This month marks a shift for me. I’m starting a 30-day challenge and along with it, I’m renewing a focus and commitment to good, clean, whole food.
(more details soon!)
Playing your edge. It’s not a new concept, but still one that returns to my mind every day. Sometimes it’s fun. See how far you can go. The exhilaration from the unknown can feel like a fierce breeze luring me from my comfort zone. It can also be painful. The fear of getting hurt, of losing out, of being wrong — these all can feel more real than even the most enticing breeze. So I learn to play my edges. How far can I do without going too far? How much can I push the boundaries of what “too far” is?
The term itself came to me from yoga. My instructors would advise me to seek out the very most I could do with my body, find a place there where I could remain and harness my own power of the mind to truly keep me there. They gave me a name to something I’ve always played around with, no pun intended. Sometimes I could be cautious or meek, looking outward but staying within that comfortable boundary. Other times, I can do nothing but leap and hope to fly. What does playing my edge in yoga teach me about finding my edge in life?
Mushrooms were once the nemesis. They’re a fungus. A FUNGUS. They couldn’t possibly be good. The texture is gross. The taste is (much) less than pleasant. How was that even food??, my younger self would think. Even my recent past-self would say that. In very small and certain instances, my present-self could say that about mushrooms (I’m still overcoming a picky palate from childhood, baby steps). On this particular evening however, I have nothing bad to say.
This mushroom bourguignon recipe from Smitten Kitchen is divine. I haven’t even tasted it yet. Reading the recipe made my mouth water. The day I found it, I was aimlessly wandering through the food blogosphere on a cool, rainy day. The scene was already set for comfort food. I tucked away the recipe for another cool day in need of comfort, a day when I also had the ingredients in my fridge (namely, the mushrooms, but also I was out of carrots and onions at the time).
The smell is rich, and as the bourguignon simmers to a lovely thick consistency, I keep catching myself at the stove, stirring at it absent mindedly if only for the smell. When I made a very conscious decision to eat more vegetables (and less meat in the process), I realized immediately I didn’t actually like or eat many kinds of vegetables. Some I hadn’t even tried. Ever. Things like bell peppers. Radishes. And mushrooms. And yet I hated them all. I made rash judgments on their taste without ever one of them passing my lips. I know. I had conviction.
This mushroom bourguignon is a whole ‘nother kind of conviction. The happy kind that welcomes new foods with open arms, spoon and fork in hand(s). It’s a typical Southern California fall day: nice and brisk in the morning, followed by beautiful sunny, and quite warm weather, followed by more cool weather. I grew up in New England and have lived through many a day below freezing, so that’s why I say cool instead of cold. Still, this weather throws me. I don’t know how to dress in the morning, for temperatures in the 40s, then 80s then 50s – all in one day. I will say though, as soon as that sun goes down and the temperature drops, I’m more than happy to enjoy a dish like this. It keeps me warm. It reminds me of home, the ethereal comfort of a place that’s changed so much, it’s hardly a geographic location anymore. It’s just a feeling. And a warm bowl of fusilli noodles draped with a couple spoonfuls of mushrooms and onions in a deep brown sauce, well that brings me home. And well yes, I suppose I’m standing in my kitchen, about to dive into a dish I made from scratch, with a glass of wine I picked out. I suppose I am home.
When life gets hectic and things seem like they’re getting out of hand, it’s nice to have a sunny, quiet morning to myself. Today was not one of those mornings, but I am looking forward to a weekend trip and the chance to just sit in the sun and ponder over my breakfast cereal
Since I’ve recovered from that awful bug, I’ve gone a bit overboard with my kitchen adventures. Rather than just cook my normal meals, I’ve been baking up a storm. I already have a handful of recipes that I’m looking forward to making again (and taking pictures of so I can post them on here). Really, I’ve gone a bit out of control. I even convinced myself that I could bake a loaf of soft, fluffy, yummy sandwich bread from scratch.
So I did. Err, well I tried. It was soft. It was yummy. It has a nice sweet fragrance even. But fluffy? Not. One. Bit. I’ve tried baking bread before and the illustrious fluff of good bread has always eluded me. When I took the pan out of the oven and saw that flattened sad excuse for sandwich bread, I got frustrated. I furrowed my brow, crossed my arms and pouted. Yes I pouted, my guy can vouch for me on that. He tried to cheer me up, and when it finally cooled, convinced me to taste a slice instead of tossing it directly in the trash. Yes I know, I was superbly dramatic. I can be so unreasonable when I’m pouty. Instead I cut a slice and spread some good butter on it and…
It wasn’t bad. No it was kinda good. Still dense, yes, but more than edible. It was more like a honey wheat quick bread, and it certainly didn’t warrant the trash. No, this surprisingly enjoyable homemade bread deserved special treatment.
