The Mindless Mindfulness of Travel


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Ever since our January trip to California, we’ve been talking about returning to the west coast for a longer stay. We think we might like to live there. At first, we were talking about the Bay Area. As I’ve said, many times, I want to live in a place where there are cafes, museums, and shops all accessible by foot or on public transportation. How lovely it would be, for example, to walk home, filled with good food, after a meal at our favorite neighborhood restaurant.

But we also want nature to be within reach (I’m not giving up the car just yet) — and it has to be a place we can comfortably afford. For all of those reasons, we set our sites on a mini-sabbatical in Portland, Oregon, with possible side trips to Seattle, British Columbia, and San Francisco. And, we wanted to drive because if we were to gain any sense at all of what daily life would be like in a new place, then we couldn’t leave behind someone who is an integral part of that daily life.


Karina in travel mode: her bed was wedged on the floor behind the driver’s seat.

After months of talking and planning, things fell into place at the end of July. We had a place to stay in Portland, and after much looking and financial strategizing, we also had a van that would reliably transport us there—and back—and that could serve as Paul’s work vehicle upon our return.

And so, on August 21, we set out, stopping in Michigan that first weekend for a family wedding.


After we left Michigan, my mind, which had been focused on wedding-related logistics, suddenly sat up and took notice. The clouds overhead and endless sky when we hit Minnesota were an ongoing source of fascination.

Once we’d arrived at our first stop in Portland, just sitting on the front porch was entertaining. There were kids going by on bikes and skateboards, older people walking their dogs, and Karina found the parade of neighborhood cats, who would sun themselves under our car, especially riveting.

Keeping tabs

Our daily walk through the park at the end of the street, toward a dog park that bordered the Willamette River felt special.



There were also dinners out at places right in the neighborhood, and several cups of coffee at cafes with outdoor seating where our four-footed companion was the subject of much admiration. Karina lost some of her shyness on this trip.

But what I love most about traveling—and what I miss now that we have returned—was that I took the time to notice my surroundings and activities. The small, daily routines, like making my morning tea in an unfamiliar kitchen, were more satisfying because of that.

I gave things my full attention in a way I do not when I’m at home. In fact, just the other morning, I found myself dashing from the kitchen to my computer, and then back, first when my tea water boiled, and then again when a timer went off. Now that I am ensconced in familiar surroundings, I seem to have switched over to autopilot as automatically as I switched to full awareness while traveling.

Then last week I heard part of an interview with Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard. The topic was mindfulness, which the announcer defined as “the simple act of noticing new things.” And, according to Langer,

 When you notice new things, you come to notice that you didn’t know what you thought you did, as well as you did. Everything is always changing. By noticing new things about the familiar, it becomes interesting again.

This mind-set, she went on to say, was good for fighting more than just boredom, it can also impact our health** and enable us to view in a new way someone whose behavior troubles us.

In fact, a few years ago, an advisor gave me similar advice, suggesting that I just sit back and “observe” someone who had become a source of distress. As Langer notes in this interview, when I adopted the observer’s mind-set, I realized what was really driving this person, and soon exchanged my upset for empathy.

Learning to “observe” so that you can respond, rather than react, to other people is another whole conversation. To learn more about that, you can listen to the entire interview here.

Right now, I want to tackle the bit about noticing. Before we left for the trip in late August, boredom with our local scenery had taken root. I felt as though I was seeing the same old things over and over again. When we returned in early October, many things did seem new. New England was in the middle of a gorgeous autumn, which no matter how jaded you are, is pretty hard to overlook.

For example, I noticed these coppery leaves while with a friend who was gathering leaves for her son’s after-school project. Adopting a child’s point of view definitely helps adults view their surroundings with fresh eyes.

copperIt’s also hard not to notice the fall colors reflected on a pond we pass on one of our regular morning walks.

water colors


last swim

Now that it’s getting colder and darker, I will have to work especially hard to cloak myself in the observer’s mind-set I wore so mindlessly during our travels. So far, the extra effort seems to be working.

