Friday, October 24, 2014

butternut squash pasta + exciting blog update

At the very beginning of 2010, I started "blogging."

And by blogging,  I mean signing up for a free account from google and feeling fancy afterward.
(My very first post; ironic that it's about "food," because I was way more into "fashion" at that point. Also, air quotes for days because...because teenager).

I was barely 18, and can remember feeling "behind" in the blogging world even then.

The blogs I followed at the time had already been around for a couple years, and were pretty, and the people running them were older, with more experiences to share, with more ideas, and more...so on and so forth.
This feeling would follow me until just a few months ago, when I realized that every blogger who can call themselves, legitimately, a BLOGGER, started where I did.

They started with a free account because they felt like they had something to say, something to share, or something to make. Among many other possibilities.

They didn't start because they thought they'd be getting paid for it 5 years later. No no no. They didn't start because they predicted gaining thousands of followers, comprised of people they didn't know and most likely never will. They didn't start with the idea that every post had to be perfect—every picture, font, and sidebar flawlessly placed. Not even close.

They started because they loved it.

That, and that only.
Bloggers began blogging because it was a creative space that was entirely THEIRS and no one else's. They could choose whatever they wanted for content, and had the say for when and where and how they would do it.

And even that might be assuming too much. Mostly, they did it because they wanted to and took the time to.

Their voices, their stories, and their consistency is what got them to where they are now; with books, and networks, and readerships, and pay.
In June, I discovered a blogger who's been around since 2009 and is a pretty household name in the blogging world, yet whom I had never heard of: The Sprouted Kitchen. (Sara and her husband, Hugh, both contribute. She's the chef/writer and he's the photographer).

I pored through the archives, reading every post (I've never read EVERY POST of a blogger's before, although I've come close) and as I did, it suddenly hit me: if I wanted to blog, it was going to require hard work and way more commitment than I'd been willing to give.

And most of all, I needed to reassess why I wanted to blog: because I wanted people to read it? Well, yes, of course, but that couldn't be the determining factor; it couldn't be the starting point. What about because I wanted to call it my job one day? Well yes, of course, but that wasn't going to happen magically. Because I loved it?

Bingo.
I needed to STOP thinking my blog should look this way or that way, stop thinking I was behind, stop thinking that in order to write about food AND faith/emotions/general life-processing that I had to choose one or the other, and START thinking that this blog needed to be the truest reflection of ME that I could give, which means totally disregarding everything else. Period.

Sounds like a pretty standard revelation, I know. But seriously, this concept hit me like a ton of bricks and I was really grateful for its metaphorical bruise.
After all these thoughts, I did something else I never do: I actually e-mailed Sara. It wasn't even an option to NOT at that point. I felt like if I didn't tell her how encouraged I was by what she wrote and shared, I would explode. And so I told her, look, I never do this and it feels silly: but what you do has had a profound impact on me and you should know, and please never stop.

I fervently wrote the e-mail at 10 o'clock at night and didn't even bother reading through it again before sending it. Once I did, I felt assured that I said what I needed to, and didn't expect much else after.
A couple weeks later, Sara sent me the nicest, most encouraging e-mail back, and I was unabashedly over the moon. It was the final push I needed to hop on the blogging train and say see ya later to avoidance and insecurity and fear.

SO.

All that to say,  I've been working really hard on a new platform for Plain Grain. I made the switch to Squarespace because for people who don't know web stuff or can't afford to pay for help (ME ME ME), it's a dream come true.

I plan on letting you guys see it soon, and I don't plan on having it be perfect, because like this journey, like life, like myself, it's a work in progress and always will be.

Abrupt transition ready go: this pasta! This pasta is from The Sprouted Kitchen (did you expect anything else?), and not only should you make it because it's fall-appropriate (unlike Pasadena, STILL), but you should also visit her site and be inspired by all that I was.

The most surprising part of this recipe was the pistachio pesto: it was creamy and herby but cheesy and had a little tang. I loved it and had no problem licking the leftovers off the spatula.
(The extra pictures down below are Sara's dark chocolate pb cups that turned out deeeeelicious, and a shot of Pasadena's gorgeous City Hall at night. My roomie and I went to an outdoor symphony a couple weekends ago and it was really fun. The one time I was MAYBE glad it wasn't too cold out yet. Maybe).

