But, I wanna be productive! Don’t I?

The return trip back from any time away from home, whether a week or a long weekend, sets my brain and heart into motion. The parts of me I allowed to unwind begin to tightly coil once again.

I anticipate all that must happen in the next ten minutes, even when I’m still 30 minutes away from home: the unloading of the car, unpacking of bags, washing of clothes. The watering of plants, wrangling of cat fur tumbleweeds taking over the downstairs. The emails to respond to; the calendar plotting for the week ahead. Do I need to get groceries today or can that wait?

All of this is self-inflicted. And unhelpful. Remember how much fun we just had on vacation, Katie?

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Warning: that’s a genuine smile. Because I was having fun in the woods.

After spending the past two nights in the North Carolina mountains, I sit at this laptop with the goal of giving myself the gift of grace. Do what truly needs to get done in order for you to feel prepared to take on the week ahead. But, leave the “shoulds” out of the conversation today. BUT IT IS SO HARD!

Those “shoulds” are loud, often. Deafening at times, in fact. I will be the first to raise my hand and admit my cultural adherence to the notion of “productivity.” I prove my worth through tasks and outputs. Spending time on creative exercises, even writing this blog post right now, can provoke that small inner voice to speak up. “Psst, Katie, shouldn’t you go vacuum right now? The kitchen floor needs to be wiped up. And, why don’t you just check your work Inbox for a few minutes? You’ll feel so much better tomorrow…”

Will I, inner voice? Or will the small pool of “shoulds” morph into a tidal wave of anxiety, sweeping me into a vortex for the next two hours and then I look up and Sunday is over?

Do I sound like I am speaking from experience? Absolutely. Frequently. It has been a goal of this year for me to intentionally shift how I value myself and my time. Because, if I don’t, I will continue to miss out on opportunities to live fully.

Isn’t the notion of retirement weird? Our culture dictates that you have to earn your time to take adventure, develop hobbies, give back,etc. But, we have these mortal bodies that wear out over time. It becomes a heck of a lot harder to do all the things we may have wanted to do 30 years prior. (Unless you’ve developed erectile dysfunction. Then we’ve got a pill for you!)

We ran into many (perceived) retirees while hiking in the mountains on Friday. Of course — it’s a WORK day [note: “work” day in the dominant narrative of what constitutes “real” or “professional” work in a white supremacist society but NEWS FLASH: people work EVERY HOUR OF EVERY DAY and many of us take their schedules for granted — things still get delivered to ours doorsteps; our loved ones in the hospital are receiving care; office buildings are cleaned; fields are harvested; passengers arrive from one part of the world to another].

Back to my Friday morning hiking rumination. Aaron and I stuck out like a bit of sore thumbs as the youngest climbers of that time slot. Why would people of working ages be climbing a summit at 11:30am unless they were:

  1. Retired
  2. Vacationing
  3. Stay-at-home parent
  4. A person who takes time during their day to go hike a trail

Yes, number four is an option. (And no doubt there are a slew of other options so excuse my lack of inclusion. It is not meant to short-change anyone’s reason for being on a hike at 11:30am on a Friday. If you are on a hike at 11:30am on a Friday, you’re a badass. Period.)

Taking the time to make these moments happen, for me, can be so hard. Guilt of not feeling a contributing team member with my colleagues; fear of not being able to respond to the needs or questions of board members, donors, other stakeholders who are working on a Friday at 11:30am.

I like me some routine. I like me some dependibility. Funny how life provides neither of those. I can feel like I’m in a groove, that I’ve got things figured out. And then:

BAM.

A new opportunity. An illness. A phone call. An injury. A ticket to a sold-out show. Whatever it is, the exciting and excruciating, serve as reminders that change is constant. Which I know I know, but it doesn’t really sink it. I can still sing every lyric to Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” as proved on our drive home today.

But, I refuse to grant space in my heart and mind that my perception of routine is false. Things are happening behind the scenes. It’s our own Upside Down from Stranger Things. Hopefully with fewer horrifying creatures.