While the clouds here don’t hang suspended mid-sky as they do out west, they have their own beauty when hovering over a local farmer’s fields.

green fields

And this circle of farm machinery provides a whimsical contrast to the straight-edged fields beyond.

farm equipment

There were many things I sensed and felt during our six weeks away that can’t and won’t be contained in my snapshots. There’s that light-as-air feeling I got when the daily cares and worries of home faded from my consciousness as we racked up the miles; the friendly, welcoming attitude of the people we met in Portland; the rush of memories I felt when I dove into the frigid waters of a lake in British Columbia; and the satisfaction of an intense hunger quenched by a warming bowl of Pho eaten in a Vietnamese restaurant off the beaten track in Iowa on a dreary, windswept day.

These experiences are worth noticing. They are worth holding on to. And they are worth adding to. On a chilly afternoon a few days after we’d returned home, I sat in my kitchen and watched my two fellow travelers carefully take note of our back yard under a darkening sky. There was love in their looking and noticing, just as there was in mine.

backyard1backyard2backyard 2abackyard 3backyard 4


**Coincidentally, (or perhaps not) Langer was the focus of an article in this past Sunday’s New York Times Magazine about using a mindful mind-set to offset aging and possibly illness. To read an interesting analysis of that piece, read D.A. Wolf’s take on it in Daily Plate of Crazy.






“Prickly” about Climate Change




Dry as dust-2

I was working on a post this week about unsolicited advice that was based on an incident at my gym. I was trying to be light and funny about something that many of us don’t appreciate (according to an online poll, 62 percent of us don’t like receiving such advice). I shared it with an editor who usually loves my work. She was happy to hear from me, and even offered to publish the piece, but she ended her email this way,

“p.s. but…it does seem to me (speaking as your editor) that you do come across in this post as a bit too prickly over such a trivial offense.”

Given that I’d rather not appear prickly when it comes to something trivial, we agreed to deep-six the post.

I am, however, proud to be prickly about preserving the environment. The scenery I saw as I traveled from coast to coast and back brought to mind the words from “America the Beautiful,” while it also made me more passionate about halting climate change.

My post today on Mom’s Clean Air Force shares one of the lessons I learned while on the road.

I am also prickly about boycotts. I don’t participate in random ones espoused by individuals. I want my actions to have real meaning and to carry real weight—which they only can when my voice is part of a larger group.

But I wholeheartedly support organized boycotts and petitions for causes I believe in — especially ones that put corporate polluters in their place. For that reason, I signed this petition asking EBay to withdraw its support of ALEC, a group that has pledged to launch “a political tsunami against EPA.”  I hope you will too. You can read about why we are boycotting EBay here. 

When it comes to important stuff like climate change, I’m prickly — and proud of it.



Why I Didn’t Write

I thought I was so clever back in July when I wrote “Postcards from Home.” I knew that at some point in the near future, my husband and I would embark on a cross-country road trip, and I thought that post would be the perfect segue for sharing photos from our journey.

I envisioned myself pulling out my computer after a day of driving and pouring my experiences into the blog. That didn’t happen — though I did post photos to my Instagram account.

I’m not sure exactly why not, other than fatigue, hunger, and bad Wifi connections made sitting down and writing unappealing. Plus, there was so much input, both when we were traveling and when we were staying put. I enjoyed living in the moment, and allowing myself to be swallowed by landscapes like this one.

Big Sky, Minnesota

Big sky in Minnesota.

But I’m sticking with my postcard analogy: This post and the ones that follow are postcards that don’t arrive until the traveler has already returned home. Sometimes the mail is slow or sometimes the cards aren’t mailed until the journey is over.

After driving from Concord to Detroit to attend a family wedding, we headed west, toward Portland, Oregon. In Minnesota we took a hike.

Great River Bluffs

The trail overlooked the Mississippi River.

Overlooking the Mississippi River

I should note that while the above scene was captured with an actual camera, I took most of the photos on the trip with my phone camera. As my friend in San Francisco likes to say, “The best camera is the one you have with you.”

From Minnesota, we pushed west through South Dakota toward Montana, hitting a corner of Wyoming along the way.

pushing westward

Not exactly sure where this is….

Little Big Horn

Little Big Horn.

Little Big Horn gave me chills, made me angry too.

in order to heal

Driving into Montana, there were purple mountains.

purple mountains

In Bozeman, there was a walk through town.

Oops! (ha ha)

Oops! (ha ha)

And a hike at Peets Hill.

