An Early Valentine’s Day

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What are you up to this weekend? We are celebrating Valentine’s Day a week early since we’ll be traveling with friends next weekend. We’re planning on making something delicious and little bit adventurous–probably a dish from our Battersby cookbook–and enjoying a special bottle of wine from the cellar.

I hope you have a great weekend, and until we meet again on Monday here are a few thoughts and things that kept me distracted this week:

A song for your weekend. So funky.

In an unbridled attempt to pretend spring is around the corner, I ordered this dress (psst, it’s on sale!)

I love this lip balm my sister gave me for Christmas. It’s really moisturizing and provides just the right amount of color.

14 tips for living in a tiny space. (I agree with #5 and #14)

This story about a couple choosing to die together broke my heart.

Though I’m certainly not dating anymore, I agree that we should all do our part to curb mindless, needless small talk.

Resting Bitch Face is a thing, people. A science thing.

How to care for a leather bag. Lately, I’ve been toting around this one –a Christmas present–in navy.

I wish we could watch the Super Bowl this weekend…mostly for the commercials.

Dream dresser. More mid-century eye candy.

I’m having burgers with my friend Paige today and this made me laugh. I’ll try not to overindulge.

Foot Rubbin’ Night

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Adam and I have a Sunday night tradition: after cleaning up dinner we put on a movie and give each other massages. I almost always want a foot massage and Adam usually asks for a back and neck massage that we have somehow nicknamed the “surf and turf”. It’s something we each look forward to each week and it’s a treat for us both.

Since we’ve both just had birthdays, followed closely by the excitement of Christmas, we don’t give gifts for Valentine’s day, but I am looking forward to our weekly massage ritual. And while we usually skip the oil, I recently received this massage oil as a gift with purchase and it just might make our Sunday night tradition a little more festive. Here are a few more oils in case you’re looking for a gift for your loved one:

  • We’ve actually used this body oil from Shea Moisture and it feels really light and never greasy. I like that is has natural ingredients and a warm scent. Bonus: you can also use it in the bath.
  • This oil is has rosemary and lavender fragrances, which promote relaxation and tranquility.
  • I like this drug store staple because of its lightweight formula and modest price. It absorbs quickly and is fragrance-free–good for sensitive skin.
  • Sunflower seed oil and olive oil make this massage oil extra nourishing and moisturizing. Its warming properties help soothe tired or sore muscles.
  • I love Herbivore Botanicals and will try pretty much anything they make. I’ve raved about their body oil before and this jasmine-scented one would be a lovely addition to foot rubbin’ night.

You can go all out here: candles, fresh flowers, and smooth tunes instead of a movie. It’s an easy way to celebrate Valentine’s day, or the everyday, with very little cost.

Do you like massages? They are one of my favorite indulgences.

Tuesday Book Club: 10% Happier

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I’ve read eight books since the start of the new year and yet this book, 10% Happier seems to be the one I’m thinking about most (well, besides A Little Life, which I finished yesterday; I can’t quite talk about that one yet). You may recognize the author Dan Harris from Good Morning America or Nightline or a variety of short pieces featured on various ABC news programs. He’s a journalist with a fevered, almost maniacal work ethic, who, after years of war correspondence, recreational drug use, and chasing stories around the world, hit rock bottom when he had a panic attack on GMA one morning.

From there he visited a series of therapists and counselors to help him ween himself off drugs and find ways of coping with the stress from his highly competitive job in news broadcasting. This stress, which manifested in physical symptoms as well as emotional ones, was overtaking his life.

Simultaneously, he was covering the religious beat for Nightline news and interviewing religious radicals across the US and world. Having grown up in a secular home, he was shocked to find himself suddenly intrigued by the idea of meditation, which had previously seemed too spiritual and fluffy to actually be of use.

With the help of teachers, silent meditation retreats, endless literature, and gurus, Harris began his own meditation practice. His credits his daily sessions with making him 10% happier than he once was, and far more calm and collected at work; no more on-air panic attacks.

Harris was once one of meditation’s biggest skeptics so there is a lot of hemming and hawing in the book. He is reluctant to acknowledge its benefits, but they quickly become a cornerstone of his professional success. The key, he says, is to quiet the inner brain chatter than can quickly derail one’s best intentions. In fact, the subtitle reads: “How I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found self-help that actually works–a true story.” It’s a bold claim, but the book is incredibly persuasive.