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That’s essentially the face I make when confronting anything outside of my routine. IF IT IS NOT WRITTEN DOWN, I AM NOT SURE IT CAN HAPPEN. (Photo credit)

Here we are: on a Sunday afternoon, fretting about living up to standards set by society and me. The shadow of having to justifying taking a Friday off, of not doing another load of laundry today. One could be done, sure. There are a thousand things that could be done; there are a dozen tasks that I could list as “should be” completed.

Today, I started my morning, sipping hot coffee while leaning on a window ledge as a fog swallowed the homes, farms, and gardens enclosed in our valley. I heard the call of the rooster, alerting the masses that it was time to stretch our limbs from a good night’s rest. I smelled the rich earth, dotted with dew, and breathed in the cool, crisp air one would never expect in a North Carolina August.

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I should sit in that memory for a bit longer. It will fade, in time. But the feeling it has imprinted will serve as a reminder of why I choose, today and each day, to live. Productivity, be damn.

The other kitchen sink drain

It doesn’t look like the epicenter of frustration and tears, does it?

Alas, this spot marks the culmination of epic arguments between Aaron and me. Most have been borne from an off-hand remark and then spiraled off into a platform for unloading the real issue that had been simmering under the surface for hours, days, weeks, or months. (Note: if your panties have been in a wad for months over something a partner has done to you, you’re the only one experiencing that level of chaffage. Unpluck the wedgie by working through that concern pronto — nobody likes surprises or Desitin).

The kitchen should be a place reserved for the creation of comforting, creative dishes; for laughter and a few spills. It’s the siren’s song, drawing people into the home, whether a long-time resident or a random Tuesday dine-and-dash. This one space offers gifts for all five senses (but it can also be the place to get burned. Ouch).

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Maybe if I had a kitchen that looked like this, things would be different? Damn.  Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Our kitchen does take on these positive qualities most of the time. But, every once in awhile, this room morphs into our own version of a WWE Raw event. And it most often begins when one of us is standing at the sink.

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A fairly accurate portrayal of our culinary-centered verbal smackdowns. Photo credit.

A few months ago, Aaron pointed out: 90% of our arguments start at our kitchen sink. (My husband loves him some percentages. Next time you see him, ask him if he is a vegan). Back to the kitchen: There’s nothing that sparks anger or annoyance than feeling the pulsing vibrations of a nearby garbage disposal, am I right? It’s true: the rectangular section between the island and washing station appears to channel dark energy that worms its way into a host and expels itself through the mouth in the form of a snarky comment, criticism, or passive aggressive non-verbal behavior.

Observe:

Me watching Aaron load the dishwasher: “Instead of putting those on the bottom shelf because they could melt, can we shift those to the top rack?”

Me upon discovering a bowl crusted with dried food left on the counter: “In the future, would you mind soaking this dish in the sink?”

Me washing dishes after cooking dinner: “Can you DO SOMETHING, ANYTHING, I JUST COOKED DINNER AND WHY AM I WASHING DISHES? OH AM I YELLING AT YOU NOW? I AM TRYING TO SPEAK SOFTLY BUT PROBABLY DON’T PUT A STICK IN MY HAND RIGHT NOW, NO MATTER THE SIZE.”

What did those three scnarios have in common? 

I am the instigator.

Am I always wrong in my instigation? Not from my perspective. I HAVE CONTROL ISSUES. This is when I force myself to reflect on my own experiences around the kitchen sink growing up. I was raised in a home (and mom, please correct me if I’m misconstruing any of this) where dishes were not to be left in the sink or on the counter overnight. There was a dishwasher. Use it. Put dishes in said dishwasher in a logical manner. Make sure they are rinsed first because the dishwasher isn’t magical. Wipe up excess water around the sink. Every once in awhile, wipe out the sink because it is a breeding ground for serious funk.

Perhaps I set the tone early on in our relationship when I instructed Aaron to get out of the kitchen as I was preparing a special dinner.

It was Aaron’s kitchen.

We all have idiosyncrasies. There are processes we prefer to see unfold, methods that soothe our spirits. None of them are inherently wrong. When it comes to merging your preferences with that of someone else’s, that’s when each of you might reach for your battle axes or boxing gloves.

