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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.

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I could live happily here all week in just my crinkly pink tee shirt and tan shorts.

One of the benefits of solitude is being able to wear the same clothes day after day and be as be as unwashed and unkempt as you like. This week has been a good test of my “I don’t get BO” theory. (I believe this because I’ve been testing our new natural deodorant. First I tested it against my regular deodorant (right armpit natural, left Mitchum.) No discernible odor! Then I tested it against an untreated armpit. Still no difference, so the test was inconclusive.)

Staying in a shack with no running water or electricity necessitates some creative personal hygiene. I’ve worked out a routine with two stainless steel bowls and two washcloths. One set is for my face, the other for grubbier ablutions like dirty feet. It’s also good for laundering undies.

Today I took my first outdoor shower. There’s a tank on the shed roof that collects rainwater. It runs thought hoses that are exposed to the sun, so the water came out scalding hot at first. I partially filled one of the bowls with well water and topped it off with the hot stuff.  This made a nice temperature for dumping over my head. Suds, rinse, and repeat. Nice!

Toileting is done in an indoor composting toilet for #2 and outside for #1 because the toilet is nearly full. Not a problem, except for last night. As I squatted in the bushes in the dark, a large noisy insect dive-bombed me. I lurched out of the way, bopping my head on an overhead branch and peeing on my pants in the process. Tomorrow: laundry day.

While I have some flip flops with me, bare feet are the best way to get around on the dunes, unless it’s midday. Then, the sand is like a frying pan, and it’s best to wear some socks.

Here are the two bars of soap that have been my companions this week. One is Nantucket Sea Clay, a spearminty soap which was great in the outdoor shower. The other is a yet-to-be-named experiment created by Jules. It fascinates me. It really goes well with this shack – very smokey and woody with notes of vetiver, cedar and clary sage. I think it’s a keeper. Maybe I’ll call it Dune Shack. Or Sand Dune? Sand Bar?

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Last year, I went directly from a meditation retreat in Burma to selling at the New York Gift Show, jet lag, bronchitis and all. Talk about a rough re-entry!

This month history repeated itself, though not so intensely. I returned from a week at the Providence Zen Center and immediately had to set up for the Boston Gift Show. It’s hard to go from sitting in silence to high-energy selling, but in many ways a Zen retreat is great preparation for any demanding life situation.

Just do it!  A lot of Zen practice is about showing up, paying attention, meeting the unexpected, and doing what needs to be done. Lots of opportunity to do that at a show!

Don’t know mind. I packed for the show with no idea of how our booth was going to come together. The organizers had just informed us that the booth drapes were going to be black instead of white, and I feared it would be weird and Goth and definitely un-Summer-House-y. There was no time to arrange alternate drapes…what to do? No choice but to figure it out once I got there.

Don’t make good and bad. As it turned out, our colors just popped on the black background – especially the turquoise banners — and the yellow daffodils and summery linens looked elegant. I was quite surprised.

Follow your situation. I was also surprised to find myself with a 10 x 35 ft. space to fill instead of our usual 10 x 10 booth. (There were a number of no-shows among the vendors.) I wrangled some piping for extra lights and spread our stuff out  and it turned out great.

Everything is no problem! All in all, I appreciated my new-found ability to chill when tensions were high and curve balls were flying. And during the long stretches where nothing much was happening? No problem when you’ve just spent a week sitting and staring at the floor for eight hours a day!

Don’t get me wrong…I don’t recommend this schedule if you have an alternative. But if you don’t? Just do it!

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On Tuesday morning, Sarah and I are taking off for the Atlanta Gift Show, where we hope to sell our Summer House Soaps to store owners from all over the East Coast. It’s a mind-bogglingly huge event  – one we’ve never done before –  so there’s been quite a steep learning curve.

We’ve never had to ship our products and displays to a show before, so we had to figure out how to pack it all on a pallet. This baby (over five feet tall) got picked up from my garage in early December.  With luck it will be intact and waiting for us in our booth when we arrive.

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With any new show there are lots of strict rules to digest. Experience tells me that many such rules are completely ignored on location, but we can’t assume that.

In Atlanta, for example, all booth materials must be flame-proofed by Georgia-certified professionals. To avoid a problem, we’re skipping our usual drapes in favor of foam core walls which will be in place when we get there. The color we selected is an experiment  – lime green. It could be fabulous or it could be a horror. I’ll let you know.

Our lodging is also an experiment. We’ve booked a one-bedroom apartment in the Virginia Highlands neighborhood through Air bnb, an eBay-like site where people with an extra room or two connect with people looking for a place to stay. Should be interesting.

