, I felt that I'd gotten  a handle on what she needed, had absorbed the info I needed to absorb, and had come up with something very usable--I felt worth the money, as a matter of fact! Gotta rock that feeling, because it doesn't come often enough.

I closed down my computer and felt: if I can spend all my days working on projects that are challenging but satisfying, with no one bothering me with meetings--and work with friends to boot, this could be a very happy way of life. Plus, I get to sometimes have lunch with my honey midday (we went to Dive Bar around the corner, sat outside in the sun, and shared mussels and shakshuka, a dish we discovered in Israel). Not to mention take a midday run. Really reenergized me. I am feeling optimistic, hopeful and more cheerful. Maybe this is just my adjustment process--pain followed by the "Oh, I get it now" enlightenment. One of these days, I'll realize that this is my pattern and get less freaked out when I get freaked out.

A riot of color...in November? Central Park's Conservatory Gardens, where my honey and I walked yesterday.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Politics and friendships

They don't always mix. Though given that I've spent most of my adult life on the upper west side of manhattan (a politically liberal enclave if there ever was one) it isn't very often that I encounter people with political views that differ from my own. So last night, it was a shock when, at dinner with our CT friends, a very cool couple with enough earthy-crunchiness and regard for the less fortunate to lead me to assume that they would vote Obama, my hubby and I discovered that not only were they voting for Romney but despised Obama. Gee. That brought the conversation to a grinding halt, at least momentarily. Civil discourse is easy when everyone agrees but it's another thing when common ground falls away and a chasm is revealed. After a few stabs on all of our parts to get at the whys and wherefores, we smiled and let the matter drop. But as I sit on a bus on my way back to the city to pull that lever and look forward with some trepidation to watching the returns come in with friends and family who are all voting exactly like I am, I have to say I don't know which way the dice will roll. We are one divided country, that's for sure, but I'm glad I have my little politically liberal enclave to come home to.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Rewiring the marital connection

There are wonderful things about not living with my husband full time and a few not-so-wonderful things. The wonderful:
1) We (rarely) get tired of each other
2) Which means the chemistry keeps on humming along
3) We get to focus on work and friends when we're not together
4) And each other when we are together
5) We get the benefits of being single (e.g., independence, the freedom to wander around your apartment in sweatpants--or worse)
6) With the benefits of being married (e.g., love, companionship, security, deep intimacy and regular sex!) Forgive me if I've left anything out!

But there are some negatives, and I've discovered those particularly since being laid off a few weeks ago.
First of all, it's easier, I think, for two people living separately to go off on their own emotional paths. For instance, over the last few weeks, I've been very absorbed in adjusting to my new work status (freelance!), and all that comes with it: Worrying/wondering how the money will come in, adjusting to the ego blow of being laid off after so many years of service, and did I mention worrying about how the money will come in? The bottom line: Reeling from all the uncertainty. I'm not used to this kind of uncertainty after 11 years of two regular paychecks a month.

Meanwhile, my husband has been working hard on his long standing business and feeling excited about finally completing (almost) his gazebo project. We had a weekend long gazebo gathering less than 24 hours after my last day at SELF. Not ideal timing, but while I was emotionally spent, he was exuberant. And while he can't always understand my angst, and wishes that I would enjoy my freedom and my severance, I feel like I'm due a few weeks of angsting. Or even more than that.

The result has been an emotional disconnect on my part--my feeling that I am going through a crisis and that my husband is having a completely different experience (because he doesn't consider it a crisis). In black and white terms, I know that it's NOT really a crisis, but the way I work is that my first reaction is to launch into crisis mode, then I begin to adjust. I need the crisis button pushed because that propels me into ACTION.

But after a weekend of unfettered togetherness with a little spontaneous socializing with the neighbors mixed in, I am feeling much, MUCH more connected. A week in London kind of stablized my emotions and helped me feel more like myself again.  Lots of sleep and exercise helped me feel less tired. And then there's the fact that it's pretty damn nice not to have to get up and go to an office every morning. I'm just starting to appreciate the freedom of not being beholden to a magazine's shipping schedule (for two weeks of the month, it was difficult for me to make social plans), and even beginning to imagine swapping my apartment and going on spontaneous trips for cheap--I can do my work from anywhere, after all--I even held a media bistro chat from London, and wrote a freelance piece. Easy. So I think I am being less of a head case, and he is starting to understand what I need (concrete reassurance, as in, "I'm not worried and I know you can handle this and I am here for you" as opposed to a rote "Don't worry! Stop stressing out!"). And we finally had time to just talk, cook together, do chores around the house (clean up the gazebo after the storm), spend time in the hot tub, kayak, etc., etc., all of which helped me remember why I married the wonderful guy I married. Below, ending the weekend with some wine and a fire in the gazebo. I am blessed, and I need to remind myself of that every single day.

My happy hubby

Stoking the fire


Just after sunset from the gazebo

Cat andirons--not just for Halloween!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

What makes a house a home?

