Sunday, October 12, 2014

Choices That Changed My Life (In 30 Quotes)

For my 30th birthday, I considered writing one of those "Thirty things I've learned by 30" lists, but honestly, most of what I would have written has already been said by others. So, instead, I'm choosing to share the choices that have changed and shaped my life in some way, as articulated in these thirty quotes.

These quotes and the ideas they express are specific to my own personal experiences; many I stumbled upon at exactly the right moment in my life.

Perhaps you will find a few that speak to you as well.

The choice to be curious:
1. "Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment." --Rumi

2. "Your preparation for the real world is not in the answers you’ve learned, but in the questions you’ve learned how to ask yourself." --Rainer Maria Rilke

The choice to follow my heart West:

3. "The mountains are calling and I must go." --John Muir

4. "What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? - it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies." --Jack Kerouac, On The Road

5. "I want to repeat one word for you: LeaveRoll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn't it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be. And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don't worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed.” --Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts

The choice to follow my passion(s):

6. "Stay close to any sounds that make you glad you are alive." --Hafiz

7. "If you haven't found it yet, keep looking." --Steve Jobs

8. "If it's both terrifying and amazing, then you should definitely pursue it." --Erada

And to do it now:

9. "The trouble is, you think you have time." --Buddha

10. "One day you will wake up, and you won't have any more time to do the things you've always wanted. Do it now." --Paul Coelho

11. "Start before you're ready." --Steven Pressfield

The choice to let go of the tyranny of perfectionism:

12. "Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it." --Anne LaMott, Bird by Bird

13. "And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good." --John Steinbeck

The choice to dream big, unreasonable dreams:

14. "When you set down the path to create art, whatever sort of art it is, understand that the path is neither short not easy. That means you must determine if the route is worth the effort. If it's not, dream bigger." --Seth Godin, Linchpin

15. "Envision, create, and believe in your own universe, and the universe will form around you." --Tony Hsieh, Delivering Happiness

The choice to believe in myself:

16. "But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do --
determined to save
the only life you could save." --Mary Oliver

17. "We are the ones we've been waiting for." --Hopi Elders

The choice to honor the wild within:
18. "Be wild; that is how to clear the river. The river does not flow in polluted, we manage that. The river does not dry up, we block it. If we want to allow it its freedom, we have to allow our ideational lives to be let loose, to stream, letting anything come, initially censoring nothing. That is creative life. It is made up of divine paradox. To create one must be willing to be stone stupid, to sit upon a throne on top of a jackass and spill rubies from one’s mouth. Then the river will flow, then we can stand in the stream of it raining down." -Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run with the Wolves

19. "You were wild once. Don't let them tame you." --Isadora Duncan

The choice to be happy:
20. "People tend to burden themselves with so many choices. But, in the end, you can throw it all away and just make one basic, underlying decision: Do you want to be happy, or do you not want to be happy? It’s really that simple. Once you make that choice, your path through life becomes totally clear." --Michael A. Singer, The Untethered Soul

And free:
21. "There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally."  --Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

And courageous:
22. "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."  --Anais Nin  

23. "Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it." --Bill Cosby

24. "Don't be cool. Cool is conservative fear dressed in black. Free yourself from limits of this sort." --Bruce Mau

The choice to run:
25. "Run. For your life, for your joy, for your calm and peace of mind. Run. Because your legs are strong and your lungs are aching for the taste of air. Run. Because what’s the point of a life spent walking in the middle?" --Tyler Gregson

The choice to believe in magic:
26. "And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it." -Roald Dahl

27. "The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper." --W.B. Yeats

The choice to look within:
28. "There is a voice that doesn't use words. Listen." --Rumi

29. "We search for happiness everywhere, but we are like Tolstoy's fabled beggar who spent his life sitting on a pot of gold, under him the whole time. Your treasure--your perfection--is within you already. But to claim it, you must leave the buy commotion of the mind and abandon the desires of the ego and enter into the silence of the heart." --Elizabeth Gilbert

And finally, the choice to turn 30 with this in mind:
30. "It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams." --Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Read // Watched // Listened // Savored: September Edition

Arches National Park near Moab, UT. If you ever have the opportunity to visit this place, you must. It is pure magic.
“Outside the leaves on the trees constricted slightly; they were the deep done green of the beginning of autumn. It was a Sunday in September. There would only be four. The clouds were high and the swallows would be here for another month or so before they left for the south before they returned again next summer.” --Ali Smith, The Whole Story and Other Stories
And just like that, the month is over. A few days late, here's a little summary of what I read, watched, listened to, and savored this past month.

