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In a move that could give you what I have termed ‘life whiplash,’ my husband’s company decided to shut down his lab. The employees got a week’s notice.
(The company, did, however, provide nice severance to those who didn’t transfer.)
My husband told me over text as he got the news during the surprise meeting.
I cried . . . a lot. For about three days, I cried a lot, filling up the bedroom wastebasket with tissues. A couple of months after I had finally felt at home, we needed to uproot again, and that was really painful.
My husband is really well-respected in his field, and he’s in the tech world, so there are lots of jobs open right now (at least in certain cities). In fact, within days, he had recruiters contacting him about jobs other places. But he love-love-loved his job, and he wanted to stay with the company in a new office doing what he loved (with a boss he also loves).
So I said yes to the move. That’s actually the easy part, saying yes. It may not feel easy, but it’s much easier than making all the minute, middling, and large adjustments that living in a new city means. (Those are the actual hard part.) I got to work figuring out cost of living differences so that my husband would know what to ask for in a raise. I researched housing options. I canceled the classes I was supposed to teach and the classes I was supposed to take. I registered for new classes to take . . . and held off on scheduling new classes to teach. Rebuilding my business in another new city was more than I wanted to take on in the midst of our crazy move.
It was 28 days between the day we learned the lab was closing and the day we moved to our new city. Life whiplash, see?
But it’s not all bad. Actually, I don’t know if it’s even half-bad. It’s not easy, but it’s really not bad.
We’re still in California . . . just in the Bay Area now, in the boom towns of Silicon Valley. This is the easiest place for my husband to work, because he will likely always have offers open to him here. We can have stability here we never had in LA, where the company he worked was the one place in town he could do what he loves to do. We have a little house, now, with hardwood floors and a guest room–a rental house, I keep having to tell people; you could not convince me to buy a house right now, especially in an area where the mortgages are this high. We have a back yard with a big deck and lots of fruit trees. I’m in school, which at least has given me an immediate purpose to my days and a way to be around other people. I’ve looked for a part-time job, but I’m picky about what I want to do, and I have the option to be picky, which is fortunate. I could talk about the negatives, because of course they exist, but I don’t feel the need to right now.
A new location . . . whether it’s a vacation or a move, it always makes me think, What do I really want for my life to look like? What do I want to take from where I am right now? What do I want to offer? With whom do I want to connect? And what I do want to let go?
When I worked for Habitat, this blog was hugely important to me. It was a creative outlet when I really didn’t have many, besides the cooking that I was doing that I started sharing here. That need for an outlet changed, and how I used my time changed, when I quit that job to become self-employed. This blog’s been limping along ever since then, and though I tell other people not to feel guilty when they don’t blog, I do feel guilty about not blogging here. I had pretty good readership at one point, and I really killed it. That makes me sad.
But I’m tired of thinking about it at this point, and I’m also tired of trying to figure out how to fit my shifting life and lifestyle into this template that I set up so many years ago. Though I still absolutely believe in the core of the word ‘aprovechar’ and the concept of self-care, I have quite different methodology for a lot of what I do now. I don’t eat the way I used to (these days, mostly grain-free–way beyond gluten-free–with only moderate carbs and good doses of pastured meats). I have things on here that I wish I hadn’t shared or had done a better job of sharing. I have things I wish I had shared that are missing. I don’t like the mental space it takes up thinking about this blog and what I’ve written or haven’t.
I do want to blog, is the funny thing. At least, I think I do. I keep thinking of posts to write lately. This move has brought that out for me again. I just don’t want to blog here anymore. And with the exception of certain posts (like the sandwich bread recipe that now has ~200 comments), I don’t necessarily want everything I’ve written to remain here anymore, either. I haven’t decided how to handle leaving up resources that people really want while removing other stuff, but there will be big changes here soon.
Before then, I’ll probably share my new blog URL. I’ve bought the domain but haven’t finished setting up the page, so I don’t want to say what it is yet. I guess I just wanted to give a heads-up to the few remaining souls who read here that, if there are certain recipes or posts you want to keep, now’s the time for printing. The changes, they are a-coming.
Have you heard of the Bacon Explosion? It’s cooked bacon and barbecue sauce, wrapped in a thick roll of sausage, then wrapped in another layer of (woven) bacon, and smoked until cooked. When the Burnt Fingers bbq sauce guys first wrote about it, it definitely captured people’s attention. Folks tended to either love the idea of it or think it was a disgusting example of excessive meat consumption. The guys who created it have had enough success that they’ve trademarked it.
When I came upon the Bacon Explosion, I instantly loved the look of it: the woven bacon, the swirl of interior ingredients. But the idea of eating pure sausage and bacon wrapped in bacon was a little off-putting to me simply because it sounds like a complete salt bomb. The original recipe calls for sweet barbecue sauce to offset the salty meat, but it still sounds like no more than an appetizer: something I might serve at a wine party and eat a half-inch serving of. (And the amount of sugar in barbecue sauce definitely takes it out of the realm of good Paleo eating.)
But when I came across a Primal version of the Bacon Explosion that incorporates a pork loin, that caught my interest for a possible dinner recipe. The catch is, I don’t usually find pastured pork loin. Pork loin is all over the place if you want to buy the crappy meat of mistreated, confined pigs, but pork loins of pigs that are raised as they were intended are more rare. However, I came across Niman Ranch pork loin in the co-op a few days ago, and while post-corporate-takeover Niman meat isn’t as ideal as buying from a family farm, it has decent standards. I bought the loin.
I began daydreaming about my own dinner version of a Primal Pork Explosion. This one would retain sausage in the interior, but it would be blended into a sausage stuffing with naturally sweet ingredients so that sugar was unnecessary. I looked at Jamie Oliver’s and Mark Bittman’s recipes for pork stuffing, and then I created a primal version of my own.
Voila: a beautiful roll of bacon and pork loin swirled with a sausage, fruit, and nut stuffing. Very savory and satisfying with hints of sweetness and some variation in texture. A lovely meal.
