Sunday Detox: Alone in the Woods

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As I’ve thought about the subject of detoxing and unplugging from daily life, I’ve started asking friends about their favorite method of recharging.  A lot of times I hear “Being alone in a cabin in the woods” as an ideal way to get away from it all.  It always sounded vaguely appealing to me, but when would you really ever find yourself alone in the woods on purpose?  Well, this weekend, I got my shot at it.  

After a week working in Boston, I made my way up north to Killington, Vermont to spend a weekend skiing with friends.  On the way, somehow, I managed to sprain my hand rendering it useless.  Skiing was completely out of the question.  

I quickly realized that the cozy cabin we had rented — complete with cocoa and fireplaces — was about to be my stage for this “alone in the woods” fantasy so many had touted.  I wasn’t super excited about the change in plans.  I’m not a big fan of alone time in general and even when I’m reading, writing or doing other solitary activities I like to have people around me.  Being alone is the opposite of relaxing to me.  Still, I figured that I should make the most of the opportunity and see if some solitary time by the fire could be a new way to detox.    

I woke up on Saturday morning to the sound of everyone clamoring out the door to head to the slopes early.  It was 15 degrees out, I was carless and in the middle of nowhere, so I knew that I was cabin bound. Here we go.  

Hour 1:  I turned the fire all the way up and started to reading our latest Prose and Hos(e) book, Jonathan Tropper’s This is Where I Leave You. It’s a good, easy read, but slightly depressing and it wasn’t helping my current mood of being stranded in Vermont.  I needed something a little more active.

Hour 2:  I wrote an article that I needed to get finished before the end of the weekend, hoping that it would consume the rest of the day.  But without distraction, I was done in 45 minutes.  Success?  Not in this case.    

Hour 3:  I read the NYTimes and started talking to myself in reaction to some of the articles on Trump and Rubio.  Are they seriously talking about sweat and comb overs?  

Hour 4:  I found the game cabinet chock full of games from the 1970’s.  I played Scrabble with myself, and won.  It turned out to be good practice for that evening when I finally managed to beat Ben in Scrabble (by a hair and with an assist, but still).

Hour 5:  I was having an ongoing verbal dialogue with myself at this point, and needed something much more active.  I started debating with myself (yes, out loud) whether I should attempt to do forearm-based yoga with a sprained hand.  Ultimately, I decided the mental impact of sitting in one place was probably worse than the physical impact of potentially hurting my hand again.

Hour 6:  Did 90 seconds of yoga and realized that I was wrong.  Re-wrapped my poor sprained hand and realized that my inability to effectively be alone had reached new levels.

Hour 7:  They returned!  When I heard the car door slam outside I ran to the window like a lonely puppy dog.  As they piled in the house, I slowly realized that they were all exhausted and were making a bee line for the showers.  No one was up for chatting.  But somehow, it didn’t matter.  There were other people present and I was suddenly satiated.  

I went back to reading my book and the Times by the fire and it felt different and more peaceful than when I was in the house by my lonesome.  I was finally recharging.  

My husband, Ben, later turned to me and said he was envious of all the time I spent alone. A true introvert, he had a fun but entirely exhausting day full of people and wanted nothing more to have us all get out of the house and leave him to read by himself.  

So we did.  And everyone got their version of detox.  

&d

Sunday Detox: Recommitting

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As you’ve probably noticed, I’m a big fan of making commitments at the beginning of the year.  I build an aggressive reading list and bucket list to chart out what I want to accomplish in the year to come.  I have a lot of friends who are staunchly opposed to making resolutions because they find it artificial, arbitrary, or too focused on negative qualities.  I get that.

But, for me, the tiny life pause that comes at the end of the year is a perfect time to focus on – and sometimes even more importantly organize – the personal goals I have for myself.  They’re usually not focused on changing things that I don’t like or think I should do less of (eat healthier, lose weight, stop killing your plants, etc.) but more on the positive things that I want to introduce to my routine.

