(Written on our cross country train trip May 24 2012)
From where I was sitting, he looked 75. Maybe not a train enthusiast, he surely was a believer in traveling long distance by train. Throughout the years he had traveled along almost all the routes Amtrak and some of canada rail as well. From his stories, it seemed that he had quite a few children, all my parents’ age and grand kids and he had traveled with and encouraged them all to noting travel but travel to far away lands.
This fascinated me, because he was from Lake George area in NY and in my experience living in western NY, he represented a demography that didn’t believe in moving or seeing counties other than their own. This was what one of my WNY coworkers called the hunting-fishing-NASCAR watching-Obama bashing-FOX news watching people who believed that China and Mexico was taking away their precious livelihoods.
“originally from the city” he said ” when Broadway was a prairie”. He had driven far and wide when he was a truck driver. Showed me a stackable train car and a new house being constructed in the horizon. In short, everything that technology had changed and thus robbed his community of employment.
When Broadway was a prairie, he said that driving into Rochester, the sky was laden with smoke from all the factories and people had jobs. Now the air is clean and there are no jobs. Apolitically and decidedly unbiased, I felt bad for him. Is it other people’s greed or his age, that makes all progress seem backward?
Conversations turned toward his recent Alaska trip and to his God-Mother who many years ago (When Broadway was a prairie) taught him to travel, took him to Lancaster, PA and introduced him to Amish cheese and rye bread. And all was well again. As long as we have parents and God parents to cart us around and as long as grand-parents like him are willing to pass on to their grand kids the travel bug, communities will grow, thrive and frankly go places – despite white collar greed, clean air, Mexican labor and Chinese manufacturing… Oh and of course everything technology.
TRAVEL: When Broadway was a Prairie January 1, 2017
(Written on our cross country train trip May 24 2012)
Imaginary friend December 10, 2016
You are not a memory, you are an everyday ongoing thought. You’re the imaginary friend, my grownup mind conjured from ashes of disappointing reality. You’re the voice that laughs at my jokes. I can physically feel your smile too, telling me ‘lonely in a crowd’ might not be such a terrible thing after all. I can’t wait to tell you all or some of the things I want to tell you about today, about now, while I am in the company of others.
On days where I’m perpetually rolling my eyes, which really is most days, yours meet mine at the back of my head for a wink and a nod.
You see, you’re my imaginary friend. You might live in the bodies of real humans and in IM profiles of my contacts occasionally but you flit around often and much. You’re unpredictable when you’re in someone’s body but when free you let loose and are so much nicer.
You’re not ideal by any means, nor do you always know the right thing to say or do at all times. But there’s comfort in imagining a conversation gone awry too. Because God knows I fuck up even in my wildest dreams.
You’re part nostalgia, part hope. You’re part wonder, part disgusting, exact sameness.
Sometimes you’re just silence. Sometimes you’re quiet. Sometimes you’re rehashed real words from people around me, regurgitated.
Sometimes you’re exactly what I hyped you up to be, sometimes you’re way beyond what I ever thought you could be (what 33 year old has imaginary friends after all?) And sometimes you’re just dead disappointing. You’re my imaginary friend and I’m thankful for your company.
Travel: London Day 2 November 24, 2016
Our second day in London with toddler, grandma and mama started with a hearty breakfast and a stroll to London Bridge.
Following that we walked down through the alleys of Borough market to Pickfords Wharf to the remains of Winchester castle and then onwards to Shakespeare Globe. We would have loved to be a groundling today but the Little Matchgirl is playing all week and that just makes me incredibly sad. Also grounding-ing with a toddler would be tough who by now was napping hard. We got him his first intro to Shakespeare today. And with that comes a little foray into 400 year old British/ world/ human history for a boy who’s not yet 3 (Amused). Go ahead judge me.
Next we tottered to the little Christmas market set up at South Bank (almost next door) in front of Tate Modern. Here’s Grandma enjoying some churros with hot chocolate.
See the featured pic- I love the juxtaposition of this where the clean curves of Millennium Bridge stem from Tate Modern and lead to St. Paul’s Cathedral across the Thames, with a little Christmas charm and glitter in between.