Primal Pork Explosion (With Sausage & Fruit Stuffing)
3 slices raw bacon
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1/2 apple, cored and diced
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon sage
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons raisins
2 pastured pork sausage links (raw), casings removed
10-12 pieces raw bacon from pastured pigs
1 lb. pastured pork loin
Prepare your smoker. If you do not have a grill with smoking capabilities, preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and put your cast iron skillet in to heat with the oven.
Cook three slices of bacon. Remove from pan. Cook the diced onion until it begins to soften, 3-4 minutes. Add the apple and fennel seeds; cook until soft, 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in the walnuts and raisins, and crumble in the cooked bacon. When cool, stir in the raw sausage until well-mixed. Set aside the sausage stuffing.
Using a meat mallet, pound the pork loin to 1/2” thickness. Spread sausage stuffing in a layer on pork loin. Roll up tightly, pressing out any air pockets that might form.
Lay out 5-6 pieces of bacon–however much you need for the length of your pork loin plus a little extra for the ends. Weave the additional pieces of bacon into a basic square weave (start at minute 2 of this video if you don’t know how). Wrap in bacon layer, putting the seam side down and making sure both ends of the pork roll are covered. If you are worried about stuffing falling out of the ends, tuck your bacon weave or additional bacon over the ends, and fasten on with toothpicks. (Make sure to warn any dinner guests of the toothpicks!)
Smoke at 225 degrees, for about one hour per inch of thickness, or until interior hits 145 degrees. (Alternately, remove the very hot cast iron skillet from the oven. Put the roast in the skillet, and roast at 350 degrees, about 15 minutes per pound of total roll’s weight, until interior temperature reaches 145 degrees. If the bacon isn’t crispy to your liking, broil the Pork Explosion for 1-2 minutes, until bacon is crispier.) Allow to rest for five minutes; then slice and serve.
Tags: allergen-free recipes · Paleo/Primal
My favorite method for roasting potatoes and sweet potatoes came about because a South African friend told me how his mom made the best roasted potatoes around and under a chicken when she roasts a chicken. He said the potatoes get very crispy on the outside but very fluffy inside. I’ve roasted vegetables under a chicken . . . without getting the effect he talked about. But researching what might be his mom’s method, I realized that, with the chicken poised above the vegetables on a rack, the potatoes probably steam from falling juices and then, as the moisture evaporates from the cooking chicken and potatoes, fry in the chicken fat that remains.
I was making dinner for my friend and his wife the afternoon he told me about his mom’s potatoes. I already had lamb planned, so I decided to try a different method for the potatoes. To mimic the steaming, I parboiled cubed potatoes; then I roasted them in duck fat until they were crispy on the outside. Voila!
Using this method, sweet potatoes never get as crispy on the outside as the potatoes do (a matter of starch, I imagine), but I think they are even better than the fabulous potatoes. Something about the sweetness, crisp outside/soft inside, and coating of fat makes the sweet potatoes taste a bit like French toast . . . no sugar necessary. They’re a true Paleo treat, and I try to incorporate them in our post-CrossFit recovery meals when we are restoring our glycogen levels.
Best Roasted Sweet Potatoes
water for parboiling
1 tablespoon salt
1 large organic sweet potato or 2 small ones (about 3/4 lb.), cut into 1 1/2″ cubes
3 tablespoons duck fat (in the refrigerator or freezer at better grocery stores & butcher shops)
seasonings: either go savory (chives, paprika, garlic powder) to contrast from the sweetness or go sweet (cinnamon, ginger) to play it up
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Bring a large pot of water with 1 tablespoon of salt added to a boil. Add the sweet potatoes to the water, and boil them for five minutes. When the sweet potatoes are parboiled, drain them well, shaking them to dry them (it’s good if they mash up slightly). Then sprinkle seasonings on them.
Meanwhile, put the duck fat in the bottom of a cast iron skillet or stoneware pan. Put the skillet in the oven, and let the fat melt and heat up for three to five minutes.
Remove the skillet from the oven, and carefully add the sweet potatoes to the pan in a single layer. (They should sizzle.) Flip the sweet potatoes over to coat them in oil. Put the skillet back in the oven. Roast for 20 minutes. Remove pan and flip the sweet potatoes, and then roast for 20 more minutes, or until sweet potatoes reach desired doneness.
A few years ago, six months after we got married, my husband was hit by a speeding car when he was walking in a crosswalk. It was surprising he lived, but he did, and over time, he has recovered about 90% from the accident. In the days and weeks and years after the accident, people have often said to him, “Boy, that must have changed your viewpoint on life.” His answer is a cheerful, “Not really.” Dan is someone who nearly always has a pretty positive outlook on life. He mostly knows what he values, and he mostly does what he should to focus on what he values.
Me? Not always as much.
I’ve only ever told a few people about this—I don’t think I’ve ever written about it publicly—but I’ve been thinking about it lately.
[Read more →]
Tags: autumn · cancer · gratitude · on the soapbox · Uncategorized
February 25th, 2011 · 6 Comments
This is going to be one of my enormous posts. . . .
I’m in a funk the last few days, and I’m desperately trying to both listen to what it means in my life and pull myself out of it.
I recently returned from a trip to Wisconsin, where I went to teach and coach Tilth clients, but also to visit with a friend who had a baby last year. We’ve been friends since middle school, and we both moved away from Atlanta a little over a year ago. Another friend flew in part of the time to hang out with us, as well. Beyond good social times, our purpose in visiting was to help care for our WI friend, who’s had a rough time lately. While we were there, I cooked most of the meals, and the three of us ladies got rid of some serious accumulated clutter in the apartment . . . and did a bunch of reorganizing. (When you have a baby, I guess everyone gives you toys for the child. Savings bonds, people! Gift certificates for museums! Things that don’t accumulate in limited space are awesome.) Every night, I went to bed (often later than I meant to, after staying up talking) and slept HARD. I was physically and emotionally tired by the end of each day. I don’t mean to entirely idealize the trip; there were times when all of us got a bit frustrated with the others, I think, as will happen when people know each other well. But overall, being there and doing what we did was a nourishing experience—in both the giving and receiving senses.
