Friday, January 24, 2014

What to Do When Your World Gets Rocked

I met two girlfriends for dinner last night, and a common theme rotated around the table: we have all been lied to about life.

We all grew up with plans and goals and expectations for ourselves that were fed by our surroundings. For example, you do well in high school, go to a good college, major in a subject that will prepare you perfectly for the rest of your professional life, graduate with a starting salary of 50k, begin a career and meet your significant other, and then balance said career with starting your own family.

Piece of cake.

I totally understand the first part of the above example: if you do well in high school, you go to a good college. Thankfully, we grew up in supportive households that taught the value and reward that lie in hard work. Yes, there is always value in hard work. Reward, though? In our twenties, we are no longer always rewarded for our hard work. Which, I know in the scheme of things, is important. It’s what adds value to ourselves as humans and teaches us not to be entitled. I've come to terms with always working hard, even when it isn't recognized by others because, well, I recognize it. Which leads me to the next part, the part of the example that I'm totally hung up on.

I had to make a decision that would affect the rest of my adult life when I was seventeen. (As in "major in a subject that will prepare you perfectly for the rest of your professional life".) Yes, I went to college when I was seventeen, and felt weighed down in having to make the right academic moves to set myself up well for the real world.

I reiterate: I was seventeen.  A mature, head-on-her-shoulders, driven seventeen-year-old, but a seventeen-year-old nonetheless.

I was also the type of seventeen-year-old that made choices and saw them through. While I believe that this is a good quality to have, I believe that my stick-to-it attitude has gotten in the way of listening to my gut and staying true to my values.

Both of which—my gut and my values—have changed since. Because that’s what happens: you grow, and you change. And that’s what we were lied to about.

Nobody let us in on the secret that we would graduate and not have it all figured out after college, or even in the years to follow. Nobody told us that our hearts, relationships and identities would change as we got older. Instead, this is what we were told: make a plan, stick to your goals, and everything, eventually, will come.

But what happens when your plans change? When your goals are completely different from what they were just a year ago?

Something beautiful. That’s what happens. Because here we are, in a decade known for changing, for developing (though still, why didn’t they tell that to us before we got here?). So although we didn’t necessarily expect the change, here we are.

I am not bitter about the lie, about being ill-prepared for adulthood. And actually, I think that I was prepared for it as well as possible. It just wasn’t enough, but purely because it couldn’t be enough. The proper preparation, the understanding, the getting a grip, all comes from one thing: experience.

And in this time of gaining experience, of living a life independent of everything we once knew, we can no longer point fingers.  We can no longer blame the lie we were told about how life would be. Instead, we have to embrace everything that is happening. We have to experience life. Most of all, more than anything, we have to stay true to ourselves.

No more comparing our lives now to where we thought they would be when planning five or ten years ago. No more comparing our careers or our relationships to those around us. No more comparing our hectic situations to the seemingly normal situations that others are in. No more comparing. There is no normal. There is only life, and one thing to do with it. Live. Live your own life, wherever or whatever that may mean.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

finding happiness in the moment

Happiness. One might say that, in my family, it is more a privilege than a right. It doesn't always come naturally to us, being happy. But trying does.

We are a family of artists and musicians and scientists and poets. The natural edge of depression carves our creativity. It makes us sharp. It makes us try.

So that's how I grew up; creative, mostly. And always looking for happiness. At first I found it in painting, in making music, in listening to music, in writing stories. And then I found it in books, in movies, in characters. Happiness eventually came in the form of others, in friendships with peers, relationships with family, kindred spirits in animals. And then happiness came from being in love. After many years of trying, after many years of looking, I found happiness everywhere.

The past few years have been the happiest of my life.

I will never take happiness for granted. So when it meets me in art, in people, in animals, and in moments, I soak it up.

This afternoon, on the tail end of a lovely weekend spent with my sister, a weekend filled relaxing and exploring and discussing creative ideas, I took my Labrador Mollie for a short walk. Mollie finds happiness in everything, as most Labradors do. Her tail wags with every step, with every new person she walks by, with every flower she pauses to sniff. Mollie is the best teacher in finding happiness in small moments.

We walked up to Cottage Row, a square of historic cottages along one of San Francisco's Mini Parks (yes, San Francisco has such a thing called Mini Parks). True to taking in every moment, Mollie stopped every two inches to sniff flowers and plants and, I'm sure, less pleasant things. At one point, she even climbed fully into a plant to get a better scent. I pulled on her leash to keep walking, and she pulled back with all of her body weight to keep sniffing. I sighed and gave up.

In that moment of giving up, I decided to look around me. To listen around me. In that moment of giving up, I found pure, unadulterated happiness. The world stopped for a few seconds, was silent for a few seconds. And then a church bell started ringing in the distance. Birds sang and fluttered through the leaves above us. A water fountain trickled in a nearby backyard. The sky was bright blue and white light filtered through the big green leaves of the Mini Park's garden. And I was there, surrounded by all of this beauty, breathing and standing. Healthy, able, whole, and happy.