View from the top

Peet's Hill, Bozeman, Montana

And have I mentioned who was traveling with us? She made herself right at home and cooled off in a little stream at the end of the hike.

Did I mention....From Montana, we skimmed the northern point of Idaho and drove through a corner of Washington State.


View from the car.

View from the car.

Philippi Canyon

As we got into Oregon, it started to rain.

zeroing in on PortlandWhy did we leave home in the first place and why did we drive? I’ll share more about that in a future post.

Postcards from Home


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Today while swimming laps in the pool, I began thinking about postcards. Because I didn’t write to her at all the first summer I went to overnight camp, the following year my mother tucked seven plain manila postcards that she addressed and stamped into my foot locker. My friend Martha used to send me a postcard while on her yearly June vacation. I loved getting her missives from Greece or Spain. But, alas, like Martha’s free time (she’s a mom now), postcards have gone the way of most hand-written communications, and become a rare and precious thing.

While I’m not filling up anyone’s mailbox myself this summer, below are a few snapshots — postcards from home — that chronicle my summer so far.


The ferns on our morning walks have been exceptionally beautiful this year.

These "ghost flowers" or "Indian pipes" added an air mystery, and were difficult to capture  In fact,

These “ghost flowers” or “Indian pipes” were a rare find and it was difficult to capture their eerie presence with shaky hands.


And the local fungus reminds me of an old-fashioned ruffled collar.

A local fungus provided an air of ruffled formality.

We’ve had some summer visitors.

Kola and Moxie joined us for the 4th....

Moxie and Kola dropped in for the 4th….

We’ve been enjoying lots of healthy goodies from our local organic farm.

And Karina makes every walk an adventure — especially given her new talent for finding muddy waters to roll in. On this day, however, she was her clean, dainty self.

More postcards and at least one big adventure to come.


Spring into Summer

Bowl o'Sunshine

Scented geranium, aka bowl o’ sunshine.

The summer visitors have arrived. They show up all of a sudden, in an array of styles and colors that practically scream, “summer is here!” One day the landscape comprises a crowd dressed in varying hues of green and the next — well, see for yourself.





false indigo

False indigo



My “Little Miss Kim” lilac shows up in a burst of grapey color and then immediately fades to white, leaving behind a trail of sweet perfume that fills the yard for days.


Little Miss Kim

Here in eastern Massachusetts, the transformation from late spring to early summer is a visually joyous one. In the woods, the air feels both lighter and fresher — a soft caress has replaced the chilly slap of April. I may still need a light jacket for my morning walk, but the knitted cap and gloves remain in the closet.

Rhododendron in the woods

Rhododendron in the woods

New ferns

New ferns

Yet underneath all the outward cheer, early summer leaves me feeling a little empty. As the weather warms up an old sadness resurfaces as its mid-June anniversary approaches. And as a young, working mother, the close of the school year, with its many festivities and fond farewells, was always tinged with melancholy. One more year of their childhood torn from the calendar.

My days of year-end band concerts, sewing on name tags, and packing trunks for summer camp are long over, but for me, June will always outrank January as an important marker of passing time.

Summer breeze

Summer breeze

The great thing about getting ‘older,’ though, is that I no longer have to concern myself with summer’s superficial branding. While I do pay attention to advice about protecting my skin, I can turn the page when I see headlines like, “4 Weeks to a Bikini Body,” because, really, who cares?

Instead, I’ll look beyond the sunny façade and shake things up. That warmer air and lack of weather-related obstacles frees us all to tackle something different, something hard.

Never finished Middlemarch? Maybe this is the summer to do it. Climb a mountain, learn another language, or try a new form of writing. Test the limits of your brain and your body.

Or—as my husband and I plan to do after decades of full-time work—give yourself a sabbatical.  Taking a road trip, living someplace new, and launching a project are all on our agenda.

So yeah, the summer visitors are here, let the season begin.


This post also appears today on Women’s Voices for Change

Rain on Stone




Last night’s rain swept everything clean.  This morning, Karina and I headed to the woods. As we entered the trail we were both startled by a wild turkey that took off in a rush of feathers a few steps ahead of us.

