Thursday, December 30, 2010

authenticity

I've been reflecting on this notion of authenticity. My reading has led me to the work of Dr. Brene Brown, an author, speaker, and research professor who studies vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. Here are her big questions:

"How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness? How do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to recognize that we are enough – that we are worthy of love, belonging, and joy?" (http://www.brenebrown.com/welcome)

Wow. After writing a blog post a few months ago on using a mantra "I am enough" to reduce my anxiety and worry, I got goosebumps after reading that question.  Someone is actually studying this? And not just studying it, but writing and speaking about it? I felt this sudden realization that I am not alone in my ramblings. I felt a sudden sense of connection. It was like Dr. Brown was speaking directly to me. Because the reality I believe is that we are all somehow connected within our personal journeys. It's what makes us human.

I also viewed her TED conference video on vulnerability and authenticity. Her talk was so heartfelt and insightful, yet lighthearted and funny. The last slide in her presentation brought tears to my eyes. Watch it here:




In her website I came across this postcard of writings by Dr. Brown. It was like a personal message. A friend of mine calls it "God Winks".


You can download your Authenticity 4x6 card (for free) from Brene Brown's website. Click here!

Some thoughts I will be thinking about before the new year...

  • How do I define and practice authenticity in my own life? 
  • How can I balance being authentic AND productive (i.e., in my work)? Can these two qualities work together compatibly?
  • How can I be most authentic in my relationships with others? In my inner/spiritual life? In my professional life? 
  • How do I let myself be vulnerable, so that I can also be compassionate to myself and others?
Happy New Year everyone! Here's to our own journeys towards our most authentic selves in 2011.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

this year's Christmas treat: Alfajores

A couple of weeks ago, I had been overcome by a sudden craving for Alfajores. It happened just out of the blue, as most cravings do. But it must have been the longing I have for home, as my homesickness gets extra strong this time of year.

I had not eaten an alfajor in years. I have memories of having them back home, and I distinctly remember the last time I had it. It was the last Christmas I spent in the Philippines, before I left to come here. I was teaching at that time, and the mother of one of my students gave me a box for Christmas. That was probably the best I had.

You're probably asking - what are alfajores? It's yumminess in a neat little package.


 It's smooth, creamy, sweet dulce de leche sandwiched in between crumbly, light, buttery vanilla shortbread.

Isn't that enough to make you hooked?

So I was on the prowl (ok, so that's a little dramatic). I searched online for recipes, and one of the first few that came up was this recipe from the blog Matt Bites. Being an occasional reader of his blog, and admirer of his food photography, I went ahead and tried his recipe. It had been featured in Martha Stewart, after all.

Later, every empty surface in the kitchen was covered by either some ingredient or a cookie sheet or cookies on a cooling rack. Even the rack of the oven toaster (powered off, of course) was used for cooling cookies! But during all that kitchen mayhem, the apartment smelled like butter, sugar, and vanilla. And I waited in anticipation to try one alfajor.

So I spread some dulce de leche -- homemade* -- on a cookie to try.

Sadly, it was not how I remembered. The recipe produced a cookie that resembled something more like a sponge cookie, not the shortbread kind of texture I was looking for. Also, after the cookie baked, it was not flat -- it was shaped more like a mound, so when you turn it into a sandwich cookie, it does not sit level on a surface because of the rounded bottom. I must have done something wrong in the mixing, as something made the dough rise during baking, and my results did not match the picture on his blog. It's not that the cookie wasn't good -- with all due respect to Matt Bites -- but it just didn't match the idea of alfajores stored in that part of my brain devoted to my food memories (you do believe I truly have a strong food memory, right?).

Back to the drawing board.

So I searched for more recipes, and I finally came across this one, from the blog From Argentina With Love. Something in me made me trust the blog title. And, as I looked over the recipe, the ingredients and the proportions seemed to more closely resemble shortbread.

Back to the kitchen mayhem, with bowls, spatulas, jars of flour and sugar, cookie sheets being swapped in the oven, a sheet going in as one comes out. It's the chaos I love. There's a method to the madness here.

And finally... Eureka!!!


I even brought some with me on my trip to New Jersey last weekend to give as Christmas presents. Thankfully they survived the flight. I even crumpled some small pieces of baking parchment paper to fill the nooks and crannies of the containers, to make them travel-ready... then took the crumpled pieces of paper out right before gifting.

So I'm now on round 3 of my alfajores baking adventure. I'm still making them as post-Christmas presents, for those I have not given treats to yet. I'm trying to figure out how to make the dulce de leche not run out of the cookie. I want it to ooze out of the sides just a little, just perfectly so that people know what's inside, but not too much so that it drips out. I think I'm going to try freezing a couple of cookies after they are filled, to see what happens.

Meanwhile, I think that even if you get a box of alfajores with homemade caramel oozing and dripping out of the cookie, you wouldn't mind. I bet you would even lick the caramel off the container.



Alfajores (recipe courtesy of From Argentina With Love)

2 sticks (1 cup) of unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg plus one yolk (also at room temperature)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1-2 cups dulce de leche
powdered sugar (optional)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and the sugar.  Add in the egg plus yolk and vanilla and beat over medium speed until incorporated.  In a separate bowl, mix the flour, cornstarch and baking powder together.  (My addition: I sifted the dry ingredients together to make sure there were no lumps.)

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and continue mixing until it forms a consistent dough.

Remove the dough from the mixer and divide the dough into two balls.  Wrap the balls in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least  half an hour or overnight.

Position the baking rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Unwrap the dough and roll it out (it will be cold and stiff at first) onto a floured surface. 

(My addition: I let the dough sit at room temperature for about a half hour. I rolled the dough in between the 2 sheets of plastic wrap which I used for wrapping the dough to cool in the refrigerator. It made the rolling much easier! No worries about rolling it into a perfect circle like you would with pie crust - as you will be cutting the dough anyway.)

Roll the dough out to about 1/4 inch thickness, then cut with a small round cutter (or a juice glass).  Repeat the rolling and cutting until you have used all the dough.

(My addition: I rotated the dough a quarter turn every so often when rolling -- again, this is easy when the dough is in between the 2 sheets of plastic wrap! Rotating the dough helps ensure that you roll it out evenly, so that one side is not thicker than the other. I floured the rim of my glass before cutting the dough, so that the dough doesn't stick to the glass. As you roll and re-roll the dough scraps, the dough becomes warmer, so you will have to use a lighter hand with the rolling pin. If it gets too soft and you are no longer making clean cuts with your cookie cutter, you can refrigerate the dough again for 20 minutes or so.)

