M.R.T.M., Vol. I

Music was a huge part of my past life. After everything went crazy last year, it was really hard for me to even listen to it at all. No radio, no Spotify, nothing. Things got so bad for awhile that I was having panic attacks, à la Josh Lyman in Season Two of The West Wing. Want to feel like you’re going crazy? Leave a grocery store mid-shopping at the sound of Carole King’s “So Far Away” over the loudspeaker. Feeling that out of control was scary. Since I have no say over what songs come on in stores or restaurants or movies, I decided my aversion was unacceptable and that I had to ease myself back into music, starting with a mix I called “My Return to Music, Vol. I.”

It’s worked for the most part, although I do still think the classic rock station on Pandora is plotting against me with its obsessive need to play “Free Bird” every five songs. But, alas…

Anyway, here are a bunch of songs that I love. Some make me cry, others make me think, all make me smile.

1) “Vienna,” Billy Joel

2) “Almost Lover,” A Fine Frenzy

3) “Fake Plastic Trees,” Radiohead

4) “Going to California,” Led Zeppelin

5) “The Boxer,” Jerry Douglas Traveler (feat. Mumford & Sons)

6) “When You Come Back Down,” Nickel Creek

7) “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Tori Amos

8) “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” Bob Dylan

9) “Night Moves,” Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band

P.S. Yes, that’s Matt LeBlanc. 😉

10) “Good Enough,” Sarah McLachlan

11) “Jolene,” Ray LaMontagne

12) “Man in the Hole,” Richard Julian

13) “Round Here,” Counting Crows (the version from their VH1 Storytellers episode)

14) “Hurt,” Jonny Cash

15) “Both Sides Now,” Joni Mitchell (the version from her 2000 eponymous album)

16) “Wasted Time,” The Eagles

17) “Honey Pie,” The Beatles

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TED Tuesdays: The Mystery Box

I talked the other day about my growing interest in meditation as a means of relieving stress. I’ve thought a lot about stress and, more specifically, about anxiety over the past couple of years and I realize most of mine is born out of not knowing things. Starting in my mid-twenties or so, uncertainty started to freak me out. Unbound by a strong guiding passion in life, I often find myself paralyzed by choices. I realize this is a very first world problem, but its consequences are still troublesome.

Anyway, as I work at rediscovering spontaneity and (hopefully) discovering a passion along the way, things like this TED talk from super cool guy – Alias? Lost? Star Trek? C’mon. – J.J. Abrams, are helping. And with my grandfather still in the hospital, this one just felt extra special today.

30 (and counting)

The last of my close friends turned 30 this weekend. All things considered, she handled it really well. It helped that she arrived prepared, as she always does. She’s been anticipating the milestone for months and has used it as an opportunity to reevaluate her life proactively – family, friends, career, priorities. I respect that a lot. I had a much more reactionary approach, preferring to tumble towards 30 with a mix of dread and denial. Within a week of my 30th birthday, things started to go pretty crazy and the year that followed was, without any hyperbole, the worst of my life.

My optimistic self, the one who eschews superlatives and buys into the whole “change your thoughts, change your life” stuff, wants to say that 30 was a learning experience, full of growth and enlightenment. And that is true – I lost weight, moved out on my own, started traveling alone, learned Italian, grew my business and got into a whole bunch of new hobbies. It was a chance for me to critically reassess my values and relationships, not so much by choice, but by circumstance. That all being said, I do remain the grim reaper of 30th birthday parties. Proceed with caution.

“Thirty was so strange for me. I’ve really had to come to terms with the fact that I am now a walking and talking adult.” -C.S. Lewis.

Apps I Love: Duolingo

In January, I declared 2014 the year of all things Spanish. Spanish authors, Spanish restaurants, Spanish wines. My goal was to immerse myself as much as possible in anticipation of a bunch of trips throughout the Spanish-speaking world. My first visit to South America went off without a hitch in February with an awesome week in Colombia. I’m supposed to be in Spain right now, but that hasn’t worked out. What’s more, I’m starting to wonder about the fate of my June trip to Ecuador – I’m scheduled to volunteer in an orphanage in Quito for a few weeks and then go diving in the Galápagos. With things with my grandpa up in the air, I just don’t see that happening.

I’m really glad to be here with my grandfather, but sticking to my plan of “relearning” Spanish has provided a very welcome distraction. Like a lot of people, I took it in secondary school, but haven’t done much of anything with it since. I’ve been catching up using the incredible (and FREE!) app Duolingo. The app features a handful of languages – Spanish, Italian, French, German and Portuguese. (Fingers crossed they add some non-Western ones soon!) It’s a very Rosetta-stone approach and although it doesn’t seem as thorough as the 5-level Rosetta box set, it won’t set you back $350 either.

Duolingo has a clean, easy interface, with just enough competitiveness to keep you on your toes and just enough redundancy to make sure things are sticking. You can set daily goals for yourself and reminders to practice – I do about a half an hour a day, usually broken up into a 3-5 sittings. I strongly recommend it for anyone interested in brushing up before a big trip or just learning a language from scratch for the hell of it.

Buena suerte!!

My Top 8… IPAs

I’ve never been much of a beer drinker, but I’ve been getting really into IPAs over the past few months. High on hops, they’re definitely not for the faint of heart. But, they’re driving much of the American craft beer movement and, not for nothing, knowing a little bit about them may secure you some street cred with the beer snobs in your social circle.

