A new site!

Last night, it was suggested to me that I create a Just For Writing Travel Blogs site. So I did. And this is it:

Part of my post-layoff game plan has included me trying to figure out how to continue to do what I love -- writing and traveling. Having a website that is purely devoted to my travel tales seems a smart move. I know what you are thinking. That I will ignore LiveJournal even more now. Well...probably. But here is where I will always come with personal stuff. #4eva

So pop on over and give it a looksee. I have no clue what I'm doing, so if you have any advice or suggestions, please lay 'em on me.


Losing My Favorite Pub Prompted Me To Finally Write About Being Laid Off

James's Gate was our place. Cozy Irish-style pub on one side, artsy yet warm dining room on the other. The Esposo and I had been going there since moving to Boston from New York back in 1998. It's where I saw the Red Sox win their first World Series since 1918. It's where we went after my water broke with Patoot and we had time to kill before the contractions kicked in. It's the first place we took the wee Munchkin after leaving the hospital with him (not home notice, The Gate). It's where we hosted both kidlet's baptism parties. And it's where we always went when we needed someplace comforting to go.

And now it's gone. Up and running and crowded as hell on a Monday night ... gone Wednesday morning. No warning, no "hey guys, we'll be closing shop soon," no good bye party, nada. It was shocking and abrupt and gut-wrenching.

Kind of like getting laid off.

My company had already gone through two rounds of layoffs when it happened to me. So, unlike The Gate closing, I suppose there HAD been warning signs. The day I was laid off, just minutes before I got The Call, another woman in my department was let go as wellI. So I should have known I was not immune. But I didn't.

So when my phone rang a mere five minutes after the first victim slunk out of the building I was not emotionally prepared. I mean, I knew WHAT it meant as soon as I picked up the phone, but I had no idea how it would feel. Here's what I discovered:

5 Things I Didn't Expect To Feel After Getting Laid Off

1. Like I'd been dumped.
As I sat in HR -- my department's VP and the HR lady sitting in front of me -- my eyes on the table, tears streaming down my face, I was told that they were very sorry and it wasn't a "performance-based" decision.

In essence: "It's not you, baby. It's me. I'm going through some changes and this is just what feels right for me right now. You're super great, and I'll miss you, but could you get your stuff out of my place asap? I called you a cab -- don't worry, it's on me."

What was probably 20 minutes later but felt like 5, I was saying goodbye to my manager on the sidewalk, laden with stuff that had been hastely torn off my desk and stuffed into bags. The cab came. The office picked up the tab.

2. Guilty.
Despite the "it's not you it's me" speech, I still had to go home to my family and tell them I no longer had a job. I was no longer able to financially provide for and support my family. The Esposo was, and continues to be, great about it -- which is especially amazing as he's as stressed about money as I am. But I had no idea how to explain losing my job to my kids.

The first few days were the worst. How do you explain to your 9 and 6 year old why Mommy is spontaneously bursting into tears? How do you explain why your job -- the one they both knew was important and "fun" -- is no longer your job? The answer is...I'm still working on it. That day I said something like, "Mommy's company wants to save money, so they told some people they couldn't pay them anymore, and I was one of those people." I have no idea if this was the best way to explain it.

At least I'm not busting down crying anymore, so that's a plus.

3. Adrift.
One of the most common pieces of advice/comfort I've received since losing my job, is to look at it as an opportunity. That something even better is just around the corner. While this is, indeed, nice to think the truth is ... I liked my job. I can't think of something I'd like BETTER. All I can think of are jobs I know how to do, and can make money doing, but not ones I especially WANT to do. So my challenge now is to figure out what, exactly, that opportunity IS. What IS that something better? Bestselling novelist would be nice. Totally practical, too.

As someone who was very content to stay where she was until End Times ... I'm not sure yet.

4. Left out.
This one really annoys me. I feel like a kid for feeling this way, but it is what it is. I worked with a great team of people. Fun, talented, just really enjoyable to be around -- people I could hang out with after work too. That was a rarity for me. So to suddenly be off the team ... sucks. And I miss being a part of that.