Sunday, October 19, 2014

flights + phoenix

On Saturday night I got back from my first trip to Arizona!

Mack grew up in Phoenix, and was asked to be a groomsman in his good friend's wedding, so I got to follow along and meet friends and humbly accept that the desert isn't THAT bad (in October, at least).
I flew in a few days after Mack (he drove), and was SO nervous about boarding a plane for the first time in four years (and only the second time alone).  

Security went great and flying from a small airport was comforting, but you guys...I quickly realized gravity is the friend I never fully appreciated and often take for granted.

All my other friends think I'm kind of silly, and think I'm being a little dramatic, but I don't think it's crazy to argue with those who say FLYING THOUSANDS OF MILES IN THE AIR is a totally normal experience without physical consequences.

The second we took off, my body felt itself being pushed back into its chair (I was told my plane was also extremely small, which 'makes things worse'), and as I looked out the window I thought, "Ooo this is fun, we're going so fast!" 

But then the plane started turning, and my head felt heavy, and my eyes weren't keeping up, and then I thought, "Ooo I don't feel so good. I don't like this very much."

The sweet man next to me tried offering advice, saying "looking out the window and focusing on one point helps," and normally I would have trusted him, but every time I looked out the window I just felt worse.

When your flight is only an hour and a half, you climb climb climb and stay normal for about two seconds before you descend descend descend, so by the time we reached any equilibrium, it was all changing again.

I sipped on water and chewed gum, and tried looking at passengers in front of me while eavesdropping on conversations behind me, but once we started our final descent the same thing that happened when I was 15 started happening again: my body felt totally out of my control, my stomach was coming up as we were going down, and these gross involuntary burps began happening.

Within 30 seconds of landing, I thought I was going to vomit (something that's only happened once since I was four years old), and whatever came up I quickly swallowed because having a burning throat was way better than spewing my breakfast across the seat in front of me.
Sweet man neighbor asked if I was okay and turned on the air vent as I covered my mouth, reassuring me that we'd be on the ground in 10 seconds. I looked out that window and looked out that window and felt MEGA LAME for being THAT person, but I survived without upchucking and got off the plane in one piece. Praise the lord.

And the weekend after that point was absolutely perfect. I was met by my handsome boyfriend and instantly felt better, we ate In n Out for lunch, and relaxed at his parents' house (with dogs!) before heading to the rehearsal dinner.

I put on my extroverted face all weekend (which wasn't TOO hard), and met tons of people I didn't know, making connections as I heard snippets of their lives, and I preeeettty much loved every second of it. Learning to have conversations with strangers is a skill I want to continue developing, and this weekend was a great leap in that direction.

The wedding was fun, and special, and inspiring, and I got to enter into so many contexts of Mack's life before there was an "us." Which I love, because I love context.

Best of all, Mack and I got to DRIVE back together, and that might have been the highlight from the whole weekend. We drove for hours across the desert, mountains and cacti and rocks surrounding us on both sides, and the sky was blue with strokes of clouds throughout. It was beautiful.

We talked about the weekend, and weddings, and relationships, and we listened to some blogging podcasts and talked about creativity. Weekends like these are the ones I know I'll look back on with warmness and assurance, knowing that significant memories were made and relationships were deepened. 

(Also going to share some photos of Ashley's baby shower last weekend! We are in the new house and expecting the baby any day! Also apologizing for picture quality!)
Ayden is eating a ball...typical Ayden. Love this family so much.

Friday, October 3, 2014

transitions + tomato soup

I'm trying my best to focus this post, but it's hard knowing which voice to use and which writing style to choose.

And now I'm unintentionally rhyming.

Yikes.

Basically, it's been a week of transitions. I am now earning my status as an Angeleno by commuting to and from work, and whoof. LA freeways never stop.

We packed up the Itzhakians' little apartment last weekend, and although I was just as ready for a new space as they were, life-changes are never one-dimensional.

They're always accompanied by different expectations and different routines, most of which are completely foggy and honestly, a little scary.
I didn't realize how significant this change would be until it happened, and on Tuesday night when I walked into my apartment after a 90-minute drive home, I felt totally spent.