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Or just bare-paw it like these wallabies. Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

It is not easy to live with someone else. Feel free to disagree. Feel free to throw the “you’re an only child” card in my face. I’ll eat it for breakfast. Because I firmly believe that maintaining your sense of self in shared space is harder than we assume — or how it can be portrayed in pop culture. Our baggage alone can crowd our closets. Remember all of those things you used to do as a single person that you would never do in front of a partner/roommate? (Future blog post for sure).

The kitchen, in particular, also screams to me the place to buck gendered household roles. I resent feeling as if I’m the sole cook and then the sole cleaner. I’m not good at asking for help; or, if I do ask for help, I struggle letting go of dictating how a process gets done. Would I have preferred that a larger colander was used rather than filling the brim of the small one? Sure. Does it really matter in the preparation of this meal?

No. It doesn’t.

In the same breath, I do want to engage in a real partnership, not just give lip-service to one. I have to be able and willing to speak up and express when I’m feeling like the balance of shared responsibilities is lopsided. I want my partner to understand that it’s not about me versus him; it’s about the “us”, this modern take on establishing a household where each of our parts plays an instrumental role in creating the atmosphere that fills us with satisfaction, connection, and joy.

Perhaps it’s best if such conversations start far away from the kitchen sink.

 

Humbled and afraid

It’s been a week where carving out time to write dropped in my priority list (old habits creeping back?) yet I did not want to pass up on this opportunity right now to extend my deepest appreciation for people in my life who reached out after my last post.

I have had the honor of being surrounded by brave individuals willing to peel back their pain and sorrow to talk through their experiences in trying to become a parent. Some of those journeys successfully accomplished their pursuits of bringing a child into the world with their partner. Others have paved their desired paths to parenthood via adoption, foster care, surrogate. And others have found peace and acceptance as a childfree individual or couple, fueled by the desire to pour into others who may have gone through a similar experience and the continued fight to ensure that our world remains the type of place we want to bring children into.

The horror of another mass school shooting this week can make any of us afraid to bring any life into our violent world. It isn’t just these terrifying incidents that underscore how frightening America can feel and appear. We operate in a nation under a mindset of scarcity and competition. That means people win, and people lose. That means there will never be enough to go around. We can’t show each other compassion because we’re locked in battle to do all we can to get out ahead. We’re so fearful of losing that we close off the opportunity to forge connection and community with others.

That’s what scares me the most about our world right now. How quickly we back into our corners, no matter what political ideology we espouse. It feels like we’ve lost our ability to see our shared humanity. We will all die. That is inevitable. And we will all live, for some amount of time. And in this time, how do we maximize the gifts we’re given as human beings to bring joy to others; to love; to be grateful; to offer help; to comfort. You can be an individual and be a part of the whole. It’s not a zero-sum game.

Have you seen this Ted Talk from Celeste Headlee: “Help Make America Talk Again”?

I don’t ascribe to the belief that people should ever put themselves in physical/emotional/mental/spiritual danger, which can happen in trying to seek understanding of how others view the world. I do think there are opportunities given to us each day where we can be safe and we can start to forge connection again.

You have shown that when it comes to the deeply personal and often private topic of fertility, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable creates the space to see each other in new, profound ways. We aren’t alone in those journeys or in life. I hope that we can continue to find ways to be there for each other, behind the scenes or in center stage, throughout our lives. Not just during these dark moments but also when the light is bright.

I’m grateful for you. I respect you. I love you.

Establishing a gratitude practice

I feel like it would be remiss if I didn’t begin this blog post by extending my appreciation to you, reader. Thank you for reading these words and visiting this random assortment of thoughts, ideas, reflections, and calls for action. While I can envision a scenario where my ruminations echo in a uninhabited universe of the Internet, I prefer to imagine a space full of individuals — like yourself — participating in the conversation.

On of this journey to be a more mindful and centered person, I kept stumbling on this notion of a ‘gratitude practice.’ Now, over the years, I’ve seen friends use the social media platform of Facebook to take on a “X number day” challenge to share appreciation for other people, special places, basic needs, etc. I would see those posts (when the Facebook algorithm decided that I should) and think: “Awww, that’s so nice!”

