Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Happiness: the name of the game

After a really amazing weekend -- attended the OYou! event in San Francisco with my best friends, spent the night, hung out more on Sunday, I feel a little bit dizzy with all of the possibilities, with the feeling that something BIG is coming, a really big change that we all need and that we're all a part of creating. All of the old forms no longer serve, it's a new time calling for new ways. I've been feeling a little bit crazy from this feeling, honestly, but also overjoyed.

I started reading "Happier" by Tal Ben-Shahar yesterday. I can't remember exactly what drove me to Amazon to search for this title, but anyway, there it was in the mailbox yesterday, Used: Like New, with some yellow highlighting throughout.

I've long thought that happiness was the whole point of everything, that it's the state that we are all striving for all of the time. In my youth (!) I think that there was a romantic obsession with melancholy, with misery that demonstrated how smart you were. Only stupid people were happy. And who the hell wants to be stupid. I don't know exactly where I learned that, but I clearly am not the only one. I still know some people clinging to that old way.

Probably my weekend really helped prepare me to read this book "Happier." I felt like I was on vacation, even though I was in my hometown, 20 miles from my present home, in the same city where I spend 5 days a week. The difference was that I was completely engrossed in activities with people I love, for long stretches of time, with no obligations to be anywhere or please anyone but ourselves. No too-heavy thought of the future, just the sweet Indian Summer air and the company of friends. And a Sunday morning, lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, replaying my dreams and listening to my friends' breathing. Motionless, thought-full.

So I'm really working on it now, being happier. As Aristotle apparently said, "Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence." It's now my whole aim, stay tuned for details.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The worst product ever...

Before our three-week vacation, as I ticked down my (obsessive) prep list, I picked up a new mascara at Long's. I wanted to replace the expensive Dr. Hauschka's mascara I had been using, which was not tested on animals and did not contain cancer-causing chemicals, but which had the unfortunate regular tendency of turning me into Alice Cooper. Figuring I'd just buy something, whatever, hoping it wasn't too poisonous, I managed to buy the worst product ever manufactured: Cover Girl Marathon Waterproof Mascara Hydrofuge.

OK, so the Cover Girl mascara didn't give me Alice Cooper stripes down my face (not a good look at my age) if I so much as teared up over something. But amazingly I managed to swing from one extreme - a gloppy mascara that wouldn't stay on - to the other - a mascara that wouldn't come off. The Cover Girl mascara stayed on my lashes, no kidding, for a week. No amount of make-up remover would get it off. In a panic , I asked my esthetician for help. She soaked my lashes with four different products, then painstakingly cleaned each individual eyelash (or so it felt) before the stuff was off me. I think it took her 40 minutes in total to get me free of the hydrofuge...

Of course, I had to look the mascara up. Cover Girl Marathon is not specifically listed in the Skindeep Safe Cosmetics Database, but every other Cover Girl mascara in the database ranks a 7 out of 10 for toxicity (the one exception is a 5, moderate hazard). I'm not even sure if it's right to put something this toxic in the trash - should I try taking it to the local household hazardous waste drop-off point?

I should really know better than to just grab something off the shelf, but it still pisses me off that I have to worry about cancer-causation when I'm just trying to doll up my eyes. And of course, I should be able to figure out - duh - that if something is waterproof and called "Marathon," it's gotta be chemicals, and probably nasty ones, that make it so.

And "hydrofuge"? A zoological term, mostly, referring to structures on animals that shed water. Whatever...

Now my eyes are au naturel for a few days, while I let my lashes recover from their recent armature. If anybody has a suggestion of a good product which won't kill me, I'd love to hear it!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Genius pastime for a 4-hour train ride...

While we were on vacation, Joe and I got to talking about geography, pretty natural given that on a single bike ride, he and his buddies went from Italy to Switzerland and back again. We wondered how many countries we could name, and how many there actually are in the world.

