Category Archives: Discovering joy

Lessons From Pompeii

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As I mentioned, Darcy’s pursuit of pleasure on our trip was learning more about the history of Italy. History is everywhere there, unavoidable: the trappings of the Etruscans, the Roman empire, the Papacy, even the Egyptians pepper the capital and cities large and small throughout the country.

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Neither of us had been to Pompeii before, but we were intrigued by the archeological site, which is living history set apart from modern civilization, a step back in time and the largest source of what we know now about how Romans lived. We hired an excellent guide, Guiseppe Galano, who spends most days in the doomed area, loving it more each day, he said. His knowledge astounded me. He could have spent 10 hours at least teaching us about the city.

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The biggest question I had about Pompeii was why was recovery not attempted by the Romans. Why had they abandoned it? Giuseppe explained that Pompeii was a like a cursed place to them, a warning, a punishment. One theory was that some Romans believed the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius was a response to the Roman subjugation of Israel by Nero and the subsequent destruction of the main Jewish temple in Jerusalem nine years before.

Mt. Vesuvius is less than 1/2 of its former, pre-eruption size, but it still looms threateningly over the ruins of the city it already claimed.

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So, how did citizens live in this city? Very well, it seems. (Provided you weren’t a slave.) Many of the facilities had running water. Commerce was pursued and money mattered quite a bit, but the baths were luxurious and open to the public, a main method for people to show their wealth was to feed and help the poorest, exercise was encouraged, the arts were elevated (especially theater) and most of all, the city planners were masterful. Everything, from the smallest details like pieces of white marble (called cats eyes) placed throughout the streets to brighten the road at night, was designed to make living pleasant, balanced and enjoyable.

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Touring Pompeii made me think about the frenetic pace of American life, and now that I’m back in my “routine” of work, work, work and the overwhelming expectations of me (and everyone else), I’m sort of annoyed. The traffic, the exhaustion, the overweening ambition that surrounds us, the fast culture and the stress on being the perfect mother: none of it is much fun, is it? (Sorry to sound like a jerk: I know I have it much easier than most and I’m thrilled and lucky to be a parent, as always.) On a trip like this one, where everything is enjoyable, it reminds me that I don’t LIKE having to find the joy in the everyday. I LIKED learning, eating, walking, napping and living life well every day.

I do look forward to taking the twins on a trip to Europe soon. I think they will be ready to learn, eat and travel soon, and I anticipate that being a wonderful time.

Do you enjoy life often or is it difficult to find the joy in everyday living for you?

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Playing Dress Up

Something that’s making me happy right now is planning my outfits after doing a FULL reorg of my closet. I had purchased some new pieces of clothing for fall, but found some “vintage” pieces (i.e: clothes and shoes I have been hoarding, some even from high school in the 90s!) that work surprisingly well with new items.

I put together a week’s worth of outfits and it has been making pre-school drop-off much more fun. I’m not sure why, but looking cute and feeling put together adds an extra something to my morning. I was feeling bedraggled wearing yoga pants every day.

The denim shirt is from Gap, circa the early 90s!! The peach cords are new, from Old Navy. Flats, new: from Tahari. The necklace is new, from Lucky Brand.

I had totally forgotten about a pair of suede studded Tod loafers that I bought deeply on sale about 6 years ago for my birthday! I love them, but they were hidden from view. So, yeah, I created an outfit around them: guilty šŸ˜‰ Shirt, Lauren from 2005. Denim skirt: Old Navy, from 2003.

Grey beaded top and cords: Banana Republic, 2010. Scarf (actually a Pareo!) from Target, this summer. Grey flats: Payless Shoe Source.

Top: INC from late 90s? Aqua jeans: Paige Demin, new; necklace: Lucky Brands, new; Shoes: Marc Jacobs, 2010.

Well, I could dream about wearing this on some swanky date night with Darcy, but alas. We don’t have a sitter. Dress: Old Navy, new. Shrug: Banana Republic, 2008. Shoes: Aerosoles, 2006. Pearls: wedding present from my parents.

Do you plan out your outfits in advance? Do you find wearing cute clothes boosts your mood?

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“We Will All…Fall”

“We are all vulnerable, and we will all, at some point of our lives (pause) fall. We will all fall. We must carry this in our hearts, that what we have is special. That it can be taken away from us, and when it is taken from us, we will be tested. We will be tested to our very souls. We will now all be tested. It is these times, it is this pain, that allows us to look inside ourselves.”

