When you get away

Did you know that simply planning a vacation that you never intend on actually taking has been shown to boost your happiness?

Today I want to take a long drive up the coast and listen to Fountains of Wayne and Johnny Cash. In the trunk of our car we have two beach chairs, covered in a light dusting of sand. When we get closer to the coast, we pull over at the third sign we pass that says “fresh produce sold  here”. The first sign made me wonder if I wanted to bother, the second made me regret not stopping, and the third made me realize that we were getting another chance. After buying two peaches, a carton of blackberries, and two cartons of strawberries, we get back into the car as Chris Collingwood sings, “Jumping on the couch, ‘Til the feathers all come out, While our parents are on Fire Island.”

We arrive just as the sun is setting and people are walking up from the beach, carrying that day’s necessities (which are delightfully few), over their shoulders and under their arms. Their sun-tired bodies aching to plop down in their hotel beds. We pull into a parking space near the back of the lot, but its okay because we need to stretch our legs. We don’t know a single face in the room, and as we get on the elevator and walk down the hallway, one man smiles, but all the rest are happily consumed in their own worlds. And so are we.
We set our bags down and pull the curtains back. We change shoes and waste no time walking back down to the lobby, out the door, and across the street toward the beach. Not many people are down here. The ocean is so loud it smothers every anxious thought and beckons us to recall that it is always here, even when we are not. We sit down in the sand and the time passes by quickly. When our eyelids become heavy we walk back to our room and open our window. The sound of the crashing waves puts us to sleep quickly.

The next morning we take our towels and put all the fruit into one big bag. We double check to make sure we have our sunglasses, bottled water, a little bit of cash for the ice cream truck, and sunscreen (last summer was rough, remember?). The beach is crowded but once we find a spot to call our own, no one else is around except for figures whose images are glared by the sun and whose voices are distant and mixed perfectly with the sound of the ocean. We sit there all day. The flaps of the umbrella snapping occasionally in the wind. A few pages of a book. A few minutes watching my toes coming up from under a pile of sand. A few hours letting each wave that crashes onto the shore chip away slowly at the piles of (now) other-worldly problems and concerns. 

When we feel that we have been satisfactorily messaged into a subdued mental state, we stroll along the boardwalk and find a restaurant that serves large pizzas and side salads with olives and feta. We ask for large waters with lemon, and I get a mojito. For a moment, we think this is how the world lives. This is how we have always lived. 

The next day as we drive home, our darkened skin will tell us we weren’t dreaming, and that though in the past, our time by the ocean is also a glimpse of how things should always be–will always be, perhaps. We don’t know for sure. But that is okay. We feel renewed just enough to make it until next summer.


Illustrated: a beauty roundup

Happy Friday everyone! I am looking forward to a Saturday morning that involves books, and an afternoon that involves a farmers market and cooking. It’s the only way to spend a freezing cold weekend, really.
For now, here is a round up of some of my favorite natural beauty tips I have written about recently in my column “Beauty from scratch” for Lydia Mag. If you are interested, check them out! I am quite excited about them, anyway.

1. How to shrink your pores: a contest between Apple Cider Vinegar and Rose Petal Witch Hazel. I love Apple Cider Vinegar for so many things, but as far as my beauty cabinet goes, it is awesome for shrinking pores! However, everyone raves about Rose Petal Witch Hazel. See which one wins in the end (in my opinion)…

2. A bar of salt for your skin? Yes. And I bet I can convince you to try it.

3. I love honey for eating, but also for about a million other things

4. Because it really is what’s on the inside that counts.

5. Put clay on your face. Because it’s fun to scare the people you live with.

Have you tried any of these? Or tried anything else that works, that you love? Have a great weekend!


On Writing: advice from an expert

I had never read a Stephen King before reading his book of writing advice: On Writing. I may still never read another Stephen King book. Or maybe I will. What this book did for me is exactly what I was hoping: inspire me with the secrets of the trade. Of course, any claims to secrets of the trade are only a small fraction of the secret. The biggest secret is not so secret: work hard and never give up. Blech. Whose idea was that? But honestly, I feel like Stephen King has served as a mentor to me because of this book, and I don’t feel that I need to read his novels to confirm that he knows what he is talking about.

So what are his secrets? I have read a few books on writing. They all seem to be helpful in their own way. This one though, was helpful in a very specific way for me. Stephen King gave me permission to write fiction in a way that I am sometimes scared to do. 

Like most good advice, it is “good” because it is either what we want to hear, or exactly the opposite of what we want to hear, but we are just honest enough with ourselves to believe that it is for our best. The good advice in this book was especially good for me because it was a combination of both: I am the kind of writer who is fearful when developing the lives of my characters. I don’t know exactly what I am afraid of. That my characters will hate me for giving them lives that don’t feel quite right? I’m not sure. But I found this to be helpful:

Steven King describes writing as fossil-digging. The story is there. Once you know the basics of your story (Character A is in this situation), you go to work uncovering the dirt that lies on top of it. And very carefully as fossils are delicate and easily broken. But the story does exist. You simply have to find it. I found this hugely liberating.

On cutting out the stuff you like during the editing process, he says this:

“Certainly I couldn’t keep it in on the grounds that it’s good; it should be good, if I’m being paid to do it. What I’m not being paid to do is be self-indulgent.”

I find that to be one of the most difficult lessons to learn about editing. But it is so true.   

On including themes in your stories, he says to never plan them in advance:

“Good fiction always begins with story and progresses to theme; it almost never begins with theme and progresses to story.”

Basically, King’s advice comes down to this: less planning, more editing, more grueling hours and more determination. As he puts it, “To write is human, to edit is divine.” As a planner, these words are both stressful and freeing.

Have you read this book? I think it is safe to say I learned a lot. I highly recommend it if you want to help your own writing, or if you simply want to know the process behind a best-selling novel (or fifty…or however many he has written).


Lessons learned from a limited wardrobe

It started with my work wardrobe, which out of shear practicality became limited as I spent more money on individual pieces–not to mention more thought. After all, I would be wearing these things every day for years to come.

Then I noticed that I wasn’t stressing about getting dressed in the morning. At all. In fact, I saved it for the last thing I did in the morning, and it took about five minutes.

Then I realized that the key was my limited wardrobe: fewer options meant fewer decisions. So I began to transfer the idea to my casual/weekend wear, and I started to love this new found freedom.

Here are a few things that happened:

1) I started loving my clothes. All of them.

2) Getting rid of clothing I didn’t wear often became easier. I used to become emotionally attached to my clothing, even if I never wore them, or didn’t like the fit. But when I was wearing clothes I really loved every day, I started to care less and less about the clothes taking up room at the back of my closet. And getting rid of things felt good.

3) I don’t feel the need to shop frequently. I rarely go shopping now, and when I need something, I spend more time researching exactly what I want first. The key to this is not settling, and buying the best you can afford. 

4) Not only did I start loving my clothes more, but they felt more like a part of me, instead of something I put on myself. My wardrobe feels more like my uniform–my signature uniform that has a lot of repeats because I know what works for my body. “Personal style” is starting to make a lot more sense.

5) I am free of the burden of trends, because I have finally learned that I don’t have to own everything cute, or everything I love, to be stylish.

6) In that same vein, I feel more empowered to look for things I really love, and not just buy what I am used to seeing. 

I’ve talked about a limited wardrobe before when I wrote about my hopes of one day operating from a ten-item wardrobe, here. And I plan on writing a little bit more about it as I think more about developing a personal style and what that looks like exactly. I always welcome your thoughts!