Thursday, February 27, 2014

For the better.

Last night, I went to happy hour with a woman around my age, an introduction through a contact in my professional circle. Ambitious, whip-smart, and strikingly beautiful, this woman has carved out a successful career in Boulder's tech startup world, can talk entrepreneurial principles with ease, and rides dirt bikes on winding mountain trails in her spare time. In conversation over locally brewed beers, she revealed herself to me as assertive yet vulnerable, with a warm heart and a wide, easy smile.

My head thrown back in laughter for the hundredth time, I experienced the briefest of moments in which I saw the two of us from outside my body. And what I saw was not one amazing woman, but two. Peers, with twin rivulets of laugh-till-you-cry tears streaming down our cheeks, bonding over the joys and follies of gluten-free living and our shared experience of being female in the sometimes male-dominated world of tech.

It struck me in that moment that a younger and less secure version of myself would have felt threatened--diminished even--in the presence of this incredible woman. That I felt nothing but the purest joy at having found such a kindred soul stunned me into a temporary disoriented silence. Because, of course, what would have changed in these past ten years but myself?

Some shifts are so gradual that we don't see them until those moments in which we are somehow illuminated to ourselves in high definition, exposing where the lines and angles have diverged from the shapes of our past. In some places, we're lighter. In others, more shadowed. Sometimes it's only a fleeting shimmer, just a hint of a tingle of a new way of being in our bones. And sometimes we're knocked senseless with the realization that we are not who we once were. We're ourselves, but different. We're the same and yet, at the same time, wholly and irrevocably changed. 

In the end, things don't change as much as we think they do. But things change us, and, if we're lucky, for the better.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The truth (and my weekly meal plan)

If you were a reader of my past blogs, you may remember that I have typically strived, in my writing, to describe the simple pleasures that make our days whole and render life so very beautiful. This generally included a positive spin coupled with a tight spotlight on life's sweetest moments. Flowers, yoga, tea, and inspirational quotes were in high supply. This was representative of how I chose to see the world for a long while. My mantra? It's all good. To admit to anything less than total happiness would be ungrateful, messy, dangerous even.

But, things are changing, and I'm changing too. Perhaps I'm getting old. Perhaps I'm getting wise. Maybe it's the simple fact that I've been reading more in both volume and breadth. Whatever it is, I've noticed my worldview shift in some not-so-subtle ways. One of said shifts has been my realization that most effective writers embrace those messy bits, hunt them down even. In fact, the voices I have come to admire most are the ones that show up, day after day, willing to tell the uncensored truth about their realities: to reveal the parts that are cracked and to shine light on the patches of dark. It's not all good, they say, but you know what? It happened and I'm still here. Let's talk about it.

Thinking of this, I am reminded of Hemingway's directive: "Write hard and clear about what hurts." While my feelings toward Hemingway could perhaps be best described as complicated, I have always found a raw sort of inspiration in these instructions. The parts that hurt, after all, are what make us human and, furthermore, what allow us to appreciate the pleasure in contrast. Telling the whole story takes vulnerability. But, in the end, it's the only real chance we have of relating to each other, of looking one another in the eyes and recognizing a piece of ourselves within.

I guess all of this was just a long way of saying that I am trying to inject my writing (and, by extension, my life) with a bit more truth. And the truth is that these past few weeks have felt really hard. Like, really hard. Februaries have always been difficult. Even with plentiful doses of bright Colorado sun, the waning weeks of winter seem to stretch on without end. But, for some reason, this time, the season has felt even darker for me and last week, I finally worked up the courage to admit to myself and a few people around me that I was experiencing more than the usual winter blues.

Amidst this, it seems there's been a disproportionate number of terrible things happening. An acquaintance mourned the sudden death of a best friend. A beloved horse was laid to pasture after complications with colic. A friend's ceiling collapsed, the result of a freak flood. And yesterday, I got word that my dad had fallen on the icy driveway, tearing a tendon and fracturing a fibula. My parents live out in the country, two states and fourteen hours away. My mom will keep things together, but the next two months will be rough for them.

Even if I were in a sunnier state of mind, it would have been a weird and difficult week. It felt like too much, but of course, it wasn't too much. It just was. It happened - is happening - and I'm doing my best.

The ways that I cope with pain are profoundly simple and three-fold. I run. I write. I cook. Run, write, cook. Not even yoga makes the cut. Something about the sheer physical difficulty of running forces me to clear my mind of everything but the need for oxygen. Music pounding, calves throbbing, lungs burning. It's a prayer when I need one. It's hard and clear and it simultaneously hurts and feels good.

