Perfection

January 20, 2011 at 10:25 pm | Posted in Starbucks, wine | 11 Comments
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I woke up this morning inspired by this. You see, I was at the doctor again yesterday, getting another prescription for another ear infection. I really want to feel healthy again, to feel inspired, to feel fun, to stop complaining and being short-tempered at home. I’ve been thinking that maybe I should tweak my diet a bit — less lattes and red wine and cheese and Wheat thins, more spinach and almonds.  So I skipped the coffee this morning.  I didn’t have any immediate or debilitating caffeine withdrawal symptoms, but it was sort of a bummer nonetheless. 

I mentioned this to a friend over email this afternoon. Knowing that my health and the general winter malaise had me sort of in the dumps, she generously and genuinely pepped me up over the course of a lengthy back-and-forth.  She said: “Don’t be crazy, girl. You love your cup of coffee on your way to work. You write essays about it. You have a blog category dedicated to it.” Well, she didn’t actually write this, but it was the subtext of her much more articulate message, which was: hang in there, make time in your day to exercise (which I have not been doing, of course), and don’t deny yourself some pleasures. And then she sends me this:

Does the sight of a Starbucks cup make anyone else’s heart race, just a little bit? (If not, do I have a real problem?) Thanks for bringing me back to my senses, E — erstwhile champion of smart dialogue and smart women. This picture perfectly captures — on so many levels — why we are friends.

In all seriousness, though, has anyone else ever given up caffeine and found it worth the short-term (long-term?) denial of pleasure? Have you ever changed your diet and found it made you healthier (please say no)? What else are you doing to stay healthy and peppy in this grim winter grayness?

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New Year’s – again? (as in, already?)

December 31, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Posted in little bug, Little O, music, not yet written, NYC, read this, running, SAHM, Starbucks, tax law is sexy, the firm, Uncategorized, wine, yoga | 1 Comment
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You know I love New Year’s resolutions. Two years ago, my resolutions were clearly defined and yet highly unattainable. Last year, they centered around  simply finding happiness (hot showers, more wine, more yoga…). I understand why people eschew resolutions in that they set unachievable expectations, leading to disappointment, etc. etc.  Looking back over the past two years, it’s clear that I’m not one who makes resolutions and actually sticks to them, but I do get a lot of pleasure out of making them (in that I set up some sort of idealized vision of the future?). This year, I’m less able to articulate my New Year’s resolutions — I have some vague ideas about living more simply, lowering instead of raising my expectations, and trying to exist in some sort of more tempered universe. Of course, in the back of my head is a little voice saying, “Run more! More yoga! Spend less money!” but at the end of the year that included birth and death and health issues and lots and lots of sleepless nights — and somehow, in the midst of it all, a growing sense of contentment — I’m going to resist the urge (at least publicly) to enumerate my Resolutions.

Instead, my friend Lindsey had a fun and introspective little survey/questionnaire on her blog this morning, which I’m going to adopt. I’m answering these less thoughtfully than I otherwise might (blogging, as I am today, in the short window of Little O’s nap!) But maybe that will make my answers more honest.

What did you do in 2010 that you’d never done before? I spent seven months as a stay-at-home mom. I took a weekend trip to Florida with my college girlfriends. I participated in a competitive blogging challenge. I went three (almost four — since September 1, basically) months without running. This last one sounds like a crazy thing to list, but it actually imparted to me an important lesson. I used to think I needed to exercise for weight-maintenance. Eleven months of nursing, however, took care of that for me, and I realized that running in fact gave me much more than the ability to wear skinny jeans. If I have any resolutions at all for 2011, it is to remember that running keeps me sane, not thin.

Did you keep your new year’s resolutions and will you make more for 2011? Of course not. And of course — albeit with a more measured approach, I hope.

Did anyone close to you give birth? Yes! I did! But also my sister. And several close friends and seemingly half the tax department at my firm (literally — nine women in my relatively small department had babies this year!).

Did anyone close to you die? My great-uncle. And, just last week, a close family friend.

What countries did you visit? None. Sigh. Again, if I do have a resolution for 2011, it is to “remember Italy” (a metaphor and theme in a striking book I read recently, This Is Not the Story You Think It Is by Laura Munson — see Lindsey’s interview with her, here) — although in my case, it would “Remember Paris.” More on this in another post.

What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010? Patience. Acceptance. Faith. Confidence.

What was your biggest achievement in 2010? Having a healthy baby would have to be it. But I’m also proud of myself for going back to my job. It wasn’t clear I was going to, but I do think it was the right choice, and perhaps the first time in my life I’ve done something truly rational, career-wise.

What was your biggest failure? A few work-related ones come to mind. But mostly I regret the times I’ve been short-tempered with Little Bug and a less-than-present daughter, sister, friend, and wife. I didn’t put down my iPhone/work email enough to stay focused on my family.

Did you suffer illness or injury? I feel like I’ve been sick a lot this year — an immune system no doubt compromised by severe sleep deprivation and preschool germs.

