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

Thursday, March 20, 2014

the beauty in high schoolers

Before I started volunteering with my church's youth group, high schoolers really intimidated me.

Lamest confession ever, right?

But I'm serious. I would have rather been in a room of twenty crying babies than stuck in a one-on-one conversation with these partly-adult humans.

Which is ridiculous on many levels. Number one, I was a teenager less than 5 years ago. Number two, I loved being a high schooler and my friend group was awesome and if we were awkward (of course we were) we were blissfully unaware. We were fun and our adult leaders loved us and laughter came easily and things were good. If an adult would have told me they were intimidated by me, I would have said, "Uhh wait, what?"

I remember being on choir tour with my university and talking with high schoolers before concerts at their schools. And I remember walking into the room where we would perform, wearing my long, formal, unflattering choir dress, wishing I could do anything, ANYTHING, but approach these groups of girls and TALK to them.

What in the world would I say? The usual hi-how-are-you and what-grade-are-you-in can only lead so far, and teenagers aren't usually the most talkative, and when they're together they giggle or stare or worse, both, and oh-my-gosh-I-was-reliving-my-high-school-experience-all-over-again. Reliving the bad parts, that is. Not the good parts.

I was falling prey to comparing myself all over again, and wondering if I'd be accepted, and wondering if they would think I was weird (newsflash, I am), and hoping there wouldn't be any uncomfortable silences (newsflash, there were).

This was only a couple of years ago, you guys. I was an upperclassman in college and I was worried what fifteen-year-olds were thinking about me.

Whoof.
This is from a Wednesday night. We did an activity called selfie-destruct, which is exactly as it sounds. We had every kid take their phones out, snap an unflattering selfie, and post it using the hashtag #selfiedestruct. It was awesome, and the students totally loved it.
But when I moved to Pasadena in September, I started attending church immediately and some of the first connections I made were with the high school students. Now, this is mostly because I was the junior-high pastor's girlfriend who was finally in-town and yes, real, but regardless of the reason, those initial connections changed my views of teens (and thus myself) in a completely new way.

First of all, I realized it wasn't the students who intimidated me. In fact, it wasn't a matter of intimidation at all. It was a matter of identity, it was a matter of people-pleasing, and it was a matter CARING. Caring what other people thought and caring how I might be perceived and caring that I could come across wrong and caring about all the things that ultimately get in the way of forming relationships. I did this in high school, I did this in junior high, I did this in elementary, I do this now (although it's infinitely better than previous years). Comparing has been my vice for as long as I can remember, and unfortunately, not even high schoolers transcended that insecurity.

My first Sunday at church, though, man. I was greeted by name by more than one student and wrapped into a hug by another. And that pattern continued, and continued, and continued, until what did you know? I was making friends and learning a TON.

In January I started volunteering on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings, and admittedly I was a little nervous. I was really excited, and I already knew a dozen of the kids, but my old fear still crept in. I shadowed another leader for a couple weeks, seeing how small groups worked and getting an idea of who everyone was, and now I can't even begin to imagine not being apart of these students' lives.

I can't imagine not listening to them process about the world around them, even if it's like pulling teeth sometimes, and I can't imagine not hearing them laugh at the most insignificant of things, just like my friends and I did. I can't imagine not teasing them for the number of selfies they take in an evening and I can't imagine not being there to see them perform their recitals, play their sports, or tell their jokes. I don't know if our church is lucky or if I'm unaware, but we seriously have some of the coolest, sweetest, most sincere students.

I've learned how important trust is. And I've remembered how important it is to NOT CARE. To be as weird and silly with them as I am with Ayden on a daily basis. It's true that bringing Jesus into the picture can bring a legitimate level of intimidation in a different way, but even with that I'm learning I have to establish a safe and trusting relationship before I can expect them to share or listen to this stuff called Christianity and this being named God (of which I have very few answers, which is also okay).

Getting outside of ourselves is crucial to living a full life. I'm outside of myself when I'm with these students. I'm outside of myself when I'm nannying. I'm outside of myself when the relationships around me encourage growth and new identity and grace.

Teenagers are cool. And they don't scare me anymore. :)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

becoming me, not you

I'm going to write as long as my computer will last without charge...if we're lucky that will be at least 10 minutes.

I've been thinking about a new blog post, because it seems that every time I think about writing it's geared toward posting, and not just creating.

That's a main reason I haven't written in forever. I've wanted to do purposeful-writing rather than throw-away-writing, although both you and I know there is no difference.

The last month was a hard one. I was an emotional wreck and discontent and questioning so many things.

Who am I? Who am I most myself around? Why don't I have an answer? UH-OH UH-OH UH-OH.

Through a few tearful conversations, though, my head began clearing from its fog and proceeding toward clarity.

