New york new york

How can you not love New York? All within 48 hours this past weekend, we …

… strolled through Central Park (albeit on a very *hot* day) …


… discovered a fabulous brunch spot in the West Village …
(where we ate the mother of all sausage biscuits (D) and a truffle oil and goat cheese omelette (me). *Oh yeah and we also ran into Susan Sarandon on our way out.*)

… We also rekindled my love for French clothing at Comptoir des cotonniers

… and discovered a fabulous bookstore with 1000s of French, Spanish and Italian titles …

(I picked up the World War II novel Suite française, which I’ve been looking for in French for ages.)

… ate a delicious French dinner at AOC (also in the West Village) …

(Fitting since we were meeting several friends from my old job in Paris.)

… and then finished off the weekend with friends in Hoboken. We ate brunch at a cute place (I can’t remember the name?) and then strolled along the pier …



Coffee table makeover

So I never really know what to do with my coffee table. It ends up as an impromptu dining table most evenings, desk during the summerdays and bed for the girls (my cats, Lily and Minnow) all days. Hmm. Less than optimal. My least favorite thing is how it morphs into a catchall for unopened mail, glasses of water and whatever else D or I happen to have in our hands upon entering the salon.

Amidst the endless hours I’ve spent on blogs this summer, I stumbled upon an idea that was totally new to me. I feel terrible because I forgot to bookmark the page and give this lovely lady credit. But here it is ~

I loved creating this collage of coffee table books, my atlas and various other photo and memory albums. Now they are no longer stuck in the corner gathering dust, the girls haven’t attempted to cozy up once and I’m hoping I’ll be more motivated to actually use the spare room we converted into an office last spring. (More on that next week.)

How do you use your coffee table? More artistically or practically? Thoughts?

Summer reading list

Thanks mostly to my mother who constantly fed me books as a child, I am a complete and utter bookworm. I’m usually so exhausted during the school year I don’t get nearly as much read as I’d like. So in addition to catching up on gardening, uncooked recipes and much needed runs that all tend to fall by the wayside during the fall/winter/spring months, I dedicate a large portion of my summer to consuming the books that pile up on my bedside throughout the year. Here, in no specific order, is my summer reading list (so far) ~

The Sweet Life in Paris. charming anecdotes and french recipes to try.I love this mixture of anecdotes of the hilarity of expat life in Paris and yummy recipes from David Lebovitz, former pastry chef at Chez Panisse and now inhabitant of my deuxieme chez moi (second home 😉 ), Paris. I pick up The sweet life every week or so, and always chuckle along with Lebovitz’s missteps and encounters in the City of Light. He’s inspired me to try my hand at some pastries before schools starts. (In 3 weeks, ach!)

The Girl with No ShadowThe girl with no shadow chronicles the same family’s from the book and film Chocolat trials’ and tribulations’ in Paris. It includes many twists and turns, lots more magic and a surprise ending.

I far preferred the book of The time traveler’s wife to the film version with Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana (usually I adore anything with either of those two, but I think the premise of the book was difficult to interpret, believably, on screen). The time traveler’s wife follows the love story of a married couple in which the husband inexplicaby and without warning hops from decade to decade. I found the character development in the book made me suspend my stubborn disbelief and go along with the premise far better than the on-screen interpretation.

Hotel PastisI read Hotel pastis while I was teaching in a French immersion program for two weeks last month. Peter Mayle’s books (A year in Provence, Provence toujours) reliably provide a great escape from daily life, and aren’t so difficult to read that you can’t digest a few chapters after a twelve hour day of teaching or accounting or designing or whatever occupies your days. This one follows a high-power British ad executive from the sale of his part in an über-successful ad firm in London to the opening of a fledgling hotel in a tiny town in Provence.

A Secret KeptA secret kept is by the author (French/British/Russian Tatiana de Rosnay) of Sarah’s key, which if you haven’t read yet, you should also add to your list. A secret kept is vastly different in plot and subject from Sarah’s key, but examines the same themes of family and self-identity.

