travel sins

I came across this article in my morning reading about dining in American chains while abroad. It's something I definitely try not to do at home and avoid completely when I'm away, lest some observant foreigner would conclude, "See, all Americans do subsist on fast-food."

Many, many years ago, my cousin was visiting me when I was studying in London, and after a few pub-ciders, an English gentleman we were chatting to made one such claim. Immediately my cousin protested, "I've never even been inside a McDonalds." I'm pretty sure I followed up with, "She hasn't. Plenty of Americans don't eat fast food...and we hate the stuff."

I've heard such tropes as, "All Americans are stupid" and "All Americans eat crap" more times than I can remember while traveling and living abroad. To me? What's really stupid and crappy is making sweeping generalizations about any peoples—but that's another post.

I think the author of the article makes a really good point about eating fast-food in other countries to see what's different—as a cultural exploration. My sister visits Japan for work most Decembers and has told me they do indeed eat KFC on Christmas. You can get a beer with your Big Mac in McDonald's in Germany, and my cousin and I were saddened later that evening when we discovered that KFC in England served chips instead of mashed potatoes.

I'll probably be writing later at my local Starbucks; please say, "hi" if you see me.

crazy lonely

This post wandered through one of my feeds yesterday—the words, "Portland" and "loneliness" catching my eyes. After about two-and-a-half years, as wonderful and friendly as Portland is, I've also felt astonishingly lonely. Friends of mine who've passed through here for a couple of years say the same. I've lived in a lot of cities, (including the author's Brooklyn) and several countries and don't think I've ever felt so isolated on a day-to-day basis.

It's interesting to me how this feeling over time, does indeed lead one into the depths of insanity. I think this is most exemplified by my slight obsession with a fitbit last winter. Abandoning my vow to never be one of those "tools" who openly display some level of obsession with health, I bought one, (I told myself,) in order to track and therefore (somehow) help manage my sleep.

After several weeks, I began to enjoy the thing. It gave me something to interact with on a daily basis—upon waking I'd check in on another night of erratic sleep (I still don't know how I thought this data was going to help me fix it,) those four days I tracked my water intake, and every afternoon my bracelet would buzz and flash in celebration when I'd stepped enough. It was more positive affirmation than I'd had in some time.

In December, we went back to Michigan to visit family. On Christmas Eve, I looked down at my wrist...and noticed that it was gone. I panicked. Retracing every step that day, I drove back to the grocery store, combed the house with my computer and toggle on scan, and set the entire family on an All Points Bulletin. Most embarrassingly of all, (as if there is a most here) I put up a Craigslist post for the parking lot of the stores I'd visited earlier. I'm pretty sure I cried.

At some point it hit me and I said to my mom, "I think the real reason I'm so upset about this stupid thing, is that I'm just so desperately lonely."

I think it's true that social isolation, (even more than being a fitbit user,) is horribly stigmatized. And the more we don't talk about the shame around it, the more isolated we become—bashing us deeper into the void of loneliness. A positive feedback loop from hell.

I did end up finding my fitbit—in an ironic twist, it had fallen into the meat-drawer in the fridge. I haven't been interested in putting it back on, however. Something about the previous realization was enough to put me off of it, and was, truly, far more valuable data than the ones it was intended to be tracking.

Who Am I?

I started Seth Godin's course for freelancers who want to move up yesterday and I'm unbelievably inspired by his work. Here's the first exercise that he suggests we do online, *gulp* in public.

What do you want to do?

I want to write. I want to write essays and books of essays about my experiences through travel and culture and learning about people and living and loving and growing and finding my voice. I want to write more screenplays for women—about people showing up and learning how to do the hard stuff. I want to write things that matter, that make a difference, and do more than just entertain and keep people asleep.

Who do you want to change, and how do you want to change them?

Anyone that finds my work. Especially those people who struggle to know their own value and put up with too much shit. I hope to change them through sharing my own experiences, through humor, honesty, and hopefully some words strung together in a nice order.

How much risk? (from 1 [a little] to 10 [bet everything]), how much are you willing to put at stake to make the change you seek?

I guess I'd say I'm putting it all on black, here. I keep thinking about how I'm going to be dead someday and the worst thing would be to not have really lived.

How much work are you willing to do to get there? Be specific about the tradeoffs.

I'm willing to do whatever I need to. The hardest thing for me is seeing what that is, sometimes, and trusting myself that I know. And that my work matters. I'm willing to see that most of what I've been thinking has probably been wrong. I don't see any tradeoffs for living an authentic life, I guess.

Does this project matter enough for the risk and the effort you’re putting into it?

Absolutely. It's all I've got, at this point.

Is it possible — has anyone with your resources ever pulled off anything like this?

Yes. Tons of people, actually. Elizabeth Gilbert. Anthony Bourdain. Bill Bryson. Cheryl Strayed... to name a few. For film? I'm really inspired by Lake Bell's In A World and Gillian Robespierre's Obvious Child.

The little things, are the big things

Sometimes when things seem to be really sucking, you know, that day when a slight depression snowballs into, "My hair looks like shit... my career looks shittier... and I'm probably going to die alone", I'm really grateful to come across a funny video, an inspiring quote, or kind words from friends. Even in the darkest moments, these seemingly teeny, tiny things have kept me going. I remembered some such inspiring words yesterday, sent a few years ago from my friend, Ivan, who lives in Paris. They make more sense to me now, years later—I suspect this will only increase with more time.

