Blind Pursuit of Happiness

Hotei, god of happiness at J%u014Dchi-ji temple

Hotei, god of happiness at J%u014Dchi-ji temple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another blog absence coming to an end–I have been busy in the real world, scribbling notes in my bedside journal and the moleskine in my bag when I can so I don’t forget any insight I’ve grasped at in the last weeks.

We moved. Again. Actually, we moved home. All through the years we were in Massachusetts, and this past year in Charleston, we never stopped referring to Maine as “home.” It is comforting that we’ve returned to enthusiastic and open arms after so many years away. Though I am a bit sad to say it took a scary car accident and 12 months of melancholy loneliness to get to this point… such are the trials of life. We are happy now which is all that really matters. The past is over, we learned some things, and we have moved on. Moving into happiness is always the goal, right?

Marriage, moving, motherhood–all of these things are loosening my grip on rigidity and perfection. The more I seek perfection the farther away it seems. So I’ve let go of trying to be that perfect girl in my 20 year old mindset (I am 30 now, after all). That 20-something doesn’t have years of independent living in her memories, she does not do yoga, she is lonely and though she may look lovely and beautiful, she is sad. It took ten years of running–literally around the planet–to settle back where I began, but this time it is with happiness on my side.

Happiness currently takes the form of a toddler, a wonderful half Japanese man, a dog with a curly tail, a yoga mat and salty air, a deep bath, walks along the rocky coast. But my experience of happiness is fluid, and I am happy when I am soaking wet in the hurricane-like weather we had last week, running late, splashed with spilled juice, and in uncomfortable new shoes. Because happiness doesn’t really have just one form, or any form at all. It isn’t a big house in the suburbs with a husband making a gajillion dollars a day so we can stay home and eat bonbons and write poetry. It is not traveling around the world, it is not spending every day at the beach until the skin is tanned beneath earnest coats of sunscreen. It doesn’t have a designer logo, and it will never ask for dues. It is not a destination, as the saying goes, but a way of being and breathing.

Happiness is a feeling of peace. It is waking up in the middle of the night and being able to go back to sleep without worrying about the agenda for the day ahead. Happiness is a deep inhalation and a steady exhalation. It is a soft seat for a weary body. It is gratitude and hope and humility. It is quiet pride and loud reverence. Happiness is knowing when to be persistent, and happiness is knowing when to let things be still. Happiness is waking quietly in the morning, and sitting softly beside the bed, honoring another day we have all been granted on the earth together. Happiness is meditation, happiness is action in inaction.

Someday soon this sentence, sunset and life will be over, so what sense is there in crunching up over worries? It seems we’re all on a path towards goodness, and though there are difficult times in life, happiness is always just around the corner.


Southern Sojourn

So, we are leaving South Carolina. My experiment in southern housewifery is over, and I have to say it is with a great big sigh of relief.

A sense of relief not unlike the shockingly icy temperature of a Maine ocean on a hot summer day. I’ve been longing for that burst of coolness, refreshment from the stagnant. I’m actually looking forward to the fall and a change of scenery.

I miss my family, and we’ve done enough exploring here. The South is a different country from New England, with a different value system and culture from what we prefer. I want to raise my son in a place where being different is not jeered at, a place that values education and alternative takes on life. I’ve met acquaintances with many new variety of tree, plant and human. I recognize the weather, speech and traffic patterns, and I am okay with eliminating the term “y’all” from my vocabulary. Maybe some day I will curse the snow, but I miss those gray winter landscapes, and we all miss poking around in the woods without fear of lurking alligators and snakes. But, I have no remorse haughtily saying see ya to cockroaches. Its been like a year abroad for us, and I hope everyone gets a chance to experience the regional differences in the country, not just overseas.

I have made a list of things I love about South Carolina.

…in no order of importance:

  1. Meandering the trails at the James Island County Park
  2. Easy to one of the top ten beaches in America
  3. Sitting outside on the patio all year long
  4. This place. And the view from this bar
  5. Walking along the battery with iced tea on a Sunday morning, and stopping to let our son splash in the pineapple fountain
  6. The amazing quality of local fruits and vegetables available all year–and my new love affair with okra
  7. Hearing the trees rustle outside our bedroom windows (never the dull roar of sirens and traffic)
  8. The general lack of anything even slightly resembling traffic
  9. My rediscovery of a genuine yoga practice
  10. How my plants flourished here–my lavender blossomed this year for the first time in 6 years.