I'm becoming more me and less you. 

And sometimes that's really hard, because you seem to have it all together, and you seem to know everything there is to know, and you never seem to have emotional breakdowns.

You have direction and have started your career, or at least know where you're headed.

You speak with poise and write with ease, you never doubt yourself and couldn't care less what a single soul thinks.

This "you" is no one in particular. It's a personified you, the you that embodies all the reasons my "me" has allowed itself to get squandered beneath unattainable expectations.

I'm learning that it's okay to be emotional, it's okay to have emotions. Never again should my first reaction to tears be an apology. Why am I apologizing for being human? For not having everything figured out? I couldn't tell you. 

I'm also learning, however, that being emotional can lend itself to something sobering and beautiful or something destructive and dependent. I don't want emotions to define me, yet I don't want to be ashamed of them.

I don't want to push them away but I don't want them to control me.

And this is difficult, but I think it's also extremely healthy. Exercising any extreme all the time probably isn't the healthiest course of action. This balance, though....this delicate, beautiful balance, is truly an artful discipline.

So as I'm learning more about myself,  as I'm learning who I want to be and consequently who I don't want to be, I'm primarily learning that to become more myself I must BE myself.
Yeah yeah, like none of us have ever heard that before. But I think a lot of us practice it a lot less than we admit. I think we are all apart of this beautifully broken thing called humanity but all we ever do is reject it. We both reject our vulnerabilities while emphasizing our weaknesses, saying that we are beyond grace or beyond importance. We are both extremely prideful and extremely insecure. All of us.

Becoming more me starts there. It starts with recognition that I don't have anything figured out for a majority of the things in my life, from the really important to the really mundane. But something seriously crazy happens once the recognition begins...change.

Good change. This change doesn't necessarily alter where I stand on having things figured out, but rather helps me accept and welcome exactly where I'm at. It's a perspective change, an internal change.

I don't want to be you, I wan't to be me. And for those of us that have a harder time accepting our "me's," that's a huge step. 

Some of my biggest me's are this:

I'm emotional. I feel things before I think them, and feeling things helps me understand the world around me. I cry during any weighty conversation simply for its weight----not because its necessarily sad or intense or frustrating, but merely because I feel its importance. I'm sensitive in both the wonderfully gracious way and terribly defensive way, and I'm learning to accept both but transform the latter.

I'm extroverted. Not just because I like people, but because the way I process is external. I process through writing. I process through talking. I process through, yes, crying. If I've had a long day, I feel better if I turn on some music and do the dishes, or cook dinner. If I sit alone at home for too long without a purpose, I feel very UN-me. I get restless. I enjoy being externally stimulated while maintaining independence (i.e. sitting in a busy coffee shop but being in my own corner, my own space, my own world).

I thrive on the little things. A perfectly written line in a book, a simple cup of black coffee, a beautiful day spent outside. I find extreme joy in these moments and they are often what fuel me. I also, however, can be just as easily swayed in the opposite direction. One word spoken in an ill-tone, one interaction that didn't go how I expected, one moment of frustration...they equally impact me and drain me instantly. I am the birdie flying over the badminton net, getting thrust back and forth by the smallest of force. This is my biggest struggle on a daily basis...to find consistency and joy even when my emotions, my external circumstances, are directing me elsewhere.

I need connection. If I'm unable to connect with someone I start shutting down, because I enjoy relating and feel lost when I cannot. This doesn't happen too often, but when it does, it really hits hard and I take it personally. Again, with every strength comes weakness, but I don't believe in disregarding the weaknesses. The weaknesses, if addressed with perspective and grace and humility, absolutely have the potential to become the strength, or at least become manageable beside the strength. In this case, it's accepting that I'm literally incapable of clicking with every human on this planet. During those times, I should not suddenly disregard who I am and think a lack of connection means a lack of value. 

I must maintain my "me."

Monday, October 28, 2013

on being a writer

Being a writer feels silly sometimes. "Oh what do you do?" 

"I'm...well, I'm a...writer," I reply, dragging out the sentence as though it'll lessen the blow. 

Claiming the title "writer" creates a couple of responses: affirmation—in the wow-good-for-you kind of way, usually from a fellow creator who understands pouring hours over a project that's borderline significant to the world, but incredibly significant to you—and rejection—in the um-yeah-cool kind of way, usually from a rational, type-A human who understands reality more than creativity, and recognizes writing is synonymous with unemployed.

Sometimes.

I graduated college almost a year ago (WHAT the), and haven't claimed the title "writer" yet. Mostly because it's always been a hobby, it's always been personal, it's always been second to my "actual" job.

As the year has (very quickly) progressed, countless people have asked that jabbing, invading question: "So what do you do?"