After spending 2-3 hours browsing genuine high quality handmade items and sampling market food and fish and chips, we walked back to the hotel only to realize we’d left something back.
So back I went, picked it up and realized that toddler was now snacking and napping with grandma in the hotel, meaning I had some serious art browsing time and I was inside Tate Modern. It’s fate people. Within seconds I was at the fourth floor, internally weeping in front of a Guerrilla Girls exhibit.
6PM and Cinderella’s magic would be wearing off soon and Tate would be closing so I left the other floors for another day and walked back to the hotel, rather fulfilled and genuinely happy with myself.
It’s rare that you get the joys of traveling solo, traveling with kids, traveling with your mom and seeing your friends all on the same trip.
London, the more I see you, I feel like you’re that tertiary contact I’ve heard so much about but never got the chance to meet, that contact all my closer friends eyerolled and had a snide remark to say about but everyone forgot to mention how similar we actually are and how well we would gel together. It’s nice getting to know you. Let’s see how the next few days go.
Travel: Manhattan: Foodie’s Family Weekend August 18, 2016
Although I have never lived in New York City, so many things about the city feels like a familiar beacon. Sure I get the frazzles, thinking about finding parking and navigating the “interweb” of the metro or stepping over something disgusting; but… Maybe it’s the pace, the crowd, the nasty smell that reminds me of growing up in a bustling dirty metro. Or the ethnic food calls from every corner and the anonymity of a ‘real city’ tugs the gut and heart strings respectively. Or maybe because I’ve just been there way more times than I care to admit. The touristy things are checked off, the familiarity-bred-contempt is on its downward trajectory by now, no agendas to push, except a list of food things that are special to this crazy city alone.
This was my first trip back with Josh. And when I think why I’ve held back for all this time, I think it’s because the perceived ghastliness, the public opinion of Big Bad had somehow seeped into my maternal psyche. I mean I took him to Madrid, Dubai and Calcutta. So why not New York?
We made a few changes this time around. We drove. All the way. We parked where we could and wanted, we took it slow. I napped. (Gasp)
We still made lists to try out all those buzzfeed/ Conde Nast/ Travel magazine/ Pinterest-popular food innovations that were supposedly taking the city by storm. We didn’t worry about penny pinching, realizing you never really save much doing that. We stayed in the city, not in Long Island, not in Jersey City, not even in Queens. We got an Airbnb listing we liked on the Upper East Side and set up camp there. We spent a lot of time at Central Park and in open spaces. We were also ready to sit in crammed traffic and did a fair amount of that without cribbing. We went prepared to walk and to lie down on the grass, we went open-minded to live on pizza and ice cream and prepared enough to know which ones we wanted and what the backup options were. We went prepared to try Brooklyn again another time and focus only on the fun stuff IN the area we were staying in.
Who taught us to be this smart? Boston did. Yup I admit. Living in Chicago taught us many things, but living in Massholeland taught me 1) to expect and deal with nasty people and be ok if you’re the only nice person in the room 2) focus on not crossing the bridge (I’m talking about you Cambridge!) 3) to expect and deal with traffic and parking, smell and noise and the nuisance of urban chaos that we live and love.
So here are some snippets from our recent New York trip
-Eggloo @ china town for Hongkong style waffles stuffed with icecream and pokey sticks
-NY style bagels from H&M’s Upper East Side location
-Delish coffee and chocolate donuts from tiny Joe Coffee (Lexington Ave UES)
-Amazing awesome pizza and finger licking tiramisu from San Matteo Pizzeria e Cucina (writing this is making me so hungry!!)
-More amazing pizza from Margherita NYC
– drippy waffles from some cart in Central Park that everyone talks about but the name is escaping me right now
Crazy litchi deal from Chinatown 😉 you didn’t see that coming did you? We were stuck in traffic after picking up pizza at Little Italy on our way back, what was I supposed to do? Pass on litchi? No thanks. I got down. They let me “haggle” with them in English while they laughed at me in Chinese (?) but I got my delicious fruits for my 4 hour road trip back home.
