Every month, Elle Decor magazine asks a designer about his or her must-haves. For some, it’s a name-brand pen or vehicle, or a luxury brand.
Here are (some of!) mine:
Newspapers and magazines, in print
Every weekend, I read four newspapers, all in print: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. I love taking an afternoon on the sofa to leaf through them, clipping books I want to read or shows I want to see. (I also look at the Guardian and Globe and Mail online.) By subscription, we receive about 20 magazines, from Wired and BloombergBusinesweek and Foreign Policy to lighter fare like Monocle, House Beautiful and Vogue. Yes, there are stacks everywhere. Otherwise, I’d never remember to read them!
No matter what the season, our apartment always has fresh flowers. For about $20 a week, I get enough beauty to make multiple arrangements for the living room, bedroom, dining room — even a few blooms in the bathroom! As we head into cold, dreary winter, even more essential.
A mixture of scents, including L’eau de l”Artisan, Bulgari’s The Vert, Opium and Prada Iris.
My 21-inch-deep bathtub
Bliss! With scented bubble bath (love Algemarin!) or oils, no better place to relax in solitude.
8-10+ hours’ sleep every night
Can’t run at my usual pace without it. If I skimp, it’s naptime.
My passport (and green card)
I treasure my Canadian citizenship, but am grateful for the legal right to live and work in the U.S.
The view from our top-floor apartment of the Hudson River
It hasn’t changed in decades. On July 4, we can even enjoy fireworks from five towns at once!
A ready stash of quality stationery
Nothing nicer than a thick, heavy piece of elegance with which to write a thank-you or condolence note; personalized is even better.
Earl Grey tea, poured into a bone-china cup with a saucer
Button up your overcoat
When the wind is free
Take good care of yourself
You belong to me
Eat an apple every day
Get to bed by three
Oh, take good care of yourself
You belong to me
You get the idea…If you love someone, you want them to stay safe and healthy!
But what if that weary, worn-out, frazzled person is you?
It’s an interesting challenge in an era of economic fear and anxiety, a time when people who actually have paid work are terrified to be seen as slow, lazy — worst of all, disposable.
Here’s a recent post by Small Dog Syndrome, a 27-year-old who recently moved from the U.S. to London, about her struggle to find time for self-care:
I’m starting to feel a bit depleted and stress is taking a very real toll on my health. Even if it’s for a job or in a field you love, doing work without pay is grueling, on the soul as well as the body. And spending time working on those projects has the very real potential to impact my freelancing work negatively – no one’s at the top of their game when chronically sleep deprived.
Many American workers, those who even get paid vacations, are too scared to actually take the time off, or too broke to go anywhere.
So they keep driving their exhausted minds, spirits and bodies like machines at a vicious, speeded-up industrial pace. We’re all becoming Charlie Chaplin movie out-takes.
But it’s no comedy.
I recently did something that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. I had three deadlines to meet and editors driving me insane with endless demands. Instead of staying glued to the computer, fed up and resentful at their insatiability, I snagged a cheap ticket to a show I’d been wanting to see for years, the musical “Once.”
I went to a Wednesday matinee.
It was heaven. I came home refreshed by pleasure.
Good thing too, since the next two days proved to be completely hellish and the week ended with an editor killing my story — after weeks of work, costing me $750 in lost income.
In response? I made a pot of tea, put some chocolates on a tray and ended my crappy Friday with a pile of glossy fashion magazines.
It takes effort to make time to care for yourself.
Here are some of my favorite ways to do so:
— a pedicure
— a pot of hot tea every day at 4 or 5:00 p.m.: hydrating, comforting and fragrant
— a massage
— having fresh flowers and/or plants in every room
— going for a walk
— calling a friend
— taking dance class two to four times a week
— listening to music
If we don’t make time for pleasure, what on earth are we doing?
Are you taking good care of yourself these days?
If not, why not?
If so, what are some of the things you do to stay healthy and happy?
If you live or work in the United States, vacation is a taboo word for many people — their employers don’t offer paid time off and/or they just can’t afford to take any.
Or they’re such workaholics they can’t bear the thought of missing a call/email/client meeting.
The typical American workplace offers a measly two weeks off each year. As someone who runs at a very high speed, and who loves to travel, taking time off whenever I want and can afford to is one of the reasons I stay self-employed.
