Experimenting with Patience

Patience is not something that comes naturally to me. I have a tendency to rush myself, and others.

Learning patience

I suspect that living in New York feeds my impatience. Rushing is a way of life here. Our food arrives minutes after we’ve ordered it, the subway shoots us from one end of the island to the other, the streets are clogged with city dwellers sliding, eyes-rolling between groups of dawdling tourists on the sidewalks.

It is a city where time is people’s greatest resource. Services have evolved to outsource anything that might ‘waste’ your time. Task Rabbit will run your errands or clean your flat, a virtual assistant will call your electricity company so you don’t have to wait on hold, Fresh Direct will bring groceries to your 5 floor walk-up so you don’t have to spend precious minutes in the line at Trader Joes.

It is all terribly efficient. But it is good for us? Is it feeding our happiness?

I spent the past two weeks travelling in Costa Rica. It took close to 3 hours to rent a car, every meal we ordered took at lease 30 minutes to make it to our table, we had to wait for an hour in the bank to speak to someone after a machine swallowed our debit card, we got stuck behind suspiciously-leaning-cattle-bearing-trucks that barely broke 40 MPH on the highways while spewing thick black exhaust.

And yet the World Database of Happiness lists Costa Rica as the happiest of 148 nations

Quite possibly it has a lot to do with the natural beauty of the country, or the fact that they dissolved their standing army in favour of pumping money into education, but it might also have something to do with living in a country where things happen in Tico-time.

Tico time happiness

Moving more slowly, waiting more often, forces us to look around. It may infuriate us but it also has the potential to let us see things, hear things and strike up a conversation with a stranger. Maybe all our rushing around is making us blind to the world outside of our blinkered efficiency.

So back in the city of hooking cars, heavy-footed cab drivers and appointment laden weeks, I’m seeing how it feels to talk a little slower, to walk at a different pace and spend a little more time watching the chaos around me.

Escaping the Silence: Stories from Out With It

It was 6 months into my year-long trip when I knew that I had been wrong, about a lot of things.

I was bumping along a dark New Mexican ridge with little idea where I was going, trying to remember my host’s quickly delivered instructions. The night had engulfed our Subaru station wagon and, with no reception on my phone, the blinking ‘check engine’ light looked more menacing than it had before.

I was on my way back to the ranch we were staying in for the night, leaving my 70th interview. I was reluctantly driving away from a man who had warily invited me into his home to ask him questions about his life, about what it meant to him to be a stutterer. Our interview had started awkwardly, both of us sitting politely on either side of his sofa with my recorder lying conspicuously between us.

He was different from any of the other 69 interviews stored on my recorder. He was the first man I had met who had never seen another stutterer before, the first person who had barely spoken about his stutter to anyone. He and I edged around the loaded word for a while. He mentioned ‘that thing I do when I talk’ and I nodded. He smiled when he ‘did it again’, I asked him to carry on.

As the hours slipped by and the sun sank into the earth, he told me how he had questioned his faith, spending many years thinking he must be possessed by the devil. He remembered reading that people had cut the ligament underneath their tongue to ‘cure’ their stutter and he held the scissors there more times than he was proud to admit. In his thick Mexican accent, he told me how he had become a teacher despite all the people who had told him that he couldn’t, or shouldn’t. He told me how honored and scared he was that his church had asked him to travel with them as an interpreter when they went to work with prison inmates in Colombia.

Gradually he started to lean towards me, he began to sound proud of all he had achieved, and he asked if his wife could join us. He started to laugh and smile and, as I sat back on the sofa, he told her things that he had never dared mention before. His daughter bounded in and he explained who I was, explained that he was talking to me about his stutter. It was the first time he had mentioned the word to her, the first time he had ‘come out’ as a stutterer. She told him that was cool and started showing me her toys, unfazed by the relief that was painted across his face.

When he walked me out to my car, his rough, weather-beaten features were backlit by the light streaming out of their kitchen door and I could barely see his face. But I heard the crack in his voice as he reached out his hand to hold mine and say thank you. I said it back and hoped he could see how grateful I was.

As I flicked on my headlights and started to drive away, I realized that I was thanking him, thanking all of the people who had allowed themselves to be interviewed, for something much more personal than I had realized. I was thanking them for finding the courage to tell me their stories, but also for holding up a mirror and showing me far more of myself than I had ever expected.

Six months ago I had left my home in England to explore stuttering. I had wanted to find out who it happened to, the ways they handled their speech and why we all stuttered. I thought that once I knew the ‘why’, I was one step closer to a fix. Although I left England keen to immerse myself in stuttering, I was looking for answers. I was looking to make my stuttering neat and tidy. I wanted to sanitize it and put it in a box so I could push it away and move on with the rest of my life.

Sitting in my car I knew that I had been wrong. As I planned the next day of driving in my head, I was excited by the thought of each interview yet to come and I was humbled by the generosity of each interview behind me. I saw that stuttering had become a password and an equalizer. It had invited me into the homes of everyone from farmers to celebrities, and it had led an intensity and an honesty to each of my conversations. It had brought me more adventure, and had made me more fearless than I had ever imagined.

