Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year: The Annual Post



As with most of my writing, this post is unplanned.

I have tried in 2015 to become more of a planner in this regard. I bought an actual planner. I bought sticky notes.

I set up a system.

Turns out, I am not a planner when it comes to the written word. I often quote Chuck Close when I think about creative work because it is work and you need to attend to it like a job in the sense that every day you show up and do it.

While I have a fierce work ethic, I don't tend to show up and do it in my own work.

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, a shitty way to treat what matters most to me (other than The Teenager, of course).

Why on earth would I not fling myself wildly, daily, into the abyss of words that is this run-on sentence filled blog?

I think about it daily.

I write something every day.

Just not this.

Now it's the end of the year and I always reflect (among other New Year's eve rituals) on what has come before. My anxiety usually pushes me into the future, but this time every year I consistently think of what has happened over the year.

It's not an uncommon practice. In fact, nearly 50% of goals set on New Year's Eve are still in place six months later, as compared to a mere 17% of goals set other times. So others know what I know: today is a good day to plan to do better.

But I digress, as is my habit. You know, when I have no plan.

So here it is. The annual New Year's Eve post. Last year it was resolutions. In 2013 it was a haiku.

In 2015?

I am at the end and still have no plan. And maybe that's the plan: no plan for 2015. I have goals I want to reach, things I want to do, but I don't want to lose the things I have learned. The tagline of this blog is "seeking joy," and maybe it's time to come back to that.

Say yes.

Explore.

Open my eyes.

Maybe no plan is exactly the plan.

People who know me might be shocked by that, but things are different. I am different. Life is different.

Whatever your plan/no plan is for 2016, if you are reading this, I wish you joy, abundance, happiness. Knowing you will never step in the same river twice, may you enjoy the feeling of the water on your toes and the gravel beneath your feet. May those you love love you back as wildly and fiercely as their heart allows. And may you continue walking in the direction of your dreams.

Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Giving Tuesday: Five Donations That Don't Involve Money

Even your salad loves it when you give.


Today is Giving Tuesday, the annual push to encourage people to give generously to causes they believe in at least one day of the year.

But what does "generous" mean?

There used to be a commercial that feature round-bellied kids or sad-eyed animals in cages that had the slogan "give until it hurts." I don't believe in that at all. Giving should be joyful and feel really good, warm and fuzzy and bubbly. Yes, I know what the slogan means, but sometimes it's important to reaffirm that giving feels good and should be done as frequently as possible. So we all can see how giving doesn't always mean money, here are five ways to give that are no monetary on Giving Tuesday:

1. Give time: This one is a common suggestion, but what does it mean to give time? Do you have to volunteer for it to count? Nope. Giving time can mean paying full and whole-hearted attention to your kid or your partner as they talk about their day. It can mean taking five or ten minutes and really being with your dog or cat (in the way that they love, even if it means putting up with them licking you, which I hate but which my dogs love.). By giving undivided attention you are sending the message that this person in front of you matters. Maybe this will be the stone in the pond that ripples outward.

2. Give extras: Give away books, clothing, household goods, electronics. Give away furniture and old appliances that work but you don't need. But don't just give them to a thrift store. Find people and organizations in need and give directly to them. Women's shelters for domestic abuse victims always need baby and children's clothes and diapers, and many of the women need professional clothes to interview for work. Contact the shelter and donate directly. Animal shelters always need old blankets and towels, and they can also always use toys, food, and newspapers. Clear out your attic, stop holding onto stuff you don't need, and give it to people who can use it.

Side note: giving away stained and ripped clothing is ungenerous and stingy. Throw those out and do better.

3. Give food: You know those ubiquitous "buy one, get one free" specials at the store? Starting today, bag the free one separately and donate it directly to a food bank. Or go through a community organization and adopt a family through the holidays. This can be especially important for families with children who may get most of their food through school. Once the holidays hit and school goes on break, they may struggle.

Side note: Really focus on nutritious food. My school ran a food bank for two years, and it was astonishing the crap that people donated. The "it's better than nothing" rationale is bullshit. Look for tuna, canned veggies, canned beans, rice, and pasta. Only give what you yourself would eat or feed your family. Stay away from cookies and other processed crap. If you must do that, try to find healthier versions. Low-income folks suffer disproportionately from Type 2 diabetes and obesity. Don't make it worse.

4. Give shelter where there is none: This year, The Teenager and I have made up large Ziploc bags filled with comfort items for homeless people we see. They have hand warmers, socks, a couple bars, travel-sized baby wipes, and a few odds and ends in each. We keep these in the car and hand them out when we get accosted. We carry one around with us. If I am being honest (which I always try to be), I don't 100% trust that a person on the street is going to use my money for food or shelter. I don't believe they are stranded and just trying to get back home. And I have had food thrown back in my face when I have given it to them. But they are people, and I can't do nothing. So we came up with the idea of comfort items and portable foodstuffs. The bags probably cost more to put together than the dollar or two I would give, but that's okay.

5. Give skill: Do you have a vital skill that you can give to the world, free of charge? Can you write a resume, build a bench, teach a class, tutor a child, or train someone to cook? Do that. Is there something you are passionate about that you can offer into the world? Do that. I am a yoga teacher, and my goal is to teach at least one class free a month. In this, I give not only physical fitness but also mindfulness, good karma, and skills to apply in the world; it's a type of giving that goes beyond the class. I am a writer, and I currently mentor two other writers who are just starting out, previewing pitches and pieces and offering suggestions and guidance when needed. This follows the apprenticeship model and also helps me continue to do what I love (teach) while connecting with other humans (which, let's be honest, I don't always love. The other humans. So it helps me get out into the world, which I need. But I digress.). Donating knowledge is the gift that truly keeps on giving.

So don't give until it hurts; give until you are bathed in the soft glow of self-congratulatory generosity. Give until you feel so good about yourself that you glow like a lightning bug. It's okay to feel good about yourself when you give. Give with no expectation of thanks, recognition, or reciprocation. Do it for the sake of the action.

Can you make a pledge to participate in giving, today and in the future? What will you give?  



Friday, September 18, 2015

Friday Links: Peace and Change Edition

Go ahead; get upside down this week. (image source)

The autumnal equinox is on the 23rd, and Peace Day is on the 21st, so this week is all about peace and change. These links are to prepare you not only for peace and change, but also the historical Papal visit that starts on 9/22.

Peace One Day: Jeremy Gilley started this push for an international day of peace back in 1999. he made a documentary called Peace One Day, pushing for all of those at war - nations, tribes, and citizens - to put down their arms for just 24 hours. Needless to say, he was unsuccessful, but in 2001 the United Nations declared September 21st and International Day of Peace. People all around the globe celebrate by attending concerts and volunteering. Oh, and also shooting each other and persecuting the innocent. But Rome was not built in a day. Maybe remember Sutra 1.33 today, and let that be your activity:

"By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard for the wicked, the [mind] retains its undisturbed calmness." (click to tweet!)

The Autumnal Equinox: It's important to know what these things are. It's also important because we all want to balance a raw egg on its end.

Because Yoga Balances Strength And Ease: Along those same lines, you should practice handstand on the autumnal equinox. Maybe it only works if you are shaped like a raw egg, but it couldn't hurt to try. Handstand is about strength, but it's also about alignment and bone stacking. Never say never.

The Pope's Visit: I am not normally a big fan of Catholicism (my fault! my fault! my fault!), but I am a fan of this Pope. He has brought compassion back to the Catholic Church, along with a little bit of common sense. This scares me for him, as many devout Catholics are fans of neither, and Pope Francis likes to mingle among the people. That his visit coincides with both the week of Peace Day and the change of seasons seems like no coincidence.

