zen and the art of birdwatching

elena lyakir zen and the art of birdwatching

| Image via Elena Lyakir |

Meditation isn’t for everyone – and, though I’ve tried more than I care to admit, I’m finally realizing it probably isn’t for me. I’ve tried, really I have. In yoga classes, with special CDs, in total silence, in an actual Buddhist temple…you name it. After reading Eat Pray Love (both times), I tried to “smile in my liver” as the author’s Balinese healer/guru tells her. It lasted about 15 seconds. My brain just isn’t built for silence.

I come by my mental fidgetiness honestly: my mother’s utter and complete inability to do nothing remains one of our longest-running family jokes. On a group vacation to a Mexican resort a few years ago, if you wanted to find her, you’d have no luck on the beach or at the pool. She’d be sitting in the lobby playing cards with whomever she’d managed to temporarily lure away from their day of relaxation. She just can’t shut her brain off. She can – and does – happily redirect it to lighter fare occasionally, but one thing you will never, ever see is my mom zoned out on the couch. She’s locked and loaded 100% of the time.

With a pedigree like that, it’s little wonder my meditation skills are weak. But. Hope springs eternal, and I’m always – always – looking for new, inventive ways to quiet my mind (I frequently look for them while trying to quiet my mind – a paradox if ever there was one).

Recently (this segue will make sense in a moment, I promise), a great blue heron took up residence in the pond behind my house. (Before you get too excited about the fanciness of that statement, let me just say: it’s an apartment complex. The waterfall was not procured on my dime.) Now, I realize that a bird in your backyard might not exactly be news, but a great blue heron is one of the largest shorebirds in America, with a 7-foot wingspan. I think it’s fair to say that’s pretty impressive as birds go – particularly when it’s flying toward your window at 25 mph. So as you can imagine, despite the fact that his feathers make for remarkable camouflage against the massive “artfully strewn” boulders that surround the Disney-esque creation that is my view, this kid has a bit of a presence when he arrives.

I suspect he’s a fledgling, this gangly fellow (because of course I’ve created a back story for him). A teenage heron finding his way in the world, and the safety and serenity of our little manufactured oasis (which also happens to be fully stocked with deliciously decorative koi fish) makes this the best possible spot to hone his meagre hunting skills before venturing into more competitive waters in the San Francisco Bay just over the hill.

Though, frankly, “meagre hunting skills” is putting it mildly. I watch this poor heron strike out more often than Zach Galifianakis before he got famous. But of course, herons don’t have the option of throwing up their wings in despair, stalking off and grabbing a cocktail with their girlfriends. A bird’s gotta eat. And so, he tries again – and again, and again – to nab one of the hundreds of sleepy koi in our pond, stalking through the water with the comically slow gait of a Looney Tunes villain, hoping the stop-motion action of his reedlike legs in the water won’t give him away. And despite his comical failures, every so often he strikes gold.

Lately, I’ve taken to taking my tea out on the deck in the morning, before the rest of my house fully wakes, and watching what has become my own private version of the Nature Channel. Does anyone even remember the Nature Channel? National Geographic and Animal Planet are all high drama, sharknadoes and lion attacks. But the Nature Channel was a Zen garden. A channel on which it was entirely possible that you could watch an hour-long video of a bird fishing, narrated intermittently by a deep, soothing voice. And that was it. For the entire show. My grandfather, a veritable paragon of Zen whose straightforwardly calm approach to life I still miss every day, used to love the Nature Channel. I never really understood why…until this heron showed up.

