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It’s a glorious September weekend here on Cape Cod, which feels a little incongruous when disaster is raining down in so many places – hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes, fires gone wild.

Perhaps nature is telling us something. Something like, You do not control me. Or maybe, You cannot ignore me.

How often we ignore the natural world, treating it as a scenic backdrop to our human-centric busyness. Or treating it as simply a resource from which to extract whatever we need to sustain our standard of living. Our 24-hour lighting and climate-controlled buildings supports this confidence that nature is under our control. Things like sharks and earthquakes and hurricane only show up in the movies. Except in times like this.

I’m not saying that nature is a pissed-off Mother who is trying to teach us a lesson. (That’s just another view that puts us in the center of the universe.) If anything, natural disasters show us that we are not the end all and be all. Our deep ancestors knew their place in the scheme of things. Right now we could use a little of their wisdom, their humility.

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It’s been an odd summer for me because of the trip to Africa plopped down in the middle of July. Between prepping for the trip, being away, and re-entering, there hasn’t been a lot of what I think of as summer.

So now I’m trying to grab a little of that old Cape Cod magic before summer is gone.

The other day, I took the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard with my friends Mary Ellen and Susie. It wasn’t a day trip – more like a half-day trip. But still, it was fun.

Our destination was Oak Bluffs and Illumination Night – an annual festival where all the gingerbread cottages that surround the old campground are lit up with paper lanterns. I’d never seen it, though I’ve read about its magic in books. (Check out Illumination Night, a novel by Alice Hoffman.)

While waiting for darkness to descend and the lanterns to come on, we had a wonderful dinner at the Red Cat Café in Oak Bluffs. (World’s best roasted brussel sprouts!) At the table next to us were two women visiting from Dubai, who told us that we absolutely must get donuts from Back Door Donuts after dinner. The apple fritters, they said, were TO DIE FOR!

They explained that the shop sells pretty conventional baked goods out of the storefront during the day, but at 7 p.m. every night after the shop closes, they open the back door to the parking lot and begin to sell truly amazing donuts, right out of hot oil, to a waiting crowd. Even the Obamas were known to stop by when they were on the island.

“Try to get there early,” they warned. “There will be a line.”

And indeed there was! Though it was not yet 7:00, several hundred people were already queued up, waiting. A festive, chatty mood animated the crowd. The folks ahead of us in line were flabbergasted to hear that Susie had never, ever eaten a donut before. NEVER?  Nope, never. This seemed like a pretty good place to start! We speculated whether apple fritters counted, and whether we might be able to cage a few free donuts, given the historic moment.

Ixnay to that idea, but the apple fritters were as delicious as advertised, a perfect blend of hot sugary crispness and grease.

The illumination part of the evening was less successful. It was the tradition to precede the lantern-lighting with a hearty, patriotic sing-along in the Tabernacle that anchors the campground. The singing went on and on and on till we finally had to bolt for the shuttle bus, lest we miss the last ferry back to the mainland. Never did see the lights.

Better luck next year!

Zanzibar!

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I fell in love with Zanzibar before I set foot there. The name itself promised so much – trade winds, white sands and turquoise water, coffee and spice plantations. The archipelago has a Swahili culture rich with Persian, Arabic, Indian, and Portuguese influences dating back to Zanzibar’s heyday as a trade center. And then there is Stone Town, the old part of Zanzibar City, with its atmospheric maze of alleys, terraces, and intricately carved doorways, its mosques and markets, bazaars and beaches.

I’d never spent time in a predominantly Muslim culture before, and the experience was good for my heart and mind.  It made me realize how varied the second-largest religion in the world is, and how little I know about it.

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Patrick and I took a cooking class at a spice plantation, helping the matriarch, her four grown daughters and assorted granddaughters prepare lunch for travelers taking the spice tour. It was a hoot!

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We visited a rainforest to see the only colobus  monkeys on the planet. Then we had to say goodbye to Zanzibar, because safari was calling.

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Final note to self about safaris. It is completely unnecessary to have special safari clothes! In fact, if you wear the full regalia, you will look pretty silly. You’re  going to be in a vehicle when you’re out in the bush, so the color of your outfit is not important.

On the other hand, whatever you wear will get absolutely filthy! (Dusty roads.)

 

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Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes. ~ Henry David Thoreau

Easy for him to say, but he didn’t have a closet full of colors that are a no-no on safari.  (Bright colors and white scare off the animals. Blue attracts tsetse flies, which can give you sleeping sickness. Yikes!) Local stores are full of pinks and blues and whites. It took some real looking to assemble this pile. I hope to wear the same clothes for the whole time.

Tomorrow evening….my first trip to Africa! I’m so excited!

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So my January staycation to date: so far, it’s felt like a month of Saturdays. Not Saturday in the sense of Wheee! A day off to relax and have fun! — I’ve actually been quite busy doing stuff for the business and around the house. I’m talking about the way Saturdays feel different from Sundays. On Saturdays, with the buffer of Sunday ahead, I usually enjoy a relaxed sense of time. On Sundays, there’s a subtle tension – a fear of running out of time to do all the things I want to do before the work week begins again.

More than anything, my January staycation has been a vacation from that time stress. I know that after this day there will be another day off, and then another one, and another.

Recently, I was looking over some of my past blog posts, and was appalled to see how much I write about Too Much To Do And Not Enough Time. OMG! I thought.  I sound like such a whiner! I must vow to never write about that topic again!

But after some reflection, I changed my mind. First, because I want to talk authentically from my life, and time-stress is a big part of my day-to-day experience. (I actually prefer the term time-hunger, which is kind of like air-hunger, the panicky feeling that arises when we can’t get enough air. I like it because it shifts attention to the bodily response I have when I think, not enough time.)

Plus, this stress is experienced by many if not most people in our modern world – you could call it a societal disease. As such, it’s worth investigating more deeply.

As my month off winds down, I’m sure I’ll be feeling more of that anxious Sunday feeling. So forgive me if I continue to go on about this topic. I don’t want to just complain, but to understand.

Exuberant, energizing, kindhearted. Wonderful day after an awful day.

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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.

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