Alexandra,

What you really want, you'll get.
Or I should say: what you really need, you'll get.
Sometimes, we want the wrong things.
Or sometimes we don't really know what we really want.
Or sometimes, we want it too much!
But it takes time to find oneself. It's deep inside.
And you need silence to find it. And patience :-)
But if you are here and now, good things always happen
in the present moment :-)

Forever Friends

IMG_1483I returned, last night, from San Jose del Cabo. It was the second year I traveled to Mexico solo, and like last time I was totally prepared to spend a silent week swimming and walking the beach. Having trashed my poor feet-bottoms on hours of rough-sand walking the first day, well, the swim-up bar became rather inviting. And so, up I swam. I think a lot about the people that we come across in our lives and as we travel. I think about all the times I've needed a warm meal, bed, or smile and probably didn't even realize at the time how desperately. I think how, in these moments, people are like angels that become instant friends. These experiences bore holes straight into my (otherwise guarded) heart.

Thank you, Brian, Emilee, Tina, Danny, and Brad—my forever friends.

Match.con

So, I've recently re-entered the lair/playground/shit-show of dating. In my mid 30's. I've been on so many goddamn dates now, I can't keep them all straight. I recently sent a Peruvian vacation Groupon to one dude referencing a conversation I had with someone else weeks earlier; the guy who texted me, "You're hot on tv!" after watching my web-series, and then never wrote again. Next there was the man who called/texted/wrote me several times every day with lovely intros such as "Hey hot stuff" or, "What's happening beautiful?" Almost tricked me into thinking this was normal after meeting someone twice. It wasn't until he questioned me via text message if I was only dating to, "Get over a bad relationship" that I woke up to our incompatibility.

I had a bartender pick me up while one of my dates was in the bathroom. Went out with said bartender a few weeks later, and it turns out he's twentyfuckingfour. A few fun cocktailed-hours spent telling me how he liked older women, left me thinking, "This might be an interesting summer, Mrs. Robinson." Needless to say, that text he promised to send? Never came.

Dated one guy for about a month until I uncovered a lie he told me to my face on his facebook page. I don't know if it bothered me more that he lied, or that he was dumb enough to leave it on facebook.

I've been on 3 different dating sites. I'm so beyond mortified about this that I don't even mind anymore. I imagine it's like when a woman is giving birth; you know the point she's so far beyond caring that everyone in the room has seen her fucking vagina and is aware that she just shit the table.

The problem is, I've started to ask myself, "What's wrong with me?"

I'm not the hottest little catch by any means, but I don't think I'm scary enough to warrant the deficit of kind, stable, single men that I'm currently experiencing. Maybe I'm hanging out in the wrong places. Maybe I should find a job where I have even mild exposure to straight men. Maybe the all-female choir wasn't the best choice. Maybe West-coasters, like Bassett Hounds, are just too chill to make a move. Perhaps Portland really is short on men that own more than one set of sheets. Or, is it my profile? I've become brazen enough to send "winks" and messages with wild abandon. Each one in vain.

Truth is, I've spent way too long trying to morph myself into someone I wasn't so other people would like me. Litany of passive-aggressive disasters behind me, I've vowed to do the only think I can do and ever truly do well; be myself.

But as it turns out, a lot of people, most in fact, don't resonate with that. I suppose I should look at this with a positive attitude; it does indeed save me a lot of time going out with dudes with whom it would never work anyway. But I've discovered, it's a lot more painful being rejected without the protective artifice of my co-dependent candy-shell.

Last weekend I went on a date I thought was finally really promising. He was covered in tattoos and had a purple hair. I decided I didn't care that he couldn't spell; in fact, he probably did it on purpose. We had a nice conversation and he was very open and kind. I convinced myself that his alternative approach to life meant that surely he would accept me and be open to whatever it must be that the rest of the dating community can't get into. I don't own even the tiniest tattoo, but I aspire to be an open-minded and loving person; willing to see where a relationship with someone my parents would consider a carnie, would go.

I took a long walk before our second date and thought about how my Portland integration would finally be complete. Aqua vintage Craigslist bike for commuting: check. Funky hipster frames picked out by awesome gay dude at locally owned eye-glass store: check. Sweet, subversive, counter-culture boyfriend with mohawk and tattoo sleeves: awesome.

I thought about how cool it would be to date someone really different; how people at the farmers markets would admire that two people so opposite on the outside could fall in love. How he would teach me how to fix my bicycle and I would introduce him to fancy cheese. How we'd decide never to marry because we were way too progressive for that mainstream bullshit. He would be happy to stay home with the kids, and I would go to work.

But, just like the guy who never wrote again after watching my show or the baby-bartender, or the half-dozen other guys who asked me out and then just disappeared; the texts after our second date - vanished.

So, disappointed and crushed once again, this pariah, had to backthefuckup and ask herself, "What's The Deal?"

And I now see two things: 1. That my old habit of changing what I'm attracted to just to be with someone had once again snuck in, and 2. I had to face the fact that this keeps happening because my core belief is that it's never going to happen for me; that there just isn't a dude on this planet, let alone Portland, Oregon, that will adore me, As Is, that I will be mutually crazy about. And until I dig out the roots of this belief, I'm continually going to desire to bestow my love of cheese on any guy who seems an almost-but-not-quite match.

I wish I had some awesome conclusion here, but I don't yet. That's the catch about faith and trust - you just gotta keep moving forward. And know that the all these sad and hilarious encounters aside, the only real tragedy would be to never realize that the only one holding me back, is me. The biggest con here, is the one I've been telling myself.

scoby seduction

Want shiny thick hair? Weight Loss? To relieve joint pain? How about increased metabolism? Aid your digestion? Blood alkalization? Relieve congestion AND find a new boyfriend?  Then I have one work for you my friend: Kombucha.