Now you're all set to handstand while being peaceful and celebrating the Pope's visit. What other wonderful things are on tap for your week ahead?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Yoga: The Next Step (Subtitled: The Art of Finding Your Worst Self)

Note: I have completed my 200-hour yoga teacher training and am starting the next level of training (500 hour) in November. I ran across this blog posted in December 2014, just one month after I started teacher training. Funny how some things have changed in a year, and how some things have absolutely stayed the same. I still need structure, I still argue with myself. This is why I am grateful that yoga is a practice, not a perfect.

Yoga: The Art Of Finding Your Worst Self

jack

Just like that, I have run smack into myself.

It's in the way I argue with Pantanjali's Sutras, choose the hour class over the 90-minute one, and judge the shapes I make as I learn the asanas.

It's the bargaining about whether or not I will go to yoga today because, after all, the teacher training only requires two classes and  I already did those, so technically I don't have to go.

It's hard. I don't believe in God, really, so the bhakti (devotional) yoga is killing me, and it's just like Jack Nicholson's crazy face through the door in The Shining: it's opening the door just enough so I can focus on how hard everything is and highlight the things I don't agree with and the parts I am bad at (nearly every pose, these days, apparently). Only meeting once a month leaves lots of times for assumptions and interpretations.

And then I read this from sutra 30:

"Yoga practice is like an obstacle race; many obstructions re purposely put on the way for us to pass through. They are there to make us understand our own capacities. In fact, this is the natural law. If a river just flows easily, the water in the river does not express its power. But once you put an obstacle to the flow by constructing a dam, then you can see its strength..." (source)

And then I guess that it is human nature to want the river to just flow smoothly, but how many people really allow it to do that? How many people let their lives run in an unhurried pace with no drama? More often than not we stir the pot to create a little current in the river of our lives. I think we enjoy the rapids, even as we complain about them.

If I am being honest (which I always try to be), I am a little over all of this self-discovery, which is unfortunate because there is so much more in store. So I guess the plan is this:


  • Make a rule: don't skip more than one day between yoga classes.  This is how you build a habit, and I should know because I just wrote two blogs on the topic. It takes an average of 66 days to form a new habit, big or small, and falling off the wagon or slipping up doesn't seem to affect that time period. However, taking a big break can stop the habit formation in its tracks. I feel better when I go to yoga, and I am a better human, and I just need to keep that in mind. I'm doing it for humanity.

  • Make a plan: my procrastination is going to bite me in the hind parts sooner rather than later, especially with all of my technology issues of late. So it's back to the "to-do" list and making a budget to keep up with the house rehab, the reading requirements, writing my $#@! book, and working. Plus finances, because I am going to need a new computer soon, and cash is our currency of choice around here. Maybe I'll figure that out on Monday.

  • Make a deal: I am so judge-y. Even that statement was judge-y.  I need to stop being so critical of the classes that I choose to take. Getting on the mat is challenge enough sometimes, so that has to be enough.

  • Make the effort: I go to class because my home practice is non-existent, and I need a teacher to push me. So I need to push myself in class. Coming back from a wrist injury is very discouraging, especially when so much is done on the hands and wrists, but within minor restrictions I can go much harder than I am currently going.

  • Make some balance: yoga is not just the asanas (poses) but also the other eight limbs, one of which is prana (breath, energy). I have been avoiding the breath. Sounds weird, but stop this instant and tell me how you are breathing. I bet you are holding your breath or breathing very shallowly, and your shoulders are hunched forward and clenched up near your ears. BUSTED. So I need to breath, to meditate, to try to quiet my brain. When I push myself in asana, sometimes it's all I can do to breath and stay upright, so my brain is only focused on that. Valuable, but I need to learn how to do it when I am not moving. HARD.
Can you tell I need a little structure in my life? I guess I will consider this as fortifying the banks of my own personal river to contain the raging flood of self-discovery. See how I did that?

What's raging in your river this week?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Friday Links: Short Week Edition

Because BEAUTIFUL.


With Labor Day comes the first short week of the school year, and that deserves a little celebration as the sun dips below the horizon on your four-day workweek. This week's links focus on the joy of the short week.

But First, Read A Little History: Do you even know what Labor Day is? Surely it's more than an opportunity to day drink on a school night. Educate yourself, people!!!

The 4-Hour Workweek Blog: I have mixed feelings about this guy, but in the spirit of working less than five days, how about working for less than five hours? A week? I feel like I may have fed his wallet more than my brain by the purchase of his book, so here are some online tools for you to work less. His goal is to set things up and walk away, letting whatever those things are run themselves to make money. Not a bad idea...

Sriracha-Lime Popcorn: Because every short week needs an awesome snack. Pair it with a peach and jalapeno margarita and take advantage of the last days of sweet juicy peaches before darkness descends.

Why You Will Fail To Have A Great Career: I have a friend who is trying to decide whether or not to pursue a career that would require going back to school for five years. In this TEDTalk, Larry Smith talks about all the reasons why we fail to have great careers. Here's a hint: you have to be more than interested and competent. To my friend: GO.

Why You Should Chuck It All And Travel More: Okay, maybe not, but time off and out in the world enriches you in ways that you cannot possibly imagine. If you used your day off to binge watch Orange Is The New Black, then you may have wasted your time.

Full disclosure: The Teenager and I are currently binge-watching Parks and Rec. So I am not holier than thou and may, at times, actually be quite hypocritical (currently saving episodes of The Great British Bake-Off for a rainy day. Srsly).

And because we should never, ever forget the people who lost their lives today, take a moment to hug the fuck out of your loved ones. 

I worked on my day off, so technically this whole post is hypocritical, but I worked today so I can build in more short weeks later. How was your short week?



Monday, September 7, 2015

What's New And What's Next: Editorial Calendars

So those of you who read this blog on occasion will know two things:

1. I have to spellcheck "occasion" because it is one of those words I just can't quite figure out
2. I am constantly talking about how to write and publish more consistently

The first one will probably never change, but I am working on the second one in a very concrete way by creating an editorial calendar. Editorial calendars organize writing topics and publishing schedules so that you always have something to write and always have a post in the pipeline. Right now, it looks like this:

That coffee cup in the lower left corner is empty. #NotGood
Yes, that is a planner, an old-fashioned tool if ever there was one. Guess what? I love a planner. I love it more than the fancy editorial calendar I signed up for online because it will allow me to work on the future without lugging my laptop around. I don't always want to be chained to electronics.

But I digress. For those of you who are writers, wondering how an editorial calendar might help you, here's what I have learned:

1. You need to use what works for you. CoSchedule is a great online editorial calendar that also helps organize and schedule social media, but I prefer the tactile sensation of writing it down. Once I get the act of planning and working ahead down, then maybe I will look at it again, but for now, my June-July planner works great. Plus, CoSchedule costs money, and I am a big fan of #free.

They do offer a 14-day free trial, so if you are a fan of online tools, give it a whirl. 

2. Everything is a blog idea, but creating overarching topics help. I currently have two blogs and a million ideas for both. Anything can spark an idea, but if you have main topics that you cover, you can easily tailor the ideas to your blog. For example, my food blog right now has four main topics: how-tos, recipes, ingredients and local food, and reviews. My next blog on the calendar is a recipe for gluten-free pizza, but I am also working on a blog about the Maryland blue crab (local ingredients and local food) and a book review of Ratio by Michael Ruhlman (life-changing book for a cook). I keep a running list of quotes, ideas, and websites, then look for an angle that fits my mission.

3. Speaking of a mission....Write a mission statement for your blog. I will be honest and tell you that I am still in the process of this. I will also be honest and say that until it is finished I will have an uneasy feeling. A mission guides everything that you do, as an entrepreneur or a writer, and without one you are simply flailing about wildly.

From here
Side note: A mission is not quite the same as a goal. My goal is to monetize my blogs usefully for my readers so that they make money for me and replace my mercenary writing income.  This goal will hopefully be realized as I focus on each blog's mission. 

4. Don't sweat it. I won't lie: I sweat it hard. Anxious is my operating system. I am a worrier. I get overwhelmed by everything I don't know about what I am doing. This is bad business and patently unhelpful. In these times, like today, where I have a million little notes scattered across three notebooks, I like to remind myself of this lovely little saying:

What's the best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time. (click to tweet!)

