Sunday, July 27, 2014

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

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

Coconut water wars. Whoa!

Fascinated by peoples' morning routines.

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.


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.