So I run, I write, and I cook as if my life depended on it. A word about the cooking; it is not always a pleasure and on the grayest of days it can be a downright chore, but it is always pragmatic to be well-fed and that practicality alone is a kind of quotidian joy. There is meditation in the chopping of vegetables, and sometimes tears (caused by onions or perhaps not). There is satisfaction in choosing just the right herb. There is even rebellion in the very act of nourishing your body with wholesome and home-cooked foods in a world of quick-fix convenience. It's real and good, hard and clear, all at once. I don't do it because I want to; I do it because I have to, because it grounds me and I would feel completely adrift if I didn't.

Monday: Ginger Scallion Pork Meatballs with a side of steamed bok choy
Tuesday: Baked Lemon Chicken over Greek Salad with Lemon and Oregano
Wednesday: Rosemary Lemon and Garlic Lamb with Sweet Potato Noodles
Thursday: Leftover Lemon Chicken with Caesar salad
Friday: Out to eat
Saturday: I'm going to an evening event in Denver, so no planned meal.
Sunday: Paleo Shrimp & Grits (I'll add some sautéed kale or spinach to it)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Winter Self-Care Essentials

Sometimes the most utterly simple shifts in a self-care routine can make all the difference in my state of mind. I find this especially true in the winter, when the mind's focus turns naturally inward. The pleasure of caring fully and deeply for oneself takes on a seemingly magnified significance during this time, and, at times, the frivolities of the physical self make it just a little bit easier to be kind and gentle to the person in the mirror.

Here are a few current favorite products in my winter rotation.

Clockwise, from upper-left:

Kaia 24hr Face Cream with Argan & Moringa Oils 

Living in a high-altitude climate like Colorado wreaks havoc on already sensitive skin. I like to dab this luxuriously creamy moisturizing primer in the areas around my eyes, nose, and mouth, to allay any redness or chapping caused by the dry winter air. Gluten-free, vegan, cruelty-free.

Weleda Rosemary Hair Oil

This is a super rich conditioning treatment with a wonderfully wintry scent. I massage a bit into my scalp and the ends of my hair about an hour before I shower and shampoo. All-natural (read more about how Weleda defines that term here), cruelty-free.

Acure Argan Oil

I ditched a standard moisturizer in favor of pure argan oil about six months ago, and never looked back. It's a light yet powerful moisturizing treatment that keeps my skin happy no matter the season. The Vitamin E and essential fatty acids also serve to smooth and repair any imperfections. All-natural, fair trade, cruelty-free, gluten-free.

MCMC Hunter Perfume Oil

The first time I read the description of MCMC's Hunter scent, I knew it was for me. "With tobacco absolute, organic Bourbon vanilla and balsam fir, this fragrance is best worn with a flannel shirt." I immediately ordered a sample, and it's been my signature scent ever since. I find the warm and spicy scent slightly too heavy for the summer months, but it hits just the right notes for fall, winter, and early spring. Contains natural and synthetic ingredients, but a higher concentration of the former than most perfume oils.  

Nubian Heritage Honey and Black Seed Oil
This is an ultra-rich shea butter that softens and protects skin from winter elements. It's pure bliss slathered on after a hot shower. The scent is sweet and slightly herbal, almost like a hot toddy. Certified organic and fair trade ingredients, cruelty-free.

Acure Argan Oil & Starflower Line Eraser

Another Acure favorite of mine, this balm combines healing and moisturizing argan and starflower oils to prevent fine lines and fade imperfections. I massage it into my forehead at night before I go to sleep. It may be my imagination, but I swear my skin looks younger in the morning. All-natural, fair trade, cruelty-free, gluten-free.

Other Winter Self-Care Essentials (Not Pictured)

Warm socks, spicy ginger chews, long hot showers, a fully loaded Kindle, roasted root vegetables, Malbec, clove and cinnamon candles, sweaty workouts, early bedtimes, and copious amounts of vanilla chamomile tea.

How do you care for yourself during the winter months?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

May your trails be crooked and winding.

Crooked trails at Boulder Valley Ranch this afternoon.
"May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets' towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you — beyond that next turning of the canyon walls."
-Edward Abbey, preface to the 1988 reprint of Desert Solitaire

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How To Have A Good Morning

Wake up early, even though it hurts. Consider journaling in your goldenrod yellow Moleskine, and feel vaguely bored by the words you already know you'll write. Decide to run instead.