The day had been a great one, too—I took Ayden swimming with my previous-swim-instructor-hat on, and watching her fearlessly put her little lips to the water to blow bubbles almost made my heart burst.
We sang songs and bounced up and down, up and down, and when I'd throw her in the air like a rocket, she'd squeal and show her toothy smile, all while screaming, "MO MO! MO MO!" (MORE MORE, MORE MORE!)

She took the ever-coveted 3-hour-nap that day, and while she did I got to work on my blog (oh, I should tell you more about that!) and finish listening to a podcast from my morning drive.

To have such a wonderful day, and get glimpses of how this move would provide so many new options for me and Ayden, but then get home and feel so drained was...sad. I felt sad because this simple, frustrating, 90-minute drive had overshadowed every other positive experience from the day.
BUT. As I was sitting on the couch, snuggling up to a mug of stress-relief tea, Ashley called me and said Hey. I want this to be as easy as possible for you. I don't want you sitting in traffic because I know how awful that is. We care about you. Here's my suggestion for making it better.

And instantly, truly instantly, I was re-energized. I felt taken care of. I felt thought of. I didn't feel alone in the chaos of change. (We also learned, you cried yesterday? I cried yesterday too! A lot? A LOT!)

The next two days, I drove to Ashley's work, where I left my truck and swapped cars with her. Having her car meant adventures for the babe and I, and we seriously had so much fun. We went to a Starbucks in this huge, outdoor shopping center where there are koi ponds and turtles and fountains and so much more.
Ayden and I shared an english muffin with turkey-sausage and egg, and while we sat on the rocks near the water, Ayden would get a bite, then -Lyssa would get a bite, Ayden get a bite, -Lyssa get a bite.

Watching her in the world is one of my favorite things right now. It's so different that just hanging out one-on-one throughout the day.

Yesterday we happened to be at the Barnes and Noble in that shopping center when Storytime was starting, so we went up the escalator and listened to Miss Jennifer reading books about changing leaves and new seasons....and I thought, ohhhh how metaphorical.

As I continue adjusting to the transitions (because the biggest one is still coming—Ashley's second baby is due in just a couple of weeks), I hope I can manage my moments better. I know each moment is destined to affect the next, but the goal is to learn how to intersect them a little more.

And speaking of transitions, the one transition that HASN'T occurred yet is the one where LA stops being a million-freaking-degrees every day and starts being, you know, FALL.

A couple weeks ago I made this homemade, roasted tomato soup (and cookies, too) in hopes of seducing my favorite season to Southern California, but it didn't work...because it'll be 100 all weekend.

So enjoy this super easy and delicious recipe, cold-weather friends. I won't be able to for another couple of months (BOOOOOO).

Thursday, August 21, 2014

conversations and communities

"Perhaps the best conversationalist in the world is the man who helps others to talk." --Lee from East of Eden

My soul has been so tired recently (gratitude to my friend Destiny for unintentionally giving words to feelings I couldn't compile).

Aside from what I've already written about in this space, there are also these wicked things called hormones that cause all sorts of confusion, without any regard to the timing of life's other atrocities.

It's rude, I know.

Weird moods haven't been and will never be an uncommon occurrence for me, unfortunately, but 2014 has definitely been the most growing and progressive and ultimately hopeful year by far.

As I reflect on where I started this week—a mess of emotions and selfishness and general confusion—and where I sit now—peaceful, resting, and bruised but clarified—I'm realizing the change I've experienced is a direct result of the conversations and community surrounding me.

It shouldn't surprise me as much as it still does, but over and over again I'm reminded how powerful words are, and even more so, how powerful a listening ear is.
My dear friend Michelle (happy birthday!) sent me Stitches by Anne Lamott earlier this week. She told me how comforting it was during her time of grieving, so she put it in the mail with a little note and prayed it would do the same for me.

It's only 96 pages, but I already finished it and soaked up every word. Knowing the intention it was sent with, too, and seeing all the pages Michelle had already doggy-eared, made it so much more than some book I bought at Barnes and Noble—it became a thread, a connection, a stitch if you will, that made something about this human experience a little clearer. A little more cohesive.