Oh yes. Who knew unsuccessful homemade sandwich bread would become very successful french toast. Add in some fresh berries that we picked up from the farmers’ market yesterday, yogurt and a drizzle of maple syrup, and we have the perfect breakfast for dinner. I even roasted some baby dutch potatoes for a nighttime take on home fries on the side (they didn’t last long enough for photo evidence, but not to worry, they’ll return to our plates soon enough). I’ll have to dedicate a post to this bread recipe once I’ve mastered its fluffiness, but for now here’s my take on french bread goodness (psst, it’s the cinnamon sugar and all the toppings!).
Cinnamon french toast with berries
Makes 4 slices
Heat a pan on medium low. Crack the egg into a shallow bowl or flat Tupperware (I use the latter) and add the almond milk and cinnamon sugar. Beat until well incorporated. Soak a slice of bread in your french toast mixture on both sides for a few moments. Meanwhile, once the pan has gotten hot, melt half the butter in the pan. Place the first slice in the pan to start browning while you soak a second slice. Then toss that second slice in with the first (making sure to remember which one went in first so you know when to flip it). After 2-3 minutes or when browned, flip each slice over. When done, keep them warm on a heat-proof plate in the oven, with the oven set on low. Repeat the soak-and-brown with the remaining two slices of bread, and use the remaining half of the butter on the pan. Give your last slice of bread a little more time to soak, as there will be minimal french toast liquid to soak up. This amount yields almost the exact amount for four slices of thick bread, so let that fourth slice really enjoy the egg bath. Keep the french toast on the warming plate in the oven until ready to eat.
When ready to serve, spoon a dollop of yogurt on each bread and top with berries and a drizzle of maple syrup. Even if you aren’t a fan of plain yogurt, the berries and maple syrup really make this a sweet treat.
[After what was meant to be a quick rest following my first 10K, I'm back! the 'rest' turned into more of an exhausting recovery after I contracted a stomach flu only three days after the event -- blechk! I'm doing much better now, but I'm overdue for an eventful recap!]
It’s official: I completed my first race and my first 10K! As you know, it was nerve-racking going into it, but when that Saturday morning arrived, I was suddenly PUMPED. Can I just say that I’m so happy I ran an event like Nike’s She Runs LA for my first race? There was so much going on and so much entertainment around us, it was the perfect choice for newbies and seasoned runner alike. It was great to get together with more than a thousand other people; the mood was infectious. Enter the ’80s theme: so many people were ridiculously decked out, so many of them put my radical duds to shame. With the neon attire, mismatched sweatbands and oh-so-classic side ponytail, my duds were radical. Truly, it was over the top.
The day began with a Jane Fonda-style warm-up at the starting line. A good portion of the run was a straightaway on Melrose Ave. Along the route, all kinds of performances from a dance team doing “Thriller” to the local high school drumline to an ’80s rock cover band and even a gospel choir were peppered throughout the course. It gave me something to look forward to and gave me energy every time we passed one of these performances. Of course, running with my two friends for most of the distance kept me moving — I couldn’t have done it without them and they were so encouraging. Running with these ladies made it so much fun!
The hardest part came at the end (obviously…) when my friends and I slowly drifted away from each other, all running at different speeds. I was so tired. So tired. The last two miles were no longer straight, but a labyrinth of turns through the Paramount Studios backlot. Nike kept it up strong with well placed speakers playing “Chariots of Fire” in the last mile. As I turned the final corner and came in sight of the finish line, my body surged with that last shot of adrenaline as I sprinted to the end. When I crossed that finish line and heard my name over the loud speakers among the others who had finished around me, I felt nothing but relief. Pure, tired, happy relief. With only a week’s notice and preparation, I ran 6.2 miles. I did it!
From there, it felt like riding a rollercoaster after the big drop, just coasting on adrenaline and endorphins. When we finally looked at our surroundings, I realized we were square in the middle of a huge outdoor set of what looked like New York City. The finishers’ after party kept the entertainment coming w/ kareoke (on a treadmill no less), another ’80s cover band, photo booths and a costume contest.
