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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!

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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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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.

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January is coming to an end.  I say this with some sadness, even though the weather outside is dreary and I’ve been sick most of the month.

But I love January because it’s traditionally been the one month during the whole year when I get a chance to reboot my life – something I look forward to all year long. Sometimes this reboot takes the form of a complete get-away, as when I went on a three week meditation retreat last year. This year I didn’t do that, choosing instead to staycation at home, and recoup, assess, and catch up.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the past year and making plans for the coming one. I’ve also been tackling some seriously overdue housekeeping. By this I mean clearing away the detritus of the past year and restoring a little order, both in my home and in my business.

I sorted a clogged closet, for example, and hauled the excess to Good Will. I cleared clutter off of my actual and virtual desktops, and updated some computer programs. I’m hoping to empty out my inbox before the week is over. My husband is good at keeping up with maintenance tasks through good daily habits. I don’t seem to have that temperament, so an annual binge will have to do.

The truth is, I’ll never really be caught up, and I’ve learned to accept that. I regard my token efforts as more symbolic than practical –  sort of a ritual cleansing before the next season begins. By next week, the call to get back to business will be getting insistent.

Oh the tyranny of the to do list.

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In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, “Kayf haal-ik?” or, in Persian, “Haal-e shomaa chetoreh?” How is your haal? What is this “haal” that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” When I ask, “How are you?” that is really what I want to know.

I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Tell me you remember you are still a human being, not just a…

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There’s a nor’easter blowing outside so I’m hunkered down in the house. No matter…this is the first real weekend I’ve had for maybe five months. By “real weekend” I mean two consecutive days when I can do as I choose – in this case, hang at home, clean out the refrigerator, restock food supplies, make a pot of soup, and read a book. Heaven.

All summer and most of the fall, I’ve spent the weekends either working at farmers markets and craft shows, going out of town, or having house guests.  It’s been a good summer all in all – some of those out days away were purely recreational, and it was wonderful to have old friends and family visit. But by now, I’m exhausted by the relentlessness of it all.

We all need a little down time when nothing demands, nothing is scheduled, and we can be as unproductive as we choose.

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