Sunday, September 22, 2013

Another year older, another year happier

If you're reading this, then you probably already know that I just spent a year doing (at least) one thing a day that was in pursuit of my own, selfish joy. This year followed a year in which I didn't do anything special, which followed a year in which I did one thing a day that I had never done before, and then I blogged about it in a way that connected the my never done activities to my mussar (Jewish ethics) practice. I did my Never Done year, because as I approached 50 (I was 47-48 during that year) that I wanted my life to feel expansive, and not diminished, the way society (really truly) pressures people 50+ to feel. I say (really truly) because I thought, as a life-long feminist and iconoclast, I would feel exempt from societal pressures around aging, but shit, was I ever wrong. If you're already 50 or near it, you know what I'm talking about, and if you're a lot younger, I sincerely hope it's eased up by the time you get here. So I spent a year doing something every day that I had never done before (and you can read all about it on this very blog by going to the very beginning) and by the end of the year, I was happier, fuller, more excited about life, in a new job, having completed an Olympic-length triathlon, having done, in fact, 365 things I'd never done before, much more connected to people I hadn't been in touch with in years, less frightened of aging, and .... tired. Tired not so much from the activities, but from the writing, which often took me a good couple of hours a day. I loved the writing, but I was very happy to be done with the daily writing. I also had really really hoped I could figure out how to parlay the daily blog into a book deal, but I never got the blog traffic I had needed to get  interest. So I took the next year off from this kind of project, dove head-first into my new job, and slowly got more and more depressed. Now, I don't use the word depressed clinically, but rather, colloquially. Let's put it this way: over the course of the year, I felt the life force get sucked out of me, and by the time the next yom kipper rolled around (oh, I forgot to mention that these practices follow the Jewish calendar) I was 49 years old, spending too much of my time fixing other people's lives and supporting other people's dreams, and not particularly engaged with my own life or dreams. I actually believe in helping people with their lives and dreams, and wouldn't want to stop doing that, but it was getting pretty out of balance.

I was also face to face with a big decision I've struggled with since moving to NYC, namely, should I stay in NYC? Everybody who knows me knows that it it might be a hell of a town, but it's a real retrofit for someone like me, who likes to be in bed by 10 PM, wake up at 6 AM, go outside barefoot, garden in the early morning, swim outdoors in clean rivers and lakes, and, I don't know, breathe freely. But also, I like to go to the theater, and easily hang out with my friends, and I had this job as a Jewish performing arts presenter, which is a great thing to do in NYC, and even though I have large, vibrant communities in New England and Portland, OR, I didn't (and still don't) have work lined up in any of those places. So I spent all day on yom kipper 5753/2012 reading and working through a self help book called, Too Good To Leave, Too Bad To Stay. It's written for relationships between people, but I worked through my relationship with NYC, and not surprisingly, what I learned is that yeah, I probably should leave NYC, but it wasn't a clear cut and dry direction, but that the real issue? The real issue is that I was pretty bad at setting bottom lines, and I was pretty bad at putting myself first, and not just my needs, but more importantly, my wants.

You still with me? It's September 2012, and I was feeling pretty crappy, and reading a self-help book on yom kipper. On the beach. In the rain. While Josh napped in the car, because he was still in post-op recovery. Oh right, I didn't mention that Josh had just had aortic valve replacement surgery, and it felt kind of selfish of me to walk around saying I felt pretty crappy, because we were all pretty relieved that his surgery had gone so well, but let's be honest, it took a LOT of care giving and attention, and instead of taking a big wonderful exciting vacation, we had a big scary medical staycation, and those pretty much suck.

So in the face of all of this, I figured out (and by "I figured out" I mean that my BFF told me what I needed to do and I listened) that my new practice was going to be to do one thing every day that was in pursuit of my own pure, selfish joy. And I was going to blog about it again, because that helps me stay accountable, and because I do like sharing these practices, but I told everyone, on this blog, right from the start, that I wasn't going to worry about if the posts were long or well-written. I wasn't going to worry if I was letting anyone else down. I was going to be OK with it if the posts read more like jotted-down journal entries than tidy little essays.

And that's how this past year's practice started.

So maybe you're wondering how I'm feeling now, in September 2013?

Pretty damn good. BFF was onto something. I learned that even more important than actually experiencing joy (because with me, that is hit or miss) is actually seeking joy. Setting the intention, thinking of something I think I will likely adore, pursuing it, potentially excluding people who would take away the "pure" or the "selfish" part of the joy.

