Journal: Instagram and Other Fake Lives

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I recently read an op-ed in the New York Times that encourages us to look closely at the lives we portray on social media– and question whether it deprives us of true happiness. Envy, the author says, often drives or proceeds from our portrayals of perfection in cyberspace; not only do we desire to imitate others, we also desire to outdo others. And in the meantime, we are missing out on real life.

I don’t think that these new cyberspace platforms can be properly assessed as absolutely good or bad. With a positive spin, social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and yes, blogging) is a brilliant way to share your story and ideas with others. It helps us put our best selves out there and inspire each other to grow and change.

But with a negative spin, these media are all about constructing an image of ourselves that only represents the highlights that we are proud of. Even our public confessions can take on a constructed, perfectionist pretense that fools others into believing that all our thoughts are coherent and presentable. The human experience is most certainly not so.

So, how is a blogger to take this in stride? Well, we can begin by remembering that we are not our blogs. Our blogs only represent a part of us– a coherent, carefully selected facet that is designed to be useful to others. And this is a good thing! In addition to my Journal category, I like to keep a real paper journal, the contents of which I can decide whether or not to publish. These blog posts are constructed to be encouraging and useful, rather than a word vomit of everything that has crossed my mind today.

Finally, there is life beyond social media, beyond personal blogs. There is life outside of what is simply trendy or popular, or what can be found in department store windows or lifestyle magazines. Simplicity Relished is, in part, about how to build that life.

Want to read more about simplifying your life? Check out these great suggestions from Joshua Becker’s suggestions for the weekend!

Travel: Japanese Coast and Countryside in Hokkaido

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Hokkaido is the northern-most island of Japan, known both for its cherry blossoms and ice sculptures. We were there this summer for five days and we absolutely loved the landscape, culture and people. Here are a few highlights from the trip!

  • Tasting sea urchin right out of the shell at the Japanese market– we are HUGE uni fans!
  • Enjoying raw milk products such as cheesecake, ice cream and custard.
  • Hiking along the coast over clear blue waters.
  • Feeding an alpaca and getting to hug it!
  • Walking through the Sapporo shopping center alongside local businesspeople.
  • Relaxing in fields of flowers and fragrant lavender.
  • Gorgeous calm on a quiet rocky beach.

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Travel: Flânerie in the City of Light

flâ·neur, n. an idler or lounger.

flâ·neur, n. an idler or lounger.

Everyone has their Paris list. Whether we’ve had the opportunity to travel there or not, the City of Light possesses an iconic quality unmatched by any other metropolitan space. Constantly, a myriad of individuals– from tour guides to anthropologists to fashion designers– await the unsuspecting non-expert to ask them what exactly makes Paris, Paris; and then, you better get comfortable, because their odes to the city could hardly get any longer.

 

Having had the pleasure to visit three times now, I could write an ode to Paris too. But to be quite honest, I’m a bit too timid to join the ranks of individuals who have found in Paris a muse, a home, or a lover. From Hemingway to Stein to Fitzgerald, the Lost Generation on its own is intimidating enough. Throw in the most influential designers of the past few centuries, some exceptional culinary geniuses and the unapologetically gorgeous architecture, and I’m barely a leaf in the pond. I can hardly express to Paris what I owe to it, but I can show you a few of my favorite corners. If you have a chance to visit, here are some unconventional experiences (and tips!) that are not to be missed.

 

Even the flowers are more fragrant in France... no wonder it's the fragrance capital of the West!

Even the flowers are more fragrant in France… no wonder it’s the fragrance capital of the West!

Staying in an apartment instead of a hotel. We stayed in a lovely one-bedroom in the 6th arrondisement, which turned out to be a perfect location. Looking for lodging? Check out Air BnB, or our favorite: Haven in Paris. (Haven in Paris also has a phenomenal blog celebrating the city).

The 6th arrondisement has both wide intersections and little alleys; the perfect place to explore.

The 6th arrondisement has both wide intersections and little alleys; the perfect place to explore.

Window shopping– but not just at des Galeries Lafayette. Wander around the 6th arrondisement, starting from the Boulevard St. Germain. Take some advice from Chic Shopping Paris, and find boutiques and craft shops that are off the beaten path. My favorite shopping past-time was meandering through Marche d’Aligre. From fresh produce to cured meats and cheeses to vintage trinkets, this must be where the savvy non-elite like to barter and bargain.

Approaching the Marche Aligre-- fresh produce ready to sell.

Approaching the Marche Aligre– fresh produce ready to sell.

Marche Aligre

Marche Aligre

Boucherie-- a butcher's job is to be taken very, very seriously in Paris.

Boucherie– a butcher’s job is to be taken very, very seriously in Paris.

A great home design shop in the 4th!

A great home design shop in the 4th!

Snacking on eclairs, cakes, and chocolates. The word dessert has French roots for a reason. Not sure where to start? Book a tour with Paris By Mouth— and check out their amazing website. I say, whatever you do, don’t miss Carl Marletti; he’s an eclair genius. 

