31 May 2009

15 ways to avoid bandits

Nicholas D. Kristof is pretty awesome. From his New York Times op-ed, here are his fifteen tips on how to stay safe anywhere in the world:

1. Carry a “decoy wallet,” so that if you are robbed by bandits with large guns, you have something to hand over. I keep $40 in my decoy wallet, along with an old library card and frequent-flier card. (But don’t begrudge the wallet: when my travel buddy was pickpocketed in Peru, we tried to jump the pickpocket, who turned out to be backed by an entire gang ... )

2. Carry cash and your passport where no robber will find it. Assuming that few bandits read this column, I’ll disclose that I carry mine in a pouch that loops onto my belt and tucks under my trousers.

3. Carry a tiny ski lock with a six-foot retractable wire. Use it to lock your backpack to a hotel bed when you’re out, or to the rack of a train car.

4. At night, set a chair against your hotel door so that it will tip over and crash if someone slips in at 4 a.m. And lift the sheet to look for bloodstains on the mattress — meaning bed bugs.

5. When it gets dark, always carry a headlamp in your pocket. I learned that from a friend whose hotel in Damascus lost power. He lacked a light but was able to feel his way up the stairs in the dark, find his room and walk in. A couple of final gropes, and he discovered it wasn’t his room after all. Unfortunately, it was occupied.

6. If you’re a woman held up in an isolated area, stick out your stomach, pat it and signal that you’re pregnant. You might also invest in a cheap wedding band, for imaginary husbands deflect unwanted suitors.

7. Be wary of accepting drinks from anyone. Robbers sometimes use a date rape drug to knock out their victims — in bars, in trains, in homes. If presented with pre-poured drinks, switch them with your host, cheerfully explaining: “This is an American good luck ritual!”

8. Buy a secondhand local cell phone for $20, outfit it with a local SIM card and keep it in your pocket.

9. When you arrive in a new city, don’t take an airport taxi unless you know it is safe. If you do take a cab, choose a scrawny driver and lock ALL the doors — thieves may pull open the doors at a red light and run off with a bag.

10. Don’t wear a nice watch, for that suggests a fat wallet and also makes a target. I learned that lesson on my first trip to the Philippines: a robber with a machete had just encountered a Japanese businessman with a Rolex — who now, alas, has only one hand.

11. Look out for fake cops or crooked ones. If a policeman tries to arrest you, demand to see some ID and use your cell phone to contact a friend.

12. If you are held up by bandits with large guns, shake hands respectfully with each of your persecutors. It’s very important to be polite to people who might kill you. Surprisingly often, child soldiers and other bandits will reciprocate your fake friendliness and settle for some cash rather than everything you possess. I’ve even had thugs warmly exchange addresses with me, after robbing me.

13. Remember that the scariest people aren’t warlords, but drivers. In buses I sometimes use my pack as an airbag; after one crash I was the only passenger not hospitalized.

14. If terrorists finger you, break out singing “O Canada”!

15. Finally, don’t be so cautious that you miss the magic of escaping your comfort zone and mingling with local people and staying in their homes. The risks are minimal compared with the wonders of spending time in a small village. So take a gap year, or volunteer in a village or a slum. And even if everything goes wrong and you are robbed and catch malaria, shrug it off — those are precisely the kinds of authentic interactions with local cultures that, in retrospect, enrich a journey and life itself.

29 May 2009

human tickers

The seniors had their Last Chance Dance last night, and they were instructed to indicate their interest in connecting with someone else via 'stoplight' : green for interested, yellow for maybe interested, and red for not interested. I may be simplifying this a bit, but that system seems to discourage wearing green. (Whereas if they were told to wear green if they were single as opposed to, say, desperate to hook up with someone, then many more people would.)

Anyway, what this made me think of was how easy life would be if we had human tickers (a step up from mere stoplights) that notified people if we were having a bad day and wanted to be left alone or had just found out we'd just won a Nobel Prize. Or "It's my birthday," so people wouldn't have that awkward "(expletive, expletive), sorry I missed it" moment.

I think it would be most useful (though slightly distracting) to have on cars. Then, you could thank the person who let you in without waving like an idiot for ten seconds, hoping they'd see you. Or ask, "Could you please let me in? I need to take the next exit." And the driver in the next lane couldn't say, "Oh, sorry, I just didn't see you..."