5. Old.
Boy oh boy does looking for a new job make me feel old. Everything out there is all:


Stop yelling at me, kids. I'm not deaf (yet). But I am tired and still emotionally bruised. I don't feel like a savvy, techie, go-getter. I am past the Fetal Ball Stage, but these ads may tip me into the Hopeless Window-gazing Phase. Also worth noting: I have seen jobs like these before. Like, a long-long-long time ago before. So I'm probably over-qualified and too expensive. (aka: old)


Ultimately, I know I am not the first person to experience a layoff, and I certainly won't be the last. In the meantime, I'm able to be a lot more helpful in the whole "kid pick-up, drop off" department, I'm chipping away at the mess the house was previously in, and I've been applying for jobs, looking into recruiting agencies, etc. I'm re-evaluating.

And today, I'm writing.

My time with the travel company may have ended, but hopefully my travels have not. Plus, I still have travel tales to write: Germany & Austria, Disney World, and Costa Rica. I didn't have the time to write them before, but I seem to have a bit more time on my hands now. So in between doing the dishes and searching, I will write them here. Sound like a plan?

It's good to have a plan.


Language Barriers, or The Night I Accidentally Ate Soft Roe

My tour through Japan was a guided one. Our guide was a delightful, efficient, capable older gentleman by the name of Toshi. He could answer any question, solve any problem, manage any request. For example, one couple from our group wanted to see Hiroshima, despite the fact it wasn’t on our itinerary. Toshi created a special itinerary JUST FOR THEM, based on his own knowledge and research, and handed them a binder full of information—from which trains to take to English-speaking restaurants. Naturally, when the group had a “free night” – an evening that did not include dinner – Toshi would offer to take a group out anyway, to help with ordering, etc. So on our first free night in Kanazawa (also our first night in Kanazawa period), Toshi extended this offer to his hungry travelers. Did I bite?

No. Of course not. I was determined to Do It On My Own. To fully immerse myself and bravely set out into a country where I do not read nor speak the language, or even fully understand what kind of food is being pictured on a menu. I was going to be an Adventurer, dammit. And I was going to drag my poor sister along with me.

First we thought it prudent to at least get directions from the hotel concierge. The concierge with limited English, mind you. But that was okay. Like nearly every Japanese person we’d met, he was gracious and eager to help. He handed us a map of the surrounding area with an English-speaking restaurant circled. Well…”map” may not be the most accurate description. It was essentially a placemat with a few ads for local joints on it and the vaguest illustration of a street layout. But it was fine. FINE. Kanazawa didn’t look as big as Tokyo had…we could totally rock this.

So we walked. One block in, I saw a restaurant that looked promising. We perused the menu displayed outside.

SISTER: That fish still has its head.
ME: You don’t have to eat it.
SISTER: But I have to see it.
ME: Okay, fair. Moving on.

We walked some more. We paused at a crosswalk to consult our “map.” At least two locals stopped and asked if we needed help (worth noting: Western travelers REALLY stick out in Japan). We smiled and bowed our heads and said No Thank You! We were Self-Reliant Travelers. We were fine.

We walked some more.

Suddenly, things began looking less city-like and more middle-of-nowhere-like. Hunger and panic began to churn in my gut. I didn’t want to get us lost. I didn’t want to get us axe-murdered (highly unlikely, but you never know). And I definitely didn’t want us to skip dinner. We back-tracked. We found a mall.

ME: Oh! I heard Japanese malls have amazing food courts…nothing like ours.

The entrance to the mall was underground. It was bare and beige and we couldn’t read the signs telling us where stuff was. We spent about 30 indecisive seconds dithering in the vestibule before we bolted.

I was beginning to wish I’d packed the questionable Tuna Jerky I’d bought at a convenience store purely based on its label: “For Your Special Times.” This was beginning to feel like a Special Time to me. That Special Time I Got Myself And My Little Sister Lost In Kanazawa And Also We Starved To Death.

