About Me

Hi there. I'm Robin. I am a web developer, writer, photographer, zen buddhist, lapsed yogi, proud introvert, lover of words and visual thinker based in the San Francisco Bay Area. I share my thoughts, my mistakes, my lessons-learned and all the other fun stuff in between here. Welcome!

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Bread Love

"This is crazy!" I thought, as I rounded yet another sharp turn on the Shoreline Highway at 15mph. Fog clung to the windshield as I inched my way toward Green Gulch Farm Zen Center. When I arrived, I turned the car off, dropped my shoulders and exhaled. Finally, I could let go of the fear of getting lost (again) and relax into the bread baking workshop that was starting in five minutes.

Five minutes. Whoops.

I grabbed my camera and a scarf and walked quickly toward where I thought the kitchen might be.

Upon entering the baking room, just off the kitchen, I was greeted by Mick Sopko and his assistant, Yuki. Mick and Yuki bake bread for the entire Green Gulch community and a few other places in the Bay Area. Fortunately, Mick offers workshops on the fundamentals of bread baking to the general public four to five times a year to those who are curious, like myself.

There are few things in life as comforting as bread. And while I have experimented with different pastries, muffins and cakes, I have never made real bread.

Mick explained that when you are making bread you are, in a way, "playing god." You activate the yeast, bring it to life, nurture it and allow it to mature and blossom. And then you kill it about five minutes after it goes into the oven. I looked across the room at the rows of freshly baked bread and felt a bit bad for all that yeast.

Throughout the morning and afternoon, Mick patiently demonstrated each step of the process and even gave us the opportunity to get our hands in some flour and water and knead the dough. My team was in charge of forming sandwich loaves while others formed rolls, baguettes, round loaves and oval loaves. When we were all done, we watched in fascination as Mick effortlessly (and with a lot of love) prepared our bread for the oven.

After 7 minutes or so, the bread miraculously came out warm and golden brown. Once it had cooled, Mick sliced open a baguette and invited us all to taste. I dipped a piece in a small bowl of olive oil and smiled, totally relaxed and comforted.

At the end of the workshop I thanked Mick and bowed to Yuki. With a fresh loaf of bread in my arms, I made my way back out to the parking lot, content and happy. I gently tightened my scarf and prepared for the trip home, less concerned (for now) about being lost.

(If you're in or planning to be in the Bay Area, you can take this workshop too. Check out the website for more information: Fundamentals of Bread Baking and read more about Mick.)


Are you ready?

I look at Katie and it scares me to realize how much she trusts me - fully and completely. Even when I take her to the vet, which she hates, she still trusts me. Sometimes, this trust pierces my heart.

Sitting on the floor, eating my cereal, she looks over at me with the typical kind indifference of a cat. I want to tell her, "We're going to board a plane on Tuesday. Are you ready? Yes, all the furniture is gone. It has been shipped to California. Yes, these leftover boxes will go soon, too. Until it's just you and me in this empty apartment. Until there is no apartment and it's just you and me. On a plane, flying to California. And then a new apartment. And some new things to mix in with the old. And then...?"

I stop, because I don't know what else to say. It is here where I get stuck. Because I don't know. I don't know how things are going to turn out. I don't know what to expect, really.

The next morning, I awake to Katie cat-punching me in the face. I quickly and calmly grab her by the nape of the neck like a mama bear and tell her "No. Do you understand? No. You don't do that."

I roll over to try to fall back asleep, but this is when the tears come. All the grief I've been holding back in an effort to move forward and get everything done arrives in full force. I grieve for the people I love who I won't be physically near anymore. I grieve for all the hopes and dreams I had when I first moved back to Austin that were never fulfilled. For the family I never had, the marriage that never happened, the house I never bought - all of it.

Before I realize it, Katie is in front of me again, but now she is licking my eyelids, my cheeks. I don't know if cats are capable of apologizing, but it feels like consolation. I gently hug her to me.

How do I explain my reasons for moving to California? There are so many and the answers change every time someone asks me. I am taking my life back. I am embracing my love of adventure. I am simply...moving.

Am I ready?


Confessions of a teeth grinder

Confession: I have been meditating for almost five years now and I still grind my teeth. My dentist was adamant - stop it (she lamented, how many people are not grinding their teeth these days?). I have resisted getting a mouth guard, because, holy shit, that sounds incredibly unsexy. But the truth is, I may need to swallow my pride and just get one. Receding gums, due to teeth grinding, are also incredibly unsexy (not to mention, painful).

In order to protect my teeth and my overall health - because I don't think I'd be grinding my teeth simply for the hell of it - I've started scaling back how much I commit to. It's been hard. I like being busy. I like helping people. And I have a really hard time saying no. I also hate disappointing people, especially those I care about. But I am realizing more than ever that my wish to not disappoint others is costing me a great deal. I am at an age where I can no longer simply push on through. My body is telling me to stop and pay attention.

Finally, I am listening.

At the beginning of the year, I took three days off to completely clean out my closet. Something I had been avoiding for a very long time (understandably). I found receipts from ten years ago, letters, birthday cards, old photographs from high school, magazines I'd kept from my time in the Czech Republic and papers I wrote in grad school. It was unexpectedly emotional. When I was done and I only had a few small boxes left, I felt a huge wave of relief. I felt lighter.