I’m in the process today of figuring out some show outfits that will fit in with the more dressed-up southern style.  As Sarah pointed out, it won’t do for us to look like a couple of middle-aged hippies.

It’s been great having a couple of weeks of down time, but the adventure of life resumes. Wish us luck!

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The sweet week between Christmas and New Years is drawing to an end. I didn’t expect to recuperate from nine months of stress in seven days, but it was a start.

When we finally get some down time after a very busy stretch, there’s always a pull between the need to do nothing and the need to catch up.  Yes, we know we need badly to rest, but there are other things besides our bodies that have been neglected during our busy spell. It’s good to have time to clean off our desks, remove the rotting vegetables from the fridge, and touch base with a few friends. It helps us resume our lives after the break with a clearer spirit.

This goes to an issue I’ve been pondering and writing about for a long time – the seeming conflict between doing and stillness.  No question my predisposition is towards doing, and sometimes I wreck myself in the process, getting tangled up in anxiety, exhaustion, and insomnia.  One of the reasons I engage in Zen practice is to find a better balance.

I’ve been reading a book this week called Awake at Work by Michael Carroll, which offers ways of creating “clarity and balance in the midst of work’s chaos” through the study of classical Tibetan Buddhist teaching phrases. One of these phrases is Balance the two efforts:

Our effort to get somewhere, whether in our career or our life, depends on first being somewhere, letting go of our fears, desires, habits, and routines and trusting ourselves fully in the present moment. …In turn, we discover balance in simply being present, and an alertness that is resourceful, flexible, and relaxed.

We know that of course – that doing and being, action and stillness are not really opposites but attributes that can and do exist in each moment simultaneously. And we can cultivate the ability to act from that place so there is less effort, tension, and anxiety in everything we do.

But of course, as my friend Deborah so succinctly put it, this isn’t about insight, it’s about practice. So we practice. Moment by moment.

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I lay in bed Sunday morning basking in a warm feeling of gratitude. Our Summer House Soaps Grand Opening yesterday was truly grand, in the British sense of “A cup of tea? That would be grand.”

I’m grateful for all the people who emailed or turned out to wish us well. I’m grateful to my husband, John, for all his support, including racing around with me at the last minute finding rugs for the showroom. (Rain was expected, and we visualized people toppling like bowling pins on the wet, slippery floor.)

I’m grateful to Debbie and Priscilla and Jill for helping out at the checkout area, and for the forbearance of customers who waited because our system was a little rough around the edges (it was our first day, after all). I’m grateful to Bill, our landlord, for his help and creative carpentry, to Joslyn for her beautiful cookies, and to so many others, including many who offered help but I was too overwhelmed to articulate what might be helpful.

Most of all I’m grateful to Julie and Betsy for moving the whole operation and getting it set up in less than a week, all the while keeping the orders flowing with barely a hiccup. Amazing.

The morning of the opening I was really, really tired and achy, and wondered how I would get through the day. It was helpful to reflect on the grand wave of collaborative energy that has gotten the project to this point, and to realize that I might trust in it.

This is a shift in perspective for me, who tends to think that everything depends on me all the time. It’s not true of course, and what’s more, it’s a burden to carry around the idea that you have to make things happen. I have to do my part, of course. But from a Buddhist perspective, things arise out of conditions, not from my efforts.

This morning on the online Tricycle email, there was this fitting quote from Stephen Batchelor:

Every moment of experience is contingent on a vast complex of myriad conditions…To recognize this emptiness is not to negate things but to glimpse what enables anything to happen at all.

When I was at the meditation retreat last week, my daily job was pot washing.

There were three of us working in a rather tight space, scrubbing, rinsing, and putting in a sterilizer a lot of pots and all the bowls, utensils, pitchers, trays, and other stuff that went into making lunch for about 100 people. The retreat, and by extension, the job, were conducted in silence.

I’m a spacey person by nature, more likely to be lost in thought than aware of what I’m doing (just ask my husband). So meditation practice, especially Zen practice, which emphasizes mindfulness in action, has been good for me.

But even after years of practice, I can vary from awake, efficient, and well-tuned to the space and people around me to blunderingly oblivious, depending on my energy level and who-knows-what-else.

One day at my pot-washing job I was especially foggy and ruminative. I handed a large pan to the rinse guy, and he handed it back to me with a gesture indicating that I had missed some goop.

And how did I (silently) react?

Annoyed:  Pot Nazi!

Defensive:  Hey! It’s hard to see the junk on these old pot!