Yes this purported “elixir of life” has claimed to do all of this and more.  Kombucha is a fermented tea that has gained a huge following in the past several years.  Companies like G.T. Daves, Carpe Diem, and Kombucha Wonder Drink are lining the shelves of your local grocery stores and every other bodega in New York.  Yet this relatively new craze has an ancient past.   It is said that Kombucha tea was created sometime around 212 B.C. During the Tsin dynasty in China and through trade routes was brought to India, Russia, and Japan (possibly by a Korean Dr. named Kombu in 415 A.D).  Kombucha found its way to Germany from Russia at the turn of the last century and was popular throughout Europe until the Second World War when both tea and sugar (the main ingredients of the tea other than the “mushroom”) were scarce due to rationing.  Of course, other sources say that this is all completely false – so the history of this little tea seems to be as elusive as the health claims (and home brewing instructions) themselves.  I feel that it just makes one’s own experience of kombucha more personal.

I started drinking Kombucha about 3 years ago when my mother introduced me to a nice sparkling cold bottle of G.T. Dave’s Gingerberry, and she might as well have handed me a crack pipe.  At first sip I found it disgustingly vinegary and was a bit put off from the floating slimy chunks – but I couldn’t get enough of it.  My body craved it.  At my height of Kombucha drinking I was downing up to 3 bottles a day – yes – one could say I had become a Kombucha addict.  I felt more energy, it calmed my stomach, and I thought it was better for me that other drinks of choice - namely coffee and beer.

Fairly confident that I had put at least G.T.’s first born through their freshman year of college (the stuff isn’t cheap! $3.39 per bottle at Whole Foods and Fairway and over $5.50 at some Bodegas) I was - needles to say - eager to find out more about home brewing for pennies! As fate would have it I attended a yoga class one evening at my gym and the few people there were talking, which was unusual, and actually irritating, as I prefer a quiet and anonymous start to class.  But as I began to settle and pay attention I realized that they were talking about brewing kombucha!  I excitedly smashed my way into the conversation and almost begged the kind man with the brewing experience to teach me and give me his next baby. Of the mushroom persuasion.

A kombucha mushroom or scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) creates a new daughter mushroom, or baby, with each brewing cycle to protect itself from any harmful pathogen that might also enjoy sharing its home. There are many many different recipes for kombucha making and almost each website seems to say “you must do this” or “don’t ever do that” but the basic instructions are adding about one cup of organic sugar (more or less depending on taste) to one gallon of distilled boiling water, and steeping about 5 green and/or black organic tea bags in it (time again varies depending on who you ask).  Pour this mixture into a sterile (the most important thing throughout this whole process is keeping everything extremely clean) one gallon glass jar (I found one at the Container Store for about $10) add your precious kombucha baby when the liquid has cooled, and finally cover it with a napkin and rubber band to keep out fruit files and mold and such.

The fun part about making Kombucha is the communal aspect of it, getting a baby from a friend, or a strange man in yoga class, and then getting another one when you realize the one he gave you also came with some fruit fly larvae.  I ended up ordering another one online from Travers City, MI as was very happy until I killed her on a road trip… but that is a story for another day.

Somehow in spite of the sick baby I ended up going out to coffee with the kind kombucha yoga man… and then dinner… and then another fancier dinner followed by ferry ride… and now we make kombucha together on Tuesdays in our apartment.  He carries home two gallons of water and we look at each other sideways and make comments about how the other one brews.  Some weeks the babies that come are happy and strong, and others paper-thin.  I think it takes time and a lot of trial and error to get into your own personal kombucha groove, and I don’t think I’ve hit it yet.  I still grab the occasional G.T.’s and I don’t know if I am really any healthier or shinier from all the tea, but it does seem to help settle my often cranky and anxiety ridden intestines.  For that I love it and always will.

a sandwich by any other name

It’s a dark and chilly August winter night in Montevideo. We’ve just put our bags down in an odd, skinny little hotel after a long bus ride; it’s late and we’re hungry. Uruguay was never, not in my wildest dreams, a place I thought I’d visit. To be honest, it was a country to which I never really gave much thought. If I had, I’d probably imagine it to be some sort of wild, unsophisticated, poverty-stricken land. Alas, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Montevideo is a strange place; it feels grey and veiled, like a city from the past or in a black and white film. There’s a sense that behind this smoky layer lives a city which has discovered something great about things we’ve long since tossed, and finds meaning in things that we’ve overlooked. It feels anything but unsophisticated. I’m almost certain I should have packed a trench coat and cigarette holder.

There’s no question tonight about where we’re going and what we’re eating. We’ve come especially to Montevideo for this: La Pasiva and their chivito.

I’ve absolutely no idea what I’m in for, but Martin promises me I want one. He orders the regular steak chivitio, and I order chicken thinking it will be healthier. When our chivitos arrive I recognize immediately that I’ve made a mistake. Not because mine is or isn’t of superior nutritional value, but because chivitio is chivito for a reason, and it simply shouldn’t be messed with.

All that needs be said is that the chivito is the sandwich to end all sandwiches. From this point on, either chivitios should belong to a different category, or sandwiches need not be calling themselves sandwiches.

The chivito starts with a white roll, soft and not too thick with the perfect amount of chewy/crunchy crust. The roll can best be described as handles desperately attempting, yet faultlessly incapable of containing the insides. Housed between breaded ceiling and floor is lettuce, tomato, hard boiled egg, peppers, some melted cheese, a layer of ham, another of bacon, possibly some more cheese, could be more tomato, a whole lot of creamy mayo, green olives, and I think I might have missed the hearts of palm. At the nucleus of what to most of us would appear an already sufficient meal rests a beautiful, thin filet mignon. Our chivitos are served with fries and a generous side of napkins. You would be crazy not to wash it down with beer.

As you can see, my chicken vs. filet blunder makes virtually no caloric difference.

The chivito, not unlike this unpretentious, mysterious city, is something to experience. I wonder how it’s possible to have so much in one dish and still taste them all. Each bite is a surprise as a different combination gathers; it’s clear the chivito is the one leading this ride.

The people here are kind, and more than happy to share their national dish.  It’s okay with them if I want to go on not thinking about Uruguay, but the truth is I can’t stop wondering about this place, these people and this “sandwich”. Content, we step outside into the black and white night, and stroll across the damp lamp-lit streets.