Pull on your tennis shoes and cue up some hip-hop on your iPod. Blink your way into the fluorescent light of the gym. Run a mile on the treadmill. Then another. Then another. Lift your eyes to the creamsicle-striped sunrise on your walk home and feel reassured.

Do not, under any circumstances, check your email before your first cup of coffee.

Speaking of coffee, pour yourself a cup. Dark roast with coconut almond milk in your favorite ceramic mug. The mug is important here.

Drink your coffee in the shower for novelty's sake. Sing a little Johnny Cash while you shampoo, and the chorus of "Hallelujah." Use your face wash as a microphone. Stand under the hot water a little longer than necessary, or maybe a lot.

Meet your eyes in the mirror as you towel off. Use the good lotion, just because. You might need more coffee at this point.

Cook your eggs over easy. Something about the hue of the yolk will remind you that you neglected to journal this morning. Forgive yourself and move on.

Eggs over greens; appreciate the ritual. Take your multi-vitamin and definitely your Vitamin D.

Do not check your email during breakfast. Consider checking Facebook instead. Decide against it. Eat without distraction if you can bear it. Listen to music if you must.

As you drive to work, allow yourself to imagine that you see signs of spring around you. (You don't really, but you needn't tell yourself that.) Smile at the yellow lab pulling its owner down the street. Wave to the crossing guard.

Pay attention to the quality of the light. Don't numb out.

The chords of a song on the radio might move you to tears.

Let them. This means you are alive.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Fuel for Life: My Meal Plan for the Week

Stovetop citrus carnitas in lettuce wraps with sunshine sauce, from the last meal plan. This was SO awesomely good.
I've managed to stay remarkably healthy this season, but alas I seem to have finally caught a winter bug, so I'm taking it easy today. Thankfully, I'd already planned a healing chicken soup to kick off this week's meal rotation. I'll be alternating between bowls of soup and cups of ginger tea today. The weather's going to warm up this week, so I'm determined to feel well enough to take advantage (i.e. get out on some trail runs!).

Monday: Sick day = Classic Chicken Soup

My dad always made this perfect chicken soup when I was growing up. It's the ideal antidote to whatever winter malady ails you: colds, flus, chilly weather, or general doldrummery. The recipe itself couldn't be simpler. Add a whole chicken (the best quality bird you can afford) to a large pot with diced garlic, onion, carrots, celery, kosher salt, black pepper, fresh parsley, and enough cold water to cover it all. Bring your pot to a low boil, skimming off any bits that rise to the surface. Simmer for about 40 minutes to an hour. Serve hot with an optional (but recommended) sprinkle of parmesan.

Tuesday: Zucchini Lasagna with a green salad
This is a Paleo take on an Italian favorite, made with zucchini "noodles" instead of pasta. I'll round out the meal with a simple green salad (Bibb lettuce, cucumber, red onion, and - my newest obsession - Tessemae's dressing).

Wednesday: Ahi Tuna Poke Lettuce Bowl
The weather's supposed to warm up dramatically this week (highs in the high-50's and low-60's) so I figure I'll celebrate with a light spring-like meal. This tuna dish will come together in minutes. It's meant as an appetizer, but I'll serve it over a big bowl of lettuce with lots of avocado and call it dinner.

Thursday: Leftover Zucchini Lasagna
I have a work event Thursday evening, so I won't have time to make a meal from scratch. Leftover lasagna to the rescue!

Friday: Bacon-Wrapped Scallops with smoky mayo and sautéed greens
Friday is Valentine's Day, so I'm planning a bit of a special meal. My husband and I don't go too crazy for the holiday; however, it is a fun excuse to cook something fancy.

Saturday: Dinner Out in Denver 
We're planning to spend Saturday visiting the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Denver, so we may take the opportunity to try a new-to-us farm-to-table (and Paleo/Primal-friendly!) spot for dinner.

Sunday: Coconut Chicken over salad greens

I have some chicken breasts in the freezer that need to be used. This chicken will be great over salad greens with a drizzle of salad dressing. I'll probably add some sliced avocado and red pepper to jazz things up.

What are you cooking and eating this week?

Check out past meal plans here for more inspiration. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Sometimes a run is just a run, but sometimes it's a prayer.

Sometimes a run is just a run, but sometimes it's a prayer. Thank you so much for this body that works. For the bones that support and the muscles that stretch. For lungs that expand and a heartbeat that tells me so reliably whether to speed up or slow down. Thank you for the sun and the sky, and for this particular moment in time that's perfect simply because it is happening now. Thank you for the rush of oxygen that clears my head, softening the tough things and sharpening the good. For this, and for everything; thanks.

