Category Archives: Everyday Life

butterscotch ginger

My hands are cold.

I set up shop on the terrace this afternoon and have been working outside ever since, wrapped in a blanket over my clothes.

Finn has been running around the deck, jumping in and out of the planters as if he were training for the Cat Olympics. He gave me a minor heart attack when he dashed across the corrugated roof of the pergola, attempting to launch himself to the next deck.

My writing exercises are much enjoyable when there’s a proper table and/or desk for me to work from. And right now that outpost is outside, either on the terrace or in a coffee shop.

I’ve been writing and researching, all day. Snippets of copy for the company blog, keeping up with my daily blog posts here. Outlining projects for my clients paid and barter. Reading articles to keep my mind alight for critical thinking and analysis.mug.

Finn jumps from the stairs to the table, walks across the laptop keyboard to stake his claim. Almost like a lion on the sub-Saharan desert searching for a palm tree to escape the brutal sun. Except it’s a dining room table covered with books, newspapers and a coffee mug.

It’s time for another cup, a special roast from Supercrown Coffee: Guatemala El Apiario, delicate with butterscotch undertones.

Butterscotch, almost the same color as Finn’s coat. My ginger flame point Siamese has made his move to a cooler location. He settles in with his back to the mirror, a gaze thrown over his shoulder eyeing his reflection.

When he’s calm and chill, he’s almost regal. My Scottish knight of Brooklyn.

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Finnegan meets the cat in the mirror, @prez13


maple, honey, vanilla

I had a craving for chocolate chip cookies. The second day at NY TravFest was just as stimulating as the first and I find myself in a noshing mood. I pull out all the ingredients for the original Nestle’s Toll House cookies, automatically adding the flour, baking soda and salt to a small bowl, mixing the butter and sugars in the larger Kitchen Aid one. I reach into the cupboard for the vanilla extract and come up empty-handed.

A substitution search suggests maple syrup and so I add that with a splash of honey and finish the cookie batter.

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Twenty minutes later the first freshly baked batch is ready for consumption.


Smiles & Springtime

I have an early morning meeting in lower Manhattan. I exit the subway to a city not quite awake.

My path takes me around the Oculus and 9/11 Memorial Pools. I pause to touch one of the engraved names, make a silent prayer in a morning meditation.

 

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World Financial District & 9/11 Memorial Pools, NYC @Prez13

 

Spring is in the air. Daffodil blooms where you least expect them. Skies are blue, the clouds an art form.

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Jersey City Skyline, view from 225 Liberty Street @prez13

 

I catch a whiff of rain.

The city is alive with new energy. And people are smiling, too. That’s always a good sign.


Yoga, Cats, and Meditation

Flashback March 2016

Pickup from Siem Reap by tuk-tuk. I meet Dianne from Malta, an ER doctor in Preston, UK. Upon arrival at the Angkor Zen Retreat Center, she reacts skittishly to the dog, insistent that Cambodian dogs are the worst.

First impressions are tricky, and despite being skeptical about my accommodations I forge ahead. And I am so glad I did: a four-day retreat turned into five. It truly was an arrival into paradise, one greeted by a litter of yogi cats.

Yoga three times a day, meditation daily. A vegetarian meal plan that includes breakfast, lunch, tea time, and dinner. The food is surprisingly amazing for this carnivore and has swayed me to start thinking about vegetarian first. If only I could get my hands on their cookbook (they make everything from memory /scratch).

House rules are strict about connectivity, the idea is to disconnect digitally and reconnect spiritually. With the exception of a woman from Dubai, everyone is down to earth and real. Your free time is at will and can be spent in the pool, in town or in the communal living space. There are hammocks and Papasan chairs, communal tables for long conversations and then the yoga shala where your transformation begins.

The yoga studio is an open air shala. Thatched roof with Tibetan meditation flags hanging from its center. Tufted floor pillows for meditation and communal yoga mats: use, clean, repeat. The shala is open on 3 sides, facing the surrounding landscape. There is a monastery down the road and oftentimes you can hear the prayer calls and chanting. In the far left corner, there is an altar paying homage to Buddha and Ganesha. This is especially peaceful during meditation and practice. Inevitably one of the yogi cats makes an entrance and stakes claim on a mat or a pillow. Practicing yogis learn to adapt and create harmony in its space.