Of course, the obvious problem is that if we had these flashing tickers on cars,
a. we would be reading them rather than watching the road, and
b. they would eventually be filled with advertising.

Advertising is everywhere. The sides of stairs and escalators, so you can see the ad as you approach. Supermarket conveyer belts. Cars. People shaving ads into their heads. People paying a lot of money to advertise some brand on their t-shirt or jeans.

I guess we don't need any more flashing lights or five-second updates (ahem, twitter).

Which brings me to a question for the technophiles: do you think Twitter will be around and popular in ten years?

Some tutors and I were debating this the other night, and though I'm not a fan of Twitter, I said it (or some newer, flashier version of Twitter) would be. Another very intelligent tutor said it was a passing trend. What do you think?

28 May 2009

bonding at the end

Why do people always seem to bond at the end of the school year? Or when a trip, program or conference is ending?

Is it the realization that we won't be able to go out for tacos "sometime" and our time together is really coming to an end?

The "I better tell her I like her before she goes back to Sweden" mentality? Or, in the case of the school year, just that warmer weather makes people relax and feel more social? That everyone has worked hard all year, building up awe-inspiring resumes, and now, they have free time to play?

In any case, as June approaches, I see everyone smiling more and being more social. Graduating seniors reconnect with people they haven't seen since freshman year. Tutors come out of their library cubicles to catch up with other tutors. And everyone is getting naked and laying out by the river.

Aside from the getting naked in public (which wouldn't feel all that awesome in a Boston winter), I wonder why we aren't so warm and cuddly and social more often. Does knowing something is coming to an end make us live it and appreciate it more fully?

The ironic twist is that everything is always coming to an end. I did a twelve-day silent meditation retreat in Thailand, and one of the most important lessons I learned was the idea of impermanence. That everything in life is temporary. Which should make the sweet sweeter and the bitter easier to swallow.

They say suffering comes from attachment, and I was the master of not letting go. But if we can look at our precious (insert object of deep love) and know that it/he/she could be gone tomorrow, we might actually experience that person/object more fully today.

In other words, with the awareness that everything ends sooner than we expect, we would have this end-of-the-year feeling of deep appreciation all the time. And instead of longing for it afterwards, we will just cherish it while it is present. It seems to go against certain established values, but there is real freedom in it.

Like The Tao of Pooh, one loves where they are and who they're with, knowing it, too, will pass, and when the next chapter starts, they love it fully without pining away for former loves. But, some would argue, what an insult to old flames and loved ones who have passed.

The other way of seeing that would be to say 'They are and always will be a part of me, and suffering because they aren't physically present doesn't do anyone any good.' (And if they care about you, they shouldn't want you to suffer, either.)

So, the moral of the story: good ol' carpe diem. But instead of using it as an excuse for some young maiden to sleep with a strapping man passing through town, it should be remembering that each day disappears so quickly. We really have to grab hold, spend time with the ones we care about and appreciate whatever blessings we have.

27 May 2009

writing a hotel review

So, out of curiosity, I took on a hotel review assignment, and I'd definitely say it was a good experience.

There were some glitches (missing instructions, ahem), and it was a lot more work than one might expect, but the bottom line (and the real test) is that I would do it again.

You pay attention to everything: that tiny dust bunny lurking behind the potted plant, the imperceptible crack on the ceiling, whether a staff member made eye contact with you and smiled or not. And you take copious notes about it all.

You feel like a spy, and in a sense, you are one (for the hotel company). (Of course, as spies, this photo is not of our hotel room. We wouldn't be very good spies if we posted photos of our hotel room on our blog, would we?)

The purpose isn't to get the slow doorman in trouble or point out that the housekeeping staff was picking their nose in public. It's so that all of the new people hired can learn from what their peers are doing correctly (or not so well). If someone is especially rude or lazy, they suffer the consequences of their actions, but on the positive side, I also get to point out who did a great job. And I met some really nice staff at the hotel, so I hope they get rewarded for their good work.

The worst part of the job was having to be difficult and recording how people responded to my complaints. The best part of the job was ordering the room service and rating the food, which was very good. I think I'll look for more food critic assignments next.

