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I love Provincetown in the winter. For a brief refuge from everyday life, it’s perfect for me – just far enough to feel away, but easy to get to.

During my short visit this week, I stayed in a little cottage that was serenely and beautifully appointed with books, artwork, a big work table, a cushy bed, and two vintage velvet armchairs just made for curling up and reading. It was a block off Commercial Street, and at this time of year even Commercial Street is very quiet.

Most of the stores were closed, so there was no temptation to shop. Also closed were most of the coffee shops and restaurants, but soup, sandwiches and other provisions could be found at Far Lands, Bradford Natural Market, or the two or three restaurants that remained open.

There were people about – not many, but enough that the town didn’t feel deserted, and few enough that we naturally greeted each other on the street. It’s nice to have both solitude and human contact in winter.

Mostly I read, wrote, and took short walks. At night, with the holiday lights and window decorations still sparking in the empty streets, the place felt magical. Friday morning, I woke up to find the town covered with snow. That afternoon I went to see Manchester by the Sea at the little movie theater. When I returned to my cottage I had a good cathartic, much needed cry.

It was perfect!

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In a parallel universe, I’ve just arrived in Delhi, and am spending the night at an airport hotel before flying to Rishikesh for a week in an ashram on the Ganges. My India trip was cancelled a few weeks ago, but the calendar on my phone hasn’t gotten the memo, and is continually updating me about what’s happening and where I’m heading next (Jaipur, Pushkar, Bundi). I could probably find a way to disable these messages, but I like knowing what alt-me is doing. I hope she’s having a good time, or at least isn’t scared.

It would also be good if alt-me were feeling well rested and ready for the intensity of India. But how could she be, having experienced the same grueling October/November/December as I have? The anxiety and woe of the election, the unexpected deaths and illnesses of friends, the fatigue and moderate insomnia? Also, the crazy busyness at work…we both would have worked non-stop right through Christmas Eve, closing the shop just in time to dash to the mall for a last-minute Christmas gift, and then home roast a tenderloin and take it to a party. Flying out four days later would have been nuts.

So most of the time I feel that the cancellation of the trip has been a blessing, because India requires a level of stamina that I’m not feeling at the moment. For Plan B, I’ve booked a tiny cottage in Provincetown for three nights, where I plan to nap, write, read, meditate, and reflect on life. And then I plan to take a substantial amount of time off in January – a staycation to sort things out that need sorting. I will do my best to appreciate each moment of ordinary life, and not go chasing after bright shiny objects.

But India still twinkles at me. Maybe next year??

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I’m so excited…I’m going to India this January. Not to meditate, just to hang around and explore.

It’s been five years since my last trip there, and I always knew I would go back. So when my friend Deborah texted Want to go to India?, my instant reply was WHAT???? Hell yeah!

We’re going to base ourselves in Jaipur (think Best Exotic Marigold Hotel). Love Jaipur, a book that was recommended by a woman I met at the NY gift show last month, arrived in the mail yesterday. It had to be shipped directly from India; hence, it arrived bundled up in such a cocoon of cardboard and packing tape that it took me 15 minutes to carefully extract the book from its wrappings. “This is so India,” I thought fondly. Our soap papers come from India, and envelopes of samples always arrive taped up the wazoo like that. (When we get a big shipment, it’s usually in a heavily taped carton labeled Stayfree Maxi Pads. The UPS drivers must wonder about us.)

Of course, this trip contributes to the usual Aiyiyi! quality of my life.  I’ll be plunging pell-mell through the busy holiday season (oh yeah…and we’ll be remodeling the kitchen) and then heading immediately to India! Which is so intense, so stimulating, so exhausting!

Oh well! Life is short! I’ll rest when I’m dead.