If you’re new to IPAs, I’d recommend you start with the (typically) milder English- and Belgian-styles. Despite the name, many great European-style IPAs are produced in the US. The best ones are often produced by small breweries, although the giants have gotten on the IPA bandwagon to mixed (and often watery) results. Keep in mind, if you brave American-style IPAs, East Coast ones are often a little milder than their West Coast brothers.

So, without further ado and in no particular order, here are my (current) top 8 IPAs…

NOTE: I’m sure there are TONS of IPAs out there I’m missing, but I only wanted to include stuff I’ve personally tried.

1) Tramp Stamp Belgian India Pale Ale (Clown Shoes Brewery, Ipswich, MA) – I’m biased since Clown Shoes is so close to where I live. I can’t speak to how widely available their products are outside of New England, but I’ve seen their stuff stocked in New Jersey and Florida, so that’s encouraging. In addition to being a great, balanced example of a Belgian-style IPA, how can you resist the name?

2) Raging Bitch Belgian-Style IPA (Flying Dog Brewery, Frederick, MD) – Anyone else noticing that the names for Belgian-style IPAs are delightfully anti-PC? This one is no exception. I had this one paired with a plate of stinky cheeses as part of a dessert course. Like other Belgians, it goes well with really dark chocolate.

3) Sculpin IPA (Ballast Point Brewing Company, San Diego, CA) – It’s hard to find a lot of fruit characteristics in IPAs, but this one definitely hits those notes. A perennial pick on top IPA lists, it’s easy to drink and easy to find. Can’t argue with that.

4) Jaipur IPA (Thornbridge Brewery, Derbyshire, UK) – Sticking with moderately-strong IPAs, this one from the UK is great with Indian food. It’s a little stronger than most European-style IPAs, but doesn’t come close to the intensely hoppy American ones.

5) Heady Topper American IPA (The Alchemist, Waterbury, VT) – Another New England example, this time of an American Double IPA. I should preface this recommendation by saying that Waterbury, VT has a special place in my heart. Heady Topper is hard to get your hands on unless you’re in VT, but it’s definitely worth the trip. Sadly, the brewery is no longer open to the public. But, there’s a Cabot cheese shop with endless free samples not far down the same road. Stock up on beer and cheese and head over to Stowe for a picnic. And on your way back to Interstate 89, hit up the Ben & Jerry’s factory. You’re welcome.

6) Torpedo Extra IPA (Sierra Nevada, Chico, CA) – Hands down one of the easiest IPAs to get ahold of. Hoppy, but balanced. Definitely woodsier than the Sculpin, but not nearly as strong as the Imperials. A good mass market IPA.

7)  Believer (Ninkasi Brewing, Eugene, OR) – Confession: I am not a huge fan of Red IPAs. They’re a pretty pour and I totally get why people like them around the holidays, but they’re really not my thing. That said, this one’s worth trying twice.

8) 120 minute IPA (Dogfish Head Brewery, Milton, DE) – It’s hard to even call this one a beer. Like many other examples from the Imperial IPA/American Double category, it’s definitely not recommended for newbies. If that’s you, DH’s 90 minute IPA may be more your style; the hops in that one are a little more balanced than in the 120. Try them side by side to get the idea.

Honorable mention: Harpoon IPA is on draught at a ton of bars in New England. I personally think it’s the Coors Light of IPAs, but  if you’re options are limited, it’s a solid choice. I personally like it with spicy Asian flavors, like a Thai red curry.

Please sir, can I have some more?

• Want more IPA suggestions? This list from First We Feast may be up your alley.

• “Why does every single IPA make my gut bubble like a Jacuzzi full of soup?” For the IPA haters out there, check out this diatribe.

• If you have a Total Wine store near you, I highly recommend their beer, wine and spirits classes. Run by incredibly knowledgable staff members who genuinely love the products they peddle, they’re organized by theme, run for about 2 hours and cost $15-20 apiece. I’ve never felt pressured into buy anything, but after two hours of tasting, you’re almost guaranteed to walk out with something you want to bring home.

Now this.

My grandfather is still in the hospital. He came out of surgery okay, but literally everything that could possibly go wrong has. His nurses and doctors are incredible, but at 98, even the best caregivers can only do so much. He’s been walking a little – it’s insane, with these new bionic hips they put in, patients are able to walk within a day or so of surgery. They think he’ll be leaving the hospital tomorrow or the next day to go into rehab. We found a really nice place for him; it’s more country club than nursing home, so that’s nice. I feel like I live at the hospital, but it’s making me happy I started this blog so I have something to think about other than feeding tubes and health insurance forms. He seems pretty ok today, so fingers crossed.

Ponder the Platypus

I started doing Bikram yoga in October. I’m not going to lie, in addition to the physical benefits, it’s pretty entertaining to watch a bunch of other Type A people sweat their asses off as they desperately try to relax. While many of us fail to reach an enlightened state amidst 104° heat and 40% humidity, the teachers exist on a whole other level. Many of them came to Bikram from martial arts, dance and other types of yoga, and they can slip in and out of meditative states with enviable ease. I’ve been learning a lot about the value of meditation from them and while I still have a loooong way to go, I do think it’s helping ease my stress and improve my mindfulness.

One thing that’s making it easier is the Headspace app. No matter where I am, Andy Puddicombe’s voice can lull me into relaxation. It’s great on the road, in airports, hotels, planes, trains and automobiles. Inner peace may still elude me, but just remembering to take a second to breathe has been huge.

Just keep swimming.

Ok, they’re not platypuses (platypi?? platypa??), but if this doesn’t melt your heart…