We walked passed a radio station. We walked past some cool graffiti. We possibly walked by a Japanese hostel? It was a long walk is what I’m saying, you guys. Our “map” had failed us, as had my foolishly-placed sense of adventure. Finally, we came to a sushi place. My sister and I know sushi. We could point to pictures on a menu. Finally, there would be food! The restaurant looked like a “locals-only” place with stairs leading down from street level. We practically ran in, being simultaneously excited and hungry.

Running may have been…a mistake.

In Japan, many places have a sunken floor where you can remove your shoes before entering. This sushi joint was no exception, but their little sunken floor area was tiny. And it was kind of dark and moody in there. And, well. My sister MAY HAVE crashed into the wall of said sunken floor, nearly tripping into the restaurant with a resounding BOOM. Every head in the restaurant whipped around to stare at us.

Hello! The American Girls have arrived.

A terrified looking waitress came bowing over to us immediately, speaking in rapid Japanese. “English?” was the only word we recognized, so we nodded enthusiastically. She smiled, held up a “wait right there” finger and scurried off. This was a bit confusing at first, but soon we saw that she’d fetched someone who spoke English for us to converse with. From the look of his ensemble, I think she’d grabbed one of the chefs. He also bowed. “You speak Japanese?” He asked seriously.

I smiled widely. “No,” I said, shaking my head cheerfully.

He continued to look serious. “Menus, not English. No pictures.”

Oh? Oh. Okay.

“Arigato! Sayonara!” We crept out of the restaurant, most likely to the great relief of everyone there.

In the end, we decided to go back to the hotel and just eat at the restaurant on the top floor. It seemed our safest option. Except, no. This menu was also only in Japanese. But it DID have pictures. So I sensibly looked at one of the pre-fix options and, recognizing most of the offerings, just pointed and bowed. Okay, so we didn’t find a local place. But we were about to finally have dinner and that was the important part. And it was delicious. Sated, we got up to leave.

Suddenly, our waitress was booking over to us, crying “More! You have more!” I started to tell her we were fine, thanks just the same (also GEE what are you, my Italian Grandmother?), but as soon as I saw the dish in her hand, I realized what she meant. I had another course coming. Pre-fix menus in Japan, by the way? Usually myriad courses. I had lost track of how many I’d had. So I apologized and sat back down for my next course, something vaguely gelatinous and somewhat pudding-like. I will try anything once, so I took an exploratory bite. It was extremely salty and the texture was … unsettling.

ME: Oh God.
ME: I think this is soft roe.
SISTER: So? You like fish eggs.
ME: No…soft roe isn’t the eggs. It’s from… from…
ME: From the Daddy Fish.

Needless to say, I opted for a Vending Machine Beer shortly thereafter. And the next time Toshi offered to take us to dinner on a free-time night? You can bet your soft roe we totally went with him.

Jidohanbaiki : Japanese vending machine culture

In my last post, I closed with the commentary that Kyoto—and Japan in general—artfully mixes the modern world with the ancient. One memory from my trip sums this idea up quite succinctly: A vending machine (or jidohanbaiki, in Japanese) next to a 1,000-plus-year-old temple.

Vending machines. Are. EVERYwhere. We visited big cities and old-school ryokans in the mountains, and STILL you could find them. And it delighted me to no end that a culture with intensely complicated tea rituals also holds the idea of convenient commerce in as high esteem. And just what could a traveler expect to find in a Japanese vending machine? Soft-drinks, sure. Cigarettes, yup. But also…clothing. Umbrellas. Even fishing bait. My sister Kerry and I didn’t even scratch the surface of this phenomenon, but here’s a blog gallery that will give you a taste of the insanity:

Our first day, we encountered them. This one was standing in a tiny Buddhist garden:

The most ubiquitous machines held caffeinated beverages, so clearly—the Japanese are my people. I had a Coffee Boss iced coffee drink every day without fail. Sometimes more than once a day:

Then there was the infamous Pocari Sweat vending machine. For the uninitiated, Pocari Sweat is a popular sports drink in Japan—comparable to Gatorade, except clear and named after an unfortunate-sounding bodily function. Undaunted, my sister decided she needed to taste this exotic vending machine nectar...