I learned that as important as it is to do new things regularly, it's also perfectly excellent to spend time doing things that reliably make me happy. Gardening, cooking, swimming in aforementioned lakes and rivers, walking, running, watching great movies, hanging out with certain friends (sorry, other friends), reading great novels, doing almost anything in Maine or Portland, OR, eating grilled haddock, watching the moon rise over water or a field, getting a great night's sleep, getting a great week's sleep, watching a Red Sox game, walking some more especially if it's someplace that smells good, making food sculptures ... wow, it turns out this list can go on and on, and I don't know that a year ago I would have known that all these things, if done with intention, could reliably bring me joy.

I'm much more balanced. I'm much much MUCH happier to do things for other people, which I truly do love doing. I'm better at saying what I want. I'm better at knowing what I want, for that matter. I'm better at saying no. I'm better at noticing that if I am in some kind of a downward spiral, I should probably take a walk or go for a swim.

I turned 50. I had a great party during which lots of friends and I performed for each other and then I served everyone lobster rolls, following a beautiful overnight (seafood included) and hike on Shelter Island. Turning 50 did not diminish my life. In fact, turning 50, combined with my daily practice has chilled me the fuck out. I moved to the best apartment I've ever had in NYC. And by apartment, I mean, the top two floors of a Victorian house, with access to the basement, driveway, and yard. I finally became a parent. I lost my job (and got much happier as a result.) I picked up plenty of freelance work (so far) mostly from old friends and colleagues, whom I love reconnecting with.  I didn't go to Hawaii, even though I promised myself I would. I am still trying to get there this year, or maybe early next year. I (along with friends) continued Soup Swap for the third straight year. I wore sunscreen every time I went outside and I did not get sunburned once, but I still got all brown and freckly. I got a bunch of iron infusions that I really hated, but they sure did make me feel better. (I'm not sure we actually addressed the cause of the problem, but as part of my chill the fuck out approach to life, I decided that feeling better was pretty damn good enough.) I co-wrote a movie that got made. (It hasn't posted publicly yet, but I promise I will link to it as soon as it does.)  I lay outside in Maine and stargazed. I bought a beautiful gigantic bed. I hung out with my family fairly often, for people who don't live very close to each other. I started writing for Jewniverse. (I've fallen off in the past weeks, and am about to start writing more for them.) I started a Modern Love column about the time the person I was together with got a head injury, but then someone published one about the person they were together with getting a head injury, and I got discouraged. So I started writing one about becoming a parent to someone who has spent a lot of their life in foster care, but then someone published one about becoming a parent to someone who has spent a lot of their life in foster care, and I got discouraged. I have more stories like this. I realized that I take too long with my good ideas.

As soon as this year came to an end, I relished the idea of not writing my daily blog post. I fear that it gets in the way of my longer form writing. (Even my shorter longer form writing.) I have a few projects that are just crying out to be completed. I am excellent at completing things for work, completing things for other people, completing things on deadline. But I am not as excellent at completing things that are completely self-generated. (I'm also not terrible at it; I'd just like to be better.) I have luxuriated in the days since I last posted, feeling free from the stress of getting my post out. At the same time, I know that a daily practice is good for me, and that the daily blogging holds me accountable and keeps me connected with a bunch of people. I have been trying to think of a daily practice that might use the blog form to advance my longer form writing. Maybe the blog is an excerpt of what else I'm writing, be it screenplay, essay, or song? Maybe I take a page from my own book and notice that this past year went well, and maybe I should just continue it? Maybe I home in on happiness, and spend a year following the advice of happiness researchers? (If I do that one, I will get the chance to address a life-long question, which is what does spirituality look like for me? I will also get to learn how to do something I know would be good for me to learn, which is to lose track of time.) I'm just not sure yet. Maybe it actually takes a chunk of time in between practices to figure out what I really need. Maybe it takes time in between practices to figure out what I actually learned from the past year.

So watch this space, and ... oh wait! I just remembered something I learned this year. I discovered that taking a little bit of time to myself every day is wonderful, but that I do even better if I take a longer bit of time each week. (Shabes, anyone?) And an even longer bit of time once a month. And that it would be truly great if I could go on that vacation to Hawaii. It also turns out to be critical that I take at least a full day away from the computer. So when I do strike up the daily blog again, I will be taking a day off each week. And if I make it to Hawaii, maybe I'll take a whole week off. In the meantime, thank you for reading.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Amazonian Butterflies Drink Turtle Tears

As a bonus for the end of the year. This is stunning to me.