Place the cookies on a parchment-paper lined cookie sheet, and bake for 15 minutes, just until the edges start to brown.

(My addition: I baked them for 6 minutes first, then rotated the cookie sheet 180 degrees-- just to make sure it bakes evenly -- then baked them for another 6 minutes. I only bake one sheet of cookies at a time for even baking.)

Let the cookies cool completely, and then place a generous dollop of dulce de leche on one cookie, topping with another cookie to make a sandwich.  Press gently together.  Cover in sifted powdered sugar, if desired.

This recipe makes about 30 alfajores. Enjoy with coffee, hot chocolate, or tea!



(The mug above with the word "cocoa" was a present from my nephews! They know how much I love big mugs. Sweet kids :) )

* I used Alton Brown's dulce de leche recipe. Click here. I added a teaspoon of Himalayan pink salt to the recipe to balance the sweetness somewhat, and also to bring out all the flavors. I found that making the dulce de leche a day or so in advance helps, so that it has time to thicken in the refrigerator. You can buy store-bought caramel, but the homemade version is SO WORTH IT. (Was that enough emphasis?). With homemade dulce de leche, you really taste the complexity of the butter and vanilla and cream. It's just amazing. Make sure you use good unsalted butter and really good vanilla extract (not imitation vanilla, which is a sin in my world). I use the Nielsen-Massey brand of Madagascar vanilla. I store the dulce de leche in a glass jar, tightly covered, in the refrigerator. Based on my online reading, it can keep well for a month or so. Not that I would need it for that long ;-)

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

yoga thought for the day: post-holiday reflecting

After the frenzy of the holiday rush and traveling, I am happy to get settled back into my routine. I loved my short-but-sweet visit with my family in the East Coast, seeing my nephews and niece, and spending a fun, relaxing weekend with (some of) my loved ones. Perhaps someday, my whole big family -- now living far apart -- can spend Christmas together. 

I'm thankful that we did not get caught in the recent East Coast blizzard, and that we were able to fly back here in the nick of time.

The day after Christmas, I tend to enjoy my quiet moments. Moments in which I can look back and reflect on the year.

I came across this quote in an article:

"Behind every inner block, every painful feeling, every surge of resentment, is a bit of life force waiting to be freed." - Sally Kempton

What a great thought to ponder on as we prepare to usher in the new year.  What are the inner blocks I am holding? What resentments do I have that I want to let go of and not carry with me into the new year? How can I let go of these to free up some of that "life force", so that I can put in more energy towards the people and things I love and value, the things that lead me to my highest, most authentic self?

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Monday, December 27, 2010

joy is in the simple things



During the holidays, it's easy to get wrapped up (no pun intended) in the idea of presents and material things... but at the end of the day, the true happiness lies in the simple things - being together with family and loved ones.

Sure, all the Christmas traditions are great fun:

Watching the children anticipating the arrival of Santa...


The frenzy of presents...



The element of surprise...


But it's also in the simplicity of handwritten gift tags from children...

* "Tita" means "aunt" in the Filipino language.

Children's handmade presents...




Watching my niece scribble with crayons and markers...


A three-hour (or was it four?) game of Monopoly with A., my 10-year-old nephew, my brother, and sister-in-law...


Endless peekaboo and hide and seek games with my niece...


And listening to my favorite Christmas carol Silent Night, while expressing gratitude for this day.




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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

something to warm your heart this holiday season

A friend asked me to share a story. "Some kind of specific human connection they had/have had during the Christmas season, either this year or years past" was her specific request.

I can't remember a story of my own, but I do have one to share, for which I cannot take credit. This is from my nephew, 3 years ago. He was 7 years old at the time. From the time he was little, he was always asking very interesting questions and saying the darndest things. Below was what he wrote in his letter to Santa:

******************

December 13, 2007


Dear Santa


My name is Martin. I am in second grade. Did you go to second grade? I have a brother (I don't have an older brother). My brother is 4 years old. My mom is a dentist. My mom is 32 years old. My dad is 33 years old. My dad is a builder. My wish is everyone who is poor to have money.


PS. Did you go to school?
PPS. Do you have brothers or sisters?
PPPS. Do you like your job?


From
Martin

******************
That just melts my heart...what a wish from a little boy who has had no experience of, or exposure to poverty. Life's lessons from a seven-year-old.

My brother scanned this letter into a pdf file and sent it by email to our family. I still look at it -- with his cute little handwriting and all -- and it warms my heart to this day.

Enjoy!



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Friday, December 17, 2010

blackcurrant spice cake

I love warming spices such as cinnamon, allspice, and cloves this time of year. It's so festive, yet comforting. Here's a very simple recipe for a delicious, moist cake which can be enjoyed with tea or for dessert with company on a cold winter afternoon. Or for breakfast, if you're like me.

Blackcurrant Spice Cake with Lemon Glaze

1/3 cup dried black currants (or raisins, but I prefer currants here)
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon good vanilla extract - the real kind, not imitation vanilla
1/2 cup extra-virgin cold pressed coconut oil* (or safflower oil)
3/4 cup sugar (I use raw turbinado sugar)
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed mixed with 2 tablespoons water (or 1 egg, lightly beaten)
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (note that this is different from regular whole wheat flour for bread)
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I like Vietnamese cinnamon)
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Heat oven to 350 F.

Line a ceramic or metal baking pan (9-inch square) with parchment paper or aluminum foil, then lightly grease the paper/foil. Or, skip the paper/foil and just grease and flour the baking pan. I find the former method makes my life easier though.

Combine the black currants, water, and vanilla extract in a small saucepan until it simmers. Remove from heat and stir in the oil, sugar, and flaxseed and water mixture. If using egg, remember to cool the mixture first before adding the egg, or else the egg will scramble in the hot liquid!

Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Make sure all spices are well combined throughout. Pour in the liquid ingredients and stir. Stir in the walnuts or pecans. Avoid overmixing, as this makes the cake tough.

Pour into the baking pan, and bake for 20-25 minutes until a knife/toothpick/cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean (a few moist crumbs sticking to the knife are ok too).

Let the whole pan cool on a cake rack. Meanwhile, make lemon glaze:

1/2 cup confectioner's sugar/powdered sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest (a Microplane works great for fine zest)

Mix the above ingredients, then drizzle over the cooled cake.