What is the best thing you bought? My iPhone and Pilates. (Am I a yuppie or what?)

Where did most of your money go? Starbucks and J. Crew. Ha ha, just kidding. Sort of.

What did you get really excited about? My girls’ weekend in Florida. My husband would tell me that I’m being all “Joy Luck Club,” but oh, god, there was something so refreshing and invigorating and inspiring about spending three days with the women who were with me when I became the woman I am, the women who have been there for me for the biggest hardships and greatest joys in my life, the women with whom I speak an abbreviated shorthand language and who can finish my sentences. And now, at this stage of our lives, the women with whom I can discuss my career, daycare, siblings, husbands and parents. Even though they may not be part of my day-to-day life, the are a part of the foundation of my life.

What song will always remind you of 2010? Have I listened to so little music that I can’t answer this? Probably, however, something country (since that is all Tim and I seem to listen to these days). I really like that song Welcome to the Future by Brad Paisley, though I suspect that was not released in 2010. OK, so, maybe I’ll make another resolution: listen to more music. It makes me happy — just as Glee made me so so happy this year.

Compared to this time last year, are you:

— happier or sadder? Happier
— thinner or fatter? Well, as I was eight months pregnant, this isn’t really a fair question!
— richer or poorer? It’s probably not a good thing that I can’t really answer this literally, but I imagine that since we spent most of 2010 paying two mortgages, poorer!

What do you wish you’d done more of? I wish I’d written more — here on this blog and elsewhere. I have a great idea for another blog, but I can’t seem to find the time to make it happen. I wish I could let myself go with my children — really play with them, focus on them wholly, without thinking about what’s next (be it cleaning up lunch, or what’s for dinner, or how much work I have, or even who has posted what on Facebook).

What do you wish you’d done less of? I wish I had spent less time agonizing over my job — both preemptively before I went back and then also on a daily basis once I was back. I think it affected my relationships with my family. It’s just a job. It’s not the greatest, most important job in the world, it’s not the end of the world, and I’m not a victim. I have to remember this.

How did you spend Christmas? As we do every year, in New Jersey, with my whole big crazy family. We snuggled in during a blizzard and took Little Bug in to New York City to the Museum of Natural History the day after the blizzard — rather ill-advised when it took us 4.5 hours and four different trains to get home!

Favorite TV program? Glee and The Good Wife.

Favorite books? I actually had a lot of time to read and finished more books than I have in years, both fiction and nonfiction. In the former category, the three books that stand out are: Dear Money by Martha McPhee, Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. They weren’t earthshaking, but I just loved each one. In the nonfiction realm I really liked No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin (the Roosevelts on the home front in WWII) and The Gift of an Ordinary Day by Katrina Kenison.

Favorite films? I only saw one movie in the theater this year — Eat, Pray, Love. (But I loved it. Sue me for my questionable taste!) Recently, I’ve seen The Town and The Kids are Alright on OnDemand, and, surprisingly, liked both (as you know, my taste in movies runs towards the saccharine, e.g., Eat Pray Love…)

What did you do on your birthday and how old were you? I can’t even really remember my 36th birthday! Luckily, I blogged about it. It was spring, and I was still home on maternity leave, and Tim took me to a local Italian joint for dinner because I was craving a real Bolognese.

What one thing would have made your year more satisfying? Just knowing from the start that I was going to go back to my job and that it would all be OK.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010? I have to divide this in to two parts: January – September and September – December. In the former, it was black yoga pants and spit-up stained black t-shirts. In the latter, it was black Theory pants or skirt and cashmere cardigans or blazers.

What kept you sane? Red wine. For reals. And phone calls with my mother. Daily, sometimes twice a day. Also, emails and texts from my hilarious friends.

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010? You are not your job. In fact, I suspect that nobody really cares what you do except for you. You’re not a victim of some amorphous FIRM that is out to get you (a la John Grisham?) — you’ve made your choice and you can unmake it at any time. You’re not trapped.  Also, even though you may get frustrated that your husband doesn’t like to hash out the nuances of your day, he is listening. More important: baby boys may not sleep and pre-school girls may whine, but it’s all doable. You can be much happier being grateful for what you have than wanting more, more, always more — this easier said than done, of course, especially for me, but slowly, slowly I feel like I’m on the verge of grasping this. I haven’t actually grasped it yet, but at least its a tangible concept now, something I can turn over in my mind, rather than something completely inaccessible.

How to say no (or, how not to say no)

December 22, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Posted in the firm, wine | 1 Comment
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When was the last time you had an ear infection? I haven’t had one in, oh, 25 years. But I have had so many in my childhood — easily 30 or 40 (I really don’t think this is an exaggeration) — that the signs are obvious and tell-tale: sore throat, a clicking sound when I swallow, a stomach ache, drippy nose, and, of course, pain. Two nights ago I awoke at 3 a.m. (or maybe one of the children woke me…sigh) with my ear pounding, and it felt as if someone had stuffed an ear plug in it, or cotton. I couldn’t hear a thing. As you may have read if you’re keeping up with me, I’ve been sick for about two weeks. I had a cold and then it got worse and then it kind of went away and then last weekend it started coming back. Finally, though, the not-hearing thing inspired me to go to the doctor.