I'm still working my way through Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey's autobiographical account of the three summers he spent as a park ranger at Arches National Park in Utah the 1960's. I read sections of the book while camping in Moab last weekend, a trip that included an 8-mile hike/run/scramble  through the very landscape Abbey describes. Rambling up stretches of sun-baked sandstone, inhaling deep breaths of the woodsy Juniper pines that line the trail, I thought of Abbey's words:

"One breath of juniper smoke, like the perfume of sagebrush after rain, evokes in magical catalysis, like certain music, the space and light and clarity and piercing strangeness of the American West. Long may it burn.” 

What Insights Do Baristas Get About Customers Based On Their Coffee Orders? I found it oddly moving how much care for the human spirit is evident in these descriptions--the effort to phrase an offer of whipped cream in the affirmative, for example. Fascinating stuff.

Also! I picked up The Desire Map at a hippie boutique in Telluride (where we spent a few days hiking and exploring on our way back from Moab), and devoured it on the car ride home. The thought of backing away from rigid goals in favor of pursuing core desired feelings resonates strongly. 

I'm currently playing with the following words and (my own) definitions: 

Engaged: rapt, immersed, fully present in all that I do

Spacious: the discernment to say "no" in order to create space and capacity for "yes"...with people, projects, and possessions.

Luminous: a sense of being illuminated from within by the quality of what I feed my body, mind, and spirit.

Channel: an openness to creativity and divine inspiration; a commitment to living life fully expressed.

Attuned: instinctual, intuitive, embracing of my innate sensitivity to the physical world around me; a willingness to honor the naturally wild and untamed in myself and my environment. See Women Who Run with the Wolves.

I loved reading about Caiti's writing process.

The Complete Guide To Structuring Your Ideal Work Day.

Great to see that clinical studies are validating what I have found empirically true for myself in recent years. (Although, as with any way of eating, I believe the quality of food matters. It would be interesting to see how outcomes would've changed if, for example, they'd encouraged a group to consume fats specifically from properly raised, pastured animals.)

Watched & Listened
The Civil Wars' Billie Jean // Sam Smith's Fast Car // Labrinth's Shake It Off // Ben Howard's Call Me Maybe // Ed Sheeran and Passenger's No Diggity // Kings of Leon's Dancing On My Own

Why You Will Fail To Have a Great Career. Find your passion. No excuses.

This cider, the perfect treat for fall. My favorite flavor is the Honey Crisp.

Art-filled walls after (finally) getting our artwork hung up in our new place.

Paleo Chicken Chili made with fresh, local green chiles. Grain-free Coconut Pumpkin Spice Muffins and Pear Ginger Crumble. Diced sweet potato sautéed in ghee or coconut oil with my morning eggs. A pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon sprinkled on top of my morning coffee.

I so love the cozy scents of autumn, and have been enjoying burning these candles. (Oh, and don't these look amazing?).

Turning 30 in a few days. And feeling really excited about the awesome shifts that seem to take place when people, women especially, reach this milestone. As Ann Friedman writes:

It was around age 29 that the number of f***s I gave about other people’s opinions dipped to critically low levels. Which freed up all kinds of mental and emotional space for the stuff I was really passionate about.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.

What did you read, watch, listen to, and savor this month?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

What Sundays in September Are For: Pear Ginger Crumble

Sundays in September are for taking the long way, for taking a backroad, and for finding yourself nearly blinded by the brilliance of the aspen trees dotting the landscape. For stopping the car to stand beneath a grove and look up at the leaves, winking like a million gold coins against a bluebird sky. For whispering thanks to no one in particular. For wishing, fleetingly, that you could bottle up the color like paint in a small vial and keep it on a shelf where you can see it every day. For being grateful that you can't.

Sundays in September are for being out of doors, on a trail, or a riverbank. For absorbing the last of summer's mellow warmth, for scrambling over outcroppings of sandstone, and for resting for a moment in the shadow of a juniper tree. 

Sundays in September are for spending a long afternoon engaged in solitude and self-nourishment, for reading or perhaps baking something with the warming spiciness of ginger and just a hint of sweetness, like this pear ginger crumble.

