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Take it easy on yourself. Expect more from yourself.

I’m a resolution, goal-oriented kind of person. I’m very attracted to 30-day challenges, training plans, lists of top ten tips.  It’s easy to jump on the treadmill of self-improvement when books, blogs and other forms of news media are brimming with stories of people who are doing really amazing, creative things (I want to do amazing things too!), not to mention the ever-growing genre of self-help literature.  It’s everywhere! — in fashion magazines, in blogs, in bookstores.  It would be nice to be one of those people who can turn away from the wailing sirens of self improvement, to be the type of person to laugh at Oprah and Martha’ Stewart’s empires of self-actualization, but I am not one of them.  My desire to want more, to do more is rapacious — perhaps it’s the new life stage I’ve entered, the decade of action (my thirties!).  I know that there is a large industry making a mint off of these desires — particularly because of the anxiety that drives their insatiability.

What do I want?  I want to be healthier, to be fitter.  I want to express my creativity.  I want to integrate myself into British culture while simultaneously being proud to be an American.  I’m also a bit old-fashioned — I want to be a good home keeper, a decent gardener.  But I’m forward-looking too: I want to be adept at using technology, and curious and open minded to progressive and interesting new ideas. I desperately want to maintain links with the precious family and friends that I have overseas.  I want to be a supportive wife, a loving daughter and sister, a responsible pet-owner, a hard-working and reliable employee.

Is this asking too much?  Because sometimes, it feels like those goals are merely the baseline, and when I don’t meet them to my satisfaction, I feel the remorse of falling short.  I’m open to the idea that, at times, if I set the bar too high, the answer is not always to pray for wings, but to lower the bar, clear it gracefully, and then set the bar a smidge higher next time.  Writing that feels like surrender, though.  This “happiness contradiction” of expecting more of yourself and taking it easy on yourself is so difficult to negotiate.

Dar Williams

When I was sixteen years old, I spent a semester on a 300-acre working farm in northern Vermont.  Along with normal high-school type classes, we also had blocks of time in the day devoted to farm work — harvesting potatoes, mending fencing in the pasture, splitting logs.  You might imagine what would happen to a teenager’s brain when immersed in this sort of environment, reading Thoreau and Emerson.  I began to wear Carhartts and Birkenstock clogs, even in the snow. I learned to knit.  I tearfully paged through a copy of Reviving Ophelia.  And I discovered Dar Williams, a singer-songwriter and spiritual mix between Joan Baez and Ani DiFranco who had recently released her first album, Mortal City.  Now, here I am in London, almost half of my lifetime away from my time on the farm in Vermont.  Carhartts and Birkenstocks really aren’t my thing anymore, but I love the respect for the natural world that those months gave me.  I look back on my time in Vermont and feel a sense of peace, and the excitement of the burgeoning sense of political empowerment, possibility and responsibility that adulthood brings.

And I still love Dar Williams.  She’s gone on to have a lovely, long career, not a big name, but much beloved by her fans.  I’ve collected her albums, and some of her songs (which have lyrics like poems) I’ve heard so many times that I could sing them in my sleep.  She came to London on Friday evening, and I attended her show — I was delighted to find she had many fans this side of the pond as well. Second on her set? The Beauty of the Rain.

Lunchtime at Borough Market

Oh the good eating at Borough Market!

Where to begin?  The hot duck sandwich at the French stand?  The massive iron skillets ​full of sizzling paella?  The fruit and veg stalls packed with perfectly ripe produce?  The German frankfurters? The hot gruyere sandwiches? The Iberico specialty shop that gives free samples of acorn-fed jamon? ​The mushroom pate? The Toulouse sausages? The bakery stand piled high with meringue?  Insider tip:  Borough Market is open Thursday through Saturday.  To avoid the thickest of the crowds, try sampling the market’s delights on Thursdays around noon. All other times (particularly Saturdays) the market gets saturated with people.