Sunday, July 27, 2014

Read // Watched // Listened // Savored: July Edition


Reading
I was so excited to set aside my PHR textbooks and resume reading for pleasure that I tore through a slew of books this month, including Megan Abbott's The End of Everything and Queenpin (brilliant, compulsively readable noir); Sarah Pekkanan's Catching Air (a perfectly light summer read); Lidia Yuknavitch's The Chronology of Water (a decidedly not light memoir chronicling the author's search for love in all the wrong places); Taylor Jenkins Reid's After I Do (surprisingly nuanced chick lit); Molly Wizenberg's Delancey (less relateable than A Homemade Life but interesting nonetheless); and Rufi Thorpe's The Girls from Corona Del Mar (a stunningly authentic portrayal of friendship and coming of age--read it!). 

Up next on my list are another Sarah Pekkanan, The Opposite of Me, followed by another Taylor Jenkins Reid, Forever, Interrupted.

2014 Adventure Bucket List and Top Ten Life-List Adventures. #wanderlust

Watching & Listening

All Alright // Baby I Am Nobody Now // I'm Into You // Hey Mami and Coffee // Hunger of the Pine

The trailer for Wild. Really excited for this.

Coconut water wars. Whoa!

Fascinated by peoples' morning routines.

Savoring

These candles, inspired (as their name suggests) by fresh produce. Anthropologie had them on sale a couple weeks ago, so I picked up Kale, Tomato, and Beet.

Fresh basil, parsley, and mint straight from our garden.


This super refreshing face mask by one of my favorite brands. I put it on right after running and leave it on for about ten minutes before jumping into the shower.


Vinyasa Slow Flow at this new-to-me climbing gym (that also offers tons of yoga and fitness classes). Ninety heavenly minutes of slooooow alignment-focused flow. It's divine, and the perfect thing to balance all the running.


Weekend hiking adventures with my husband.

What are you reading, watching, listening to, and savoring this month?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Geography of a Loss


My grandfather (my "Opa" as we called him in the German tradition), passed away last week, two months shy of his 88th birthday.

Although he retained a remarkable degree of vitality until a few months beforehand, playing golf and attending church services with regularity, he had become quite ill in the few weeks preceding his death and so when I my phone rang at 6:15am on Thursday morning, I knew, of course, the reason for my mom's call.

Although I was undoubtedly saddened to hear the news, my immediate reaction was not one of sorrow, but of gratitude that I had decided to fly back to Iowa two weekends prior, knowing that it would likely be my opportunity to say a final goodbye. 

In the hospital, he had reached out his hand for mine and, although it was clear his body and mind were shutting down, I was able to hold brief conversations with him. I showed him pictures of me hiking in Colorado with my husband. Knowing how much he appreciates a groan-worthy pun, I elicited a chuckle when I said, "Hey Opa, I know a little German," and held up a photo of my dachshund asleep on the couch.

I visited him in the hospital three days in a row. My uncle later told me that those visits were the last time my Opa held a lucid conversation. A few days later, he was moved to the nursing home in his hometown of Amana, where he passed away peacefully barely a mile from the house where he was raised.

At his visitation and funeral, I learned things about my Opa that I must've heard at one point, but that I'd never fully realized until I heard them eulogized within the trajectory of his life.

For example, I learned that during his service during WWI, while his ship was being prepared in Brooklyn Navy Yard for a voyage to the Pacific and expected invasion of Japan, President Truman announced the surrender of Japan whereupon he and many of his shipmates rushed to Times Square for a spontaneous celebration with thousands of others. In fact, he was somewhere among the crowd in the background of the famous photo that captured the jubilation of that moment. I tried to imagine him as a 19-year-old sailor, and how he must felt upon hearing the news that his ship would not be sent to invade Japan.

I also learned, as evidenced by the number of people at the visitation and funeral, how many people he'd touched with his good humor and generosity of spirit, and how they remembered him: with an ever-present twinkle in his eye, forever on the verge of telling his next joke, charming friends and strangers alike with an extroversion that rendered him larger than life.