The same feeling occurred during a conversation with my roommate, a conversation where me saying 'I'm sorry' was more important than anything else. It was important because sometimes I forget that we are all connected, and that me acting a certain way or saying a certain thing, good or bad, can and will affect those around me.

It happened yet again with a friend/neighbor of the family I nanny for, when she came over with her son to simply hang out and we ended up talking about...everything. God, the world, and our place in it. Christian culture and church culture and do we have a place in it? We talked about differences in relationships and how those can be so difficult, but so beautiful. It was an unexpected morning that led to an unexpected conversation that completely changed the perspective for my day.

To be cared for and understood by someone, to talk open and honestly, to really click with someone...these are some of the greatest joys in life, I'm convinced.

I am beginning to feel peace because I am beginning to see the stitches. The little pieces of life that come together, one at a time, to create something you wouldn't have expected and couldn't have dreamed of.

Two of my favorite paragraphs from the book are these:

"The American way is to not need help, but to help. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was that I was going to need a LOT of help, and for a long time. (Even this morning). What saved me is that I found gentle, loyal and hilarious companions, which is at the heart of meaning; maybe we don't find a lot of answers to life's tougher questions, but if we find a few true friends, that's even better. They help you see who you truly are, which is not always the loveliest possible version of yourself, but then comes the greatest miracle of all—they still love you. They keep you company as perhaps you become less of a whiny baby, if you accept their help." p.34

"Alone, we are doomed, but by the same token, we've learned people are impossible, even the ones we love most—especially the ones we love most: they're damaged, prickly, and set in their ways. Also, they've gotten old and a little funny, which can be draining. It is most comfortable to be invisible, to observe life from a distance, at one with our own intoxicating superior thoughts. But comfort and isolation are not where the surprises are. They are not where the hope is. Hope tends to appear when we see that all sorts of disparate personalities can come together, no matter how different and jarring they may seem at first." p.55

I hope we all ask for help a little bit more, and I hope we find the courage to have more honest conversations instead of the I'm good how are you? ones. They just don't create as much space for the stitches to be sewn, and if stitches are what hold us together, then I think we owe it to each other to make some more room. I know I do.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

a morning prayer

God, all any of us want is to make sense of things. To make sense of the world around us and know that somewhere there's a place for our existence and a place for it to matter.

But the world doesn't oblige so easily. It's really hard to make sense of everything going on in Iraq while I'm here, sitting on my couch and typing on my iphone.

It's hard to make sense of cancer and death and suicides, like Robin Williams' yesterday.

It's hard to make sense of people working and dreaming for something only to have it end in a "no."

And I suppose, Lord, that's where we need you. We need you to help us make sense of things. And if making sense of things isn't important, then really we need help knowing you. We need help making sense of you in a world where overwhelmingly bad things happen a LOT. 

I'm praying because I miss you and I want to know you, I want to know that your promise of never leaving us as orphans is true. 

You know the place I'm coming from, and you know it's wound up in fear right now. Fear of NOT knowing you and what that means for my soul. 

How vulnerable it is to admit that, but how important it is to let you change me from my starting point. To let you meet me where I'm at because that's kinda what you do best.

Don't let me block you out Lord. Don't let me fight so hard and analyze so much. Teach me about faith and trust and hope. Show me that it IS possible to know you, and know you well. And give me grace when I stop remembering that I don't have to do this on my own. 

I love you as much as I know you, but I as I know you more I'm confident I will love you more, and I'm confident you'll help me make sense of some things some of the time. And everything else I'll learn to trust You in, learn to trust that those things are not mine to make sense of. 

That will be hardest for me, hands down.

Thanks for your grace and your long-suffering love. I'm grateful for those above all else.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

because cancer sucks

There is obviously a huge pain that comes with death. 

I'm not the first to experience it and I won't be the last, but this is the first death in the family that has actually affected me personally.

My uncle battled colon cancer for two years and passed away just a couple of days ago.

Cancer really sucks. It takes a whole life and slowly chips away—chips away until the life no longer resembles itself, until the life adapts to a new normal and this new normal is decay.

It's hard for me to reconcile this, and to reconcile this alongside the battle my uncle also had with schizophrenia. His life was a struggle. It was a puzzle he constantly strived to assemble, but assembly wasn't possible because there were simply too many pieces.