One passage, with its beautiful simplicity, stuck with me:

“Instead of mindlessly criticizing [someone]…[one can] calmly and tactfully disagree. Seeing a problem clearly does not prevent you from taking action…Acceptance is not passivity. Sometimes we are justifiably displeased. What mindfulness does is create some space in your head so you can, as the Buddhists say, ‘respond’ rather than simply ‘react.’ In the Buddhist view, you can’t control what comes up in your head; it all arises out of a mysterious void. We spend a lot of time judging ourselves harshly for feelings that we had no role in summoning. The only thing you can control is how you handle it.(emphasis my own)

Respond, don’t react. How could our interactions with others be transformed if we adhered to this simple mantra?

Meditation does not have to be a spiritual practice, though much of its fundamentals come from Buddhism. But I don’t think one needs to convert to Buddhism in order to understand and utilize many of the religion’s beliefs. Or am I naïvely believing I can sample religions like a buffet? Either way, I’m intrigued.

So intrigued, in fact, that I’m thinking of taking up my own meditation practice. At the end of yoga or other light exercise, I usually spend a few minutes in a supine pose relaxing with my breath. This is something I started years ago and it’s very calming and restorative. So, I’m already halfway there. I want to take it further, however, and I’m looking forward to the challenge, as well as the positive results.

Mindfulness has been coopted by a variety of organizations and self-help fields: mindful eating; mindful budgeting; mindful parenting; mindful leadership. I’m hoping to apply the concept more broadly, however, and naturally incorporate into different parts of my life. How can I be more mindful of my own thoughts, and how does that translate into my interactions with my world and others around me?

What are your thoughts? Have you tried meditating before? How do you slow the endless brain chatter? The kind that gets you down or gets you needlessly worked up?

P.S. Here’s a really nice short relaxation exercise that you can do at home. I love this line: “Feel sounds passing through your awareness without untangling you.” How often have you felt that a sound—traffic, screaming, construction—has untangled you? Such a good way to put it.

(image via Buzzfeed)

The Art of Being Alone

IMG_4573Last week I was reminded of this Boston Globe article about the power of loneliness and solitude. While the article itself is several years old, and the research in turn even older, it still rings timely and true. In fact, it might be even more pertinent given how much more connected to society we are through our increasingly advanced technology and smart devices than we were in 2011.

These cold and dark days seem to inspire a lot of alone time, don’t they? On Tuesday I spent my entire day alone. I never once left the apartment. I ran into a neighbor in the laundry room and chatted briefly, but that was it–and I was in my pajamas. The snow and frigid temperatures made going into town, even for milk or other simple groceries, feel unnecessary. It’s so much easier to find ourselves alone during January and February and even into March, especially considering how many people work from home. Studies and research show that alone time, extended and, most importantly, wanted stretches of solitude can be very healthy:

“Solitude has long been linked with creativity, spirituality, and intellectual might. The leaders of the world’s great religions — Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Moses — all had crucial revelations during periods of solitude. The poet James Russell Lowell identified solitude as “needful to the imagination;” in the 1988 book “Solitude: A Return to the Self,” the British psychiatrist Anthony Storr invoked Beethoven, Kafka, and Newton as examples of solitary genius.”

Influential thinkers and deities aside, solitude can be just as good for laymen. The article references a study about “social loafing” (the idea that people don’t work as hard on a task if they know others around them can pick up the slack) and the differences of recall when an activity was performed either in a group or solo. The results of the study indicate that we remember a task or incident better when we’ve experienced it alone. The graduate student who led the study, Bethany Burum, compares her findings to going to the movies alone:

“Burum leans toward a different explanation, which is that sharing an experience with someone is inherently distracting, because it compels us to expend energy on imagining what the other person is going through and how they’re reacting to it…Sitting there in the theater with nobody next to you, you’re not wondering what anyone else thinks of it; you’re not anticipating the discussion that you’ll be having about it on the way home. All your mental energy can be directed at what’s happening on the screen.”

As someone who craves alone time I found this delightfully refreshing and validating. I’ve been to the movies by myself and it’s wonderful. I’ve traveled alone and it can be great too: you can see what you want to see, stop when you want, eat where you like, etc. You’re in control!

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But the article also reminds us that we’re never truly alone. The writer explains:

“the experience of being alone is being transformed dramatically, as more and more people spend their days and nights permanently connected to the outside world through cellphones and computers. In an age when no one is ever more than a text message or an e-mail away from other people, the distinction between “alone” and “together” has become hopelessly blurry, even as the potential benefits of true solitude are starting to become clearer.”

These days this is an obvious point, but I found it jarring nonetheless. This so-called “social snacking”, the texting, emailing, quick FaceTiming, can cause a lot of confusion about what solitude is. Solitude isn’t being alone with the option of constantly reaching out to someone, it’s a concentrated effort at becoming in tune with your inner brain chatter. It’s not looking to see if someone in your contacts list has something better to say than your own mind. It’s getting comfortable with social silence.

