Silencing the devil on your shoulder

Do you ever have those days when you feel utterly overwhelmed? Those mornings when all you want to do is crawl under the covers, hibernate, eat cake and forget about all the things that you should be doing, all the things that you don’t think you can do.

Most of us have been there. When I was there, it was obvious that the best course of action was a long nap followed by staring out the window.


Luckily, my other half had more sense than I did. He was the one who boiled the kettle and put pen and paper in my hand.

“Just write everything down. List all the impossible things you want to accomplish. Write down all the negative thoughts that are running around your head.”

He asked for 5 minutes of my time, just 5 minutes to sit and write.

And it worked. Because when you write down the negative rubbish that’s holding you back, it doesn’t seem quite so daunting. In fact it all seems fairly manageable.

to-do list

Now we’ve done it more times than I can count. It has become second nature. Whether we are working on the business, or planning our year ahead, or making a list of everything we want to learn and accomplish, we write it down.

I tend to forget about the lists as soon as I have made them. For me, it is the creation, the brain dump, that sets me free.

The boy is different, he holds on to them. He files them safely away. And I’m so glad he does because these lists of ours, these words scribbled on napkins and grocery lists and sheets of notepads, are part of our history.

They teach us that we will always be striving, that there will always be things to worry about. There will never be some dull, serene moment when we have reached perfection.

And yet they also remind us that we are capable, that we have achieved more than we ever thought we could.

What would you put on your list?

Creating your Dream Life: What are you willing to give up?

Do you have a dream? Maybe you want to open a restaurant, or start a business, or become a painter, or start a family, or write a great novel. Whatever your dream might be, I suspect that it may take a bit of sacrifice to get there. Maybe sacrifice is too serious a word. If not sacrifice, then a few decisions. What are you willing to say no to in order to say yes to your dreams?

I remember a conversation that Jeremy and I had, early on, when we were sitting in our first Brooklyn sublet, eating soft boiled eggs on the floor. We had no furniture, no jobs, no money and we were two weeks away from being homeless. It was all a bit Withnail and I and a tad depressing. We had big plans but we had yet to sell a book or launch a business.

With egg dripping off his toast soldiers, Jeremy asked me to list all the things that I really wanted (or wanted to do) that I was willing to give up:

  • Long stints of travel
  • A predictable life
  • A safe, healthy bank account
  • Saving for a house
  • Some beautiful possessions
  • A good work, life balance
  • An apartment with doors
  • Plenty of time outdoors

On another sheet of paper we wrote down the things that we refused to give up:

  • Each other
  • Seeing our friends
  • Closeness to our family
  • Good food
  • Writing and the success of the business

Our list has changed since then, it has grown and evolved with us. But it was helpful to have to keep us on track early on.

So what do you want and, perhaps more importantly, what will you give up to have it?

dream life quote

Best of January list

Last January, Jeremy and I had just moved to New York. We were wading our way through snowdrifts and watching Brooklynites cross-country skiing through Prospect Park. Snowmageddon was upon us and we were hibernating in our very small sublet contemplating why on earth we were putting ourselves through it.

This year, the weather is far less frightful and we are exploring the hidden nooks of the city that we have come to love. Looking at this list of highlights, it seems like January means red wine, lots of food, dreaming of escapes and some resolution-induced mayhem. At least it does for me. What does it mean for you?

Starting off the year on a high note with these guys.

Eating fondue and drinking spicy red wine by the fire here.

Celebrating with friends and some ‘energetic’ dance moves here.

Starting my days off virtuously with the muesli from these guys.

Slurping for a steaming bowl of amazing ramen here after long city walks.

Tearing into these delicious pizzas.

Exploring Koreatown and ending up at this hidden place for lunch.

Tucking into this chili at home while watching movies.

Throwing out the resolutions and making these outrageously good pancakes.

Thawing out in this futuristic coffee spot on Orchard.

Dreaming of escaping here.

What’s on your list?

Best of December List

I have been an utterly useless blogger recently. I don’t expect that it worried too many of you but I feel bad about being so rubbish. Suffice to say that by the end of January I will be much better (the manuscript will be in the hands of my editor and out of my late night fevers) and until then I will stick to my new years resolution to write on here at least once a week.