You see, I can’t meditate to save my life. But as it turns out, I can watch this heron try to fish. Sometimes for half an hour at a stretch, if some exuberant labrador in the adjacent dog park doesn’t scare him off first. Most other people walking by don’t even see him, his camouflage is so impressive. But when someone does spot him, their reaction is always fantastic. They invariably stop dead in their tracks…followed by an almost hypnotic pull toward him. They have to see how close they can get to what is, admittedly, a pretty magnificent sight. Invariably, they get too close, of course, and he glares and flaps angrily back to the far side of the pond, his meticulous stalking setup foiled yet again. The whole process is entertaining, but hypnotic and soothing and predictable too. I’ve come to think of it as my modern version of meditation. Am I focused on mindfulness, chanting a mantra and emptying my mind? No. But my attention is rapt, that’s for sure. I don’t check my phone, or read a magazine, or anything really. It’s just me and the heron. Which, frankly, feels pretty zen to me.

In recent weeks, the heron has moved on…or grown up, probably, off to feather a little heron nest with a sensible girl heron who can show him the ropes, fishing-wise. But when he left, a belted kingfisher showed up – a hilarious little fellow that hunts by divebombing the pond like the Red Baron and nearly always emerging triumphant with a bright orange fish in his beak. Then there was the giant duck with an attitude problem, flapping his wings and strutting on the far side of the pond, which turned out to be a double-crested cormorant. And then a black crowned night heron, who hunkers down in a nearby willow tree looking exactly like Despicable Me with a fancy, feathered hat. (Now, did I know a double-crested cormorant from my left shoe? Of course not. But I found this fantastic app that can ID any bird in 4 questions…it’s kind of incredible, actually.) And before I knew what had happened, I was a birdwatcher.

These mornings with my little mini-aviary have gotten me thinking. Why does meditation have to be what it looks like in a Buddhist temple? For that matter, why does it have to be any one thing at all? Instead of looking at the form, what if we looked at the desired result? Assuming you’re okay with not actually communing with the Divine, in essence, the goal is to walk away from meditation feeling calmer, lighter, clearer and a little more at peace with yourself. With that in mind, any number of things might qualify as meditation: an early morning walk (without the dog or the husband or the kids). Sitting on a bench in a park, watching the sun set. Putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

Or maybe even playing cards in Mexico.

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postcard: stowaway cosmetics

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Could not be more obsessed with these itty bitty pots of adorableness from the super-smart ladies behind Stowaway Cosmetics. Highlights: the best BB cream I’ve found, cheek & lip pot in peony, and a concealer so effective, you’ll have to fight me for their last pinky-sized tube. I look like I actually got a full night’s sleep for the first time in two years.
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how bloggers make money, and why pinterest is evil

pinterest graphic 2 how bloggers make money, and why pinterest is evil

I know that, for a lot of you, the whole world of “how bloggers make money” is this big, bouncing question mark you’re dying to know more about. In the wake of some news I received yesterday (more on that pile of Pinterest douchebaggery in a moment…), I’m going to spill the beans.

The sad truth is, it’s really not all that exciting. Sure, there are bloggers who make grillions of dollars from ad campaigns and get free Gucci handbags from brand partnerships. There are about 20 of them. For the rest of us? We sell the occasional ad, but these days, most brands are “moving beyond” direct advertising (translation: they’ve figured out we all just tune those sidebar ads out). They’d rather buy a sponsored post…which, for those of us who are picky about our content and aren’t willing to lie to our readers, is like trying to catch a unicorn in a net made of grasshopper legs. (No, I’m not going to run a story about how much I love your cheap polyester miniskirts in exchange for a $50 store credit. Tempting, but no.)

So, if ads are passé and sponsored posts are few and far between, how’s a girl supposed to make a living? Read on

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postcard from nyfw: fashion vs. style

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Am I the only person wondering what the fug is happening at the J.Crew NYFW presentation today? Purple culottes, yellow fur and a suit/jumpsuit/snuggie aberration that defies all rational thought. No. Just no.

Fashion vs. style, friends. I say it all the time, but if this doesn’t bring it home, I can’t imagine what will. I’m all about fashion as art – the design, the eccentricity, the sheer creative genius of it all. But loving a portrait by Picasso doesn’t mean I need to have my ear surgically relocated to my lower cheek.