So today I am working on organizing blog ideas into topics and matching them with a theme or a structure for the end of September. I am writing this blog to help me track the process and to start to test some new technologies (like the "click to tweet" and the gif above).

5. Social media should be an integral part of your editorial calendar. I have used social media in a haphazard way, but an editorial calendar can help you plan and keep track of how well a blog post is doing. I use Hootsuite to schedule social media, but I don't follow up and re-visit posts that do well (or do poorly). This is part of the learning curve for me (tailoring the message to the media), and honestly one of the reasons I have avoided this whole process for so long. But as the seasons change, it's time to move forward and get serious.

I am still a bit overwhelmed by this beginning, and the realization that I am going to have to do this type of planning on a regular basis, but I am also hoping that I will be able to streamline what I do a little bit. Right now, I don't take any days off from working, and I sometimes have long gaps in publishing. This is not good for me as a writer or my blogs as a place to get any kind of legit info. I want to be able to take a week off and still have all of my blogs and social media go out. I want to be able to spend a day at a museum or on a road trip exploring without worrying about how far behind it will put me. I can build these things in. #EyesOnThePrize

Writers, what about you? How do you stay on track with blogs and social media? Do you use an editorial calendar? 

Friday, September 4, 2015

Friday Links: Express Edition

This feels like a cross between judgment and love, like he's telling me to get back to work...

It is the Friday of my last week of sort of vacation, but I am trying to be a little more disciplined all the way around, so sticking to a list of Friday links is imperative at this juncture.

Because in a direct contradiction to the above sentence I am behind and still have an article due today that is not yet even started, here is the express version of Friday Links:

3 Things They Don't Teach You At Yoga Teacher Training: Super relevant for me as A) I just ended my 200-hour training, and B) I have decided to embark upon the 500-hour training that starts in November.

New doughnut shop opens down the street from me: Oh, HELL YES. I will gluten the shit out of myself for a hot doughnut, and B Doughnuts is opening half a block from my house some time this month. It wasn't enough to have Center Cut doughnuts selling at the weekly farmer's market; now I can get them seven days a week. CRAP.

More reasons to get out of town: Because as much as I love to have a settled place, I still love to travel and see new stuff, here are 101 excuses...um...reasons to travel. As if anyone really needs that many. It's a bit gluttonous to even list more than 10.

This Labor Day weekend is a French movie fest (with doughnuts and coffee), sweet corn risotto, sleeping in, and deck weatherproofing at our house. What are y'all planning?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

End Of Summer: Wiffle, Washington, And Cal Ripken, Jr.



It has been a crazy week at Kasa Kolbeck with family visiting from the Pacific Northwest for Dane's memorial Wiffleball tournament at Redwing Farm in West (By God) Virginia and the cramming of the very last of the summer fun . The picture above is our crazy, wonderful Wiffle family, some of whom were good friends of Dane's, many of whom I don't know very well but love them  because they gave Dane so much.

Other prominent features of the past seven days include:

Walking another 500 miles in DC: I always forget how incredible DC is until I go down there. We did a big loop that included the Washington monument, Lincoln Memorial, the White House, and the National Museum of Natural History. Heads-up: apparently, the Nation's Front Lawn is getting a major facelift, including installing irrigation systems, so it is torn up and fenced off. Still pretty cool. We need to figure out how to make it an easy day trip that is affordable so we can get down there more. #SpendingMoneyLikeWeGotIt

Finally catching our neighborhood ice cream truck: Although this may not seem like much, our neighborhood ice cream truck sells SOFT SERVE. Delicious soft serve for reasonable prices out of an old utility truck that would be scary if he were not selling the aforementioned delicious soft serve. I have made a batch of brownies nearly every night, and those crumbled on some soft serve is THE BUSINESS.

This:

The 20th anniversary celebration of Cal's 2,131st game in a row, breaking Lou Gehrig's "unbreakable" record. The Orioles celebrated by losing to the Rays 11-2 in one of the worst games I have seen in a long time, but Cal was there to throw out the first pitch, and damnit if he didn't stay until the top of the 7th, even as the Orioles played a seriously crappy game.

And this:

#CityForever

I'll also be damned if I'm not the parent of a 10th grader now. There was cursing on the morning of this day, so there were no proper pictures, but I had to mark it somehow. This is The Teenager and her friend walking towards the Castle on the Hill on the first day. I have probably been more vocal than I should be with The Teenager about how much I hate public school and am going to try to tone it down this year (so far I am failing miserably because there is still so much fun stuff to do, and she is locked in school 8 hours a day and that #HazTheDumb. But I digress). Tenth grade. Jesus.

I do actually have all of these brilliant blog posts lined up but things are a bit chaotic right now. September is our lockdown mode for all things financial, scholarly, and work-related, so hopefully I can dig deep and get some real writing done. I swear to god there is a pizza crust recipe coming, too. It will happen.

How did you spend your last week of summer (according to back-to-school commercials)?



Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Links: School's Back IN Edition

My heart horse, Sadie.

I am always annoyed this time of year with all of the commercials and posts about how happy adults are that kids are going back to school. I don't actually want The Teenager to go back; I enjoy her company and want to drag her to all sorts of more interesting places than school. Plus, school gets in the way of pretty much everything. I can think of a million better ways to spend 36 hours a week.

Alas, she has chosen public high school and is enjoying it. So back to school it is.

That being said, here are a few links I have found solace in this week.

An explanation of barrel-strength whiskey: I periodically get junk mail from a place called Caskers that features a variety of cask-strength bourbon. For some reasons, the onslaught of these bourbons increased this week. Maybe school has something to do with it. #AllOfTheBourbon

A lunch-packing tutorial: The Teenager takes her lunch to school, and yes, I pack it every morning. She is a very picky eater in that she doesn't like soup, cold pasta salad, most sandwiches, and hummus. This makes packing lunch tricky, as I also refuse to load it down with prepackaged bullshit like Goldfish and "fruit" snacks. The best thing I have been able to come up with is lots of little snacks like snap peas, nuts, and berries, and bento boxes are perfect for that sort of thing. She still comes home starving (because she eats lunch at 10:20 and doesn't get home until four), but this gives me tons of little compartments to tuck stuff into.

A little eye candy: Let's objectify some dudes here, shall we? I don't know which rock I have been under, but apparently, #DILF is a thing, as is manbuns. This Instagram account focuses on the latter and has tons of the former. Yowza.

A little story about a picky show horse: Finally this week, the end of the summer, as with most transitions for these past two years, has been bittersweet. This story is about a high-level show horse who goes into the ring without a bridle (she is ridden in a halter), and it reminded me of my beloved former pony, Sadie, who I found out this past week is really not doing well. She has a "neurological condition" and had to have an eye removed. Now she spends most of her days stuck in a stall and gumming soaked alfalfa cubes to keep her weight up. I realize that she is old, but for a horse who loved to run and felt best and healthiest when she was out roaming the pasture with a good buddy, this ain't living. I wish I had not found this out, and I regret leaving her behind. She would not have gone out like that with me; better to have a shorter, fuller life than to decay slowly in a stall. And shorter is relative; she turns 31 this January.

And come to think of it, that's a damn fine first lesson of the school year. Get out there and live some life, people. Don't sit around and decay in a stall.

This weekend is the first annual (and probably last overall) Dane Kolbeck Memorial Wiffle Ball tournament at Redwing Farm in Sinks Grove, WV. Planning on sharing some drinks with old friends and making lots of noise late into the evening in honor of Dane.

How was your last week of summer?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Lessons In Anxiety

(I'm the one in the back in the pink top on the right. Trying not to fall off. Seriously.)

About 90 minutes before this photo was taken, I wasn't quite sure I would make it to this lesson.

