be here now

Today my friend Josh (of Press Pause to Reflect) leaves for a graduate program in Israel. Another tally for the transitory nature of things, especially at this point in our lives for a lot of the people I know - all our friends are leaving, coming or going, and we just have to keep going.

I think when people find out that I identify as a Buddhist, many of them imagine that I've got it all figured out. It seems like a lot of folks assume that all Buddhists are already enlightened - but I am more Atlas than Buddha, to be honest. It's hard for me to let things go, especially the past. I carry this world of my history around, slowly spinning on my back, unable to just set it down most of the time.

One of my first introductions to Buddhism was Allen Ginsburg's Deliberate Prose, in an essay about either drugs or meditating - the piece of advice he received from his teacher was applicable to both. "If you find something awful," he said, "let it go. If you find something beautiful, let it go." But there was also Kerouac, and my 17-year-old self identified so strongly with this man who remembered too much and wrote it down. A friend once told me, you remember so much, and partially this is the disease of diary-writing - I have all these events floating around in my head, so I am constantly remembering where I have been, who I have been. It's hard to let go of that, to be here now, to remember that life is too frequently elsewhere but it shouldn't be.

Before yoga class begins, our teacher asks us to bring our hands together in front of our hearts and set an intention for that night's practice. Mine is always to focus on being in my body in that moment. I'm not sure it's something I'll achieve one hundred percent any time soon, but the only thing I can do is keep trying.


working with your hands

I flew across the Atlantic at age 19, eager and anxious to start my life in Italy. Everything seemed perfect - poetry, medieval history, set in a background of the Italian Alps - except one thing: workday. The students at Brunnenburg were required to put in one day of labor a week in the vineyards or elsewhere in the castle. I thought I would hate it. My experiences with working with my hands were few and far between, mostly consisting of pulling stinging nettles out of rose bush beds at our old house in Florida.

But Italy transformed me, helped me grow up - in many different ways and especially in this one, in taking joy working with my hands. It wasn't immediate: the first few workdays the girls were set to pruning pear trees - the fruit used for schnapps - while the boys did some heavy lifting. We bundled up against the Alpine winter, snug in my Carhartt overalls, waking up for a quick breakfast (usually bread smeared with Nutella and a glass of milk) before heading out to collect our assignments. After weeks of Nik (the youngest of the castle family, around our age) telling us to prune pear tree after pear tree, we were ready to throw him off the side of the mountain.

On workday, the family fed us all day: the aforementioned breakfast, a yogurt break on the mountainside, lunch, and dinner accompanied by a bottle per table of the wine made at the castle, a Vernatch. It's possible that this bribery helped me to like workday more and more, but it was also the feeling of exhausted satisfaction, the muscle-soreness, that comes with a day of doing physical labor. The feeling only increased once it began getting minutely warmer and we started working on the vineyards themselves. They wound up being my favorite place to work; we also wound up sweeping the entire castle, which also functions as an agricultural museum.

Three and a half years after that first transatlantic flight, working with my hands interests me more than ever. I never thought I would miss workday, but - like I said - Italy changed me. It was there that a tiny spark started - there that I
started cooking (albeit in minor ways), there that I, uh, learned to love cleaning. (Let me explain: some of our cohabitators did not exactly shine in the areas of doing their own dishes or properly sorting their trash, despite the signs clearly designating trash, recycling, compost, etc. So it fell to a few of us to make sure our kitchen remained liveable.) A large part of my problem with anxiety comes from overthinking things, but slowing down and doing something physical - making scones or cookies, cleaning my apartment - usually forces me to quit worrying, at least for a little bit.

(I also got a baby Holga over the weekend, for $5, and I am just thrilled. I can't wait to finish up my test roll and get them developed. Expect more on this!)



I'm not sure what to write about today. I've been especially anxious lately, which means being good to myself boils down to repeatedly reminding myself that I am not, in fact, a crazy person, no matter how much I feel that way. This happens every month and even knowing that, I still feel helpless to it. Though it's gotten better in recent years, remembering to breathe, it grabs me by the throat.

There is a lot I could write about this - anxiety (or more poetically madness, as I like to call it sometimes) tends to make me write, to try and get it out of me. But this blog isn't about that, it is about trying to live well.