Carl Marletti's patisserie in the Quartier Latin.

Carl Marletti’s patisserie in the Quartier Latin.

About to sink my teeth into a Carl Marletti chocolate eclair-- for the second time.

About to sink my teeth into a Carl Marletti chocolate eclair– for the second time.

Chocolate in France means perfection, subtlety, and creativity. You'll never buy Hershey's (or Godiva, for that matter) again!

Chocolate in France means perfection, subtlety, and creativity. You’ll never buy Hershey’s (or Godiva, for that matter) again!

Relaxing outdoors. We are partial to the Jardin Luxembourg, but Paris is full of gorgeous parks complete with tailored gardens, running children and bubbling fountains. If you’re in the mood for an adventure, take the metro out of the city to Bois de Boulogne, where savvy Parisians exercise in style. It’s the perfect place for an all-day stroll, picnic, or rowing on the lake.

Bois de Boulogne

Bois de Boulogne

Chocolate cake at the Luxembourg Gardens-- a must-do.

Chocolate cake at the Luxembourg Gardens– a must-do.

Dining like a local. This is one of the best things about traveling on your own: no group tour meals (which we all know are sub-par). Still, this means you’ll have to do your own research. In recent years it has become more and more common for chefs at high-end restaurants (read: several-hundred-euro dinners) to open up their own atelier. One of our favorites was Terroir Parisien by Yannick Alleno. At these more affordable prices, the ambiance might be compromised but the food never is. Be sure to make some reservations where you can!

Selecting some cheeses during our Paris by Mouth food tour.

Selecting some cheeses during our Paris by Mouth food tour.

Some charcuterie and a baguette are never a bad choice for lunch.

Some charcuterie and a baguette are never a bad choice for lunch.

Enjoying charcuterie and cornichons at Terroir Parisien. The French like to start dinner with a plate full of meat. I say, pourquoi-pas?

Enjoying charcuterie and cornichons at Terroir Parisien. The French like to start dinner with a plate full of meat. I say, pourquoi-pas?

Going slow. Select a few classic sites and enjoy them fully. The problem with a city like Paris is that you can visit for two weeks, be busy from dawn to midnight, and still never see everything. Our advice? Don’t even try. Take a hint from Alastair Sawday and the go-slow movement, and choose between the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, and between the Musée d’Orsay and the Louvre (I’m partial to the d’Orsay). Instead of running through the streets of Paris like maniacal tourists, we chose to sit by the Seine and watch the day go by, à la France

Ste-Chapelle-- stained-glass windows with images from books of the Bible. Fascinating!

Ste-Chapelle– stained-glass windows with images from books of the Bible. Fascinating!

Montmartre.

Montmartre.

Houseboats on the Seine. La vie est belle!

Houseboats on the Seine. La vie est belle!

Have you been to Paris? What are your travel tips and resources? And, if Paris is still on your bucket list, don’t worry; it won’t be going away anytime soon. Even Hitler could not destroy Europe’s most iconic city, so be patient– your time will come. 

 

And now, it is time for me to sit around and wonder whether another jaunt to Paris is in the books for the next several years. Good thing I’m taking Thomas Keller’s advice on how to bring French comfort food to our home kitchen! Au revoir!

Journal: Harvard Through the Seasons

The Charles River

The Charles River

I’m coming up on the end of my fourth year in Cambridge, MA and my fifth in New England. Over the course of this season– which has accounted for the majority of my adult life– I’ve become acquainted with the brisk Boston pace, dramatic weather patterns, brazen pedestrians, cobblestone sidewalks, and why scarves and earmuffs are necessary for survival.

Widener Library

Widener Library

Slogging through nearly six months of cold– 40 degrees Fahrenheit and below– I’ve seen my hands crack, my cheeks sting and a far paler spectrum of skin tones. I’ve stopped counting the number of times I’ve slipped on black ice. In the summers I have been confounded by New Englanders who deny themselves air conditioning, and have bemoaned the humidity that inhibits cooling off at night. I’ve murdered many a cockroach, mostly with fearful fascination, and listened to the burgeoning excitement of insects emerging from the riverbed. And most wonderful of all, I’ve enjoyed the timidity of spring and the boldness of fall, when flowers open and leaves grow warm with color. No matter how hot the summer or how cold the winter, we know that change is coming.

Each season has cast a different light on Harvard: it makes us outgoing, it makes us hopeful, it makes us insolent, and it makes us bitter. It makes us gather together and also retreat to solitude. Thanksgiving and Christmas are warmer and brighter, while Easter promises more glorious sunshine and abundant life. I’m going to miss New England. I’m going to miss the reminder of how seasons rotate in contentment and hardship, high and low, joy and grief. It has taught me just how much of what we do is temporary, and how to cherish the present season for all its glory.