23 May 2009

hilarious product reviews

If you thought shopping online had to be a ho-hum experience, you'll be glad to discover that product reviewers are becoming increasingly creative.

See, for example, these seemingly benign items on amazon: 1 gallon of Tuscan whole milk, a three wolf moon t-shirt or a $220,000 diamond ring (3.0 out of 5 stars Tempted, but not just yet: As nice as this ring is, I can't help feeling it's a bit overpriced. I'm going to wait until it drops to $217,500 before shelling out any of my hard earned cash. Amazon must think we're made of money!)

For kicks, you can even find uranium ore on amazon.

Got heaps of free time and don't know what to do with it?

You can always check out the Relaxman Relaxation Capsule or the laptop steering wheel desk , which was"5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing! Holds my sheet music perfectly while driving" and "has been a total lifesaver. It allows me to prop my sheet music against the wheel, allowing me to play the guitar with both hands while driving."

It would seem the possibilities are endless.

Happy shopping. As George W. Bush reminded us, it's our American duty to help the economy in tough times.

21 May 2009

hoof and anvil, tiny tornadoes and one happy island

Last night, my partner and I went to Toad, a perfectly tiny bar in Porter Square. We met a nice musician at a barbecue a few weeks ago who told us his band, One Happy Island, would be performing soon, so we decided to go support him.

Hoof and Anvil opened with folksy acoustic mellow goodness; sibling duo Tiny Tornadoes was up next with energetic hooting and an impressive, soulful female vocalist (Shira); and One Happy Island was last, with a wide variety of instruments and what truly sounded like a happy island. (I think it was the ukelele that did it, but the trumpet and bells are strong contenders, too.)

My conclusion: I need to listen to live music more often. Did I mention that admission was free? And that artists like G. Love and Special Sauce got their start at Toad?


And speaking of music, I need some new stuff. I'm thinking mellow but fun and worldly. Like if Jack Johnson, Ozomatli, Thievery Corporation and Dido had a musical baby. Any recommendations?

18 May 2009

245 cupcakes

That's how many my partner and I baked and frosted today (all from scratch, of course) for our students. Phew!

We made green tea cupcakes with green tea frosting, chai cupcakes with chai frosting, cream-filled chocolate chocolate chip cupcakes with vanilla frosting, banana cupcakes with honey frosting, coconut cupcakes with chocolate or vanilla frosting, vanilla cupcakes with chocolate or vanilla frosting...

And they disappeared in ten minutes. All 245 of them.

Students + finals = ravenous, apparently.

Poor kids. Good luck, everyone!

16 May 2009

eat, pray, love

I saw Elizabeth Gilbert's excellent Ted video on creativity and finally decided to read her book on journeying through Italy, India and Indonesia in search of "everything."

Which brings me to another good reason to borrow books from a library: you aren't as affected by the hype. And I just came across the amazon reviews, which were harsh. Yikes. (I always wonder about people who have such horrible things to say about others.) So, I'm just glad I was able to read the book with no expectations.

Now, onto the book: it's the story of a woman in her early 30s who 'had it all'-- a successful career, a husband, a home in the suburbs-- and decided she didn't want to go the traditional route of being settled and having babies. To get over her messy and long divorce, she sets off in search of delicious food and pleasure in Italy, spiritual meaning in India and a way to balance the two in Indonesia.

In Italy, she easily befriends people right and left, and her friends back home tease her for her "No Carb Left Behind" tour of Italy. While learning Italian and immersing herself in Italian culture, she delights in a fan's impassioned swearing at a soccer game and the post-game cream puffs at a neighborhood bakery.

In one conversation, she and her friend, Giulio, discuss the culture of a city and how it can often be encapsulated in just one word. For Rome, Giulio says it's SEX; for the Vatican, POWER; for New York City, ACHIEVE; for Los Angeles, SUCCEED; and so on. So, the logical follow-up question is, what's your word? An interesting one to ponder.

When hitting tough times, she develops some creative coping methods. One, with the help of a friend, is to write a petition to God (in her case, for her husband to allow their divorce to go through) and then imagine anyone and everyone (from family and friends to figures like Mother Teresa and Gandhi) signing it.