Sundays in September are for savoring your pear ginger crumble at your kitchen table, listening to some of your favorite music. For feeling a little bit melancholy as the sun bids the afternoon farewell, signaling the end of a picture perfect autumn day. For slowing down. For stillness. For reverence.

Pear Ginger Crumble

IngredientsAbout 4 cups ripe pears, thinly sliced
Juice of half a lemon
1/2 tbsp pumpkin pie spice blend (mix of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove)
1-2 tbsp honey or maple syrup1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1/2 tsp vanilla extract2 cups almond meal
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup melted coconut oil, butter, or ghee
Crème fraîche (optional, for garnish)

To Make:Preheat your oven to 385 degrees. Grease an 8x8 in square pan with coconut oil, butter, or ghee. Add the sliced pears, lemon juice, pumpkin pie spice blend, honey, ginger, and vanilla extract to the pan. Stir gently until the pears are coated nicely in the other ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine the almond meal, walnuts, and melted coconut butter and stir until the almond meal is just a little bit crumbly. Spoon the almond meal mixture into the pan on top of the pear slices in an even layer. Bake for about 25 minutes or until the top turns golden brown. Serve warm with a dollop of crème fraîche and another sprinkling of pumpkin pie spice blend.

To Listen:
Call Me In The Afternoon // Half Moon Run
Cherry Wine // Hozier
Beautiful Girl // William Fitzsimmons
Medicine // Daughter
Poison & Wine // The Civil Wars
Wide Eyes // Local Natives
Bloom // The Paper Kites
Ooh Child // Beth Orton

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Door: Notes On My Writing Process

Step 1: Acknowledge the Person and Site Who Involved You in the Challenge
When I first stumbled upon Allie's blog, I had the uncanny experience of peering into a mirror. Such was the strength of our commonalities, which include a shared love for yoga, dogs, good food, all manner of outdoor adventuring, the American Southwest, and a desire to craft a simple, intentional life. The more I read, however, the more I realized that, despite our similarities, Allie's voice is her own. In the world of blogging, Allie stands out to me for her unwillingness to be anybody but herself and to peel back the layers of that self, writing with honesty about topics that others might shy away from, like how she's healing her relationship to her body.

Allie, thank you for the kind words, for tagging me in this challenge, and, most of all, for your refreshing vulnerability. You are a true original. I can't wait to see where your journey leads.

Step 2: Answer 4 Questions About Your Writing Process
I think this question may be referring to specific projects, but I prefer to answer it in broader terms.

So, here are some things I'm working on:

Writing with integrity (capturing the nuance)
Describing the thing that illustrates the idea, instead of stating the idea
Not comparing my writing to others
Trusting that the only way to touch upon the universal is to illuminate the deeply personal

I don't really think of my writing as belong to a certain genre, although I suppose most of what I write could fit roughly into the autobiographical essay category, which is so diverse I would find it nearly impossible to compare and contrast my own work with others' of the genre. Mostly, I try to capture and share snippets of my own life that changed me somehow. There are so many writers doing so gracefully (more gracefully than I, certainly) whom I admire. So, I suppose my relationship to other writers of the same genre could best be described as aspiring.

“The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.”
--Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves
The thing about writing is that it's actually fairly tedious work. I don't know about you, but I am rarely, if ever, astounded by my own brilliance. Never have I jotted down a sentence and said, "Aha! Now that's the opening line in the autobiography of my life." In fact, whenever I read back through my writing, I am, instead, stunned by its utter repetitiveness. Quite frankly, a lot of it is pretty boring.

The act of writing itself is fairly boring too, if you're doing it right. There is no instant gratification, no possibility of comments or likes, no links or hashtags or notifications. It's just you and the page and the compulsion from somewhere deep within: to give shape to the shapeless, to give momentary form to the tumble of the cartwheeling mind. It's pretty merciless stuff, really.

But here's the other thing about writing. When you maintain a regular practice of recording your innermost inklings, you begin to notice themes within the chaos, certain patterns that emerge like clusters of glittering lights from the fog.

You might notice, for example, that you've written "I feel called to be more kind to myself" on five separate occasions in the past month. And you decide, ok, I'm going to be more kind to myself. Or you notice that you keep writing about your yearning for adventure. So you think, huh, that's interesting; maybe I should plan some travel for this year. So you do those things, and you begin to realize that some part of you is revealed to yourself through your writing. You begin to trust that voice. As inarticulate and wholly unremarkable it may seem, it appears to know you.

