Catalyst for commitment

Major observances, such as birthdays and holidays, often provide the catalyst for commitment, at least in my experience.

Last week, I celebrated with family and friends, near and far, the “achievement” of completing around rotation around the sun. I argue that luck and privilege served as the two driving forces behind that achievement. Still, I won’t squander the opportunity to give gratitude for more time to give and receive love; to build community; to learn; to fail; and to fight for a more just, equitable world [dismantling racism, white folks. Let’s name it.]

A re-branding of this blog seemed in order as I have (for the nth time) reaffirmed that I want to be a writer. And I want to be a good writer. Such ambition requires continual practice, reflection, and refinement. As a budding pianist, I recall drawn out fights with my parents, particularly my mother, when it came to carving out time for the dreaded “p” word. My seven-year-old entitled self truly believed that I could merely show up to each lesson and have improved by the grace of the Almighty without tickling a single ivory over the previous seven days.

I’m a tad ashamed to admit this, but this attitude followed me through much of my younger life. In 4th grade, I joined our elementary school concert band as a clarinetist. Again, I chalked up practicing as something other people did. That’s not to say that I never practiced throughout my  brief musical career. In high school, as I picked up the saxophone and melaphone, I recognized a need for me to spend time building my embouchure, finding the right pitch, and running through the various scales.

But how much better could I have been! (she types with regret)

This older (and much wiser) version of Katie recognizes and embraces commitment and persistence to a degree that younger Katie couldn’t fathom. However, I still find opportunities to derail myself in pursuit of how I want to be spending the limited resource of time.

Who do I want to be? When people look at my life, what would they say? While I’m not *quite* ready to write my obituary (a very uncomfortable exercise I experienced last year), I want to end the mindsets, attitudes, and behaviors that keep me from growing into my desired identities.  What I want to be requires work. I could continue to show up. I could continue to coast. But, why? And how would that reflect my core values? Short answer: it wouldn’t.

Passion. Bliss. Contentment. These outcomes thrive in settings when your actions align with your values, personal mission, and vision. I’ve spent the last few months (ok, let’s be real, the last 20+ years) defining and re-defining each of those based on new information received, relationships gained and lost, and experiences processed. I hope that I maintain a growth and stretch mindset when it comes to self-awareness and self-assessment. In order to be the type of person that I want to be — for you and for the rest of the world — I must continue to check my assumptions, my bias, and my adherence to positions.

As of May 28, 2018, I want to work toward being a person who is known as:

  1. A trusted, honest, and loving wife/friend/family member.
  2. A person committed to antiracist work in all aspects of life.
  3. A writer who avoids wasting your time or her breath.
  4. A student hungry for knowledge.
  5. A future farmer who wants to cultivate a healthier, more sustainable natural world.
  6. A leader who is unabashedly relentless in demanding respect and justice and who can throw her head back and laugh loudly without apologizing.

The mindfulness practice that I started six months ago has created the mental space for me to explore each of these six areas to various degrees. Now, with more mindful prioritizing of my time, I look forward to improving upon each of these hats, one day at a time.

Today is day one.

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?”

catmeme

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.”

Gratitude

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?

 

How to help? Stop the advice and create space

In the last week, I’ve had two interactions where — with all of my being — I wanted to be able to help but felt hampered by not having a clear action to take. One situation centered around my mother experiencing a deeply personal loss of a friend, and the other involved one of my close friends who had a fairly tumultuous 2017.

As both leaders and people who generally care about others, our first reaction in these situations is often to offer advice, provide comforting words, or relate a personal experience. But, this desire to fix or help may only benefit our own selfish desire and not the other person.

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Oh, you want to get healthy? Here is a gym you can join! (But seriously, if you live in the Triangle, you should join the 360 Approach family).

What can we do instead? Create a nonjudgmental space for sharing, reflection, and even silence. For me, this is hard. And uncomfortable! Sitting in silence with another person is not how I would describe a good time. I start to fidget; my brain begins racing; sweat beads at my wrists and temples.

Why does this happen? Our culture doesn’t embrace silence as a value. In fact, we want the opposite of stillness: movement! sounds! notifications! Fill the void with chatter, innovation, progress.

These actions can make us feel like we’re moving forward. In reality, these actions can limit our ability to fully connect with our own emotions and with the emotions of others. While we can now check off a box, the jumble left behind inside of us remains just that: jumbled. This mess often finds its way out of us through less desirable means: anger or sadness; overindulgence; self-harm; fighting with others; sickness.

Let’s make a pledge together in 2018 to try and create spaces for others when they need it. We’ll keep our mouths closed and our advice to ourselves. We will be present, and we will listen. Actively listen. We can ask open-ended questions that give the person we love more opportunities to unearth what they want (and likely need) to say as they process. We need to grow more comfortable with silence and with allowing things to be left unsaid.

During the conversation with my mom, I fought myself to not interject with some trite commentary on grief and loss, on friendship. I wanted to so badly, but I could also hear in my mom’s voice that she needed to just talk. For many of those that we love, they often carry the burden of being the sounding board for their family members and friends. When faced with their own hardships, they don’t necessarily have anyone offering their ears and time.

