Country Livin’ (For a Weekend)

The wind was fierce and cold, whipping my hair about my face as I watched a hawk endlessly soaring with his wings outstretched, no need to flap. I was standing atop Enchanted Rock, a massive granite dome more than a billion years old that first surfaced from underground about 600 million years ago from natural erosion. The Native American legends and folklore of Enchanted Rock include stories of sacrifice, ghosts, outlaws, and portals to other worlds. It’s a place with a strong and distinct energy. At the summit I stood over 1800 feet above sea level with the rolling green pastures and wide open spaces of hill country spread out before me. I felt a sense of awe and wonderment, which is just one reason why I like traveling and exploring.

IMG_2135

Enchanted Rock was just one stop during our trek to the hill country on our long weekend getaway. There is something rejuvenating about the countryside. The days are quieter and simpler. I breathe easier and feel like I have so much more room to simply be, even though the cabin we rented in Fredericksburg was quaint. It mimicked the style of an old farmhouse with creaky floorboards, drafty windows, and delicate plumbing, but it was charming and had a welcoming feel. The large front porch was my haven for many hours as I sat outside watching for deer and reading with my dog by my side.

IMG_2142

One small caveat when renting a cabin: make sure the place has been updated appropriately with modern bathing accommodations. When I read the description of “Jacuzzi bathtub with handheld showerhead,” it never crossed my mind that was the only showerhead in the place. That’s right – there was no shower. Bathing consisted of standing in the bathtub holding the shower attachment over my head with one hand while trying to wash with the other, or setting the showerhead down so I could use both hands while feeling as though I might freeze to death from the drafty bathroom. It was an adventurous experience to say the least! K and I shook our heads, laughed at the situation, and made the best of it!

blog

Fredericksburg is an old German town known for its lingering heritage, so I recovered with a hearty meal of German comfort food: Chicken schnitzel, tangy red cabbage, warm potato salad, a roll so dense it has the weight of a rock, and a large pint of German wheat beer. K and I groaned aloud at the deliciousness of it! I’d go back just for that.

K and I are true lovers of wildlife, and this trip we saw an abundance of creatures big and small during our country weekend, including a roadrunner roaming around the yard of our cabin and hundreds of deer. Mexican bats migrate through the area, about three million of them holing up in an old abandoned railroad tunnel. We went to watch them take off from the tunnel at sunset, but it grew too dark to see them. In the meantime we admired the breathtaking views and chatted with the knowledgeable and friendly locals.

IMG_2087

One of our favorite moments was making friends with the donkeys! Hill country is in part known for its wineries, so we stopped by a few. Yes, I know Texas wine sounds like fiction, but it is a real thing. We make up for the gritty taste of our wines by adding as much sugar to them as possible. It’s not always as terrible as you might think. I bought three bottles at our first stop! We had to drive twenty minutes deeper into the countryside. The vineyard was vast and quiet and green. While admiring the view, a few of the residents wandered up to greet us. Their friendly and gentle demeanors made it hard to say goodbye. I think the feeling was mutual given they followed us to our car.

IMG_2058

Country livin’ for the weekend was just what K and I needed to rejuvenate. I look forward to going back soon to sip some Texas sweet wine, visit our donkey friends, enjoy the wonders of nature, and indulging in some delicious German food! Only next time I’ll make sure to have access to a real shower.

Advertisements

Book Review: The Little French Bistro by Nina George

“Every woman is a priestess if she loves life and can work magic on herself and those who are sacred to her. It’s time for women to remind themselves of the powers they have inside.” 

Marianne is tired of living her life. It’s a life she feels she is not really living at all, and FrenchBistroone night in her misery, she decides to end it. But a stranger intervenes and Marianne, while she may not recognize it at first, is granted another chance. Sad and lost and drawn to the sea, Marianne finds herself in the Breton region of France. As she finally begins to experience a freedom she has never known before, she forges deep relationships with the people around her who have complicated lives of their own. Meanwhile Marianne struggles to reconcile the person she was and the person she wants to be with the person she thinks she it.

This book is simple and beautiful and heartfelt. I reread some parts more than once, moved by the words and recognizing myself in them. I was deeply drawn into the vivid imagery of Marianne’s surroundings and the sensations and feelings she experienced. It’s a lovely reminder that enjoying the simplicity in the small moments is important.