I tend to work at a pretty intense pace. The harder/faster I run, the more downtime I need to recharge and come back at it, hard, with gusto — not weary resentment.
The two-martini lunch may be extinct, but another perk common to yesteryear’s workplace, the two-week vacation, is making a comeback. No longer limited to students, honeymooners and retirees, drawn-out holidays are finding converts in overachieving professionals.
“It used to be that Americans did the drive-by vacation,” breezing through major tourist attractions, said Anne Morgan Scully, president of McCabe World Travel, an upscale travel agency in McLean, Va. “They’re not doing that anymore.” Her company has seen a 25% to 30% increase in longer holiday bookings over the last year, she said.
Plenty of Americans have a hard time taking vacation at all. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about a quarter of private-industry workers didn’t get any paid time off in 2012. And some who have holiday packages are loath to max them out, for fear of seeming dispensable in a still-shaky economy.
The lack of American vacation time strikes people living in many other nations — Australia, Canada, much of Europe — as weird indeed. But here, where affordable health insurance is tied to your job, and you’re scared to lose both, going anywhere for very long feels too risky to many people. (Talk about a capitalist culture!)
I try to take off six weeks a year, or more, if possible. My trips are rarely exotic or costly, but I desperately need to get out of our apartment, where I work alone all day, and our (lovely) town where I’ve lived for 24 years.
I need new scenery, new experiences, foreign accents, adventure!
Our recent two-week trip to Arizona was perfect, even with temperatures that could soar to 100 by noon. I saw old friends, made new ones, did a bit of work, bought some pretty new clothes, took lots of photos, read for pleasure, lay by the hotel pool, did a long road trip, stayed in a funky hotel, stayed in nature for five days.
The best part?
No computer. I didn’t touch my laptop for five full days, which made me feel like I’d been gone for a month, not merely five days off the net.
I came home blessedly and gratefully refreshed, ready to pick up the traces again.
Our next vacation is planned for two weeks mid-September.
We had hoped for Newfoundland, but are doing some planned, costly renovations instead. Luckily, we now have a tent and sleeping pads and a car that will accommodate our sports gear, so even a two or three-hour drive in any direction can take us to somewhere fun and new — the shore of Long Island Sound in Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, even as far as Delaware.
Here’s an unlikely essay, in yesterday’s The New York Times, from an American employer who actually gives his first-year employees four weeks off. Hire me, dude!
More than ever, we live in a culture that overvalues the ethic of “more, bigger, faster” and undervalues the importance of rest, renewal and reflection. I preach this lesson for a living, but I, too, can get so passionately immersed in my work that I intermittently forget to apply the lesson to myself.
A growing body of evidence suggests that more overall vacation time – intense effort offset regularly by real renewal — fuels greater productivity and more sustainable performance…If you’re in any sort of demanding job, it makes sense to take at least a week of true vacation every three months…
The United States is the only developed country that doesn’t mandate employers to provide vacation time. Most companies do provide it, but often stingily and insufficiently.
To my fellow leaders: Two weeks isn’t enough if what you’re seeking from your people is their best. Is there any doubt, for example, that the greater the demand, the more frequent our need to replenish and rejuvenate? Demand in our lives is rising so relentlessly that I’m beginning to believe even four weeks of vacation a year isn’t enough.
The most basic aim of a vacation ought to be restoration – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.
A recent national survey of 977 people, published in Vanity Fair magazine offered some funny, and not so funny, statistics about Americans on vacation:
— 90 percent said they’d try to help a lost tourist
— but 21 percent (cheap bastards!) never leave a tip for the daily maid service for their room; luckily 29 percent said they leave $3 to $5 a day
— not at all surprising, only 1 percent said they prefer to travel by bus; 50 percent said car and 39 percent by plane. Only 5 percent (!), which is very American, chose the train — by far my favorite! But American train service is costly and atrocious compared to that of many other nations.
The French say it so much better, as usual — subway/train, work, sleep. (Enough already!)
That’s what “normal” life too often devolves into, a steady and numbing routine that continues unbroken, sometimes for decades.