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A #throwback photo: sometimes creating space involves booze.

After reading this post, what resonates with you? Has someone created space for you recently? How did that make you feel?

Who is your community?

We throw this word around a lot in the nonprofit sector. Community can refer to a geographic place; a particular subset of the population, or a loosely-affiliated network of folks with some commonality.

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Some of the YNPN community at 2015 national conference

As I reflect on what role I can help play in dismantling systemic racism and infusing our world with love and compassion, I want to ensure that I am fulfilling my obligations to this idea of community. What I mean by that is: who is in my community? Who is not? How am I nurturing my community?

My Durham YMCA community

My Durham YMCA community

For instance, do you know the names of all of your neighbors? Have you broken bread together? I know some, but not all. And why is that? Sure, we wave as we drive in, drive out. But, that’s all surface level. We don’t all have to be best friends but certainly we can become stronger allies together in this shared space.

My craft beer community

My craft beer community

Who do I spend time with? The truth is: most of my friends are white. Thanks to YNPN and my job, people with different racial, religious, and gender identifies have entered into my life, allowing me to have a richer human experience. Yet, there are still voices that I want (and need) to draw from in order to help me become a better, more understanding human. This requires me to be intentional in seeking out opportunities to engage with more diverse perspectives. This is not easy. It takes time. It could take a sense of feeling uncomfortable. Oh, and how we love to avoid discomfort!

uncomfortable

I remember the first time I was the only white person in a room. It was during my first year teaching, and one of my students invited me to her baby shower. This was one of those transformative experiences as I had lived the previous 22+ years of my life with not even an inkling of how it feels to be “the only” in such a visibly telling way. While this event was prior to my own learning and growth in racial equity and social justice, it was part of my broader awakening. I am so grateful for my student wanting me to be a part of her community. I hope I conveyed my appreciation fully.

In this digital age, community takes on a whole new meaning. We forge connections with folks that we don’t really “know” in the traditional sense and may never meet. But, we have found a commonality that has drawn us together. These shape our opinions and our reference points. But, the question is: are these online relationships broadening our ideas of community and humanity? Or do we only plug into what is safe? Building out our choirs isn’t necessarily a negative. Yet, if we refuse to stretch ourselves, we end up becoming more and more inflexible, wound up tight – no yoga pose will change that.

VH-cat-yoga

My goal is to be thoughtful in cultivating deeper relationships within my current communities, by taking simple steps like inviting our neighbors over for a beer or backyard meal. I also commit to finding new communities to listen to, learn from, and grow with. If I want to see such change in the world, I need to be at the frontlines of living it.

Are you with me?

How you define your communities? What ways have you sought to grow those? In what ways do you still need to grow?

 

Recap: Wanderlust 108 – Charlotte 2016

Wanderlust 2016 - Charlotte

Where it began

Run. Yoga. Mediate.

The trifecta of health and balance for one’s mind, body, and spirit. Back in April, I had the opportunity to engage in these trio activities with two incredible friends. We hopped on the Amtrak in Durham after work on a Friday, heading to the Queen City (Charlotte).

Sheila, Michelle and I outside the Charlotte Amtrak station

A group of 3? Talk about synergy!

Wanderlust, known for its enormous yoga festivals, often in exotic locations, created day-long spin-offs dubbed Wanderlust 108.  Under “what to expect” the site notes:

lots of high fives, a little sweat, and a deep chill.

Wanderlust 108: Ready to start the 5k

The chill factor was in full effect – brr!

If I could offer some additional “what to expect” thoughts, I would include: an incredibly array of multicolored yoga pants; patchouli; and

Kombucha

Kombucha, of course.

As this Saturday neared, we kept a close eye on the weather. North Carolina had plunged into a cold snap, and Saturday’s temperatures were not looking ideal for outdoor recreation. It was windy – several yoga mats attempted flight. And it was cold – at least at the start. Fortunately, the sun provided respite and made the experience much more bearable.

Wanderlust 108 - Charlotte

Queen City Yoga

The day began with a 5k run followed by a group dance party with MC Yogi (I kid you not), a Vinyasa flow, and a guided mediation (more on the last part below).

Wanderlust 108 - Charlotte

Michelle is in to win

Wanderlust 108 - Charlotte

Sheila gives peace and… brackets?

Wanderlust 108 - Charlotte

Look ma! I’m sitting on a slackline.

A mindfulness triathalon. How zen. How challenging.

Never before had I meditated. I certainly had read my fair share of articles on the importance of mediation and centering and breathing exercises…blah blah blah. Yes, I shut those out because – let’s be real: we’ve got to get physical.


This is where the reader (that’s you) should leap from your chair and say:

 

YouLie

Ugh. I’m a bit ashamed I included such an image in this blog post. But, back to the subject at hand: my pursuits of strength have resided solely in the physical. I’m all about doing. I make to-do lists. I complete projects. I’ve got a plan. I’m constantly moving and moving and moving.

Not only does this lead to energy depletion, but it denies me from living fully. I don’t allow myself the space to turn inward and be still. For too long, I viewed that as a weakness. Diving headfirst by mediating in an open field among hundreds of strangers allowed me the first taste of meditation’s power.