And then I was like: “Where are the cat photos?”

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Seeing other people publicly acknowledge their gratitude is inspiring. Showing thanks in our world can feel so perfunctory. Like many others, my parents made sure I said “thank you” after receiving a gift or being the recipient of something special. Does this sound familiar:

Did you say thank you to your Aunt?”

Public shaming can be an effective tool to form what should be a kind habit. As adults, how do we get back to the root of why we express gratitude? How do we turn those words into feelings that sit with us, in our hearts and minds, and fill us with joy and celebration?

One of the tools that could help, according to gratitude gurus, is to start keeping a gratitude journal (mindfulness folks love their journals!) I’m a notorious start-a-writing-outlet-and-lose-interest-in-three-weeks person. I always have been (minus sophomore year of high school where our English teacher required us to keep a journal for the year. Some hilarious entries, I assure you, including a recap of my first date with my “long” term high school boyfriend, who I treated poorly looking back. I’m sorry Eric.).

Back to gratitude: in concert with the Calm app’s “7 days of Gratitude” meditation series, I’ve been physically noting what I’m grateful for each morning. In most cases, I reflect on the prior day and the people and experiences that positively impacted me. I’ve also tried to step back and extend appreciation for the seemingly mundane in my life, but from the perspective of others, are enormous gifts: running water, a heating unit, access to the public library, the ability to own a car, living in a neighborhood where I can freely walk or run outside.

Sometimes acknowledging these pieces of my life make me feel weird — it forces me to stare at my privilege head-on. I need that reminder because it’s easy to let these gifts gloss over me — the entitlements and opportunities. When I pause to appreciate the electricity in my home and my ability to talk on a phone with my parents, I feel the flame of injustice flicker in me, as I don’t want these gifts to be exclusive. I want them to be universal. And that requires me to be a part of the fight.

The initial steps to establish a gratitude practice are more private and hidden. Whether through journaling or running through a list mentally, we keep these actions behind closed doors. The next iteration is extending our thanks outwards (hence, going back to friends on Facebook). For me, I am less interested in sweeping displays of gratitude; I want to ensure that people I interact with feel my appreciation in genuine ways for me and for them. That looks like me sending a quick text or email letting them know how grateful I am for their willingness to give advice or attend an event. Or leaving a voicemail that ends with me saying “I love you.”

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Gratitude rocks! Get it? Yeah…

This is a work in process, like everything else in life. Some days I will excel in expressing gratitude; other days, I will lie in a dark pit and cover myself with self-pity and dark chocolate. Over time, I hope that I will become more in tune with the gifts the world offers me — in the form of adventure, friendships, convenience, comfort — and give myself the time to acknowledge and appreciate those gifts, both internally and externally.

I am thankful for the ability to have time and space to write this morning. I am grateful for the Wifi connection that bridges people and communities across the globe. I am appreciative of having access to a coffee maker and coffee that provides the fuel for mornings…and afternoons…and sometimes evenings.

What are you grateful for in your life today? How do you share your appreciation for these gifts?

 

On a cold, rainy day in the South

it’s hard not to miss home. We had a chance to return to the Valley of the Sun in early February. Feels like eons ago already. Knocked off several hikes, see the Frida Kalho exhibit at the Heard Museum, visit two breweries [Four Peaks and Wren House], eat good vegan eats (Loving Hut, Pita Jungle, The Coronado, Picazzo’s] and lots of family and friend time, and a day at the Waste Management Open.

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Composting at the Waste Management Open?! I am all over that.

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In true Millennial fashion, Danny and I are at a brewery, together, on our phones.

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With Mom outside of the Heard Museum. Yes, sleeveless in February — BRING IT!

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Being a ham next to my Dad

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We brought our own lanyards.

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Which one is the out-of-towner?

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Out on the Go John trail in Cave Creek

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Saguaro dabs. I dab.