It has been a swell year, but I think if I was really honest with myself I knew we weren’t really going to live here for long. It was a fun temporary change, this sojourn in southern living.


On Being in Boston

Late last August, we moved away from Boston. It was a perfect city for us. But as we got older, the yearning for space and air began to outrank the desire to be close to everything new and exciting.

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Still: I have never been more proud to be a former resident of the City of Boston; and, I have never been happier with our decision to move away. The Boston Marathon was always a day of celebration through the city. The day off from work and school, the welcoming of warmer weather, a day for Boston to revel in its own brand of patriotic zeal–a uniquely Massachusetts holiday. In fact, my husband and I usually did everything we could to get out of town for the few days around the marathon. We lived right in Back Bay, so surrounding streets were blocked off. But we were around for a few of the races. Walked the dog along the outskirts of the crowds, never venturing too close to the masses though, crowds are not my thing.

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This is the horrific kind of side effect of city life that I dreaded. Not the traffic, the rudeness, the expensive parking, or the lack of fresh air. Yes, I was bothered by sirens and my 2 hour commutes to work, but I could flow with those annoyances. There is no meditating away a tragedy that kills an eight year old child. It is sadness that permeates my soul 1,000 miles away. But I’m no victim.

If there is one thing I remember best about Boston as a city, it is the bite. The fierceness. The resilience. The people who will sit in two hours of traffic to move one miles to attend a Celtics game. The panhandlers who will hustle you half way down a the street to glean the quarter from your pocket. The man from the nursing home behind your building who chases you down to ask not to put your trash on that side of the alley (lest the bottle pickers wake his elderly father overnight). The January runners trudging down the middle of Beacon street because a foot of snow covers the sidewalks.

Boston and its people will be ok. They’ve got a grit and a bite unlike anyone I’ve ever met. The city is on its best behavior during unifying times like this. When the Bruins won the Stanley Cup a few years ago, there was pride spilling out of every corner of the city…including myself, someone who has never watched an entire game of ice hockey. There was mass mourning for Michael Jackson, and outrageous celebration when the Red Sox won the World Series. Without a doubt, Boston will find justice for what happened today–growing stronger, and more indomitable because of events like this that mark the city with a colorfully twisted history.

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Love & peace to everyone.


Southern Groceries, Take 2

As I’ve written before, grocery shopping in South Carolina is quite different from how I used to shop in Maine and Massachusetts. It is not just the fact that it took three markets to find kimchi, and it was not hard to adjust to the lack of dedicated organic and Asian sections. The produce is generally plentiful and varied, and I know where to buy half gallons of rice milk and sprouted tofu.

However, I was completely bewildered yesterday by the interaction I had with the young man bagging my groceries. He picked up a container of tofu, and stared at it, shook it, then looked at me and asked, “what is this, some kind of soup?” Besides that one video I posted to social media earlier this week (Holocaust on a Conveyor Belt,) I generally try not to proselytize my vegetarian beliefs. So I responded, “no, it is tofu.” Realizing as soon as the words left my mouth how it probably sounded pretentious. The kid looked at me, and shook his head while he continued to bag my items. But what should I have said, “oh, that is a food made by coagulating soy juice and then pressing the resulting curds into soft white blocks.” ?????

“So you must be some kind of vegetarian or something, huh,” he continued the conversation.

“Correct. I do not eat meat,” I replied.

“Oh man, you would hate to come over to our house, we have meat everywhere!” I suddenly remembered I’m in the deep south, and that guns and hobby hunting are popular here. I’m envisioning mounted animal heads, bacon toothpaste, leather sofas. “Not even chicken?” the kid asked.

Now I was getting testy. He was not trying (I don’t think) to be rude. But I felt interrogated. Here he was, looking at an intimate portrait of my life (thank goodness I do not purchase tampons at the grocery store), and questioning my lifestyle. I wanted to reply “especially not chicken” but I just smiled, and shook my head no.

Of course I did not open up the conversation with him further by telling him about my recent conversion to veganism (still in its infancy, there are animal products in everything!) but I was so shocked that here we are in 2013, and some people in this country do not understand a vegetarian diet.