As we walked further into the woods, my racing heart quieted. The sound of the wind running through the trees enveloped us, broken only by a single robin belting out her sunny tune.

girl in the woods

We stopped to admire how the rain had stained the stone, and then we stood there and listened for a long, long time.

water on stone



By Emily Dickinson

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –

I keep it, staying at Home –

With a Bobolink for a Chorister –

And an Orchard, for a Dome –


Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –

I, just wear my Wings –

And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,

Our little Sexton – sings.


God preaches, a noted Clergyman –

And the sermon is never long,

So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –

I’m going, all along.


May Is Clean Air Month


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May is Clean Air Month, and when Women’s Voices for Change asked me to profile Dominique Browning, co-founder and Senior Director of Moms Clean Air Force, I was more than happy to do so.


I’ve also been busy covering Showtime’s new series on climate change, “Years of Living Dangerously.” You can watch episode one online here, and read my posts about it here.

As Dominique told me,

Climate change is an overwhelming, unhappy subject, but it’s really important to understand that we can beat this—there are answers.

So, in honor of Clean Air Month, please check out, “Dominique Browning: Making a Difference in the Air We Breathe.” And then, do something important for all of us and support limits on carbon pollution.  

Thank you!

Spring Changes


Late spring/early summer is a glorious time to be out in the woods. Bird song and the tap, tap, tapping of local woodpeckers is so loud, so distinctive, that you’d swear someone had planted speakers in the trees and cranked the volume up as high as it would go. The air feels softer, it smells cleaner, and the colors of the trees and plants reflect that rain-drenched freshness.

My mother died in early summer. It was many years ago, when I was still a teenager. Every spring, as the air begins to warm, that deep feeling of loss resurfaces, and I just want to stay quiet. This year, I’m focusing on the beauty around me.


into the blue


Mill Brook

worn couple

May is Clean Air Month. I’ll have more about that next week.

Marriage, Dynamic

Until last week, Paul and I had never worked with a professional photographer. Our wedding was a low-key affair that resulted in a few snapshots contained in an album.  And there’s a rather stiff photo that was taken at a local department store when our boys were young.  I suggested, and he agreed, that we document where we are today — after more than 30 years of marriage.

The older I get, the less I like to be photographed.  Lately, when someone snaps my picture, the resulting image often seems to catch my worst angle – at least in my eyes. Yet I know that I am perfectly presentable, I just have to put myself in the hands of the right photographer.

close up

I knew that my friend Cheryl Sparks was that photographer. She is not only talented, she knows how to put people at ease. I knew she could get us both to relax. Cheryl put a lot of thought into our session. She said that she wanted to capture the dynamic between the two of us, and she shared a photo shoot of another couple as an example of what she had in mind.

So we had fun. We were silly.

It was quite windy, but I released all worries of crazy-looking hair into the breeze. We both loved the results—more of which can be viewed on Cheryl’s blog.

Oh, and speaking of photography, you can now follow me on Instagram.



Committing to Spring


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in between

Neither of us likes to be the one to put the winter equipment away. Shovels, winter boots, and even snow shoes remain at the ready for weeks after the first day of spring. The ice cleats were left curled up and forgotten on the car floor for so long that I stopped seeing them.

It’s not laziness, it’s superstition based on hard experience. If we put away winter’s tools too hastily, it will return — and with a vengeance. Anyone who has witnessed a snowstorm in April knows exactly what I mean.

English daisies

Having literally just killed a mosquito while typing that last sentence a few days ago, I plunged a stake in the ground and committed to spring. It seemed like the right thing to do. The spring peepers had been loudly announcing the new season for a couple of weeks, the air had softened, and our pillowcases — recently dried outside on the clothesline — filled the bedroom with the smell of fresh, sun-soaked air.

Without hesitation I dispatched my winter boots to the closet, and moved the snow shoes and shovels into the garage. I left the ice cleats in the car as an insurance policy.

Last Saturday confirmed the wisdom of my commitment. It was the kind of spring day that sets a high bar for the rest of the season: warm sun, cool air, the bluest of skies. On Monday, Paul and I posed for a photographer by the Boston waterfront, no jackets required.


And then, this morning,

Rhodi in ice

April 16_2014

April 16, 2014.

“We’ll have to bundle up today,” Paul said as he looked out the window.

“Do you think we’ll need the ice cleats?” I joked.

“I took them out of the car yesterday,” he replied.

At least we know who to blame.