The Last Ice Cream

Last day before yom kipper. Sitting at my computer again. Again. Again. Working hard, finishing a grant, proud of my work, tired butt from so many days of sitting. Finally completed. A sense of relief. I start a job application. Get partway through. Take a trip to Brooklyn Heights with Josh to deliver a bottle of Very Nice wine to someone who did us a Very Big favor. Take care of a little bit of unfinished business with a business, literally 4 minutes before they closed for the holiday. They are Jewish. They do the right thing, but only because they care what g-d thought—not because they care about us. That's OK; we take the cash. Pick up a challah on the way back. Looking for a very good ice cream. Just a little bit of very good ice cream, to transition out of the old year and into the new, sweet year. We don't manage to find good ice cream, but we stop for fine ice cream. Stand in the glorious Fall day, surrounded by brightly and florally colored 10-year-olds eating their ice cream, and say, "Yes. A big year. The last act of selfish joy of the year." But I'm not done with the day yet, and I dash back to complete the job application. I've never enjoyed a job app process as much as this one. I hope it's auspicious. I push the button. I take a shower. I make V-8 ish tomato vegetable juice in the Vitamix. We walk a block to Abigail's for pre-fast dinner with friends. Lovely. Lovely. Lovely.

I will write a summary of sorts. Probably soon. But not today.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The First Pear!

We got pears in our CSA. Josh bought delicious French sheep cheese (Brique de Brebis-Agour) at the food coop. I had a perfect early Fall snack, and said a little shehekhianu for the first pear of the season, thinking about how I'll soon need to stop jumping in lakes and rivers for the year, but will get to bundle up in sweaters, eat crisp fruit, and cook thick soups. Shekekhianu, tshuve, shekekhianu, tshuve. Newness, return, newness, return.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Water Lab at Brooklyn Bridge Park, or Science Friday

Mostly these days I am glued to my chair and computer writing a grant. It's going well. It's due Friday. Sometimes I need breaks. My friends A, C, D, and F are in town for a couple weeks. A and C are adults. D and F are 6 months and 4 years, respectively. They invited me out to play at the water lab of Brooklyn Bridge Park, which I've been meaning to go to all summer, so I grabbed the chance, and grabbed Josh, and we went on down. My phone was texting me heat advisories and telling me where the cooling centers are, but I was wearing a bathing suit and running shorts and soaking wet from a series of water sprays, streams, pumps, augers, and falls. Also, as F named it, the Heartless River.

It was super fun to get to see them, and to meet D for the first time, and to hear little bits and snatches about A and C's lives, in between holding babies and chasing floating hats.

Then I went home and got a bunch of work done, and I even declined an offer to go to a Broadway musical and sit in press seats with one of my best friends, and my favorite person to see shows with. But I have this grant to write, so I was diligent and stayed home, except for the 10 minutes I procrastinated and watched this. Don't you love that story we tell ourselves about being the most intelligent animals in the kingdoms? Yeah right.

It's not porn. It's HBO.

Kids, I'm in the thick of the grant I'm writing, but I did take a minute yesterday to watch something hilarious, and here I share it with you.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013


I get tons of spam email. Some of it I know why I get it—I can see the pathways from something I once did/ bought/clicked on to now. Some of it I have no idea why. In an end-of-year/beginning of year sweep, I took 1/2 hour and unsubscribed to a bunch of stuff. Joy? Not in the moment, but hopefully in the future. Selfish? Hell yeah.

Only a couple more days on this blog, and I'm starting to think about the big picture wrap up. I'm also writing a big grant for myself which is due right as yom kippur starts, so I'm not going to be putting a lot of writing time in right away, so I might save the big picture wrap up for a few days or a week later. But it'll come, don't worry.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Giving up the self to find the selfish

As far as seeing people I love goes, it was a day full of joy. Josh and I woke up with my aunt and uncle in New Hampshire (and give them a batch of New England September Soup), and we got to swing by Brandeis to take James out to lunch, and we got to drop a batch of soup to one of my nearest and dearest (from my growing-up road) who is recovering from back surgery. This was a jackpot triumvirate (I know that's not really the right word, but I'm using it) and I felt incredibly lucky to be able to pull off seeing them all.

Then we hit the traffic. What is usually a 3-hour drive turned into 6, by the time we pulled off to feed me, and by the time we got home, I was on the border of comatose, only not really, since I was driving. (To be honest, today, the day I am writing, I am practically comatose.)