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Welcome to the South!


Life Lately

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The above encompass three cities and six weeks of busy life and change.  I have hardly even had a chance to upload the pictures from my camera, so thank god for instagram and phone cameras!


Southern Groceries

Moving to another part of the country has, so far, proved to be a beneficial thing for my family.

But it hasn’t happened seamlessly.  It has been a conscious process of reevaluating our expectations, habits, and priorities.  Like not crying over the chip in my late grandmother’s side table that the movers did not pack carefully enough.  Or swimming around the really big and hairy spider in the pool.  And remembering that the drawbridge (we live on an island) only takes 5 minutes from open to close, because really, it is not like you can be late to buy groceries.

Life is slower here.  Illustrated perfectly by the grocery shopping experience.

First of all, let me explain how we used to shop in Boston.  Before we discovered the ease and simplicity of grocery shopping online, we dreaded the errand.  Even going to our local Whole Foods (which was once a more visceral food shop for me) was an exercise in patience, from selecting the celery to exiting the parking lot.  Going at convenient times (after work, Saturday afternoons) was harrowing, no matter what store we picked.  Crowds, carts, strollers, traffic…it hardly seemed worth it to be buying less than average peaches or blueberries.  We eventually discovered Boston Organics which delivered fresh produce to our door each week, around the time we decided to start using Peapod.  Forget the crowds, forget the schlepping of heavy canvas bags halfway around the block; but too: forget discovering that fresh figs are on sale and in season.

Its been an entirely different experience in Charleston.  Admittedly, the variables are not all even: I often go in the middle of the day now, and I only shop for a few days at a time.  However, the Southern grocery shopping experience is quite pleasant, and I look forward to taking my son to the grocery store to talk about food, and see new things.

It seems expected here to engage in conversation with everyone from the stock boy to the cashier–however, if you’re in a hurry, or the baby is cranky, it also feels acceptable to smile and press on through the aisles.  There is a strong awareness of manners and gentility not found in New England.  It is standard practice to help you out to your car with groceries, whether you have 2 bags or 20.  There is a kindness that to us thick skinned New Englanders can seem almost…aggressive.  For example: baby dropped his pacifier in the aisle, and I kid you not, another customer jogged from where he was browsing ten feet away to pick it up for us.  Others hold the doors open for you, offer up their discount card if you don’t have one yet, and no one uses their car horn in the parking lots.

The trade off is convenience–its never easy to go get food for dinner in the midday heat that hovers in the mid 90s.  Yesterday we went out, and as soon as we got onto the main road we found ourselves ensconced in a torrential rainstorm.  Still, I drove to the store, and we sat in the car for 20 minutes hoping it would abate.  It did not, so we drove home, and shared a box of Annies macaroni and cheese for dinner.  I’m embracing the different forms of convenience: I haven’t eaten a bad peach since we’ve been here, and every store sells washed and chopped kale. Grocery delivery is a remnant of city life, and we’re almost completely weaned off those little luxuries.

But, my ears still ring with tinnitus in the absence of sound Boston used to easily fill.  White noise here is not a steady traffic rumble, but a living forest outside our windows.  At night we fall asleep to the crickets, or the speckling of raindrops on the window glass. I thought I’d miss my weekly Indian, Thai, and Sushi dinners from foodler.  But no: I’m happy to eat simple meals at the table with the baby. Plain noodles and cheese, peaches.  I drink my coffee with brown sugar now, because that is all we had when we moved in, and now that’s how I like it.  We indulge ourselves with the expensive bottles of wine we’d been “saving” in Massachusetts—-they made it over 1,000 miles!  I think we have plenty to appreciate and celebrate.  Life is good.


Twenty-Nine Reasons

BTW, less twitter, more blog for you! I am eagerly awaiting your new post!

…texted a dear person in my life (you know who you are sweets). So here we go. I turned 29 this week. I also went through five or six days of wearing the same four articles of clothing in varying degrees of cleanliness: two t-shirts, two pairs of shorts. Plus, I daydream a lot.