It’s not often that a book will bring me to tears, but The invisible bridge by Julie Orringer had me weeping. It tells the story of Andres and Klara, a Jewish Hungarian couple that falls in love in Paris just prior to World War II. They make a trip to their native Hungary to renew Andres’ student visa, but are (predictably) prevented from returning to Paris. The plot follows both of their families’ struggles to survive the war and the Holocaust. Prepare for an emotional read, but know that it is well worth it.

After finishing this one yesterday, I had to take a breather today, but plan on starting Ann Patchett’s State of wonder this evening.What have you read or do you plan to read with the last weeks of summer?

Summer vacation flowers

I’m so confused! It’s June 13 and I have no.idea. where the time went. End of school years are always la folie, but this one was especially because I am heading off to a new school next year. This brings excitement and anticipation but also sadness at leaving my fabulous department behind. Between intense Jeopardy exam review days, giving 180 exams, grading and packing up my classroom, it’s no surprise at all I haven’t payed much attention to artsdevivre of late. The last teacher work day was Monday, and I am slowly but surely decompressing. No excuses, just letting you know where I’ve been recently 🙂

One of my most favorite pastimes has developed into gardening. This is not because I have an especially green thumb. But, as you all know, I love all things that add beauty and perspective into my life. Gardening does both!

When D and I decided to live together, the front “garden” was er, an overgrown patch of weeds. Not surprisingly, growing flowers is not D’s forte. That’s ok. He’s good at other stuff. I never had my own garden growing up but always wanted one and when I traded a house in for a shoebox apartment, I decided the time was right. True to my life experience, our front bed is far from easy to grow much in. It just doesn’t get enough sun exposure because of the red maple and dogwood in our front yard. I have however managed to grow a few things ~

The first thing I planted last summer after labor-intensive weed removal was this lovely lavender. Can you believe it looked just like this just a few short months ago after emerging from winter:

Amazing to watch its growth, n’est-ce pas? I have decided lavender is easy to grow, and is a great choice if you enjoy observing flitting butterflies since it attracts this lovely insect. Obviously a lovely choice for Francophiles, as well. 😉

I love the juxtaposition of these portulacas, or Mexican roses, all clustered around my lavender. The farmer’s market lady recommended them since they tend to thrive in less-than-perfect conditions, ie not much sun. I was a bit disappointed with their development until we had a real soaker yesterday. I walked outside this morning to greet more than half the blooms we had Monday evening! Miraculous!

This gorgeous hydrangea bush is actually our neighbor’s, but I thought it was too perfectly blue not to share.

I have still have tons to learn when it comes to growing all things bright and beautiful but here are a few tips I’ve learned over the past year or so that I’ve forayed into the gardening realm:

1. A great way to avoid using weed killer is to pull all the weeds, then cover with layers of newspaper, followed by mulch. I rarely see any little buggers make it through and when I do, it’s just a couple that are easy to nip in the bud.

2. Water water water! Seems obvious but I think a new gardener can underestimate how much water plants actually need in warm weather temps. I had all but given up on my Mexican roses, but seems to be all they needed was more soaking. D’s work now consists of rigging some sort of little sprinkler system for the front bed. He is very excited about that.

3. Don’t over-do it. Pick a couple of things and go with it. This summer, I’m trying to pinpoint a few plants that will actually grow and thrive in the plot we have for now. Last summer I completely jumped in head first with no research and ended up pretty frustrated with my lack of fresh vegetables or flowers. Knowing my plans for this summer included a chunk of time away from home, I decided to pick some low maintenance flowers and an easy herb garden, and then work up to more next summer when I’ll have more time to plan.

What are you growing this summer?

After almost three years under my belt (time flies :/) of  teaching, I finally feel pretty comfortable with the hectic day-to-day mechanics of lesson plans, grading, communication, etc.

What I missed the most about my daily “me” time when I was so overwhelmed my first two years was reading. No, reading textbooks, lesson plans or rubrics most definitely does not fill the same niche as reading stories. But I was so totally brain-dead at the end of every school day that it was completely pointless to even attempt a novel.