Coach Taylor, Friday Night Lights

Life is brutally hard, sometimes. For me, anyway. I have found great solace lately in focusing on the positive, whether by changing my thought patterns or through my own vision. Seeing with my own eyes the dazzling natural beauty we are surrounded by, observing the goodness of the mundane: it helps. I use my curiosity about the world to wonder why my tomatoes didn’t grow very well this year, and why my chard did. I enjoy satiating my own children’s curiosity by exploring topics they want to know more about. I make their lunch with homegrown apples and carrots and fine organic yogurt from our local creamery: this makes me happy. I keep up with the laundry, taking pride in the excellent folding I do. I provide the twins with fresh, downy sheets and towels and underwear and socks. I rearrange my closet with cute, pre-arranged outfits, complete with jewelry and shoes, to make getting out the door easier. I try to outfit our life with beauty.

Even reading the list above makes it easy to remember that I did some good today, even though I failed more than I succeeded, that I feel so alone in my day-to-day life. That I feel so achingly responsible for everything and everybody.

Infertility and loss (and did you know that it was pregnancy and infant loss remembrance month?) is when I fell, to quote Coach Taylor. Those experiences tested me, severely. They isolated me. They made me look inside myself.

Today I was chatting to Darcy about my college experience (a four year sojourn in one of the most beautiful places on earth where I made many friends and spent most days in yellow sunshine), as opposed to the miserable East Coast weather and highly academically competitive university he went to. He often thinks I went to the wrong school: that those sunny, mellow years didn’t suit my personality or make me as tough as I need to be. I don’t know: in some ways, he’s right. But in other ways, I’m glad I have that bedrock of happiness to look back on.

Because when I fell, first during my illness and then my failed IVF cycle and loss, I needed to remember what happiness was. Happiness was running on a warm abandoned beach with the surf gently beating a slow tattoo, while I gazed upon a sailboat harbored, glittering in the sunlight. Joy was boarding the EuroStar and arriving at the Gare du Nord, and noticing that even the ugliest buildings in Paris had beautiful architectural details and balconies that welcomed coffee breaks.

Parenting twins is not parenting triplets or quads. But it is the Mt. McKinley of parenting, especially when your husband works such tough hours and the kids are testing boundaries like those Velocirapters in their pen in Jurassic Park. My children are wonderfully bright. But precocious as heck.

Sometimes my mood goes from zero to 100 and back all in one hour. How can my mood swing so dramatically based on parenting? Yet it does.

Somedays, like today, I think about all my friends still in the trenches and I grit my teeth.

I think: I am lucky. I am lucky.

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I am lucky.

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The Beauty of Life

Oh, boy. This weekend, it kinda blew. Ear infections, tantrums, exhaustion, etc.

I will spare you all the details, because my Mom and some friends made it better.

Amidst the chaos and the difficulties, as always, there was beauty. I struggle to express the beauty I see without feeling like I am sugar-coating life and making it less authentic. But, beauty is always there. It is. And the more I notice it, the better I feel.

We ate that freaking delicious (if wonky) cake all weekend long: it actually tasted better with each day that passed.

We spent one last day at the beach.

Our tree continues its yearly odyssey into winter. Trees losing their leaves? Beautiful, but it is a display of loss. Maybe the finiteness of life makes me enjoy the display. But I blushed with pleasure when our neighbor told us how much they enjoy watching our tree from their living room window. I’m glad something we have brings beauty into someone else’s life.

I’m in PHASE TWO of The You Project. Which is: trying to change each negative thought I have into a positive. At first it was difficult, but today I’m finding it much easier. The more you do it, the more it becomes a pattern.

For example, Jjiraffe’s internal monologue:

“You are letting the twins watch ‘My Little Ponies’ again. Rainbow Dash is not a positive role model. You suck.”

Positive thought insertion:

“You don’t suck. You are only letting them watch that because the preschool has had holidays 33% of the school year so far, and if you don’t do this, no laundry or dishes will get done.”

It works.

I have also been allowing myself to watch Freaks and Geeks as a treat once the twins have gone to bed. By myself. Watching each episode is like a spa treatment. How did that show only last one season?

Finally, I am freaking proud of myself for making that cake. It’s by far the most delicious dessert I have ever baked. And next time, I can double the frosting recipe and it will look as beautiful as it tasted. Practice: whether baking cakes or telling yourself what you need to hear or reminding yourself of the beauty in this world.

Practice Makes Perfect.

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Slip Into Something More Comfortable

2002 was the year I got married. In the UK, and specifically within the Ibiza Chill Out scene, a haunting song would often play at the coolest of lounges and clubs in London. It was a song that was incredibly romantic. The violins stirred and reminded me of what my heart heard when I met Darcy for the first time. I contemplated playing this tune as I walked down the aisle, but thought it was a bit racy. So I decided upon “Storybook Love,” the theme from The Princess Bride, one of my favorite movies of all time.