On the flight home, I grew distraught. After my layover in Las Vegas, I spent the rest of the flight fighting back tears. Five minutes after my husband picked me up (bringing along our beloved dog Lily to greet me), I burst into tears in the car—serious, sobbing crying. I told him that I didn’t know entirely why, but I was just overcome. And lonely in LA, and extremely tired of feeling that way. When I left Atlanta, I had an amazing group of girlfriends who saw each other pretty regularly and had a great mix of similar and different values and beliefs. (Most of us have moved to other cities in the last year.) I also had several other close friends I saw intermittently. Even there, though, there were times I felt lonely. In LA, I have several people on the cusp of being friends, but I don’t have a group at all . . . even after 14 months of being here. And I’m usually a social connector in a big way: I tend to pull people who have similar interests and beliefs together to make groups of great, real, loving friends. Here . . . that just hasn’t happened.
But as I’ve continued to be distraught over the last few days, I’ve started wondering if maybe there’s something more that I actually crave, too.
You know how in many countries, people live with their families their whole lives? Houses aren’t just one generation but several, all piled in, all there to give each other support and drive each other crazy. Family members take care of the various chores through some division of labor they determine. People who live there might be stifled, and through the existential sort of angst we all feel from time to time, they may feel lonely. But they aren’t ever really alone.
I don’t want to live with my actual family—many times, we manage to drive each other crazy well enough from many miles apart—but I do think there’s a part of me that craves that type of lifestyle in some ways.
I grew up in a household of six people. Until I left for college, I lived in a small Southern town where part of my family has lived since the late 1700s; nearly everyone knows nearly everyone there, and while it can feel quite stifling at times, people take care of each other and, in some sense, give recognition to each other’s everyday lives. In college, I usually cooked dinner for between six and eight people each night. They each contributed some money, and while it actually still was too expensive for me (I was seriously broke, paying my own way through school after my parents’ divorce), the psychic value of that contribution and social time was enormous for me. I lived in an apartment with between two and five other ladies, and while six women living together was maybe too many, four (usually) worked out nicely. After college, unlike many people I know, I never wanted to live alone. (I did live alone for a while, but I never wanted to.) When I lived alone, I got cable for the first time because I hated how lonely it made me feel to wander around an empty apartment. During and after college, I worked in community development in low-income neighborhoods where, over time, I was somewhat accepted, sometimes even embraced, and I cherished that. One of the greatest things I value about marriage is the loving physical presence of my spouse at home with me. I’ve often joked that if I lived in the 1800s, I’d be the woman who runs the boarding house for a living.
I’ve spent the last few (intermittently teary and despondent) days thinking through what all of this emotion means:
Does it mean I want us to start a family at this point? I don’t think so. I am pretty sure I want children . . . but not now. In the midst of building my business and with Dan only a year out from his life-consuming PhD thesis, the prospect of a child’s immense needs just feels exhausting.
Does it mean LA just isn’t the right place for me? Sometimes I feel like it’s harder to find the right people to be my friends here. But it is the second largest city in the US, so even if we only count the people I can easily reach in LA traffic, that’s still a LOT of folks I haven’t met or haven’t gotten a chance to know well. I do think that people have locations that fit or don’t fit. In many ways, I absolutely love Santa Monica, and I love the convenience of, for example, having five Whole Foods stores within three miles of us. (LA has a crazy number of Whole Foods stores.) But I also terribly miss huge amounts of trees, many visible stars, absolute quiet, Atlanta’s affordable foodie scene (surprisingly good), and affordable housing. . . . Still, that kind of decision feels premature, especially given that my husband absolutely loves his job and is treated well there. (And for other cities, they would pay pretty well; in LA . . . as thankful as I am for his job, I hope he gets a pretty big raise this year.)
Does it mean I need to volunteer more? Maybe. . . . Between my paid work and my pro bono work with Tilth, I’m already busy with things that don’t yet pay very well, and I do volunteer weekly as a Big with Big Brothers/Big Sisters. I have signed up for a volunteer session at the LA Community Food Bank in a couple of weeks, as a one-off thing. We’ll see if I can add more over time.
Does it mean I need to go out of my way more to make friends? Yes, definitely. I was already planning to cut back on the number of classes I’m teaching each month (which take a lot of prep work) to give me more time to work on my first cookbook, and doing that will also free up more weekend time to see other people when they tend to be off. It means I need to reach out more to people I’ve already met and liked while also figuring out ways to connect with potential new friends. I’ve signed up for several more Meetup activities. I’ve also realized that being part of the simplicity circle I initiated in Atlanta was one of the best ways I found to create and further develop meaningful friendships, so I’m putting out info to try to create one on LA’s westside now. (If you might be interested, let me know!)
Does it mean I want or need a part-time job where I interact with the same people on a daily basis? That might help. Though there are many things about office politics and environments that I don’t miss, I do miss having co-workers (I just love people); having a unified sense of purpose with others (especially where the work is something I believe in); having meaningful work that is somewhat set out for me (even though I’m huge on being a self-starter, I miss things like the natural seasons of work I had in my previous jobs); and, of course, the regular paychecks that come at regular intervals. Even though I’m a much more sensitive person than my husband, he’s much more introverted than I am. He satisfies most of his needs for companionship by joint projects at work. That’s no big fix for my life, but it would probably abate some of my loneliness. . . . At the same time, I need a good number of hours free for my business, so a job that offered 25-25 hours a week would probably be ideal.
Do I need to be at a church? Joining the Episcopal Church as an adult is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. I love the liturgies, the thoughtfulness, the community, the reflection, the seasons. . . . However, though I liked it fine (and think church is largely what you make of it), my husband didn’t feel engaged at the closest Episcopal church to our apartment, and despite talking about it, we haven’t made our way to try out the next closest one. That’s something we are planning to do in the next couple of weeks.
I had all these thoughts. Then I remembered that when I was reading books on simplicity, and right before we moved out here, I read a good bit about cohousing and cooperative living—not in the share-everything-at-a-commune sense of it, but in the sense of shared space with shared duties. The benefits of living in community with maybe fewer of the drawbacks of living with family. . . .
Does it mean that I wish Dan and I had roommates of some sort? Or that we lived in some sort of cohousing situation?
I think maybe so. . . . This is an answer that kind-of surprises me. But the only situation like that at all near us is near downtown LA in a very urban environment that’s not what I really want.