29 Reasons Why She Has Been Wearing the Same Two Pairs of Shorts All Week

  1. Camping in Acadia was much warmer than expected this late in September, and she only brought two pairs of shorts for the whole week—necessitating one or the other to be worn every day.
  2. She is a college tennis player, and during double practices for preseason she’s dressed in the same pseudo uniform all day.
  3. She lost a bunch of weight since the summer began, and now there are only two pairs she owns that stay snug on her hips without a belt.
  4. Blindsided by a bout of depression, this is a time when laundry seems perfunctory and pointless.
  5. She only owns two pair—a blue and a black. Living out of the back of her car, even two pairs feels excessive on the nights she can’t afford a motel.
  6. Whenever she finds an item of clothing that fits well, she buys several pairs. So, she really has not been wearing the same two pairs, it just looks that way.
  7. Luggage got lost on her flight to South Africa, where she’s set to study for the semester. She is on an incredibly tight budget, and doesn’t want to bother buying more clothes, even though her bag won’t arrive for another week.
  8. She has a crush on her downstairs neighbor, and thinks that if they can just be caught wearing the same short one afternoon when they pass walking their dogs, she might have a legitimate reason to strike up a conversation. She saw her checkout at Sports Authority, and took surreptitious notice of her purchases so she could mirror them.
  9. She cannot wear her grey shorts (the sweat will show) or her white shorts (shows grease too easily) or her pink shorts (too pro-Komen) or her khaki shorts (not enough pockets), so she is left with her black shorts or her blue shorts to bike in to work at the farm.
  10. In paring down her life, she has been getting rid of extraneous and repetitive stuff.
  11. Her sister is home from six years with the Peace Corps and she has been sharing her closet–she has squirreled away these two favorite pairs and wears one or the other so her sister won’t accidently pack them when she leaves tomorrow.
  12. She is hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail / Arizona Trail / Continental Divide.
  13. A lifelong clothes horse, her boyfriend bet her than she couldn’t last three months with only two articles of each type of clothing (except underwear): two dresses, two t-shirts, two skirts, two sweaters, two pairs of shorts, two pairs of shoes, etc. She will do practically anything for a new pair of Fryes.
  14. She is a camp counselor and is too cheap to buy another pair of the regulation shorts.
  15. Her yoga ashram does not allow does not have a washer and dryer, and the only option to clean her clothes is to wash them by hand or bicycle 10 kilometers into the village on her day off. So she is rationing the contents of her suitcases to last her the rest of the summer, which means: two pairs of shorts each week.
  16. They’re her lucky shorts. She is hoping for some good news this week.
  17. She has been painting her house, and these two pairs are already covered in dried paint, no sense in ruining more.
  18. An actress, this is the first week of filming her new action movie, and the director is insisting everyone wear the same clothes lest the scene’s details be thrown off by subtle costume discrepancies.
  19. Her boyfriend has been drinking a lot this week and gets really aggressive. These shorts cover the purple bruises all over her thighs better than skirts, and it is too hot to wear pants.
  20. Her mother was transferred to a hospital in Boston for emergency eye surgery and she only had time to grab these two pairs.
  21. These are the only two pairs with inside pockets for her keys, and she is on the last full week of Olympic marathon training. The shorts are the only real clothes she wears–the rest of her time is spent sitting in ice baths and resting on the couch in pajamas.
  22. She is hoping to be scouted by Vince agents, so she is wearing all Vince clothing this week while she stalks their lackeys during fashion week.
  23. Its been too hot to consider wearing anything else besides her two pairs of short shorts.
  24. She is teaching gymnastics to teenagers at a week long camp. The air conditioner can’t keep up with the heat generated by 30 active bodies, so her athletic pants are not a viable option.
  25. She is 39 weeks pregnant, and insists on walking three miles every morning before the Florida heat makes outdoor activity impossible. Anything but her elastic waist shorts are out of the question, even at 6am.
  26. Her house was robbed last week and she is too afraid to go back to collect more clothes until her husband returns from his business trip.
  27. She is on an adventure honeymoon in Costa Rica, and she bought two pairs of special UV resistant shorts to protect her sensitive skin from the tropical sun.
  28. All of her clothes are still in boxes from their cross country move.
  29. She is preparing for her cross country move, and all of her clothes are being organized into boxes.

More than one of these reasons have been true for me (I assure you though, #19 is pure fiction for me). Currently, I’m living #29.