I can’t explain the sound thought process behind this, but I decided to follow this active, tiring Saturday with an equally busy Sunday. It was the last weekend of the snowboarding season, so I found myself on a snow-covered summit with my guy and our buddy in mid-April. It’s been a remarkably warm winter, so when unexpected snow hit the mountain earlier in the week, we had to take advantage of it. Maybe I was still riding that 10K high in my mind or maybe it was the perfect spring conditions, but it was by far the best day of the season. I even got my snow bunny legs and did some jumps.
I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. If this is how I feel the day after a 10K, I should do this more often.
In probably the most impulsive thing I’ve decided to do in 2012, I decided last Friday to sign up for the Nike She Runs LA 10K. I had looked at this event before but decided against it because I feared I would fail: fail to train, fail to run the whole 10K, fail to do well (whatever that even means!). Then as if a sign from the fates, a dear friend called me to hang out and brought up that she was doing She Runs LA: What, you’ve looked into it before? You wanted to do it? RUN IT WITH ME!
OK, there may have been more back and forth, more rounds of persuasion to convince me, but that’s the gist. Oh, did I mention the race is this Saturday, April 14? Yes, after a lull in running or consistent training of any kind, I decided to sign up for a 10K that was a week away!
At first, I felt exhilaration. I would run a racing event after all, my first one! I won’t run it alone, but with a great friend! It will be so much fun! (Did I also mention that the event is ’80s themed? Time to rock the side ponytail and bright neon workout attire!) Then the fear and uneasiness crept back in: Oh crap, what am I doing? Is this a good decision? What if I can’t hack it?
Thankfully, my friends and family have been great at quickly squashing my fears — all the more wonderful since I’m literally racing against the clock here. Despite his initial apprehension to me doing a half-marathon (which he fully supports now, yay!), my man is incredibly encouraging and excited to see how well I do. My brother has been a great cheerleader, running with me when I visited my parents for Easter weekend and sending me “You can do it!” texts. My housemate and buddy wants to greet me at the finish line. And of course, the girlfriend I’m running with has helped fuel the excitement!
With only 4 more days until the 10K, it may seem like a lot to prepare for as a beginner, but I couldn’t be happier to have something like this to look forward to. What may have started as a lofty dream or ill-informed decision is now motivation to keep moving forward. My goal for Saturday is simple: run a 10K without dying and have fun while doing it. Whether I’m running at a medium or slow pace — or even slower — it doesn’t matter as long as I finish the race (in ’80s neon running shorts).
Maybe it’s psychosomatic, but the good vibes are paying off…or maybe I just wasn’t as out of shape as I initially thought. Yesterday I ran 4 miles in just under 43 minutes! So maybe it wasn’t nonstop; it included a walking lap and some quick water breaks, but I left the gym finally feeling confident. I can do this. I will do this and it’ll be great!
Here’s a quick look at my training and workouts in prep for Saturday. Note that I’m trying to follow training plans like the Athleta Iron Girl guide but altered to prepare me in this short amount of time:
Tuesday: 30-40 min moderate run, with sprint intervals; 20 min. yoga
Wednesday: 45-55 min light, long run; 20 min. yoga stretch
Thursday: 30 min light run with moderate intervals; 30 min. stretch & restorative yoga
Friday: no run OR 20 min. light run; 45 min. yoga for runners; 15 min. restorative yoga
Saturday: RACE DAY!
Have you decided last minute to run a race before ? What have you done to prepare for a running event in a short amount of time?
The heart needs only its own voice to do what is right.
- Vanna Bonta
First, I think this deserves a little space to understand why motivation, determination and grit have recently become reoccurring themes. I’ve retreated into my shell in the last few weeks, if that wasn’t obvious by the inactivity on this site. I gave in to my innate introversion with hopes of much desired R&R. La vie quotidienne and all its stressors have taken over what was once considered immovable priorities: yoga, running, good food and my overall health. It’s left me tired and restless, waiting for a chance to have time to rest by myself and press the reset button.
Yes I realize I live in a busy home, complete with 3 housemates, and yes it’s about to get even busier with several guests visiting from this Friday all the way through mid next week. Asking for alone time is impractical and on some days implausible, but in an effort of motivation to get back on track, I’ve tried to steal moments to read a book or magazine or jot notes in my Moleskine. Although I’m happy even in my listless wandering, I have to go against Tolkien this time to say that I feel a tad lost.