The cake is delicious even without the glaze, but I think the lemon brightens up the flavors. But as you can see, I already dug in while it was warm, before I added the glaze...



*You might be wary about extra virgin coconut oil in a cake. It does have a strong smell, but believe me, when you taste the cake, you won't be able to tell it was made with coconut oil. I wouldn't recommend it for recipes where the butter should stand out and recipes where you need the consistency of real sweet cream butter (like pound cake, buttercream frosting, etc.). But for recipes such as this spice cake, the coconut oil worked really well.

Coconut oil used to have a bad reputation, but that is rapidly changing within alternative health communities. Read about the benefits of coconut oil here. Aside from olive oil, EV coconut oil is the only other oil I use now. I use it for almost everything, except Italian, Greek, or Mediterranean cooking where you really need the bright, fruity flavors of olive oil.

This is the coconut oil I use -- sourced from the Philippines! (I know, I can't help it... saying that makes me proud.) This coconut oil is organic, extra-virgin, cold-pressed, unrefined, and hexane free.

Butter, however, is a different story...

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Friday, December 10, 2010

"it's the most wonderful time of the year..." (some holiday ideas)



I've been working on this post for a while, trying to put together (hopefully) useful information for the holidays...

I've also been trying to shy away from the tendency towards over-commercialism and over-consumption that goes along with the holidays. That makes it feel a little bit too chaotic for me, and I think it takes away from what I believe is the essence of the upcoming holiday. Whether you celebrate it in a sacred or secular way, what do the holidays mean to you?






Now I have to admit, part of this has to do with the fact that I am now a full-time student and only receiving a meager stipend for part-time work (meaning I have very little wiggle room in my budget to shop for big-ticket items as presents, from corporate chains and big box stores). But being in this situation has also made me reflect on what's necessary and what's truly essential.

But I'm also trying to avoid being prescriptive and preachy... so I'll stop there.

So for whatever it's worth, here are some ideas for an "alternative" shopping list. Websites of fair trade stores, websites of products from micro-grants (Click here and here for information on micro-grants). Hope you consider...

Ten Thousand Villages (in-store and online): Beautiful handmade items from around the world - home furnishings/decorations, clothing and accessories, paper goods, and even toys!



Global Exchange

Janet Rhodes fair trade store (in-store and online): I loved this store when I saw it in a neighboring town. Got a few unique gifts from here last year.

Global Goods Partners : Handmade gifts that support women in need.

Global Girlfriend: This one supports micro-grants for women.

* Some of the above websites have either free shipping when you reach $100's worth of purchases, or have standard/flat rate shipping, or other shipping promotions. Just check the individual website.

If you have a crafty side, how about handmade edible or non-edible gifts? Here are some links:

Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Cake

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Granola

Mulled apple cider (can be packaged in a stainless steel thermos for gifting)

I like what Ina Garten (aka Barefoot Contessa) says about holiday gifting. Her philosophy is that holiday gifts should be edible or consumable. I like that. :)

Shea butter hand cream

Salt scrub

Masala chai blend (spiced black tea mix)

I've been spoiled with A's homemade chai. After trying his chai, I never wanted the packaged ones or the ones from pre-made mixes that you get in coffee shops. We jokingly say that what brought us together was his chai and my cake. Oh, and one thing he clarified way back was that "chai" actually means "tea", so saying "chai tea" is redundant. Ok, it is his language after all. :) Oh, and masala = spices. So now it drives me just a little bit crazy when I keep seeing "chai tea latte" in restaurant/coffee shop menus. Anyway...

- 1 tsp loose leaf black tea (Assam is recommended)
- seeds of 2 green cardamom pods, crushed
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger (if making it for yourself, use about a 1/4 inch slice of fresh ginger, chopped)
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (if making it for yourself, you can also use 1 small piece - about 1 inch - of cinnamon stick)
- 1-2 whole cloves

 I don't always use cinnamon and cloves actually... usually ginger and cardamom are fine for me, but the combination of spices is up to individual preference. So have fun, experiment and see what combination of spices you like best.

If making it for yourself, boil some water, add your choice of sweetener (I like turbinado sugar), the tea blend, and your choice of milk (cow's milk, almond milk, or soy milk).

If making it as a gift, just multiply the ingredients (tea leaves and spices). I'll let you do the math, as that is not one of my strong points. :) Mix everything in a glass jar, and maybe some written instructions for the recipient would be nice.

Or you can check out more chai recipe options here.

As an additional note:  The spices used in chai -- cinnamon, cloves, ginger -- these are all warming spices, which are great for the winter months! And ginger is great for digestion.

I think a big reason I like making handmade gifts (edible or otherwise) is the time it gives me to pause and enjoy the moment without the hustle and bustle of going to a crowded shopping mall. Just thinking about the parking lot chaos on a Saturday afternoon in December is enough to make me run - or drive, I mean -- in the other direction. I will admit to making an exception though if it's something from a toy store or bookshop that I think my nephews or nieces will really, REALLY like. In which case -- as much as I can help it -- I will opt to go to a smaller, locally-owned store like this one or this one , or this little book shop, rather than a big-box store in which I will have to dodge crowds, shopping carts, and wait in long checkout lines. And, how can I resist store names like Off the Wagon, My Little Red Wagon, and The Learned Owl Bookshop?

I don't know the math exactly, but when we support and shop in local businesses, every dollar spent is worth threefold (or something like that). Basically the money goes back to the community. How can that not be a good thing?

*********************

If you live in Northern Ohio, click here for an idea for a charitable gift. For a small donation, you get entered in a drawing to win all sorts of gift cards to dine out in at least a dozen restaurants! And I'm not talking about just "any" restaurant... I'm talking about chef-owned, gourmet, local businesses. This would be a great "experience" gift - to yourself, or to someone else if you make a donation on someone else's behalf.

What are some "alternative" things you've done for holiday presents? Would love more ideas...

PS: Let's talk about packaging... I know this makes me sound like the Grinch, but the other thing that bugs me about the holidays is the amount of waste that is a result of wrapping paper, bubble wrap, Styrofoam peanuts, etc... many of which are completely non-recyclable (for instance, the shiny or foil kind of wrapping paper is harder to recycle than regular paper; Styrofoam peanuts are completely non-recyclable). However, some of them are reusable. Which is a good thing, because it takes less energy to reuse than to recycle. And it takes the least energy to reduce. Hence the order of least-to-most energy: "reduce-reuse-recycle". So anyway... gather up all the Styrofoam peanuts or bubble wrap that comes in your shipped packages, place it all in a bag, and take it to your nearby UPS store, for them to reuse.