Early Summer

Late Summer

Early Fall

Early Fall

Mid-Fall

Mid-Fall

Late Fall

Late Fall

Early Winter

Early Winter

Mid-Winter

Mid-Winter

Late Winter

Late Winter

Early-Mid Spring

Early-Mid Spring

Late Spring

Late Spring

Almost Summer!

Almost Summer!

 

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

 

Travel: O Ya Restaurant in Boston

You would expect the best sushi to be in New York– at least in the United States. Well, I haven’t tried every sushi restaurant there is, but one indispensable house of sushi is most certainly O Ya Restaurant near Boston South Station. Tucked away a block or two from the iconic train station, this little place is doing huge things with the best fish in the sea.

Bluefin Tuna Tataki

Bluefin Tuna Tataki

Almost everything you order at O Ya is that frustrating just-want-one-more-bite size. Flavors burst gloriously with undertones of Japanese herbs or just a hint of sear. The owners of O Ya might be white-Americans, but they’ve nailed the creative precision of Japanese cuisine. I’m a fan.

Kumamoto Oyster with watermelon pearls, cucumber mignonette

Kumamoto Oyster with watermelon pearls, cucumber mignonette

Three talented chefs!

Three talented chefs!

Journal Entry: A View From Brooklyn

Manhattan Skyline from Dumbo, Brooklyn, NY

Manhattan Skyline from Dumbo, Brooklyn, NY

Brooklyn, New York. The name of the borough evokes so many associations, from poverty to gentrification, hipsters to yuppies. The famous Brooklyn Bridge, Grimaldi’s pizza, the Brooklyn Tabernacle and the emerging new artist scene. In the past five years, I’ve watched Brooklyn take on new meanings and become a part of my own relational journey. I’ve spread my wings to the wind while walking the Bridge, and fell for Grimaldi’s greasy pizza before realizing the “real thing” is actually next door. I’ve remembered being called at while walking Brooklyn’s streets and I’ve sung my heart out with the Tabernacle Choir. Most of what I love about New York is indeed in Manhattan, but my boldest memories of the Big Apple are certainly buried in this strange and changing borough.

See that little deck with yellow and blue umbrellas? That’s the River Café. My now fiancé and I dined there back in September of 2009 for my birthday, when I was living in New Hampshire and he had just arrived in New York for college. It was pouring rain that evening and we trekked through not a few dim streets before arriving at the waterfront classic. His suit had been soaked, and the waitstaff quickly dried it so he could be properly dressed for dinner. I was wearing a black-and-silver checked dress and little black pumps. My hair was short. It was so long ago.

That dinner marked one of the my first steps toward being forever in love with New York. Staring out at the Manhattan skyline against the encroaching evening, watching the lights flicker through the rain and dance on the water, I knew I adored New York and that the man sitting next to me would be my best friend forever. We savored our African rock lobster. The waitstaff grew friendlier and friendlier as they realized what a happy young couple we were, cherishing every bite with growing smiles of pure joy.

Over the past five years, Brooklyn has seen a lot, and so have we. The growth of Williamsburg, where facial hair is part of the uniform, as are “fixie” bikes and cardboard furniture, second-hand stores and excellent third wave coffee. The hurricane that drowned the River Café and the Red Hook area, evacuating hundreds and leaving little recognizable architecture in its wake, yielded an even more vigorous gentrification than the years preceding it. Young urban professionals moved into the area known as Dumbo, just under the famous Brooklyn Bridge (pictured above). High-end furniture stores such as Bo Concept have taken residence in Dumbo, meaning someone is setting up a bourgeois home on the water. While the renovations of Brooklyn’s waterfront are more beautiful in photographs and approachable by tourists, one has to wonder where the city’s poorer residents have gone. The old Brooklyn still exists, just no longer on Water Street, where the River Café now finds itself among its socio-economic peers.

This past weekend, we returned to Brooklyn. It was a gorgeous 70-degree day and lunch on the water was nearly divine. Families crowded the newly built carousel as dogs of all shapes and sizes barked at each other and chased pigeons. I hardly recognized it. After tasting the most lovely croissant in New York at Almondine Bakery, we sat in the sunshine and took it all in. Brooklyn has changed, and so have we.

The next day, a story broke New York Times headlines. Thirty years ago, a maniac broke into a Brooklyn home and murdered an entire family. The one survivor was a little girl named Christina, age 13 months. The first responder was a female cop who found Christina and watched her through the night. Eventually, chief officer Joanne Jaffe adopted Christina, their mother-daughter bond realized in the horrific events that evening. Their story is one that I will not forget for a long time.

Places change, as do people. Five years ago, I had no idea what it would feel like to be nearing the end of my own college years, quickly approaching our wedding day and starting a new life together. These years that have gone by, including long and sometimes painful rides to and from New York City, will not fail to remind me of the good in every season we walk through. Loss and change help us to experience the sweetness of life and remember the promise of redemption. Brooklyn will always remind me of that.