I heard stories of courage, determination, heartache and painfully funny stories of miscommunication, and I realized that I was not interested in distancing myself from these people, or this condition, any more. I didn’t want my life to be polished and sanitized. I didn’t want to hide my speech. I realized that I was proud of the imperfections I had, proud of the tribe I had been born into.

I wrote this piece for the International Stuttering Awareness Day conference. Check out their website for a host of brilliant articles and stories.

From Lost to Found: Book review

I imagine it is rare that a book brings a New York Times reviewer to tears. In my mind the reviewers from the Grey Lady are word-weary, poker-faced readers with stiff upper lips. And yet, the NYT reviewer Dwight Garner admitted to being ‘obliterated’ by Cheryl Strayed’s most recent book, WILD. In his words, ‘I was reduced, during her book’s final third, to puddle-eyed cretinism’.

In the first couple paragraphs of his review I was hooked.

I quickly found out that Garner was not the only person to be lavishing praise on the book. Strayed was receiving the sort of attention that would make a movie star blush – Oprah had resurrected her book club to tout WILD, Reese Witherspoon had signed it for a movie deal and book signings around the country were turning into mosh pits, with standing room only for her devoted fans.

Cheryl Strayed's book WILD

Having read the book, it is clear why. Strayed is someone we understand, someone we want to be, on our best days. Her book, WILD, tells the story of the months she hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, alone, following the death of her mother and the unraveling of her life at the age of 26.  She was inexperienced and under prepared for the adventure, her body throbbing and blistering in revolt against her gargantuan backpack. She was faced with rattlesnakes, bears, swarming frogs, intense heat, record snowfalls and intense loneliness, and yet she moved forward. As she puts it in the book, “the thing that was so profound to me that summer…was how few choices I had and how often I had to do the one thing I least wanted to do. How there was no escape or denial.”

Strayed is famous, and loved, for her once-anonymous Dear Sugar columns in the Rumpus. She has written endless pieces helping others by drawing on stories and metaphors from her own life. In WILD, she has pieced some of her stories together, fiercely and honestly she has remembered herself. With beautiful hard-won sentences, WILD teaches us what it means to persist and prevail, what it means to try and heal ourselves.


We have a friend who is currently solo hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. If you’ve not heard of it, the trail is a 6 month, 2,650-mile trek from the Mojave Desert to the Cascades, it is a never-ending snake trailing up the spine of the central west.

His journey is the kind of adventure that terrifies me. Yet, sitting at my desk in Brooklyn, I can see its appeal. Years ago, early on in our relationship, Jeremy and I spent months camping in the wilderness, hitch-hiking and trekking through sections of the emptier parts of America.

It was a time before we had a business and, as much as we adore the life we have now, we both miss that sense of undiluted freedom.

So, with that in mind, we decided to go hiking this weekend. Not exactly backpacking across the country, but a start at least.

We packed a few bottles of water, some granola bars, a bag of dried cherries, a couple bagels and set off for Bear Mountain. Just over an hour from the city, it offered a long drive past a smattering of mirror-smooth lakes, the promise of a few hours of lush hiking and the treat of a post-workout swim. The perfect city escape on a steamy weekend.

The car park was packed when we arrived and the lawns were strewn with families picnicking. We picked up a bare-bones map from the visitor’s centre and started out on a 6 mile loop. We were almost disappointed. We had come to escape the city crowds and yet, with all those cars, we expected that there would be only one or two trails littered with eager hikers.

We quickly realized that we were wrong. We saw 5 people in the first two hours and none after that. And there were hundreds of trails, crisscrossing each other across the lush forest, with only the occasional dollop of a paint marking to lead the way. We lost our trail and then picked it up again, or thought we did. We lost our way on the map, carried on walking for miles and then thought we found it again. Neither of us had even been lost on a hike before. Starting in New York seemed unlikely, embarrassing even.

Then we ran out of water. We had hiked for close to 10 miles and had no idea where we were. Our map only showed one trail, one trail which we had ventured far, far off. Our phones had intermittent reception. We started tripping over rocks. We told jokes, cursed when we lost the paint markers, looked at our watches and ate the last of our granola bars.

Finally, we ran into a guide, one of those efficient types with iodine tablets at the ready and a GPS unit strapped to his backpack. He shook his head at us, told us off for being so foolish. Then he feed and watered us and sent us on our way again, with the warning, “Take the red and white makers down this trail and then, when you see a blue maker, follow it to the right. The blue is hard to see but don’t miss it. If you miss it, you’ll go even further into the woods and then, you’ll be shit out of luck.”

Shit out of luck, is not the kind of phrase that you ignore. It is the kind of phrase that makes you certain to scour every tree for a goddamn blue marker. Luckily, 6 hours after we had set off, we got back to our car, sweaty, scratched and aching after an unexpectedly grueling 15 mile hike.

I’ll admit that it was a tad scary, and we were more than a tad foolish, but it was good to know that we could get lost an hour from the city. It was comforting to remember that nature still makes the rules, and that, for all the urban chaos of the city, there is still wilderness on our doorstep.