…with mixed results.

We also found that the Japanese favor dispensing machines of all types, not just the standard “drop in some coins, get a can” variety. In a Tokyo manga café, there was this iced macha (green) tea dispenser straight out of a science fiction movie (which required a usage tutorial from a gaggle of Japanese school girls):

And, one of my personal favorites, the Ramen Machine. Before you get too excited, no. It did not dispense an entire bowl of noodles and broth (although I bet that something like that exists in Tokyo SOMEwhere). Instead, this machine dispensed a ticket for your ramen. As soon as your yummy, noodle-y goodness was ready, you were ushered over to a long, communal table and presented with THIS:

But for this New Englander—land of Blue Laws—this one vending machine in particular blew my little Puritan mind. The BEER MACHINE:

*insert angels’ chorus here*

Though not as widely available as, say, my beloved Coffee Boss machines, nearly every hotel we stayed in had one of these bad boys on every floor. The one in Tokyo had this helpful signage:

(because who doesn’t need to be “make refresh?”)

The reason these machines in particular blew my mind, is because of the obvious. Anyone with a couple of yen could use them. There was no vending machine bouncer, no one checking IDs. Perhaps this says as much about Americans as it does about the Japanese … becase I can testify that I never once saw kids stuffing their allowance into one of these things.

As for myself …

…I found that vending machine beers made an excellent night cap at the end of a long day of exploring.

Re-booting the re-boot

It would seem the re-boot of the blog requires a re-boot.

I meant to keep it more current, honestly I did, but … clearly I did not. And you guys, a lot has happened in the past year (YEAR?!). Remember how—when I first began writing for a travel company—I sensibly noted that didn’t necessarily mean I’d suddenly morph into some jet-setting world traveler?

Well …

In June of 2014, I traveled to Japan with my sister.
In December of 2014, I traveled to Austria and Germany on a working writer’s trip. Alone.
This past April, we took the kids to Florida which included (drumroll) Disney World. Which, okay, isn’t technically a foreign country, but it IS like nowhere else on Earth. Plus, traveling with kids is awesome.

And there is more to come!

Therefore, since my “Wanderings” have become literal and not just figurative ones, I decided it was high time to begin chronicling them here. I’m going to go back and write about the trips in the order they were taken. This first entry is a bit of a cheat, as it’s from an article I wrote when I got back from Japan. But it is a nice overview of one of the cities we visited (plus, I am TOTALLY out of blogging shape and thus, needed all the help I could get).

So happy reading! And I hope this and future travel tales have you reaching for your own passport.


Kyoto: A city of contrasts

It is late June, 2014, and the water of the Sagakamenoocho River is shallow and still. A man in a crisp white shirt, eyes shielded from the sun by a wide-brimmed hat, pilots our flat-bottomed boat using only a long pole. He keeps a constant, easy rhythm, and with each almost imperceptible splash I am lulled into a blissful calm. I glance across the narrow wooden boat at my fellow passengers, and my sister, Kerry, who has joined me on this journey across the world—to Japan.

The mountain stairs

We cruise through the river valley, a quiet oasis in the Arashiyama District of Kyoto. Tree-covered mountainsides climb up to the sky on either side of the bank. At the stern, smiling and cross-legged, is our host for the morning, Mr. Obayashi, a Zen Buddhist monk. Our Trip Leader, Toshi, sitting to Mr. Obayashi’s left, translates as the monk cheerily details the hard work and discipline his vocation requires. A typical day in a monastery requires a pre-sunrise wakeup, morning chanting and meditation, followed by a day full of chores and two small meals—both eaten before midday and none afterwards.

The flat-bottom boat cruise

Today, however, we would be visiting not a monastery, but a temple—the 400-year-old Senkoji Temple—cloistered half-way up the mountain side. As our boat draws closer to its destination a low, sonorous sound drifts across the valley toward us. “That is the temple’s gong,” explains Toshi. “It is welcoming us.” Our pilot smoothly docks the boat next to a flat outcrop of river rock. Mr. Obayashi gathers his brown monk’s robes about him and deftly steps onto the shore, extending his hand to assist each person off the boat. Kerry returns Mr. Obayashi’s friendly smile when her turn comes, and when I ask if she likes the picture I took of her disembarking she proclaims, “A monk just held my hand! Of course I do.”