Fast forward to the end of February and life has started to get in the way.  The life pause feels further away.  My intentions for the year are in the back of my mind, but the detail is foggy.  So, I’m using this Sunday to recommit, to take a look at those goals, to see how they might have changed for me over the past few months, and to see how I’ve done so far.

Let’s take a look at my reading list first.  So far, so good, thanks to the ladies from Prose and Hos(e).  I’m trying to read 40 books this year, and I’m on my 4th.  I have a little bit of catching up to do, but The Luminaries was a BEAST of a book, so I’m thinking I can pick up the pace.

  1. Me Before You by JoJo Moyes  (An easy, poignant read – check out Taryn’s review)
  2. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (An 800+ page tome.  Slowed down my progress but it was worth it.  Catton is a masterful storyteller, but you need to be ready to commit.  An openness to the supernatural helps.)
  3. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg (I fell in love with Aziz on Parks & Rec and loved the mixed style of vingette and social science, but this book could have been half its length and just as effective. Most interesting, I bet, for folks who are navigating the world of online dating.)
  4. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper (in progress!)
  5. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  6. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
  7. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  8. Empire Falls by Richard Russo
  9. Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett
  10. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
  11. All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  12. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  13. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
  14. The Power Broker by Robert Caro
  15. On Looking: 11 Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz
  16. Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter
  17. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
  18. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks
  19. The Power of Unreasonable Peoplby John Elkington, Pamela Hartigan
  20. Susan Sontag The Complete Rolling Stone Interview by Jonathan Cot

On to my 2016 bucket list.  I’ve been a little bit of a homebody, concentrating my success on the reading and writing items on my list.  I am excited by the fact that I’ve made regular writing a habit for work and play, writing about 4 short form pieces a week for various forums.  That was a longtime goal of mine, and it’s now a regular practice that I love for all the reasons I thought it would.

Big accomplishment, for sure.  But, most of the items on this list have gone untouched.  Most of my time out and about in the city has been consumed by the standard drinks, dinner, coffee with friends and family.  Time to shake it up if I’m hoping to accomplish the rest of this list.  Excuses about the NYC winter be damned.

  1. MOMA PS1
  2. US Open
  3. Met Opera
  4. 9/11 Memorial
  5. Momufuku
  6. Mission Chinese
  7. Rockclimbing
  8. Bike all five boroughs
  9. Walk across the Manhattan bridge (with earplugs)
  10. Take a Soulcycle class (What IS all the hype about?!)
  11. Run a 10K
  12. Stay in crow pose for more than 2 seconds
  13. Take an Indian cooking class
  14. Read 24 fiction books (on my way with 4 down)
  15. Write twice a week
  16. Make homemade Gnocci
  17. Make Tamales
  18. Make Tagine
  19. Make Beignets
  20. Build a Gingerbread house (Kind of – do gingerbread men count?) 
  21. Grow tomatoes (take that Brooklyn!)
  22. Learn to sew (don’t judge me for not knowing…)
  23. Learn to crochet
  24. Buy a lifetime supply of cloth napkins and ban paper towels

Well, that felt useful for me.  Not sure how useful it was for you, dear reader.  But I’m feeling one part proud of what I’ve accomplished, one part recommitted to what I haven’t, and one part super hungry for tamales at 8am on a Sunday.

&d

P.S.  Who here wants to teach me how to sew?

Sunday Detox: Single Tasking

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Our culture – particularly work culture – tends to fetishize multitasking.  In this always ON world, I hear a lot of people proudly tout their ability to multitask and name it as one of the reasons for their professional success or a reason they’d hire one person over another.

But, as most of us know, it’s actually physically impossible to do more than one activity at once.  There’s a ton of research on this, but if you want a quick snapshot check out this quick video.  Your brain and body are just shifting their focus from one task to the next more frequently – from email, to messaging, to reading an article, or whatever set of activities you fill your day with.  And we end up paying less attention to each task, make more mistakes, and come out of the whole situation less accomplished and fulfilled.

Sounds dumb.