Overall this trip was such a fun fulfilling trip. I wish we did more full family trips like this, more often… And I don’t believe I said that in writing. Anyway I genuinely wish Josh would remember snippets of happy memories from this trip and we would get to repeat many more like this.
Just for fun: here’s a picture of my mom waiting with 2 eggloo sundaes in 2 hands while we wait for our ride (the guys) to circle back and pick us up since there was no parking available
Losing mind August 9, 2016
When things start to slip from your mind at 32, it is so far from pleasant that self deprecating humor just peed in its pants and left the building whimpering. Add that to the life of someone who used to pride on her wordsmithing and ability to thread words through logic and humor through profound tongue in cheek ‘gotcha’-s. And you got a big blank gaping losing game of Hangman.
Here it is. I can’t talk. I can no longer write.
Just like one day, I couldn’t sing. I can no long talk now.
So one day, what if the counting is gone too? And then the colors? The sharp angles dipped in gritty muddy waters?
Words are forming but not quite right. The memories are forming but to someone else. You know the feeling and you are saying a million things beating around the bush but you can’t really get to that really juicy red bright right berry sitting right there, but not quite, slightly out of your reach, slightly out of focus, within your intention but not quite.
What would you do? Where would you go? What do you want? Who do you love? What would you have done?
The push and pull and the deep deep prod.
Paper balls: Self-love + the Buy Nothing community December 15, 2015
No one had offered and I sure as hell was not going to ask, expect or depend on someone’s mood and flicker of sympathy. I could wallow (and I did) or I could act. I always act. Yes, I was a little lonely but no one was going to stop me from having the time of my life nor deter me from celebrating Josh.
So I made a list, designed the invitation and bammed out a huge baby shower to myself. I also cooked for over 30 people, laid out the table, handmade the decorations, planned and arranged the favors, entertained guests (including my husband’s work friends and boss) and baked, glazed and decorated my first ever pregnant belly cake, complete with a fondant foot mark.
In between, I gave in a little bit to my hormones and spazzed out. Sorry if any of you had to witness that. (If any body feels the need to shame me for that, just please measure up to the level of productivity and stress first)
I did that all at 36 weeks of my first pregnancy. Josh might have been born to a then-staying-at-home mom. But he was also born to an itching-to-get-things-done mom, go-getter (and if I can’t get it, I will make it) Mom.
But this story is not about the accomplishment or pride that swells my chest to match my once-pregnant belly, this post is about those handmade decorations and the blessings it carried through the community.
After the shower in November 2013, the decorations continued to grace our spare room, although the hall ones had come down. By the time we brought Josh home from the hospital, I had made more and hung them all over the nursery and the spare room which was now going to be his play zone.
He grew up watching those fragile balls of color. We played peekaboo with these “sunflowers”, ruffled the petals for the colicky 5 week old, swayed and danced right in that corner to get him to sleep… Apologies if most of our pics seem to be of the same ones.
Meanwhile, Buy Nothing happened.
In a few more months, was Josh’s Annoprashon. By June 2014 , I made more decorations- this time beyond the red, orange and yellow….in white and gold and silver to match the traditional Bengali and Indian attire and menu.
The earth spun faster than we could handle and soon it was Josh’s first birthday and we were having his little party in the same pompom room with the repurposed decorations. By now, Josh was calling them “papams”.
The next summer, after weeks of stress, we were selling our home and the decorations were lucky to be picked up by our neighbor, for her wedding in August of 2015. Here’s what she had to say:
“Our wedding was a second marriage for both of us and while we wanted to celebrate with friends and family, we wanted to keep it simple and inexpensive. We had a tiny budget for decorations so when I saw that one of my neighbors was offering out her hanging flower decorations I knew they’d be perfect. And unlike party decorations that people buy, use, and then toss, these decorations got to party! After they festively decorated the VFW hall we rented for our party, I passed them along to another neighbor who was hosting a birthday party for her one year old child. Where they went from there I do not know but I can imagine that they are now waiting to add some festivity to another party somewhere nearby!”
Quite the social butterlies, the paper balls were next picked up by another neighbor for her son’s first birthday.
