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zen and the art of birdwatching

elena lyakir

| 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. Read on

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the best love advice i never got

best tenth anniversary gift

(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.

Single is not a disease to be cured. It’s a chapter in your book. And whether it lasts 5 days or 50 years, there’s no pause button to hit while you’re waiting for The One. So, get to work enjoying the unattached life – it’s awesome! Go on a week-long meditation retreat, make new friends, sit in a bookstore for hours, take a class, make out with a stranger, move to Spain for a month…all things you’ll probably never do once you’re paired off. Youth is wasted on the young, and singledom is wasted on people who are too depressed about not being coupled to actually enjoy being single.

Likewise, despite what every romantic comedy ever made would have you believe, being coupled isn’t the end of the story either. It’s just another chapter. Hopefully a long, epic chapter filled with Great Love and unforgettable adventures, but still. I know, you’re looking at paired-off people and assuming their lives are settled and everything is perfect. Trust me: they don’t sprinkle magic dust on you up at the altar. Those coupled people are working just as hard as you at finding their way.

Speaking of working hard, when you’re out there auditioning possible mates (and remember, the audition process goes both ways, friends), ask yourself this: who would I want in my corner? If the going was really, really rough – and at some point on your long road, it will be – would this person have my back? Would they hold my hand during the ugly parts? If they came in a room and saw me curled up in a ball of frustration and fear, would they know whether to pick me up and dust me off or plop down next to me and hand me another brownie? Trust me: that’s the person you want.

Of course, that all makes sense in principle. But in practice, when you’re out there cruising Tinder (purely for research purposes, of course), how on earth can you tell whether the person whose children you’re mentally preparing to have is a person worth giving your life to?

Well, for starters, it won’t look like it does in the movies. (Spoiler alert!) In real life, the one you have to chase is almost never The One. Nope, you want the guy who’s doing everything he can think of to get your attention. The guy who calls when he says he will and shows up on time. Because I promise you this: after a few months, “dependable and smitten” looks a lot sexier than “exciting and unpredictable”.

Marry the guy who wishes he could afford to buy you diamonds. Whether or not he ever gets rich, generosity is harder to find than money.

Maybe most important of all, marry the guy who tries. The one who brings over soup when you’re sick, and makes sure you never run out of chocolate. The one who buys you a tin of Altoids for your anniversary, because he bothered to look up what gift you’re supposed to get for #10, and fancy gifts made of tin are hard to come by. (Don’t worry…I got the diamonds too.)

And once you find the person who does all that? For god’s sake, hold on tight.

Remember that just as real love doesn’t look like the movies, real marriage doesn’t look like a sitcom. So, leave your carping fishwife routine at the door and keep the nagging nice – he’s your partner, not your royal subject.

Take a deep breath before you start screaming – the things that make your head most likely to spin off into another dimension are almost never the Really Big Things, so just be sure the punishment fits the crime.

And every so often, buy the matching undies.

Well. That’s just about everything I know on the subject. What about you? What’s the best advice you’d give your single self?

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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.

I’m not even talking about the big guns like ISIS and Charlie Hebdo, or even Ferguson – the huge, gut-wrenching calamities we can’t begin to comprehend, let alone cope with. No, these are closer – intimate personal tragedies that hit much too close to home, sinking their teeth into your tender spots and leaving you bruised and utterly bewildered. More dear friends and family members than I can wrap my brain around have lost parents, grandparents, friends or beloved pets already this year – and it’s only February. Others are dealing with unimaginably hard things in their lives that can only be described as staggeringly unfair. My husband’s 36-year-old barber died of a heart attack 3 days into the new year. In what universe does that make sense?

Of course there’s never a “good” time to go through something this bottomless and dark, but starting the new year on such a fugue-like note has left me in a strange place, one that’s too quiet, too aware. I’m trying to hold tight to what I have while making room in my heart to grieve all of these losses at once. Turns out, that’s quite a lot to carry.

I’ve caught myself squinting into the distance, hoping to catch a glimpse of the bigger picture or anything resembling meaning – something to gain from all this loss. But the light is faint, and sometimes it feels a bit like a mouse pointing a flashlight into the abyss. What can little old I possibly hope to illuminate in all this darkness?

After hearing that someone we love had lost her father suddenly, a dear friend said, “We’re too young to lose our parents.” And she’s right of course. But when are we old enough? For any of this? We’re too young, too fragile, too human for any of it. To be losing our friends, our partners, our colleagues, our pets…it’s just too much.

All I know is that I don’t know much of anything. There are no answers, and the sorrow I feel for these people whose lives will never be the same sits heavily on my shoulders. But I’m hoping against hope that somehow in the great karmic game of Hot Potato, my wearing all of this grief for a while lightens the load for someone else, even for a moment or two.