This year, I’ve been back in my normal routine at about a book a month and am loving the escape a good read provides. Several months ago, I picked up Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri at a used bookstore. I  must not have been paying attention upon purchase (or maybe forgot between purchase time and commencement of reading), but this is a collection of short stories instead of one novel. I’ve never been really a short story kind of gal. I dutifully read Hemingway’s collection and all the ones we read in school, too. But I’ve always loved getting really lost in a novel as opposed to becoming involved in characters’ lives only to get cut short twenty to thirty too short pages later.  Here’s what the cover looks like in case you happen upon a copy ~

Yeah, yeah, I know we were all taught to not judge books by their respective covers, but something imparted to me cerebral, slowly-paced, introspective stories after looking upon this cover. Which was maybe why I didn’t pick it up right away. Not that I don’t like books that make me think, but sometimes you just want to escape, you know?

Well, Lahiri, in my unprofessional (but avid) reader’s opinion, has perfected the short story. I devoured the first about a married couple of Indian heritage and was so sad when it ended (not because it ended but because it was so sad), and am enraptured by the second, the story of a little American girl, daughter of two parents from India that have a friendship with a visiting Pakistani professor during a time of great conflict between the two countries. I had to force myself to close the book last night well after 10 o’clock even though my eyes were burning from fatigue.

I wanted to share this book recommendation with you (in case you haven’t already discovered Lahiri’s prose) and of course also ask you for any additional recommendations! Summer reading is around the corner 🙂

Coincidence? I think not.

It’s funny how once you decide things are a certain way, they really are that way.  What I mean is, you find meaning where you would like and run with it.  Several books, in combination with my own experiences, have completely convinced of me this hypothesis’s utter truth.

Book 1: The secret

The book that taught me I am my thoughts

I don’t mean to hit you with a product endorsement, but I really do think that everyone should read The secret.  Yes, I know it’s an international success and that many people turn their collective noses up at it for just this reason.  But the truth is, The secret makes COMPLETE and TOTAL sense.  If you haven’t read it and think you’re above it, don’t.

In a nutshell, it tells you that you are your thoughts.  So if you think negatively, then well, you’re destined to a life of gloom and despair.  However, if you think positively, many amazing things await.  Even if it’s not always easy to remain positive and upbeat, it’s such the better way to live.  I used to love complaining and gnashing my teeth and worrying everything to death.  I am fighting off vivid images of my friends and family collectively falling to the floor in laughter at the insinuation that I no longer do these things.  But honestly, despite allowing myself to get swept away by my daily stresses and student problems, I have managed to cultivate an “It is what it is” attitude.  As one of my wise brother says “control the controllables.”  So even though I may complain about Student X that did such and such, it’s really more for entertainment’s sake than for real and true losing of sleep over the issue.

Book 2: I really wish I could remember the title, if you are interested enough to leave a comment, I will find it for you
The secret was the first book that sparked that “you are what you think” addiction in me.  So I began to think of myself as a writer even though I wasn’t…persay…writing…anything.  As the compulsion to write got worse and worse, “poof!” just like magic, the next book I needed fell, quite literally, into my lap.  As a bon voyage gift last spring in Paris, my wonderful former boss (Hi, Simone!) gave me a fascinating  book about Jungian philosophy and the power we exercise over the “story of our lives.”  An especially intriguing concept for a budding, would-be writer.  Basically, it explains how there is no true coincidence.  We choose to find coincidence when and where we would like. And we choose to ignore the coincidences that do not fit into the story we choose to make of our lives.  Which leads me to…

Book 3: The sacred path of the warrior

The book gently reminding me to slow down

Right now, I am really pushing to maintain a more true and authentic sense of calm as I navigate my way through an extremely dense forest of teaching and advising and editing and listening and…you get my point.

So late one night this week, I found meaning in this book about an ancient Eastern philosophy that actually informed Tibetan Buddhism.  I saw it as an eerie coincidence I happened to pick up the book at the exact moment in time I’ve have been trying to slow myself down.  But was it really a coincidence?  According to Book 2, no.  I chose to read the book.  I made a conscious decision to try and lead my life as gratefully as possible.  Form your own opinion, but before doing so, oblige me and read my favorite excerpt thus far:

“Discovering real goodness comes from appreciating very simple experiences.  We are not talking about how good it feels to make a million dollars or finally graduate from college or buy a new house, but we are speaking here of the basic goodness of being alive-which does not depend on our accomplishments or fulfilling our desires.  We experience glimpses of goodness all the time but we fail to acknowledge them.  When we see a bright color, we are witnessing our own inherent goodness.  When we hear a beautiful sound we are hearing our own basic goodness.  When we step out of the shower, we feel fresh and clean, and when we walk out of a stuffy room, we appreciate the sudden whiff of fresh air.  These events may take a fraction of a second but they are real experiences of goodness.”

