love thursday: tranquility

Photographed with Nikon D300, 60mm macro lens.

I came across this quote, and I believe it has become my new mantra:

You owe it

to everyone you love

(including yourself)

to find pockets of

tranquility in your

busy world.

-- George Bernanos


If you need to, feel free to take it as your mantra too, of course.


* * * * * * *

Happy Love Thursday, everyone. Please leave your stories or links to your images or words of love in the comments below.

And don't forget to gift yourself a moment's peace today.

SongLullaby by Alana Davis

a diary. a journal. a record.

Irene's treasures (outtake from the book). Photographed at the Sheraton Chicago Towers, July 25, 2009, with Nikon D300, 35 mm lens.

While I was in Chicago, I shared a hotel room with the amazing Jen Lee, one of the most beautiful writers I know in real life (and who has just recently published a lovely little minibook of meaningful and lyrical poetry, available here). As soon as we'd checked into our hotel, we wandered to a nearby grill for some much-needed lunch, and our conversation turned to journaling.

"You'd think that for as long as I've been blogging," I was saying, "I'd be a pretty avid journaller. But I'm actually pretty horrifying at it. I think it just makes me feel really ridiculous -- like I'm just sitting there talking to myself. And then, sometimes I write something, and I don't like how it turned out; or I try to create 'art,' and it's just frightening, so I rip the page out, and then I have a journal with a ripped page, and that looks like crap, so then I just discard the book altogether."

She blinked.

"Okay," she said, looking at me like I'd grown a second head, "I think maybe you're just too hung up on the process. I don't think journals are supposed to be that perfect."

"Yeah?" I asked. "How do you do it?"

"Well," she began, "I try to write at least three pages every morning."

"Like in The Artist's Way?" I interrupted.

"Yes," she said, "I just write, totally stream-of-consciousness, for 3 straight pages. I find that this helps centres me for the day, and I don't let myself turn on my computer for the day until I've written these three pages. It keeps my email inbox from prioritizing my day, you know? So I write. And sometimes it's deep thoughts, and sometimes it's just a list of what I need to do, or pick up at the market."

"Oh really?" I said, paying close attention. "So your journal isn't just your innermost thoughts and dreams?"

"Well, sometimes it is," she admitted. "and sometimes it's the start of a story idea. But I carry my journal with me, and add things to it all day long. Sometimes it's a phone number of a new friend or dry cleaner. Or someone's mailing address. I basically just write everything down in my journal. If I'm required to handwrite something, it goes in my journal."

"So it sounds like it's just a hodgepodge of stuff -- no real rhyme or organization."

"Other than date, no," Jen admitted. "The cool thing is that I can always find that phone number or figure out when I dropped off the dry cleaning, because I just have to flip through the pages to the right date."

I love this idea. I think the reason journaling hasn't worked for me in the past has to do with structure. But if I just look at my journal as a place to record my life -- my messy, disorganized life, with its half-thoughts, and to-do lists and scrawled messages and the occasional fortune-cookie fortune or found photograph -- the end result pretty much accomplishes the recording, chronicling purpose, doesn't it?


Song: Fel Del Av Gården (Officiell) by MOVITS!  I have no idea what they're singing, but they were on Stephen Colbert this week, and I think I love them.

the beauty of different, redux: the blad (a sneak preview)

Cover.  There are going to be some changes in the text throughout the book, and maybe even an image or two, and, if I'm honest, the whole thing is still in need of some serious editing, but these images should give you a feel of how it's going to look.

As promised, some images of the blad!

Table of contents.

As I mentioned before, the book is going to be equally weighted in words and images.  The idea behind the book is to illustrate how all those little quirks that make us different -- the way we think, the way we look, the way we dress, the way we pray -- are actually the sources of our beauty.  When I was formulating the idea, I decided that I wanted to write a book that would be something that someone would want to take in their carry-on luggage on a 4-hour flight, and by the time the plane touched down, the reader will have just finished the book, and two things will have happened:

a) upon finishing the book, s/he'll start to think that maybe that aspect of her(him)self that s/he always thought was quirky, or odd, or just plain weird, when used for good might actually be his/her superpower; and

b) s/he'll know exactly which friend of hers/his really needs to receive a copy of the book, in order to help them see what an amazing person that friend is.

I continue to think the concept of the book is a good idea.  I just hope I can do it justice.

The foreword.