The best thing about England is the people

I just got back from two weeks in England and everyone in New York has been asking me what I got up to. Did I go see the amazing Hopper exhibition? No, but I heard it was fabulous. Did I eat at any of the restaurants I mentioned on my last post? No, but I did eat out a lot. Did I merrily peddle around the London canals on the Boris bikes? Sort of, for a brief time, before I realized that I was wearing a skirt and not entirely opaque tights. Did I catch the stage production of The King’s Speech? No, but from all accounts it was wonderful and I wish I did. Did I gorge on every food stall with free samples at Borough market? Yes, finally I did do one thing that I was planning on do.

Borough market England

Honestly, I didn’t do many of the things I had planned to do in London. I didn’t have time to play tourist in my own city because, well, I spent 2 weeks laughing.

That is not to say that I did nothing. I went to two fabulous hen parties and two amazing weddings, I went out to eat with old friends, went on long country walks and had a very decadent afternoon tea at the Mandarin Oriental. And yet, what I remember most was how much I laughed. I laughed so much that my cheeks hurt at the end of the day and my mascara ended up running in unattractive lines down my face. All that laughing had very little to do with where I was (London was rather rainy apart from two sunny days) but who I was with.


My friends have somewhat unfortunately ended up scattered across the globe. England has a smattering of amazing school friends in London, Sunderland, Bristol and Edinburgh but from that point onwards it all gets rather aggravatingly international. Oman, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Dubai, New York…you would think that we hated each other from the way we have all fled out across the globe. Luckily, we have email and Skype and all sorts of other fancy tech to keep us in touch. But there is nothing quite like being together. Nothing quite like watching someone bust out a hilarious dance move, or cry as they try to tell a joke, or laugh so hard they snort and then laugh some more. There are some things that you just can’t capture over the computer.

Luckily, I have enough happy memories to keep me going until the next time we get together and I’d rather have those memories than a checklist of sites seen any day.

London Calling: travel plans for a British adventure

In the very near future I will be travelling back to this place:

Travel to England

It has been over 18 months since I was last on British soil and I’m very excited to catch up with some of my amazing friends. I’ll be staying in London for most of the trip and I’m starting to make a dream list of all the places I want to go while I’m there. So far these have made it to the top of my list…

  1. Spending a Sunday mincing around Columbia Road Market and hopefully making it over here for a cupcake or two.
  2. Feasting over a vegetarian lunch with my mum at Ottolenghi.
  3. Making it back to my old neighbourhood for a rarified pub dinner at the Albion.
  4. Stinking up my luggage with some of the exceptional cheese from La Fromagerie.
  5. Poking my head around the bookshelves here before settling down to some afternoon tea and cake.
  6. Taking a cultural break for all the gluttony at the Tate Modern and the National History Museum.
  7. Getting to Borough Market early enough on a Friday to miss the crowds and settle down for some people watching at Monmouth while cradling a mug of cup.
  8. Renting a couple bikes to check out the park life with Jeremy. Taking a ride along the edge of Regent’s Canal.
  9. Escaping the city for a couple days with some friends and messing around on the seaside.

British seaside

I’m loyal to my favourite places but this time I have told myself that I should break out of the mould and explore some new spots that are supposed to be amazing. I’m saving up my pennies for here…

St John London

St John’s

And here…

Dock Kitchen London

Dock Kitchen

And hopefully here…

Rochelle Canteen London

Rochelle Canteen

No doubt, there are lots of other gems that I should explore. To those of you who know the city better than I do, where else should I put on my list?

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?

Travel Writing: The best job in the world?

Not many jobs include taking a holiday in the name of research, snapping some shots, talking to locals and then writing a piece that inspires people to follow in your footsteps. I’ll admit that it may involve quite a bit of internet heavy research before you set off, but we not exactly talking hardships here. It all sounds pretty ideal.

I sense that the NYT’s Frugal Traveler may have nicked my perfect job, but there is still hope for me yet. I have been commissioned to write a couple articles on the wonders of New York State by a very nice editor at Car and Travel magazine.

I hadn’t quite realized what a large area New York State covers. The project feels akin to researching the entire country of England. I had thought about taking one very large trip but it turns out that taking two weeks off work is slightly impractical. So I’m doing it in long weekend stints and I’ve asked Jeremy to come along for the ride. This past weekend I sold it as a fun-filled road trip to the Adirondacks. I may have forgotten to remind him about my car-induced narcolepsy or irrational fear of merging.

travel writing in the adirondacks

It turns out that road trips are fun if both people can stay awake long enough to keep each other company, there is a radio station that plays something other than organ music, you can sneak in some exercise so your legs don’t seize up and you end up at a very nice cabin in the woods at the end of the day.

Being a travel writer seems to mean experiencing the good, the bad and the ugly on behalf of your readers. They don’t need to face the same navigational hysterics or drive through the multitude of disappointing towns. Instead they can eat at quaint cafes, take some glorious hikes, pack the necessary plasters and end their peaceful day at a cozy cabin in the woods.

Because even if you fall in the mud on your hike, drive for miles in the wrong direction or find yourself screaming at the radio, a rustic cabin and a fireplace can do wonders to make it all seem like the glorious adventure it was supposed to be.