And that, my reader friend, is when things came full circle for me.  Author Chogyam Trungpa managed to articulate much more eloquently than I the premise of artsdevivre.  Happiness can’t come from outside circumstances.  It comes from finding contentment with the circumstances you currently have.

I pictured myself languidly waking up at 10.00 a.m., mosying into the kitchen, brewing the perfect cup of coffee and writing my heart out.  I pictured myself writing about the beauty of vacation, the perfectly clipped recipes I’d found and the comforting purr of my mom’s newest kitten, Lucy.  I pictured Lucy obediently seated on my lap while sentences flowed from my finger tips through to my well-worn keyboard.  A sweet fantasy, but alas, a fantasy.  

Webster’s defines vacation as “a respite or a time of respite from something : INTERMISSION.”  In this literal sense of the word, I am very definitively on “vacation.”  I am not at school and am working on not working.  

In spite of my hopes to the contrary, I am still dutifully waking up at 6.45 a.m. on the dot every morning.  Each day, I scrunch my eyes shut in an effort to coax myself back to sleep.  To no avail.  I am, however, successfully mosying into the kitchen to make coffee, albeit earlier than I had hoped.  And Lucy.  Well, she’s cute and all but not exactly the type of animal that allows much cuddle time.  As for the writing, you guessed it.  Writing/blogging tends to fall to the bottom of my list each day since it’s my extra.  I was sure that over vacation I’d find the time.  Between late nights with friends, catching up with family, and searching for the perfect recipe, writing once again fell to the bottom of my list.

Seeing as tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I decided this morning that the as-yet-to-occur recipe-clipping needed to take place.  It actually has morphed into recipe-surfing. My mother has a severe addiction to clipping any and everything from magazines.  Her pile of publications grows, taking on a life of its own and seemingly defying the laws of physics as the stack gets taller, refusing to fall. Before she can throw them into the recycling bin with good conscience, she dutifully flips every, single, last page and clips the recipes, articles or quotes that interest her or spark her fancy.  Clipped articles are then inserted into a very scientific filing system: random ziploc bags.  I think that this may be (subconsciously…or maybe not so) why when I started to think about my contribution to tomorrow’s meal (true to fashion at the last minute), I avoided actual paper and scissors.  I opted for some good old-fashioned food blog surfing.   

And while I still have not found what I need in terms of food ideas, I did happen on a post that spoke to me.  True to artsdevivre form, it seemed to be just what I needed, when I needed it. I think you should read it, too.  But in case you don’t, here’s the skinny:  

In the post, food writer Luisa Weiss describes her own journey to writing a book, and wonders where it “all began”, her love affair with writing.  Although her path seems to make more sense than my own (she wanted to be a writer, got a job in publishing, started a blog and is about to embark on publishing a book about her life), reading her story made me want to continue to create my own.  And most importantly, to listen to my own heart, follow my own dreams and not be afraid to take risks. Whatever those risks may be. I did it a year ago when I moved back to Paris. Ironically enough, artsdevivre has been a bigger risk than moving back to Paris ever was…Paris was home, comfortable.  Writing was something I always proclaimed to want to do, but didn’t actually do.  And I certainly didn’t let anyone read it when I did.  

Now that I do write, I feel more connected to my own life somehow.  Maybe it’s because each part of my day is done with more intention, and attention.  I examine the parts of the whole, wondering if they are interesting enough to write about.  

Of course I dream of being published one day.  But you never know what is going to happen or why or how or where. My vacation visions  are the cold hard proof.  If Luisa Weiss hadn’t experienced the many things she has, maybe she would not have had the material or reflectiveness to write her very own book.  Mine is in there somewhere, too.  Hopefully, artsdevivre is helping to coax it out.  And for now, it’s good enough that someone actually said to me recently “You’re a writer.  You know what I mean.”