 

Miss Jane Marple (1995 – 2014)

Miss Jane Marple (1995 - 2014)

After 19 years of gracing our lives with her mews, random batterings with ribbon, and ample lap time, Miss Marple left us Tuesday in one of those inevitable, heartbreaking transitions. My mother and I adopted Miss Marple in 1998 shortly after moving into a new home following my parents divorce. It was one of those “Mom, let’s just go to the Humane Society to look…please?” and a few hours later, I had this tiny, three-year-old short-haired cat curled up and purring on my lap. I ragged my mother for years later, as she was keen on this beautiful white-haired feline, but my heart was already stolen. Miss Marple (known fondly as “Marple,” “Marps,” “Shmarple,” and “Chimichunga”) joined her new brother, Kitsy, and brought out his youthful spirit.

Tuesday was a rough day. I wished that I could be there with my mom; instead, we cried over the phone together, recognizing that we wanted to honor her with the life she deserved to live, not one dragged out with painful, unwelcomed procedures. I believe that she is united with Kitsy, curled up together as they once were many moons ago. She brought me such comfort during one of the darkest periods of my life, and I will forever be grateful for her unyielding love and trust.

Christmas 2013: To Peace on Earth, Quality Time with Loved Ones, and Delicious Fare

Alas, my goal to blog daily until the end of the year fell short. NEWS FLASH: I am not perfect. But, I’m picking up the typing wand again this morning to share the joys of the Christmas season here in Durham via time with family (even through Google Hangout), delicious recipes, and tasty libations.

IMAG1144Nothing like kicking off Christmas morning at 3:30am, Milo. For that, you must wear the sticker.

Growing up, we actually opened presents on Christmas Eve after church. I have found this piece of family history to stun people, especially those from the South. On Christmas Day, we opened our stockings (or socks) and then I would open presents from Santa (insert only child spoiled reference). As I got older and had to navigate the multiple Christmas celebrations, opening presents on Christmas Day became more common place. Aaron’s family tradition was also Christmas Day, so we’ve made that part of ours moving forward.

Some fun things Santa brought to me under the tree:

  • University of Arizona t-shirt, car magnets, towel (Bear Down!)
  • Dehydrator (Eager to try!)
  • Socks (lots of awesome athletic socks, including neon colors)
  • Crate and Barrel Six Pack Plates
  • Vegan cookbook
  • New clothes from cAbi
  • Mango slicer
  • Ice scraper (!!)
  • Collapsible measuring cups
  • Tickets to see Brett Dennen at the Carolina Theatre

and other super generous items from family, friends, and Santa.

Post-wrapping paper explosion, it was time to eat into grub. Because we had so much of this incredible vegetarian chili leftover, I opted to delay making the Glazed Apple Walnut Loaf for a few days.

Super delicious and heaty Quinoa Vegetarian Chili

Vegetarian Chili

Roasted brussel sprouts = can one go wrong with this dish EVER?IMAG1145

Mashed sweet ‘tatersIMAG1146

Holiday Salad with Apple Cider Cinnamon Vinaigrette via Eat Spin Run = AMAZING (this is on meal repeat)

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Christmas Plate 2013

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Wow – isn’t that just a beautiful sight!

Other treats for the holidays including opening our 2012 Fruitcake from Fullsteam Brewery. Wow: it was smooth, still quite a lot of bourbon-flavor but not so overwhelming as it had been on draft.

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I couldn’t open the 2013 Christmas Ale from Anchor Brewing until the actual date either:

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It wasn’t quite as good, in my opinion, as previous years. Not enough spice and body for me, but still enjoyable.

After food and taking a midday walk, another family tradition of mine has always been to see a movie on Christmas Day. Aaron has helped maintain the tradition for our two North Carolina Christmas celebrations, as we ventured to see American Hustle. I highly recommend it – between fantastic writing, stellar acting performances from Christian Bale/Jennifer Lawrence/Bradley Cooper/Amy Adams/Jeremy Renner/Louis C.K., thoughtful cinematography, and delectable fashion, it’s a winner. Great plot twists as well: I found myself vacillating on how I felt about each character, and where I finished is not where I expected. Enjoy!