My fellow passengers and I are at first befuddled—have we been dropped off at the wrong spot?—for the surrounding area seems free of any man-made structure. Toshi beckons us forward. Then we see the stairs—stone stairs hewn right into the side of the mountain, winding their way up until we lose sight of them in the trees. Grasping the smooth wooden railing, we make our ascent. Green light filters through a canopy of leaves and the cool air is filled with the vibrating music of the temple’s gong. It grows increasingly louder the higher we climb.

The mountain stairs

Sunlight dazzles our eyes as we pass the line of trees. The temple’s gong, a massive, engraved iron bell, is still calling to us. Each traveler is given a turn to pull back the gigantic mallet and sound our own ringing welcome. Gongs and bells are also used in Buddhism as a call to mindfulness, a way to focus a follower’s attention to meditation and prayer. Already, I feel focused and ready for whatever is next.

Kerry rings the gong

Tea in the treehouse temple

As my sister, fellow travelers, and I round the dirt path just past the stairs, Senkoji Temple comes into view. Instead of the huge, solemn structure I was expecting, I am surprised and delighted to find myself gazing upon a small, airy building that seems perched upon the mountainside. Blonde wood beams, rice paper screens, and wide open windows welcome in the sunlight and provide a panoramic view of the leafy vista below. A flutter of color catches my eye; just outside the temple’s windows rainbow-striped flags dance in the breeze, giving Senkoji Temple a lighthearted, playful feel—as if I have discovered a secret treehouse up in the clouds.

The view from the temple

After removing our shoes—a custom we have all grown used to at this point of the trip—we softly pad across the tatami mat-covered floor and take our seats on the low benches by the windows. Before each of us are two simple objects: A clay bowl (chawan) and a small wooden whisk (chasen). A peek inside my cup reveals a fine green powder. Matcha.

Matcha, powdered green tea, is enjoyed all across Japan and can be found in many forms. Already, Kerry and I have sampled iced green tea at a manga (Japanese-style comic book) cafe in Tokyo, as well as matcha-flavored ice cream at a restaurant in Kanazawa. But this time, we would be drinking classic matcha tea during a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, called sado. An older, female monk kneels before us at a low table. She holds her own whisk aloft and begins to explain to us, through Toshi, the way of tea.

Our tea ceremony guides

To brew the beverage itself, hot water is poured over the matcha powder; Mr. Obayashi ‘s wife (yes, Buddhist monks are allowed to marry) fills everyone’s cup from a steaming kettle. Then we are instructed to whip the tea with a bamboo whisk until it foams slightly. But the significance of the tea is more than just its precise preparation; the ceremony is a traditional art form that exhibits the Zen ideals of the beauty of simplicity and mindfulness of movement. An integral part of the ceremony is the appreciation of the aesthetics of the place where the tea is prepared and enjoyed, and the act of drinking the tea should be a spiritual experience—incorporating the values of respect, harmony, purity, and tranquility.

To this American, it seemed like a lot to ask for from one cup of green tea. But the stillness of the mountains and the atypical hush that had fallen over my usually chatty fellow travelers pulls my focus toward the task at hand. The task of making tea.

It is time to pick up my own whisk. I gently hold the side of my bowl as I begin to stir. I am anxious at first, but almost immediately the powder and water is transformed into the desired light green foam. We all pick up our cups together and carefully, intentionally, rotate them before taking a sip. The tea is hot, slightly bitter, and fresh-tasting to me—like the mountain air made liquid. A tiny, intricately designed cake waits next to everyone’s cup. A dessert is always served alongside matcha as a reminder of life’s sweetness and bitterness. As I pop the cake in my mouth, I acknowledge the sweetness of this one, serene moment—a rare moment of quiet here, up in the treetops.