I can never respond well because there are too many things I'm doing, can't you tell. There isn't just one job. No, I haven't started my career. No, I don't even know what my career is yet. 

I've worked for a small magazine the last 8 months and still can't say I'm a writer. Crazy, right?

That being said, it's been a strangely good month in my little world of writing. And an even better week.

A couple posts ago, I mentioned how a stranger and I struck up a conversation about writing in a coffee shop. And I said don't judge me, it was inspiring.

He was working on his memoir and l said, "If you're writing a memoir, you must have a good story to tell!" He kind of laughed it off, but I decided to ask him what I wanted anyway: "Soooo...are you going to let me read some of it?"

Again, he recoiled a bit, but about ten minutes later he leaned over, asking if I wanted to look at precisely two pages. I lit up, exclaiming yes yes yes, and thanked him—I know how difficult sharing something you've written is...especially when it's a personal excerpt from your life, and especially because I was a complete stranger.

After I finished reading, we talked about what good writing entails, and who has influenced us. I spoke highly of William Zinsser, whose book On Writing Well fine-tuned my writing unlike anything else. We talked about revising and how important it is, and how much it sucks.

As the conversation slowed we went back to our individual projects, and before he left he thanked me several times for talking with him. He said something clicked and he was going to work, work, work. We exchanged emails, and that was that. 

I drove home and was beside myself. In those moments of talking, reading, and writing about writing, I felt more in my element than ever. Like something clicked for me too, and I wasn't just this and this and then also kind of a writer. 

No–I was a writer. I am a writer.

In the week following that encounter, I've had multiple, random affirmations regarding writing. Some in person, some over text message, and some through Facebook messages. But they've all been intentional, direct encouragements that say Hey. Alyssa. Do you get it yet? Keep writing. Keep writing. Keep. Writing. 

And so I have been. I've been writing a lot—for myself mostly, but if you've noticed I've also blogged once a week for three weeks. Huge accomplishment people, huge accomplishment.

This post is long, and I still have something cool to share, but I will save it for next time. Stay tuned. 

And as always, thank you to those who have constantly been voices of encouragement to the part of myself I am very happily accepting:

"Oh, what do you do?"

I'm a writer. What do you do?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

babies + classical music

Being a nanny has made me soft(er). I generally respond emotionally to (extreme or mixed) circumstances anyway, but especially especially in the context of these little humans. The fragility of life is something so insanely fascinating and calming and intriguing. It constantly makes me more aware of God and less aware of myself—ironically, less aware of my own humanity. 

Classical music also does this. I realize I'm not the first person to lump babies and classical music together, but it's on the brain because my weekend consisted of both. (And let's be honest, so do my weekdays).
My grandparents have season tickets for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and they invited Mackenzie and I to this month's concert in Pasadena. They took us out to dinner at a tasty Mexican spot, and we dressed up and double-dated from 4pm all the way until 10pm. 

The main piece was a Haydn cello concerto, but before that was a tribute to Benjamin Britten for his 100th birthday. As soon as the conductor lifted his hands and the entire viola, violin, cello, and upright bass sections struck their instruments, I was done. Or, more accurately, undone. Completely undone.
It was the best musicianship I've seen. Every single person was playing together, as one, and there were points where the conductor just stopped, hung his head, and allowed himself to soak in every moment of his orchestra's playing. Such an incredible experience.
Then on Sunday night, I hung out with babies while their parents enjoyed a triple date/early birthday celebration. Mackenzie came too, and while I was quickly realizing watching a 2-month old is vastly different from a 6-month old, the mixed emotions erupted.

I felt mildly concerned—wanting to do everything I could to make sure this baby was comfortable, taken care of, loved. I felt thankful—thankful that I wasn't alone, that even if Mack was watching the Broncos game, he was there, he was present. I felt relieved—instantly calm as the baby fell asleep in my arms, fully content after being fed.

And then I had my moment. The moment after yet another amazing, amazing weekend, where my mixed emotions turned into one overwhelming one: gratitude. Extreme, extreme gratitude.

I can't express it other than that. My weekends have been full of meaning in the smallest yet most significant ways, because they've reminded me of this thing called life. This thing that I am experiencing every day, yet too often overlook. I'm so thankful for these people, this city, the position I'm in, the generosity and love surrounding me.

It was enough to make me cry. Happy-cry. Happy-thank-you-Jesus-for-reminders cry.
This is Ayden, the baby I nanny. She is the cutest and most curious. She's not the above baby mentioned, but she is the one who reminds me daily how cool life is—how cool it is when you just zoom out for a second, and focus on the small miracles, like rolling over or sitting up, or learning that yes, you have fingers too!

Her and her family are a huge part of the gratitude. I am so blessed.