Another is writing in a notebook and having a conversation with -- yourself. She literally writes something like, "I need help," and in a little while, the better, stronger part of herself responds, "I'm here." I could see this being nothing short of a miracle for someone who felt completely alone in the world.

In India, she goes to live in an Ashram, but instead of quiet contemplation, she again cultivates an active social life. Richard from Texas, who nicknames the author Groceries, becomes her straight-shooting, real-life yogi as she struggles to meditate and pray and find her center. When she claims most people can't see her control issues when they first meet her, he laughs and says Ray Charles could see her control issues.

Gilbert is a talker, and once Richard from Texas goes home, she decides she's going to be the quietest girl people have ever seen. Of course, she is then invited to become the welcome wagon of the Ashram. The universe has a great sense of humor, no? And she remembers her Guru's words, "God dwells within you, as you." Just as you are.

In Indonesia, she again connects with an interesting cast of characters, including a medicine man, a young Indonesian man recently deported from New York and a healer woman. But I've already gone on too long, so I'll stop here. Suffice it to say that it was a fun read. I'm glad I'm not dealing with all the drama she went through. And as for the Love portion of the title, well, I guess you'll just have to read it to find out how it all ends.

12 May 2009

l'auberge espagnole

This movie ("The Spanish Apartment" in English) is a simple and lively slice-of-life look at a group of European 20-somethings living together in Barcelona. Are there dramatic character arcs with major epiphanies? Not exactly. Some of the characters get away with things they shouldn't and don't learn from (or even react to) things they should. But it's a near-perfect snapshot of 20-something life: trying to figure out who we are in the world, how we want to relate to and connect with others, how we want our relationships to be, the rapid falling in and out of love-- and the confusing, bumbling mistakes we make in the process.

For me, I'm past that point in my life, but it reminded me of my junior year abroad in Geneva and how much I learned, living with Belgians, Egyptians, Macedonians, Italians and so on. Many of us spoke broken French on our good days, and we often gestured and played charades just to convey simple ideas. We were a quirky bunch, and there were definitely some odd (and usually short-lived) pairings over the year.

Like the film, though, there was also an immediate sense of bonding and family (albeit a very diverse one), since we were all away from our regular friends and family (and lives and identities). We shared the feeling of wanting to just dive in: immersing ourselves in the language, the culture, and the nonstop learning, through coursework and research, yes, but also just through learning about each other. I took long walks with my Belgian friend, talking about life, capitalism, relationships and how to be a good person in the modern world. I lived with a Swiss-German, who has become one of my favorite people in the world, and a zany Italian, who I bumped into unexpectedly in Berkeley. (Speaking of random, I also bumped into another Belgian I studied with in Geneva while hiking in Washington, DC, who warned us that he and his friends had just seen some bears. It really is a small world.)

The movie shows the messy, shared Barcelona apartment as something of an escape from real relationships and responsibility, but I think there is value in stopping the growth process for a minute and just savoring being young and curious. And later, when you fall in love, and someone asks you to marry them, it's a lot easier to say yes when you've already sown your wild oats. Then, you can be a happy married old lady with no regrets.

Now, pardon me while I go bake some cupcakes.

11 May 2009


Through couchsurfing, I connected with a very cool Australian who introduced me to Rolf Potts' book, Vagabonding. For someone unhappy with their 9-to-5 life, it may be just the thing to help them break free. For people who have traveled a bit, it will make you want to travel more. For those who have traveled extensively and for long periods of time, it will validate your (often frowned upon) choices.

Will this book change your life? It depends on how stuck or free you feel. It has become a bible for some and is just pleasure reading for others. Did I agree with everything in the book? No. Potts offers vagabonding as a lifestyle, and while I know that world travel will always be something I appreciate and will incorporate as much as I can into my life, I grew up as a vagabond, and now having lived more places than years, I like the romantic notion of having a home to return to after traveling.