I wish I could report that since attending Wanderlust 108, I’ve walked down a more enlightened path, prioritizing a time for quiet reflection each day. For the first two days after Charlotte, I tried to establish a morning routine. And then…oh, you know. Life happened.

Still, I had the opportunity of knowing what could be and now I can practice the intentional time-out.

As soon as I finish that run…

One of the other best takeaways from the 24 hour Charlotte adventure:

Vegan pimento cheese

Yes, that is VEGAN pimento cheese!

Do you meditate or engage in intentional mindfulness? If so, how did you end up making the practice part of your life?

The “mad at me” game and a new vegan recipe

Happy Friday, y’all.

The first full week back to work is never easy after extended time off. A brief interlude to the coast to start this week left me feeling like I never was quite able to find my routine, which I allowed myself to accept. The absence of usual evening meetings and social gatherings was a nice respite, and at the same time, I have missed connecting in person to the folks who comprise my awesome community.

Question

Do you suffer from the self-induced guilt game that I will refer to as “MAM” short for “mad at me”? I do. Suffer might be too strong of a descriptor because it is completely self-induced.

Case study: As I was packing up my belongings today, I recalled that I had not heard back from someone I had reached out to in the morning, asking if they would be able to get together next week. Almost immediately I heard my inner voice say: “Oh no! What if this person is mad at me? Is there something I did or didn’t do?” I could feel my brain going into processing overdrive, attempting to identify where I went wrong.

mindblown

WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME. While I would rather blame this reaction on being a Millennial or an only child or a product of a instantaneous gratification culture, it resides much deeper than that. This is simply one example of this self-doubt that I often struggle with in my personal and professional relationships. I’m sure Aaron can count numerous times where I have asked him point blank: “Are you mad at me?”

There have been times where my gut feeling – whether with friends or colleagues – has been correct. Outside of a few individuals in my life blowing up at me (the not-so-subtle answer to my inner question), most folks don’t want or can’t own up when their upset at someone else. I consider myself among the camp, in some respect.

As part of my ongoing development as a human being, I am working to quiet the reactive voice of blame and do an environmental scan (you better believe I just dropped it) on whether there is merit to such a feeling. Nine times out of 10, there won’t be. And, what I need to do is to learn to dismiss those unfounded fears quickly rather than allow them to consume precious energy I could be applying towards – you know – changing the world and stuff.

On the flip side, this type of behavioral change also demands that I do my part in being open, honest, and transparent when I have felt wronged in a situation. I know that I’m not alone in this MAM affliction. So, I need to “own it” when there are feelings of discontent and work to address the situation. Festering is both a disgusting-sounding word and a detriment to relationships and productivity.

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Shifting gears:

52

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I picked up Food52‘s vegan cookbook while perusing at Parker & Otis. I had seen recipes from Food52 before, but I did not know that it had an entire section of vegan recipes at the ready.

This is one of the most visually beautiful cookbooks I have encountered. This week I broke into my first recipe, one that was more familiar but had a few new twists: lentil sloppy joes. I finished the rest of the dish for my lunch today, and it was just as delicious five days after first cooking it. The first night we used torta rolls we picked up at Costco to hold the messy goodness. Another night, I toasted some Ezekial bread and used some vegan cream cheese –mmmmm! Creamy goodness. I will say – I do prefer the PPK “Snobby Joe” recipe that I blogged about previously. Still, this is a nice variation on a comfort dish the whole family, vegan or not, will love.

Vegan Lentil Sloppy Joes
(via Food 52’s blog)

Author Notes: Easy, filling, and inexpensive, this is the only vegan sloppy Joe recipe you’ll ever need. Gena Hamshaw

Serves 6

  • 1 cup brown or green lentils, soaked for a few hours (or overnight) and rinsed
  • 2 to 3 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup white or yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 green or red bell pepper, chopped (about 3/4 to 1 cup)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder, dried
  • One 15-ounce can crushed, fire-roasted tomatoes (I like the Muir Glen brand)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon organic brown sugar or maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoons sea salt (adjust according to taste; how much is needed will also depend on the tomatoes and tomato paste you use)
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth (or more as needed)
  • 6 sprouted grain buns
  • Toppings of choice (Tabasco sauce, sriracha, pickles, onions, sauerkraut, coleslaw, avocado slices, etc.)
  1. Place lentils in a large pot, and cover with water (enough so that there’s at least a full inch or two of water above the lentils). Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the lentils are chewable, but still have some firmness to them. Drain them and set aside.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and pepper, and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the onion is soft and clear, stirring frequently. Add the garlic, chili, paprika, and mustard, and continue cooking for another minute or two, until the garlic is quite fragrant.
  3. Add the lentils, fire-roasted tomatoes, tomato paste, brown sugar or maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, salt, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Add more broth as needed. Simmer until the mixture has thickened to your liking, about 15 to 20 minutes (I like thick sloppy joes, but if you like ’em sloppier, that’s fine, too!).
  4. Remove mixture from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. Divide sloppy joes onto the buns and top with toppings of choice, including some Tabasco or sriracha for heat, if desired. Serve.