Given who and how we are, we turned this into a game and challenged our friends Alicia and Paul, as we were travelling by train from Milan to Rome (about 4 1/2 hours), to list as many countries as we could. And of course, since I never travel without a notebook and multiple writing implements, I was able to equip our little foursome with all requisite supplies. Pencils and pens in hand, we set to work, first individually, then by couple, compiling and de-duping our lists. This exercise was completely engrossing, probably much to the amusement of our fellow passengers, and genuinely kept us thinking, whispering, chattering and laughing for hours.

Finally we alternated reading a country from our lists, cancelled out the ones we had in common, and got points for countries that the other team neglected to list. Like so:

Completely low-tech, completely fun.

The final tally? Alicia and Paul came up with 19 that we didn't have on our list, and we had 36 they didn't have. We continued our fun by discussing our varying strategies for moving up, down, and across the globe. Alicia drew highly inaccurate maps, while I think I benefited from years of work in international development (former USSR and Southeast Asia), and from an obsession with diving (Caribbean, South Pacific).

But all 4 of us missed a lot and fell FAR short of the 193 or 245 countries/entities (depends) that Wiki lists. Our ignorance was generally pretty gaping when it came to Africa and the Middle East, but that's pretty easily remedied with an atlas and some time now that we know about it.

For a complete list of countries, go here: But if you want to take on the geeky challenge that we so enjoyed, you might want to wait to check it out. So much fun!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Six Books I Read on Vacation

One of the great things about long plane rides and vacations is how many books I can go through. The only negative, really, is that I generally buy more while on the road, resulting in an even heavier suitcase. Flipside: I love searching for books while abroad. It's definitely one of the highlights for me to find something great to read in a special, Euro- or other edition. Yes, more literary gluttony.

So, the 6 titles I ate while on the road, all 6 of which are at right in my 2008 Books list:

- Namako by Linda Watanabe McFerrin. Ok, I admit that I bought this book at snooty Book Passage because I liked the physical book itself. Nice heavy handcut pages and a lovely cover. I enjoyed the story, was thoroughly transported. Enjoyed the inclusion of a lot of Japanese words.

- You Don't Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem. Lethem is one of my favorites ever since Scott gave me Fortress of Solitude a few years ago. Adore him. This book was a quick read, engrossing, finished it on the train back from Venice. Light fare.

- Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin. I've read this book multiple times since I first ate it as a teenager, poolside, during one of our weeks-long family sojourns at my beloved Grover Hot Springs. Since I've renewed my commitment to sci-fi/fantasy, I decided to re-read. The story holds up to time and age, and I particularly appreciate the element of balance and responsibility that binds the wizards in the story.

- The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson. Winterson is a gem. There were many passages that I starred and made notes about in the front and back of the book, just delighted with her language, driven to tears by some of her imagery. The end fell apart a little for me, but a highly recommended read. Extremely creative, multiple story lines looping through each other.

- The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. Also a quick read, I appreciated the form of the story, and loved the perspective.

- Run by Ann Patchett. Patchett has been a favorite ever since Bel Canto, which riveted me. I've also read Magician's Assistant, and think she's great. Run is a delightful book, made me cry literally buckets - such a moving creation!


Best breakfast ever!

OK, maybe it doesn't look it, but seriously, this was the best thing I ever ate for breakfast in my WHOLE life! How not to love an egg-y Italian croissant filled with pistachio cream?

Yes, I know it looks like it's disturbingly stuffed with that freezer-case guacamole (believe me, I heard an earful as I was devouring it, from my breakfast companions). Take my word for it, though: as a devoted pistachiarian, this treat was just the kick-start my morning needed. No nutty pistachio gelato I ate on the trip even came close to satisfying my particular need for that delectable flavor. Add to the croissant a doppio espresso, and the meal was complete.

Given the many ridiculous internet-access problems I had in the second half of my vacation, I'm going to be posting a bunch of stuff now that I'm home, not in sequence, but just as the stories occur to me.

In the meantime, I'm just going to re-live for a few moments the creamy excellence of that croissant. Yum!