The past 10 days’ break have been a blessing indeed, with a deliciously indolent rhythm of eat/sleep/repeat. Shop, visit a museum, see friends, read for pleasure, sit in the sun on the dock and listen to gulls squawking. Just slooooooooooooow down to whatever pace is ours alone.
Both of the friends we stayed with, both long-married couples with empty nests, are people we’ve known for many years, welcoming and gracious hosts who fed us well and stayed up into the night talking. Both have cats and large, affectionate dogs who would come and nose us awake in the silent mornings.
The husbands get along beautifully and the women, like me, love to make stuff, whether sewing or art or calligraphy — one is a fellow writer and the other is a graphic designer who teaches and runs her own firm. She helped me make this amazing bag with fabric I bought years ago in Toronto and a vintage watch face I found in Richmond and attached with a button — with a $ sign! — she just happened to have in her stash of antique buttons.
It’s the perfect bag for a freelance writer: time, words, money.
It was deeply refreshing to just not have to do anything. (That’s not entirely accurate, as two of my editors wanted more work on two stories I thought were fully tied off, but you ignore clients at your peril.)
This week back home in New York is a bit of the usual whirlwind — meeting a friend in from San Francisco Tuesday for a drink, an event at a local library for my book “Malled” on Wednesday, and Thursday night will join a group of New York Times staffers at a trivia contest — we won last year, so it’s time to defend our title against The Wall Street Journal, Fox News and a room filled with ferocious journalism competitors eager to prove who’s smartest.
It will be the usual blur of meetings, calls, emails, pitches, errands, follow-ups.
But next Saturday we fly to Tucson, Arizona for two more weeks where Jose will be working long days teaching the New York Times Student Journalism Institute. I’ll be giving a lecture on freelancing, but the rest of my time there is pure rest and relaxation. I’m hoping to hike the Grand Canyon again — the last time was June 1994 — alone, as last time. I can’t wait to go horseback riding through one of my favorite parts of the country.
Our time off has let us feel human again, not just weary industrial cogs in machines moving far too quickly. We laughed a lot and slept deeply.
A 2011 poll found that Americans had left 9.2 unused vacation days that year.
With a recession still in play for millions who would like nothing more than the chance to work 40 or more paid hours per week, working less is a privileged notion, a message meant for those of us lucky enough to have jobs, or freelance work.
It’s also a difficult-to-impossible luxury for people whose jobs come in shifts that require seven to 12 hours of non-stop work: cops, nurses, public transit workers, cabbies and firefighters, to name a few. One taxi driver I spoke to in Montreal, a man of 42, this week told me he works 70 hours a week — and barely makes $700 for his trouble.
THINK for a moment about your typical workday. Do you wake up tired? Check your e-mail before you get out of bed? Skip breakfast or grab something on the run that’s not particularly nutritious? Rarely get away from your desk for lunch? Run from meeting to meeting with no time in between? Find it nearly impossible to keep up with the volume of e-mail you receive? Leave work later than you’d like, and still feel compelled to check e-mail in the evenings?
More and more of us find ourselves unable to juggle overwhelming demands and maintain a seemingly unsustainable pace. Paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less. A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.
I admit, I heartily agree. I do all of these:
short afternoon naps
longer sleep hours
more time away from the office
longer, more frequent vacations
while also being very aware that many people — like the millions working retail jobs, for example — enjoy zero flexibility in when and how they schedule their time. When I worked the 1-9pm shift during my time as a sales associate at The North Face, (the subject of my book, Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail), our “dinner” break might be ordered at 4 or 5pm.
And, with job security a hopeless fantasy, many office workers are simply too busy, or too scared to be seen “slacking off”, to even leave their desk for a meal, let alone head out for a walk, bike ride, yoga class or the gym during their workday.
I’ve stayed freelance for the control it gives me over my daily schedule and yearly activities. I just took two weeks away from my home/office in New York to visit Ontario and Montreal, and spent three of those days working.
Thanks to wi-fi and my laptop, and my work, I can basically work almost anywhere. After a grueling full day of interviewing people for a Times story on Wednesday, I came home and finished up an email interview, a quick turnaround of 500 words for a new client, at 10:30 that night. So much for Montreal nightlife!