I love that the protagonist is sixty years old. She is part of an age group underrepresented in novels and supports the idea that anyone can change her life anytime, that’s it’s never too late. I also love the fact that she encounters so many strong women in this story who do not apologize for who they are.

Marianne is true-to-life character, full of both wanting and regrets. She has these deep and meaningful interactions full of beauty and human connection but always manages to come full circle back to thoughts of regret and doubt, questioning the decisions she made both past and present. She questions herself because it is a habit she has had her whole life. Her struggle to find authenticity and be her true self is one to which I relate whole-heartedly.

This novel has everything you want: internal and external conflict, love, death, sadness, change, birth, food, loss, music, dancing, passion, and the sea. It allows you to see yourself reflected in the characters while also escaping into a lovely and whimsical world.

4 out of 5 stars

 

An Intentional Approach: Changing the Way I Consume Media

Media frames much of how we see the world, so it matters what information we consume and how we consume it, as well as what we contribute.

I’m typing away on my computer at the office when bing! I get a phone alert. I silence it and turn back to my computer. Buzz! My phone vibrates. I ignore it. Buzz! I see in my peripheral vision that my phone display is lit up with a message. I keep working. Buzz! My phone lights up again. I give in and pick up my phone to look at the alerts. A friend updated her status on Facebook. Another friend shared a news article. I also have a CNN news alert…Gasp! The news alert is alarming. I unlock my phone, tap the alert, and being reading the latest news update. Questions and concerns begin popping up in my head and my heart rate increases. I look back at my computer screen and being feeling deflated. I’m now concerned with an array of happenings in the world, and I have lost the focus and motivation that I had just a few minutes ago.

I found myself playing out similar scenarios multiple times a day, maybe even ten or more. I was overwhelmed with information and in the struggle to process it all, I found myself focusing on the stories that stood out the most, which were usually the negative ones. We have so much knowledge in the palms of our hands now, so many tools and resources. But sometimes it’s hard to remember that we are the ones in control. We don’t work for the tools; we are supposed to make these tools work for us.

I’m in full support of being informed and feeling incited to act by things happening in the world, but I realized I had little control over my own exposure to news media. News alerts popped up on my phone automatically and I would read them with little delay. News media provides you with incomplete information and uses the powers of suggestion and implication to help you fill in the gaps on your own, all designed to incite fear and anger that lingers long after you are done reading or watching. Again, I want to be informed, but I wanted more control rather than seeing pop up headlines and getting upset of angry. I didn’t have anything close to a complete picture before plunging down an emotional rollercoaster without being ready for the ride to begin. It’s hard to remain optimistic and approach information clearly and logically when you are constantly bombarded with fearful and discouraging news.

I finally decided to delete news alerts from my phone. Rather than subjecting myself to the whimsy of the media and technology tools, I took back control of when I read the news. I now set aside time to consume the news when I am in a more resilient frame of mind. I also have full choice over what headlines to read and thus what details to pursue further rather than allowing news outlets to decide themselves what headlines they send me in the form of phone alerts. In the wake of that decision, I have been feeling substantially less frantic and overwhelmed.

Now I know that Facebook is not a news outlet, but it is a source through which users disseminate information, sometime in the form of new articles and videos. I struggled to control the news feed there as well. I wanted to see what friends and family were up to but could not avoid news from questionable sources and the spreading of messages of fear and hate. I found myself scrolling endlessly with no intention only to feel a sense of dejection and hopelessness after doing so. I knew this habit wasn’t doing me any good, but it wasn’t clear how much bad it was doing me.

It became too much and for the first time ever I deleted Facebook from my phone. I felt a momentary panic after the first moment of deletion. How would I know what everyone was up to? It was irrational, I know, which was further evidence of the issue. Ultimately, I wanted to see how much my perceptions and mood changed staying off of Facebook and taking back control of my exposure to news media. It definitely had an effect. I felt substantially less anxious from moment to moment. Stessors seemed more manageable. I improved my ability to focus on tasks in front of me given my phone alerts were less of a distraction.