Trench coat wanting nonetheless, the next mystery on my mind, is dessert.

a case for southern american friends

I've a new addiction. Oddly enough, I was supposed to write an article for YogaCityNYC last year on this very subject, but the tea shops never wrote me back, so we dropped the story. Thankfully fate has intervened. Mate (as in mahtay - not your Australian friend) is a bitter green herb native to South America, which is made into a tea. Originally consumed by the indigenous people for medicinal purposes, mate became extremely popular in Paraguay in the 1500's as it was discovered by Spanish settlers. Throughout the 17th century it spread throughout the continent; the plant was domesticated, plantations were created and the process became industrialized in the 1900's. Today it is still beloved throughout South America, and is the national drink of Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay.

Yerba mate, as the plant is called or yerba for short, is dried, chopped up and then placed into a hollowed out receptacle made from just about anything; gourd being the most traditional, wood or tin cheap and easily available and any ol' orange or grapefruit doing in a pinch. This "cup" is called a mate too, which can be confusing to any novice. Then there's the bombilla, or mate straw, which is placed inside to filter out the leaves from the water. To make mate, hot (90 degrees being the optimum) water is poured over the yerba, into a mate, from a thermos or kettle. The water is infused with the herb's signature bitter taste, and is sipped out of the bombilla. Water is poured in round after round until the mate is considered flavorless, or "washed". It can also be sweetened with honey or sugar by adding the desired amount to the dry yerba.

Typically mate is enjoyed in a communal setting, each person drinking one whole pour and passing it in a circle. And it's everywhere! People drink mate in public parks, on benches, at work, at home, for birthdays, holidays, Sunday bbqs and even on the road! In every gas station across Argentina you can find traveling pre-filled mates, thermoses and instant hot water dispensers. Vendors also sell fresh pastries all over Buenos Aires specifically to be eaten with mate.

There are a whole bunch of rules that one should follow in this ritual and breaking the etiquette is actually considered rude. I read up before partaking in a mate-fest, resulting in me being completely high strung and not really enjoying neither it's purported relaxing and meditative effects, nor it's group bonding. It seemed I was the only one hell bent on following any sort of rules or order and I was a teensy bit irritated when my boyfriend kept absent-mindedly skipping me. It is my opinion that mate is better consumed alone by Northern Americans who might have a proclivity towards OCD.

So I do. I'm sitting here with my little wooden mate as I write. Mate does seem to perk me up a bit and provides me with a lovely morning ritual without the jolt of coffee. There are several (debated) health benefits such as it's high antioxidant/mineral/cancer fighting/immune boosting/anti-inflammatory abilities which I believe aren't as high in the overpriced, Americanized, fancy health store, single-serving tea bag version. My entire kit and caboodle was purchased for about $10 US in an Argentine grocery store. I've seen bags of mate at some fancy US stores, and the prices are outrageous at about $9 for a tiny bag. My 500g bag of fancy yerba mate set me back about $1.75.

So, the moral of the story is that we all need more Latin American friends. If you're laid back - to enjoy the lovely communal ritual of mate drinking with, and if your not - to bring you some back.

i stole this

"I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not. They are strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage. They may spend their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known. Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves. Perhaps some deep-rooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which his ancestors left in the dim beginnings of history. Sometimes a man hits upon a place to wchich he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest."

W. Somerset Maugham

passionately seeking balance, joy and pizza

The following is a little piece I wrote many months ago for a website called Yogamint. They asked me for a few words about myself with the submission. I wrote: "passionately seeking balance, joy and pizza." Which I quite like. It still works. "Sometimes the most difficult thing is to begin. I've procrastinated writing assignments for weeks, months even, before sitting down to the keyboard. usually after all that agony, I find it takes hardly any time at all; and I wonder if part of my idea of the creative process includes come self-torture.
Several weeks ago, I replied to Yogamint's call to writers for submissions. They gratefully replied that they'd love to publish my work, and to please send some on. I read some of the samples, decided they were way out of my league/writing style and with a heavy heart left the email to become lost in my inbox.

Sometimes however, the universe provides us with a little nudge. An act of grace that gives us another chance to, as Thoreau says, "dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows". The important part is that we pay attention.

I received another email from Yogamint today, saying that they would love to have an article from me soon. So, I sat and the keyboard. And started to type."

The interesting part about all of this is that they didn't think it was long enough (even though it was within their requested range). I was really excited about it, I liked that it was short. Yogamint asked me to change it and write more... I didn't really feel like it I guess.

I suppose the moral of the story is that follow through is a hell of a lot more important than "nudges" and inspiration. This is also true for pizza quests.

*sigh*

ghosts of christmas past

Yikes... it's really been awhile. If there is still anyone out there... Happy Holidays!

I've been busy since posting last September; traveling all over the state of Michigan, filming 3 more episodes of Pioneer One, selling all my things, packing the rest & getting the hell out of NYC. I started a new site with my partner in all things, Martin, The Wanderspoon, where we travel around and write about food and culture and things. We're currently in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

We came at the end of November. It seemed like a great idea as I'm resilient and super independent and I'd just seen all of my family on my Midwest tour. It seemed like a good idea until I was crying like a baby whining about candy canes and piles of snow and the old holiday cartoons.

You see it's a lot different here. And I don't only mean the fact that it's the southern hemisphere and the seasons are opposite and I'm sweating in this snowless, winter scarf-less, pine tree-less 95 plus degree heat. I'm admittedly one of the first people to complain about how out of hand the holiday consumerism has become in the States. I hate it. You've barely pulled off your witch costume before the ornaments and stockings are hitting the shelves. But there isn't really any here. At all. You can walk down a busy Buenos Aires street and hardly see any evidence of holiday cheer. There aren't big lots of fir trees, tiny lights don't hang from the street lamps, no one's wearing Santa and snowman sweaters (maybe a blessing), and wrapping paper is literally nowhere to be found.