Instead of going into work in the morning, then, I called my primary care physician. But because I often let details fall through the cracks — such as finding a new primary care physician closer than 45 minutes away (in my defense, for 20 months of the past four years or so I’d been having regular ob visits and thus no real need for primary care appointments) — I had to trek to Cambridge. I was wearing leggings and snowboots under a puffy down parka — hair unwashed, no make up. While I was at the doctor, I got an email that a client needed a letter by 11 a.m. — a letter I had been planning to email later that afternoon, from home, when I returned from the doctor. I didn’t have time to drive all the way home, so I had to head downtown and send it from the office.

I slunk into my office in my horribly inappropriate work attire (leggings — yeesh!), and wrote the letter. All the while, my ear was clogging up more and more, and I could hear almost nothing out of my left side, which is a very strange sensation. I tied up some more loose ends and then packed up for my vacation, which is supposed to start tomorrow, figuring that I’d spend today working from home and recovering.

I hit CVS on my way home to pick up my prescription for antibiotics, and in the parking lot I received another urgent work email, inquiring about a matter I had researched more than a year ago — a tricky area of benefits law about which I know almost nothing. At the time, I’d had to reach out to a senior attorney for help. What to do?  I was shaking with fever, my ear ringing in pain — and, oh yeah, Tim was away.

I pushed off the query. I hope I did so tactfully, but of course I’m second guessing myself. It felt awful. If there was ever a time to say no, this was it. And the motto at my firm seems to be that you should turn down work if you don’t have the bandwith to do a good job.

Is it the end of the world? Probably not.  Could I have articulated myself better? Most likely.

So, anyway, once again, I find myself (and this seems to happen every year) sick at Christmas. After the doctor gasped at the sight of my ear drum, she asked if I had been getting enough rest. This is a rhetorical question. I mean, no — at least one child wakes me up at least once a night. I’m exhausted! I haven’t exercised in three months! I don’t think I’ve eaten a fruit or vegetable in at least that long! Clearly, my body hates me and is trying to tell me so.

 And, like every year when I spend Christmas somewhat sniffling and feverish , I start thinking ahead to the New Year and all the things I will change: my diet, my sleep habits, exercising regularly, and so on. 

Maybe what I also should be doing is saying no a bit more. Not to work, per se, but to the other things sidetracking me and keeping me in this seemingly permanent, semi-exhausted state, in which I spend most of the day feeling totally ineffective at everything. These things include: zoning in front of the TV too late at night, that third cup of coffee, puttering around aimlessly at bedtime instead of actually going to bed.

I’m frustrated — frustrated that I haven’t been taking better care of myself, that I am a crappy unreliable lawyer, that my ear hurts.

Luckily, it’s snowing fluffy flakes outside and tomorrow we head to New Jersey for Christmas. I just ordered petit fours from the Konditor Meister to bring with us.  All four of us will be sharing my mom’s guest room, so I imagine I won’t exactly be catching up on sleep, but I’m looking forward to a break from our schedule. I’m looking forward to the Christmas lights and my mother’s beautiful decorations. Can one drink wine on antibiotics? Probably not, but I’ll look forward to a fat glass of wine by the fire nonetheless. And then I’ll come back in January and try again.

Me at 36

May 12, 2010 at 4:30 am | Posted in running, SAHM, Starbucks, the 'burbs, Uncategorized, wine, yoga | 14 Comments

(Today’s Five for Ten topic is Happiness)

I have a birthday this week. Today, in fact. I can no longer claim I am in my lower- (or even, really, mid-) 30s. I have wrinkles on my forehead and my dimples seem to be elongating into deep smile lines. I’m in the midst of the three-month postpartum hair evacuation. (My hair quite literally falls out in clumps with every shower.) While supposedly I have lost all of the weight I gained with the baby, things have settled a bit differently. I’m not sure my clothes quite fit correctly (e.g., button-down blouses and jeans).

Here’s what else is going on at 36.

Coffee. My automatic coffee maker is getting more attention than Starbucks. This, for those who know me, is shocking. But I can no longer think clearly without a cup of coffee right away. Like, there is no time to even get to Starbucks. My mother always said, “I just can’t function without my first cup of coffee,” and I kind of laughed at what I thought was motherly exaggeration, but I get it now. Before Tim leaves in the mornings (which is usually while I’m still tucked into bed with the baby), I beg him to throw the coffee. Now, we did buy one of those coffee pots that you can program to turn on automatically, but far be it from me to actually remember to do so each night. I read recently that one tip to getting your baby to sleep through the night is to give up caffeine entirely. Ah, the Catch-22.