I’ll be in D.C. for a few days in early May, and probably visit Jose in Tucson in late May where he’ll be teaching. We’ve planned a two-week trip to Newfoundland in September. That’s already 5 to 6 weeks’ vacation planned for 2013, with a break for me every three months or less. Whenever I pull in a decent income, the first impulse I have — paradoxically perhaps — is to take some time off, to travel, to see some art or ballet or theater to re-boot my creative juices and simply enjoy life.
Also from the Times article:
Along the way, I learned that it’s not how long, but how well, you renew that matters most in terms of performance. Even renewal requires practice. The more rapidly and deeply I learned to quiet my mind and relax my body, the more restored I felt afterward. For one of the breaks, I ran.
I’ve noticed this in my breaks as well — even a full 24 hours fully devoted to one’s own schedule of amusement can prove extremely restorative.
My final day in Montreal could have been a frenzy of rushed shopping or sight-seeing. Instead a friend from the 1980s when I worked there at the Gazette joined us for lunch. We reminisced for more than 3 hours. I then went for an exfoliation, an hour of bliss and eucalyptus-scented steam, and Jose and I went to a terrific and lively new restaurant, Hotel Herman, for dinner. The joint was jumping. We sat at the central bar and bumped elbows with fellow diners, one of whom was a museum curator from Chantilly who showed me a photo on her cellphone of her horse, Kalinka.
Our Montreal meals usually lasted 1.5 to three hours. Just not rushing was a great relief and deep, unaccustomed pleasure for two journalists who have been working to deadline since our undergrad years at college.
We’re back home now, a little broke but sated and refreshed.
I’ve really enjoyed a blessed two-week respite, even while still working at the computer almost every day for a few hours.
These things helped:
— Long evenings with dear old friends, people who have known me at 15 or 25 or 40, who remember and pay attention. I love having a long history with people, watching them grow (up) as well. A deeply shared history is comforting to me.
— Being outdoors in warm fall sunshine. Went for a really long hike this afternoon at Warsaw Caves, (thanks to Ontario reader Susan F. for her blog’s inspiration!) and loved seeing all the mushrooms, sniffing the pine needles and coming home worn out.
— Physical activity. I took my first golf lesson, biked, walked, went to the gym.
— A vigorous 90-minute massage. If I were rich, I’d have a massage every week.
— Silence. The only sound at my Dad’s house is the haunting and lovely echo of passing trains.
— Taking photos.
— Buying a new mini sketchbook and pocket-size watercolor kit. Remembering to make art.
— Being able to walk into town and to the local cafe. Not driving all the time!
— Making a roaring fire and listening to it crackle, then watching the embers glow. We don’t have a fireplace at home.
— Reading for pure pleasure, not work or for staying up to date on all my projects.
— Unplugging. Staying off the computer (somewhat!), no TV and severely limiting my consumption of radio, newspapers, magazines and the web.
— But…also listening to the radio in French, Radio-Canada. I really miss hearing and speaking French.
— Sleeping up to 11 a night hours as needed. Plus naps!
— Bathing in a deep cast-iron tub by candlelight.
I’ve loved making a thermos of tea and heading back to bed just to read a good novel; (I never read fiction.) I read “All the Pretty Horses”, Cormac McCarthy’s award-winning 1992 book. It’s amazing.
I’ve also treasured the luxury of a lot of space, a house with two floors, two staircases and four bathrooms, as I live and work in 1,000 square feet at home.
But I’ve really valued silence — deep, thick, uninterrupted silence.
I did an eight-day silent Buddhist retreat with my husband in July 2011, (which I blogged about here, if you’re interested in the details), and it changed me for good. I would never have chosen it — he did! — and the enforced silence was instructive indeed. We communicated by Post-Its, hand signals and a few whispers in our room.
That time away taught me how much energy it takes just to be social. From the minute we wake up to the minute we fall asleep, most of us are also on a timeline, or many — responding to the needs and schedules of our kids’, our pets’, our partner’s, let alone our own, socially, spiritually, physically and professionally.
So these two weeks, most of it spent quietly alone, have been something of a retreat. (My October is insanely busy, with 10 of 30 nights already booked with social or professional engagements.)
We all need to retreat, rest, relax. Yet it’s radically counter-cultural to just unplug and be alone in silence.
We all spend our days, and our nights, talking/reading/listening/watching/interacting/emailing/tweeting — and wonder why we end up so worn out.