During my Facebook break, I continued to reflect on where I had gone wrong and realized I was missing an opportunity. I didn’t jump from the social media ship all together but instead retreated to the happier world of Instagram where my feed is populated with happy and inspiring photographic moments of life. It’s generally a more creative and calming online space, and I felt inspired. I remembered that sometimes it’s not enough to simply avoid the negativity. That’s usually a losing battle. Instead I could inject a little positivity back into the social media atmosphere. After all, sharing meaningful moments of joy and love and gratitude are what launched the popularity of social media in the first place. It was simply a matter of returning to the roots of that online engagement and harnessing the tool for good.

So I returned to the Facebook community, but with some caveats in place for my own well-being. The app is no longer readily available on my home screen. I do not log on and scroll without intention. I actively reconfigured some aspects of my news feed so I have more control over what I see. Rather than being a passive observer, I’m making more of an effort to give out some good energy, to show more and kindness and support through positive engagement and share happy moments from my own life.

We struggle to connect to the world around us in a meaningful way rather than as passive observers that media pelts in the face whenever it wants. We become used to the drama of it all, even seeking it out, even though we know it has a negative effect on us. It becomes a toxic relationship. We have an incredible number of tools to reach out to each other and share and communicate. It’s important that we make those tools work for us in the ways that we want, that are beneficial to us. It’s crucial that we remember we have the choice to engage passively or actively or to engage at all. When we do choose to engage though, we’d do best to focus on the aspect that unites us all, our humanity.

Lazy Days: Taking Back My Summer

“We have to be reminded that we deserve a break, that we deserve true pleasure.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love

I was feeling ravenous as I dove into the sushi roll the server had just set before me, my friend L sitting across the table from me telling me about her recent summer vacation to New York. Her photos on Instragram had been enviable. As expected, L in turn asked me about my own summer so far, and I drew a blank. My summer has not been eventful but instead quite the opposite.

As I stumbled over my words in explanation, L responded, “Don’t feel bad about not doing something. Whatever it is that you decide to do or not do, enjoy it. Otherwise, what’s the point?” Her comment was absolutely true, but I was confused. What prompted her to say this? I realized then that I had been apologizing. My tone had

conveyed to L that I regretted or was embarrassed by the fact that I didn’t have any exciting summer stories to share.

But in truth, I’m not embarrassed or regretful at all.

For the first time in a long time, I’ve simply been hanging out and striving to achieve nothing. In my conversation with L, I expected to be negatively judged and chastised for that. I should have known my friend would never treat me that way, but I was responding to a social construct. I felt like I was supposed to feel bad about my recent lack of ambition, so I was behaving accordingly, even though I don’t actually feel bad about it.

At the start of the summer, I vowed to embrace the spirit of the season. Every year I find myself feeling as if summer passed me by without me taking any real time to enjoy it. I decided to change that this year and even made a list of all the “summer things” I was going to do. Then I remembered my favorite things about summer as a kid – free time, no obligations, and long easy days that seemed to last forever.

Sometimes we fall into the trap of always having to be doing something, going somewhere, engaging in something interesting or exciting enough to be social media worthy.   We have a “go go go “ mentality and push ourselves to constantly do more. Sometimes it’s enough to simply go with the flow and try to be more present in the moment.

The summer days of my youth were long and lazy and indulgent. In my decision to embrace the summer this year, I wanted to slow down and be more present during these long, blazing days. Granted, I work and have responsibilities to my family; there’s no shirking those, but rather than making ambitious plans and traveling, I chose a different version of summer indulgence.

And I am unapologetic for that. I wanted my summertime back and I got it. My free time has mostly consisted of floating around in the pool, daydreaming; eating what I like, including dessert multiple times a week; reading for hours at a time; sleeping in; taking a mental health day off work; binge watching Netflix and movies without an ounce of guilt.

Sounds like a pretty amazing summer, right? It has been.

Photo via Visual hunt

Book Nerd: A Return to Reading + 11 Short Books to Get You Started

I caught on to the joy of reading at an early age. My parents are both readers, and their passion was contagious. I read books under the covers when I was supposed to be taking a nap. I loved going to the library with my mom and picking out books. I was the kid in class who got in trouble for reading a book in her lap rather than paying attention to the teacher’s lecture. I devoured books.