My matcha tools

The concrete labyrinth

Just one day later, we have descended from the mountain—back down to the busy streets of downtown Kyoto. After a day spent in tranquility, surrounded by nature, the familiar bustle of a city feels almost alien. But it is our last night in Japan, and my sister and I are eager for one more adventure.

Toshi has arranged for a few of the city’s ubiquitous black taxis to take us across town for our final dinner together. We have been very lucky with the weather for the entire trip, but tonight it is raining. I try to keep track of where our swiftly moving taxi is heading, but the rain washes the windows into watery streams of color and light. We arrive at the corner of Shijo Street, a wide, busy shopping area reminiscent of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan—all neon lights and high-end department stores. As soon as we are all accounted for, Toshi is off. I expect him to walk into one of the large, brightly-lit buildings but instead he swiftly turns down a tiny alley I didn’t even notice was there.

As soon as I head down the narrow street, the rush of traffic is instantly silenced and replaced with the clacking of footsteps on cobblestones and the excited lilt of conversation. The warren-like space—an area called Pontocho—is impossibly packed with people, multicolored umbrellas bobbing above the crowd as they hustle out of the rain and into one of the myriad restaurants that line each side of the street. There seems to be no delineation between the “fancy” area and more casual eateries—laid-back yakatori (grilled chicken on skewers) joints sit beside haute cuisine restaurants. Toshi bustles us along, out of the rain, and I peek down each tiny side street, trying to take it all in. An austere fountain stands outside a black lacquered door. From an open window, I watch a chef briskly turning takoyaki (balls of batter and octopus) on a hot plate.

Pontocho at night

I turn to Kerry, who is just as eagerly taking in each twist and turn of this lively labyrinth, hidden behind the big city buildings. It occurs to me that if we lost sight of Toshi, we could quite possibly spend the entire night winding our way through this tantalizing maze and never see the same sight twice.

Suddenly the alleyway opens up, and we see the city lights glinting off the Kamogawa River. Our destination is a restaurant with wonderful views of the river. The sights and smells of Pontocho have definitely worked up my appetite, but I am almost sad to leave the twisty-turny world behind. That is, of course, until our first course, a gorgeous assortment of sashimi, is placed before me.

Soaking in the city

Suddenly, it is 6:00a.m. the next morning. Soft gray light seeps around my hotel room’s curtains. Today, my sister and I begin our journey back to Boston. I quietly get out of bed and change into the yukata, a simple cotton kimono, provided by the hotel. I know Kerry wants to sleep in a bit before our departure, but I have one more thing to check off my list.

On the top floor of the hotel, there is an onsen, or public hot bath. I have already experienced a traditional onsen during our stay at a ryokan, a Japanese-style inn, in Hakone. Now that I’d gotten over my initial shyness of bathing publically, I wanted just one more chance to soak in the thermal waters. A few of my fellow travelers have highly recommended it to me saying only, “You can’t beat the view!”

The hour is early enough that I have the onsen to myself. As I settle into the steaming water, I fully appreciate what my traveling companions meant. The bath is traced by panoramic windows. The vibrant city of Kyoto spreads out beneath me, stretching out to a shadowy line of mountains. In that moment, I am struck once again by Japan’s uncanny ability to encapsulate busy with calm, cityscape with nature, old with new.


Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Ever have one of those moments when you didn’t realize something about yourself until you catch yourself saying it out loud (or, in this case, texting it “out loud”)? Well I did a few days ago, and it was about the Lunar New Year (aka Chinese New Year).