The best way to tell you about the book, I think, is just to share what's on the back cover of the blad:

"In a society where we are constantly bombarded with messages on how to think, how to feel, how to look, it can be very easy to fall into the mindset that we are not enough; that we somehow fail as individuals. The truth is that those aspects of ourselves that make us individuals are actually the source of our own beauty. The Beauty of Different is a chronicle containing beautiful imagery and portraiture which both provoke and tell stories. The photography is combined with written observations and essays on how which we find people who display individuality and uniqueness intriguing, even as we all collectively strive to be more like these individuals every day, instead of focusing on our own inherent beauty. Divided into chapters based on the many ways individuality or uniqueness can manifest itself, the book includes commentary and both written and visual portraits of individuals who embody the major characteristics described in each chapter. These are ordinary people who are really actually extraordinary -- and therefore, immensely beautiful as a result.

"This book is designed to both connect and inspire, and encourage the reader to reconsider those attributes that make them unique, and reframe them as characteristics of distinction -- maybe even superpowers."

The back cover.

Anyway, this weekend in Chicago, I managed to interview a couple of additional folks who will be featured in the book, and so this week, I'm planning on working on two more chapters.  The process of writing is pretty intense (and I'm starting to really see the value of a stellar editor), but while I'm working harder than I ever have before, I'm also loving it more than any work I've done before.  So I'm figuring that's a good sign.

I'll continue to share outtakes from the book, if that continues to interest you.  And, of course, I'll continue to share progress as I go along.


SongDifferent people by No Doubt

back from chicago

Cloud Gate (otherwise known as "the bean"), Millennium Park, Chicago. Photographed July 24, 2009.

I'm back from the BlogHer '09 conference in Chicago. As usual, the conference was generally considered a rousing success, I think; although, if I'm honest, I spent most of the weekend working on my book, rather than attending the sessions. I got so much done, in the way of interviews and photoshoots, and Sweet Mother of Gumby, am I feeling pretty triumphant about that. Also, and oh by the way, the day before I left for Chicago, I managed to pick up a copy of the BLaD for my book, so I'll tell you all about the book and the associated shoots I had this weekend in the coming days, I promise.

One session I did attend and participate in was the Community Keynote. This BlogHer tradition began last year: the lovely Eden Kennedy of suggested that perhaps it would be a good idea to invite bloggers to submit their favourite posts, the very best of which would be read by the authors themselves at the closing of the first days of the conference.  The posts were judged by a panel led by Eden, to ensure that the final curated selection truly represented the best of the hundreds that were submitted.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the first year's selections, at last year's Community Keynote, positively BLEW THE AUDIENCE AWAY.  As we watched the bloggers read their posts, actually heard their writings in the authors' voices, there wasn't a dry eye left in the house:  there were tears of empathy, sympathetic anger, and helpless laughter.  The selections were in turn moving, inspiring, and breathtakingly hilarious.  The entire experience was so transformative, by the end, it was obvious that a new tradition had been born.

And so, you can imagine how honoured I was to participate in this year's Community Keynote.  Just like last year, my co-presenters who read their posts told stories that were so fully emotional, inspiring and hilarious, more than one person commented that the session was worth the price of admission.  It was certainly the highlight of my weekend, and together with being on an amazing panel with Stefania Butler, Heather Barmore and Kelly Wickham, and the many other opportunities I had to connect with online-friends-turned-real-life-friends over the past few days, I came home in all-round-fantastic mood.

Irene Nam, me and Andrea Scher, warped and distorted in the bean.

Incidentally, in the off-chance that you might be interested in reading the amazing posts that were part of the Community Keynote this year, here they are, in the order they were presented.  My understanding is that they were all recorded; when the videos have been officially published, I'll link to them.

1. Georgia Getz of i am bossy: Dr. Seuss' ode to a Blog Conference

2. Issa of Issas Crazy World: Uncle Marky

3. Me, reading: Reflections on why the election of Barack Obama affected me so deeply

4. Sheri Reed of Today Is Pretty: amends

5. Julia D. of i do things so you don't have to: I Faked a Concussion

6. Mike Adamick of Cry It Out: Don't all kids play in vacant warehouses?

7. Pam Mandel of Nerd's Eye View: Wheelie Suitcase Blues

8. Amy Turn Sharp of doobleh-vay: On September 3rd 1973, at 6:28pm and 32 seconds, a bluebottle fly capable of 14,670 wing beats a minute landed on Rue St Vincent, Montmartre

9. Black Hockey Jesus of Wind in Your Vagina: 5

10. Danielle Henderson of Knotty Yarn: stuck in the middle with you

11. Tanis Miller, of Attack of the Redneck Mommy: Dear Internet, I'm Placing You on Notice

12. Tarrant Figlio of Retro Food: Love Song in a Foreign Language

13. Grace Davis of State of Grace: Forgiveness where it belongs

14. Melissa Ford of Stirrup Queens: Updating the Donation Room Porn

15. Pauline Edwards of Classy Chaos: Finding my place in the world, as an immigrant

16. Wendi Aarons of Wendi Aarons: Coke dependency

17. Nina Gotua of Laughs! Thrills! Pathos!: Memory box 1

18. Kelly Graham-Scherer of Don Mills Diva: Privacy? Schmivacy

19. Corynne Corbett of That Black Girl Site: When White Women Become Experts on Michelle Obama’s (And Our) Hair

20. Catherine Conners of Her Bad Mother: Lost Boy

21. Heather Spohr of The Spohrs Are Multiplying: Known

And with that, we'll return to our regularly scheduled Chookooloonks.  For all of the fun, it's good to be back home.