The ‘burbs. In addition to a grill and a swingset, we now also own some patio furniture and all sorts of lawn equipment (long and short trimmers, a fertilizer spreader, etc., et al), and we drive around town critically noting other people’s yards and gardens. And I think I am becoming more sure about our new town. I can still hop on the Red Line and into the city in 15-20 minutes (the other night I even visited a friend up the northern reaches of Cambridge via the Red Line!). I’m also slowly starting to meet some “friends” in town, as people start to emerge from the long winter. No one that I could call up yet and invite over for dinner, really, but perhaps a playground date. One friend, herself now a two-year veteran of a different suburb, tells me that I have to be extra bold when making new friends. “Get their cell numbers and text them!” she told me. “You have to stalk at this stage in life!”

Along those lines, at 36, with small children, I’ve realized that one’s social life necessarily revolves around others with children the same ages or else one actually will have no social life. Getting together with other couples, then, goes something like this: 8:30 a.m. brunch at the diner or 11 a.m. lunch at someone’s house while the preschoolers run around in the sprinkler (extra points when Bloody Mary’s are served along with the coffee) or a 5 p.m. barbeque. And, of course, even these earlier get-togethers happen more frequently than “date nights” because it is easier to drag the children along than deal with a babysitter. Some of my close friends have children older than mine, and some have no children, and — while they remain dear friends — we just do not get together as couples. It’s easier for me to see these friends one-on-one (and, since that in itself involves leaving children home with either Daddy or a sitter, this does not happen as frequently as I’d wish).

Little buglets and the existential questions they raise. I have really enjoyed this time at home on my maternity leave. Does this surprise me? A bit. I had looked forward to not working perhaps more than being at home (there is a difference). But it turns out that I like knowing what my daughter had for lunch (because I made it) and what time she woke up from her nap and, especially, our car rides home from preschool when, on the verge of her nap, she tells me (somewhat deliriously) about her morning (“Remember, today, at school when we learned about spider webs and CHARLOTTE’S WEB and horses eat HAY and pigs eat SCRAPS and Michael Foley liked the ORANGE popsicle best but Michael Murray liked the green one…”). At the same time, I do know that for various reasons I’ll be going back to work in the fall. I had told myself that I wouldn’t even think about work, or what comes next work-wise, until Little O was three months old. So only recently have I started to reconsider the inherent value in being home with one’s children versus the continuity of one’s career, and the conversations this balance has started with friends — both close friends and people with whom I’ve become reacquainted since having children — have been provocative and encouraging.

One close friend accurately and bluntly identified one of the issues I grapple with the most — that of affirmation (whether internal or external) of my law degree. She told me, “You have to ask yourself whether you are always going to want to wear a t-shirt that proclaims, ‘I made law review and worked at [BigLaw Firm].'” This from a woman who used to manage billions of dollars before leaving the corporate world to stay home with her children — but who would never, ever mention this unless you got to know her and asked. She lives in the present, and I so admire that, and her point to me was whether, if I pursued a career that was less intense, I’d always be justifying my decision. Or could I accept that different choices provide meaning and value in different ways.  [The subtext to this, I feel compelled to point out — again — is that I have a choice. I’m not talking about the “Mommy Wars” choice to work or stay at home, but, rather, knowing that I do want to work, to choose in what capacity I will do so:  big, fancy, stressful job with lots of cache, or a less-stressful, less-lucrative job that would allow me to work part-time but that may not “use” my law degree? Obviously, the former is attractive to me for all of sorts of intellectual and self-validating reasons and the latter attractive because, as it turns out, I like spending time with my children.] These are the more weighty issues that preoccupy me at 36.

The less-weighty issues include:

How many followers do I have on Twitter? Why didn’t I think of the concept behind my new favorite TV show, The Good Wife, before its writers? (I should have.) Did I waste money on my Kindle because the iPad is so much cooler and I want one? When do I make the seasonal switch from red wine to Oyster Bay Sauv Blanc? Are all the inchworms falling from the sky going to destroy my trees and how many carpenter ants should one see in one day before calling the exterminator (two? six? ten?)? Can I sneak in a run before the babysitter leaves or should I suck it up and take out the double-jogger? When will my hair stop falling out? Will I ever, ever sleep past 7 a.m. again? Should I go to BlogHer in August? Should we have our neighbors over for cocktails, even though we don’t know very many of them? What is the suburban protocol after one moves to a new neighborhood?

In Conclusion. At 36 I am:  a woman with two advanced degrees, two children, two mortgages, and two cars. I am still a voracious coffee-and-wine consumer, reader, and pop-culture junkie. I used to be a voracious yogi and runner, and while I miss the intensity of these pursuits, I can accept why I had to dial it down. I love my family fiercely, including my large extended family of aunts and uncles and sisters and step-parent and my many, many in-laws. I love my friends, too, in ways I could not have foreseen a decade ago. I notice that I am getting older chronologically in that those close to me are getting older, too — my children, my parents. But I don’t mind it, really, and I do like the mellowing part — more so mind than body, of course. My sister remarked recently that I’m so much more relaxed these days. Maybe this is because I’m on maternity leave and not working, but I’d also like to think it’s just me.