If you are curious about traveling, though, and haven't done much of it or want to go off into the world but feel unable to, then I'd highly recommend reading this book. Yes, traveling is a luxury in some ways, but it is very, very doable. For those who say money is the limiting factor, I lived in a dormitory in Thailand for $1.62 a night, ate street pad thai for $1 and bought pants for $2. I rented an oceanfront bachelor in Capetown for $300 a month and ate the best plates of burgers and fries for $1. Oh, but the flights, one might argue. My plane ticket to Thailand was $450 from Los Angeles, with a free overnight stop in Taipei. My ticket to Capetown was $600 from Geneva, where I was living at the time, with a free weeklong stop in Istanbul. You can make it work.

The way to make travel affordable is to jump on travel specials and then stay there for a while. Once the plane ticket is out of the way, many places will actually be much cheaper on a day-to-day basis. For those who say there isn't enough time, yes, there may be some sacrifices. You may make choices that others don't understand (which will be terrifying for some and liberating for others). Potts also lists resources for women traveling alone, for people with kids, and for the GLBTQ crowd. In other words, it may be harder for some than others, but you can make it happen if you want to. And when thinking about what you gain, it might not be tangible or quantifiable. But you would probably never forget spending two months in Senegal, whereas two months of 'regular life' could easily disappear without your even noticing.

And of course, reading this book doesn't mean you have to sell everything, quit your real life and take off to unknown lands forever. My partner and I plan to travel and do field work for a year, but we're also excited to plant roots and become an active part of a community when we return to California. We still want to work hard in our chosen fields to serve others and fulfill our potential as human beings, and we believe that travel will enrich our efforts.

Potts reminds us to live simply, so that we don't become hampered and imprisoned by accumulated stuff; to see the adventure in the everyday, even when (especially when) we're at home; and to be open and non-judgmental so as to really see and experience life fully, no matter where you are.

So, what do you think? How valuable is travel? Is travel just an escape from responsibility? Or has it made a difference in your life or how you see the world? Is there meaningful and meaningless travel? What's the difference, if any? How would you feel if you could never travel again?

08 May 2009

the monchichi world tour

So, this will be my third blog, but I've brought all the posts from my old ones (serendipity berries and monchichi) over, so we're one big happy Brady Bunch now.

(In case you're wondering about all this shuffling about, I'd gotten bored of my first blog (bad sign) and went off looking for something new and fancy (another bad sign) but then realized that fancy photo slideshows don't always go with great text function (a good analogy for other things, too). So, I'm back to blogger and here to stay. It may not have the bells, whistles and flashy tight jeans, but it's like the good old tugboat that keeps on chugging and never lets you down.)

Anyway, on to the exciting news: our travel itinerary! I've finally got a skeleton worked out, with a bit of room for whim and chaos. So, here's a rough estimate of where we'll be for the next few months.

June-July: Road trip across the US
Boston -> New York -> Philadelphia -> Washington, DC -> Pittsburgh -> Chicago -> Iowa City -> Des Moines, Iowa -> Lincoln, Nebraska -> Denver -> Arches National Park, Utah -> Canyonlands -> Capitol Reef -> Grand Staircase - Escalante -> Bryce Canyon -> Zion Canyon -> Grand Canyon -> Las Vegas -> Los Angeles

July-August: Australia and New Zealand
Los Angeles -> Sydney -> Melbourne -> Alice Springs -> Uluru (Ayers Rock) -> Alice Springs -> Cairns -> Port Douglas -> Great Barrier Reef -> Sydney -> Christchurch, New Zealand -> TranzAlpine train to Greymouth -> Franz Joseph Glacier -> Fox Glacier -> Wanaka Lake -> Te Anau (glow worms in caves!) -> Queenstown -> Dunedin -> Hanmer Springs -> Kaikoura -> Abel Tasman National Park -> Christchurch -> Sydney -> Los Angeles

September: Mexico to visit in-laws
(hoping swine flu is gone by then)

October-December: Tanzania for field work

We're still sorting out the details, but it's starting to come together. We'll visit friends and family, couchsurf a couple times in the US, camp for almost two weeks in the national parks in Utah and Arizona, and go in a campervan for five days from Alice Springs to Ayers Rock. We'll wing the New Zealand portion of our trip, as it's pretty easy to get around the south island. And we're debating whether to go through with our Mexico plans (likely), in spite of swine flu terror.

In the spring, I think we'll try to go to Asia and South America, but nothing is planned yet.

So, world travelers, where do you suggest we go (or not go)? Any favorite places you don't mind sharing?