To some people, "home" means a big, well-functioning kitchen. (Um, not to me. I have one of those closet kitchens with a folding door where two people can't cook comfortably side by side.) To others, it means family heirlooms. This past week, it's probably meant heat, running water and electricity, but that's another story.

To me, home has meant shelves filled with well-loved books (or books I'm anticipating loving) and walls filled with colorful art and photos of people I love. My New York City apartment fills the bill...

Art from travels abroad and my hubby's mother, Jan Chinnock, a talented Westport-based painter...

My Connecticut  house, though, has never quite felt like my home. For one thing, my husband purchased it, and spends more time here. And as he (rightly) has said, my NYC apartment completely reflects my taste and personality; he felt he needed a place to reflect HIS personality. But now that I have this new freer work life, I am going to be spending more time here on the lake, and I need to feel that my husband's home is also my home. (Isn't that what marriage means?) So this weekend, unexpectedly free since friends from NYC who were scheduled to visit had to cancel because of the apocalyptic gas shortage, I got all domestic. First task: Unpacking the boxes from my office at SELF, where I also filled the walls with photos and art in an attempt to disguise the space's drab windowless-ness.  Then I proceeded to hang all those photos in our guest room and bedroom, fill our bedroom book shelves with more of my books, and basically set about feminizing the place. (I still haven't succeeded in transforming the all-brown man-cave living room with the giant TV, even more gargantuan speakers and rows and rows of CDs but give me time. Just give me time.)

When I woke up this morning, I opened my eyes to the sunlight sparkling on the lake and streaming in the bedroom window, and photos of my nephews and friends on the walls. I think I'm feeling a little more at home. Finally. Maybe this getting laid off thing will teach me what being married really means...relying on someone and sinking into their care and going from "I" to "We" a bit. We'll see....

The bedroom with some wedding pics

A bookshelf with room to grow....

A guestroom that no longer looks like an after thought

Even the tiny coral bathroom gets framed, matted photos, courtesy of my office stash

More wedding images and a painting of our pond from a local artist, Janet Zeh

Fall grasses and the gazebo...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Is a vacation over if you don't have to go back to work?

That's the question I'm contemplating after nearly a week in London. At this point, looking ahead to an early wake up call that will take me to Boston via Heathrow, I'm trying to adjust to the feeling of what it means to go back to my new non-SELF world. On the plus side, I don't have that typical end of vacation dread, the feeling you get when you know you are about to transition to a physically active week spent mostly outdoors, surrounded by art, culture and color to sitting within the four walls of a windowless office for nine hours a day, not to mention meetings and deadlines. On the other hand, if I don't have a job, do I exist at all? (Okay, I know that's a silly question, but please allow me this tiny bit of existential angst.) What I mean is, it's strange to return home to a life that feels a bit unfamiliar. I don't yet know how I am going to structure my weeks, what work will come my way, how I will spend my days. My husband keeps telling me not to stress out and worry, but frankly, the phrase "Don't worry!" can feel a bit empty--and sometimes, it even makes me feel worse. Am I a bad person because I worry?

The nice thing is that worry (mostly) didn't get in the way of this lovely London trip, filled with tons of art (today I went to the Tate Britain and some modern galleries) and even good food. (Good food is not something I ever associated with London. Boy, a lot has changed here in 30 years.) Speaking of good food, I spent the early afternoon at the Borough market on the banks of the Thames, where I saw produce that matched any I came across in Italy. See the photos, below.

Potatoes and squash never looked so good

Too beautiful to eat!


The pleasures of English cheese. I'd forgotten them.


This queue was for a stall at Borough market that sold an amazing homemade chorizo sandwich, on a fresh roll with olive oil, arugula and piquillo red pepper. Probably the best thing I ate in London on this trip--and for less than 4 L.

A view of St. Paul on the way to the Tate Britain.

Then I headed to the Tate Britain for yet more 19th and 20th century art and had a final dinner at a fancy SoHo eatery, complete with oysters from Ireland and wine  from Spain. A fine ending to a much needed respite--and a chance to reacquaint myself with a city I once loved (and still do have lots of affection for). What I'd say, though, and I'm not sure if it's due to the fact that I've done much more traveling than I had when I was here at age 20, but London seems much less foreign, much more like New York. The food is good, it's diverse, it's easy to get around on public transportation and there are tons of incredible museums and things going on. What's not to love? See y'all back on the other side of the Atlantic.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The pleasures of traveling

You can read all the guidebooks and make painstaking plans, but for me, the best moments usually happen slightly unexpectedly and off the beaten path. Like last night. After a slightly draggy day and a nice but perfectly ordinary dinner, I realized that my friend and I were very close to a cute pub I'd noticed a few days earlier, called the Queen's Larder, from the 1700s. We bellied up to the bar and promptly met two Germans and a Dutch businessman, the latter of whom promptly bought us several rounds of drinks. We talked Obama (most Europeans love him), the economy, sports and literature, then closed the place down (not hard to do when last call is at 11:30), and went on for more drinks at our hotel. Reminded me of what I love about traveling, as if I needed reminding, but it's the window into other people's way of life and bumping up against people you'd never talk with at home. Here are a few pics of our merry little crew, along with some snaps of the pub. (Do they say "British Pub" or what?)

