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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Lessons from my husband: Making friends as a grown-up

This post is the first part of my "Lessons from my husband" series, where I explore the ways in which my husband has taught me how better to enjoy life and some of his traits and practices which inspire my awe.
Making friends as a grown-up

My husband made a friend this past weekend.  He simply walked over to our neighbor's house, knocked on his door, and asked for help building a walking bridge for our neighborhood trail.

When my husband told me his idea, I was taken aback.  Many of us who have dogs in the neighborhood regularly visit a wooded, protected area tucked behind houses and streets, and patches of the trail accumulate mud and water with each rainfall.  Over the years, the neighbors who live closest to the trail have laid down mulch or built small wooden bridges over the many of the mudpiles, but some swampy areas remain.  Every day, when Dan and I would take Gigi on her walk, we would remark that we should do our part in maintaining the trail by somehow attending to that muddy area.

This past Saturday, Dan decided that the time had come.  "I think that I am going to head over to Jason's* house and see if he might want to help me build a bridge for the woods," he announced.  I looked at him as though he had four heads.  Sure, we had made friendly small talk with these neighbors before, discussing our dogs' habits and neighborhood news, but we had never ventured beyond the safety of driveway chatter, remaining tethered to the edge of sidewalks with our dogs by our sides and poop bags in hand, both ready excuses to escape at any moment.  But embarking on a trip to Home Depot together and beginning a building project side-by-side?  That involved an entirely unprecedented level of commitment.

Jason said yes.  So the two of them worked together all Saturday afternoon, and Dan learned how Jason and his family had to put their dog to sleep the day before, how Jason and his wife once attended a wedding with fishing boats available to the guests at the reception, how Jason built the pergola in his backyard to create more privacy and separation from a difficult next-door neighbor.  At the end of the project, Jason offered firewood to Dan and that was that.  They were friends, and it came as easily as it does for five-year-olds on the playground, except these two grown men met and played not amid slides and swings but hammers and nails.

All because Dan just asked.

*name changed for privacy

photo credit


Do you find it easy to make friends as a grown-up?


Monday, September 15, 2014

I'm tired of drifting (or, a lesson on centripetal versus centrifugal forces)


It's funny how lessons from grade school take on entirely new meanings as the years pass.  I remember in seventh grade science learning about centripetal and centrifugal forces.  Very little of basic physics principles have otherwise stuck with me, but for some reason the difference between these types of forces have.  Perhaps it is because I recall a concrete image every time I think of these technical terms.

Our family had--still have, actually--a rope swing hanging from a tall, established tree in our backyard.  It hangs so high that you can reach thirty feet off the ground easily when you are pushed.  My dad, when pulling my small preteen weight back on the swing, once explained to me the difference in my spins.  He could push me so high that I could curl my legs into the air and spin in circles to gain even more speed.  "Tuck your legs and knees in closer, and you will spin faster.  That's centripetal force," my dad said.  "You are lessening the resistance from the wind and keeping the momentum in the swinging circle."

Centripetal force pulls a rotating object towards the center, while centrifugal force allows objects to drift and fly outwards.  In other words, centripetal is active; it resists centrifugal force, which results from failure to control the direction of motion.  Centripetal force usually is controlled, calculated; centripetal force is messy and inevitable.

Lately I feel like I have embodied centrifugal force.  I am spinning in every which direction, allowing outside pulls on my attention to take over, stress to escalate.  I prefer keeping my intentions at the forefront of my mind, so that I channel my energy instead of giving it over to the randomness that undergirds the order of the universe.

Of course, sometimes outward drift is necessary and unavoidable: people need us, circumstances arise that require our response.

But I remember how much longer my ride on the swing would last when I would pull my legs toward me, curling into a tight ball--and how quickly my speed would dissipate when I sprawled my legs carelessly.  I want to keep propelling onward through this crazy time, through this season of juggling two jobs and school and family and friends and play.

I don't kid myself.  The outward pulls will always be present, just different.  All the more reason why I want cultivate the practice of preserving and directing my energy, so that I can keep on enjoying the ride.

photo credit


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

In My Recipe Box: The Soups with Spice Edition

My goals with these weekly menus are 1) to demystify vegan food and 2) to help with your meal planning efforts. Maybe one (or more) of these dishes will be the answer to that dreaded question: What's for dinner? Bon appetit!



Lunches and Dinners

  • Crostini with tomato bruschetta, roasted red pepper soup, salad with fig balsamic dressing, french loaf
    • We served this to friends as a light summer lunch with strawberries and chocolate mousse for dessert.
    • The soup has some heat to it, but it is not overpowering.  The color is beautiful, which makes it nice for entertaining.
    • For the bruschetta topping, marinate seeded chopped tomatoes in balsamic, good quality olive oil, pasted garlic, salt, pepper, and dried and fresh basil   Do not do this with inferior tomatoes--they MUST be good summer gems!
  • Spicy ginger carrot soup (from The Vegan Table), salad, sundried tomato bread
    • The soup has a kick but is not hot.  The ginger lends it a nice warmth.
  • Braised beans (similar to these) and roasted peppers
  • Edamame, quinoa, and broccoli with leftover peanut sauce

Desserts

  • Chocolate mousse
    • Three ingredients, but so, so impressive.
  • Homemade Twix bars
    • I subbed almond milk and Earth Balance for the dairy and animal crackers for the graham crackers (Dan's mother once pointed out to me how ironic that actually is!).  These are a bit time consuming but delicious and totally worth it.