And while we're on the topic of packaging... why not bring a reusable cloth or canvas bag when Christmas shopping? They're not just for markets or grocery stores :) There's your opportunity to "reduce," right there.

Ok, I think I've already done what I tried to avoid.... prescriptive/preachy.

However you choose to celebrate...enjoy being present with yourself and with others this holiday season.

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

oh, how it sparkles

I'm not talking about Christmas ornaments and twinkle lights.

I'm talking about snow.

Those of you who know me know for a fact that I love sunshine. I love the sea and the sand and tropical fruit. But living in Northern Ohio is teaching me some things. One, as much as I dread winter driving, I have to see some positives about the season - beyond the everyday excuse to make old-fashioned hot chocolate (not that I need any excuse for that, anyway). I have to learn to like the snow, even just a little. Because I'll be staying here for a little while longer.

Second, there's a certain kind of quiet that goes along with winter. The kind that encourages you to pause, reflect, and feel grounded. To slow down amidst the busy holiday rush. After the heated excitement of summer, the changes and transitions in the fall, comes the silent retreat of winter.

Today, after a few days of staying indoors and working, I attempted to take a walk. So I bundled up (read: running tights, with leggings under the running tights, tank top, turtleneck top, lightweight jacket, then the outer heavier coat, hat, gloves, scarf, 2 pairs of socks) and walked around my neighborhood. It had stopped snowing after we had maybe 12 inches dumped on us over the past several days. And, the sun was shining!

Which made the snow actually sparkle. The rays of the late afternoon sun reflected on the snow like millions of little crystals. It was amazing. I wish I could say I was able to capture it in photos, but I couldn't quite approximate it.




Now this is not some earth-shattering discovery. I'm sure you (meaning you who live in places that get snow, or have seen snow) have seen snow sparkle before. But for some reason, despite year after year of experiencing snow, seeing the sun shine after a snow storm makes it seem like the first time every time.

There's the magic of nature.

Whether it's sunlight reflected on the water...



Or on dewdrops...



... nature will always find a way to sparkle. And wrap you in its sweet, grounding embrace.

May you enjoy the magic of winter and the holidays...

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Friday, December 3, 2010

breath and spirit



Words from one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver:
"Are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?"

Words I've been thinking about this week. And in my mom's usual intuitive way, she sends me this in an email:

The words "spirit", "Spiritual", Spirituality' come from the Latin word "spirare": to breathe.   
We breathe in, drawing in oxygen which gives life; without it we would quickly die; it is our first food. But we cannot breathe in forever; we must breathe out too; we must give away what that has been given to us. There we have an image of the spiritual life: breathing in and breathing out.  Everything we receive is a gift, free as the air.  Everything we have, we have to give away, a gift, free as the air we breathe.

Breathe in:  we need to go to the deepest center and find God/Spirit/Universal Energy there.

Breathe out:  we need to go out to the whole world, find God/Spirit/Universal Energy and bring Him/Her there.

Wow. Quite powerful words. It's making me think about how I breathe life into my days. Which is a tough question considering how I have been living my days this week. So my mother's email was quite timely, as it gave more insight into what I've been mulling over recently.

These words are also resonating with me right now:

work as love
work as art
work as harmony with the pulse of the earth

- Pamela Slim

I've always considered my work to be a form of spirituality. In my previous job, it wasn't hard to make that connection - especially when working directly with young children and families in the human services field. This time, being a full-time student/graduate assistant/college instructor, I work mostly alone, or with a few colleagues, or with adult students in graduate classes. I've been thinking about how I am making my current work a spiritual practice. What kind of energy am I putting in? How am I breathing life and spirit into my work? But also, how am I nourishing myself so that I can keep giving my energy?

This week was especially challenging, as it has been very solitary. I spent hours and hours on end on my computer, and just relatively minimal chunks of time talking to a colleague to discuss our project over Skype. Don't get me wrong, I love my alone time. I like opportunities to be in my head or in my heart as I walk, cook, practice yoga or meditation, take photographs, or write. But I also crave conversation and community. I welcome opportunities to connect on a deeper level with like-minded people. To connect as an I and a Thou, as the philosopher Martin Buber wrote.

But my current lifestyle can be very... isolating. Which makes it difficult to find that sense of spirituality and connection. Part of the reason connecting with others is so nourishing is that it's a cycle of giving and receiving. Not of material things, but of energy. This week, I felt Mary Oliver's words so strongly. I have been "breathing just a little".

No wonder I felt so out of balance. But I have to remember, that there's a reason it's called a spiritual practice. It's not going to be perfect. It's not going to be great every day. Life itself is a spiritual practice.

I've been reflecting on this word as well:

"spirited"

It's a word that I love. I love how it sounds. I love the feeling it evokes. It's strange, I know - how I tend to love words for the way they sound and for the feelings attached to them. Much how I like the word "spring" for the way it sounds, and its associations with everything fresh and new and reborn.

But back to "spirited". The online dictionary defines it as:

"having or showing mettle, courage, vigor, or liveliness, etc.: a spirited defense of poetry."

(thanks, dictionary.com)

I think this definition is somewhat limiting though. Because what happens when your courage wanes? When you feel a decline in your energy or a loss of liveliness? What if you don't feel like bubbling over with joy or "bursting with fruit flavor"? (my favorite line from that old movie, Reality Bites)

I think being "spirited" is much more than that. It's that sense of conviction, that place of stillness, that quiet wellspring of energy deep in your gut, from which to draw strength to propel yourself forward. Even when your energy wanes, even when you don't think you can go any further. Even after you've felt like you've been giving and giving of yourself.

It's faith. In someone, in something, whoever or whatever that may be to you.

The question is, how do you call upon it? Especially in the often-hurried pace of work life?

How do you breathe life into your days? What makes you feel spirited?

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

what's the world coming to?

So I heard on NPR that the day after Thanksgiving, or what is known as Black Friday, is also the "National Day of Listening". On this day, we are encouraged to invite someone to talk for an hour, while we listen.

I understand this is well-intentioned, but really?

We actually need an authority (whatever or whoever that may be) to tell us to listen to someone? We actually need to mark this day on the calendar? So what do we do on the other 364 days?

Just throwing my question out there.