Insecure:  He thinks I’m sloppy!

Self-Judging:  I’m a loser as a pot-washer!

Not my finest moment! Under other conditions, perhaps I might have received his gesture as a simple statement of fact (there is food on this pot), rather than a criticism.

At Zen retreats, there are lots of little “forms” – ritual ways of doing everything from tying your robe to blowing out a match (not with your breath, but with a side-to-side swish). All this exists, as far as I can tell, for the express purpose of stirring up this effort-mistake-reaction pattern so we can learn not to take it all personally. To learn to pay attention, to acknowledge mistakes, and move on without all the drama.

It’s been very helpful for me, and I try to impart the message to my employees at Summer House Soaps:

Pay Attention

Mistakes Happen

Note Them

No Judgment

Move On

When you get a couple hundred soapmakers from all over the country together in a room, there’s a lot of energy.

We were 95% women, but certainly not all the same. There were exuberant Texans with lots of jewelry and sass, greying mid-westerners who raised goats, and black-clad urban gen-xers (or are they Ys or Zs? I’ve lost track) who’ve been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. Still, being soapers, we were kind of a tribe.

For four days we networked and partied and attended workshops on a lot of topics, ranging from technical how-tos to legal, financial, and marketing advice

On the last night, I went through all my notes to pull together a list of highlights and action items.  I’m trying to avoid the tendency to immediately get caught up in life-as-usual – in short, to fergettaboutit – till I run across my handouts during an office purge a year from now.

Anyway, I’m back now with fresh inspiration and new things to try, plus some nice memories of Portland.

Five things about Portland:

People are friendly, helpful, and seem genuinely happy to be there. Even the security people at the airport have an attitude that seems to say, Hey! Cool! I live in Portland!

There’s an air of civilized calm on the streets downtown compared to our frantic east-coast cities. Crosswalks are respected. Traffic is law-abiding.  Life seems less stressful.

As expected, the city is crawling with youthful types who look like they’ve just biked to work. Some of them, and I don’t mean hippies or the homeless, are walking around barefoot, including at the airport. What’s up with that?

There are two rivers, clean air, lot of pine trees, and sunshine (although we were assured that sunshine isn’t the norm)

And finally there’s Mt. Hood, a classic cone-shaped, snow- covered mountain, looming over the scene giving a serene sense of proportion to the place.

Some pics from Portland:

I ran across this term recently in another blog, and it stuck with me. It’s a succinct way of describing those moments when tightness triumphs over the impulse to be generous.

I had a Generosity Fail yesterday at the Orleans Farmers Market. A pleasant silver-haired guy stopped by my table to tell me he’d bought a lot of bars last season and given them to his family members as stocking stuffers. They were a big hit.

“That’s great to hear! Have you tried the soap yourself?”

He admitted he hadn’t.

“Well you should try it! Look, these seconds are just $2 and $3.”

At that moment my attention was drawn away by another customer at the table, and when I turned back, he had moved on.

Dope! I thought. Why didn’t you just pop a nice bar in a glassine bag and hand it to him? “Here….try it! It’s a gift.” Not because it was good marketing, which of course it was, but because it’s nice to give things away. The freedom to give people stuff is one of the perks of being the business owner. I also encourage my employees to err on the side of generosity when dealing with customers. Giving things away frees up energy. It’s fun.

In that instance, it wasn’t exactly a case of stinginess triumphing over generosity since I didn’t care at all about making an extra $2, but of simple inattentiveness to the opportunity of the moment.

Oh well. Generosity Fail. Better luck next time.

One of the central themes of Buddhism is that everything changes.

I had a full dose of this reality last spring, when Elaine and Priscilla, my production assistants at Summer House Soaps, both came to me in the same week to tell me that, for differing personal reasons, they had to leave.

I had just returned from the New York Gift Show when this came up, and business was jumping.  Suddenly I was looking at the possibility of having no soap to sell as we headed into the busiest time of year. (You may have noticed a long gap in blogging during this rocky period of adjustment!)

Now – flash forward – the business has recreated itself in a robust new shape. In production, we now have Karl and Julie. Elaine and Priscilla have stayed connected through wrapping soap and selling at the farmer’s markets. Debbie and Sarah do the same.

Yesterday we all sat down together for a celebratory mid-season lunch on the screen porch. We feasted on chicken and shrimp and lots of locally grown vegies (click here for my new favorite summer soup: chilled minted borscht). I looked around at everyone’s faces and marvelled.

Change happens, things end. We resist it, but it happens anyway. And then something else arises in place of what was before, and it’s often very good.

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