Friday, September 5, 2014

Craving Silence in a Season of Noise



I never check my phone first thing in the morning.  Throughout the rest of the day, I find myself prey to the powerful pull of smartphone notifications, but for the initial thirty minutes of my awake hours, I want silence.  I do not want to hear the noise of emails and Facebook rants, of horrible news stories and viral You Tube videos.  I want a moment to breathe, to think, to register the thoughts in my own mind before unconsciously but inevitably switching into reactive mode, responding to the constant chatter and crisis out there.

The noise to which I am referring is different from simply audible sounds, although it includes much of that.  It is all the excess, all the stimulation, all the constant consumption without digestion.  It is listening to music while responding to emails and writing a sermon and answering a colleague's question.  It is unwinding by riding an exercise bike, watching TV, and thumbing through Instagram photos on a smartphone.  It is scrolling through 128 Facebook updates in your news feed or reading 57 blog posts and registering nothing that was said, even though passively and occasionally pausing to "like" a cute photo or witty observation.  It is running from school or work to a sports event to a meeting, then arriving home after dark for dinner followed by more work and email-checking.  

If it isn't already clear, I have done all these things.  I am shaking my head at myself as much as I am the current cultural climate.  Especially now, during the back-to-school season, there is a lot of noise.  I find myself contributing with notifications about events and curricula and schedule.  Even if you are far removed from the world of young children and school and extracurricular activities, everything still seems to kick into high gear in the fall.  Regular meetings resume, the workplace exits vacation mode, new TV shows air again, social media fasts or breaks end. 

That is not to say that all of this is bad.  Many of these offerings are enriching and invigorating (As a college chaplain and Sunday School director, I certainly like to think that structured programs are worthwhile).  I do, however, worry about there just being too much.  

Did an elementary school teacher ever explain the difference between hearing and listening?  I remember that a few of mine did, and I feel that the comparison to this particular season (and here I mean "season" both in the sense of fall 2014 but also as a descriptor of this instant gratification, social media obsessed, and soundbite age) is apt. It seems easy to hear a great deal in our noisy world but difficult to listen.

So that is why I am continuing to enjoy my first few moments in the morning completely unplugged.  No matter how early my first engagement is, I wake up early enough to ensure that I have those thirty minutes to myself, when I can listen to the smallest, faintest sounds of my dog Gigi breathing, our old family grandfather clock ticking, the garbage truck rumbling around our neighborhood.  




Tuesday, September 2, 2014

August Favorites

I love when others share their favorite recent finds!  Often I find that it is the small things that can make a huge difference in brightening my day: an app that helps manage my to-do lists, a special cup of coffee, the fresh herbs that thrive in the warmer months.  Here are some of my favorites from August.

1.  The Skimm newsletter

On days when I don't want to watch or read the news first thing in the morning, I appreciate having the Skimm delivered directly to my inbox.  Some news stories we care about following; other stories (Brad and Angelina's wedding, anyone?) we don't.  The Skimm provides a rundown on all of the major headlines for the day with links to articles with details.  I like making sure I have a grasp on everything that has happened in the previous twenty-four hours, and the Skimm makes the effort painless and streamlined.

2.  Alter Eco quinoa chocolate

Quinoa in chocolate seemed so weird--until I tried it.  The small pearls of quinoa taste like rice crispies!  And it's totally healthy, right?  Try a bar if you see one.  The quinoa adds a nice crunch, which perfectly complements the smooth and rich chocolate.

3.  IExit app

This app was so handy for our road trips this summer.  It tells you which restaurants, gas stations, and rest stops are nearby.  Dan and I prefer to stop at truck stops to fill up our gas tank since they tend to be cleaner, and knowing when we could find a Luv's or Pilot allowed us to skip other options.

4.  Uber app

We're a little late to the party on this one, but we, too, like most of the nation, are head over heals in love with Uber.  The prices are incredibly competitive and the convenience cannot be beat.  I have had spotty experiences reserving cabs in the past, but Uber's almost-instantaneous arrival takes the pain out of waiting.  There have been some unsettling reports on Uber's practices, so I'm reluctant to give unqualified praise, but I appreciate how Uber has made a dreaded necessity--getting a taxi--effortless.

5.  The Choosing Raw Cookbook

One of my favorite vegan bloggers released her cookbook this summer.  Author Gena Hamshaw is articulate, thoughtful, measured, and accessible.  If you are interested in learning more about vegan or raw food, this book is a great entre.



6.  Mint.com

This is another application that has been around for quite some time, but Dan and I continue to discover the depths of what it can do.  Mint makes budgeting a breeze and tracks all sorts of data.  You can separate out almost any information your heart desires.  I like it also because I have a hard time spending money solely on myself (when it comes to things for the house or purchases that more than just I can use, it's another story).  Tracking my personal budget helps me give myself permission to indulge in occasional treats like books and jewelry.







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