I became so nostalgic this year it almost made me crazy. Missing my dad's rendition of Frank Sinatra's Jingle Bells with his reindeer oven mitts, the tiny egg salad sandwiches my aunt and uncle make every year for their party, the way my mom decorates the house with more glittery things the one might believe humanly possible, and the snow on the lake in Muskegon. I missed shopping for gifts with my cousin when we were kids, helping my Nana wrap presents, my Grammy's homemade candy, and the tiny fake trees that my brother and I decorated in our rooms. And I became completely and desperately sad.

The problem though, is that these things are gone. They're in the past. Even if I was up in snowy Michigan, most of the things I miss no longer exist. Many of these people have passed away, my cousin has four kids and I'm sure shopping nights are few and far between, our mini trees have long since been given away, and my Dad lives too far away to see his show and my mom's blinding tree.

At some point I realized that I wasn't just missing white Christmases and wanting to be home, but that I was grieving. Grieving for the Christmases of my youth, the many beloved members of my family that have since died, and for the fact that things will never, ever, ever be the same.

I don't really have a resolution at this point, just a little sense that one has to maybe pass through this stage in order to let something new open up. To let go a little, and remember the past with a reverence and a smile and not only a heavy heart. It became clear to me that I've been holding on to my Christmas memories with sadness for a long, long time.

Happy 2011 everyone. May it be filled with joy, peace and the ability to look backwards kindly.

xxx

three cookie day

Thursday was a three cookie day. Cookies after every meal, including breakfast. Women always joke about how when they are pregnant they will finally let themselves eat whatever they desire. Watching my Nana refold the mismatched corners of a hand towel I realize it’s dying that brings a whole new meaning to letting yourself have what you want. I feel today that this freedom extends to immediate family.

How do you pack for the last time you are ever going to see someone? How long should you stay? Is makeup necessary? Should they see that you are mascaraed and OK? Or is it maybe better to leave off what will most likely only smear all over anyway. What is superfluous at this point?

Truth is I am not really thinking straight. I pack a small bag of dirty clothes, and wear what I wore yesterday. Putting together something else that kind of matches and fits feels beyond me. Plus she has a washing machine and as I love them, this will be an excuse to use it.

Over the last three years, there’s been little mystery around how much I hate the state of Florida. I will tell anyone who will listen, and feel justified in my mostly ridiculous position, as I tend to find many others in NYC who agree. My disdain however goes deeper than strip malls, horrible drivers, and hanging chads. These things aren’t only specific to Florida, but the bitter memory of the disintegration of my relationship with most of my family is. I like to hate Florida. I vowed never to set foot in that swampy hot concrete hellhole again.

I’m pissed. Angry. Frustrated. I want something for my efforts. I am sure I don’t want to be on this plane to Sarasota. Flying there for 24 hours so my Nana can clear her conscience and make it through the gates of heaven. I am owed more than an apology, I want to be absolved of any wrong that it appears in the minds of others I have done. This should also include either a check, some profound and meaningful words to help me through the rest of my life, or at the very least a new sweater. I shouldn’t need to be forgiven, I didn’t start this. I’m tired of feeling shut out and unwelcome, betrayed & forgotten. Alone and bitter up north. Hating Florida.

I haven’t slept in three nights. I am so scared and unsure about this I am shaking.

I smell.

When I arrive it’s clear that there will neither be a face-to-face conversation to assure her entrance past St. Peter, nor the wisdom to get me through the mess I’ve made of my own life. The cocktail of methadone, oxycodone and xanax to ease her increasing pain had her snacking on a votive candle only moments earlier.

So why in the hell am I here?

There is a clock that ticks loudly by her chair in the den. Great.

Of course the irony isn’t lost on me chasing her around as she tries to escape out the back door and the thrice-hourly bathroom visits where she leaves the water running. Replacing the blankets she keeps taking off and refolding becomes a game. If we are lucky enough to live to 88, I guess it isn’t unusual that the ones we used to follow around and keep safe end up returning the favor. But mine is a debt that can never be repaid.

Little by little I remember things. Those little boxes of Kellogg’s cereal she had for when I stayed over, which was often. How she always gave me a glass of white grape juice with my breakfast box, and how I drank it even though I never liked it and always wondered how and why she thought I did. The stuffed animals, especially the puffalumps she kept on the beds. The way she says fish. Her endless supply of the fluffiest robes and slippers (which didn’t really fit me past the age of about 8) and the drawers full of matching jammies I would borrow. It was living through the depression that gave her a deeper respect for things than I’ll likely ever know, as well as an inability to throw them out.

Home-life for me mostly sucked as a kid, and I was at my Nana’s a lot. Sometimes a couple nights a week. Napping while she watched golf, (the best thing to sleep to until Tiger started playing and the cheering got loud) playing cribbage and drinking glass after glass of that damn juice. Nana taught me how to sing a canon, play 2, 3 & 4 handed pinochle and perfectly wrap a Christmas present. We made it through several of the Bobsey Twins mysteries, which she would read to me before I fell asleep. My Nana would have done and did do anything she could have to make me happy. I don’t know what I would have done without her.

So, yes – the last three years of our relationship were unfortunately, in a word, awful. Pulling a soft white rabbit and brown bear down from the closet to sleep with and covering myself with a fluffy pink robe Thursday night, I am reminded that the first 30 were pretty great. And perhaps the first thirteen even saved my life.

I am actually grateful that she doesn’t really understand what is happening when I say goodbye. I hug her a few times as she smoothes one of those robes over her legs and is again preoccupied with a green towel. Saying goodbye to her, if we both knew what was happening, would have been unbearable. I don’t think I would have been able to do it.