The next time a designer or a model or a magazine or a blogger tells you something should be in your closet, just take a moment. Think about whether you love the art of that “something”, or whether you love how it would actually make you feel in the real world. Think about what you wear that actually makes you look and feel your absolute best, that makes you feel the most you. Does that “something” fit the bill?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t ever try new things. I swore I’d never venture into skinny jeans, but here we are three years later and I have a closet full of them. I’ve found cuts I love, and ways to wear them that make me feel sophisticated and stylish. Pencil skirts, on the other hand? I have a closet full of those too…but no matter how many magazine editorials tell me they’re sexy, I never feel anything but chubby and self-conscious when I wear them. So, I finally started buying A-line skirts, and it was a revelation.

There’s a reason we all love that French girl style, and more often than not, it’s because they know better than to succumb to every fad that comes their way. Find your style, be true to it, and if a trend happens to pique your interest, dip your toe in. But also, feel absolutely free to walk on by.



350 postcard from nyfw: fashion vs. style
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the best love advice i never got

best tenth anniversary gift e1423675844247 the best love advice i never got

(Warning: the following is not gender-neutral. Not because I’m a big insensitive jerk, but because writing that way is surprisingly hard. Please read with whatever pronouns you love best.)

It’s nearly Valentine’s Day, friends! I know, I know. Every year, I preach about how we should use this “holiday” (such as it is) to celebrate much more than our romantic relationships, so I’ll keep this year’s tirade brief. But. Remember in grade school, when everyone in your class got a Valentine? Even the fat girl everyone made fun of got a card and some conversation hearts. (That was me, by the way – not that I’m bitter.) I try sometimes to remember at what point in our childhoods Valentine’s Day stopped being about everyone, and started being about The One. It’s a travesty, if you ask me. I miss conversation hearts.

As God and Hallmark intended, this week I’ve been thinking a lot about love. Which, in turn, means thinking about my darling Hubs. Not long ago, we had a pretty big anniversary – the kind that makes you sit back and think about all you’ve been through together. And phew…have we been through some shit. Sure, I might occasionally want to strangle him with the dirty socks he leaves on the floor, but when I think about what we’ve survived together during the last decade-plus? We are most definitely MFEO.

And yet. It took me forever to find him. Or at least it felt like forever. Single Me thought I was going to die waiting. Single Me chased bad idea after bad idea, hoping I could browbeat Not It into being The One. Single Me sat home, listening to Sarah McLachlan, watching marathons of Meg Ryan movies and convincing myself I’d never find love. Single Me was the original Bridget Jones. (With a mental picture like that, I know it’s hard to imagine why Single Me wasn’t more successful on the dating market.)

And so, without resorting to black hearts or Anna Howard Shaw, I thought I’d share a few things I wish I could have told Single Me while she was sitting on the floor of her apartment getting down and dirty with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Not that she would have listened. Read on

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Lest you think I’ve abandoned all of my sartorial sensibilities, I thought I’d share a little OOTD action for you today, featuring some of my closet’s current favorite things.

Fashion-y things I have learned this week: deep green & cognac get along awfully well…and for that matter, those chestnut Tieks get along with dang near everything. Also, those jeans are fast becoming my new favorites – they’re from the Gap, if you can believe it, which means you can almost always score them for under $50. The wash is exactly what I’ve been in the mood for after so many seasons of dark denim, and they somehow miraculously don’t stretch out in the back after 10 minutes, unlike every other pair of Gap jeans I’ve ever tried.

Details on the rest of it right over here, or below. (And no, that yummy sweater was not 40% off back when I bought it. Blerg.)

350 postcard


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the best we can

frustrated dog e1422912552213 the best we can

| Isn’t that face is the most perfect picture of frustration you’ve ever seen? Hilarious. But of course, we’ve all been there. |

I don’t know if you’ve been feeling it where you are, but the new year has felt heavy to me this time around. Like one of those hulking winter coats from a thrift store that smells kind of funny and never fits you quite right. There’s sorrow and loss around every corner, it seems, and I’m starting to wonder if my heart can survive it. Read on

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