After that wonderful party (complete with a candy bar!), they traveled out of state to Maine with a girl who did (what seemed to me like) a Buy-nothing themed wedding! Of that I have no picture, nor story.
These simple paper decorations signify a very personal time of grit for me, they symbolize self-love, the need to do things well no matter how small, to pull projects to completion even when no one is checking- the same things that motivate me to success in work, family and volunteering. Add to that optimizing resource utilization, staying rooted/ connected and building/ growing/ living with the community.
Don’t you see now how symbolic these traveling paper balls have been and how instrumental they have been in sharing cheer through the community?
Reduce, Reuse, Buy Nothing and most importantly Love yourself. It works.
How Buying Nothing saved us October 30, 2015
The last time Buy Nothing was in the news, two things happened: our group (along with some others) got flooded with requests to join because everyone wanted to be the Frugalwoods (who are very inspiring by the way) and on the other hand, my beloved “Opinionated Cambridge” quickly polarized with one self-righteous group started an uproar of discussion criticizing the Frugalwoods… among other things, for graduating debt-free and owning real estate in Cambridge. Go figure.
I will just say that I have met the Frugalwoods and especially Mrs. F seems like a delightful person and their journey could be very inspirational to some people. But the biggest takeaway from her blog and lifestyle is “to each, her own”. So why copy and/or judge? Now to jump on to my own Buy Nothing story.
The local Buy Nothing group is my village. You know, sometimes, living in a country where you were not born in, is not easy. No matter how long you’ve lived there or what your legal status is or how connected you feel to the pulse of the socio-eco-political culture. If you don’t look like them, dress like them or go to their church, it is easy to feel a little ostracized from time to time- don’t let anyone tell you that doesn’t happen. You see a somewhat muted version of that in places where most people are transplants or where the natives are so used to seeing transplants, it bothers them that much less. That is only one of the reasons we embraced Cambridge and it, us. The mildly eccentric, thoroughly opinionated, deeply activist nature of super diverse Cambridge amused us, the dog-loving, Nature-enjoying, somewhat down-to-earth fraction of it attracted us and eventually the Buy Nothing group is what made it whole-. it turned my neighborhood into my community.
I was intrigued and inspired by Buy Nothing right from the name; and then some more because Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller (the women behind Trash Backwards) have time and again produced and implemented phenomenal, globally applicable, community-transforming ideas. Trash Backwards was so close to my heart, lifestyle and for a brief period, livelihood too.
Finally my grownup world was recognizing my familial culture, embracing the principles I had grown up with. The Buy Nothing Project might be a newer initiative, but minimalist, less greedy, frugal living is age old; and I grew up with parents (and grandparents) who taught me to value what I have, ask less and never waste. Living a life of gratitude is my everyday motto. Please don’t get me wrong, I did not grow up in deprivation, in fact, I had everything I needed and then some. I grew up in a family that could afford wishes and wants. I know people who’ve had delicious treats like career connections, real estate and generous child care support handed to them on a golden platter, my gifts might have been modest in comparison to theirs, but what I got, more than sufficed.
Buy Nothing did more for me than reinforce my frugal mindset. Yes, both my son and husband got not-bought gifts this year. (My son got a “Where is baby’s birthday gift?” book that he still loves and reads, 10 months after his 1st birthday and my husband got a semi-functional telescope, which kept him excited for a while, which was totally worth it)
Buy Nothing gave me friends and a safety net. When we were being harassed by someone enough to have to report to the cops and consider moving, a couple Buy Nothing members I felt comfortable sharing these incidents with, offered me solace and acceptance. They offered prayers and hugs and the option to temporarily move in with them (we didn’t), so we were safe from the harassment.
When we were staging our home for photos, we needed a place to store some of the clutter (home – clutter = museum). Storage pods were not a possibility because the narrow city street we lived on was undergoing a long construction project. Our Buy Nothing neighbors opened up their basements to host the odd things and kid’s toys.
