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.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

going home

This week, I'm going home for the first time since Christmas. While I know many people go much longer, this is the longest I've gone, and I'm excited.

I'm really excited. I feel more "grown-up" than I have in years past, and not just because I'm paying (almost all) my bills, living in Los Angeles, or working (mostly) full-time. Since I moved last September, I have learned more about myself, relationships, and specifically familial relationships, than ever before.

I partly credit my roommate, for her endless willingness to listen to me process, and I partly credit my boyfriend for the same reasons and then some, and I partly credit my job as a nanny.

Having relationships is not a magical formula that you implement to achieve certain results. Relationships are unique to the person, unique to the story, and ever-changing. This is a constant lesson I am learning.

When I started nannying Ayden, she was only five and a half months old. Now she's fourteen months. I knew nothing about caring for babies day-in and day-out, and I certainly knew nothing about the commitment and flexibility it requires.
This post probably should have come closer to mother's day, but caring for Ayden has entirely changed my perspective of not only my family, but also my mom. And our relationship. And moms' relationships with their children in general. I imagine that's how new moms feel towards their mothers when they have a baby, too.  Because it changes you. Your mom isn't just your mom anymore (nor was she ever, that's just how it seemed). No no. She's a superhero, a battery that never loses its charge, a tree whose roots go so deep it'd be impossible to tear down.

I have asked my mom SO many questions about how she did things, how she stayed home with THREE kids under the ages of 6 for TEN YEARS. MOM how did you it? How in the world did you do it?!

She says she doesn't know, but that she loved every second of it. And that's all she knows. I have this newfound respect and adoration and wonder for my mom (and dad, of course). Because raising children and loving them is no small feat. Not at all. And I haven't even experienced this in full yet, obviously, but I have had a very good glimpse.

I've already been sending my mom recipes of things we could make, dreaming about going to the farmer's market together, and anticipating the simple comforts of being with the two people who have known me from the second I was born.
(Also, I'm really going home because one of my best friends, whom I've known since third grade, is getting married in July! This weekend is bridal showering and bacheloretting and celebrating the bride-to-be. I'm the maid-of-honor and this will be my first time planning/hosting the party. Wish me luck. Also wish me luck driving home alone for the first time. That little green machine of mine needs to make it without problems).

Friday, May 9, 2014

kale salad with lemon-tahini dressing

I know everyone and their mothers love kale. It's so good for you (truth) and it's so versatile (truth) and it's easy to prepare (half-truth).

But I really hated kale for awhile. I hated how chewy it was. I hated cutting the leaves off their stems, or buying the pre-cut kind and still having to deal with tons of stems anyway. I hated how long kale took to wilt while sauteing. I just hated how high-maintenance and presumptuous it was. Like oh hey I'm kale and I'm one of the best possible things you could feed yourself and I'm green and green is good and look at me now...look at me now...
I was getting a farm-fresh-to-you box for a month or two, and I got kale every single week. And every single week I would have high hopes for redeeming this leafy green and doing something creative with it, and every week I would end up throwing it out. It would sit in the back of my fridge, waiting to be used, waiting to be loved, but I would neglect it and neglect it and neglect it until it couldn't be neglected no mo'.
Then I went to dinner with friends + boyfriend on a Saturday night, and the place we went to specialized in their 50/50 burger...half of the patty was beef, half of the patty was bacon. (I know everyone and their mothers also love bacon, I am just not one of those people). So besides wanting to vomit, I felt helpless.
I browsed the menu for awhile, nervous I'd have to order something that would make me feel sick, and then I saw it: kale salad with lemon-tahini dressing. Kale was suddenly my best friend and saving grace and there was no way I would turn my back on her now.
The verdict was pretty clear after that; I had been wrong, kale had been right, and it was time to give our strained relationship some much-needed TLC.

I started craving the salad I ate that night, and decided I should recreate it plus add a whole bunch of stuff it didn't have. The original salad was very simple: kale, chopped parsely, and the lemon-tahini dressing. If I'm going to eat salad as a meal, it better fill me up, so I added chicken, herbed quinoa, chickpeas (protein on protein on protein, am I right), plus some shallots for a little zing.
And let me tell you, it was good. It was real good. Still chewy as ever, but worth it. I'd say don't skimp on the toppings, too. They really make it. And distract from all that dang chewing.