But it’s hard to avoid the onslaught of demands for your time, at the same time – the pings, email notifications, phone calls, chores and obligations.  And over time, it starts to erode our ability to actually deeply focus on any one thing because we become so programmed to shifting in between different activities so quickly.  I’ve definitely felt myself in these places, where I am impatient and furiously swiping on my phone in search of…nothing.  Not good.

I try to build practices into the weekdays that help me fight the tidal wave, to varied success.  One thing that I’ve found helpful is to train, or re-train, my mind to stay in one place, on one activity, during the weekend – where my time is much more my own.

  • Half-techie shut down:  Sometimes I need to completely unplug and just shut down all technology (see Taryn’s Screenless Saturday for the benefits of that approach).  But, more often, I just need to shut down all the crap that comes my way without me asking for it – particularly email and social media.  I still want to be able to look up who Aziz Ansari’s girlfriend is after reading all about her in Modern Romance.  I still want to use Google Maps to help me find my friend’s place in Jersey.  I still want to be able to take an instantenous picture of my husband’s sudden urge to wear a bandana and run around the house screaming “I am a ninja!” But I don’t want to be hit with all the things I wasn’t planning on seeing.  So, shutting down inbound technology for a day has been my go-to reset on Sundays.
  • Marathon reading:  Sitting down with a book and reading for 2-3 straight hours is the ultimate indulgence and is a great re-training in focus.  No picking up your phone to quickly check in with your “phone world” between chapters.  No turning on the TV to see if there’s anything interesting on instead.  Just plowing through chapters of a good read.  This is a tougher one for me, so I’ve set an ambitious reading goal for the year to keep me honest.
  • Cooking cooking cooking!  If I’m feeling up for something a little more active, cooking achieves the same benefits for me.  I’ve often used Sunday as a day to cook a few good meals for the week.  The attention, coordination and creativity that it takes to make multiple meals at once is a challenge – aside from the actual space challenge presented by a small Brooklyn kitchen.  Last week it was a vat of red lentils and freekeh + granola + chocolate chip cookies.  The week before cranberry muffins + fish tacos + turkey chili.  Random combinations, but that’s where the beauty and the focus comes in.

This is definitely the winter version of this list.  Or maybe that’s the newly minted homebody in me feeling some queasiness.  Regardless, when it’s a little warmer or you have little ones running around, I’m sure there’s a different set of possibilities to help folks focus.  But for now, I’m digging these.

&d

 

2016 Reading List

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Each year, I set a goal for the number of books I’d like to read.  This year I’m targeting 40 books, which – at a little less than 1 per week –  is enough to keep me on my toes, but allow for the inevitable distractions of work and life to creep in.

The secret to success with this for me is having a go-to reading list so that as soon as I drop one book, I know which one I’m picking up next.  I’ve also started reading two books at a time.  One novel (usually compliments of the Brooklyn Public Library) for when I’m home and have time to sit down with a book for an hour or so and one nonfiction or short story book on Kindle app on my iPhone for when I’m dangling from a handle bar on the crowded F train and only have ten free minutes and one free hand.  I thought it’d be tough bouncing from story to story, but I’ve actually found that it engages me more in each book since I never get that “I’m just trying to get through this book to get to the next” feeling.  It also limits the time I spend mindlessly scrolling through social media apps  or re-reading emails to kill time on my commute.

So, here we go.  I sat down today and started my list.  It’s a combination of a wishlist that has accumulated over the course of 2015, a few recommendations from friends over the holidays, and from a quick scan of the Man Booker Prize lists frm the past few years.

I’m starting with 20, knowing that Prose and Hos(e) (our fabulous book society)  and new releasese and recommendations will fill this out along the way.

  1. Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
  2. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
  3. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  4. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
  5. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  6. Empire Falls by Richard Russo
  7. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
  8. Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett
  9. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
  10. All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  11. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  12. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
  13. The Power Broker by Robert Caro
  14. On Looking: 11 Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz
  15. Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter
  16. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg
  17. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
  18. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks
  19. The Power of Unreasonable Peoplby John Elkington, Pamela Hartigan
  20. Susan Sontag The Complete Rolling Stone Interview by Jonathan Cot

What’s on your reading list this year?  Any recommendations for me?

&d