But I've learned a few things about myself this year, and I practiced one of them to great effect. Sometimes I have a hard time making decisions and I get fixated on trying to make it the BEST it can be, but I don't really know how to make it the best, and I start to try to make it the best for everyone, and also for me, and I get caught in a spin, a spin, a spin, and it's starting to get stressful, and and and and and and .... I have learned that if I can step back and ask if someone else can make the decision, things can go much, much better. It happened around eating dinner. We were somewhere in Connecticut. Actually, we were near Fairfield Connecticut. We didn't know what there was to eat in Fairfield, but we had cell phones, and Google, and apps, and normally I would have taken charge of this one, because what we eat tends to matter more to me than to Josh. But I was driving, and I didn't even want to start the cycle of stress, so he totally took it over and found a place and guided us there, and it worked out perfectly.

So as joyful as the day started out, seeing all my wonderful New England people, I'd say that the selfish joy came when I gave up the self, and asked the other (Josh) to take over for a bit.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

I bought a bracelet

I actually have things to say about buying this bracelet, but it is very late and I am very tired, and instead, I'm just going to show you a couple photos of my bracelet, which I really love, and which was made in Spain. I especially love the shot that has my silver toes in it, in deep perspective.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Indian Pudding Ice Cream!

It was a spectacular day. I can't even begin to describe the spectacularness of the day. (But I'll try.) Clear blue sky.  Fixed the chimney, cleaned out the upstairs closet, made a trip to the dump with an old couch frame, headed out to Five Island Lobster Company, only to find it was closed. Big disappointment! Second time that's happened to me! Mediocre lunch instead, and they had just run out of the best-looking thing on the menu (fried clams.) Then finally to the ice cream place that serves Shain's of Maine, and usually in the Fall has Indian Pudding ice cream, which is (and these are big words) my favorite ice cream of all time. I usually eat it as my break fast after yom kipper, but this year I am up in Maine for rosh hashone, and won't be for yom kipper, so we went in today to have some for the new year. Walking in, I had a feeling it wouldn't be there. Maybe I was feeling cautious after our Five Island and fried clam fiascos, and you know what? My instincts were pretty good. No Indian Pudding. When I asked when it would be in, the server looked over my head and said, "Ask him." "Him" was Jeff Shain, owner of Shain's of Maine, who happened to be delivering a supply of frozen sweetness.

I told him how much I love his ice cream; he told me he doesn't have the right base for Indian Pudding yet, and he is going to have to make his own and it's gonna take a few weeks. I told him I eat that ice cream to break fast on yom kipper; he told me he's afraid he might go to hell for that. I tried to explain that it was a good thing, but it seems like my phrase "breaking a fast" might have been confusing, as if I was breaking the fast before it was done. I let it go and ordered some Grapenut instead. We went outside to eat it, and as he came by with his hand truck, I went over and said, "Jeff, Jeff. I have to tell you. Breaking a fast is a good thing. It's when the fast is supposed to be over, and you are supposed to eat, and you eat something very special." He blushed a little.

All four of us got to talking. His store and facility are in Sanford. Me: "Oh, my cousin used to live in Sanford. He used to be married to a wonderful woman who grew up there. Maybe you know Kim C—? He graduated with Kim, of course. One of their kids was in the same class. Of course. Andy asked him his favorite flavor. "Vanilla, because it's pure and simple." That morphed into a conversation about what base he uses for different ice creams, and why, and how he mixes in the flavors, and when. By now, friends, we were thick in the middle of the selfish part of this conversation, because he was holding a hand truck and had to get to work, and I was just sitting there eating ice cream talking with the owner of the company that makes my top favorite ice cream of all time. We somehow covered Syria "I just hope the President reads the bible." And business models (Make a VERY affordable lobster roll—almost dangerously cheap so that people might think it's crap—and use it to get people into your ice cream store, and your ice cream sales just might go up 47%!) And finally, after plenty of gabbing, out of the blue, Jeff says to me, "When are you coming back up to Maine?" And I said I planned to be up for Common Ground Fair, and he said, "Well, give me a call. I will probably need a taster for that new Indian Pudding."

And that, my friends, is an offer I can't refuse. Selfish joy rewarded.

And we hadn't even gotten to my favorite beach in Maine yet. (Popham) Or stopped at Red's (no line!) for grilled haddock sandwiches, lobster rolls, and fried clams on the way home.

It was a spectacular day.

Friday, September 6, 2013

It wasn't supposed to rain

But it did. Overnight, on our towels and bathing suits, on the roof I was going to climb and repair, on our perfectly-laid plans for the day. So you know what we did? We made new plans.