In the last couple of days, there are two competing visions that I’ve come up with that I think would help satisfy my urge to live in community.
Option 1. Create some kind of healthy co-housing environment in or near Santa Monica.
On our own, the most Dan and I can afford at this point is a 2-BR apartment. But with the cost divided up equally, we could spend about what we do now and live in a 3-BR house with 2-3 additional roommates. Certainly there are some drawbacks to the idea, but with the right people, I think it could be a solidly net positive thing to do. (With the cost of living, it’s much more common to have roommates in LA than in other places where my friends live.) We would need to maintain a gluten-free kitchen for my safety, but there are plenty of people who are avoiding gluten. Because I work from home and do a lot of recipe development, and because many people who live alone struggle to cook, for the cost of groceries, I could offer dinner (Paleo-focused, with pastured meat and local, organic vegetables) 4-5 nights a week for everyone who lived there. We could jointly have a garden in the yard. We might be able to find a house with a pool. Dan and I don’t watch tv (didn’t even own a tv until his coworker moved and left us hers), so we could either find other people who aren’t into tv or people who were happy to limit it or keep it in their bedrooms. We could have more space, and I could have more built-in interaction. There are certainly caveats, but given our connections to the CrossFit community, it might not be hard to find people who want to live the kind of lifestyle we do in terms of sustainability, quality food, etc.
Option 2. Move into a larger apartment or small house, and host visiting students from other countries.
One of the things I love most about LA is its cultural diversity. On a given day, I hear at least 5-6 languages being spoken as I walk the dog, shop for groceries, work at the coffee shop, etc. It is pretty common for students from other countries to visit the United States to learn English or take classes, do internships, etc. and stay in the homes of local residents. Dan has traveled a pretty enormous amount and lived in several countries, and I’ve traveled some. Also, Dan speaks some Japanese, and I’d love to learn more Spanish than I now know. Hosting (particularly gluten-free) students who need a homestay could be an interesting way to help nurture others while encouraging ourselves to explore the city and other cultures. I think, at least initially, we would primarily want people who are already adults to stay with us, but I could see sponsoring a homestay for a child later on, too.
So those are big changes we’re ruminating on at this time. We’ll see what conclusions we come to. . . .
Look, I don’t usually cuss on this blog, and I know that cussing offends some people. But if I’m being honest, I have to tell you that I made a decision in early December, and that is what I decided: Fuck perfectionism.
See, I’m building this business, right? I thought I was building self-employment for a couple of years, but I was largely faltering trying to figure out what the hell I wanted to do . . . when I decided to embrace some of what I had been doing: giving guidance to people who feel stifled because of gluten intolerance, casein intolerance, and/or food allergies. In the middle of last year, I got organized about it and launched my business with a name, Tilth.
It was a lot of work but very exciting, early on, getting things going—building my website, deciding how to frame what I was offering, designing my logo, and so on.
But after I officially launched under my new business name, I don’t know, I guess I thought things would be easier than they were. I create amazing recipes that are free of a variety of food allergies. I am good at teaching. I relate well to people. I’ve researched the hell out of a variety of topics related to gluten intolerance, casein intolerance, food allergies, and gut healing so that I am able to save others the time I’ve spent. But that didn’t mean I knew what I was doing, in the sense of which events to create and how to market them. I’m still a complete and total newbie at marketing, and also? I kind-of hate social networking. It feels a bit scary typing that, but it’s true. I mean, though I have a business page on it, I quit Facebook spring of last year in terms of my personal profile. I tweet, but I don’t understand why people who don’t know me start following me after the most random posts. Even with this blog, when my readership had grown pretty large—I basically killed it by then stopping posting for a while.
I love online interaction with people; don’t get me wrong. I have a vast network of friends around the country whom I keep up with using email. I just don’t think it’s a substitute for the real deal, for being in a room with someone and connecting with that person in his or her physical presence. It’s ingrained into our very beings to want to sit with another person and share life. I want to do that regularly with people who are overwhelmed because of food restrictions. I want to calm their struggles with the good advice I’ve collected.
The kicker, of course, is that I generally couldn’t get to the point of reliably, regularly meeting with clients in person without both using marketing and developing events to simply see what would happen. In other words, I had to be willing to try things and fail in order to get it right.
Have I ever mentioned before that I don’t like to fail? I guess no one LIKES to fail, but some people seem like they’ve done a great job of accepting that they have to fall down a few times in order to learn how to skate. For a variety of reasons that have to do with my personality and upbringing, I expect myself to put on skates for the first time and glide into a triple lutz like an Olympian. . . . More accurately, I expect to read five books about skating, interview an Olympian, and then expect to be a new Olympian on the first try. But really, that’s not generally how life works. Sucks, but it’s true.
Which brings me to early December. Actually, it brings me to November. After a very strong and brave and heartfelt start to the launch of Tilth, I was faltering. I was, in a word, heartsick. Though I had far more supporters than anything else, I had expected emotional support from several key people who let me down, which led me to question my worth in a way that I’m loathe to even admit. I had planned a couple of events that had crashed and burned. I had, God forbid, lost a chunk of money that month instead of making some. (I dreaded to think what my husband thought, in his heart of hearts, about that loss of funds.) With the sun sinking down in the sky earlier and earlier each day, I felt a dark place forming in my core. I had been in my adopted city, Santa Monica, long enough to feel frustrated about adapting my life to a new location. I was doing well at our gym but was still, despite major efforts, struggling with an autoimmune condition each month. Socially, things were going well, but I missed my long-time friends and the easy way of knowing and being known.
On a whim, I sent out an email update to my distant friends about my life, detailing what was going both well and poorly, and how I was questioning myself (yet again, it seemed, yet again yet again yet again).
I got a response from my college roommate, who is one of those people who has had major success before the age of 30. I know she has secret pains and struggles because I know some of them, but I also know how amazing and impressive she is to everyone (I think, literally, everyone) who crosses her path. And she got to the heart of what was going on with my business and said, essentially, “Look, you’re still new at this game of creating your own business, and the fact that you’re even playing a game that everyone talks about playing but few people actually do means you’re amazing. Be gentle with yourself, and give it time.”
