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Getting Rid of Clutter

I am currently in the middle of an extended purge of the unnecessary things cluttering up my space – both literally and figuratively.  Having once loaded up all of my possessions into the trunk of my car and moved from Dallas to DC with nothing else, I still harbor the probably unrealistic belief that I could do it again.  I love the house I live in with great furniture and things acquired along the way, but for the right reasons I’d easily forgo these creature comforts that I’ve accumulated.  

 

Even though I come from a long line of  packrats, I have to admit that I truly love a good purge!  I’ve learned over the years that I have a tendency to get caught up in the moment of cleaning out spaces and getting rid of things… Later I tend to find that in my zeal I’ve gotten rid of something I wish I hadn’t.  The best fix I’ve found for this is putting anything questionable into one box.  If in a certain amount of time (i.e. 6 months), I haven’ gone looking for it or decided conclusively that I want to keep it, then off to charity it goes.  Any other suggestions?

 

For a little inspiration on this topic, check out this post on uncluttering your creative spaceby Zoë Westhof of the blog Essential Prose.

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Yesterday was the 16th day of 100+ degrees of heat in North Texas this summer, and it’s only mid July.  That number is roughly the number of days we typically get in a full summer…  This is my least favorite time of year in Texas by far, and it has me thinking about the importance of place and location in our daily lives.  The picture above is of the living room of the 5th floor walk-up apartment I lived in with my host family in Copenhagen, Denmark.  I was a complete beginner with my brand new (non-digital) camera and thought adding the date to the pictures was a great feature.  Needless to say, I was annoyed when I finally got home and had the film developed.  It’s a time and place of which I have very fond memories. For me it’s evocative of all the things that my time abroad included – excitement, novelty, and friendship – along with the crisp air and the cross breeze blowing through the open windows on the fifth floor.  It was a great place to live while exploring Europe and neglecting my grades… Below is a picture of the building across from ours covered in fall leaves. I couldn’t resist taking a picture of it so that I wouldn’t forget.   

 

scan0004As somewhat of an observer by nature, I may be more sensitive than most to my surroundings, but I’ve always believed that they influence our lives way more than we might expect.  I recently came across a book addressing exactly this premise… It’s a very interesting book – called The Power of Place: How Our Surroundings Shape Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Actions by Winifred Gallagher.*  She discusses the impact on human life of light (or lack thereof), temperature (extreme heat and cold), and even various levels of stimulation (from quiet environments to bustling cities). I’m only part of the way through the book, but I’ll be interested to share my thoughts about it along the way… 

 

*Note: If you’ve heard about Gallagher lately (maybe in the current issue of Real Simple), it’s not because of this book.  It’s because of her new book called Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, which has been reviewed in the New York Times and the Washington Post, among others.  I’m very interested to read it next.

Ever Elusive Balance

A recent op-ed article in the the New York Times by David Brooks called The Way We Live Now discuss what is required to achieve the level of success of the current Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor.   Today I’m not thinking about the scales of justice or the content of her decisions, but the scales of elusive personal balance and the amount of sacrifice required along each step of the way to get where Sotomayor is now.  
 
Not surprisingly Brooks points to periods in Sotomayer’s life where her relationships were strong and other periods where they were limited at best.  Its sad to think that this is what’s required of those seeking the highest levels of success, but I think that most entrepreneurs, executives in corporate America, lawyers, and doctors would say this rings true with their experience.  It rings true for me already.  Regardless of the content or substance of their jobs, I am truly thankful for women who are willing to make the personal sacrifices necessary to keep the glass ceiling elevated and to continue to push it higher and higher!  I also applaud women who are honest about these trade offs and don’t perpetuate the “you can have it all” myth. 
 
Balance is definitely elusive, and maybe it’s just an illusion.  Maybe we shouldn’t even strive for it since “[b]alanced people don’t usually change the world“?  There are only so many hours in a day, days in a month, months in a year, and we each have choices and decisions to make about what to do with our time and energy.  That much I know.

002Lately I’ve had a real yearning for a trip to the mountains, which is a stark contrast to my actual surroundings. It’s about this time of the year when the mercury begins to hit triple digits, that many Dallasites day dream of cool breezes and overnight temperatures below 80 degrees. I don’t claim to be unique in this respect!  Since getting away for a mountain retreat isn’t in the cards for me over the next couple of months, I’ll be basking in the Texas heat from patios across Dallas, preferably with a cool drink in hand.