We didn't go to the beach, to shul, to tashlikh with the people from shul, or for new year's ice cream as planned. Instead we snuggled in and each took turns coming up with and then leading a portion of our home-grown, private, personalized, DIY rosh hashone service. Well, we did that until the rain stopped, we got hungry, and then we went out for lobster, scallops, and salmon while we continued our DIY service. And then we went on to a beautiful piece of land trust land (Oven's Mouth) where I've done tashlikh in the past, where we did our yiskor service, and then Andy, who brought a shofar with him to Maine, and happens to be extraordinarily skilled at shoyfer blozn, marked the start of the days of awe here.

I don't think it feels appropriate, on the first high holy day, to pull out one moment of selfish joy. Especially on a day when I was almost always engaged in a deep reflection to kickstart the next ten days of reflection leading up to yom kipper, and especially when some of my closest people were bringing questions and frameworks and songs and poems and prayers to the rest of us, asking hard questions, listening with love, pushing each other, being patient with each other, being flexible to accommodate our idiosyncratic day, and being willing totally up for eating a lobster roll in the middle of services. But, there was one moment that was more self-focused than others. In the morning, when I had finished pulling together the part I wanted to bring to the group, and others were still working on theirs, I slipped down to the river and did a private tashlikh on the mouth of the Damariscotta River. The tide was high and had just turned to retreat out to the ocean. I threw broken up pieces of bread into the river, casting away my sins. It's always stunning to me how at first I can't think of anything, and once I get going they just start rolling off my tongue. I have an additional practice during tashlikh—one that I've been doing for years—which is that after I toss out, say, impatience, and I dwell on specific examples of my impatience, I welcome patience in to fill the void. I watch the waves lap in toward shore, and imagine that while the current pulls my impatience out to sea, the waves lap patience back in to me, from the vast oceanic store pile.

What could be more joyful, really, than me alone with the entire Atlantic Ocean on my side? Except maybe the rain "ruining" our plans?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Erev Rosh Hashone reflection

This year is coming to a close. It's getting to be time for me to wrap up this year's practice, and come up with a new one—if I am going to have one. I'm not sure it makes sense, and I'm not sure it doesn't. The first year I wrote my Never Done blog, I found it to be an enormously meaningful experience. I linked every day, each new activity, to the middot (mides) that it related to, or of the week we were focusing on. I crafted essays that held together as little gems of writing (or I aspired to.) I explored the activity. I related it to thoughts, activities, memories, experiences from my past. I explored the difference between planning to do something I'd never done before, and coming upon a moment in my day and realizing—as part of an awareness practice—that I had a choice to take the path less traveled. I explored the role of return alongside the role of new/never done, and discovered that you really can't be All New All The Time, and that return is important, valuable, essential even to a meaningful, ethical life. And you know what? This practice and writing took A LOT of time. By the time the year was up, I was very ready not to not blog every day. I took a year off. I became quite unhappy.

Was I unhappy because of external factors? Was I unhappy because the work I had done, trying to stave off my fears of having a diminished second half of my life, to be expansive and exploratory, turned out to be essential to keeping my focus positive, and without it I was sinking into depression? Did I miss the (implied) contact with my friends and the few non-friends out there, who are my readers? (The word implied is in parentheses because it often felt one-way. During that year, my friends often told me that they didn't feel like they needed to talk with me or write to me, because they knew what I was up to. And because I was writing so much, I didn't have as much time to write or talk to friends directly.) I decided to start the blog again, this time with a new focus (pure, selfish joy) and a warning to readers that I wasn't going to be spending that much time on the posts—that sometimes they would be quick impressions of the pure, selfish, joyful thing, without the associations, craft, or delightful turns of phrase.

So I did that. The practice was fantastic. My happiness increased exponentially, even when things were sad, disappointing, and stressful. I developed a completely new relationship to my days. It turns out we don't necessarily have moments of joy in our days, or at least moments of seeking joy, because finding joy is more tenuous still for me than actively seeking it. And that carving out the space every day to do one thing—5 minutes, 30 minutes, 2 hours—is a complete paradigm shift. The usefulness of the blog is the public accountability piece. I truly don't think I would have been as diligent without the public accountability of the blog. At the same time, despite the fact that the blog was much less developed, insightful, or crafted, it still hangs over me as a writing responsibility, and one that I often fear takes the place (time, focus, energy) of my writing screenplays or essays. (Or maybe that's an excuse.) And despite telling people from the outset that this wasn't going to be a year about the quality of the writing, I felt vaguely bad every time I jotted off a post that was the equivalent of a postcard from summer camp. Dear Mom, It's nice here. The lake is cold. I'm a pollywog now. Please send more candy. I liked the Mary Janes the best. Love, Jenny PS! I spent 30 minutes just gazing at the stars, all alone, contemplating my place in the universe, and realizing that while we seem insignificant, we are actually each essential to the fabric of the world!