Sometimes the prayer is a request. For peace of mind. For an hour of clarity to see things as they really are. For the truth to be found in the confrontation with the physical self, a subtle reckoning that echoes on repeat. Right foot, left foot, breathe in, breathe out. My soul lives in a body that will not last forever. Please help me make the most of this life, to learn what I'm supposed to learn, and recognize the gifts when they are given. Please keep my heart open and strong, my loved ones healthy and near. Please help me to do the hard but necessary things. Please get me up this hill. Sometimes the request is a single word: help, or please, or air.

Sometimes a run is an absolution. Dear body, forgive me for my sins. For the fact that this is my first run in a week. For the chocolate I eat and the wine that I drink (present tense because I'm not going to stop). Please absolve me for the bacon, and the fact that I have no plans for a juice cleanse. I know the score's not even, but it's more balanced than ever before. I get enough sleep most nights. I'm doing my best. Forgive me. Thanks.

Sometimes a run is grace embodied. I run because I can. Because I have a body that is perhaps not built for speed, but nevertheless allows me to place one foot in front of the other, over and over again. Because I once hurt my ankle so badly I could not walk across the room and it took me six months to re-build the strength and because it still hurts if I step on a rock at just the wrong angle and because I get a little scared in a good way on a really steep trail. Because all definitions of growth include movement. Because I'm alive and living, blessed with a body and spirit that encounter difficult things and survive them. Because struggling to breathe cold air for an hour somehow makes other things seem easier, more bearable, and because that alone seems like a pretty good definition of grace.

Sometimes a run is a question. And usually that question is why. Sometimes it's more specific than that. Oftentimes it's not.

Sometimes a run is an answer. Sometimes a run is the answer. I got it. I hear you. Thanks.

Sometimes a run is just a run, but sometimes it's a prayer.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Read // Watched // Listened // Savored: January Edition

Here's a little peek at what I read, watched, listened to, and savored this month.


As I mentioned earlier this week, I just finished The Goldfinch. Have you ever read a book that sorta ruined you on literature for awhile because nothing else seems as compelling? I had that experience with The Goldfinch, so naturally I dove into another Donna Tartt book, The Secret History, in an attempt to recapture the experience. It's an interesting and well-written story, but isn't captivating me in the same way. I'll withhold judgment until I've finished it.

I adored Eleanor & Park, and have been dipping into Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl between chapters of The Secret History. (Yes, I read multiple books at a time.)

I was inspired by this blog post on how to use fear to empower your choices. Kate's words are always filled with such welcome wisdom.

I loved this post from Danielle on the joys of marriage. I sent a link to my husband immediately after reading it because it reminded me so much of our own relationship.

You Have To Do The Hard Things. I found so much truth in this simple list.

On Letting Go made me think of all the things I've released from my grip in the past decade, all the coulda, woulda, shouldas - and how much lighter I feel as a result.

Watching & Listening
I watched The Spectacular Now a couple weeks ago and adored it. The movie got so much right about high school - the confusion, the awkwardness - and did so with remarkable empathy for the young protagonists as they try to cope with some really shitty circumstances. The story is sweet yet riveting, and Shailene Woodley knocked it out of the park as Aimee. Make sure you have tissues handy.

I'm a little obsessed with this Nashville Cast cover of The Lumineers' "Hey Ho."

This song might have the most addictive chorus ever, and the video cracks me up. It's such a clever reversal of the stereotypical stoic man / emotional woman gender roles.

I watched 12 O'Clock Boys, and find myself haunted by its strangely beautiful dirt bike imagery and the painful clarity with which its subjects are trying desperately to subvert their oppressed circumstances. The documentary's young narrator will stay with you.

This. So much yes.

Morning coffee with this delicious toasted coconut almond milk. #perfection

Wildflower honey and orange coconut pudding. (Recipe coming!)

Afternoons writing at one of my favorite coffee spots, which shares space with an adjoining cheese & charcuterie shop. I sipped a "cowboy style" coffee and nibbled on the sampler plate (pictured above).

A weekend with nothing on the agenda except tomorrow's Superbowl party. Tomorrow may be for football, but today is for reading, blogging, listening to podcasts, moodling around the apartment, and preparing a leisurely meal (shrimp with roasted red pepper sauce over almond flour linguine).

What are you reading, watching, listening to, and savoring right now?