Amana tradition dictates that the deceased are buried in neat lines, in sequential order based upon their date of death. There are no reserved spots: only the plot of land assigned to you upon your passing, made yours by some combination of destiny and happenstance. I noticed during the burial that my Opa's plot happened to be just yards away, albeit a few rows' distance, from my Oma's, whose death preceded his by twenty years but whose voice I remember clear as day, doting on me, her "little lamb," and singing German lullabies.

After the funeral and burial, my dad drove us around the Amana Colonies where Opa was born and raised. We drove past the farm where he worked as a boy, and the house where he grew up, which, at the time, also doubled as the town's post office. We drove past the house in Middle Amana, where my own father had grown up, and which is now home to a series of gift shops that sell traditional Amana wares to tourists.

In the end though, it's not the physical structures that seemed to define Opa's life, but the land itself. The part of Iowa where he spent most of his life is still largely agricultural. Rolling fields of corn stretch as far as the eye can see, punctuated by shady groves like the one that borders the cemetery where he was laid to rest. Watching the sun set here, casting its pink glow across lush fields of green, it's not hard to understand why my Opa returned to Amana following his service in the Navy, and, aside from various travels, never left. A gardener his whole life, he took a special joy in the beauty of the flora around him (a trait I believe I inherited as a perfect ranunculus or riotously colorful patch of poppies can move me to tears).

His life was long and full, and his passing was not tragic, merely sad in that ordinary way that all endings are. The only time I cried was when the bugler played "Taps" as part of the military honors at his burial, which also included a ceremonial folding of an American flag which was then presented to my father and uncle. Mainly I cried because it struck me how closely his life mirrored much of what was great about an entire generation, and a little bit because I would never know him as that jubilant sailor, or, as he became after the war, a teacher and baseball coach, or as a young husband and father to two sons, for whom he worked hard to provide the opportunities that shaped my father's life, and in turn, my own. I think the tears were also, in a way, for how his death felt a little like a formalized severing of ties to Amana, where I'd visited my grandparents so many times as a child, and for my own weakening connection to the nearby college town where I'd grown up.

I took this photo somewhere near my parent's house. It doesn't really have anything to do with Amana or with my Opa. But the scene struck me deeply for some reason, I guess because those fields are someone's fields, that barn is someone's barn, and that truck is, perhaps, someone's grandfather's truck.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What Else Is Possible: Reflections On June


Oh, how I've missed this space! In case you hadn't noticed, I took a break from blogging for the month of June. I was tempted to pop in for a quick update several times, but my energy and efforts were elsewhere, and so I gave myself permission to simply let it go. That being said, I'm thrilled to be back and get caught up.

So here's what happened in June.

I worked. I ate. I ran. I studied. I slept.

That's the short version, anyway. Let me back up. 

For starters, I embarked on and completed my first Whole30. The connotations our culture associates with the word "diet" don't resonate with me, but I have repeatedly heard people sing the praises of the Whole30 experience and since it seemed already aligned with my preferences, I decided to give it a go. If you have followed my meal planning posts, you know I am drawn toward nourishment comprised mainly of proteins, veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats. Every body is different, but I find that I personally feel best when I eat this way, while also avoiding most grains, refined sugars, and processed foods. (I can go either way on dairy, but tend to limit it to high-quality cheeses and the occasional spoonful of crème fraîche or sour cream.) For me, the experience was not as challenging as it is for some, probably because I was already eating mostly paleo/primal, but I was forced to drop my evening chocolate habit and make a few other modifications. For the most part, I felt incredibly energized and very much alive. It's amazing how much even moderate amounts of sugar, alcohol, and even certain carbohydrates can dull the senses. With fewer mood-modifying effects, I felt a little vulnerable, a little raw, but in a good way, like I could trust that I was perceiving things as they actually are.

Also on the healthy living front, I used the warming weather and lengthening days to kick my trail runs into high gear, challenging myself to try new-to-me trails that had previously intimidated me, and completing two of my longest runs in years. I ran almost every day, about 90 miles over the course of the month. I ran in the mornings when I knew I would have to work late, and I ran after work when all I wanted to do was go home and relax. I ran because I had to, because I knew it was the only way I'd stay sane amidst the stress of preparing for my PHR exam.