But I stopped reading in college. Well, I read textbooks and book assignments of course, but I didn’t read recreationally. Like most students, I just didn’t have the time. Graduate school was the same story. I both worked and studied full time.

When I finally finished school and found myself with a surprising amount of free time on my hands, I slowly returned to my passion for reading. I struggled at first to focus, to really let go and lose myself in the stories, but now I consume books like they are sustenance.

It’s easy to fall out of the habit of reading. We get busy, get distracted, get interested in other things. Then it’s hard to get started again, to make the time to sit down and commit to a book. Sometimes it’s easiest to start small, to start with a short book that requires a minimal time commitment and that we can absorb in small doses.

Here are some great short books, less than 200 pages (depending on the edition), capable of reviving one’s passion for reading:

Mice

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – 112 pgs.

Two drifters dream of one day having their own piece of land but in the meantime find work at a California ranch, but difficult situations arrive that force them to face the harshness of reality. It’s a short, simple story but it hit me hard, and it’s written perfectly.

Night

Night by Elie Wiesel – 120 pgs.

This is a memoir of Wiesel’s personal experience in the Nazi concentration camps. It’s candid and dark and insightful as he contemplates the nature of humanity and the existence of God. I read it in junior high, and it was my first experience with such a powerful read.

Stranger

The Stranger by Albert Camus – 123 pgs.

A man goes on trial for committing murder, but one soon realizes that it’s his lack of social conformity that quietly condemns him. This is a prime example of how a great author can pack and immense amount of commentary and philosophy into a short novel.

GiftFromSea

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh – 144 pgs.

I read this on my honeymoon swinging in a hammock on the beach. It’s a quiet, contemplative read comprised of the author’s thoughts and reflections on her life as a wife, mother, and writer. It’s considered a classic, written in 1955, but is still wholly relevant to modern times.

Tuck

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit – 160 pgs.

A century ago, the Tuck family found and drank from a spring that turned out to be a fountain of immortality. When ten-year old Winnie finds the spring in the woods by her house, the Tuck family kidnaps her to buy time to convince her why drinking from it is a bad idea. Meanwhile, a dark stranger is hunting them.

LivedInCastle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson – 160 pgs.

After a gruesome tragedy, a family of three sequesters themselves inside their home, safe from the hateful townspeople. When an estranged cousin arrives one day to help, things begin to change for the worse. This book made me anxious. It’s weird, creepy, and awesome.

Persepolis

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi – 160 pgs.

This is a memoir told via graphics (comic book style) about the author’s experience growing up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. It provides a striking view of daily life during that time and glimpse into history. It’s a simple yet smart read that presents the effects of war and political turmoil through the eyes of a young girl.

F451

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – 174 pgs.

Everyone should read this dystopian novel in which television is life and firemen start fires to destroy illegal contraband, including books. Guy is one of these firemen, and after meeting his strange neighbor Clarisse, he beings to question everything he thinks he understands about his world. Read it!

OceanEndLane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – 178 pgs.

A man returns to his hometown for a funeral, reflecting on memories from childhood only to get swept back up in the world he thought he’d left behind. Keeping true to a Neil Gaiman fantasy, this strange story includes supernatural beings, evil creatures, and a familiar place that may not be what it seems.

Brooklyn

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson – 192 pgs.

August returns home for her father’s funeral and runs into an old friend, bringing back a flood of memories from her childhood in Brooklyn in the 70’s. It’s about loss, family, girlhood, best friends, and the lasting effects of it all. It’s a lovely story, conveyed in bits and pieces that come together in the end.

HitchhikerGuide

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – 193 pgs.

Moments before Earth is destroyed, Arthur is transported to a space ship by Ford, an alien who has been posing as a human. Together they embark on a journey through the galaxy encountering strange and absurd beings along the way. It’s a fun book full of high-jinks, satire, and silliness. A cult classic!

Happy Reading!