My HR department sends these great little emails out once a week called “Family Fun for the Week of…” This week’s email included a link to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. This Saturday, the day after the start of the new Lunar Year, the museum is hosting a bunch of fun hands-on crafts as well as cultural performances to celebrate the Year of the Wood Horse. We take the kids to Boston’s Chinatown every year to watch the lion dances and eat dumplings at the Taiwan Café—but this seemed like a fun extension to our yearly tradition. I emailed the Esposo the link and then texted:

ME: Check your email! I sent you something fun.
HIM: That does look good.
ME: Right? I love Chinese New Year so much more than Western New Year.
HIM: I know.
ME: *has revelation about self*

In case the name “Mostly Irish” wasn’t obvious enough, I am not Chinese. I am not remotely Asian. I am, well, mostly Irish (with some English and French Canadian thrown in, for added flavor). I’m about as Traditionally Western as it gets (not the Wild West, mind you). But as I got older, I found myself endlessly fascinated by and drawn to Eastern Culture. I have no idea why this is. I didn’t grow up knowing many Asian families (or, well, any). There was only one Asian girl in my entire high school. My freshman/sophomore year college roommate was Laotian. That was about the extent of my practical life experience with Eastern Culture.

And I am not saying I am anywhere near experienced now. I’m kind of like…a first grader. Or hell, let’s call me a second grader so I can be on par with Patoot. Anyway, what I’m saying is: I’m learning. And I’m excited to be learning. But I don’t know much more than Patoot does. For Christmas, I got her the book “The Year of the Dog” by Grace Lin—partially because Patoot was born in the Year of the Dog, and partially because I want to open a window into more cultures for her. The Three Wise Men brought Patoot and the Munchkin a picture book about the Lunar New Year (also by Grace Lin), too. And as we read these books together, I learn as they learn.

I also find myself reading articles about the coming Lunar Year—its promises and its portents. And I find I prefer this way of looking ahead to the traditional “resolution making” of Western New Year. It’s like…I have this map in front of me, and how I choose to take advantage of what’s to come is on me. Unlike the Western New Year, where all you get is a blank page and a hangover.

I also love the ceremonies. The pageantry. And the family-friendly aspect of it all. Western New Year’s is NOT a family holiday. Boston does host First Night, to be fair—an all-inclusive outdoor festival of ice sculptures and street musicians. But it just doesn’t have the same level of time-honored tradition. Like, I KNOW it was an event made up specifically so parents who can't go out on New Year’s Eve had something to do with their kids. But the Lunar New Year has always been all-inclusive. Always all about family.

Does it make me a poser to adopt this tradition that I have no cultural right to? That I probably only half-celebrate and most likely understand even less? I’m not sure. But I hope not, because I honestly do love it. And I find it interesting that it’s a tradition I came to embrace on my own, without the benefit of growing up in it. So I will check my Chinese Astrology (as a Wood Tiger, the Year of the Wood Horse is supposed to be a good one for me—bonus!). I will mark Chinatown’s Lion Dance Parade on my calendar. I even snipped off a little of my hair last night before bed, since we read in “Year of the Dog” that’s it’s tradition to get a haircut before the New Year. And I will wish you all: Gong Xi Fa Cai!

lion dance

Are there any traditions, celebrations, or holidays from a culture other than the one you were raised in that you find yourself drawn to?

No Fly Zones

Two unrelated exchanges I had recently have led me to ask the following question of myself:

Is there anywhere I WOULDN’T travel to?

In the first exchange, a co-worker was admitting that she hasn’t seen much of the U.S.—that she’d rather spend the time and money exploring the rest of the world, Europe in particular. In the second exchange, a friend declared that you could not pay her enough money to even consider visiting Antarctica. And I get the rationale behind each opinion…

1. Why visit your own country when there are so many other ones to discover?
2. Why purposefully go somewhere cold and desolate and possibly get trapped in the ice, Ernest Shackleton-style?

Yet, I would love to drive all the way across America someday. And I am entranced by the idea of cruising to Antarctica. I want to see the pagodas in Burma, the sweeping desert in Morocco, the onion domes in Moscow. I pretty much want to see everything I can, anywhere in the world.

But do I really?

I guess, if pressed, I would have to admit that I wouldn’t want to travel anywhere especially dangerous. No war zones, thanks. And—yeah okay. There are some states in our great country that I could care less if I ever see in person. Then there’s India. That country both intrigues and terrifies me. It’s so huge! I am not a tour-guide type of traveler, but for India, I think I’d make an exception.