07 May 2009

couchsurfing around the world

(May 7, 2009)

I heard about couchsurfing a few years ago and thought it was interesting-- but not enough to try it. I figured it would be a bunch of teenagers who wanted to get wasted on cheap beer all night long. I have no problems with said population, but it isn't who I'd spend all of my free time with.

Recently, I've started planning a trip around the world, and I was astounded at how expensive accommodation was. Let me put my dentures in and tell you about hostel prices back in my day. But seriously, backpacking for two people means that hostels are often not the most economical choice. Are we really going to pay $20+ each to sleep in a 12-bunk room when we could get a private hotel room with a private bathroom for a few dollars more? Unlikely, but spending that much each night wasn't going to work for us, either. A student mentioned couchsurfing in passing the other day when I mentioned this, so I finally went to check it out.

It was nothing like what I expected. Their emphasis is not on the free accommodation but on the community that is built from connecting with locals and getting to know a place from a real-person-living-there perspective. Their mission statement is "to internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance and facilitate cultural understanding."

Intrigued, I looked to see who the couchsurfers were in Christchurch, New Zealand. There were people of all ages and types, from 45-year-old teachers of the blind to 23-year-old artists-- all offering their couches for strangers to sleep on. It was remarkable.

So, I created a profile and went through all of the profiles to see who I liked best. (You can even select age, gender, etc. in your search.) Then, I sent a 'couchsurf request' to a couple in Christchurch and another to a family in Iowa City, Iowa. Within hours, the family in Iowa City had decided to take us in. I felt like a mad scientist, screaming "It works! It works!" Instead of blowing up in my face, the crazy couchsurfing 'invention' lit up and did somersaults.

For a while, I suspected couchsurfing was just a cruel joke the cool kids were playing on me. I would send a couchsurfing request to someone who seemed really nice and funny in their profile, and I'd be laughed to the ground for falling for it. My partner said they were probably serial killers just looking for fresh prey. Instead, I found really nice people who just wanted to connect with other open-minded, interesting people from around the world.

I'm excited to meet the people I've connected with-- they are people I would have chosen to be my friends, if we'd lived in the same city. I'm looking forward to meeting more people as my partner and I embark on a year of travel and field work, and I look forward to hosting nice people from around the world when our year of extended travel is over. Now, it's true that I haven't yet met any of these people in person, and they may turn out to be nothing like their 'chiseled, 6'3" and a souffle chef in my spare time' internet personas, but I'm optimistic.

If you're interested, you can check it out here. You can choose who you'd like to stay with, you can choose who stays with you -- or you can sign up to meet for coffee or a drink with people who are visiting your town and not host anyone or stay on anyone's 'couch' (which could range from a private bedroom to camping in someone's backyard). At the very least, I figure I'll have some interesting stories.

If we make it out alive.

Posted via email from sweet freedom

the quiet side of new york

(April 25, 2009)
Yes, it's the city that never sleeps, and while the first image of the big apple that pops into many heads is Times Square, there are many little alcoves of serenity, too.

In Central Park, if you slow down enough to take in your surroundings, you'll sometimes find faces carved into the rocks (first photo). And some of the old Mom 'n' Pop cafes that reek of history are a dying breed worth supporting.

Here are a few photos of a quiet day in the big city. It may not be the typical New York City experience, but it's a nice one nonetheless.

city art in cambridge and boston, ma

(May 1, 2009)
I've walked down this alley in Chinatown, oh, at least twenty times over the years, and I only noticed this huge, four-story mural the other day. Now, to cut myself some slack, I usually walk down the alley going southbound, and one can only see it going northbound. But still, it was huge. And quite impressive, I thought (first two pictures).

The next three photos are of one of those electrical boxes that are normally just ugly and there. But, not this one! I found this in South Boston in March when I went to get a haircut. It made me happy.

And the last two photos are Shepard Fairey murals in Harvard Square. The first one was by the Gap (December 2008), and the second one was by John Harvard's (April 2009). If you haven't yet seen the Shepard Fairey exhibit at the ICA, I'd highly recommend it. (Free on Thursday nights or anytime with a Harvard ID.)