One month later…

March 2, 2010 at 12:07 pm | Posted in little bug, Little O, SAHM, Starbucks, the 'burbs, wine | 5 Comments

Has it really been one month since Little O came along? Of course, we cannot imagine life without him. At the same time, the past four weeks have been far from smooth sailing, mostly because our Little Buggy, in the throws of the terrible twos anyway, does not really love being a big sister. Sometimes she wants to hold, “MY baby,” but mostly when I have him in the Baby Bjorn or am trying to nurse him, she decides she wants to be in my lap. “He wants to go in his swing,” she tells me. We have watched a LOT of movies.  Little Bug has had two ear infections (one in each ear). The weather has been cold and gloomy, so we don’t get out much. 

But it’s March. Those of us in New England know that it really doesn’t get warm until June, but, each year, March begins with promise. The air is just a tangibly warmer, softer (I think). The Red Sox are down at spring training. Chez Murphy, we now have a double stroller and two potential graduate-student babysitters to help me out a bit and allow me to spend some quality time with the Little Bug. Little O can sleep for five hours at a stretch. 

I have a veritable gold mine of topics to write about as I navigate my stint as a stay-at-home-mom. So stay tuned. But, for now, I’ll leave you with some images of the last month…

Friday night + baby + trashy mag

7 a.m.

Spring training

We are still doing a lot of dancing

Lindsey and Grace come for a much-needed visit!

Little Buggy and I hit Starbucks for some quality time (is this self-serving? I refuse to believe it!)

The hat was knit by the insanely talented Sara

6 p.m. Oh red wine, how I’ve missed you…

I used to mock people with double jogging strollers

New Year’s, again

December 30, 2009 at 7:00 am | Posted in gastronomy, little bug, running, Starbucks, the firm, Uncategorized, weekend, wine, yoga | Leave a comment
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Last year my resolutions were regimented and ambitious and accompanied by this photo:

Unabashed self-improvement, complete with a killer bod. This year, when I’m quickly moving into end-of-pregnancy, out-of-breath lethargy and clearly will be starting my new year at a decided fitness disadvantage, I almost have to laugh at last year’s idealism.

So I’ll be a bit more realistic. I really do love making New Year’s resolutions — I love a challenge, and I love self-improvement. I love setting goals and diving head-first into meeting them, even if they are forgotten in a few weeks. The planning and that initial, exhilarating dive energize me.

Gretchen Rubin, who writes a blog called the Happiness Project (and has a new book out by the same name, which I pre-ordered, of course!), had some thoughtful suggestions for die-hard resolvers such as myself:

  • Ask: “What would make me happier?
  • Ask: “What is a concrete action that would bring about change?
  • Ask: “Am I a ‘yes’ resolver or a ‘no’ resolver?”
  • Ask: “Am I starting small enough?
  • Ask: “How am I going to hold myself accountable?”

With these tips in mind for 2010, I considered not that which would make me better (e.g., eat healthier, lose weight, etc.), nor anything rigidly goal-related (with a baby and a six-month work hiatus rapidly approaching, I just have no idea how anything career-related is going to sort itself out — and I’m not going to try to force anything, e.g., “bill more hours” or “turn blog into advertising bonanza”). Instead, I considered that which, simply, might make me happier.

What does actually make me truly happy? I didn’t consider the obvious yet existential stuff — such as my daughter laying her head on my shoulder or my husband rolling over and putting his arm around me in the early early mornings for a few more minutes of sleep. But almost guilty, materialistic pleasures — what if I tried to embrace these with the resolution to be, well, just happier

What makes me happy:

1.  Very very long very very hot showers. 
2.  Saturday morning yoga with Claire or Rhea at Baron Baptiste.
3.  4.5 mile runs when the stars are aligned (pleasant conditions, before breakfast or as the sun sets, a good running mix)
4.  Starbucks grande soy no foam no water chai (oh, but these are SO bad for you, so perhaps they are best saved for an occasional indulgence of which that I will try to be mindful in the moment — see #9, below).
5.  Opening a new bottle of red wine — from the sound of the cork popping, to that first swirl and smell, to pouring another glass. I love the ritual as much as anything else.
6.  Afternoon naps on the weekends (especially if they follow either #2 or #3).
7.  Friday nights, with wine, in front of the TV and a good dinner of something with pasta and cheese with Tim (though depending on how much wine, #2 or #3 may not be as pleasant).
8.  People and US Weekly.
9.  Catching myself in the present, as brief or startling as it may be: hearing a song in the car that links past to present; running; yoga; wine; reading a passage in a book or magazine or blog that strikes me as true and real. 

My friend Lindsey has been featuring a series on her blog called Present Tense, in which she asks bloggers about the moments in which they are truly present. It’s interesting to read about what the idea of “being present” means to others, and it’s also nice to know that it is as difficult for others as it is for me.

As for resolutions, then (and thinking back to last year’s), cleaning up the house and cooking  — while I enjoy the results of both, and am learning to love the process of the latter, especially with a glass of #5 in hand — don’t necessarily bring me immediate pleasure, as aspirational as they are.  Maybe, then, all of these things that do bring real relaxation and happiness serve as subconscious conduits to #9? Is that the point?