An Urban Exploration

The city surprised me. With it’s tall looming buildings, close knot cross streets swarming with traffic, lack of ample parking, and the suffocating heat of the summer to top it off, it IMG_0928turned out to be a great place for a long, celebratory weekend. Usually my husband and I prefer nature centric vacations chock full of hiking and exploring the outdoors. The urban setting of downtown San Antonio didn’t fit our usual style, but it worked out perfectly.

blogThe city is known for its iconic River Walk, which is a canal system lined with sidewalk access to bars, restaurants, and shops. Tall trees and floral landscaping add to the charm of the attraction, so needless to say, it’s almost always a busy place. We indulged in delicious food and drinks along the River Walk for most of our meals. My favorite find was at our last dinner of the trip: the prickly pear margarita. It was pretty and refreshing! IMG_1014One morning however, we got up early and strolled down to the canals with our travel dog Cora, wandering in the serene quiet well before anything was open. It was peaceful and romantic and cool enough outside to truly enjoy the scenery.

People aren’t the only hungry beings that hang around the River Walk. We saw cute, tiny mice, huge fish, and birds a plenty, including ducks with babies trailing along behind them. The ducks wandered between the patio tables in case anyone was willing to share their leftovers. I became concerned when I saw a mama duck with two ducklings on the patio of a Mexican food place. Why would she bring them so close to people? I exclaimed this in exasperation to my husband who pointed out that she was probably teaching them how to scrounge for food dropped on the ground. She was teaching them downtown survival skills. We joked that she was showing them which places had the best tortilla chips.

We didn’t spend all our time at the canals though. We discovered a gourmet panaderia across the street from our hotel and spent every morning buying fresh made stuffed pastries, both savory and sweet, to enjoy for breakfast or anytime. Around the corner from our hotel, we stumbled on a library themed bar, minimalist in décor but with walls lined with photos of great writers. Without name plates, K and I sipped our fancy cocktails and worked the puzzle of putting names to those famous faces.

blogYes, we spent much of our trip eating and drinking. It was hard not to with so many scrumptious options half a block away. San Antonio has a rich history, and a visit isn’t complete without exploring a historical site. In all the trips I’ve taken to this city throughout my life, I’d never explored the mission trail, now part of the National Historical Parks until this vacation. The one that stood out for me was Mission San Jose. We walked the remnants of the restored Spanish-Colonial site that was once home to a local community, the Catholic church at its center, which still holds mass. It was a moving experience to stand under the archways and catch site of the dome under the blue sky, making it easy to understand the appeal of the place.

The mostly urban setting of our San Antonio trip surprised me. Walking from place to
place was a fun convenience I don’t get to enjoy often at home. We got a dose of history and culture, all while exploring some cool spots and indulging in some sensational meals. I call that a successful vacation.

 

Writing Under the Weight of Sadness

Harnessing the energy to seek and expel words from my mind and onto paper seems like more than I can bear. It seems almost impossible. In the moment I don’t know how I feel or how to focus on finding the right words to work through it.

I think about how you can pursue a life in which you constantly look for the good, especially when times are rough, but sometimes the world around you looks gray and dull no matter what you do. You’re caught in the middle between of a state of glass-half-empty and glass-half-full and you struggle against both sides. The idea of sinking into the dark feels cozy, but you know you are supposed to climb out and away from its pull on you.

I find myself wondering why I spend time on any of these things that I do and why I care. Meaning is suspended and I suddenly don’t have energy for anything. Under the weight of anxiety and sadness and worry, I feel less like talking. I want to keep my vulnerability under wraps and close to my chest for safekeeping.

But the thoughts in my head are there regardless, so if nothing else seems to make sense, why not use them? I try to embrace them and accept them and let myself go to feel whatever it is I need to feel. Snippets of phrases form in my mind and I consider writing them down. I know that the stagnancy will eventually turn to movement. It’s easier to write when I feel moved rather than weighed down, though perhaps under the weight of sadness is when I need to do it the most.

Suddenly the emotions manifest into full sentences and things begin to make sense again. The sensation of writing is like a warm blanket made just for me. It covers me completely so that I can sit in the dark and hide while staying safe from the darkness itself. It’s a shield that allows me to let the light back in slowly at my own pace and in my own time.

The world continues to turn regardless of who is in it and how I feel about it. There is purpose and meaning, but sometimes it’s harder to see. The possibility of losing someone is hard to face. The reality of losing someone, of life disappearing from existence is hard to accept. One person fights to survive while another leaves this world too soon, but I am still alive. I still have a choice to breathe, and so I do. And I write. And I feel a little lighter.