Saturday was my first SUP yoga class, and I had been looking forward to it for six months. Halfway through my 200-hour yoga teacher training, I decided that I wanted to become certified in teaching stand-up paddleboard yoga, even though I had never done it before. Without getting all astrological (it's a science, y'all), as a Pisces I am at my most peaceful and relaxed on, near, or in water. Yoga challenges me mentally, and the two seem like a slam-dunk of yoga teaching and learning for me. Plus, it looked hella fun, let's be honest.

So why would I consider cancelling just an hour before class was scheduled to start?

Anxiety.

Stupid, relentless, ridiculous, inconvenient anxiety.

Anxiety that, at times, requires medication (and I am looking into medical marijuana because why the hell not?).

Anxiety that has left me passed out on the side of the road in the dark, with a six-year-old daughter waiting patiently in the car while I woke up, finished puking, then got back into the car.

Anxiety that laid me out on the floor of the bathroom in the Georgia Aquarium on that same kid's birthday for three hours, unable to stand up, feet sticking out of the stall, her little teeny voice saying as I woke up from fainting, "Mommy? Did you know your hand is in the toilet?" (side note: not one single person asked if they could help or if we were okay in THREE HOURS that I was on the floor. NOT ONE.)

Anxiety on an otherwise amazing day that involved canning, farmer's market shopping, and dog walking. A beautiful, 84-degree miracle of a fall day in the summer.

Then WHAM. Hit in the face.

The more I talk about my anxiety (which is infrequently and not even remotely this publicly because it's no one else's business really and who the hell really wants to hear it anyway?), the more people I meet who experience the same thing. I have resigned myself to taking a pill when I need it (which makes me giggle even as I am taking it because it's like taking a "chill pill," which brings me back to the 80s), but I am still hopeful that some day it will disappear on its own or I will have amassed enough tools to get through it without drugs.

Saturday I popped a pill and breathed while I waited for the anxiety to pass, then drove down to a flat calm inlet and SUPed like a crazy person. At the end of the lesson, lying on my back on the board in savasana, arms trailing in the water, sun shining down on my face, I realized how lucky I am and felt an immense wave of gratitude wash over me. Anxiety is not so welcome  that I wouldn't immediately hand it over if given the chance, but it offers me the opportunity to be so much more grateful for the experiences I have because of what I have to go through to have them. At the end of the class my heart was full, and I felt lit up by the revelation of yoga on the water. Had I not nearly been incapable of that experience, it may not have felt so sweet.

Do you have any gifts disguised as a curse?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday Links: ADHD Edition


A map of Chicago on a building in Chicago. Very Inception-y.

It's Friday!

Funny how even though I work at home and every day is basically the same (so much so that I often lose track in the summer of the day and date) that "Friday" still has a magical ring. Mostly it means we stay away from the grocery store for two days until everyone else goes back to work.

But I digress.

This week was gone in a flash, with one new writing client firing up and the HVAC in our new house winding down. Balance in all things, right?

I have felt pulled in many different directions, scattered, this week. I feel like there are things I need to get completely finished with (like processing the end of my yoga teacher training and organizing a scrapbook of sorts of our three-week roadtrip), but I cannot gather myself together enough to focus on those things. This results in some epic time-wasting on the computer.

Here are just a few of the things I found interesting in my travels around the interwebs this week. I figure if I put them here maybe A) I will remember they exist, and B) someone else might get something out of it. 

A handstand tutorial: Okay, it's not very yogic to strive for a particular asana, but I cannot help myself. In Georgia I had a bit of a handstand practice and have lost it since moving to Maryland. It is perspective-shifting to be upside down, and it makes me feel strong and centered. I have been revisiting this practice periodically and found this tutorial to work with. Good stuff.

A video on writing: Ta-Nehisi Coates is a Baltimore native who wrote and spoke so eloquently during the Baltimore riots/unrest/whatever last spring. Here he talks about his process of becoming a writer. As a writer, I find these sorts of interviews/chats tremendously helpful, especially from people I admire. I appreciate hearing about the struggle.

A better way to watch the Republican debate: Bad Lip Reading strikes again with this video of the Republican debate. I am looking forward to many of these as we slog through the next 15 months of political idiocy.

A tomato sauce recipe with no peeling of tomatoes: Grating with a box grater is the shortcut. I am not sure about this recipe for canning (and don't really love this cook), but I need to find something soon, as it is TIME TO CAN.

UPDATE: Used the box grater Saturday morning to remove tomato skins without blanching and fuss, and it worked amazingly well. Put up nine jars of tomatoes for some sunshine in the winter.


This weekend for us features standup paddleboard yoga, an Orioles game, and some housecleaning before guests arrive. What's on tap for you?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tempus Fugit: On Taking A Break

So it's August 18th, and the last post here was July 11th.

A three-week cross-country road trip with The Teenager is my excuse.

I have found it difficult to start up again, not because I have nothing to say or note or write down.

This happened:



The Corn Palace, home of the best corn-shaped caramel corn EVAR.



And this:

Feeding prairie dogs outside the entrance to the Badlands. Yes, we touched them. Yes, it was AWESOME.

And this:

Me and ALL OF THE BOURBON at Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, KY.

And in between, many numbers of things, some of which are documented in photography, and some of which floated past with car windows the only frame.

In the week since we have been back, I have earned my RYT-200 (yoga teacher) designation, and we have done school shopping. I got another lovely writing assignment and have coerced two people into testing my gluten-free pizza crust recipe.

In other words, life has intervened. I suppose I should be writing things down, but sometimes a break from recording every moment in words (and pictures) is necessary and good.

My brain is making space to process all of the things that are happening right now (or have happened in the past few weeks), and that is occurring as we settle back into a routine and focus on practical things, like guests coming to town, back to school, and finding patio furniture.

The cup is full, the time is flying. A break from the electronic tether was necessary and good, but I think I am back. I think. There never seems to be enough time, yet we all have exactly the same 24 hours as Einstein and da Vinci. #NotAGoodExcuse

How was your summer? Did you take a break?


Saturday, July 11, 2015

7 Things You Need To Know Before You Start Yoga



Yoga is a mystical, life-changing practice that is thousands of years old. It is also decidedly non-Western, which means that many of the common practices in a typical yoga class can be confusing. Keeping up with the Sanskrit, sutras, and chanting can be challenging enough. Here are 7 things you need to know before you start yoga.

1. Yoga pants are notoriously see-through.

If you choose to wear yoga pants, bend way over in the dressing room and take a good, long look. That unflattering dressing room light will highlight any light shining through where the sun don't shine. Better in the dressing room than on the mat in front of the rest of the class. Yoga pants are not a requirement, though. Generally, pants that allow you to move are good for yoga, with bonus point if they are slightly fitted so the teacher can see your knees to help you with alignment.

2. The only way around VPL is a thong.

I have been doing yoga off and on for at least 15 years but seriously for the last two. Just last week, I finally asked a yoga teacher how she got around VPL (visible panty line): no undies? Thong? Thong it is, especially if you are not 100% sure that your yoga pants aren't see through (hello!). In addition to eliminating the VPL issue, the butt floss action of the thong can really highlight the separate actions of each side of the pelvis in, say, Warrior I.

3. Gentlemen, peekaboo is no good.

When the weather gets warm, dudes in yoga class feel the need for a little free ballin'. Resist this urge or risk giving your yoga teacher (and the rest of the class) a sneaky flash of your down below. As the thong-answering yoga teacher above said, "That cannot be unseen." Throw those balls into a jockstrap or running shorts that will properly contain them. No one but your significant other needs a view of THAT.

4. Not everyone cleans their mat.

Many studios offer mats for your use during class. This is great because if you are just starting out you don't need to buy your own mat. However, not everyone who uses the mat uses the mat cleaner that is usually strategically placed by the mat storage. This can not only be amazingly smelly, but these mats can also harbor foot fungus, sweaty balls, and other things you wouldn't want on your face. Do yourself a favor and go to class early so you can clean your borrowed mat and give it time to dry before class begins.