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There’s nothing like mint during the dog days of summer. I’ve got a pot of mint growing outside the back door, and I love to snip some and toss it into anything I’m cooking. It makes almost anything better. Two of my favorite summer mint recipes:

Chilled Mint Borscht

beets: 4 large or 7 or 8 small
1 onion, chopped
1 TBSP olive oil
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium summer squash or zuchinni, chopped
2 cups chopped red cabbage
5 cups chicken broth
2/3 cup sour cream
1 TBSP worcestershire sauce
1 TBSP vinegar
1 TBSP sugar (or to taste)
handful of mint leaves

Wrap beets in foil and roast in a 350 degree for @ 1 hr. or until tender. When cool, peel and chop. Saute onion in oil. When soft, add carrots, squash, beets and cabbage. Cover with chicken broth and simmer until all vegies are soft. Puree in blender in batches. While blending the last batch, add the sour cream and mint and blend until the mint is chopped and the sour cream well mixed. Stir this into the rest of the pureed soup. It should be shocking pink now. Add the vinegar, worcestershire sauce, sugar, salt and pepper to your taste. Chill before serving.

Edamame Mint Pesto (this makes a great spread on crackers or on a sandwich)

1 cup of loosely packed mint leaves
2 anchovies
2 cloves garlic, loosely chopped
½ cup olive oil
1 ½ cup shelled edamame (the size of a Trader Joe’s package)
¼ cup almond meal
¼ cup lemon juice
1 tsp salt
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese (optional)

In a food processor, process mint, anchovies, garlic and olive oil until mint is well chopped.
Add remaining ingredients and pulse till the mixture becomes a coarse puree.

Makes about 2 cups.

ant

Tonight, on my desktop,
four black ants scurry around.
How did you get up here, my little friends?
And what are you searching for so intently?

One by one, I urge them onto a sheet of paper
And lower them down to the floor.
Then I consider how fortunate it is
That I am large and they are small.

The ants with their steely black armor,
their locomotive legs and implacable will.
Me with my slow movements,
my soft meaty parts,  and sometimes,
my tender foolish heart.

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I’ve been coughing violently for almost two weeks. This has meant cancelling a slew of engagements, some of which were fairly important.

I’ve only recently come to recognized how much people appreciate my not bringing my germs into their airspace. They see it as considerate when I bow out of their dinner party, cancel the meeting, and skip yoga class.

Call me dense, but this comes as a surprise. I guess I thought I was being heroic when I popped some OTC drugs and soldiered on in spite of a minor bug. I was being a trooper, keeping the wheels of commerce turning! Heaven knows, I didn’t want to disappoint people, miss out on anything, or upend plans that had taken a lot of work to arrange.

These are not just my values, they are cultural values. The worker who stays home because of a minor illness is often viewed as a malingerer. A day or two for a cold – maybe! Any longer than that, and you’d better be in the hospital. “Don’t worry,” my boss used to croak when she returned to work wheezing and coughing, “I’m not contagious!”

It’s an example of our tendency to override the body in the interest of getting things done.

A line from the latest newsletter from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship: In a busy capitalist world, sometimes rebellion looks like rest.  Or to adapt it to my circumstances, Sometimes rebellion looks like staying home when you’re sick.

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For several years, I’ve been selecting a Word of the Year – a word chosen to serve as a touchstone, a reminder of my aspirations. In 2015, my word was embodied.

This year, it’s listen.

Sounds are one of the primary ways we receive the world. When there’s movement in our surroundings, waves are generated that touch us intimately, setting up vibrations in tiny, delicate structures that are passed to the brain and unfurl into vivid, colored stories about what’s out there and what we need to do about it. It’s pretty amazing.

Of course, hearing is not the same as listening, which implies a degree of intention and attention. To listen well requires a quieting of the mind, a stilling of the mental chatter that distracts us from the messages the world is sending. For this reason, sounds are often used as an anchor, a  focusing point in meditation.

This deep listening isn’t limited only to sounds. We can direct the intention and attention of listening to subtle communications from our bodies and our hearts. We can listen when a friend speaks, and receive the tightness, the sadness, the joy that underlies their words.