SongShine by Alexi Murdoch (from the Away We Go soundtrack)

my keep-calm-and-carry-on playlist, july 2009 edition

All about Balance.  And Constant Craving. And Brown Sugar.  Photographed with Nikon D300, 60mm macro lens.

I receive a couple of questions the other day, asking what songs were on my playlist that I was taking with me on my trip.  So, today I thought I'd share the 25 songs that made it onto my iPod.  You'll note that there is really no rhyme nor reason to the songs I included: my only two criteria were that the song either (a) soothe me or (b) make me happy.  That's it.  It appears, therefore, I have very haphazard taste.

So anyway, here they are.  As I do with every song of the day that I feature on this site, the first link in each listing will take you to an audio file where you can here the song in its entirety; the second link takes you to, where you can purchase and download an mp3 file of the song.

Constant Craving as performed by k.d. lang

Hands Clean by Alanis Morrissette

Brown Sugar by D'Angelo

Hide & Seek by Imogen Heap

Sympathize by Amos Lee

Vegas Baby by The Weepies

My Friend (Album Version) by Groove Armada

Beat Goes On as performed by The All Seeing I

Balance by Sara Tavares

Golden Slumbers/The End as performed by k.d. lang (only available if you download the whole Happy Feet Soundtrack)

First Train Home by Imogen Heap

Missing (Todd Terry Club Mix) by Everything But The Girl (sadly, this mix isn't available on Amazon. But, for what it's worth, it's the last song on this CD).

Even After All by Finley Quaye

Home by Sheryl Crow

Lullaby by Alana Davis

Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life) by Green Day

Lullabye by Amos Lee

Why Georgia by John Mayer

Put Your Records On by Corinne Bailey Rae

Days Go By by Dirty Vegas

Hymn of the Big Wheel by Massive Attack

32 Flavors as performed by Alana Davis

Keep It There by The Weepies

Word Up as performed by Willis

Bliss Like This by Ani DiFranco


Enjoy.  Have a great weekend, and "see" you when I return.

love thursday

Doug & his boys, in Manhattan on July 8, 2009.  Photographed with Nikon Coolpix.

A couple of weeks ago, as Doug and his sons were leading us to their favourite New York City park, they fell in step with each other ahead of us, holding each other's hands.   Then suddenly, spontaneously, Doug began swinging the boys, every fourth step or so.  I didn't hear either of the boys ask Doug to do this; it appeared to be almost out of habit, like this was how the three of them always walked down the steet together. 

Step, step, step, swing. 

Step, step, step, swing.

I smiled. 

I thought about how the boys, when they're finally men -- maybe even with sons of their own -- they'll think of the way their dad used to firmly and confidently grab their hands, swing them through the air, making even a simple walk an adventure.

And I bet they'll smile, too.

* * * * * * *

Happy Love Thursday, friends.  Please leave your stories or links to your images and words of love in the comments section, below.


SongThese are days by 10000 Maniacs

my ultimate keep-calm-and-carry-on relaxation travel kit

Photographed with Nikon D300, 60mm macro lens.

I dedicated yesterday to finalizing all of my deadlines that I needed to complete prior to leaving for Chicago tomorrow. By noon, I was so overwhelmed that I found myself spinning around, crazed, like so much Tasmanian Devil. I will never get anything done, I was thinking. I don't even know why I'm beginning.

And just when I was about to throw in the towel and eat chocolate, I decided to do something I hadn't done in a while.

I decided to meditate.

I put Rufus outside, and I turned off the ringer on my phone, and the e-mail notifier on my computer. I sat on the couch in my studio, and closed my eyes. And I focused my mind on my breathing. Every time I found my mind straying, I brought it back to my breath. And I did this for 5 minutes.

When I was done, it was like I was a whole new person. Suddenly everything I had to do seemed more like a manageable list, than an out-of-control mess. I sort of stunned myself, really.

So I've learned my lesson: when things start to get a bit out of hand, I need to stop everything, take 5 minutes, and breathe.

* * * * * * *

Thanks to all of you so much for your relaxation tips and tools! I read through each of them, feeling very inspired by your ideas ... and then I thought, why have I never put together a relaxation travel kit? It just seems so obvious to have one ready to go out a moment's notice, to throw in the bottom of a suitcase or carry on -- or, for that matter, a handbag or backpack, for any time stress hits during day-to-day life. It seems like such a simple idea, yes?