5. Come to class early to shift gears.

Nothing is worse than rushing around and trying to squeeze yourself into the front row because you are late to class. Give yourself enough time so you have at least five minutes to settle into the class. For popular classes, you may need to allow more time if you don't want to be in the front row or sandwiched in a hastily-created third row. Plus, when you are late to class, you interrupt the teacher's flow, and it's rude as hell to make others move for you. Don't be rude as hell.

6. Yoga people can be assholes.

Yes, it's true. For some reason, people expect all of those who do yoga to be peaceful and nice. Not very yogic, but as with anything, there are assholes in yoga, like the jerks that eyeball your clothes or don't acknowledge your presence when you sit down next to them. Popular classes can seem clique-y, but don't sweat it. In some cases, the yoga people aren't actually being assholes; they may just be trying to center themselves before class, or they may be having a bad day. You will be able to recognize the jerks with the fancy clothes soon enough. They are the ones who wear Lululemon everywhere even when they only go to class just once a week and don't practice at home. They are on their own path, and you don't need to be near it. Namaste, bitches.

7. Seriously, child's pose or taking a break is 100% okay.

I have hurt myself muscling through a class that was too challenging for me. I have become dizzy and nearly fainted, refusing to stop in an ashtanga class that completed the entire primary series in 90 minutes. This is not only dumb, but it is also dangerous. Taking a break in child's pose is probably the purest form of yoga you can do: you are actually listening to your body and doing what works for you. You are allowing yourself to be your best teacher. This is yoga, more than the handstand and the fancy backbend.

Bonus #8. Yoga is a practice, not a perfect.

Even though Instagram would have you believe otherwise, not every day in yoga class is a flexible, strong wonderland of beauty. Sometimes your mind yells at you the entire time you are on the mat about how stiff you are and why can't you bend like the lady next to you and who do you think you are to even start this practice? Everyone, and I mean everyone, has days like this. It is part of the path of yoga. On these days, don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to a friend who was struggling in the same way. The most beautiful part of yoga can also be the hardest thing to keep in mind: everyone is a beginner.

If you've done yoga before, what would you add to the list?

Friday, July 3, 2015

8 Reasons Why Naps Are Good For You


I took a nap today. Not the kind where you accidentally fall asleep on the couch and wake up 45 minutes later, stiff in the neck and crusty in the temperament, unrested and more tired than you were when you started.

I planned this nap.

I took off my bra. It was pantsless. I went to bed. There may have been drooling, and there was absolutely dreaming. This nap was no accident, and it was glorious.

I recognize that even writing this may perpetuate the notion of the lazy freelance writer, but exactly the opposite. I had been up since six, meeting deadlines, working on my food blog, researching gluten-free bread, and editing seven blogs for submission. Then I walked the dogs, cleaned out the 'fridge, and did the dishes by hand. Right around one I went to bed with a book and let nature take its course.

I earned my nap. And even if I hadn't, guess what? Turns out, naps are actually good for you. Here are 8 reasons why.

1. Naps can counteract a bad night's sleep. Researchers found that even a 30-minute nap can mediate the stress hormones activated by a poor night of sleep.

2. Naps make you smarter. A brief nap after a lesson can help students retain the information they have just learned. Thousands of adolescents can definitely get behind this research.

3. Naps make you more alert. NASA studies prove this to be true, and who wants a sleepy astronaut?

4. Naps make you less of an asshole. Let's face it: when you're tired, you're cranky. A short nap can refresh you just enough to keep it together until cocktail hour, when you can allow alcohol to work its magic. There's no research for this. It's just true.

5. Naps are our biological imperative. Eight-five percent of mammals are polyphasic sleepers. This means that it is downright unnatural to sleep all at once. Nap like our other hairy animal friends (or Spaniards, who typically rise early, have a huge lunch, nap or rest for several hours in the afternoon, then stay up late).

6. Naps make you more creative. This may explain why so many of the artists in the American Visionary Art Museum's current exhibit are fond of naps, and also why Einstein favored an afternoon snooze. As a writer, I am merely recharging my creative batteries.

7. Naps increase productivity. Seriously. If they are good enough for Google, who invests in napping rooms and strange-looking pods that can be closed so you can ostensibly nap in the middle of a crowded room, then it's good enough for me.

8. Naps release stress. Even if you don't actually sleep, the simple act of escaping to rest relieves stress. Ask parents of toddlers; if you can get them into the bed, even without sleeping, that's a huge relief!

So maybe my nap was a little excessive today, but all you really need is 20-30 minutes. Drinking a cup of coffee before you nap can actually boost the positive effects of napping; called a "coffee nap," this is to the second decade of the 21st century what the power nap was to the 1980s. Sometimes a guided meditation or session of yoga nidra can help you to relax, even if you cannot actually sleep.

What say you? When is the last time you gave in to your baser urges and napped gloriously?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Write Like A Motherfucker And Other Writing Advice

(the tyranny of the keyboard)

I love my "job." It's in quotes not because I don't get paid for it (I do) and not because it isn't work (it is) but because for as long as I can remember I thought I would be a writer.

And technically, mostly by accident and circumstance, and also because I get paid to do it, I am a writer, and it is actually how I make my living, so it qualifies as a job. There are two things I do as a writer:

1. Mercenary writing work: This is usually referred to as freelance writing, but in my head I see myself as a mercenary sailing the seas of the internet, loyal to no one country but getting the job done for all. In a less glamorous view, this is where people pay me to write blog posts, articles, and snippets of content, or they give me ducats to read their work and polish it. Sometimes I get credit, sometimes I don't (but I still post some of it to my Pinterest writing page). This is how the lights stay on and the bills get paid.

2. My own writing: This is the writing that I put off and generally procrastinate about but which gives me tremendous joy (when done well) and inconsolable heartache (when the words don't come).

It is to this heartache that I address this blog. The heartache of the lazy, the lost-for-words, the plain old what-the-hell-should-I-say days. There are, fortunately, thousands who have come before me, much more famous and skilled than I will ever be (let's be honest with ourselves), who can address the very issue of how to work when the work won't come.

I get a tremendous amount of solace from the knowledge that every writer in history has struggled to write. From just planting their hind end in the chair to actually putting words on paper or computer screen to people thinking that you don't have a real job because all you do is "dink around online," everything about writing is challenging. It is a beautiful thing that in this land of struggle there are kindred spirits, brilliant writers and artists, many of whom even in the midst of a crisis of writer's block proportions come to the same conclusion.

Write like a motherfucker.

While I am actually not a huge fan of Cheryl Strayed's, how can one argue with this?

“Writing is hard for every last one of us… Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.”

Another person I turn to frequently when the rock echoes at the bottom of the well is Chuck Close. He is an artist whose work has stayed with me, in large part because of the workman-like manner in which he constructs his pieces. He takes photographs of faces, and then, in an art-school-type way, enlarges them to huge proportions using a grid drawn on an enormous canvas (think 10'x10' portraits). The grid lines remain on the work; he doesn't erase them or attempt to cover them. This workman's dedication to The Job rings through one of the most profound pieces of advice on creativity that I have ever heard (or followed):

"Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work."

Show up, get to work: that is how the creation happens.

Write the crappy piece of writing. Take the horrible picture.

Feel bad about your awful work? Good. Filled with self-doubt? Even better.

"But the problem is that bad writers tend to have the self-confidence, while the good ones tend to have self-doubt." 

Charles Bukowski knows a thing about self-doubt (and a good bit of self-loathing, I'll warrant). If you can somehow manage to show up anyway, to go to work, to dig the mine, then the work is its own reward. And if the vein goes away or the levy runs dry?

Back to Chuck Close:

"...the most interesting thing is to back yourself into your own corner where no one else’s answers will fit. You will somehow have to come up with your own personal solutions to this problem that you have set for yourself because no one else’s answers are applicable."

Back yourself into a corner and figure that shit out. Be honest in your writing in a way that is true to your own voice and where you come from and things will happen. If it feels fake, it is. If it feels true, it is (for you).