And here I am, on the precipice of a new year, a new practice, a new blog, and I am not sure what I'm going to do. I'm leaning towards making the blog itself be a valuable writing project. By valuable, I mean creatively satisfying and also lucrative. I've considered choosing one of the 613 mitzvot (mitsves) which is actually how this blog even started, because in the mussar practice, in addition to practicing the daily middot (mides) we also have an ongoing practice, of practicing to one of the 613 mitsves, and examining the ways it's easy to practice it, the ways it's difficult, and exploring why. All as part of a Jewish ethical practice. Long-time readers might remember that I started my Never Done practice based on my misunderstanding this part of the mussar practice; I thought the idea was to have a long-term daily practice of something meaningful to me, but I didn't realize it was "supposed to be" one of the 613 commandments. So maybe it's time for me to find something meaningful in that list? By the way, number 1 is "know that god exists." Which I don't. In fact, on erev rosh hashone, I was invited to do a reading from the bima, which is something I have definitely never done before. I hesitated before realizing that the correct answer to that invitation, regardless of whether I had not brushed my hair after swimming in a most beautiful lake, and regardless of the wrinkled hippie dress I was wearing, was, "I would be happy to. Thank you so much for inviting me." So I got up there, and the first words I was supposed to read were, "Eternal God." I pretty much never say "god" outloud. Ever since I was a kid saying the pledge of allegience. I just don't believe. And here I was, and I had said yes, and I was up there, and I was quick quick like a bunny trying to do that thing that we non-believers do, where we try to make sense of god in some other way. (Nature! Music! The goodness in ourselves!) And so I said, "Eternal One" and went on to do my reading, which was about prayer. Maybe it's a year of discovering just how god exists? Or, pick a number, any number! (194) Not to send away a Hebrew bondman servant empty handed, when he is freed from service. Sigh. Maybe I'll take a walk every day.

Feel free to let me know what you think.

And oh yeah, did you catch that part about the swim in the lake? It was not just any swim in a lake. It was a swim in the lake with my bestie from Chicago! Josh and I picked up Karen and Andy at the airport, went to get lobster, clams, shrimp, haddock, and potatoes for lunch, and then drove straight to the lake. Where we swam, bought a house in our minds, returned them when the mowing got to be too much of a responsibility, bought another, swam some more, and generally basked in the goodness of 3+ decades of friendship, and being great swimmers, and being in a beautiful lake. Maybe I'll swim daily. Maybe I'll travel every weekend. Maybe I'll interview all my neighbors. Maybe I'll get a sponsorship to walk across the country and talk to people and write their oral histories. Maybe I'll go to the Galapagos. Or Hawaii. Maybe I'll read over all my posts from this past year to see which things brought me the most joy, or the most consistent joy, and do that thing daily, 4 hours a day, for 7 years. If my math is right, that's 10,000 hours, which according to Malcolm Gladwell, is what it takes to become deeply successful/skilled/expert. Maybe.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

New England September Soup

I have been waiting ALL YEAR to make this soup! I started it a month ago, when I bought corn, blanched it, removed the kernels from the cob, and froze the kernels and the cobs separately. Maybe I started it a year ago when I first discovered the recipe, but it was October already, and I was looking for soups for soup swap, and couldn't bring myself to make September Soup in October. Maybe I started it a month ago when I bought a Vitamix. In any event, I finally made it. My goooooooooood friends are coming to visit today, and I wanted it to be here awaiting, for part of our erev rosh hashone meal.

Of course, me being me, I couldn't leave enough alone, and modified the recipe. I didn't use chicken broth (lobster corn broth seemed better to me, and plenty rich)—and actually, once I blended it up in my magical Vitamix, it was super creamy from the corn and squash, and I did not add milk or cream, because, again, it seemed plenty rich.

Ladies and non-lady-identified people, I present you the Ladies' Home Journal Journal recipe for New England September Soup! When I serve it later today, I'll add photos.