Easier said than done! As always, right? So how do we cultivate a sacred solitude? And when do we do it? In the morning, when we haven’t been tainted by the demands of the day? Or in the evening when we know our to-do list has been tackled to the best of our ability? In the middle of the day when you just need a break from it all? It seems a rather personal decision, one that can actually be quite mutable if you really listen to your needs.

I’m curious: how do you like to spend your alone time? Reading? Running? Knitting? Cooking? Or, do you not like alone time? It can be tricky to distinguish being alone and feeling lonely. What are your thoughts?

 

Imagining a Better Home Bar

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My Domaine bachelor pad

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Adam and I have been looking into getting a new bar cart for our dining nook. We have this one from IKEA at the moment (in a bright blue color) and it works fine, but it doesn’t really fit our aesthetic anymore and it looks a little cramped as it is. Our space is so small, however, that we can’t upgrade to something much larger. But perhaps something a little more chic and refined.

We both like the mid-century modern look that is hugely popular at the moment. It’s characterized by clean lines, muted tones, and a lot of natural wood.

While I have no plans to completely redecorate, it is fun to imagining what I would do if given a space to properly entertain. At the moment it’s people barely squeezed into our narrow dining space, or sprawled out on our giant sofa. Here are a few ideas for redesigning a better home bar:

Mid Century Walnut Chet Beardsley Barstools - Pair

West Elm Bar cart

Chairish Silver Rim Glass Coupes

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If I could make one major structural change to our apartment, it would be blowing out half of one wall so that the kitchen and dining nook were a shared space. It would be like a pass-through wherein the cook could still visit with guests while working away in the kitchen. I’d love to have a bar where people could sit and visit, sitting on these comfortable and stylish bar stools. Everyone always wants to be in the kitchen anyway, right? Here are loads of other unique and interesting bar stool options.

I also love the look of these French Champagne coupes. They, like the bar stools, are from Chairish, an online auction website. It’s a well-curated mix of vintage and vintage-inspired pieces. My father-in-law gave my sister-in-law a set of glasses just like these the past two Christmases and I’ve envied her both times. They are interesting and classic and instantly elevate the home bar.

The tortoise tray would be great for serving cocktails to guests, or for corralling items on the bar cart. Speaking of, our well-stocked cart includes gin, bourbon, rye, St. Germain, tequila for margaritas, and vodka for Moscow mules. We just bought a new set of glasses that are similar to these and I’ve been using them for sparkling water at dinner, but they’d also be perfect for a classic cocktail like an old-fashioned.

Of course a good playlist and a collection of original artwork go a long way to creating a festive atmosphere. Adam is an excellent DJ so thankfully we’ve got that covered.

For now I’ll be concentrating my search on a bar cart, keeping the mid-century motif in mind, and not discounting something vintage or something that needs to be tweaked or upgraded. Who’s up for a little design project?

(image 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / courtesy of Chairish / 5 / 67 / 8 / 9)

Overnight in Zermatt

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IMG_1067While we were in the US for Christmas, Adam and I wanted to make sure we had fun things to look forward to in January. This month can be notorious for inspiring post-Christmas blues. When we got back to Switzerland we went out to dinner mid-week; we went to a movie; and we cooked fancy dinners at home. Speaking from experience, it’s important to have some activities to get excited about rather than just mope about missing family and friends.

I also knew we wanted to get to the mountains and see some sunshine. So, about a week and a half ago I booked a room with a view of the Matterhorn at the Hotel Couronne and loosely started planning an overnight in Zermatt. We went several years ago, but it was in November and I was looking forward to visiting the town in all its winder splendor. I didn’t tell Adam until the last minute because I love surprising people, and he didn’t find out where we were going until we were on the train.

IMG_4992Our hotel was right in the center of town, an easy ten-minute walk from the train station. In fact, getting to Zermatt from most big cities around Switzerland is really easy. It is a two-hour journey from Bern, with one change in Visp, and the trains were busy but not overly crowded. Once we arrived the town was bustling with skiers and tourists. The snow-capped chalets and cozy restaurants are exactly what you imagine when you think of Alpine lodging. We loved it.

We dropped off our stuff at the hotel and changed into our snow gear before heading out with a quick lunch. A lot of visitors choose to take the Gornergrat Bahn for a view of the Matterhorn, which is what we did last time. The train makes a couple stops—where you can choose to get off and hike the rest of the way up—and ends at a restaurant and viewing platform. There are sledding runs and trails at the top, as well, not to mention an incredible view of the most famous mountain in the world. It is rather expensive, though: a return ticket costs CHF 86 (50% off for residents with your half-fare card). Since we had already been up there I planned for us to take the funicular up to Sunnegga, a ride that costs a quarter of the price. The view from the landing is equally spectacular.