There are two yogis in residence. Katia from Colombia, strength training Vinyasa. Tammy from California, specializing in Hatha, meditation and alternative yoga practices like Laughter, Partner, Sound, among others. The cooking crew is a mix of local Cambodians, including the owner and Joy a Canadian. Angkor Zen has both resident cats and dogs. Cats with their diamond-shaped heads, stub tails, and sleek bodies. Dog. Singular. A labrador puppy who loves bread.

Tammy introduces us to partner yoga on my first day. The practice strengthens your poses by aligning with another yogi, using each other for balance to mirror the asanas. Federica and I are paired. She is an Italian living in London and works for an environmental agency on climate change. She travels frequently throughout Southeast Asia and is about to buy her first home in the UK. It’s hard not to bond while doing partner yoga, you learn to lean in to support one another. The Italian connection doesn’t hurt either. Over dinner, we plan to head into Old Market Siem Reap for lunch the next day. Dianne decides to join as well. We arrive in Old Market, on the hunt for a coffee (they only serve tea at Angkor Zen) and after a stroll through the day market, Federica and Dianne have burgers (shh, don’t tell) on the brain and so we stop for lunch.

Angkor Zen Gardens tranquility is the saltwater pool. Each day begins with vinyasa yoga followed by breakfast then Pranayama meditation. The Center has the added bonus of the best massage therapists ever. The top massage for my entire trip was my first Khmer massage (pure heaven) at Angkor Zen. There is a separate shala for spa treatments, located behind the dorms. Open air on 4-sides and covered in a canopy. Stepping stones lead to a bamboo bridge; lilies and orchids line the path. There are several meditation ponds on the grounds too, all of them filled with blooming lotus flowers.

I follow my massage with restorative yoga and twilight swimming. It’s nearly sunset and there’s a hammock with my name on it.

Over the course of those five days, I meet some remarkable women: Amber, mother to Herschel on a mommy adventure; Margarita, a Spaniard by way of Copenhagen now living in London; Nina, from Cologne on her own personal sojourn through Asia; along with Katia, Dianne, Federica, and Tammy. In that time over the course of dinner conversations, meditation, and yoga practice we connect on a deeper level. (And thanks to social media, we still keep in touch.)

It is on that last day before Amber leaves that we solidify our friendship over the mediation circle, learning how to let go. Tammy leads us in meditation, our first task is to find a natural offering in the nature around us. This is followed by a devotional and hugging meditation practice that involves an exercise on heart centering, followed by a walking meditation. Tammy’s wealth of knowledge for alternative yoga practices has been enriching and I’ve gained a greater appreciation for yogic meditation and its benefits.

Photo credit: (c) Andrea Preziotti


Cambodia, The Kingdom of Wonder

Flashback to #soulstrengthspirit tour, March 2016

Tuk-tuk to the hotel. The streets of Siem Reap are filled with color and dust. Orange cloaked monks ride sidesaddle on the back of motorbikes. A cart filled with natural weave baskets, golden yellow bicycles. We pass the city center, the royal gardens, a foot bridge with a 7-headed serpent (Naga). It is 90 degrees outside but motorbike riders are dressed for a NY winter. A common sight throughout my travels.

 

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Tea time at Borei Angkor Wat, Image Credit: @prez13

 

The sky view from the sunbed is blue, the sun hiding behind the clouds. Almost ethereal.

Food in Cambodia is influenced by neighboring nations. My lunch on the first day poolside at Borei Angkor Wat includes fresh greens and peanuts (it’s a good thing I’m not allergic), pork fried rice served in a bowl with a sunny-side up egg. Equal parts starch and protein, and a side of mixed vegetable salad. I learn later that there is a strong Thai influence to the cuisine, leftover from the first occupation before the Khmer Rouge took reign.

During the course of my trip, I will have many massage treatments and only two will cost more than $20. The first one is the (2) hour Mudita Signature Spa at Borei Spa, much needed after a 24-hour flight. Every massage in Eastern culture starts with a foot bath ritual, where a copper or ceramic bowl is filled with hot water, flower petals, and lime slices. This attention to the feet is rooted in the respect for the spiritual power of the human body. A centralized location of well-being, the feet are widely and deeply respected as part of the Eastern tradition. It is common practice to remove slippers upon entering temples and private homes. There is a respect for the feet as a reflection of our inner soul, and grounding for our body. If our feet are relaxed, then so are we. As your feet are bathed with a salt scrub then rinsed, it’s hard not to feel calm and at ease.

Jet lag adjustment, sunrise musings are easy. My hotel room, although set back, faces the road. Ambient sounds of the street: motorbikes, tuk-tuk drivers, I wake to monks chanting, incense heavy in the air. The hotel is large. You are greeted with a welcome drink, directed towards a couch where a cultural vignette unfolds beside you as musicians play.