So, what can you do? When you’re faced with so much and feel so helpless? That’s the Big Question, of course. We all want a solution, so very badly. A + B, carry the 1, and that will get you straight to C. But here’s the hairy truth: Big Questions never have Easy Answers.

To be honest, this is where I stopped writing last week. Because I was stumped. And platitudes…well, a pinch of Hallmark is better than nothing, but it seldom gets the job done.

The other day, when the cashier at my little neighborhood post office was as close to tears as a man gets in public over the loss of his friend, the aforementioned barber, he shrugged and said, “What can we do but move on?”

Now just a minute, I told him. Not so fast. Sit with your grief for a while. It’s okay. Miss your friend. Honor his life and let yourself feel the loss before you file it away. And though I feel like I almost never have the right words, the look of relief on his face when I said this to him makes me think it might have helped just a little.

The next day, though my heart was still heavy and I was in no place to be social, I found myself chatting with the handyman at my building as he strolled by. Out of nowhere, and having almost nothing to do with anything we were talking about, he suddenly said to me, “Just do the best you can with today.

(I tell you, almost without exception, profound comes from the one place you absolutely never expect to find it.)

The more I thought about it, the more his words just sort of wriggled their way through the dark, twisty places in my head and took root. Do the best you can. Just for today. Whatever’s happening, whatever’s brought your heart low…instead of wondering how you’ll ever manage to solve the world’s evils, focus on any small thing that would make even one dark corner just a tiny bit brighter. Compliment someone. Buy a stranger’s latte. Smash a plate. Just do the best you can with today.

With those wise little words still wriggling around in my ears, we – my heavy heart and I – came home and sent flowers to my friend whose father died. Then we made a coffee date with a friend who’s struggling, and sent a loving email to another. And after that, we called my great aunt, whose son died just before Christmas, to let her talk about nothing at all for as long as she needed to.

Nothing was fixed, of course – loved ones were still gone, struggles were still there. But we’d done the best we could. And when I hung up the phone, my heart and I felt just a little bit better. For today.

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a very very merry

happy holidays

via Instagram

This morning, I’m getting ready for a Christmas cookie-decorating date with two of my favorite little munchkins. Being a person who prefers “Favorite Aunt” status to “Mom” status, I can tell you there are few things I enjoy more than borrowing my friends’ children for a few hours, loading them up with sugar and sparkly shoes, then sending them home to crash and burn on my friends’ time. Read on

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taking stock

burgundy bag fall, organize closet, how to organize closet for fall, burgundy purse

So, here is an actual thing that just happened: For the last couple of weeks, I have been seeing burgundy everywhere (as is so often the case during fall). And I started thinking to myself that what I really needed this season – needed, mind you – was a burgundy bag. Something simple and classic, ideally with a crossbody strap (because I am getting increasingly lazy). Naturally, my first instinct was to immediately begin obsessively scouring the WWW for the newest object of my affection. Weeks later, while perusing the website of one of my favorite designers, I had the ultimate forehead-slapping moment. “Ooh, I like that bag!” I thought. “I wish it came in burgundy.”

Slowly, the wheels started turning. “Wait…do I…? Didn’t it…?” organize closet

Yes, friends: that bag did come in burgundy, and was presently sitting in my closet. From last fall. When I absolutely had to have a new burgundy bag. Read on

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a sartorial pickle (also, welcome back!)

Friends, I’m back! I hope you’ve had a wonderful summer, whatever you’ve been up to. My break wasn’t quite as meditative and relaxing as I might have hoped, but the work I got done made me feel more productive and happy than I’ve been in ages. One sweet client is in the process of opening a brand new store, another revamped her entire online presence, and I got to roll up my sleeves and help them make those dreams a reality. Not a bad way to spend the summer, if you ask me.

I also took a little trip to Portland, which I’ll be telling you all about before long. I’ve missed the Rose City so very much, and spending a few days traipsing around old haunts was just what the doctor ordered.

Despite the fact that 80-degree temperatures just won’t quit in CA, I’m also intent on rebuilding my wardrobe for fall. But I’m in one of those phases when every single thing in my closet just bores me to tears. Do you ever have those seasons? Read on

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a french girl summer, part two (and an announcement)

how-to-dress-like-a-french-girl-summer, french girl summer, paris summer style, french summer style, paris summer, summer dresses, summer style

All via the Pinterest/Google Images rabbit hole

Well friends, you asked and I’m (finally) delivering the summer edition of my foolproof guide for how to dress like a French girl (if you missed the original version, it’s right here)! This story’s really best told via images, so I have a slew more for you on Pinterest (along with my shopping picks to make the look come to life). But in short, here’s the secret formula:  Read on

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