This weekend, C.T. and I finally went to Teddy Roosevelt Island, something we had been planning for weeks but never managed to do. It's not quite an escape from the city - the noises of the highway are never quite out of earshot - though it's still nice to be surrounded by trees. At the center of the island stands a memorial to good ole Teddy, as well as some stone tablets inscribed with Inspirational Things about manhood and youth and the state. Map in pocket, we set off on what turned out to be the swamp trail, which was fairly empty. (I've got to admit, that does sound the least appealing of all the options: the woods and upland trails being the others.)

The emptiness turned out to be a boon - we saw dozens of salamanders skitter on and off the wooden walkway, two male deer crunching in the swamp grass, and even a heron, perched on a branch off in the distance. After so long in Florida, I am still finding ways to enjoy summer, mostly in the beauty of green leaves filtering the sunlight streaming through behind them.


independence day

I was alone for the long weekend, all my friends scattered on trips. I had mixed feelings about this - I like time by myself and there are things that I only do with no one around (going to the National Gallery, sitting in front of the Rothko color studies and writing), but I am something of an anxious creature and too much time by myself can lead me astray.

So I made plans to keep myself busy, mostly involving movies (I may have had a Harrison Ford movie mini-marathon) and food. The South Hall of
Eastern Market recently reopened, after a fire damaged the historic building. I had been there once before, on a citywide hide-and-seek, while all the merchants were outside, but I was determined to go back this weekend to see the renovated building. It's a little bit of a trek from where I live, but it was worth it. Not necessarily for the renovated building - it's certainly nice, but also mostly full of meat - but I love the farmer's line and the flea market.


When I was young, after we had moved to Florida, my grandmother would always include baked goods in her packages filled with mostly-practical gifts. I have vague memories of baking with her and my mother when we still lived in New York, in the kitchen of the house that will always be my grandparents', in my mind. The top-secret baking project I mentioned in my last post was at least partially inspired by these memories. Since the project is complete and on its way down to Florida, and by the time my mother reads this (hi, mom!), she will have received it already, I'm writing this all down as another part of her too-early birthday present.

I made these
flourless peanut butter cookies Saturday night, in between sneaking over to my window to watch the fireworks in downtown DC. It was the first time I had ever made cookies completely from scratch, which is silly, considering how utterly, fantastically easy it is. It was so easy (and so delicious) that the next night, after another success that I will detail below, I attempted to make a variation. As it turns out, Nutella does not easily substitute in that recipe. The cookies turned out way too hard and also tasted fairly awful. C'est la vie, as they say. Not all cookies can come out perfectly, and so these were destined for the trash.

My pièce de résistance, however, was straight out of my childhood memories: lemon poppyseed pound cake. The only reason it was possible was because I was catsitting and thus had access to a mixer (thanks, Jo!). As soon as I started the mixer up, the scent of lemon zest and poppy seeds and flour hit me and took me immediately back to my grandmother. Of all the breads she sent, the lemon poppyseed was always my favorite. I'm pretty certain my grandmother used a mix to make her bread (pound cake? I'm not sure at this point), but that did not diminish the smell or the memory. It was the same instant nostalgia I get whenever I smell cigar smoke, a flood of memories of that house on the lake. It seems impossible that my grandparents no longer live there. Luckily there's always pound cake.

Lemon Poppyseed Pound Cake
Adapted from The Cake Bible

Baking connects you to the past in an immediate way, through smell and through muscle memory. This isn't the recipe that my grandmother uses, but baking it still reminds me of her, which is what really counts, at least for me. That, and the joy at seeing the cake successfully rise. And the smell of it baking. Okay, so maybe there are a lot of things I like about baking.

3 tbsp milk
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (minus 1 1/2 tbsp)
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp grated lemon zest
3 tbsp poppy seeds
13 tbsp unsalted butter, softened

2 1/4 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup squeezed lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine milk & eggs in a bowl. Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl (I used the bowl for the mixer) and mix on low speed for 30 seconds. Then add the butter (it really does need to be soft, trust me) and half of the milk/egg mixture. Mix on low until all the ingredients start to come together, then turn up to medium for a minute. Add half of the remaining milk/egg mixture, mix for 20 seconds, then add the rest and mix for another 20 seconds.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan - or whatever pan you've decided to use! Bake for about 55 minutes; after 30, cover with buttered foil. A few minutes before the cake's done, start making the syrup: mix the lemon juice & sugar in a pan - I did it on low heat, but the original recommends medium - until the sugar has dissolved. Use half the syrup for the top of the loaf, and the other half for the sides and bottom. The original recipe recommends waiting 24 hours before eating to let the syrup distribute.