But I memorized the romantic loop of “Slip Into Something More Comfortable” for our Honeymoon: I ingrained it into my head, for there were no iPods, not yet. Specifically, I remembered it for our island getaway to Mnemba, which in my mind IS paradise on earth. While there, we stayed in a beautiful bungalow, and dined by ourselves under the most low-hanging and vivid stars I have ever seen. I actually felt I could stand up and touch the bright constellations. I also scuba dived for the first and probably last time in the Indian Ocean. I remember every moment we were there, every limeade we were brought by our butler. The guy was so aristocratic that WE tended to his every need: I was always asking him what I could get him or what books he would want to read. (All the smartest books I had, I soon found out. He loved Margaret Atwood. Turns out he was in fact a Zanzibar noble.)

When I went through infertility, whether it was transfers or accupuncture treatments or injections, I always replayed the Kinobe loop in my head. I remembered how my low-slung red bikini fit me so gorgeously, I remember wearing sarongs to mealtimes with famous and important people: including the producer of all of the Harry Potter movies. I remember wearing Hermes scarves on my head with my wedding pearls and somehow feeling as badass as a pirate. I had come face-to-face with lions and leopards and green mambas and was unbowed.

It’s hard to remember that girl now. That beautiful, sculpted, optimistic adventurer. Yet, she is here. All I need to do is play Kinobe to call her back into existence.

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Fall Is Here

I noticed that my favorite tree in our backyard, a particularly gorgeous Elm, has a few red leaves today.

I love this time of year. I love the way the weather changes, remaining warm but with an edge of crispness. It reminds me of when Darcy and I first fell in love (we met in late August) and he took me to Opera in the Park and we listed to OK Computer a million times while driving to Half Moon Bay.

One thing I love about our neighborhood is that fall really is a season here. The main roads are planted with tall American Elms that change colors in spectacular fashion, a neat trick in California. In fact, the scene in The Godfather where Kay is approached by Michael after he finally returns to America? And she’s teaching at some unspecified New England school with gorgeous fall foliage? That was filmed a mile from here.

Aside: one of the reasons I love The Godfather is how enigmatic it is. Why did Michael marry Apollonia? Why did he forget about poor Diane Keaton or was he just totally in love with Apollonia? Why did he take up where he left off with Kay after he got back? Did he ever explain to her that he married another woman while she was pining away for him and that woman blew up in a car accident? SO MANY QUESTIONS!

My favorite home in our neighborhood is a Cape Cod straight out of Norman Rockwell-ville. At the height of the fall foliage, it looks like this:

Are you happy to see Fall arrive? (If you are in the Northern Hemisphere.) What memories are stirred by seeing the leaves change color for you?

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Martha Stewart: My Impressions of the Ultimate Perfectionist

Martha Stewart. Is there anyone else whose name so strongly conjures up a brand?

When you hear the name Martha Stewart, what do you think?

My own connection to Martha Stewart is complicated. Her bridal magazines were the sole material I connected with when planning my own affair. Those magazines were difficult to come by in London. I had to seek them out at my favorite newsstand in Notting Hill, and I needed to buy them early in the month: each issue usually sold out. The ideas and weddings featured were thoughtful, personal and often reinvented time-worn traditions in a way that seemed new, like bridal ribbon bouquet knots from the 40s remade in a minimalist, spare fashion. I was going to have a big wedding, but I wanted a classic, understated feel. Hence, Martha.

I am very proud of the way my wedding turned out: it was, dare I say it, perfect?

Of course, there’s the perfectionist side of Martha that we all know, too.

So I was curious what she would be like in person. And I eagerly awaited her BlogHer keynote.

Humor

Unexpectedly, she had a very dry sense of humor. She joked that when there were typos in her tweets, there was an inevitable response from followers wondering if Martha was “drunk, again.” Also, Martha’s tweets have typos in them? Wha?!

Also, this:

The Personal

Martha Stewart was wearing very high heels and sported some really cute coral jeans. It was her birthday (5,000 people struck up an impromptu serenade to her) and she didn’t look a day over 50. She got real with us, admitting that her own marriage couldn’t survive the balance of her work.

On Blogging

She said she looks to blogs for honest, diligent reporting and even asked us to share our blogs with her. She advised that letting the personal out leads to more community. She gets the most response to her personal revelations, like the time she live-tweeted her visit to the ER after her dog headbutted her. (She remembered the “awful wallpaper.”)

Advice for Living Well

The piece of advice she shared that I liked the best was this: “I’m terrible at things I haven’t tried.” There is an innate curiosity Martha Stewart has to living, and that is what I share with her. She relayed that her secret to success was pretty simple. “Itā€™s really about keeping oneā€™s curiosity and having a hard work ethic. I like to learn something new every day.” This is one of the best things about the blogosphere to me: I love learning about you all: where you live, what your life is like. I love trying new things, whether food or growing our new salad garden. And maybe that is a key to living well: remaining curious about the world and being willing to try new things, from technology to food to reading new blogs.

What say you? Does curiosity about life make your life better?

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