At the retreat in Burma this January, a group of pink-robed Burmese nuns came every evening to offer metta (lovingkindness) chanting. As the days passed, I learned how to make tiny adjustments in the heart that allowed me to receive this offering (I called it tuning into Radio Metta). I discovered how, with practice and remembering, that delicate tuning and receiving was possible at any time.

So listen! The spring peepers are peeping. Can your heart hear what they’re saying?

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The daffodils are opening, announcing that spring is really here.  And you know what that means…it’s time for spring cleaning!

But here’s a confession:  I rarely clean my house.

It’s not that I don’t want to, but between the business and the Airbnb apartment and trying to have a life, I just don’t have time. If it weren’t for my excellent husband with his strong domestic streak, we’d be living in total squalor.

Perhaps because it’s so rare, I yearn to spend more time taking care of my house. I’ve just been reading the mega-bestseller, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. The idea of spending a week (or a month) de-cluttering and organizing the house is so alluring! But it’s not gonna happen, any more than finding a big chunk of time for spring cleaning. (Frankly, spring cleaning seems more like a charming artifact from a simpler era than something that women — especially working women — actually do anymore.)

Still, we all do our best, even if it’s in small increments. Yesterday, for example, I pushed aside my Things to Do list and spent a couple of hours sorting my home office.

I get that clutter saps energy, while clean desktops and countertops create space for creativity and serenity to enter. I aspire to a more orderly life. Maybe today I’ll tackle one drawer in the bathroom.

One reason I like to write is that my mind is a busy little metaphor machine. Comparisons come bubbling up all the time, and a really apt one tickles me and I want to share it – especially when it comes to Buddhist topics that can only be approached through metaphor.

Hence, The self is like the Red Sox, and I am a self-driving car. (More about these some other time.)

Here’s one that’s been lurking at the edge of my mind lately, begging to be put it into words: The Internet is a metaphor for annata (the non-self nature of existence).

The thought arose recently when I was working with our young website designers on Summer House Soap’s new site.

I studied graphic design way back in…well, never mind when it was, but let me tell you that when we wanted to position an image or some type on a layout, we had to glue it in place with rubber cement.

Even after I migrated to digital graphic design, (I was mostly designing for print) I could position things where I wanted them and they would stay there. Fonts, line spacing, etc. were under my control. And when everything was to my liking, I’d convert the file to a PDF, essentially creating a fixed solid object.

Not so with designing for the internet! It’s frustrating to see how different a design can look on different devices, depending on what browser is used, whether it’s mobile or laptop, and so on. What I had to get used to is how the design gets assembled anew in each setting. It’s a living aggregate of pieces, coming together in the moment according to conditions.

Isn’t that a nifty metaphor for the non-self (non-solid) nature of existence?

The young seem to take this fluidity in stride because they grew up in a digital world. I wonder if that makes them more able to intuit the dharma.

Dune shack

This being my last full day at the shack, I’m ready for some human contact. It will help with re-entry.

Coincidentally, this morning I exchanged greetings with the neighbor as we pumped water at our respective wells, and he invited me over to his shack to meet his wife. The two of them are part of the vanishing tribe of shack owners who have had their property taken by the National Seashore.

When I arrived at their shack, their first words were, “We’re in the middle of a situation here.” Turns out that their shack had just become infested with crabs (no, not the kind you make crab dip out of) and they were in the process of removing all bedding for laundering.

It was quite an icebreaker! I perched on a wooden chair on their porch, trying not to touch anything or scratch at psychosomatic itches, and we chatted about a wonderfully broad range of topics. I could not help but be aware, though, that the very situation that was breaking their hearts – their shack lease from the seashore expires next year and they don’t know what the establishment will do – was what made my blissful week in the dunes possible. All the shacks that are available to the public were once privately owned.

Later in the day my friend Carolyn came to call. She’d just arrived for a week at another shack not far away. The mung had receded so she coaxed me into the water. Cold!! Exhilarating!! My week now feels perfect.

If you want to learn more about opportunities to stay in a dune shack, contact The Provincetown Community Compact or the Peaked Hill Trust.

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