Around the same time, my husband told me, “You know, I’m not worried about you losing money doing this. You’re going to lose it sometimes, and that’s okay. What you’re doing is still worthwhile, and it doesn’t stress me out.” I can’t tell you how relieving it was for me to hear that.
There were other things, too, that happened, but the culmination in early December was that, somehow, I suddenly felt, “Okay, you know what? Fuck perfectionism.”
Fuck perfectionism. I’m going to try things. In fact, I’m going to THROW myself out there. Risk is the only way to grow. I’m going to get some things wrong. It’s going to happen. I’m also going to get some things right. But if I spend my time cringing over mistakes and fearing what may come, I’m putting way too much negative energy into my business to make it profitable OR fun.
I wish I could tell you Oprah booked me for a show the next day. Of course that didn’t happen. But you know what? I’ve been able to engage with my business with a light heart and a lighter touch. And since I’ve been focusing on the things that go well and releasing the ones that don’t, I can tell you that I’m definitely seeing more success. That doesn’t mean I’m not still having dark moments where I struggle with the fact that I gave up (what feels like forever ago now) a steady paycheck and a consistent sense of self-worth (which maybe shouldn’t be heavily based on my work, but let’s face it, for many of us, it is), because of course I still have times when I struggle. But it’s pretty succinct to be able to get myself back on track by reminding myself, Fuck Perfectionism. Embrace risk.
Tags: fruits of my labor · gratitude · sturm and drang
I know the age of 20 is confusing for you, so I’m traveling back in time to give you a heads-up about what’s coming in life. Feel relieved? Good.
Right now, at 20, you’re a girl consumed with swirls of emotions about nearly everything in life. You feel battered by some of what’s come your way. You aren’t sure what you want. You aren’t sure who you are or what your value is. You aren’t sure what family means anymore. You’re moving forward in the ways you know how because it’s all you can do, but you’re in a state of near-panic on a regular basis.
First off, let me let you in to something you know in your gut: he’s not the right guy for you. For some involved psychological reasons you’ll realize over time, he’s come to represent the sense of family you’ve lost. But here’s the thing: love isn’t actually supposed to be hard, at least not 90% of the time. Mostly, it should be as easy as breathing. You won’t be able to believe me until later, when you meet the right guy. In the meantime, you have an enormous amount of growing to do, and you can’t do most of that while you’re trapped in this back-and-forth with him that’s tearing you apart. In the next few days, you’ll get a sweet birthday gift from him where he’s trying to woo you back. He’ll be very angry when it doesn’t work. You’re going to stay strong. You’re going to be lonely for a while–for a longer while than you will admit. And then you’re going to start moving on because it’s the only thing to do. It will get easier.
The truth is that life is going to continue to break your heart. That’s hard to embrace (pain is so difficult!), but it’s just true. Another guy is going to break your heart. (There are more guys between, but they won’t matter. That’s a good thing.) Several friends are going to break your heart. Health problems are going to break your heart. World events are going to break your heart. Family members are going to break your heart. Work that you love is going to break your heart. Your own limitations and frustrations are going to break your heart. You have this basic idea that your goal is to get to some good point and then ride it indefinitely, but that’s not how life works. Each low you dip into breaks your heart, but it also breaks your heart open, and as it fills back up again, you are more the person you were (and are) going to become. And, sweetheart, the person you’re going to become is the person you’re needed to be in this world. You’ll never be perfect, and that will stop being the goal. Instead, you’ll embrace what is possible within imperfection, within limitations, and that will become something you are known for.
One thing you’re going to learn is that what life best needs from you is flexibility. When you’re inflexible, you are at risk of shattering into some very depressed pieces. It can be easy to try to hide from life when change is involved, but that is change, too–of the worst kind. The more you accept that change is a near-constant and that life is built on shifting variables–as scary as it sounds–the more life will open up for you to create options. You’ll still be learning that at 30 (you’ll probably be learning it forever), but you should open your mind to its possibility as well as you can. (It can feel like trying to pry open a clamshell that’s snapped shut. And that’s okay, because it will come in time.)
Your life at 30 isn’t going to be at all like you imagine it might be. You’re going to be finding your way in a new place, in a new career, in nearly a new life. You’re going to be doing what you love in a capacity you wouldn’t expect. You’re going to be in the best physical shape you’ve been in since you were a small child. You’re going to be living in a city that you never pictured yourself in (at the beach, though!). You’ll feel some ambivalence (that’s as common a part of life as change), and you’ll also enjoy it. You’re going to have helped a lot of people, in various capacities, and be working on helping more. You’re going to have a husband who currently makes more money than you . . . and it will still make you a bit uncomfortable at times, but it is one of the things you’ll learn to navigate. In some ways, your life will be so much better than you picture it being possible at 20. You’re going to have built amazing friendships. You’re going to need to build more friendships in your new location. And since I know what you’re probably struggling with the most right now, let me reiterate that being alone and, then, later, being with the right guy are really going to change your understanding of what it means to be you and what it means to be part of a couple. (I can’t give too much away, but I can tell you it involves something like holding hands while simultaneously evolving as individuals. It’s easier than it sounds, most of the time.)
Sometimes, life is going to be hard. Sometimes it’s going to be very hard. Some moments are going to fill you with despair. That’s actually okay. You’re a really emotional person; it’s something you’ve grown up believing is a weakness. But it’s one thing you’ll have learned to appreciate between 25 and 30. (That guy you’re going to marry? He’s a big help with that. You’ll also learn a lot about it on your own, too.) At thirty, you’ll have learned to treat yourself gently and to remind yourself to treat yourself gently when you’re struggling with feeling harsh.
More than anything, I just want to give you the understanding that you’re more resilient than you realize. Other people will see it in you long before you see it in yourself. You’ll see it in others–in many, many people–before you begin to appreciate it about yourself. Resilience isn’t about handling things well; it’s simply about handling them without becoming (at least for very long) bitter, mistrustful, hateful. You will retain your beliefs in love and possibility. You will keep on growing. That is resilience.