Writing is the knock and it's the open door. It's the question that contains the answer. The process by which we pick up our thoughts like smooth stones from the river, and get to make a conscious decision about which ones to polish and which ones to throw back. I'm a kinder, gentler, saner human being when I'm 1) creating; and 2) able to distinguish between my inner monologue and my actual self. Writing, as a practice, means I'm doing both. So I practice and practice and practice some more.

Physically, it works like this. I sit down on my couch with my materials of choice: a classic Moleskine notebook and a fine point Sharpie pen with black ink. Mostly I write in silence, though instrumental music sometimes helps me concentrate. I write in the mornings, because that is when my thoughts are most chaotic and I feel compelled to organize them somehow. Typically, a cup of coffee grows cold at my side, usually my second of the morning. (I like the idea of drinking coffee while I write, but I tend to forget it's there.)

Sometimes the writing in my journal provides material for a blog post, but oftentimes not (see "boring" in #3 above). Other times, I have a blog post already composed in my mind, and skip straight to my computer. About half of these posts remain unpublished, though I occasionally re-visit those discarded drafts for further editing and refinement.

A few other notes on "process."

I find that my best, most authentic writing tends to be about whatever I feel strongly about at the time. So I tend to think about the past weeks,  months, or even years, and the moments that provoked an emotion, whether happiness, sadness, anger, or something else. I then attempt to distill, in words, what it was that touched me.

It's been said that the definition of art is anything that changes its audience. In my writing, I try to find and follow the thread of what's changed me. I'm working on trusting that my audience will perhaps recognize a piece of themselves in that journey, and that they too will be changed.

An ongoing part of my writing process is reading other writers' work, both fiction and non-fiction, on the topic of writing or not. It would be impossible to list all of these influences here, but a few works in particular include: Dani Shapiro's Still Writing, Anne LaMott's Bird by Bird, Seth Godin's LinchpinWriters on Writing, assorted works by Pam Houston, Annie Dillard, Cheryl Strayed, Barbara Kingsolver (her essays, in particular), and countless others.

Finally, I find the well of inspiration flows freely when I am spending plenty of time in solitude and in nature. Ditto when I am regularly moving my body in some way, whether it be running, hiking, or yoga. When I fail to move physically, things feel foggy mentally and my writing follows suit.

Step 3: Pass It On
Caiti, I've loved seeing your blog evolve over the years, and always admire how you manage to capture things I'm thinking in a way that somehow makes more sense than it does it my head (like your recent post about priorities). I'd love to hear more about your writing process, if you're up for it. Just follow the steps above!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Grain-Free Coconut Pumpkin Spice Muffins

I sometimes struggle with a self-imposed pressure to "enjoy" autumn in a specific way, as if I'll somehow miss out on its glory if I fail to execute the perfect seasonal to-do list: a dizzying prescription of corn mazes, pumpkin patches, fall foliage, football games, butternut squash bisques, scarves, boots, and mittened hands wrapped cozily around the ever-present Pumpkin Spice Latte. I used to write these kinds of Pinterest-induced checklists, in fact, until it all began feeling like a bit too much. (Not that there's anything wrong with those lists; I just personally found that adhering to a specific list caused me more FOMO-like stress than enjoyment, which seemed to defeat the purpose.)

These days, I'm more interested in paying close attention to my body and mind, noticing for example, the way my muscles and bones call more insistently for the slow and deliberate rhythms of my yoga practice rather than the frenetic pace of the trail run. I also find myself preferring the company of music, books, or my journal, leaning into introspection and away from the social self. It's the yin and the yang, the rooting and the rising, the inherent wisdom of our physical and emotional selves in response to the shift in season.

I notice too, my body craving the more rooted and grounding flavors of the season, of which pumpkin happens to be one of my favorites. I made these muffins last Sunday, and enjoyed them throughout the week as an addition to my morning eggs or as an afternoon snack. They pair especially well with an espresso or coconut milk latte. (Note to self. The perfectly staged Instagram shot is optional. And whatever you do, don't stress about adding "bake something pumpkin-flavored" to your to-do list.)