As we needed to upgrade appliances, our new fridge was scheduled to arrive the day of our first open house, DURING the open house….and we were unable to reschedule it. So where were we to put the meals that we cooked in advance so the house wouldn’t steam up during the weekend-long open house? Buy Nothing to the rescue again. A neighbor who was up late saw my frantic post, lent me her ice boxes at midnight and saved the deliciousness that nourished us and baby for the next few days.
One neighbor helped me make cuttings from the tree I couldn’t take with me. Someone else offered to watch my bunnies, when our temporary apartment threw a surprise at us last minute and said they wouldn’t allow them.
Several offered to watch my son while I packed. A couple offered to cook us meals. (We didn’t ask for any of that and didn’t take them either but the gesture, the thought itself warmed us!)
A few dropped off items for me that I had no time or means to go and pick up, some picked up items on their way from me to donation drives- errands I was stretched too thin for. Two neighbors hosted my plants.
One dropped off flour and cocoa on my porch because it was my birthday and I had already packed up all my baking goods. (If you’re reading this, you already know you’re more than just a Buy Nothing member.)
Yes we have friends and neighbors outside of Buy Nothing, who’ve helped us a tremendous amount and I definitely would not be able to survive this time without my mother’s support. But this group needs to be called out with special accolades, because they owed me nothing, they were not not friends, coworkers, classmates, they were “just” neighbors, distant ones too, some I had met only a couple times, most only virtually (online). They knew nothing about me but my scanty, curt public Facebook view. And I truly have no words big enough to capture the generosity they showered on us.
Besides the harassment and the subsequent angst of readying our home just to let it go, the emotional tear of selling our first home, the exhaustion of moving with a toddler + 3 pets while starting a new job and the desperation of leaving the nest I had my baby in, we were dealing with logistical roadblocks in every direction, which included the sudden loss of a close family member. Among other things that meant, single parenting + fire fighting while my husband attended to his family half the globe away. Wherever it could go wrong, it had. Push-backs and stressors were ample from every conceivable direction.
However, now that a lot of it is simmering down, it feels like it turned out ok. Maybe not all of it, but some of it. Bottom line- we got through it. Almost. A lot of sleepless nights and dead-on-the-feet afternoons, but a lot of trust restored in humanity in the process.
Even before the crazy months started, the generosity had been diverse, sometimes surprising and always heartwarming…from hand-knit hats, to bread-making classes. They were banding together for donation drives and helping each other move mountains, survive crises and change the world for each other, on a daily basis. These neighbors gave more than their things, they offered rides, shared home brews, swapped recipes, lent tools, went on mom dates (sometimes without kids), shared interests, connected on commonalities and became friends. (Trust me, when someone offers to bring you chocolate after hearing you’re on your couch struggling through PMS, she is your friend, not just a Buy Nothing member. Yes, you- thank you!)
Buy Nothing enriched us as a community. Not only did we get the opportunity to connect with like-minded people but this little project about a gift economy had a much wider impact- It made generosity a habit.
By making it easy to give, it also made it easier to ask…. especially, by taking away need-based choosing of recipients. Asking, for so many of us, can be a huge cultural and/or psychological burden; sometimes being tainted with the notion of “need”, it gets even harder.
Buy Nothing made it easier to give up things too. It made us less clingy about our stuff and not just what we want to offload, but stuff we often hold on to for that future what-if-we-need-it-again scenario. Sound ludicrous? Imagine this: I’m temporarily quitting coffee (hypothetically speaking, of course) and I have no use for my espresso machine anymore, so I can gift it to someone who can use it now, rather than holding on to it for that uncertain future, when I might want coffee again. I know if and when I do, the community will have a machine that will brew me the perfect cup. Buy Nothing offered a sense of security in the form of a community, something we tend to want from our belongings. And with that sense of trust, a tiny population slowly but surely, is moving towards less holding on to stuff and more on to people around them. Buy Nothing made trusting cool again. Of course, this will help lower the burden on landfills somewhat, of course it will save money if you didn’t have to buy it, of course it will lengthen the life of goods. But more importantly, it makes “giving” a second nature, an action that doesn’t need deliberate thoughts. Giving begets giving, generosity breeds itself.
And that is how Buy Nothing saved us.