It might be cookies after breakfast for a while. Or better yet might be to just have the damn things as breakfast. With a little glass of white grape juice, of course.

wild september

I can't believe it's September already. I love the fall, and it doesn't get much better than fall in Brooklyn. Maybe Paris. Or northern Michigan, with all the trees.

Truth is I have to admit that time is actually flying. I heard this happens when you get older, there just doesn't seem to be enough of it.

My dad sent me this poem yesterday. I really like it.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good
You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles
through the desert,
repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving
across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading
home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to
your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting... Over and over
announcing your place in the family of things.

- Mary Oliver

Happy Labo(u)r Day Everyone.
xxx

a buenos aires photo essay

AHAHAH! It's been almost a month since my last post! My faithful reader (thank you Larissa) must be wondering what has happened to me.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here's a few on the southern hemisphere.

They have pet parrots
BBQ is an extreme sport
Family is very important
Pastry choosing a serious art
As is eating them (YUM)
They bake Exquisita...
... before going to see Tango music
Besos!
Ale

the secret to life

Quick recap.

Saw GI. It's IBS. No LOL.

There's nothing funny about this. And I mean really, it's embarrassing enough as it is... couldn't they have called it something even a littlemore charming so that the millions of us didn't have to be extra-mortified? Something like - Acute Intestinal Paranoia (sounds more serious and possibly other-worldly), Curious Gastric Malfunctioning (certainly a more civilized conversation piece), or my personal favorite, What-The-Fuck-Is-Wrong-With-Me-And-Why-Am-I-So-Bloated-All-The-Time (because this at least feels a little more accurate - my bowel isn't just irritated, it's hating me).

I follow this news with yet another shift in diet; the ditching of too many raw foods, upping fiber, probiotics etc. and things are better at first. After less than a week though, it's all back.

I'm in a panic. I am so unhappy, so at a loss, soooo desperate. I am talking to a friend about my situation (read: therapist) and finally, after two years of bowel hell, all this yoga and living and loving and eating it clicks.

The Pause.

Yes my dear friends, the answer is, was, and always will be in the pause. In interrupting and creating space between the mindlessness and the mindless action. The answer is awareness. I don't need more willpower, or discipline, or juice, or exercise. I need to STOP. Before I put something in my mouth, send a nasty email, or let someone cut off all my hair - I must pause to see what is really lurking there.

I believe that AIP/CGM/IBS is really our bodies SCREAMING at us to pay attention. To listen. To please please please stop and see what we are really feeling, needing, wanting. And in this way, if we can learn to work with it, it is indeed an enormous gift. I'm about 75% better in a week. And I've eaten pizza, turkey sandwiches and dairy yogurt.

I can have whatever I want, provided it's what I really really really want.

To croissants, cheese, cherry pie and the space in between them...

Alex

no more words

I'm still pretty thrilled about having tried all these new foods on vacation last week, so when I came across this essay challenge on Why Cook Well, an idea basically lept onto the page. Please read my entry below, and click on the button to vote for my essay. If chosen I could be published in his new book or win a signed copy!!
Alex

No More Words

There are many obvious answers here, It’s an expression of our love, because life is short, because we are passionate about food… and all the other lofty and beautiful reasons why we humans want to do anything well.

But why we cook well? I think the answer is a little more self-centered.

Let me start by saying that I am probably one of the more unlikely Anthony Bourdain fans, and admittedly, maybe one he wouldn’t be too thrilled about having. I don’t have any tattoos, haven’t eaten offal, I’m not a great cook, and perhaps most importantly I am a despised and untrustworthy vegetarian. The fact that I will occasionally eat fish clearly only heightens my hypocrisy and ignorance.

So I’ll make this short and sweet as I’m sure most of you could care less than less about my thoughts on cooking well, and have either skipped this entirely or are currently exclaiming “for the love of pork please just bring us Tony”.

The thing is, I’ve discovered through Mr. Bourdain’s work and my own travels that food is a medium where we learn about others. Immediately and with all five senses we are instantly communicating on a very deep level, where words have no currency. Ingesting another’s food connects us to their history, culture, likes, dislikes, triumphs, defeats, home, family, faith. Eating is truly one of the more intimate forms of conversation we engage in, and because we all do it, a common language. Like love, with hopefully, less heartburn.

So convinced am I by these beliefs, I let headcheese pass my lips a couple weeks back while visiting Germany for the first time. And then bratwurst. I consumed enough raw and pickled herring to gag a seal, and enough pretzel/bread/fries and beer to have my raw food friends gasping for green-juice.

You see, I don’t speak German. As another ignorant uni-lingual American, it’s by eating the food that they eat, the food that they cook, the food that they love that I was able in some small way to understand and experience Germany. So, yes – even I would try Icelandic buried shark meat (or at least try and get close to it), crispy pigskin in the Philippines, or Argentinean beef (which my boyfriend proudly claims can be cut with a spoon).

We cook well to communicate well. We cook well to tell others who we are. When we don’t have words, when they fall short, and when we realize they aren’t needed at all.

We cook well to speak. We eat well to listen.

VOTE HERE

heart shaped sausage

I'm finally back in sweltering Brooklyn after about 3 weeks of travel & it is like stepping into what my friend Jen refers to as "a hot mouth". I am not a summer person if it means 100% humidity and any temperature which begins with a 9.

It's probably fair to say here that I am not very happy to be back. Temperature aside (it was hoooot there as well), I simply love Europe and had some odd feeling of home in Berlin. The women are tall like me, organization and cleanliness are highly valued, and most importantly they have really cool shoes.

Oh - and the fact that the boy I love lives there might also have something to do with the melancholy.