As I embark on a year that promises a few changes, the clean house will happen or it won’t (remember this post ?). Perhaps clearing a path for some of these less lofty moments – and acknowledging how much I enjoy them – can lead ultimately to #9.

Wherever I go…

December 21, 2009 at 11:37 am | Posted in NYC, the 'burbs, Uncategorized, wine | 2 Comments

I know my posts recently have been kind of introspective and heavy, but I have one more in me, so bear with me. (And then I’ll be on vacation, resulting in lots of light-hearted Christmas stories and pictures of the Little Bug for awhile!)

When I wrote about my trek in Nepal earlier this month, I found myself leafing through the three journals I kept over the course of my 10-month trip – warily.  My 35-year-old self barely recognizes that person who didn’t shower for weeks, slept in a 35-cent-a-night hut in Laos (without electricity, clearly), and actually allowed herself to be carried on a 12-seater prop plan over the Himalayas.  Conversely, that 25-year-old would have at least pretended to be appalled at the suburb-dwelling, corporate lawyer into which I’ve morphed. But the young me also secretly might have been slightly relieved to have turned out as such. It’s one thing to want to want something, such as a backpacker’s carefree life. It’s another thing to actually want it.

In my mid 20s, I wanted to want to be adventurous. My life up until then seemed solidly predictable (good public schools, summer vacations to the Cape, and all signs pointing towards academic success that would culminate in a good – OK, great – college).  We never took grand family trips to Europe or California.  We didn’t even hike or camp in National Parks (the wisdom of which is now apparent to me, trust me, Mom).  The onset of my father’s illness when I was 23 stirred up both a desperate fear of mortality and resentment about my childhood (what had I missed out on?!), and all of a sudden I tried to mold myself into someone who ran marathons and traveled the world.  I wanted to aspire to some sort of peripatetic, exciting life, far removed from the leafy suburbs and perceived boredom of my childhood (and everything I thought made my father, and thus me, unhappy). 

Wanderlust is addictive. There is a rush to landing in a new city, pulling out a map, and finding your bearings. You need to be entirely focused on the present: how to find, right then and there, the public transportation to your hotel or hostel, without a moment to contemplate even your impending jet lag or what museums you need to visit the next day. I always loved the feeling of arriving in an unfamiliar airport or train station, even if it was just a visit back to New York from L.A. — I felt uncharacteristically purposeful and confident for those first few hours and even days, especially if I was traveling solo.  So for a number of years, I traveled and moved around as often as I could.  In addition to my 10-month around-the-world trek, there were trips to Italy, Spain, Brazil. I sublet the Paris apartment of a journalism school classmate for a summer.  I moved to Sun Valley to ski and write for the local paper, and then to Los Angeles, where I wrote for a glamorous magazine and learned about wine. Then I moved to New Jersey to take what I thought was my next dream job, working for my alma mater, and then I moved to Boston … and so on. 

Every plane trip, every move, every new job could only mask for a little while, however, what had become an endemic state of anxiety. Why was I anxious? Well, the reasons were many (and known to some of my readers) and there’s no need to go into them now, but, in short: there was anxiety about death and relationships and, most of all, that nothing I was doing was actually making me happy. If not travel, and exciting cities and new jobs, and endless yoga classes then what? When would I feel calm and secure and at peace?

I have a new favorite on my Google reader, a blog called “Wherever Launa Goes, There She Is.” Launa is a friend of a friend (whom I suspect also went to college with my sister-in-law), who made the decision with her husband and two girls to live in Provence for a year. It sounds divine, and many times, it is. But her writing is not merely a daily, blog version of A Year in Provence, full of quirky locals and impossible good fortune.  Instead, the title of her blog underscores the beauty of her approach to her family’s “year off” – yes, drinking local wine and cooking from the farmer’s market and spending time with each other is everything one would hope it would be, but there are still issues with the potential to complicate their lives as much as they were complicated in the U.S.: the family can’t quite figure out how to make friends in their new town, one daughter is desperately unhappy in her new French school, another suffers her first asthma attack.

Wherever you go, there you are. I’ve been coming to terms with this truth for a few years, and I think Launa’s blog finally drives it home in part because she’s living what I always thought would be my absolute dream:  a year in France! And yet she eloquently and lovingly explores the idea that while some of the superficialities are all they are cracked up to be, (to be horribly cliché) your baggage nonetheless follows you from place to place.  Drinking a glass of wine on the Seine or a beer on the Mekong are glamorous and provide flashes of pleasure in their exoticism, but you finish that drink and… there you are.  

To my surprise — truly — my 35-year-old self might actually be happy living in one place for more than a year or two. Still, right before we bought the house, I called Tim in a panic from the car on my way to work. “Is this what we really want?”  Meaning, of course: is this what I really want? Should we have stayed in the city?  Did we move to the right town?  Occasionally, I still panic on a macroscopic level, as well: What if I want to live in Sun Valley again? Don’t I want to pursue my longtime dream of living in Paris for a year?