They place me in a room at the far end of the floor next to a fire door. Not something that would happen in the West, especially as a solo female traveler. Life is different here, the threat of bodily harm and violence is almost non-existent. I have reason to believe the Cambodians have a very different perspective on how to treat humans after suffering at the hand of the Khmer Rouge genocide.

I love breakfast in Cambodia. A beef noodle soup with sprouts and greens. Very similar to Vietnamese Pho. And then there’s the coconut juice, served fresh from the fruit. Yum! One morning I share an outside table with a gentleman from California. Paul is a professor of agriculture at UC Davis working with local farmers to streamline the harvesting and planting process of the rice paddies. Typically rice fields get 2-3 harvests from one swath of land, and in Cambodia, much of the labor is manual which results in long-term physical injuries. That conversation will prove to be invaluable as I continue on my journey and observe rice paddies production in Viet Nam and Indonesia.

Backstreet Academy connects locals to tourists, an opportunity to immerse oneself into the local everyday culture of a city. I sign up for a lesson with a local Apsara dance performer. There is miscommunication, then a missed connection. Apparently, a local guide is supposed to accompany me to the performers’ home but we cross paths and never meet. There is confusion with regard to the location but ultimately the tuk-tuk driver finds his way.

 

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Backstreet Academy listing for Apsara dance class

 

Apsara is a traditional dance once performed only for the royal family, and now solely for tourists. The lesson is performed on a platform in the middle of a homestead. There are 2 half-built structures and in the front of the property a shala-like structure where men are working. There is a poster promoting Apsara and I learn that the young woman performs weekly at a local hotel. The instructor, a young woman of 20 speaks no English. She dresses me in a costume sarong. The lesson itself was a bit frustrating, not having a translator to explain the steps and movement and how it tells the story of the Apsara dance. We do our best at communicating. I’m amazed by how far the instructor’s fingers and legs can bend backward. The instructor’s impatience with my lack of flexibility to do the same shows on her face.


#soulstrengthspirit: Hong Kong

2 March 2016, 5AM: Hong Kong Airport

A swarm of Italian students at Starbucks; one of the few places open so early. A modern structure of glass, metal, and chrome. The food court smells like heaven. None of the signs are in English so its hard to decipher what anything is. Groggy, I eat the Prospect Park hero (honey maple turkey and provolone) I bought for the flight. Historically airplane food is far from nourishing let alone tasty but I was pleasantly surprised by Cathay Pacific’s meal service.

What this trip means for me: the opportunity to reset, to let go of the AOL past, clear my head and start fresh, anew. It’s time to reinvent myself.


everyday bravery

“There’s room for both of us.” This is what I’m telling Rocky as he tries to find space on my lap as I type. He was sitting in the chaise on the deck, nestled into the Mexican blanket I brought back from Cancun the first time I discovered the Mayan oasis. Now he is curled into the inner nook of my left elbow, his cerulean eyes quizzically looking in my direction.

Dusk, the sky is a faded velvet. It is so quiet up here and the breeze is heavenly, dancing around the copper chimes, brushing up against the clematis on the stairs. The rain is settling into a mist and there is a definitive feel of fall in the air. Something is rising, and not just in the atmosphere; it’s a changeling for all the things I feel internally. Change is brewing, I’ve felt the subtlety of what the newness could mean if I could just step forward. My current vocation is the last thread, the last anchor that ties me to the world where Dad was present. So many changes in two years time, it doesn’t seem very long at all, and yet f feels like a lifetime ago. The swirl of emotions from grieving is growing, surreptitiously deciding my future and all of it makes me feel like I have to be braver. Moreso than ever before.

Bravery is the act of being courageous; having courage, valor, intrepidity, nerve. True, there are more important things to fret about given what is happening in the world today but most of it beyond opinion is out of my control (racial inequality, gun control, and Iran’s nuclear powers). My greatest concern a call for bravery is a first world problem, and it’s not necessarily bravery that I am after but that last word on the end: “nerve.” That’s the one that resonates and calls to mind one of my favorite literary (and movie) characters from The Wizard of Oz–the cowardly lion.

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 11.31.35 PMOn their journey to Oz he is determined to acquire courage from the great wizard and upon arrival is surprised to find out he has been practicing the act of courage all along. “The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid.” (Frank L. Baum)

Life’s greatest mysteries they are often resolved in the everyday act of living.

Image Source: Figment Studio/Etsy