But above all, sit down, every day, and write.

Write like a motherfucker.

I share this advice when I most need to hear it, when my work is taking a turn for the better or the worse, when it is time for rubber and road to become acquainted and the mind is willing but the flesh is weak.

I share it because writing is lonely work that millions of people do (to the tune of a white-noisy two million blog posts a day) but no one really talks much about in person (kind of like masturbating, only way more than two million of us doing it at once).

I share it in hopes that you will add your own advice to the comments: what is your writing routine, and what do you do when the words don't come?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Free Yoga In Baltimore, Plus A Prize!



In my yoga teacher training program (and all over the Instagram, the Facebook, and the Tumblr) there has been a conversation started about to whom yoga belongs. Who gets to do it?

If you believe most advertisements (still), it's wealthy, skinny white women in Lululemon, attending retreats in exotic locales, floating effortlessly up into handstands, or contorting their lithe bodies into pretzel-y shapes.

If you read the Hatha Yoga Pradipika

"The Hatha yogi should live in a secluded hut free of stones, fire, and dampness to a distance of four cubits in a country that is properly governed, virtuous, prosperous, and peaceful." 

So in other words, according to one of the most ancient, foundational yogic texts, no one in this day and age should be able to practice yoga. Who really lives in a virtuous, properly governed country?

Well, I call bullshit. The people who should practice yoga are anyone who wants to practice yoga. Young, old, skinny, fat, white, brown, rich, or poor. Stiff or bendy. Strong or puny. Injured or healthy.

The economics of yoga is where it gets tricky, but luckily, Baltimore has a plethora of free or donation-based yoga classes offered throughout the summer. Here are just a few.


This class is held in Robert E. Lee Park off of Falls Road just north of Northern Parkway (easy access from I-83). The class is led by Dave Martin and is located across the bridge by the riverfall.

Bentalou Rec Center, Fridays, 6 p.m. and Hunting Ridge Presbyterian Church, Sundays at 4 p.m.

This free yoga class at the rec center (222 N. Bentalou St) is just one among many free fitness options offered through Healthy West Baltimore. The Friday class is a beginner class, while the Sunday class is for more experienced yogis. The calendar may change after July 2nd, so bookmark that link for current free classes.


Brick Bodies offers a free weeknight yoga class at Pier V (711 Eastern Avenue) in partnership with Waterfront Partnership, Inc. Register on their website in the link above, and check out their other free offerings (like kayaking). This class may change based on availability of instructors, so if you are set on yoga, definitely plan ahead.


Charm City yoga offers a free class every Sunday at West Shore Park in the Inner Harbor (501 Light Street). Expect a flowing class, as most Charm City Yoga classes focus on vinyasa. Also offered by Waterfront Partnership, Inc.


Taught by Adam Kantelas and held outside at Baltimore Free Farm in Hampden. Pick up some produce or tend your community garden plot at the same time!

Vinyasa (flow), Sundays, 10 a.m.

For you late(r) risers, Baltimore Free Farm also offers a 10 a.m. Sunday vinyasa class taught by Hina Ahmed. This is a pay-what-you-can class, but if times are tight bring whatever you can.


The American Visionary Art Museum on Federal Hill offers free movies on Thursdays during the summer. Come early on August 6th for free yoga with Charm City yoga. Yogis of all levels from novice to pro are welcome. Grab a quick bite in the new cafe (and your the museum for free!), then stay for a free screening of Awakenings.

East Mt. Vernon Place Square, Saturdays, 8:30 a.m.

A free weekly, yoga class in the shadow of the monument.

While not entirely free, many Baltimore yoga studios offer community classes for $5 (Yoga on York) or $6 (Baltimore Yoga Village) or new student specials like 30 days of yoga for $30 (Yoga on York, Charm City Yoga, Baltimore Yoga Village).

Yoga is truly a practice for every body. 

But wait, you say. I don't have a mat, and these free classes require that I bring my own.

Well, friends, you are in luck. Welcome to our first inaugural giveaway. 

I love giving stuff to people. It makes me happy. I also love helping people win stuff. So a giveaway is perfect. 

So I am giving away a yoga mat.

Not just any yoga mat. This one. With a strap, delivered to your home. You win, you get a mat, you do yoga for free, everything is awesome. 

You can earn one entry for each of the following:

1. Subscribe to this lovely blog by adding your email address in the little box. When I write something, you'll get an email. If I don't, you will get no email. Simple.

2. Share this blog, and post the link in the comments. Share on Twitter, Facebook, wherever.

3. Leave me a comment and tell me about your yoga practice. Do you have one? Do you want one? 

If you do all three, you get three entries. Three chances to win. Winner will be chosen randomly, and this contest will close at midnight, EST on July 4th.  Winners do not have to live in Baltimore, but the giveaway is restricted to the U.S.

Thanks for coming along, and good luck!



Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Changes Are Coming


This t-shirt popped up on my Facebook page the other day, and it felt so appropriate I had to share. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this t-shirt is how I have been feeling for awhile. Scattered, pulled in eleventy million directions, days slipping by like water through a sieve with nothing done at the end of the day. And it's really only natural; we have been on the move quite literally since June of last year. Now that we are getting settled, it's time to make some changes.

For starters, I am dividing my personal and professional writing. This blog will no longer be a part of my professional portfolio unless potential employers choose to seek it out. I needed it to process so many of the feelings that I couldn't say out loud as Sicily and I grieved for Dane, but I have realized in the past few weeks that A) this type of writing is unsustainable as the focus for a blog, and B) some of you people may be offended/hurt/upset about some of the things I have wanted to write about. I have been censoring myself, and that does not work for me as a writer. 

So. This blog will still talk about life. Still talk about The Teenager. Still talk about parenting. It will still be personal.

It just may not be quite so wretched. 

There may not be quite as much cursing. Or maybe there will be. As with the image above, I am not quite sure what the focus is going to be, but it's important to note that it will be something. Maybe writing. Probably yoga, too. Potentially, eventually, maybe, there may be a boy involved (but I am not holding my breath).

I am also in the process of designing a food blog to support the cookbook I am writing.

There. I said it. "The cookbook I am writing." I said it again.

The food blog may take a while to launch, as I am very interested in A) not being the type of douche who just plagiarizes someone else's recipe, and B) making delicious things or learning how to do something and sharing it. I am also working on food photography in the hopes that whatever I make (or screw up) will be beautiful. 

And you should know that there will be ads, but  they will not be overwhelming. I am also patently against those boxes that pop up and try to guilt you into subscribing, so those won't be around. If I am being completely honest (which I always try to be), it's time to think about earning some ducats. So ads will happen. Click them, or don't. I will try to make them as relevant as possible, but not obtrusive.

But it's not something for nothing here, friends. As I get ready to re-launch each of these blogs, it's only fair that I give something away to those of you who have followed in the past and continue to ride along with me on this journey. So stay tuned for that on each blog in the coming weeks (food blog will take longer. Life happens, and two people can only eat so much food. Seriously. If you want to be a recipe tester, comment below. We are stuffed.).

If you have been with me from the very first blog entry, thank you. Thank you for your love, your support, your comments, the private notes. If you have not done so already, subscribe with your email to get new blogs when they arrive. No newsletters or spam, I promise. I hate that, too.

If you are new to Bitter/Sweet, welcome. Please subscribe via email, comment, and share whatever moves you. 

Re-booting, re-focusing. Moving towards the light. As the Soul Train says...come on along....


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Take A Bite Out Of The Ass Of Life

a

It took me 26 years to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

In 1997 I had just moved to Seattle and was temping for a contractor's office. I had spent the previous 11-odd years drinking my way through college and moving to a different state or house when I felt restless or uncomfortable. I waited on my fair share of tables, slung thousands of drinks across a bar, nanny-ed for the same family for three years. Once I got to Seattle, I signed on with a temp agency and was immediately hired by the company I was temping for. I may have loathed office work, but I was damn good at it.