Of course I do, but not, anymore, as an escape. This is why I love Launa’s blog, whose title resonates as my new mantra when I start to feel these familiar flutters of second-guessing.  She is adamant that their year is not an escape, but rather an opportunity for a busy family to slow down and focus on each other, happy or unhappy.

My attempts to escape obviously didn’t make me happy. Wanting to want something you don’t actually want, it turns out, most likely has the opposite effect.  Still, those experiences did shake me for a few years out of my theretofore “normal” life, and perhaps let me land back in it a wiser person. Maybe I never would have been able to become a corporate lawyer (following in the footsteps of my father, which I swore I’d never do), living in the suburbs, had I not traveled on a stuffy train for 26 hours in India, climbed through Angkor Wat at sunrise, or walked on a glacier in Switzerland — or moved nine times in 10 years.

I left a comment on Launa’s blog after one of her posts particularly moved me, and we had a brief and lovely email exchange in which she counseled me: “…keep your Paris dream alive.  When your kids are big enough, you will spend a year practicing law in Paris.  You will send them to a public school there, and they will thrive.  You will bump your way through some difficulties, but also LOVE your year.  I know it.  If you have a big enough dream, and just keep talking about it, eventually your life will make a way for it to come true.”

Post-Thanksgiving lull

December 4, 2009 at 2:35 pm | Posted in little bug, weekend, wine | 2 Comments
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Some of my loyal readers have accused me politely inquired: “Your job is safe and you stop blogging?” Apparently. The nervous anticipation of my review stirred up some sort of impassioned creativity, and probably not entirely unconsciously I was sharpening up my writing chops a bit. And then, it turned out I was not going to be fired, and I started focusing on work again. It’s a relief to be busy and to feel secure and happy in my job for these remaining few weeks before I go on maternity leave for six months.

Also, I have been contemplating my blog. It is a “real” blog? I don’t write anything too deep, profound, or inspiring. I don’t really comment on other blogs or link to them or analyze them or do guest posts. I’m not entrenched in the “blogging” community and, while it would be nice and I know people who have developed important, profound, and even intimate relationships via commenting on each other’s blogs, it seems like a full-time endeavor — as if you have to truly embrace the identity of “blogger” to do so. (Example: on some of the design blogs I read obsessively, they throw each other “virtual baby showers.” Instead of a real baby shower, each blogger writes a post and picks gifts they would give the honoree, such as an antique crib or amazing print or something like that.)

Instead, I’m just a lawyer and a former writer and a mom with a blog and apparently my friends (and maybe some others) like to read about what I’ve been up to. I’d like to take this a step further — to be more connected to some sort of external, parallel-blogging world. But I don’t have the time, yet. I don’t think. Also (and this clearly is just representative of my own insecurities): I find the whole blogging world — be it mommy blogs or legal blogs or inspirational blogs or design blogs — somewhat competitive. Who is commenting on whom? Linking to whom? Giving a shout-out on Twitter to whom? Obviously, if one is enmeshed in this world, it is fun and exciting and a way of meeting new people and communicating. But if you can’t post every day or be on Twitter every day or whatever, it’s hard to keep up. And I feel left out, out of the loop — an all-too familiar feeling that I’ve spent decades trying to conquer in various ways. For now, then, I’ll just write my simple little posts and if and when there’s is time, maybe I’ll try to jump back in again.

So, then:  It’s December. We had Thanksgiving at our new house — 20 people in all (5 little kids, 3 teenagers, 12 adults). I was more than happy to host, but graciously accepted my mother- and sisters-in-laws’ offers to do all the actual cooking. Fortunately, I married into a family who loves to cook (almost competitively so). I was responsible only for my favorite parts of a dinner party anyway: the decor (I love setting formal tables), the wine, and the cheese and crackers.

I never would have thought I’d seat 14 people at my dining room table (really, two tables pushed together).

Neither had I seen my silver or china in years and years!

The Murphy crowd. They love any and all board/card games.

Unfortunately, despite not cooking, hosting still proved a bit too much for my immune system (and Tim’s and Little Bug’s). I was on my feet all day, probably not hydrated enough, and I haven’t really felt entirely well since, and two days ago came down with an excruciating sore throat. Tim has been sick enough over the past week-and-a-half to not only finish one course of antibiotics but return to the doctor for more. Little Bug threw up on the car on Saturday and came down with a fever. She seemed well enough two days later, but yesterday I took her back to the doctor with a fever of 102.5. She’s now also on amoxicillin and suffering from her first ear infection (although, considering by the time I was her age I had had about 20 ear infections and would soon have tubes put in my ears, I consider this a feat of health! Maybe it was the breastfeeding?) Tim and I both “worked from home” today so as not to infect our co-workers (and also because generally we are coughing, wheezing disasters). Oh, I think I just need a good night’s sleep, but since Tylenol is the strongest drug I can really take right now, that might be a few more days. Fortunately, my friend Erin alerted me to the wonders of Benadryl (safe for pregnant women!), not so much for allergies but as a sleep aid. Last night I took one at 7:30 p.m. and again at 2 a.m. I hope it’s not addictive.