Makes: 8  servings Prep 1 hr Cook 2 hrs


  • 4 SMALL lobsters, cooked
  • 2 cups  chicken broth or water
  • 8 cups  water
  • 4 ears yellow corn
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon  whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon  butter, (no substitutions)
  • 2 cups  thinly sliced onions
  • 1 small sugar pumpkin or butternut squash (2 lb..) peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 1/8 teaspoon  nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup  heavy or whipping cream or 3/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 - 1 teaspoon  kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon  freshly ground pepper
  • Pinch ground red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon  chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


1. For the Lobster Broth, remove all lobster meat. Cut lobster meat into 3/4-inch dice; transfer to small bowl, cover and refrigerate. You should have about 2-1/2 cups. With sharp knife, split lobster carcasses (shells) in half. Remove head sack (it can cause bitterness). Combine lobster carcasses, chicken broth, and water in a large Dutch oven. Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Skim any foam from top.
2. Remove kernels from corncobs (you should have 2 cups); set aside. Break corncobs in half, add to broth with thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Reduce heat to medium and simmer broth, partially covered, 1 hour. Strain broth into a large bowl. Discard shells, corncobs, and herbs.
3. Melt butter in a 4-quart Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, until softened and golden, 8 minutes. Stir in reserved lobster broth, corn kernels, pumpkin, and nutmeg. Simmer mixture until pumpkin is very tender, 30 to 45 minutes.
4. Puree soup in batches in blender or food processor. Strain mixture through a sieve into a medium saucepan and reheat over medium-low heat. Stir in cream, kosher salt, pepper, and ground red pepper. Gently warm soup 5 minutes. Add reserved lobster meat and cook until lobster is just heated through, about 1 to 2 minutes. Divide soup among 8 shallow serving bowls and sprinkle with parsley. Makes 8 servings.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Orange is the New Black

I had already watched the series, but vacation is all about reading, so I read the book. The selfish joyful part was the part when I was curled up on the couch, heading to the end, telling Josh I wasn't available to talk, because I had to find out how Piper's incarceration came to end.

Reading the book was a very interesting experience. As I was going along, I was slightly more annoyed than I was when watching the series. Piper comes off as holier than though, a friend to all, well-liked by all. Maybe that's true? Maybe it's just how she wanted to frame herself? I found the descriptions of the characters to be much less developed, less specific, and therefore less interesting than in the show. And even though you get a sense of the racial diversity in prison from the book, you don't get a visceral sense of it, and you don't get to know about and care about the other prisoners the way you can in the TV show.

But somehow, in the aggregate, the book gives a deeper sense of the fucked-up political reality of prison than the show does. Kernan is explicit about how ridiculous and unproductive incarceration is for most people, and what a joke the programs are, especially the ones geared toward re-entry. At the same time, she does make it clear that it wasn't until she got to prison that she saw the truly destructive effects of her own involvement in the drug trade. So there's that.

I am curious what other people think. Have you watched the show? Read the book?

Monday, September 2, 2013

The New Lobster Pound

I was on my way out to Ocean Point to go for a run, but saw a sign that what used to be Little River Lobster Company, a tiny little lobster dock that closed a year or two ago, was now Rines Wharf. So I took a little detour away from the beautiful stretch of road I had planned to run on, and decided to run on a different beautiful stretch of road instead. The problem was, I couldn't actually run. My knee has been super acting up lately. Back story: I've had 7 operations on my left knee, all between 1979 and 1982. It hurts a lot/often, but I am used to that, and I can do almost anything on it. Recently it's been hurting in a way that makes it hard to even take steps on it, and I have to just wait out the pain til it passes, which is usually just a matter of minutes. I don't really know what's going on, but I know it's not a cartilage tear, because I don't have any cartilage left in there. (Which is something I discovered when I went to the knee doctor to help assess if it would be OK to do the triathlon I did a couple years ago. He said yes. He also said there's no cartilage left in my knee.) But I digress. I ran a couple of steps and immediately knew that I would not be running further. I wasn't sure if I was going to be walking either, but I sat on a rock and looked out at the ocean for a little while, letting whatever needed to calm down in there calm down, and then I was able to walk just fine, with only an occasional twinge. The weather was perfect, the ocean was in between calm and impending storm, the jewelweed lined the road, with seedpods ready to explode, and I just walked and walked along the shore, soaking it all in, grateful for what I can do as opposed to what I can't.

Eventually I came to the old/new lobster dock, and went down to check it out, see what's different. Mostly what's different is that nobody's there. Instead there's a sign at the road that says: Lobsters, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and when you get down to the dock there's another sign that says: If you want lobsters, call (207) xxx-xxxx and I'll be there in 10 minutes if I'm around.

That was my moment of joy. The selfish part was a lesson for me to glean; You came all this way for lobsters? I'm not here? Sorry! I can't be sitting around all day waiting for you to show up. I can only aspire. I can truly only aspire.

(I have my own photo to insert, but I can't get it off my phone to this blog, so I am inserting an internet photo of the wharf, which has people in it, which makes it obvious that it is not my own photo!)