Your dearest friend (who loves you and believes in you more than you can know),
Tags: fruits of my labor · gratitude · on the soapbox · sturm and drang
The older I get, the more I think success in life is about maintaining flexibility: to recognize when you need to change and to be ever willing to evolve. It’s easy to want to stick with what has worked in the past, with what makes us feel secure, with what offers us a sense of our place in things. But thriving, over time, requires change—sometimes immense change. It requires us to step out of our comfort zone, risk failure (in whatever sense) and disappointment, and give our all to something different than what has worked for us previously.
Sometimes that evolution occurs naturally; it just slips into our lives over time like high tide. Other times, though–and sometimes it’s really damn hard–we have to take a deep breath and make a leap.
I made one of those leaps soon after we arrived in Santa Monica. I made a change that has changed my body and shifted my perception of myself. I joined Crossfit.
Are you familiar with Crossfit? It’s a fast-growing, worldwide phenomenon (with some affiliates apparently remarkably better or worse than others) wherein you, as part of a group, do hardcore, seriously ass-kicking workouts that are based on functional movement (movement you would use in real life, not movement isolating muscles). I had a guy friend and girlfriend in Atlanta who did Crossfit; she started doing it because he coached. He talked about it nearly constantly for a while. I often teased my girlfriend about her involvement in Crossfit, because at times, Crossfit can come across as a bit cultish, and I have a certain level of discomfort with that. But I also was consistently amazed by her enormous progress. She started out as someone who had never really exercised (she’s one of those people with a crazy-high metabolism), and she was really thin. Then she became thin and POWERFUL. She doesn’t look very different, but holy cow, she has changed a lot in her ability to use her body.
Truth be told, in the last six months before Dan and I left Atlanta, we exercised very, very little. Dan was finishing his Ph.D. thesis, I was trying to figure out my professional life, and I had started a program for an MBA in Sustainable Business that had me flying to Seattle one week a month. Also, I’m an emotional sponge. My husband was so stressed out by his thesis work (and then part-time work he took on before he finished it) that he grew sleep-deprived and snappish—not at all his usual calm self. In photos, you can see that, for a while, Dan looked 7-10 years older than his 32 actual years. While Dan looked the part of the stressed-out person, I absorbed all of his emotions and then doubled them–and reflected them back to him. As a Highly Sensitive Person, I try to put up emotional walls (in a healthy way) to be less of a sponge, but during the last thesis semester, the stress was great enough that I didn’t do a good job. The result should have been that I exercised more for stress relief. I should have applied the self-care principles I know so well and have written about amply. But we all possess weakness as well as strength, and I retreated from exercise. I also overate during that time period, especially starchy and sweet foods. I could see it happening but couldn’t seem to bring myself to do any better. I felt overwhelmed.
We arrived in Los Angeles (me about fifteen pounds fluffier than a few months earlier) for my husband to take his job here, and we swore we were going to do BETTER! We decided to go back to C25K (which I had done before successfully). That lasted about a week. Of course, even with the good stress of my husband’s new job (which he loves!) and being in a new city (Santa Monica’s pretty great!), the move was also negatively stressful in many ways (long-term housing, cost of living, even grocery shopping). I don’t know if I brought it up or if Dan did: “What if we tried Crossfit?”
Now, I should say this: I don’t usually go for group workout environments, because I don’t want to feel competitive with other people working out near me. I need to work at my own pace and level. I especially often dislike trainers telling me what to do. Most of the trainers I’ve dealt with at gyms have not been the good ones: they have seemed to enjoy their clients not knowing what to do for exercise. At the Georgia Tech gym we used to frequent, I had positive interactions with a couple of great trainers . . . but I also watched and listened as other trainers mocked the form of people working out. One goal of many trainers has often seemed to me to be to keep a position of superiority over the client, and that’s just bullshit. It’s the whole teach-a-man-to-fish thing. I believe in getting encouraging people towards a sense of ability and accomplishment.
Also, I hate bootcamps. I have never done one, but when I lived next to Piedmont Park in Atlanta, while I was running in the mornings, I would often hear the bootcamp trainers there yelling at the participants. You want to piss me off and make me obstinate about not doing what you want? Try yelling at me, and you’ll see why my mother often compared me to a mule when I was a child. Plus, the design of the bootcamp workouts seemed arbitrary and miserable, and I didn’t understand why the trainers weren’t doing the workouts with the participants instead of just standing and watching them. (I know people who love bootcamp. If you do, and it actually encourages you to exercise regularly–not just binge exercise before you quit again–then that is awesome. To each her own.)
So when we went to visit Crossfit, I wanted to see if it would feel like bootcamp or like the trainers (there’s a high trainer-to-participant ratio at Crossfit) were there to lord it over us. We met with the gym owner, a former Marine who’s done insane things like 100-mile barefoot races through the jungles of Panama. But we didn’t know all of that then. We just knew from our conversation that Andy was obviously a nice guy. He informed us about the philosophy and work style of Crossfit. He told us that the point was, over time, to learn to push ourselves right to the edge of our capacity without going over. (He did show us the puke buckets for when people go over the edge, but he specifically said they wanted people to stop before they reached that point.) He told us that everyone does the same basic workout at a given class, but that people scale the workouts individually based on their own levels of fitness and strength. He had us do a sample, short (baseline) workout to see where our fitness level was (um, very poor). He asked us about what motivated us and limited us, he told us he would suggest starting at a low level of commitment and working up from there, and he encouraged us not to make an immediate decision about whether to join. He was obviously into Crossfit, but he obviously wasn’t an egomaniac. And he wasn’t pushy–that was huge. In fact, he told us we should come do a sample workout with a group before we made a decision.
We arrived early to our first class. I felt ill with anxiety; I felt entirely self-conscious and out of place. I watched the class before ours finishing up, and I thought, I don’t know how to do any of what they’re doing. I kept wondering what the hell I was doing at a gym that included free weights, pull-up bars, kettlebells, rowing machines, and parallel bars . . . but little of the normal gym stuff. I was so nervous that my palms sweated endlessly. Plus, the trainer leading our class was obviously a total surfer jock–he seemed nice, but I was waiting for it to become apparent he was laughing at us–and I noticed he had on jeans. Great, he wasn’t going to do the workout with us. A bit of nausea twirled in my stomach.