Seen any neat city art lately? I'd love to hear about it! You can email me at monchichiland@gmail.com.

See and download the full gallery on posterous

port elizabeth, maine

(April 22, 2009)

Now that we know we'll be leaving the east coast soon, I'm growing increasingly nostalgic, thinking of the endless forests of thin tree trunks along the side of the road, the crisp mornings, even the beauty of winter. I am not a cold-weather person, but the stillness of a white world outside and a fire burning in the fireplace with a mug of warm tea in your hands is hard to beat.

And seeing the sun rise over beaches made for long walks in sweaters, the rainbow-colored leaves of a Vermont fall, and old red brick buildings with white window trims. I have complained about the cold and yearned for humid, 80-degree days, but these images of New England will always make me smile.

Here are some from Port Elizabeth, Maine. Enjoy.


See and download the full gallery on posterous

creative quality vs. quantity

(April 13, 2009)

Here's an excerpt from the book, Art & Fear (by David Bayles and Ted Orland), from my friend, Cookie:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot—albeit a perfect one—to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work—and learning from their mistakes—the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay. I find the parable liberating: we are supposed to make lots of mistakes and produce a great deal of "experiments" on our way to learning our craft and creating something of beauty.

Hallelujah. I'm off to make mistakes!

Posted via email from sweet freedom


(April 9, 2009)

[First, click on the bottom right corner of the slide show to stop it. You may even need to go back a frame or two. You have a green field with a grey sky? Okay, great. Now, you can relax and read a few sentences before diving in.]

Morocco was intense, vast, beautiful, and not at all what I expected. To begin, it was incredibly lush. When our plane touched down in Casablanca, I was surprised to see so much green (the first photo of the slide show below, with a bit of runway on the bottom edge). On our train rides to Marrakech and Fes, the view out the window was of endless fields of green, rolling hills, herds of sheep-- and more green fields, occasionally filled with red poppies or yellow or orange or purple flowers. I had signed up for a camel trek through the world's largest desert and wondered if I'd landed in the right place.

As it turned out, Morocco had it all: the lush fields of wildflowers, but also rocky mountains, red mountains, green mountains, white snow-capped mountains and, of course, the Sahara Desert. And that doesn't even begin to describe the old medinas with their winding, narrow alleys, tiny stalls selling anything and everything, and examples of beautiful carvings and mosaic work around every corner. The attention to detail was astounding. But enough talk.

Here is a slide show of our trip. Enjoy!

Posted via email from sweet freedom


(April 1, 2009)
It feels like people focus on the pot and the red light district, but my partner and I thought Amsterdam was a gorgeous city with beautiful buildings. We loved the biking and walking culture, and the Vlaamse (Flemish) frites are delicious. Served with mayo and ketchup, if you'd like.

Here are some photos:

See and download the full gallery on posterous

a fresh start

(March 21, 2009)

So, I'm leaving blogger. Blogger and I have had a great relationship, but it has run its course. We will probably check in with one another from time to time and still be friendly, but it's time for me to move on.

So, here I am. (Looking around.) Pretty swanky, no? A perfect tabula rasa.

I think a positive beginning is important. My old blog was born from witnessing death. I felt like I had to fight death or preach life in every post. I avoided getting too personal and blogged daily and then every weekday (blah blah blah), sometimes even inserting random newsbits just to fill space (hanging head in shame).

It's time for a new beginning.

This new chapter will be born from rainbows and puppies. Except that I'm not a rainbows and puppies person. So, let's say instead that this blog open creative space will be the lovechild of creamy homemade French vanilla ice cream topped with fresh strawberries and backpacking around the world with my best friend.

In other words, sweet freedom.

I'll only post something when I actually have something interesting to share (there's a novel idea). Plus, I still want to celebrate life, and it's still me writing, so it's not that different. Like getting a drastic haircut, post-breakup, we're never quite as different as we expect to be. It's still me, but with short hair.

Now, just like the morning of one's birthday or of New Year's Day, even though the world hasn't really changed, life feels a twinkle different. Like we've been given a second chance to get things right. So, here goes.

Love affair with life, take 2.

P.S. I'll be in Morocco (and briefly in Amsterdam) until the end of the month, so I'll see you in April.

Posted via web from sweet freedom