A year passed, and just as I was about to quit, an opportunity to become a VISTA volunteer in Seattle Public Schools came up. I don't know why I applied; I hated school, quitting in my senior year.  I was not especially fond of kids of any age. I guess it was a safer step than the Peace Corps, so I applied, was accepted, and promptly fell in love with middle schoolers and teaching. Like, both-feet-in, crazy-in-love with kids and teaching. I got my master's degree in education and settled in to my calling.

And I was a damn good teacher. The hard kind, the kind that believed in you more than you believed in yourself. The kind that kids came back and thanked, not for throwing pizza parties and for hand-holding (although there was a fair bit of that) but for pushing them to do better, to be better, and to work harder. I put everything I had into this work. If I was a religious person, I was say that I was called to teach, and then again to start a school. The work was hard, the pay was shit, and the respect was zero, but it was all about the kids and changing the world.

Yesterday it smacked me in the face, right after I published the blog about inertia and vata conspiring against me and my motivation: I am trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. AGAIN.

If we are lucky, we find something in our lives that drives us, something that we feel so passionate about that motivation isn't always an issue. Sure, there are days where even the most passionate people want to blob it out on the couch. There were days when I desperately needed a break from teaching, but the drive and the motivation to do better and be better was always there.

But then there is the reality for the vast majority of people, I think:

"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." (Thoreau)

Most people don't find something that really drives them. They get a job, get up, go to work, work, come home, drink a beer, watch TV, go to bed. Lather, rinse, repeat. Maybe there is a vacation once a year or a weekend away. Maybe there is  a painting class or golf lessons. Maybe the kids play a team sport, so weekends are dominated by that. The job may not be the best ever, but it pays the bills and puts food on the table. For most people, this is enough. This paragraph is the point of life.

For me, that's not enough. And that is a blessing and a curse. In the movie Big Night, Angelo cries out, "It is never too much! It is only not enough! Take a bite out of the ass of life!"  A day job with an occasional night out or weekend off is not taking a bite out of the ass of life. Not even a nibble.

I think this lack of direction and feeling that what I am doing is not meaningful is causing my ennui. I blame Dane, 100%, which is not particularly helpful but super convenient. Most days, because that jackass had to go and die, it is really enough that I can keep everything together and continue to move forward. Teaching, giving so much of myself, is not really an option for me. So the calling that took 26 years for me to answer is a painful reminder of what I used to have, what life used to be like, not an uplifting and inspiring reason to get up every day.

I find myself muttering "fuck" every morning when my alarm goes off. I always knew that Dane was going through something, often before he did, when he would curse every morning when the alarm went off (we both favor "fuck" as our curse of choice). This feels the same. For now, I write (getting paid for writing assignments but also occasionally working on The Book That Shall Not Be Named), I docent at the American Visionary Art Museum, and I am in yoga teacher training.

I feel like a precious housewife, dabbling, a lady who lunches (although I don't really lunch). Some days are better than others. Some days are worse. Sometimes I get kooky and walk the dogs in the middle of the day or paint something.

And it is never too much. It is only not enough.

How many years will it take for the next calling to come? I am not the type of person to plod along and am liable to do something really, really stupid (I blame my dad for that character trait). I am still trying to say "yes" more often than "no" (failing at this of late), doing things that make me uncomfortable and exploring, but Christ on a bike. I just want this whole self-discovery bullshit phase to be over. How many times does a person have to figure out who they are in one lifetime?

Where do you fall? Do you have a passionate calling? Do you think that whole concept is a waste of time? What matters to you?

(image source)

Monday, June 8, 2015

Inertia + Vata = Uneven Productivity

[caption id="attachment_1173" align="aligncenter" width="300"]We shall not be moved... We shall not be moved...[/caption]

This is a potent, lethal combination.

Inertia is the basic rule that an object in motion stays in motion, and an object at rest stays at rest. Once in either state, it is difficult to change. So if a huge boulder is rolling down the hill, get out of the way. If that boulder is at the bottom of the hill and you need it to build your house at the top, good luck.

A vata ayurvedic tendency is ruled by air. Think about wind at its extremes: the kind that swept the prairies clean during the Dust Bowl days (constant and powerful) and the kind that hangs above a swamp in mid-August (soupy and stagnant).

I, friends, am the epitome of a person with vata attributes. As such, the wind has dropped from my sails. My boat is at the Horse Latitudes, and it's time to start tossing equines overboard (anyone want a dog? Just kidding. Sort of.). As the wind dies down after frantic weeks of moving and unpacking and working on writing deadlines and recipe testing (p.s.: crackers are really fucking hard to make), I have become a big, fat boulder at the bottom of the hill, emotions ruled by the high tides of the full moon and airy vata brain making no logical sense at all.

I am mixing metaphors from a million different disciplines and lazily falling back on the art of hyperbole to make a point. See? No good.

Suggestions for getting out of inertia/combatting the stagnant air of a vata:

1. Do it anyway. Get off the couch and go do something. Jesus. Go for walk. Take a dog. They are assholes when they don't get a walk.

2. Stop eating muffins. Even if they are delicious, homemade, and gluten-free, they are not helping with energy levels. Unless made with chocolate covered espresso beans (note to self: yes. Make these. Soon).

3. FFS, go to yoga.

4. Make a list of things that can be accomplished in ten minutes or less (e.g., filling out warranty cards for new appliances or unpacking the old junk drawer into the new junk drawer). Do those every now and then.

5. FFS, give yourself a break. A nap won't knock the earth off its axis, but it might just make you easier to get along with. Maybe not, but it's worth a try.

6. Don't avoid people, unless those people are assholes, then avoid them because you might say something that you don't regret, per se, but that might get you punched in the throat. This is not a good ending.

7. Don't take it out on your kid, even when her Teenager is showing and she deserves a poke in the eye. One day, soon, she will be gone and you will be all alone with your asshole self and a dog who won't die. And then what?

Your homework: come up with three more things to contribute to the list, and write them in the comments by 11:59, EST Tuesday, June 9th. 

This message brought to you by the Council For Making Light of Things That Could Potentially Become Serious and Partners For Minimizing Collateral Damage Due to Being Colossally Unsatisfied and Unmotivated By Anything. Additional support provided by Hey, Fuck You!, a personalized attitude adjustment service with convenient home visits.

(image via Flickr)

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Saturday, The Sabbath

So it's Saturday, and this is as far as I have gotten with my day so far:

[caption id="attachment_1168" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Kitty This kitty could not be more relaxed. Note the belly flopping over the railing.[/caption]

Okay, so I am actually not lounging quite like that, but close. For someone who doesn't have a nine-to-five J-O-B, you'd think my days would be a bit more relaxing than they are, but with a 6 a.m. wake up and a day filled with furniture construction, recipe writing and testing, writing for The Man, general household sorting, and Teenager raising, by the time 10 p.m. rolls around, I am done.

Some days as I settle into bed to jot down some final thoughts, I just write a list of things I have done, just to prove that I did something. Time has sped up in recent weeks, and it's a way to hold things down, to anchor myself firmly in the present and what is happening. Turns out that the big moments are rooted in the little moments that lead up to them. As Ferris Buellar says, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

In an effort to not miss it, today is for coffee, farmer's market, and a brief period of navel gazing. There will be some minor outdoor furniture assembly, and maybe a stroll down The Avenue for some furnishings, and a graduation party later in the day.

A Sabbath, of sorts, except I have already turned on the oven and am technically working. It seems okay if it's something you love, though, right?

What are your Sabbath plans?

 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Cooking Mojo

My cooking mojo is back, and I have no pictures, a cardinal sin on the interwebs because who wants to read all of the words?

But it's back, and along with it a frenzy of disorganized work on The Book That Shall Not Be Named or talked too much about, lest I scare it away. It's like a frightened stray kitten, but I want to be the one riding the kitten, like this:

[caption id="attachment_1163" align="aligncenter" width="300"](not my picture, so if you know whose it is, let me know and I will credit the photographer) (not my picture, so if you know whose it is, let me know and I will credit the photographer)[/caption]

But I digress.