 

One of the best things to come from this early Texas heat is blackberry season. For years my parents have grown fat, juicy, seedless blackberries in our standard sized, suburban backyards, and we’re all seriously addicted!  My parents have even been known to bring blackberries on board flights in their carry on when visiting my sister or I across the country. These Texas blackberries are infinitely better than anything you can buy at Whole Foods and truly perfect straight off the vine and still warm from the sun. We typically have quite a crop (except for a few years after the move to a new house and one well-intended, but unfortunate over-pruning incident), but only once or twice have they ever made their way into a cobbler, crumble, or cake. The vehicle of choice for blackberry consumption is simple: vanilla ice cream.  Another nice way to keep cool! Part of this year’s crop is shown above.

 

So with blackberry season rapidly coming to an end, my post today is about the blackberry inspired mountain retreat I’d love to take. Blackberry Farm, is located in the Great Smoky Mountains near Knoxville, Tennessee, and according to their website, Blackberry Farm “offers 63 guest accommodations, including Estate Rooms, Cottage Suites, Hill Cottages and houses, all beautifully appointed and furnished with fine antiques. Personal service and attention to detail are the defining elements of Blackberry Farm’s award-winning reputation.” Rooms starting at $995.  According to my parents, who had been talking about this trip for years, the 4,200 acre estate is pure heaven for foodies and naturalists alike, and the service was above and beyond anything they could have expected.  Browse the beautiful website to read about all the wonderful events they have planned and to learn about the family and the story behind this unique place.

 

Since my budget is slightly less robust than my parents’, my actual itinerary would look a little different, but a girl can dream (!), and I’ve officially added a stay at Blackberry Farm to my travel “bucket list”…  Additional, budget-friendly Great Smoky Mountain information still to come!

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UPDATE (on 7/15/09):

My actual itinerary would probably include a stay at the equally scenic Butterfly Gap Retreat. Near Knoxville, but actually located “6 miles from downtown Maryville (scroll down for directions), this gorgeous property offers luxury, privacy, and convenience in a scenic hideaway that will have you counting the days until your next visit.  From the distinctive architecture and supreme comfort of the secluded guesthouses to the spacious and stunning event spaces, the accommodations of Butterfly Gap guarantee a unique and unforgettable experience.” Rooms starting at $195. I think it looks like an amazing spot for a mountain retreat away from the demands of daily life!  I’d definitely also want to try out the Foothills Milling Company – see a review here.

Post inspired by 6 National Parks article in the July 2009 issue of Travel + Leisure. http://www.travelandleisure.com/

Wanderlust – noun, a strong, innate desire to rove or travel about.

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It’s official… I’ve come down with a bad case of wanderlust… I realized recently that it’s been over a year since my last trip out of the country. The picture above is from that trip last year to the Amalfi Coast in Italy. 

 

I’ve been to plenty of fun cities stateside since then (Chicago, San Francisco, NYC, and Atlanta), and I have plans to travel domestically over the next couple of months.  But, it is just not the same as seeing a completely new place and experiencing a different culture. I’m always ready to pick up and see a new place. At any moment.

 

So until I can embark on my next trip, Armchair Travel will have to suffice!  Here are some of the fun travel-related things I’ve found recently:

Lately I have been a big consumer of food content – not so much food itself as writing online and offline about food (thankfully for my waistline!), including a dip into the world of online food blogging.  Over the last few months: I’ve seen Food, Inc.as a part of Dallas’ AFI Film Festival, and I’ve read a number of books on the subject including Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver and In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan.  To say that this endeavor has changed by perspective on the value of food and the business of food production (and what I will actually put in my mouth), would be a serious understatement.  However, nothing has shifted my overall perspective more than the book I just finished reading last night: The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, by David A. Kessler, MD.  

 

The End of Overeating caught by attention in the traditional way – at the front table in a Borders book store.  I immediately knew that I wanted to read it, and it did not disappoint.  It’s somewhat heavy on science in the early chapters as Kessler lays the ground work for his conclusion that some foods are hyperpalatable, that they are reinforcing (a.k.a. addictive), that they override the natural physical responses exhibited when one eats traditional foods, that they make you want to eat more and more, and what we can and should do about it.  I found it compelling and read it in only a few short days. That Kessler is a former FDA commissioner, a doctor, and himself a professed overeater adds creditability to his conclusions and compassion to his handling of an emotional subject.  I believe it’s a paradigm changing book, and I highly recommend it to anyone.  Thank you, Dr. Kessler!

 

Read what others are saying: NY Post, WSJ, Boing Boing, and the Huffington Post.

Summer Garden

Here’s some pictures I took over the weekend of my backyard…  All the work put in last spring, is definitely starting to pay off!