Still, I’m excited it’s December. Little Bug has taken a liking to Christmas carols (especially anything with “reindeer” in the song, e.g., Rudolph or my favorite, the Beach Boys’ “Little St. Nick,” which has the catchy, high-pitched refrain, “Run, run reindeer!”) We have cancelled all plans for the weekend and hopefully will all be on the mend soon.

Home Depot trip, Friday after Thanksgiving.  Want to guess whether we ended up buying this hat?

You say Ploof, I say Pluff

November 19, 2009 at 5:50 pm | Posted in politics, read this, the media, wine | 1 Comment
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David Plouffe, Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, spoke last night at the First Parish Church in Cambridge as part of his book tour for The Audacity to Win.  I was told that the church was not quite as packed as it had been for John McCain’s (pre-election) talk or even Harold Bloom’s, at which people were packed into the rafters, but there was a solid and obviously sympathetic crowd.  I finally put a face to the man who has sent me dozens and dozens of emails over the past two years. I also learned how to pronounce his name. Not “Ploof,” but “Pluff.”

See? There he is!

He spoke broadly of the several threads in the book.  First, he emphasized that throughout the election, the campaign refused to judge itself by the news coverage of the moment.  Instead of focusing on the split-second media, it tackled small, daily demographic goals — for example, how many undecided females in Terra Haute should be contacted and registered to vote.  Plouffe pointed out (helpfully!) that this is still Obama’s tactic.  Plouffe explained that the president knows that coming to the right decision on Afghanistan is more important than whatever beating he is taking in the press that day; he ignores the “winds of Washington” (as Plouffe put it) and focuses instead on what his goal was for that day. To talk to a certain general? Read a certain report? Likewise the beating he took just yesterday in the Times over his trip to China. Plouffe assured us that Obama does indeed have the big picture in mind.

Another thread Plouffe elaborated on was the power and the novelty of the grass roots campaign. I didn’t realize that before Obama made the decision to run, he had absolutely no infrastructure. No pollsters, no advance fundraisers. Plouffe pointed out that Obama had been to New Hampshire for a book signing, but otherwise, not to either Iowa or South Carolina (states in which potential candidates tend to find themselves often, for whatever reasons, in the months before declaring their candidacies). And the decision to go “grass roots” was entirely Obama’s. People thought the campaign was crazy to be holding rallies in, say, Michigan in the month before the South Carolina primary, when Michigan’s was months away. But as Plouffe explained, these rallies got people talking far ahead of time. People who would invite their friends to another rally, or to a call center, or to knock on doors in the coming months. Or, of course, to donate money. The Obama campaign had 4 million individual donors, giving an average of $85.

“Why are you giving away all your secrets?!” I kept wanting to jump up and ask him. But towards the end of the talk, the man who regularly sends me emails that begin “Dear K –” finally read my mind. This election obviously will be studied for years to come as a turning point in the use of technology, data, and strategy in a grass-roots setting. Still, by 2012, technology will have rendered many of the 2008 campaign’s tactics obsolete or slow — how many more people will have iPhones? Plouffe wanted to memorialize the election in his own words before others could spin it. Don’t worry, he assured the crowd, I didn’t give away all my tricks.

Once again, my dear friend Erin was my ambassador to culture.  Somehow, she knows when interesting authors are popping up on book tours (she has brought me to hear Ann Patchett read at the Athenaeum and has invited me to countless other readings).  I have long been fascinated by David Plouffe (and am of course now going to buy his book…) — probably lingering idealism from my lost dream of working on a campaign, something I never managed to do,  maybe because I always thought of myself more as a journalist than an real activist.

I love, too, these outings with Erin, often bookended by dinner and a glass of wine somewhere fun (last night: Upstairs at the Square. White Rioja for Erin, envy for me!) Our conversations range from contemporary fiction to comments such as “You know how Puplicious isn’t as good as Pinkalicious, and Goldilicious is even worse?” to our toddlers’ verbal skills to creative writing classes.  I got home late (for me), long after both Tim and Little Bug were asleep, but invigorated by a crisp cold night in Cambridge.  This city of intellectualism, liberalism, culture, and craziness was my first home in Boston — and for all these things I’ll always love it.

Me, circa 2004

November 13, 2009 at 9:58 am | Posted in celebrity obsession, wine | 1 Comment
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Coldplay

I found this venn diagram today, here.  How brilliant — because how true.  (In fact, see my prior post on why drinking wine while listening to Coldplay is maybe not a good idea…) Oh, how this sums up a good two-year period of my life! My sisters will confirm that they almost staged a Coldplay intervention, almost flung all CDs out of my home and car. But Chris Martin, you felt my pain. I know you did. I can laugh now at the cliché I must have been, driving around in my old green stick-shift Accord for hours, with Coldplay in the CD player, or huddled in my cold living room with a bottle of wine, the song “Amsterdam” on repeat.

 

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