So, below, is my little list of items that I'm going to be sure to have with me on this upcoming trip to Chicago, and any trip from now on. Feel free to modify and make your own. Also, how cool would it be to put something together as a gift for a traveling friend?

My ultimate keep-calm-and-carry-on relaxation travel kit:

  • Two or three tea lights. I've mentioned before how much I love candles, particularly after my mom told me about the Norwegian tradition arounding lighting them when guests arrive. I figure if I check into a hotel, I'm a guest, right? I deserve a candle, by gum.  I'll just drop one of these in one of those spare water glasses, light it (using a matchbox I'll score from the hotel bar), and voila - instant ambiance.
  • A small vial of essential oil. I love the suggestion that several of you had of sprinkling lavender oil or some such on your bedclothes. So yesterday, I ran out to my local Whole Foods and bought this one -- a light, beautiful scent, and I can't wait to try it out. (And for those of you who are men, or who would prefer something less girly than lavender or rose, might I suggest sandalwood -- a far more masculine scent, but equally calming. In fact, I'm currently burning a sandalwood candle in my studio as I type this.)
  • My pashmina. I actually never, ever travel without my pashmina -- it's a far better cover-up on planes than those thin, scratchy blankets (and there are never enough of those anyway), and it doubles as a scarf or a shawl, as necessary for weather or cold conference rooms. Plus, it's so lovely and soft, very comforting. Mine's black (goes with everything), and this time, I might just sprinkle it with that essential oil I just bought. (Again, for men: an organic cotton hoodie might do the trick. Organic cotton is crazy soft. And sprinkled with that sandalwood oil, the hoodie will make you extra calm, and make you smell fully awesome.)
  • Several packets of my favourite individually wrapped tea bags. I love these by Good Earth -- and they're not all that easy to find while on the road. But it's always easy to find hot water.  And there's just something about green tea that totally calms me.
  • Origins Peace-of-Mind. Origins makes my favourite cosmetics, and once while I was shopping there, the salesperson threw a sample of this stuff in my bag. Basically, you just "apply just two dabs of Origins mind-clearing formula on the back of your neck, temples and earlobes," -- and seriously, stress just melts away.  I've used this on nights when I was having trouble falling asleep, and it totally worked for me.
  • EO Hand Sanitizing Spray.  Another Whole Foods find.  Forget Purell -- this organic spray actually smells good when you spray it on your hands, and comes in scents like lavender and eucalyptus.  Great for quick clean-ups while traveling, and gives a great little aromatherapy shot, while you're at it.
  • MP3 player with a calming playlist. Because you know how I love the tunes.  Also, I may download some of my friend Beth's free relaxation podcasts, for good measure.
  • Two good books.  One for the flight over, and in case I finish it, one for the flight back.
  • My moleskine.  It's been ages since I've journaled.  But you've inspired me.  I'm definitely taking my journal on this trip.

So, that's my kit. Some other great ideas you suggested: eye masks, ear plugs, small fans for white noise.  Doesn't this make you want to put one together before your next journey?  Actually, forget "journey": I seriously may just keep this kit in the bottom of my day bag when I return.  It makes me calm just thinking about it.

(By the way, in other news, if you happen to be in Chicago this weekend and you see me, please come tap me on the shoulder. I'd love to meet you.)


SongRoad trippin' by Red Hot Chili Peppers


I'm not a packrat - I usually throw everything away - but for some reason, I've hung on to these old bottles. Photographed with Nikon D300, 60mm macro lens.

So, day after tomorrow, I leave for Chicago, to attend a huge conference called BlogHer '09.  It's quite possibly the largest conference in the world designed to support, encourage and create community among women bloggers of all genres (although a few stalwart men attend as well).  It started back in 2005, with only a few hundred people.  The first time I went was in 2006, and this will be the third time I've attended.  It's grown since then:  this year, they are expecting over 1,400 attendees.

As you can imagine, being a part of a conference this huge can be stunningly overwhelming -- so many people to meet, sessions to attend, places to show your face.  I'm participating in a couple of panels this year, and have a few meetings scheduled over the days, which I suspect will be both exhilarating and exhausting. 

I've learned, however, over the years, to pace myself -- and I make sure to schedule lots of downtime back in my hotel room.  This year, however, I'm going to try to take my R&R to the next level:  for my last few days here in Houston, I'm going to polish off my packing with some things that help me relax.  A candle, perhaps.  Some good relaxing music on the iPod, for sure.  A book or two, I think.

What else?  What do you like to take with you on a trip to relax?


SongRemember me, by Blue Boy