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gather and give thanks

"I have always been curious about what joins people together than what separates them." - Yo-Yo Ma, cellist



Wishing everyone time to gather with loved ones and feel gratitude for life's many blessings.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

mind on overdrive: vata imbalance

It happened again... I could not turn my thoughts off last night, despite often-used strategies of listmaking, breathing exercises, putting my legs up the wall, etc. Finally at 2 or so in the morning I felt a grumbling in my stomach, and went to the kitchen for a mug of almond milk. Went back into my bedroom, and I did the worst thing of all: I turned on my computer.

Well, I figured that if I was going to be up, I might as well do something. So I did two things: looked at recipes, and read about Ayurveda. The first thing led me to this wild rice recipe, and to this other recipe for wild rice rissoles (trust the French to make everything sound elegant) and to another recipe for raisin and spice squares. Mmmm.... fall cooking.

But back to Ayurveda. I've been reading quite a bit (the little I can do in my minimal spare time) to inform myself about my current state of imbalance. My search led me to take this dosha quiz. Your dosha is your mind-body state. You may have a clear dominant dosha, or a combination. Your dosha can also change depending on your current life circumstances. There are three types: vata, pitta, and kapha. Take this quiz here to find out. It may or may not be as good as actually going to a trained Ayurveda specialist, but it was, after all, 2 in the morning.

And these were my results:




It's starting to make sense to me.

The only thing I completely disagree with is the part about appetite: "often miss meals." Not this vata. ;-)

Most of it sounds pretty accurate, I'd say... especially the qualities of a balanced vs imbalanced vata. On good days my creativity flows freely... on imbalanced days, overplanning, overthinking, insomnia and anxiety definitely kick in.

So now what? Ayurveda, being a holistic, integrative system, also recommends daily life choices that keep your dosha in balance: food choices, exercise choices, and other daily routines. For my dosha, warming foods were recommended (cooked grains or oatmeal with warming spices like cinnamon; chai with cardamom, cloves, ginger, cinnamon; warm soups and stews.... all of which I love). Grounding exercise choices, such as yoga and moderate walking, were also recommended. Balancing poses, especially, provide a feeling of integration from the top of head, all the way through the body, and down to the feet. No wonder I love dancer pose and balancing sequences. More below from the website:


Needless to say, all of the above would be beneficial for anybody, I think.

This is certainly just the tip of the iceberg... there's so much more to learn. It definitely makes for interesting reading at 2 in the morning.

Thoughts on Ayurveda?

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"push and yield"

An excerpt from one of my favorite yoga books:

"Every yoga posture involves a 'push' and a 'yield'. Pushing is an active force that moves the body further and deeper into the posture, gently exploring areas of tightness. Yielding is a passive force with which you wait and listen to the moment-to-moment feedback from your body; it's a letting go of resistance that allows the active force to be successful without being aggressive. The pushing and yielding elements occur simultaneously, as in a dance. Done properly, therefore, yoga is a matter of pushing and yielding, of 'doing' and 'not-doing,' at the same time."

- Erich Schiffman, Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness, p. 48

Isn't this how we should live life? To aspire for balance through pushing and yielding. We need that "push" to challenge ourselves, but we also need to know when to "yield" and let go of control.

More to learn. So much to learn.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

fall recipe: "white" chili

I'm taking a break from my regular musings on balance and stress relief, in favor of sharing a new recipe!

Fall always makes me think of chili. But after 2 rounds of the regular "red" vegetarian chili -- tomato-based stew with red kidney beans and peppers -- I felt a need to experiment and try new combinations. Hence, this "white" chili.

Enjoy!

Hearty Vegetarian White Chili

olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 medium carrots, chopped to small pieces
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground oregano
2 tsp chili powder, or more or less to taste... I went with "more"
2 tbsp flour
a slosh of white wine... 1/4 - 1/2 cup maybe?
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (I know... I used canned. Didn't plan ahead and soak dry chickpeas. You can also use cannellini beans or other white beans)
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1/2 cup bulgur (medium or coarse), rinsed and drained
1/2 - 1 bunch of greens of your choice, chopped or torn to bite-size pieces (I am loving Swiss chard and collard greens for this recipe. For hearty stews I prefer chard or collards over spinach... spinach tends to wilt down to almost nothing)
a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
chopped cilantro* (or parsley if you prefer)

Heat olive oil in a Le Creuset (I wish!) big, heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the onions and season with 1 tsp of salt - chefs on TV say to season as you go or season every layer, and it does make a difference so you don't add a ton of salt at the end that doesn't get fully absorbed by the ingredients anyway. Of course, start with just a small pinch of salt each time you season so that you don't risk over-salting the dish. The salt also helps cook the onion by drawing the moisture out. (Thanks, Ina Garten)

Add the carrots and saute until crisp-tender. The carrots help add natural sweetness to the stew to balance out the warm spices. Add the garlic and the spices (cumin, chili powder, and oregano). Adding the spices at this point in the cooking process toasts them and brings out their flavor. Add the flour and cook for a minute or so to cook off the "raw" flour flavor. The flour will help thicken the stew later. Add a good slosh of white wine to deglaze the pot and scrape the browned bits on the bottom with a wooden spoon. You want those browned bits -- that's where the flavor is!

Pour in the broth. It will look like a LOT of liquid, but don't worry, it will get reduced down. Add the chickpeas (or white beans). Let it come to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Once it's boiling, add the bulgur. The bulgur will also absorb some of the liquid. It also adds texture and makes the stew more hearty. Add the crushed red pepper flakes. Start with a small pinch, as the flavor gets concentrated during the simmering. Stir in the greens. It will look like a whole lot of greens, but it will wilt down as the stew cooks.

Let it simmer until it thickens and until it reaches your desired consistency. You can add more broth or water if too much got absorbed or reduced while cooking. Season with salt and pepper. Add a generous amount of chopped cilantro. If you're one of those people who think that cilantro tastes like soap, use parsley instead. (But I would argue that really fresh cilantro should NOT taste like soap. Like the little cilantro I had growing this spring/summer. Best ever.)

You can also sprinkle some grated cheese on top if you like, but I did without it. And if you're like me and really like cilantro, sprinkle a little more cilantro on top of each serving.

This was a great one-pot meal, and one-bowl meal. It was colorful, flavorful, and healthy!  I wish I could take a photo, but I left Nick (my Nikon camera) at A's house last weekend. Gasp!