Kale Salad with Lemon-Tahini Dressing

Herbed Quinoa:

2 cups chicken stock (or water if you have none)
1 cup quinoa
juice from 1/3 a lemon + its zest

Dressing: (adapted from here)

1/4 c. olive oil
juice from 1/3 a (large) lemon + its zest
splash of apple cider vinegar (or red)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
pinch of dried thyme
pepper + coarse salt to taste

In a small pot over high heat, combine liquid, quinoa, and lemon juice/zest. Bring to boil, turn heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.

While the quinoa cooks, prepare the dressing by mixing all ingredients together and giving it a good shake or swirl or two.

When the quinoa is done, add dressing, stir, and set aside.

Salad:

1 pkg prepped kale or 1 bunch kale, stems and ribs removed
1 14.5 oz can chickpeas
2 shallots, quartered and sliced vertically
chopped fresh parsley to taste
cooked chicken
quinoa mixture
2 tablespoons tahini dressing (I used the stuff from Trader Joe's and diluted it a bit with water for a thinner consistency)

Assemble the salad to your liking! How much kale you use will determine how much of everything else you use. As I ate mine, I noticed I really loved the chickpeas and quinoa...the quinoa is a lot of the flavor and the chickpeas really complement the dressing. It'd be good with a squeeze of lemon juice on top, too.
Basically, do what you want. And eat kale.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

mediterranean chicken spinach salad

Things have been weird.

I went and saw the movie Noah last week (and despite what you think, that's not the weird part...I thought the movie was incredible), but since then my dreams have been all out of whack.

You know when you wake up and feel like you only dreamt ONE dream ALL night and it was weird and terrifying and never-ending? That's how my Noah dream was. Basically, all of humanity was dying in a grocery store because they contracted a disease caused by a popular prescription drug 8 years prior.

Of course there are a million details to go with that, but there's the reader's digest version. You're welcome.
When I woke up from the dream I didn't know where I was, and then later when I had a bad headache I obviously thought I must be dying. Dreams, man.

What else is weird, though, is this whole writing and blogging thing. I've been battling the biggest bout of laziness ever. No cooking, no writing, no creating, no nothing. Convenience has been the name of the game and it's won time and time again (read: eggs and toast for breakfast every night, which I'm still totally okay with).

Last week I started reading The Defining Decade, though, and decided it was time to make meals and be a person again. The book is about redefining and reclaiming your twenties, which doesn't involve putting everything off until you're a "real adult" at 30. No sir. I'm only a couple of chapters in, but considering it's motivated me to be here right now, I'd say I like it so far.
This salad is one I made in September and really liked. It's super easy (win), super quick (unless you're me and cooking is never quick), and super flavorful (yay)! I adapted the recipe just a wee bit (because again, still fighting laziness over here), but honestly it's an adaptation I'll probably do consistently.

I turned the chicken marinade into a salad dressing and then put everything over spinach. This is especially good after it sits in the fridge for a day or two, because, well, yeah...I guess that's the point of it being a marinade. 
I found Mediterranean feta cheese at Trader Joe's, too, so clearly I picked that instead of the boring stuff. Who doesn't love a good theme, am I right?
Since we started with weird we'll end with weird: I didn't dress the salad for the picture (there's a pun in there somewhere...) because I didn't want to eat it until later...so then I took everything off the plate and put each item back where it belonged. Weeeiiiiirrrddo.
You shouldn't do that, though. You should just eat it.

Mediterranean Chicken Spinach Salad

Ingredients:

1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced in half
3/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
10z spinach (one bag)
lemon pepper (or black pepper and salt)
1 + 1/4 pound thin chicken cutlets (about 4-5)

Optional Marinade (or salad dressing for my adaptation):
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange chicken in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 27 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees and juices run clear. 

2. While the chicken bakes, prepare the dressing and refrigerate until use.

3. Mix the tomatoes, olives, and cheese in a medium bowl and set aside.

4. Once the chicken is done, let it sit until it's cool to the touch. Tear (or cut, if you want the non-lazy version) the meat into chunks and add to the tomato mixture. 

5. Pour as much or as little dressing as you want over the mixture, toss to coat, and serve over a handful or two of spinach

Notes
*I like to use the frozen chicken cutlets from Trader Joe's, bake them for half the amount of time, season them with lemon pepper, then stick 'em back in the oven). And if you have some leftover lemon juice from the dressing, you may as well squirt some on the chicken too.

*The original recipe calls for basil/mint. Feel free to add that at the end as well. I also imagine you couldn't go wrong with adding some cucumbers. Whatever floats your boat.

*Like I mentioned, the flavors are best after they sit. I recommend putting most (about half to three-quarters) of the remaining dressing over the leftover tomato mixture and storing it that way. It will be even better the next day.

original recipe martha stewart and blogger adaptation here