Which brings me to the studying. Six months ago, with the support of my employer, I registered for the Professional in Human Resources certification exam. The certification is considered the defining credential in the HR field, and covers a significant body of knowledge. I knew I would have to study hard, having less HR generalist experience than many PHR candidates. Although I began studying few months ago, I buckled down big-time in June, spending my evenings and weekends with my nose in the books. The exam was June 28th, and, whew, I passed. It was extremely difficult, and I would not have passed had I eased up on the preparation even a bit. Several days before I passed the exam, I also received a promotion at work. Between the promotion and passing the exam, I don't think I'd felt that accomplished since I was offered the job a year ago!

As I leave the frenetic energy of June behind, the advent of July carries a mixed sort of sweetness. On the one hand, I have the impulse to relax. It's summer, after all, the season made for lazy, laid-back leisure. I do want to enjoy it. On the other hand, this past month laid bare a certain truth for me that I'm not sure I've fully realized before: that I can attempt really difficult things and succeed. I've had my share of successes in life, but I think I always assumed they were due to some combination of kismet and charisma. I got scared when things got hard, so I backed away, worried that my innate talents and charms wouldn't be enough to see me through. In contrast, these recent achievements feel earned. Like I looked the challenges in the eye, worked my tail off, and reaped the reward. It has actually made me wonder what other challenges are out there that a former version of myself would not have considered. It has made me wonder what else is possible.

And, all in all, possibility seems like a fine place to inhabit this month. 

Happy July.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

June

"I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June." 
-L.M. Montgomery
My first Whole30. A new level of commitment.

Grilling every night, in our backyard, a wild and fragrant cacophony of kale, romaine, basil, rosemary, dill, parsley, and mint. Fresh food that feeds my body and nourishes my soul.

Trail running every day.

Meeting new friends and reconnecting with old ones. Getting to know the wonderful couple next door.

Skipping the evening TV habit in favor of hours spent reading, writing, or taking long walks around the neighborhood, stopping to admire the flowering sage at the local community garden.

The earth around me awash in a riotous bloom of color: the rain-brightened emerald of the lodgepole pine; the cornflower of the clear blue sky; the indigo of the foothills in the twilight of dusk; and the striated white of distant peaks still capped with snow.

Days so long it seems the sun will never set over the mountains.

Days so long, and still too short to take in all the wonder and beauty.

Happy June.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Fuel for Life: My Weekly Meal Plan

Eldorado Canyon, as seen from today's trail run.

After a month during which we moved into our new house and either my husband or I traveled every weekend while also juggling some major professional commitments (hello, Boulder Startup Week), it feels like we've crossed over to the other side of a very stressful period of time.

This weekend, we enjoyed the feeling of having nothing to do. Well, maybe not nothing, but rather a very ordinary weekend to-do list filled with things like trips to the hardware store (which has become one of my favorite things to do now that we have our own house / yard), bathing the dog (decidedly not one of my favorite things to do, but necessary), gardening and assorted yard work, grocery shopping, exercising, and catching up on miscellaneous items that we neglected during the chaos of the last few weeks.

It rained Friday night (a real spring rain), and I opened all the windows to enjoy the sweet pitter-patter sound. I read a little bit, and nodded off quickly, having been lulled into a meditative state by the rhythm of the rainstorm. By Saturday morning, it seemed the whole earth had turned supernaturally green. I left the windows open the entire day, infusing the house with the wildly vernal scent of a just-cleaned earth.

This afternoon, after a trail run at one of my favorite spots, I sat at our new pine farmhouse table (a serious Craigslist score) with one of my favorite country stations playing as I plotted out our meals for the week.

It all felt so deliciously normal, and, after this past month, I was thankful for that.

Sunday: Paleo-ish Asparagus, Scallion & Goat Cheese Pizza  
I managed to find an almond and potato flour pizza crust at our local Whole Foods that inspired me to create a pizza based around fresh spring ingredients. I'll use a base of creamy goat cheese (I found this olive and herb one that looks delish) then top it with a combination of shaved asparagus, scallions, mint, and a touch of freshly cracked black pepper. With a side of arugula, it'll make for a perfectly fresh springtime dinner.