This makes a LOT of stew for one person... I typically let it cool a little, then portion it out into reused glass jars for freezing (I find that peanut butter glass jars are perfect for this). Make sure you leave enough room below the lid of the jar as the liquid will expand when frozen. So, instead of eating this same dish for 5 days straight, you can enjoy it another day, after enough time has passed for you to miss it. I have to say I love my homemade "frozen dinners". I usually have 3 or 4 different kinds of homemade soups or stews that I can choose from in the freezer, because I always make a big batch each time I cook to save time and energy. A few hours before dinner I take the jar of frozen soup/stew and immerse it in a container of water to thaw out.

* A note on cilantro, other fresh herbs, and greens... I found that taking a few extra steps in kitchen prepping keeps delicate herbs and soft greens fresher longer. Have you had herbs like parsley or cilantro just wilt down and get all browned, smelly, and nasty in those supermarket plastic produce bags in your refrigerator? Ugh. Waste of $ and yummy goodness! For those who know me, you know there's not a lot that I hate but I do hate wasting food. Must be my grandmother's ways...but anway, here's what I do:
When I buy packaged salads (not the ones in the soft plastic bags, but in the stiff clamshell plastic containers or those new compostable "plastic" containers), I wash and keep those containers to save for storing greens and herbs. When I get home from the store, I take the herbs out of the mesh/cloth/plastic (whatever you use) produce bags, and sort out and discard the already-wilted stems and leaves as these will make the good, fresh ones wilt faster. I line the containers with a layer of paper towel, then place the herbs into the lined containers. The paper towel absorbs the extra moisture. I also loosen the bunch a little bit to let air circulate - don't bunch it up again in the rubber band or twist-tie it comes in! When it's time to use the herbs, wash only what you need and store the rest. I know some people also store herbs in a glass of water in the refrigerator but I found that a bit difficult to do with big bunches like parsley and cilantro.

I do the same with greens like Swiss chard, kale, and collard greens. These greens stand up a bit more to washing, so I wash them, let them dry well, discard any tough stems or stalks, and chop/tear the leaves into big pieces - as store-bought chard can be supersized (which makes me a little suspicious), and they won't fit into the salad containers.  That way when I'm ready to use them in a dish, all the prepping has been done, and all I have to do is throw them into the skillet or pot and cook away.

In short... those plastic produce bags are the enemy of fresh greens in your refrigerator! For those of you who grow your own greens or are living in states that are still warm enough to have farmer's markets... I envy you. I'm sure you don't have this issue.

Ok... get cooking! Enjoy :)

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Friday, November 12, 2010

"do it all, do it well"?

"Do it all. Do it well."

I've been struggling with this idea for a while now.

Such is the culture of work. Productivity. Performance.

But something has to give, right?

Can one really do it all and do all of them equally well?

For example: The supermom with 2 kids, a successful, fulfilling career, and time to prepare delicious, healthy meals for the family AND volunteer at her children's school activities AND participate in community life/social life AND take care of herself.

Really? Is this an accurate, realistic picture?

I'm sure there are those who do seem like they can do it all and do all of them well. But when it comes down to it, the question is... does the above person sleep??? Does the above person really take care of herself? Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally? If so, I'd love to know how these people do it. And maybe package it all up in a bottle.

I just had a productive conversation this morning and I was told that I should give myself a range for my performance. If let's say the best performance is a 10, see if I can be ok with a range of 9-10, and if I can be ok with moving in that range. It's not setting myself up for a 10 but only performing at 2 or 3, which is different. But I need to see if I can be comfortable in the range of 9-10 (or maybe 8-10, as was the suggestion...).

Because a range of 9-10 (or whatever I decide my range is) will give me room to breathe.

Hmm. Something to think about.

It's the same in an asana practice, isn't it? We challenge our bodies and minds to try certain poses and achieve that delicious stretch... but the challenge should be just enough that we can still breathe freely and comfortably, stretch safely without harming ourselves,  and have a sense of openness and lightness in our bodies. We give ourselves a range - room to have just enough challenge, but also enough comfort and steadiness in the breath. Same thing.

So I need to set a range for myself. A range that is still forgiving, a range that says, yes my work is good enough. A range that gives me space to breathe.... and space to enjoy the deliciousness of the challenge while still taking care of myself.

And maybe even a chance to sleep soundly at night.


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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

what's your story?

The body holds stories.


The body holds memories. Just as it holds tension. The aches and pains are related to certain experiences, whether it's an injury, a stressful experience, or an important event. Where you feel the tension, tightness, or aches may change, depending on where you are right now. On your story at this moment. Our bodies hold stories, and we have to listen.

I realized, that in addition to my aches and pains in my lower back (from not knowing how to sit properly - thanks to chairs that are almost always oversized for my... ahem... petite stature), hips (from sitting A LOT at the computer for work and school), and shoulders (ditto), I also tend to hold tension in my jaw. Not good.

A little TMI: My dentist, on my last visit a month or so ago, said, "I see you've been grinding your teeth at night." She asked me if I wake up with a sore jaw and/or a headache. Or if I subconsciously tighten my jaw when I'm concentrating or when I'm tense. I told her I never paid attention to that.

(And since I AM concentrating right this second I had to draw attention to my jaw just to make sure it's relaxed.)

Now that I'm trying to be more aware, I realize that yes I do sometimes wake up with a sore jaw and a headache. And yes I tend to tighten my jaw when I'm focusing, or when under stress. The body doesn't lie.

And I have to admit, that for someone who LOVES movement - from years of gymnastics, dance, swimming, yoga, etc... I don't always have the most keen sense of body awareness when I'm not doing any of the above activities.

Which tells me... that I still have so much to learn. About self-awareness. Self-monitoring. Stress management. Easing physical tension as a way to ease mental and emotional tension. 

During a yoga practice, instructors would usually remind people to relax the jaw during savasana. Or any other pose. To relax the forehead and the space between the eyebrows. To relax the facial muscles even while in a challenging pose. To just breathe. It's something I have said myself in classes I have taught before, and it's something that I'm still reminding myself to do outside of an asana practice. To be self-aware in other areas of my life. It is a challenge, given that my story at this moment (and for the next couple of years) is one of intense pressure. Deadlines. Performance. Which makes it all the more important, so I can get through this current stage in my life with some degree of self-care and well-being.

So what's your story? What story are your muscles and bones telling you? Are you a writer with wrist issues? A chef on your feet all day? Does your back beg to be massaged after a day of lifting heavy items? Or does your heart feel heavy after listening to other people and helping them work through their problems?

What story are you holding in your body? Where in your body do you feel blocked? And how do you listen to your body?

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Monday, November 8, 2010

help is on the way...

... if we know when to ask.