4 eggs (from free-range / pastured hens if you can find 'em)

1/2 cup canned organic pumpkin (make sure it's just pumpkin, and not "pumpkin pie filling")1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup raw honey, melted if needed

1/3 tsp salt
3/4 cup coconut flour
1 scant tsp pumpkin pie spice blend (mix of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove)
1/3 tsp vanilla extract

To Make:
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Grease 12 muffin cups with coconut oil, butter, or ghee. In a large bowl, combine and stir the eggs, canned pumpkin, coconut oil, honey, and salt. Mix and stir until smooth. Slowly add coconut flour, pumpkin pie spice, and vanilla extract to the batter while continuing to stir. Whisk batter vigorously until smooth. Divide batter evenly between muffin cups, and bake for approximately 12-15 minutes. Enjoy warm with a pat of coconut oil, butter, or ghee. 

I found that, perhaps due to the density of the coconut flour batter, these muffins didn't rise quite as much as conventional muffins might have, so don't worry if they appear somewhat smaller than you might expect. The top should be slightly crispy and the inside pleasantly moist.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Read // Watched // Listened // Savored: August Edition

It's so hard to believe it's Labor Day already, isn't it? I wrote in a recent post about feeling the need to hold onto summer this year, but in the past week, have felt myself relaxing into the change in season, shifting and softening with the transition, rather than resisting it.

August was a good month though, and I'm hesitant to bid it farewell. Here are some of the odds and ends I enjoyed these past few weeks.

I started reading Sarah Pekkanan's, The Opposite of Me, but found it just a tad too frothy for my taste. So instead, I picked up Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings, which I found wholly engrossing: the perfect summer read. I also read Emma Straub's The Vacationers, which sounded, in theory, like another great summer read, but which I found just okay.

Currently, I'm taking a break from my fiction kick to read Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey's autobiographical account of the three summers he spent as a park ranger at Arches National Park in Utah the 1960's. My husband and I are headed to Moab for a weekend of camping and hiking at the end of this month, so it seemed the perfect time to get lost in Abbey's descriptions of southeastern Utah's overwhelming beauty.

Also in the world of non-fiction, I've been enjoying Liz Wolfe's Eat The Yolks, a highly informative, very well-researched, and unexpectedly funny dismantling of modern "health food" propaganda. She makes the case, instead, for a Paleo / Primal way of eating (which she mostly refers to as simply eating "real food") with quotes like this one: "The calories in natural, unprocessed, real foods are more than just calories. They’re full of more magic than a Disney Princess convention." I've also been enjoying reading the archives of Liz's blog, where she writes about food, natural skincare, and her adventures in homesteading.

"Forget balance. Balance is bullshit. What I mostly crave is integrity and joy — a sense that I’m doing what I do excellently and getting a lot of pleasure out of it, that I’m used up and useful" and more from The Spiritual Art of Saying No.

Watched & Listened
I'm enjoying Caiti's new endeavor, The Book Wanderer, a YouTube channel "devoted to all things literary and bookish." In other words, all things wonderful! You can read about Caiti's decision to launch her channel here (and if you haven't checked out her fantastic blog yet, you really should).

This TEDx talk on How Meditation Can Reshape Our Brains and Krista Tippett interviewing Sean Corne on Yoga, Meditation in Action.

Kim Jordan, CEO and Co-Founder of New Belgium Brewing, talking about entrepreneurship and creating a values-driven culture at this Entrepreneurs Unplugged event. (I was fortunate enough to attend the live presentation.)

Riptide // Every Other Freckle // Octahate and Promises // Cherry Wine and From Eden

The last few weeks of summer exploring nearby Grand Lake and Brainard Lake.

Bulletproof coffee for the first time. I decided to give it a try after Kaileen mentioned it on her blog. The taste was slightly off-putting to me, but I did have an unusually high energy level throughout the day, so I may give it another go.

Simple meals that make use of summer's bounty and require no real recipe. Sweet corn, lightly charred on the grill, and tossed with basil and cherry tomatoes. Omelets with fresh zucchini or summer squash and a sprinkle of parmesan. Kale from our own garden tossed with toasted pecans, goat cheese, and dried cherries.

Writing, listening to music, and puttering around the house with the windows open to enjoy the hint of crisp fall air that's beginning to linger beyond the early morning hours.

What did you read, watch, listen to, and savor this month?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Brainard Lake

“Late in August the lure of the mountains becomes irresistible. Seared by the everlasting sunfire, I want to see running water again, embrace a pine tree, cut my initials in the bark of an aspen, get bit by a mosquito, see a mountain bluebird, find a big blue columbine, get lost in the firs, hike above timberline, sunbathe on snow and eat some ice, climb the rocks and stand in the wind at the top of the world."
--Edward Abbey