To make matters worse, I feel terrible. I seem to have hardly slept for the past few nights (seriously they have about 5 hours of darkness in the summer) and I was on a little free for all in regards to food and drink. I so desperately wanted to try and see and taste everything new, and the truth is that I am just not able for it yet. So I am sitting here with a green juice, thinking that after 2 years of working in a holistic healing way - it's time for me to get out the big guns and see a doctor. Another fast might get me back to feeling better, but I absolutely refuse to live in a way where I can't try foods and combinations from all over the world without falling apart. And it appears that there is some underlying serious condition or allergy that isn't going away. Enough is enough.

So, I'm back "home" depressed, with more questions than answers, a pile of work, and some of the most exciting opportunities of my life before me.

All is well.

orgasmic meditation

June has been a month full of love and travel (and my 33rd birthday!!), and obviously empty of blog posts. I have a few ideas tumbling through what currently feels like the vast expanse of my head - but I am currently too busy falling in love with and in Germany to organize any of them.

So once again here is the latest gem from YogaCity.

Congrats to one of my oldest and greatest friends Jordan who's beautiful wedding I attended in Michigan last weekend.

Ah June...

Fraulein Alex

The following is my personal account the One Taste workshop and does not intend to express the views of YogaCityNYC. I thought long and hard before writing this, and kept coming back to the idea that our stories are only useful to the extent in which they may help someone else.

I have a lot of walls around my sexuality. Social, familial, personal, historical… and they’ve keep it all contained in a rather neat and tidy package. I recognize that this might not be the most expressive way to enjoy one’s body; and when offered the opportunity to cover the Mindful Sexuality and Orgasmic Meditation weekend at Reflections Yoga, I accepted with excited terror. If I had any clue what I was in for, I most likely would have chickened out.

We began Saturday morning at 10am, after signing a lengthy waiver. Led by Robert Kandell and Cristina Berkley, we were welcomed into a “clean well-lit room to talk about sex and pleasure”. Robert explained that usually such conversations take place in the dark and dirty places, and as such carry with them the need to be hidden - bars, the internet, glossy magazines, porn. By turning this on its head, we open sex up and are able to lay it out on the table. No hiding, no darkness, no shame.

What most of us seem to be missing most from our sexual lives is real intimacy, connection, and communication which is difficult to achieve in the shadows. One Taste, based in San Francisco, seeks to provide people with a forum and the tools to fill this huge void.

The group is comprised of 6 men and women, straight and gay. Half of us are not from this country and only two of us live in NYC. Some are sexually expressive and adventurous, some shy and reserved, some curious but afraid.

Cristina describes to our motley group the way in which mindful sex is related to the “slow” movement by explaining its 6 core principles: 1) Slow: which means that we are present enough to what feels really good and have an awareness that this will change every time; 2) Conscious/Mindfulness: where we put all the attention on the present moment; 3) Whole: we integrate all parts ourselves so that we are the most real versions of who we are; 4) Local: having the direct experience yourself (vs. over the internet, tv, phone); 5) Simple: all there is in the experience is sensation and connection (there is so much there if we don’t hide it); 6) Connected: we all want the same thing, to love and be loved, to see and be seen for who we are.

And this makes sense; I am completely on board with all “slow” movements. Mindfulness and presence are what I have been working on with each yoga class. It’s what we do.

We then discuss the different parts of our brain and how they directly affect our experiences. Our cortex, or thinking part, Robert offers, is rarely in concert with our limbic, or sensing and feeling part (the lower portion of the brain). He instructs us to each do a private improv speaking from both and we set up two chairs facing each other. For 20 minutes we debate an important topic in our lives with ourselves by flipping back and forth between the chairs. This exercise seemed unending. I became rather frustrated during the battle between my sensible, organized controlling self vs. my wild and uninhibited emotions. But I stuck with it and with each switch became more dexterous at thinking and speaking from that particular center.

I’m surprised to discover that it’s my feeling side that is more afraid of my thinking than vice versa. In order to not have my better sense cortex keep me from living passionately and freely, I tend to make impulsive and rash limbic decisions.

Learning from my mistakes (such as getting involved too quickly or ignoring red flags) has often been painful however, and in many cases could have been avoided had I married the two even a tiny bit more. We are given the exercise over lunch to spend 45 minutes making decisions from the cortex, and 45 from our limbic – so if we feel the need to do anything crazy we must allow it.

Lunch passes rather uneventfully, as most of us decide to relax and the craziest thing I feel like doing is rolling up my pants to sunbathe without SPF. I found it interesting when given the freedom to go wild, I didn’t care to. The freedom, Robert explains, gives us the space to take care of ourselves and listen to our needs and desires.

Fed, rested, and vitamin D infused; we return to the task of speaking about our relationship to our sexuality for 2 minutes. Panic sets in. I let a couple people go before I find the courage, which is more likely simply the need to get it over with.

Limbic brain engaged, I spew my sexual history with little regard to the fact that I know none of these people. Unfortunately, my tale begins with sexual abuse as a child. As the abuser was my cousin, it was decided that the best course of action was to never mention it again so as not to upset our grandparents. And let me just say, that the shame and guilt in a child’s mind from something that can’t be talked about builds exponentially with each passing day. Full of confusion and self-hate, the list of inappropriate and harmful choices I made navigating my sexual self… is long.

In this clean well-lit room with two sex counselors and five attentive strangers I feel some relief through my tears. Maybe healing really can be retroactive. Maybe I can finally find the freedom to knock down some of these walls and consciously enter into a deep and connected intimate relationship. And maybe, just maybe… I’ll learn to forgive myself for some of my more disastrous choices.

Sunday is devoted to Orgasmic Meditation; a practice I naively assume entails finding some type of blissful Samadhi on a cushion. I couldn’t have been more mistaken.