I will never take happiness for granted. And if I do, I'm sure this four-legged one will stop to remind me. Because, if it is not always within us, happiness most certainly is all around us.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

2014: The Year of Re

As a child, I was never allowed to compare my performance to anybody else's. It was one of my father's rules: always do your personal best. It didn't matter if the teacher was difficult, or if the majority of the class was failing, or if the other kids didn't have to practice music X hours a week, or if everybody else was going to skip school that day. The teacher, majority, other kids, and everybody else did not matter. I mattered. It was my life, my output.

Good lesson, dad.

Now, it's hard to go through life without comparing yourself to anyone at all, without pining after something (career, love life, family, money, car, etc.) someone else has. Envy wouldn't be one of the seven deadly sins if it wasn't a key human trait. But what I've come to find is that, as I get older, envy has less and less presence in my life. I am starting to finally feel like a whole person, 100% unique. In that wholeness, I look less to others in comparison. In that wholeness, I look more to me.

Generally, I am quite cynical when it comes to New Year's resolutions. I believe that many people set unrealistic goals for themselves. I believe that the majority of resolutions are made purely because that's what everybody else is doing. And because I strive to step away from what everybody else is doing, I tend to not make a New Year's resolution. Being the natural goal-setter that I am, though, this is not always easy.

I did not enter 2014 with celebration or excitement. As I was recovering from a stomach bug and on-going head cold and in the middle of a trip to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl (go Green!), I tucked myself into bed on New Year's Eve at a sweet 10:30 p.m. I did not reflect over all of 2013, I did not dream of all that was to come in the New Year. Instead I willed myself to sleep and tried to ignore the fact that I had to wake up at 5:00 a.m. the following morning.

New Year's Day was full of football and traveling. As I attended Rose Bowl and Michigan State, my Alma matter, brought home the win, it was a good day. But, to say the least, it was a tiring day. Since I've returned from Pasadena I've made a point of resting my mind and body, giving both time to repair. In this repair mode, I have had quite a lot of time to think.

I thought about 2013 - it really was a wonderful year, full of traveling, reuniting with family, self-discovery, and making dreams come true. It was a year of doing. A year of living.

2013 gave me a lot to be thankful for.

After happily reflecting on all of my adventures, growth and full living in the past year, I started turning gears into looking toward what I wanted 2014 to bring. As I mentioned earlier, I typically do not make a New Year's resolution. This year is no different--I have no concrete determination to bring anything particular into light. I am, however, entering this year with intention.

I intend 2014 to be the year of "re". I have spent the past 25 years building myself, tailoring my life to my liking. I understand that growing and change are on-going, but for now, for this upcoming year, I am going to stand still. I am going to take what I have to strengthen who I am and what I want, through the process of re.

After taking a break over the holidays, I am currently refocusing on what it is exactly that I want in life. I am restructuring my priorities, giving precedence to the top of the list. With that, I am re-branding myself, professionally and personally. More so professionally, because I am rebuilding my career. Personally...well you'll just have to wait and see. I am going to take everything that I already have, and repurpose it into something better.

I am going to take everything that I already have and repurpose it into something better.

Through refocusing, restructuring, rebranding, rebuilding, and repurposing, 2014 is going to be a year of personal bests.

Because it's my life, my output. My year of living with intention.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup Recipe

I don't know about you, but my husband and I just cannot shake this head cold. One day we're fine and the next, well, we're not. Our voices are scratchy and noses are runny. We sound a lot worse than we feel, but we still don't feel 100%. So, to give us some comfort, I whipped up a batch of homemade chicken noodle soup.

And damn, this batch was good. Head cold or not, this chicken noodle soup will make your life a little bit better.


5 cups chicken broth
2 chicken breasts
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp Herbs de Provence
3/4 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
1-2 handfuls of fresh baby spinach
6 oz egg noodles
2 tbsp butter


Add broth, uncooked chicken (cut each breast into a few pieces), salt, pepper and Herbs de Provence to a stockpot. Cover and cook over medium-high heat for about 20 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.

(This 20 minute window is a great time to chop your veggies!)

Once chicken is finished cooking, remove from broth and shred. (Life-changing) TIP: if you have a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer, add the chicken to the bowl and set on low with the flat beater for 1-2 minutes. This will shred your chicken completely. (Is your mind blown? I thought so.) Set shredded chicken aside.

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add celery, carrots and onion and sauté for about 5 minutes (add spinach in after about 3 minutes). Add chicken, stir together, and sauté for another 3-5 minutes.

Add egg noodles and the veggie and chicken mixture to the stockpot with the broth. Bring to a boil and cover. Boil for about 6 minutes, or until noodles are cooked through.