So I suppose I do have some “no fly zones” on my travel list. Is there any place on earth that you would refuse to visit—even if someone handed you an all-expenses paid ticket?

Regarding: Hugs

Today, one of our writers was let go. Not in a “We’re downsizing way” but a “This just isn’t working out” way.

She’s young and eager and I think a bit of a nervous talker. But did I mention young? I don’t know exactly, but I would harbor a guess of 23. MAYbe 24. Maybe. I don’t know what her work style was like—I didn’t work with her, she wrote for a different brand—so I don’t have any comments to make about the Whys and Wherefores. I can only comment on the feeling.

My first job out of college…sucked. It sucked and I sucked at it. Plain and simple. I took it because it was at a publishing company and I thought, as an English major, it was either a publishing company or teaching (and I did not think I’d make a very good teacher). So I figured I’d get an entry level position and find out what this whole publishing thing was all about. To say this job wasn’t a “good fit” for me would be a gross understatement.

I was a secretary—sorry, “personal assistant”—to one of the VPs. Now, had my boss been a different kind of person, I am sure I could have learned what the whole publishing thing was all about. But in reality, she was cold and brusque, rarely in the office, and gave me little to no training. I alphabetized her bookshelves and wrote her monthly budget reports (NO ONE SAID THERE WOULD BE MATH). It was so incredibly, mind-numbingly boring. So…I mentally checked out. Which meant: I wasn’t really surprised when my boss kept putting off my first 6-month review. I figured she was building a case to fire me. So I pushed the issue, and got an audience.

“Do you think this is working out?” She said.
“No.” I said.
“You can give your notice now and stay until Friday.” She said.
“Actually, I think I’ll leave right now,” I said. It was a Wednesday.

So…fired but not really. It sure felt like it, though. I remember tossing everything into a box and wandering out onto the streets of Manhattan in a daze. I stumbled to a pay phone (this was back in Olden Tymes when no one I knew had a cell), called the Esposo (then the Boyfriend) who was at school, and cried. As soon as I hung up the phone, I became very aware of myself, standing in the middle of one of the country’s biggest cities, 500 plus miles away from my hometown, carrying a stupid “I Just Got Fired” cardboard box, having no idea what to do next. I felt very, very alone.

Today, as I left the office to grab lunch, I saw the young writer standing in the alley next to our building. Other people were coming out to get lunch too, and everyone stopped to give her a hug and ask her to stay in touch, etc. And it was the best thing ever. And I thought of little 23 year old me, standing alone, clutching a cardboard box, needing a hug. I am not an overly affectionate person by nature, but the older I get, the more I realize how completely necessary it is, as human beings, to reach out to one another, to give and receive comfort. To give someone a hug.

So I gave this girl three.

The MORE List

Every couple of years or so, I attempt to make New Year’s resolutions. It’s always a lofty attempt at best, because while the things I am resolving to do sound Noble and Enriching and Ambitious…having them all typed out in list form has the exact opposite effect on me than it’s meant to. Instead of feeling beholden to the list, I promptly forget about it. Or worse, feel resentful towards it. Stupid Resolutions List, enumerating my myriad failures in life. You wouldn’t even exist without me, List! I brought you into this world; I can take you out!

What I’m saying is, I shan’t be making any new resolutions for the New Year.

Instead, I’m looking back on the old year—as it clings to the last day of its life with a gasping, frantic intensity—and hope to learn from it. 2013…wasn’t great for me. Neither was much of 2012, to be honest. But instead of dwelling on the parts that weren’t so hot, I’m trying to remember stuff I did that was good, things that made me happy and other people happy. And next year, do more of those things.

So this New Year, instead of a Resolutions List, I am going to make a More List.

In 2014, I will…

Write MORE
Play with/teach my kids MORE
Travel MORE
Learn MORE
Laugh MORE

It’s sappy, it’s simple, but it makes sense to me. Happy 2014, my peeps. May it bring you all MORE of what you want & need too.

Side Note: I think I might add “Take baths MORE.” I used to take fancy baths all the time. I should treat myself to them again. I mean…who doesn't need more fancy bathtimes in their lives?