In the spirit of welcoming in the new year (and saying goodbye to the past year) I thought I would let you know some of my favourites pieces of December by creating a list of highlights (I’d love to hear your December high points so post away in the comments section to your hearts content!):

Sending my parents here for a January get away.

Eating far too much of this butter.

Treating ourselves to this restaurant for my mum’s birthday.

Being involved in this charity bash.

The effortless indulgence of this butterscotch sauce.

Popping down to my local for the odd post-shopping cocktail.

Reading her raw, poetic books (inspirational reading for every memoirist).

Seeing this guy in his last concert.

Indulging in over-priced pints here and feeling like I was back in a country pub.

Watching this film with 3D glasses on and not feeling at all embarrassed.

Feeling the rib-sticking goodness of this restaurant’s cavatelli.

Surviving a frigid bike ride to end up at this spot for unbeatable pancakes.

Embracing the joy of an utterly cheesy spa day here.

Speaking to a room full of shockingly engaged adolescents here.

Cheers to 2011 and I hope you all have a fabulous time ringing in 2012 around the world. What’s on your list?

New York, New York: Sinatra had it right

Spring has finally come to the big apple and it is time to forgive the city anything.

Brooklyn New York

When Jeremy and I first arrived on New Year’s Eve, we had sublet a beautiful but miniscule space in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. The snow had formed 4-foot walls down the semi-ploughed roads and we were paying three times our old rent in Chicago. It was a baptism of fire and there were times when we questioned our sanity. New York had been a dream, an east coast adventure and a chance to live in the pulsing heart of the publishing and business world. As we hibernated in our apartment and gave up on any sort of privacy we wondered if the city was too much for us, too expensive, too gritty.

Last Tuesday, teaching my first class on public speaking (here is the next one), I played a spontaneous speaking game with my students. In their own way each of them told us a story about their New York, the city they called home, good or bad. One hated and loved Times Square in equal measure, one told us about a crazy saxophonist on the subway with questionable personal hygiene and one told us about her apartment nightmare living with a dominatrix housemate.

This city is like marmite, you love it or hate it, and sometimes you do both at the same time, but once it gets under your skin it is hard to shake off. Today, sitting in our apartment with the sun shining through my window, I love it. I love the beauty of my neighborhood, the old Italian men who sit on their stoops every day, the morning coffee at my local café, the bookseller down the road who has used tomes scaling the walls and spilling out on to the sidewalk.

Central Park New York

Of all the cities I have been to, nowhere has the sheer diversity of New York. It is hard to beat the experience of all that variation than from the back of the bike. Brooklyn and Queens have great bike rides that I will tell you about some other time, but my New York story, the New York journey that I love the most is the one that takes me from our place in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, to the best bagel I have ever eaten on 107th st on the Upper West side of Manhattan. It is not a short bike ride but it is an ideal way to spend a Sunday in the city.

The rush of adrenaline as cars screech past me on midtown Manhattan’s 6th Ave, the intense gaze at each parked car for fear of a door flying out into my path, the joy ride up central park, the in-line skaters, the table tennis players in Tompkins Square Park, the mysterious Chinese gamblers in Columbus Park. On top of it all is the food. In my mind, cycling 15 city miles entitles me to some treats on the way. There are hundreds of places on route but here are a few favorites:

1. Ted and Honey – fueling up with a breakfast sandwich and an iced coffee in Carroll Gardens.

Ted and honey

Image: Cobble Hill Blog

2. Grabbing a few biscotti from a cart here in Little Italy after rolling over the Brooklyn Bridge.

3. The Pickle Guys – if you like pickles, my favorite is the somewhat controversial pickled pineapple but you’re never short of choice. If you’re not so into pickles and prefer your treats a touch sweeter, check out the lower east side location of the Doughnut Plant across the street.

Pickle guys

Image: Robbie Virus

Doughnut plant

Moishe’s bake shop – anything is good for a pastry picnic in Tompkins Square Park.

Moishe's bake shop

The grand finale of them all is the best bagel I have ever tasted. I realize that some people are partial to H&H but we were introduced to Absolute Bagel by a friend and I think my loyalty may already have been forged. An everything bagel, hot out of the oven, with a thick layer of white fish spread…it gets me on my bike every Sunday.

Absolute bagel

Image: Carnivore and Vegetarian

Tell me a story…do you have a favorite New York place, food mecca or journey?