I just sat down to a lovely bowl of Chipotle-like goodness, with the beef and the rice and the corn salsa, except I made it all, smoky and spicy and sweet and crunchy and lime-spiked with cilantro that I am growing to love. I just at this moment remembered that I forgot the peppers and onions, but it was still delicious.

In the past 24 hours I have also:

  • Cooked and canned strawberry rhubarb ginger jam

  • Made scones to go with the jam (they were delicious but flat. Working on that; see below)

  • Started almonds soaking for almond milk

  • Concocted a chicken tandoori marinade of epic fucking proportions (very excited about that)

  • Researched another two ways to make GF scones (one trial will happen tomorrow)

  • Mixed another batch of GF flour because PIZZA DOUGH is happening

  • Planted two types of tomatoes and four herbs (it's a crapshoot with not much sun anywhere in our tiny Hampden backyard, but I have to try because TOMATOES)


I recruited my new neighbors to be tasters because The Teenager hasn't been around much and has been eating her meals out with friends, and when she is here she is picky as hell. So there is a surplus of food to try and comment on, and they are close by.

So nice to be cooking again, in my own kitchen, with my own tools. It's about freaking time.

What's your mojo rising towards?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Strawberry Rhubarb Ginger Jam

Ingredients

That's a mouthful for a jar of springtime sunshine, isn't it? And yet it is the most delicious thing ever, and the first real cooking project in the new kitchen (except for a minor corn salsa, but I don't really count that so much).

Saturday at the farmer's market I was talked into buying rhubarb. I had been wanting to experiment with rhubarb a little, and with a week of 90-degree weather forecast, I figured this might be my last chance for the season. If my week got crazy and I ran out of time and couldn't make anything, rhubarb freezes beautifully, so I bought a pound.

I should have bought more.

This tart jam gets its sweetness from crystallized ginger and overripe, nearly-gone strawberries. Fresh grated ginger brings a little heat into the mix, and it sets firm without pectin or fuss of any kind. I am a fan of small-batch canning, but this is too small a batch for how much I love this jam. Usually I share what I make, as The Teenager is not always consistently appreciative of my efforts, and it's just the two of us, but this recipe made only two half-pint jars and a little extra, which I promptly slathered on scones this morning. I plan to stalk the market for more rhubarb this weekend and freeze whatever I can forage so that I can work on variations as the summer progresses (raspberry rhubarb? Blueberry rhubarb with cardamom and clove?).

For now, here is this lovely jam.

Strawberry Rhubarb Ginger Jam

Ingredients:

2 c. sliced strawberries

1/8 c. (ish) grated fresh ginger (pro tip: freeze the entire knob of ginger and grate as needed)

1/4 c. chopped crystallized ginger

one pound rhubarb (about four 18" stalks), trimmed of leaves and chopped into 1/2" pieces

1 1/4 c. sugar

Method:

Combine all ingredients in a  heavy saucepan and simmer on medium heat until rhubarb and berries break down and thicken into jam. Stir frequently to prevent scorching. This process varies wildly from 20 to 45 minutes, depending on altitude, berries, alignment of the stars, etc.

Caution: At this stage the jam is like molten lava. Keep the simmer low and be mindful of spluttering spatters.

To test if it is done, spoon a bit onto a cold plate and cool to room temperature (use the 'fridge). The jam is ready if, when you drag a finger through it, it does not seep back together.

This will keep in the 'fridge for a couple weeks, or use a water bath canning method to process for 10 minutes and keep it fresh for up to one year.

Enjoyed on gluten free scones this morning, but delicious on conveyance of any kind, to be sure.

Jam

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Buddhism, Sand Mandalas, And Cowhide Rugs

On Wednesday night, The Teenager and I attended the closing ceremony for a sand mandala that had been made over five days at the yoga studio where I study.

On Thursday, I practiced the art of attachment and went shopping for baubles and trinkets for the new house. One of my purchases was a cowhide rug.

As I was checking out, flipping the cowhide onto the conveyor and then flipping it back into the cart, feeling its cow-y leather underside and soft hair, I felt the irony deeply. Perhaps not as much as the cow might have, had s/he been able to point out the extreme nature of attending (and being very moved by and filled up from) a ceremony to mark the completion of a Green Tara mandala, the Mother of Compassion, and then the next day condoning the slaughter of an animal.

This makes the ceremony no less moving but certainly reinforces the idea that Buddhism is truly a practice, not a perfect, and we are all just bits of dust in the universe, hopefully trying not to hurt others (minus a cowhide rug, a pair of leather shoes, and a burger every now and again, right?) in our quest to figure out what it all means.

The Teenager and I were talking about the ceremony on the way home, what struck us the most. The monk who explained the mandala stressed (through an interpreter who was dressed in white pants, white socks with white flips flops, and a Nirvana T-shirt, the one that looks cartoon-y with the eyes X-ed out so it looks dead) that when praying or meditating, it is fine to meditate on Green Tara and all her qualities, but it is also fine to meditate on yourself, imagining that you are invested with all of the qualities of a Buddha.

This is the way with yoga also. You don't need to chant "om" or speak Sanskrit, although both of those things, when offered up authentically and by a person who really means them, can be lovely. Real yoga, not the kind that features bendy white girls in sponsored athletic gear but the kind that offers each practitioner a path that is unique as a fingerprint, doesn't force you to worship a god or change. Real yoga meets each person where they are and helps them discover the truest, best version of themselves. Sometimes you have to wade through a lot of shit to get there, including self-doubt, discouragement, and tight hamstrings, but again, it's a practice, not a perfect.

I would not do the ceremony a bit of justice, but here is a glimpse into the sweaty, 90-minute ceremony that featured, chanting, a cacophony of music that sounded to my ears like toddlers fighting in a tin can, a few dumb questions (and a few good ones), and the shining face of the one monk who speaks English, standing up at the end and saying with a little impish grin, "Okay. All done."

Each picture is captioned.

[caption id="attachment_1144" align="aligncenter" width="720"]Working on the mandala on Tuesday before the ceremony. Four monks laid sand for five hours a day. Working on the mandala on Tuesday before the ceremony. Four monks laid sand for five hours a day.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1149" align="aligncenter" width="960"]The completed mandala the following day. Photo by Gretchen Van Utt. The completed mandala the following day. Photo by Gretchen Van Utt.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1145" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Detail. It looked like felt, not sand, and it took a lot of self-control for me to not touch it. Detail. It looked like felt, not sand, and it took a lot of self-control for me to not touch it.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1147" align="aligncenter" width="720"]There were approximately eleventy million people in the studio, It was, as my friend Luke would say, hotter than a Shiite Muslim. These little kids watched through the windows. There were approximately eleventy million people in the studio, It was, as my friend Luke would say, hotter than a Shiite Muslim. These little kids watched through the windows.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1146" align="aligncenter" width="720"]Shiva looks over all, and the previously mentioned impish monk. Shiva looks over all, and the previously mentioned impish monk.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1150" align="aligncenter" width="960"]There was an audible gasp and everyone leaned forward when the monk first drew a line through the sand. He drew four lines (through the four gates?), and then two other monks used wide paintbrushes to brush the sand towards the center. There was an audible gasp and everyone leaned forward when the monk first drew a line through the sand. He drew four lines (through the four gates?), and then two other monks used wide paintbrushes to brush the sand towards the center.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1148" align="aligncenter" width="2048"]Finally out of the sweaty room, we followed the monks to Robert E.Lee park and listened and watched as they poured the blessed sand into the Jones Falls sot hat it could spread through Baltimore. Funny hats are funny. Finally out of the sweaty room, we followed the monks to Robert E.Lee park and listened and watched as they poured the blessed sand into the Jones Falls so that it could spread through Baltimore. Funny hats are funny.[/caption]