The class trainer sent us out for a warm-up mile jog. Seeing the look on my face, one of the few women in class told me she took a shortcut to warm up by doing half a mile–and reminded me that it was all about me working with my own ability level. I did the half mile, walking a good bit of it, and, honestly, fighting off cursing myself for letting myself get into such bad shape. That’s why you’re here, I told myself. Don’t beat yourself up when you’re doing the right thing.
When we got back to the classroom, the trainer asked us how many of us were there for the first time. A couple of other people than me and Dan raised their hands, which I found a big relief. Then the trainer began to teach us how to do clean & jerks. We used PVC pipe to practice the movements before switching to weights. And it began to dawn on me that our trainer, who became Michael and not just ‘our trainer,’ was without pretense. He was encouraging us. He wanted us to succeed. I felt like, in an exercise capacity, he was offering the type of movement toward self-sufficiency that I try to offer clients with my gluten-free/allergen-free coaching. I’m a pretty good caretaker, and I felt the same type of encouraging energy from Michael.
When we were done learning to do the clean & jerk, we went into our full, timed workout that included it. (To be honest, I don’t remember all the details of what we did that first night–just how it kicked my ass.) My classmates set up their individual amounts of weight that they wanted to lift, Dan and I did the same, and when Michael flicked the timer on, we were off! As fast as we could, using as good of form as we could manage, we did the workout. I had to stop, panting, several times, as did a variety of people around me at one point or another. Many people grunted as they worked hard. I was startled at first to hear people cry out as they pushed themselves hard. But I was far too busy and focused to feel self-conscious during the workout, and the same was true for Dan. As each person finished, he or she joined up with other finishers to cheer on the people who were still working. Everyone stayed till every person was done, some of us stretched, and then we all did minor maintenance/clean-up of the classroom.
And I thought, Hell yeah, I get this. This is awesome. I was so pumped that I went home and ran with the dog. I had immense energy. I felt powerful. Dan felt really excited as well.
The immense soreness that came upon us didn’t keep us from signing up the next day. For financial reasons (Crossfit ain’t cheap, and in LA, it really ain’t cheap), and with Andy’s encouragement not to overcommit, we signed up for two classes per week. (We’ve since noticed that that is a pretty normal commitment for beginners at our gym.) For that amount per month (Crossfit is much more expensive here than in cheaper cost-of-living cities), we could have a car payment for a pretty nice car.
But it’s worth it to us. We started attending religiously, twice a week, and watched as we quickly had gains in strength, flexibility, coordination, speed, and agility. For a while, every single (beginner) class, I was learning a new kind of exercise (box jumps, snatches, back squats, L-sits). I loved it–loved the feeling of accomplishment I felt after each class–even when I had days when I wasn’t able to do an exercise correctly at first or was the last one to finish. Loved the gains in my body. Loved the camaraderie. Loved the coaching from every coach we had–including our personal coach (for skills clinics and individual consultations), Jonesy.
Hmmm, wouldn’t it be great for the story to end there? (You know by this point that I can’t write short blog posts, right?)
In May, the Crossfit staff encouraged us to sign up for the Smoker Challenge. Our Crossfit affiliate (maybe this is a general CF thing?) has challenge periods wherein we pay money into a pot, do a specific workout, and then do that workout again 8-10 weeks later to see how much our performance has improved. The competitors with the greatest gains in improvement (measured by percentage of improvement in time) win some of the money we all paid in. I debated whether to do the challenge for a long time–I really didn’t know if I could lift 40% of my body weight for front squats, much less 30 times! . . . and that was the lowest level allowed–but eventually I got swept up in the idea of doing it and kicking ass!
In fact, I came up with a plan to have AMAZING improvements, to SHOCK everyone with how well I would perform. Not only would I continue to do Crossfit twice a week, but I would also go back to running three days a week, I’d do Crossfit-like workouts in my non Crossfit days, and I’d even add in some extra Crossfit workouts! Then, in 10 weeks’ time, right before my birthday, I’d be kicking ass! I’d go into my 30th birthday in the best shape of my life, and I’d smoke the other participants in terms of % of improvement!
The day of the initial challenge workout arrived, and we arrived early. I had that now-familiar sensation of nausea going in. (Several advanced people have told me about Crossfit, “You’re not working out hard enough if you’re not feeling nervous going in.” I’ve got that one down.) When I realized that, with my weight gain (gained a chunk of muscle doing Crossfit), I’d be lifting 75 pounds, I felt very daunted. Jonesy and Michael coached me up to being able to clean that much weight to set up for my 30 squats. I was in the first round of the challenge, and I had a huge adrenalin rush surging through me as we started. I gave the workout my all, and I felt really good about how I performed. I had a shorter time (for 30 squats plus a 1-mi run) than many of the other beginner participants. Of course, that would make my improvement percentage harder in the next workout, but I had given it my all, and that was the honest way to kick things off.
With my plan firmly in my head, I began running in the mornings. Then my left knee started aching. Then I went on a trip to see a friend. I thought I would work out while I was there, but I didn’t. On the way home, I injured my neck somehow on my flight . . . and suddenly, it had been three weeks since I had done a Crossfit workout or any other kind. Then I found myself reticent to go, and on my first day back, I felt the shyness and awkwardness I had felt on my first day there. I’d also eaten a lot of sugar earlier that day, and I had noticed before that eating sugar on my Crossfit days was a great way to crash my blood sugar mid-workout. I had a bad workout that night. I felt downhearted.
I began making excuses about not going to Crossfit. Some were legitimate, like a migraine, and others were not. My husband would go without me. Then I had another trip to visit friends. Suddenly, the challenge finale date was looming over me, and I felt very frustrated with myself for not having trained–for not even having stuck with all my Crossfit workouts, which I liked! There was no point in not going. And I hated that I’d paid for workouts that I hadn’t done; it was like stuffing money down the garbage disposal.
The day of the challenge arrived, and I was once again nervous about having to lift 75 pounds. Jonesy was a little less eager to help me figure it out (though he graciously did), and I couldn’t blame him: I hadn’t been showing up to give it my anything, much less my all.