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IMG_1043There is a full service restaurant, with outdoor and indoor seating, access to ski lifts, access to hiking trails, a lake in the summer, and direct access to ski pistes in the winter. It’s beautiful and worth the trip up. (Here is some great information if you are interested in skiing, snowboarding, or any other winter sports.)

We decided to take the trail from Sunnegga to Tufteren, which is a flat walk that takes abut 30-40 minutes. You walk through a couple of ski pistes but they are easy to see and cross.

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IMG_5008Our pace was slow and we stopped several times to take pictures and enjoy the view. It was so invigorating to be up 7,500 feet in the crisp air and with the sun on our faces. We passed a few people with sleds who were on their way to sledding runs, but for the most part it was a quiet trail.

In Tufteren there’s a small collection of huts and a very basic restaurant that caters to skiers and walkers. It sits right on a piste so you can sip your drink and watch the skiers and snowboarders fly by. Or, if you’re lucky, you might catch a sweet family of deer coming to eat right by the outdoor terrace.

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IMG_1080After a couple of snow cones we started our walk back to Zermatt along the same trail. The sun sets behind the ridge early in January (around 4:15-ish) so we wanted to get back before we lost the sunlight and its warmth.

Zermatt is so cute seen from above. It’s amazing how it fills up the little valley, surrounded by massive mountains on three sides. Almost like a little peninsula.

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IMG_1051Once back in town we walked over to Brown Cow Pub for a little après-ski food and drink. It’s a festive bar with good food and plenty of beer. We rested back at the hotel before going to dinner at Whymper Stube. They serve hearty Alpine dishes, including raclette, fondue, steaks, and schnitzels. It was rather full all evening so I suggest making a reservation for one of the two seatings (at 6:30 and 8:30).

IMG_5018I’m glad we got our Matterhorn sighting in on Saturday because we woke up to cloudy skies and a light snow on Sunday. After a big breakfast in the winter garden of our hotel we caught the train back to Bern. It was a very quick trip, but worth it for the  fresh air, sunshine, and change of scenery. It’s hard to believe that places like this are in such easy reach for us. Two hours away? It’s nothing, especially when you consider we just had to plop on a train to get there. I’m already looking forward to another wintry weekend.

Zermatt, we love you!

Off to the Mountains

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IMG_1277Living in Switzerland, we always get asked if we like to ski. And it hurts to answer no. Sure, there have been moments shared between the mountain and me where weather, energy, and enthusiasm coalesced nicely into a feeling much like enjoyment. But those have been few and far between and they were usually interrupted by a wipeout.

I’m more scared than anything. I can’t un-know what can happen to you on a mountain and I think this is only going to become more debilitating as I get older and acquire more people who are precious to me. There is a part of me that is jealous of those who love skiing, mostly because I’m envious of their endorphin rush and the general badassery of skiing, but I’ve made peace with the fact that skiing is not for me. No more pretending that I’m going to get on a pair of skis this year: I’m not doing it!

But, that won’t stop us from getting to the mountains! I am surprising Adam with an overnight in the mountains this weekend and I’m really excited about it (he still doesn’t know where we’re going!) There are a lot of activities for the non-skier at high altitude and I’m not just talking about what goes down at the hut during après-ski. This weekend I hope we can go on a winter hike and sauna ’til we prune. It should be glorious.

I booked this trip last week when I was thinking it would be nice to have something to look forward to besides slush and an early bedtime. My current enthusiasm suggests that this was a major step in the right direction. What fun plans are you making for this winter?

While you think on that, here are a few odds and ends, bits and pieces of the internet according to my temperament this week:

A song for your weekend

52 places to visit this year. So many good ideas! (Bordeaux, Malta, Skane, San Sebastián, Dublin, Vaud, etc.)

100 years of wedding dresses

I spent too long reading this article by Sean Penn, but it’s worth a glance if you’re interested in the re-capture of El Chapo.

Made me laugh (literally, the first one made me laugh out loud)

A beautiful modern interpretation of 70’s style

12 luxurious outdoor showers. If we had won the Powerball this week, I would have installed #9

Should I have kids? I have to tell you, imagining my life in twenty years feels almost impossible.

“Hi, I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.” Writing the caption that works for every New Yorker cartoon.

The best book cover. I just got this book in the mail and I can’t wait to start reading it.

We can’t get Hulu over here but if we could I would most certainly watch this show. Looks chilling! It reminds me of this movie, which was so good.

7 moves to lengthen and strengthen your whole body

I’ll be taking this jacket with me to the mountains. It is so warm and unbelievably light.