Alexander (the Dutchman), Sandra and Bernt (pronounced Burnt!), our new buds

Millie and me, after a lager, a scotch, some port and brandy (not necessarily in that order)


Cozying up to Alexander


On the left, a dead ringer for Winston Churchill
Today, I continued to get my fill of art, while (mostly) avoiding London's mega museums (The British Museum/The Victoria and Albert/The National Gallery). Other than the Tate, where I reacquainted myself with this much loved Matisse entitled The Snail (I had a poster of it in my college dorm),


I decided to stick with mostly smaller museums on this trip, so I didn't end up spending my entire time traipsing through big rooms looking at art. Not that I don't love that, but I've found that if that activity dominates my trip, I don't end up getting as much of a sense of the country. So this morning, after a breakfast of toast and porridge (When in London...) I did a teeny bit of shopping in some bookstores and shops on an incredibly quaint street near Bloomsbury (there's something about London that makes me want to buy actual paper books. Maybe it's because they still have wonderful independent book shops everywhere. I went into a shop called Persephone Books, and they had something by a writer named Amy Levy, who they called the Jewish Jane Austen--she lived at the same time as Jane, committed suicide at 27, and wrote about family and town--but from a Jewish/British perspective. Apparently, she is coming into vogue now. Bought her novel and a book of poetry by Judith Viorst about marriage, called It's Hard to Be Hip After 30. Don't I know it. Then I struck up a nice conversation with an art gallery owner, chatted with an adorable shop clerk while picking out a little present for my hubby, then went on to the ultra-quirky Sir John Soane museum, a townhouse crammed full of paintings and Greek and Roman sculpture collected by the eponymous architect, who designed the Bank of England and the House of Lords, among other things (aka he was extremely rich). Next, I wandered over to the Strand to the Courtauld Gallery, possibly my favorite small museum ever, with an especially extensive collection from the late 19th, early 20th century (Matisse, Malevitch) in a beautiful old English mansion.

Last excursion of the day was a pilgrammage to see my old stomping grounds circa 1983, 16 Westbourne St., where I lived during my junior year abroad in London.

My old dorm has become a guest house, but looks much the same--only spiffier.

Then I stopped at the pub around the corner where I spent many nights soaking up the culture (literally). Thirty years later, it is now a Michelin starred French restaurant. No more lagers for 50p!

Tonight, we're seeing the West End musical Matilda, based on the Roald Dahl children's book. (Gotta see theater in London!) The plan for tomorrow: An outdoor market, more art, more wandering and getting my head around returning to a half submerged New York. So odd (and lucky!) to have missed Hurricane Sandy, and so thankful that all the family and friends I've spoken and emailed with seem dry and intact, and many are even back at work today. As for me, more adventures await.



Sunday, October 28, 2012

High tea is all it's cracked up to be...

Scones with butter and jam. Tiny little sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Trifle. (Now I know what that is.) And delicious dajarleeng tea at the Goring Hotel. Followed by a martini at the posh bar. I'm liking London, yes I am.
The very civilized fare at the Goring Hotel near Grosvener Square. 


Millie, not quite sated.




The parlor at the Goring Hotel
Sugar high...
Martini high...?

But the day wasn't all debauchery. They turned the clocks back here in London, so we were up early and headed to the nice hotel gym for a workout. Then we took the Tube to Kew Gardens, the botanical gardens here, and wandered through greenhouses and serpentine paths, which were dotted with these cool sculptures by an artist named David Nash--(click on his name to see a video about the exhibit). He fashions gorgeous hunks of wood that really give you a sense of what the original tree looked like.

 
Charred wood transformed into art 
Taking time to smell the roses  
Of course, both my friend Millicent (I'm slumming in her hotel room while she attends to business) and l fell victim to jet lag at various points (we managed to miss the same subway three times before we boarded correctly), but we also got a second and third wind--enough so that we made our way to Trafalgar Square for an Indian festival known as the Devali (which celebrates the triumph of some good spirit killing off an evil spirit). We arrived just in time for a full-on Bollywood number, before we wended our way back to the hotel, stopping on a picturesque bridge along the way. But maybe the best thing of all is having a respite from my post-layoff angst, a few days where I feel normal and happy and relaxed. Granted, I'm not doing the shopping I usually do on these trips (the fact that the pound is so much stronger than the dollar is good motivation), but that doesn't mean I won't indulge in a 15 quid martini when the occasion demands. No one can say I don't have my priorities straight! (Plus, it came with awesome--free!--bar snacks.) Totally worth it.