Nonetheless, I was able to do the workout, and I even got confused and did two extra squats. I took off running and found the mile very hard to do. I finally picked up speed as I approached the finish line, other competitors cheering me on, and discovered . . . I had finished in exactly the same time as 10 weeks prior. To the second. 0% improvement.
I was so frustrated with myself, so embarrassed. My husband, by sticking with the Crossfit workouts, had cut 2.5 minutes (15%) off his time, and I was proud of him for that. I talked to a guy, Ross, who had done what I had meant to do: he had trained over and above to get in better shape, and he had cut his time nearly in half. And, seriously, I didn’t recognize him at first because I hadn’t been in classes with him those 10 weeks, and his body had changed that much. But as we talked (he was very empathetic), I realized what had happened to me. Previously, at Crossfit, I had thought, “I will show up, and I will give this my all, and I will not compare myself to anyone else.” The challenge had awakened my competitiveness, but an unhealthy version of it (that I often fall prey to): I wasn’t perfect at preparing to compete, so I gave up.
As I sat on the floor of the gym, watching other people go through their rounds, I thought a lot about Crossfit and why I felt like utter crap on a day I could have felt great about myself. And I decided to recommit. You can’t move back in time, only forward, right? And I love the workouts and the people–and how Crossfit teaches me to push myself beyond what I think I’m capable of, both at the gym and in my life in general. I decided, Either I go back to doing this for myself, at my own pace, and appreciate that, or this isn’t worth it. I recommitted.
The next available beginner workout time was on my 30th birthday, this past Monday night, at 7:30 p.m. So at 7:10 or so, Dan and I arrived at the gym–still really sore from the previous Saturday’s challenge. I watched the class before ours doing handstand push-ups and thought, “Holy crap, there is no way I can do that!” I told myself I would do the best I could. I psyched myself up big-time.
I ran my warm-up half-mile. I talked with a new woman who set up her workout station next to mine and explained to her what helped me learn how to do cleans. Another woman told me how much I’d helped her a few weeks earlier by encouraging her to experiment with lifting heavier weights–she said I’d help change her perception of herself, which meant an enormous amount to me. I set up my own station, and I experimented with adding weights to my bar for cleans; then I realized I had set myself up at 63 pounds of weight for my cleans. I realized that, even with my setback, I’d come a long way.
Our assigned workout was 7 rounds of 3 power cleans plus 4 handstand push-ups. I set up and tried out a modified version of the handstand push-ups, using boxes, that I still found incredibly tough. But when the timer started and the music pumped, I took off like a rocket. I felt back in the flow. I pounded through my first three rounds of cleans and push-ups in two minutes. I felt light-headed, so I stopped for a few seconds, and then I picked it up again. I talked aloud to myself, encouraging myself, with no one around me even noticing. Michael came over to coach me on my clean form, and I made the change he suggested. I jumped back on the boxes to do the push-ups. I heard one person call out his name to indicate he was done. And then I was done–at 5:25, the second person in the class to finish . . . after my husband. We high-fived, and then we cheered on the other folks there until everyone was done. I was in awe of how hard everyone worked, how committed they all were to busting their asses. And I was proud of myself, too. It was great to come in second, but the point was to be there doing my best.
It was a powerful, meaningful way to start my 30s. I’m back in the game, and I’m loving it. In fact, I have Crossfit starting in an hour, so I have to go get dressed now.
Tags: non-scale victories · running just as fast as we can · sturm and drang
We–my husband and I–are at the end of Day Six of a 60-day trial of being sugar-free. For the past six days, we haven’t had any cane sugar (table or unprocessed), honey, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, or artificial sweeteners. When we set up the rules, we allowed ourselves one agave-sweetened treat per week, and I decided I could use blackstrap molasses in small doses in items that need a touch of sweetening. (You really can’t overdo blackstrap molasses without ruining your dish. It has quite a strong flavor. So far, I haven’t used it in anything.) Our sweet flavors are coming from fruits and vegetables—and the subtle sweet taste of whole grains, as well.
Have you noticed sugar is like crack? I mean, really. Crackity-crack-crack. Last February we did a trial month without cane sugar–still allowing ourselves to use honey, agave, and maple syrup during that month. We realized we felt better emotionally and physically that month. When the month ended, what did I do? I made a dessert that used sugar. And we were back on the crack wagon. Ever since then, we’ve been saying, “You know, we really felt better when we didn’t eat sugar. We should do that again.” For a YEAR we have been saying that. Then we bake cookies or make waffles and push our resolve away.
When I posted about this on Facebook, several people asked me why we were giving up sugar. I am not usually someone who is drawn to extremes. Actually, that’s crap. Naturally, I’m very drawn to extremes, but when I’m trying to live a life of balance, I always try to keep in mind that the healthy spot is usually somewhere closer to the middle. I realized several years ago, the year I started this blog, that my extreme attempts at dieting (no carbs or no fat or whatever) didn’t work. So why give up tasty, crunchy, baked-goods-enhancing sugar entirely? [Read more →]
Tags: dessert · non-scale victories · weight loss
May I introduce to you Lily Louise Lilliputian Parrott Ashbrook?
Lily is because that’s the name that stuck when we tried it out. It was the name confirmed by everyone in PetCo. when we were picking up her basic supplies.
Louise is for my recently deceased grandmother, whom I miss heartily, and who dearly loved dogs.
Lilliputian is because at 14 pounds, she’s a far smaller dog than I ever imagined getting. Yet when we met her, I simply melted, and then my husband did, too. She’s a rescue pup two days out of one of LA’s highest-kill-rate shelters–a stray whose long Cavalier King Charles fur was so dreadlocked that the rescue group had to cut her down to not much fur at all. But it’ll grow, and with a good diet, her fur should be healthy and shiny, too.
She’s hard to photograph by herself because if you’re looking at her with the camera, she wants to be closer to you. So she’s in motion, or she’s too close to photograph well. But that’s okay. I’d rather have her curled up with me than anywhere else.
Well, and wandering with me–we walked about four miles together today. We’ll try out running when she’s fully healed from her recent spaying.
Do any of you make your own pet food? I’m thinking about doing it for Lily and our cats since Cavs tend to have medical issues that I think could be mitigated by the best food.