Monday: SweetGreen-Inspired Santorini Salad
I used to work about a block from the Dupont Circle SweetGreen, and I ate this salad, like, twice a week. It's that good. I forgot all about it until I saw the imitation recipe pop up on Kristin's blog, and all the flavors came back to me: the acidity of the lemon-flavored shrimp, the tang of feta, the crispness of cucumber, and the sweet burst of the red grapes (Kristin uses cherry tomatoes), all coated in a creamy cucumber and basil-flecked dressing. I can't wait to re-create it!


Tuesday: Leftover Pizza

I'll make extra tonight so that I can have leftovers later in the week!

Wednesday: Pork Belly Tacos

We picked up a giant package of local pastured pork belly at the farmers' market that I'm planning to use as taco filling this week, along with some shredded cabbage, cilantro, pickled onion (so easy--marinate thinly sliced red onion in whatever type of vinegar you have on-hand), and a dollop of creme fraiche. I typically use locally made white corn tortilla shells heated with a touch of olive oil under the broiler.

Thursday: Leftover Santorini Salad Ingredients (re-purposed with chicken)

I have some chicken breast in the freezer that I need to use up, so I'll create a second iteration of the Santorini Salad (see Monday's meal) using chicken instead of shrimp. I'll bake the chicken the night before with olive oil, sea salt, fresh oregano, and lemon slices, then shred it up and toss it with the other ingredients.

Saturday: Out to eat with my parents!
My parents will be in town for the long weekend, and I can't wait to spend some quality time together. They get in Friday afternoon, so after picking me up at work, we'll head out somewhere downtown Boulder for dinner (or takeout, depending on how everyone's feeling).


As a bonus, here are a few snacks I've been enjoying lately:

  • Plain Noosa yogurt with fresh berries or a crumbled up Larabar
  • Unsweetened dried mangoes
  • Organic turkey slices wrapped around avocado and cucumber
  • Cherry tomatoes and diced avocado with olive oil and sea salt
  • Slices of cucumber topped with little dabs of goat cheese
  • Carrot and celery slices with almond or cashew butter

What are you cooking and eating this week?

Check out past meal plans here for more inspiration. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Doing the hard thing


Gray skies have been emptying icy sheets of rain across the Front Range today. It's not a pleasant spring-like shower, the kind that patters gently along, leaving wildflowers kissed with tiny droplets of dew-like precipitation. It's a sharp and chilly rain that at times verged on sleet, more like a storm you might expect in, say, December, not the middle of May.

Weather-wise, it was not an ideal day for outdoor activity. In fact, the uncharacteristically bad conditions would have made the perfect excuse not to run. And I almost didn't. 


But something I'm consciously practicing these days is doing the hard thing. 


This practice is not the same thing as being hard on yourself. I think most of us are way too hard on ourselves already, especially women, and especially around themes of food and exercise. 


What I'm talking about is not this shame-based perfectionism and overcompensation for imaginary flaws. Rather, it's knowing who I am at my core and choosing to do the things that align with that version of myself. For me, that means I listen very carefully to where my thoughts originate. Are they coming from the most authentic version of me or from the small version--the one that just wants what I want when I want it?


As I near my thirtieth birthday, I'm reveling in how well I've come to know myself. And one thing I know about myself is that who I am at my core is very much alive and capable of doing the hard thing. I thrive on a challenge, and oftentimes, end up enjoying something all the more because it was hard-won, because I had to stretch and grow a little (or a lot) to get it. 


Knowing this means I couldn't let myself off the hook today, because who I am is not the kind of person who would let the weather keep them from a much-needed soul-cleansing workout.


So I ran. And I'm so glad I did, because it was an amazing feeling to be out there on a nearly empty trail with tiny shards of sleet on my eyelids, grinning like a maniac at the bittersweet beauty of the storm.


Sometimes it's as simple as a run. Sometimes it's something much more difficult than that. Do the hard thing; it's worth it.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Literary City Guide on Eat This Poem


I'm thrilled to be featured on Eat This Poem today, sharing a literary (and culinary) guide to my favorite spots in Boulder. Stop on over and take a look if you'd like.

Thank you Nicole for sharing your space with me today!