There is something about creating space, both physically and mentally, that is highly motivating and refreshing. Since then, instead of committing to more projects, more tasks, more self-improvement fiascoes (going sugar-free and gluten-free, while healthy, is just not realistic for me), more this and more that, I have decided to commit to saying no, setting boundaries, scaling back, simplifying, giving stuff away and making room for space.

It hasn't been easy, but something surprising has been happening. I'm starting to relax. Slowly but surely. Little by little. Why is it so hard?

We'll see what my dentist has to say...

(What I'm listening to right now: House of Cards by Radiohead)


A Year of Unravelling

This time last year, I found myself on the edge of a panic attack, wondering what the hell I was doing. I stared out the window at Lower Manhattan in February feeling overwhelmed, intimidated, and worried. Could I do this? Would they like me? Will I totally make a fool of myself? Who do I think I am exactly? And yet, despite all my fear and trepidation, I fell in love with every single person in the training program at The Interdependence Project, including myself (hello, surprise). And I fell in love with New York City.

At home, I decided to start the year by seeing a therapist. Something I haven't really talked about here, but now...why not? It was one of the best decisions I made this year and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.

I also finally (finally) got out of credit card debt. Woohoo! And it was in part due to this fabulous book, Money: A Love Story by Kate Northrup. Get it. Go get it right now.

In May, I lost my Mema. In June, my Grandmother. I read The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion and squeezed myself inside out with grief. I questioned death and contemplated my own.

I had my first Photography show at the Austin Zen Center.

I stood up to my father lovingly and honestly. Something I've been trying to do my entire life.

I Bollywood danced.

I nibbled on cereal cookies at Momofuku Milk Bar and wrapped myself in the smell of fresh chocolate at the Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory.

I curled up on a warm couch in Brooklyn and watched the snow fall outside (thank you Airbnb).

Just after Christmas I discovered I have hypothyroidism, a condition I will need to treat for the rest of my life.

To say this year has been full would be an understatement. When I sat down to focus on Susannah Conway's Unravelling the Year Ahead and reviewed 2013, I was surprised by how much I've done and how much this year has changed me.

What will 2014 bring? Am I ready?

A few of my favorite things from 2013:

Favorite music: James Blake
Favorite photographer: Rob Lutter
Favorite nonprofit: The Fistula Foundation
Favorite book: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

(What I'm listening to right now: Strong by London Grammar)


You can't stop New York City

Bookshelf, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, June 2013

Standing on the L train heading into Brooklyn, I became concerned. The train sped up and appeared to accelerate faster than usual. I looked around, but no one else seemed to notice. The train barreled through the tunnel faster and faster. I almost laughed out loud, it was so startling to me. I thought to myself, yes, this is what New York City feels like. An immense amount of speed, an overwhelming amount of metal and concrete and a whole lot of people who have no idea why you might be freaked out by all this.

Not that I was freaked out. Not exactly. To be honest, I loved it. But I didn't always. It took me a while, and a few trips, to warm up to New York City. I had no idea why people bought I <3 NY t-shirts and why so many professed their love for a city that, to me, appeared overcrowded and unforgiving.

And just to be clear, it is overcrowded and unforgiving (or, it can be).

But, that's just it. What I've come to love about New York is that, it doesn't pretend not to be overcrowded and unforgiving. New York is what it is. Take it or leave it.

And the people. The people! So many people. I love them all. The barista at Think Coffee who smiled back at me and asked if I was having a good day, the guy in line behind me who barked an order at the barista without even blinking an eye (and the barista didn't blink either), the waiters at Le Pain Quotidien on Bleeker Street who kindly took my order of green tea and a soft-boiled egg every morning, the countless people who helped me find my way when I got lost (which was a lot), the woman who yelled, "Don't you fuck with me young lady!" at her daughter in the middle of a busy sidewalk, the tourists who asked me for directions (ha!), the young men in Bed-Stuy who gently teased me and asked me if I'd date a black man, my sweet friend, Emily, who taught me how to correctly pronounce Bed-Stuy (thank you, Emily), the deranged guy on the subway platform who reached out and tried to touch my face, the old lady who slowly and carefully lead her young granddaughter by the hand down Bowery, my instructor at The Interdependence Project, Ethan, who encouraged me to find my voice and my lion's roar, and my friends in the Immersion program, Mona, Emily, Alexandra, Ambika, Anna, Anya, Paul, Jacoby, Robert, Monica, Patrick, Ash and Kim Brown, who all welcomed me as if I were coming home, rather than just visiting (I will never be able to express in words how much this meant to me).

The people, I've found, are the very best part of the city. My favorite part. Tough on the outside and nothing but heart on the inside. Treat a New Yorker with love and respect and they'll give it back to you tenfold. Not all New Yorkers, of course (and you better be ready for that). But most of the New Yorkers I met, despite the chaos all around them, revealed bountiful warmth and squishiness underneath their cool and driven exteriors.

Waiting for my plane to take off at La Guardia and to take me home for the last time this year, I stopped in one of the shops to kill some time and grab some snacks. There on the shelf was an I <3 NY coffee mug. Naturally, I grabbed it. The lady behind the counter smiled at me, wrapped my new mug in paper and threw in a few samples of free candy, just for good measure.

I <3 NY.

(A little New York State of Mind)