So people, it's coming up on a year of doing something daily for my own selfish joy, and writing this blog, and I am starting to give serious consideration to what I need next in my life. 3 years ago, when I started this blog, I needed to feel that my life was expansive, as I approached 50, and so I started doing something every day I had never done before. That year, my writing was very specifically tied to my mussar (Jewish ethics) practice. The year was extraordinary for me, as was the blog writing, but it was also draining to write so much every day. I took the next year off, and was noticeably less happy. This past year I have done something every day for my own selfish joy, and written much less about it—often just using this space as a documentation, and not so much a space for literary, ethical, or even much of a personal exploration. The daily joy was perfect for me—and I think I will likely continue the practice. But I'm also sifting through my mind for this year's practice, and I would like to ask you—especially those of you who know me well, or have known me for a long time, or who think you have a good sense of me—what do you think might be good for me in this coming year? I have a few ideas, of course, but I would also love to hear what others think. Please feel free to leave your ideas in the comments of this blog (which I would prefer to your leaving them on Facebook) or send me personal emails. Thank you!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Pretending to be a seal in the river

I guess that 30% chance of thunderstorms means that there's 70% chance of no thunderstorms. I don't actually know if that's true, even though it sounds true. But is there some way that the weather robots predict the weather that is less obvious than it seems? In any case, there was a 30% chance of thunderstorms starting at 2 PM, so Josh and I got a move on early in the day and drove to Damariscotta to get in kayaks and get out on the river, which has been Josh's #1 vacation goal.

By the time we hit the river, it was almost high noon, with nary a cloud in the sky and a summer sun beating down. The light breeze on the river helped cool us down a bit, but wasn't strong enough to slow us down, as we set out down river to explore. As we approached Hog Island, me in front of Josh, I turned around to see where he was, and I saw, above him, an osprey fishing. Have you seen an osprey fish? They soar and swoop and swoop and soar, and then they push themselves upright with their wings and beat them so that they stand still in the air, head up, feet down. If there's a fish down there they want, they will descend quickly, and grab it feet first, their talons locking on the fish. (Their talons don't unlock until they land on something, so if an osprey catches too big a fish, it can actually pull the bird down and drown it.) We didn't see the osprey go in for a catch, but we watched it soar and swoop and stall, and soar and swoop and stall, until it flew off over the nearest bank of trees and disappeared from sight.

We paddled around the island, and saw a long bank of rocks in the middle of the river. I told Josh that it seemed like a perfect place to see a seal baking in the sun, so we went over to explore. At first I thought there was nothing, and I was about to head the rest of the way across the river to check out the oyster farms, but then I noticed a little movement, and lo and behold, there was a fat seal basking on the rock, with its head cocked towards us, keeping a steady eye. We approached very very slowly, playing a game of red light/green light. Whenever it looked away, we would sneak a paddle toward it, and when it looked back, we would float. After about ten minutes, we were within about 50 feet, and that was close enough for the seal, who slid into the water and swam past us, only to flop back up on the rocky island about 100 feet behind us. We decided to leave it be, and went off to explore the oysters, who we figured wouldn't mind as much.

After a couple hours, we came in off the river, ate our leftover haddock/rice/grilled vegetable salad and then headed down to Dodge Point, where I knew a good place to get in the river myself. The sky was starting to fill with clouds, and I wasn't as sweaty as I'd been on the river, but I was still determined to get in. And even though there were no seals coming over to commune with me, I was communing with the seals (in my mind) as I flipped and flopped and swam and floated in the salty river.

So people, it's coming up on a year of doing something daily for my own selfish joy, and writing this blog, and I am starting to give serious consideration to what I need next in my life. 3 years ago, when I started this blog, I needed to feel that my life was expansive, as I approached 50, and so I started doing something every day I had never done before. That year, my writing was very specifically tied to my mussar (Jewish ethics) practice. The year was extraordinary for me, as was the blog writing, but it was also draining to write so much every day. I took the next year off, and was noticeably less happy. This past year I have done something every day for my own selfish joy, and written much less about it—often just using this space as a documentation, and not so much a space for literary, ethical, or even much of a personal exploration. The daily joy was perfect for me—and I think I will likely continue the practice. But I'm also sifting through my mind for this year's practice, and I would like to ask you—especially those of you who know me well, or have known me for a long time, or who think you have a good sense of me—what do you think might be good for me in this coming year? I have a few ideas, of course, but I would also love to hear what others think. Please feel free to leave your ideas in the comments of this blog (which I would prefer to your leaving them on Facebook) or send me personal emails. Thank you!