He was only 46 and his parents, both in their 80's, had to say goodbye to their son in the very room he grew up.They had to say goodbye to a son who was so wrecked with the physical consequences of cancer that he didn't even look like himself.

Yellowed-skin and body so thin it would make anyone rethink their definitions of skinny. And yet he was pregnant with tumors—tumors that took residency throughout his stomach and protruded from here and there, causing pain that I can't begin to imagine.

There are pictures of him I can't get out of my mind and images from his last moments that I wish I could. His death wasn't glorified, but there is peace in his ability to say goodbye hours before passing, and knowing he passed in his sleep, even if his sleep was a drug-seduced one.

This post is heavier than any I've written and it's hard to write without words of hope dispersed throughout. But cancer doesn't leave a lot of room for hope, unfortunately. 

I (want to) know God is not absent and I do know Chris isn't suffering now. But last month, and the last few days especially, have been very real and very tangible whereas the former---not so much. Yet, anyway.

Please pray for all the layers death reveals. The layers that consist of planning a memorial service, of elderly parents adapting to a life without their son, of figuring out what it means to claim hope above it all.

Chris had such a giving, genuine, inquisitive, and polite soul. He constantly thought of others before himself, especially those less fortunate than him—which is really beautiful when you consider what he also endured. He played piano more intentionally, emotionally, and purposefully than anyone I know. His heart stayed on those keys way after his fingers left, and it was truly something to behold.

And amidst and above it all, he trusted and loved the God who says he's with us always. He openly asked questions and prayed prayers of great depth. His pastor told us last week that his and Chris' conversations centered more on grace than any other topic, and somewhere in there I find comfort, because grace is what I cling to, too.

Things are still tangled and bruised, though, and we need prayers as we stay tangled and bruised for a little while here.

Thank you in advance and thank you to those who have already been on this journey with us. We love you all.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

fighting inspiration

Inspiration can be difficult. While I always crave it, always want it, and eventually find it...I also push it away, reject it, and ultimately ignore it.

Sometimes I just don't WANT to be inspired. I don't want to read blog posts like this one, or read magazine articles, or read at all. I don't want to look at recipes online or pictures of them on Instagram or even begin thinking about cooking. I don't want to write, I don't want to process information, and I certainly don't want to compile it neatly.

What it comes down to is convenience. I don't want to do any of these things because I know doing them will make me do MORE and relax LESS. If that even makes sense. I'll want to go buy this so I can make that, I'll want to start a new project only to never finish it, I'll want to read every book someone recommends but then there's too many and I'm thinking...WAIT. I can't keep up.

So then I do what I do best. I fall into a routine, a method of functioning, and rather than pursuing newness I thrive in oldness.

The thing is, inspiration requires energy. It requires energy to think and create. And when the energy isn't there, I leave inspiration behind altogether. And not for a little while, either...for a long while.

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I started this post two months ago, and here I am now...feeling back in the swing of inspiration but still thinking a lot about what it means to be inspired.

The thing is, inspiration is just as much a discipline as anything else. Choosing to read, watch, and browse the things that eventually become inspiration means you have to DO them. Even when you don't want to.

Especially when you don't want to.

I am, however, also a supporter of taking breaks. Because breaks can be just as important, and lord knows we live in a world that values productivity and busyness over rest and slowness.

It's a hard place to exist, between the two, and when I figure it out I'll let you know (that might be never). In the meantime, I'm learning that in order to stay inspired I need to stay accountable to someone. That someone is Mackenzie, and yesterday when I (once again) said What am I going to do with my liiiiiiiffffeeee he said to just pick a direction and swim. And if it's the wrong direction, that's okay...I'll just start swimming in another.

Right now, that direction is writing. What else is new. And I have a "right now" goal and an "eventual" goal. The right-now-goal is to write every day. Whether it's one sentence or five hundred, if I want to blog more I first need to write more.

The eventual-goal, then, is to blog once a week. There will be several goals after that, but for today, and tomorrow, and this week, that's where I'm going to stay. Getting words down and looking over them when the week is done. And that's the inspiration I'm going to work with.