I'm afraid to write about this topic here on the blog, but I have some thoughts swirling around in my head.

Last night, help came in the form of melatonin. I know... I try not to just pop pills left and right, in favor of more "natural" solutions. But after many days of restless nights and interrupted sleep, my body just really, desperately needed a good night's rest.

Especially after traveling... my trip to California was absolutely wonderful but as always, I experienced my "pre-travel anxiety", in which I go over my mental lists and notes in my head about what I have to do, things I shouldn't forget, etc, etc.... and as a result I toss and turn for hours. And this is after even making physical lists with a paper and pencil. I'm not quite sure why I experience this. I've been traveling since I was little, and I think I should be used to it... but no. The night before I flew out, I tried every trick I had: breathing exercises, mantra meditation, a few down dogs and child's poses, legs up the wall... but I could not, for the life of me, quiet my mind. It may have to do with the fact that this trip wasn't exclusively a "for-pleasure" trip, but it was for a conference presentation with a little pleasure and fun squeezed in. So I had a lot to think about - to remember this and that and the other thing regarding my conference presentation. Anyway, the night before I flew out, I ended up getting only ONE HOUR of sleep. And I had to wake up at 5 am for a 7:30 am flight.

So after I got back, I decided to take 500 mcg of melatonin. And it was the best sleep I've had in A REALLY LONG TIME.

So am I going to take this every night now? I don't think so. But I realize that it's there, when I need just a little extra help. And that is ok.

Does this make me less of a yogi? Do practitioners of yoga always need to have it all together? Inner peace, inner strength, inner ____ ? 100% unshakeable calm, 24/7/365?

I think not. I find strength in knowing that I can accept help. Whether it's in the form of prayer, intentions, mantras, meditation, asanas, stress-cooking, or a conversation with a friend. Or a pill, for that matter. Because the truth is, at that moment in time, taking it helped me so that I had enough quality rest to fulfill my obligations, my purpose, at least a portion of my life's work the next day.

And that's a good thing.



*This is not, by any means, medical advice of any sort.*

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

water + sunshine = PURE JOY





Happy to be back home, but still dreaming of the warm sun, relaxing swims under a vivid blue sky, and the healing powers of water...

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

much needed space


... for morning sun salutations.

I'm in California for a conference, and thankfully I packed my mat. Mornings like these are made for an asana practice.

Isn't the sunlight glorious?

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Sunday, October 31, 2010

favorites from Phipps Conservatory

This weekend I made a quick day trip to Pittsburgh to see a couple of friends from college who were here for a business trip.

We went to the Phipps Conservatory, which is a shutterbug's paradise. Here are a few of my favorites:





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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

revisiting stress management


We're nearing the end of October... which means pretty fall foliage, but it also means mid-semester work, grading, planning, writing, etc etc etc....

So... I'm trying to be proactive and help myself.

Stress management #1:

Legs-up-the-wall pose. There's just nothing like it. I don't think I need to say more...

Reclining bound angle pose, or Supta Baddha Konasana. With lots of supportive props, as pictured here.

Stress management #2:

Read one of my favorite bedside books. This author just has an uncanny way of somehow "speaking" to me, giving me just what I need at any given time.

Stress management #3:

I've been so drawn towards bread baking lately.

There's something about the mixing and kneading and punching and rolling that provides much comfort in a time of stress.... then, after the therapeutic "kitchen bodywork" is done, what happens next is an exercise in patience, waiting for the dough to rise and take its time to develop gluten and all that great stuff that makes for wonderfully crusty, yet light and airy artisan-style bread. Then the act of popping the dough into the oven and waiting for it to continue its transformation, as the scents fill my (small) apartment... then finally, taking it out of the oven, waiting enough time for it to cool -- just enough for me not to burn my fingers...(it's hard to resist the idea of warm, fresh-from-the-oven bread!) then tearing off a piece to dip in some good quality, unfiltered extra virgin olive oil or some homemade herb butter. I can't think of anything better.

So in the last week or so, I've made:
- Indian roti (no-yeast flatbread)
- regular crusty artisan bread
- pizza dough
- garlic and herb foccacia

I'm still thinking of my next bread adventure. I'm under stress again this week anyway, so might as well bake something.

And by the way, most of my baking equipment is still in storage, so I don't have my rolling pin for making pizza dough and roti. So guess what I used in its place: a wine bottle! It worked out fine.

Stress management #4:

Aromatherapy!

I have a small collection of essential oils which I use for a variety of purposes. Tea tree oil and peppermint (mixed with water and regular white vinegar) for general household cleaning, eucalyptus in my vaporizer for congestion, lavender and bergamot mixed with jojoba oil or sweet almond oil for calming, after-bath body oils. Tea tree and lavender for yoga mat spray.

I love this stuff.

It's amazing what essential oils can do - from personal care to household cleaning to insect control. Of course,  I do not use it undiluted, and, if intended for the skin, I always use a carrier oil (a neutral nut or seed oil) as instructed by many books/websites on essential oils. I'm also trying to eliminate as many chemicals as I can, just through small steps. I understand that's not always possible, and if I even try to make it possible, I'll probably drive myself insane. Toxins are everywhere - from commercial personal care to BPA plastics to upholstery etc etc etc... it really CAN drive anyone insane to think about all this. But, if there are things that are within my control, then I'll do something about that.

But most of all, I really just like making things. And keeping my hands busy. It's stress relieving.

So I bought a new batch of sweet almond oil (as a carrier oil) after I recently ran out of my stash... and made pretty little bottles of body oil. Here's what I ended up with:

For a calming lavender mix:
120 ml sweet almond oil with 10 drops lavender essential oil

For a mild, citrusy, fresh-smelling mix:
50 ml sweet almond oil with 5 drops of bergamot essential oil

I think I might make a lavender-vanilla combination next. Mmmm.

What do you do for stress management? Do share --  I can only make so many breads and so many bottles of body oil at a time.

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Friday, October 8, 2010

reflections from the mat

It's been a rough 2 weeks, hence my cyber-absence from the blog. I've been dealing with a lot of uncertainty, and I am completely aware of the fact that I. DO. NOT. deal with uncertainty very well. I completely admit to my control freak self - though I *think* I've gotten better at it, sometimes she still comes back full force. Hence the anxiety. And the emotional rollercoaster.

It's interesting how it's during those times when we need self-care the most when we neglect it the most. I had not been walking as often, had not been practicing yoga as often. Sleeping poorly. I know in my rational mind, that despite my 4 deadlines this week, I need to make time for self-care. Somehow it seems to just slip away all to easily, until finally... the crash. Does this happen to you?