It is a technique designed to create the greatest possible amount of sensation with the littlest amount of story; meaning history, baggage and relationship. It is practiced between friends, strangers and lovers in weekly meetings. The pairings can and do consist of partners from every sexual orientation, but as it’s taught in relation to one male and one female, I will simply relay the information in this article as it was described to me.

A woman has 8,000 nerve endings in the upper left quadrant of her clitoris. Through a very specific set of almost scientific instructions, the male uses his left index finger to stimulate sensation in this area. The purpose here is to feel the exchange of energy between these two points. It isn’t about our goal-oriented “masculine” understanding of orgasm, but purely a practice used to create deeper sensitivity, sensation and connection between two people. Over time, we learn how to let go of more and more layers, become better at giving instructions, asking questions, and reading Meta messages; what is said beneath words through body language and energy. When we then move ourselves to “the bedroom” we find an increased ability to be present, vulnerable and real.

Before lunch, Robert and Cristina give a demo. A couple more people have joined us today, including 3 or 4 seasoned Orgasmic Meditators, or OMers, for support. Cristina takes off her clothes and lies on a massage table in goddess pose as Robert begins the 15-minute “meditation” practice. I’m horrified. I’ve never seen anything like this and immediately I am sure I’ve landed in the middle of some cultish practice. In the same instant, I recognize that my tightly wound upper-middle class WASP background has hardly produced a satisfied sexual being. My mind is blown. I don’t know right from wrong, good from bad, back from front.

The whole group is charged up. We’re angry, suspicious, excited, scared, and curious. We know in a couple more hours it will be our turn. We come back from lunch and Robert leads us through partnered exercises. I like them. We explore communicating as the men touch our arms. Relaxing music is played. We look into each other’s eyes and breathe. Some of us cry.

There were only two rules for the weekend. 1) That everything said here would remain confidential, and 2) that no one would do anything they didn’t feel comfortable doing. Allowing myself the freedom to change my mind, I was pretty clear from the get-go that I wouldn’t be OMing. For better or worse, as connected as I feel to my wonderful group, I am as yet unable to separate the desire to be touched only by a man that I feel extremely close to. Participating in the lab would have, for me, been more abusive than liberating.

I am allowed to stay and watch as the 5 brave pairs set up. I don’t think I’ve ever had such the variety of emotions running through my body as I sat there that Sunday afternoon. I’m scared, jealous, excited, suspicious and embarrassed. As some of the women, naked from the waist down, begin to vocally express sensations of pleasure, I wonder if this scene might not have been so uncommon in some ancient matriarchal societies.

As I am flooded with images of goddesses; a huge paradigm shift takes place. My earlier horror is replaced with the sensations I am getting from the room that these men are here purely to learn to connect with women, not dominate them. And the women in all their glory are expressing their willingness to be connected to through sounds of pleasure and vocal instruction. I am witnessing the communication of yin & yang energy before my very eyes.

It’s safe to say that this practice will not appeal to most of us. It’s also safe to say, that most of us have some potential opening to do around the topic of sexuality and what it means to be a sexual being. I feel strongly about the need to communicate about sex; I know that stuffing my own pain for 27 years hasn’t resulted in the freedom I am so desperate for. If we actually had safe spaces to explore these issues, to speak openly and freely, and to unleash some of the horror that some of us through no fault of our own are forced to experience – I wonder if we would also find peace. If the incidence of rape, incest, child abuse and adultery in modern society is any indication of our inappropriate relationship to our collective sexuality, I’d say we’re desperate for palaces of clean and well-lit rooms.

I consider myself lucky to have been unaware enough to happen upon the workshop; the universe does work in mysterious ways. I have more tools, I have a plan, and most importantly I have an unwavering desire to have this be my turning point. And now, the only wall I am concerned with… is the one I want to be thrown up against.

maha life

It's prolly safe to say I am currently obsessed with expansion. The bottle of red wine I joyfully drank last night (alcohol is very expansive) is a lovely example of this.

I had the most intense acupuncture session with Carrie yesterday. I've been having a lot of pain and heat in my lower legs, apparently along my stomach and spleen meridians and caused by excessive dampness in my body. Think hot, wet, heavy - it feels very tight and contracted.

Carrie does her thing, a few of the needles were pretty painful, and then some more of that magical cranio-sacral work. I can feel so much energy moving - it's undeniable that we are pure energy & that this is a completely viable and important healing modality.

I have the distinct feeling towards the end that this body I am trying to heal and clear is simply and profoundly the vehicle for this energy to move through this life. And wouldn't it be nice to finally unite my physical body, my mind and an awareness of this energy with which to live it.

My right kidney is killing me today. I know this might sound insane if you haven't experienced it - but I can't move so well and there is a big red spot on my back; kidney height. As energy moves and clears suddenly other places of holding begin to free themselves up as well. The body is really incredible.

You see, we can't really move on fully into expansion until we clear out the old. Sometimes, oftentimes, it hurts like hell... but I'm okay with that as I know it's part of the process. I'm currently sucking the most exciting things into my life - I believe because of all this (sometimes painful) housekeeping. If finding THE pair of jeans I've been eying in exactly my size laying on top of the rack (waiting for me) yesterday for $20 on sale from $150 isn't a clue, I don't know what is.

We're meant to expand. We're meant to go out and live our own maha (sanskrit for great/big) lives. Lives that we love, created and manifested by ourselves - and to do this we have to be big! And bold and brave and maybe even deal with the pain of clearing our old energies, thoughts, and emotions... in the many forms they present themselves, which can oftentimes be through the non-expanded views of others.

As the session was over, Carrie stayed as I lay there (she normally doesn't) and I had the sense that she was holding space for what had occurred. I began to cry a little, then laugh (it's interesting for me to note here that I've found my joy is always held underneath my sadness). Apparently my "dampness" had been holding some of both...

In EXPANSION,

Maha Alex

P.S. I'm (obviously) kidding about the jeans being so important. Sort of.