So this morning, I decided to say hello to my yoga mat again. I swept the floors -- to clear the space in a physical sense -- but also symbolically, I think. Clearing the negative energy as best I could.

I practiced a vinyasa flow sequence, which I love. And to my surprise, in this time of weakness, it seemed that I was regaining the strength in my arms and shoulders with every chaturanga. It was a source of strength I had forgotten. I also recognized the feeling of uncertainty in my left leg while doing a warrior and balancing sequence on the left side -- knowing that my left leg is significantly weaker than the right. And I taught myself to be ok with it, to breathe through it, and find strength in the breath. To be ok with weakness, to be ok with uncertainty. To be ok with the fact that there are always two sides to a story. Strength and weakness.

And in my ending meditation, I felt a gentle breeze coming in through the window. As I felt it touch my arms and face, it was the most comforting sensation I have felt in the past few weeks. Because it made me realize that the world doesn't always give us gale winds, it give us gentle breezes too. Two sides to a story. Gale winds and gentle breezes. Force and gentleness. It's true in life. But I realize, that when the strong winds come, that my strength is somewhere inside of me -- it just gets buried sometimes underneath the layers and layers of worry. I just have to breathe through it. And I know that the storms will eventually slow down, and will be followed by the comfort of a gentle breeze.



I gazed at the beautiful blue sky out the window, seeing the leaves starting to turn. The thought that came to mind is "transitions." I silently said a mantra:

I let go of worry.
I let go of control.
I let go of my burdens.


I open my heart to uncertainty.
I open my heart to transitions.
I open my heart to grace and the greater good that is in store for me.

And so I felt peace. Even for just this morning. Yes, the uncertainty is there. But I am teaching and re-teaching myself to accept it. It's a lot of work. But just as I accept my feelings of uncertainty and weakness in my physical yoga practice, I am beginning to accept uncertainty with the knowledge that there is a source of strength inside me. With the knowledge that the storms come and go, but there's always a place of calm after the storm. It's grace at work. And for that, I am grateful.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

a gentle reminder: slow down

I was in our university library this morning, and the elevators there are notoriously S-L-O-W. I had to push the "door close" button three times, and it had a response time of 7.4 seconds to finally close (ok, ok... I didn't really count). The other student next to me chuckled. I said, "these elevators are SO SLOW!"

Then she said, "Well, it's a good time to think during a busy day."

Wow. Now that was pretty yogic.

You never know where you might find wisdom. Elevators included.

Happy Friday!

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Inspirational Wild Woman poster

Because everyone deserves some affirmation....


Thanks to artist Heidi Richardson Evans of daisybones and to blisschick.net for sharing... and for letting us distribute or post online for free! Enjoy and pass it on! (Click on the photo for a larger version)

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

CAN and WILL

"That we can is probably our most fundamental, most important, and most enduring dimension; that we will is simply logical." 
- Donald Baer, Montrose Wolf, and Todd Risley (1987), behavior research scientists

As you may have noticed, I love quoting others' words of wisdom and inspiration. This was the final statement in a recent behavior research article that I read for one of my classes. How interesting to find such views about life in my academic reading. CAN and WILL. I like that.

Last week I was working on a project that sent my anxiety and frustrations through the roof. Things were just not working too well for me and I was up against a deadline. I was so frustrated that I felt like breaking dishes. Yes, you read that right... how un-yogic, isn't it?

(But I do love my small collection of dishes, so no, I didn't break any. And I promise that I am not a violent person. Ok, maybe a little... specifically when some great dessert is involved. Especially when it's dessert at this place.)

Interestingly I heard this story about a professor that has a collection of cheap/old dishes for the purpose of breaking them to release frustration. This professor supposedly even has a place in the yard with a concrete slab against which to break dishes. As the story goes, the professor invites people (i.e., doctoral students?) over to break dishes and relieve stress. Urban legend? Who knows.

I'm not a person that gets angry easily. There are things that are small enough that I "don't sweat it." But there are times when the stakes are high, and that notion of doing all you can and then letting go of perfection doesn't quite cut it. Especially when the expectation is quality, accuracy, and excellence. The expectation is to keep pushing and pushing yourself. Just when you think you've reached the boundaries of your thought process, you are pushed so that you keep expanding it. Which I understand (I think)... we are pushed to great challenges and then to overcome them, and as a result we gain some insight and a new nugget of wisdom.

So something happened last week, and it was like the straw that broke the camel's back. What made me even more anxious, was that I know very well that this is NOT the hardest thing I will ever have to do in my academic life. Far from it.

But I had gotten so worked up by that project, that last weekend, I couldn't even sleep... even after my project was done. I tossed and turned until maybe 2 in the morning. So I practiced some restorative yoga poses, including a gentle inversion (legs up against a wall), did some deep breathing... and finally, what got me to settle down and go to sleep was to silently recite a "mantra" -- I am enough.

I am stumped by a question... how to reconcile the high expectations of academia and the need to be kind and forgiving towards myself? In academia, it's almost never enough. It's only enough when you get those 3 letters behind your name and the three stripes on your graduation gown. But in my inner life, there is a sense that yes, I am enough. Not am I good enough or loving enough or smart enough... just... enough, because I am who I am. You are enough because you are who you are, and there is no one else like you.

Interestingly, last weekend someone called me to apologize about something, and I let it slide SO easily.... and I realized that I'm much more forgiving of other people's "mistakes", but I am so harsh on myself when it has to do with my work and my performance.

So this week I am taking steps to help myself. For now, these are the things I CAN and WILL do to help me find some balance. In my academic world I started organizing my life, and my time, even more (or maybe I had not done that well enough to begin with). I am trying out a new yoga class/studio this weekend which I hope aligns more with my sense of spirituality, so that hopefully I can take more lessons for me to use off the mat. With the hopes that lessons from both worlds -- the world of academia and my "inner life" -- collide, and that these lessons somehow reconcile and play well in the sandbox.

Speaking of sandboxes...


 (My nephew* at the Children's Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio)

* I love watching kids play and explore. I took my nephews to a museum once and they saw this HUGE indoor sandbox and their eyes probably got as big as saucers as they ran to the play area. You feel the great sense of optimism, possibility, and discovery. Lessons to learn....

Do you experience any feelings of a "tug-of-war" between the expectations of your work life and those of your inner life? How do you reconcile both?

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