A quick update on some of my 2012 goals: A daily yoga practice (at least 20 minutes even on my busy days) was a stabilizing part of my life for 3 months, but now it is intermittent at best (once a week or once every other week). My drop in practicing yoga has directly contributed to a drop in energy that I can only describe as a lethargic burden. Without yoga to keep me present, mindful and stable, I’ve forgotten about my No. 1 priority: myself. My eating habits have been mediocre at best and disappointing at worst: bags of cookies for breakfast, loads of cheese and milk (trouble for lactose-intolerant me!), leaving me with regret and major stomach aches that last multiple days.
Despite some strong negativity from my man (of all people!) on training to ultimately run a half-marathon this year, I decided to start small with a 5K and work my way up. After pumping myself up for
my first race — the Coaster Run 5k this past Sunday (March 25) — I skipped out on training and didn’t run at all. Seriously, this was a real blow for me. I tried running at the gym the week before the race and couldn’t even make 2 miles without stopping. I felt like a failure with no one else to blame for my flakiness.
At this point, I’ve decided to not pursue yoga teacher training this year and my perspective on the big picture is foggy and muddled.
Enter determination and grit. The dictionary reads determination is the act of being decisive, of settling on a purpose. Of grit, it reads: firmness of character and indomitable spirit. The dictionary is very matter-of-fact; it treats these words as any other the others found within its pages. Yet determination and grit carry so much weight and make a powerful duo: the ability to really know what you want and be strong-willed enough to get it; the strength to try harder when it’s easier to change course.
I admit I’ve lost some of that initial fire, the motivation that put me on the mat every evening and helped me make good decisions every day. But I’m sick of being tired. I’m tired of changing course just to get through the stress. I’m determined to do this right.
As if my man was trying to make up for his previous negativity (or maybe he just saw how sad I was when I realized I wouldn’t be able to do the Coaster Run), he planned a terrifically active weekend. So no, I didn’t do
my first race, but I didn’t wallow in the lost opportunity either. On Saturday we went snowboard before all the snow washed away in Sunday’s torrential downpour. Yes, it rained during the Coaster Run this year, but instead of running outside, we went rock climbing at the indoor gym. I finished both strenuous days with yoga, bringing a smile to my face as it stretched my tired muscles. In these two days of movement after weeks of slumber, it was as though that fire sparked anew.
Two days later, my limbs are still sore after such a fun weekend (especially since I’ve been fairly inactive up to that point), and that fire is just kindling at this point. But with fire comes the urge to grow and expand. With this desire comes determination and grit. With determination and grit there is nothing left to do but create the world I want and succeed.
Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swaps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists.. it is real.. it is possible.. it’s yours.
- Ayn Rand
After a shoulder injury last summer from prolonged wear and tear, my body’s limitations hit me in a very real way. I took for granted that my body has always been relatively flexible and that even with years of competitive dance where I pushed my physical body to its threshold constantly, it was still young and pliable enough to bounce back without so much as a couple sore muscles. So far, I’ve even made it through life without breaking a bone despite my inherent clumsiness.
So when this injury persisted weeks after a normal post-workout strain would, I become worried and mostly frustrated. I eventually gave in to the opinions of modern medicine, who quickly informed me that I had shoulder bursitis or ‘impingement syndrome’: a pinched tendon in my shoulder that over time becomes inflamed and painful with activity, especially when moving the arm above head height.
After a few months of physical therapy, my frustration grew in response the slow progression of improvement. It felt as though my shoulder was fighting against me. It didn’t respond to my requests, and it yelped in pain when I tried to coerce it into obedience. I would try to listen to my physical therapist’s advice: don’t do anything to inflame it further. We need to let the inflammation calm down before we can build your strength and flexibility back up. It made perfect sense of course, but after a week or two of not doing anything, I would get restless and inadvertently cause more pain and inflammation.
It took flying all the way to a resort off of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for my first ever yoga retreat to finally understand my issue. I wasn’t listening to the signs my body gave me. I was impatient with myself and unable to admit what I saw as defeat. The defeat of not being able to lift a dumbbell at the gym. The defeat of feeling my shoulder momentarily dislocate even while running around the block. The defeat of pain during minute daily tasks.
Thankfully, my wake up call came in the form of my yoga instructor at this autumn retreat: Kathryn Budig. As if the fates had guided me to someone who would truly understand, this wonderful, determined and strong woman was also recovering from a shoulder injury. Through her own acute understanding of the muscles and tendons that work cohesively towards correct body alignment, I was able to practice yoga for nearly 4 hours each day for the whole week. With her guidance, I learned to respect my shoulder’s abilities at that present moment, to protect it with a deliberate focus on alignment, to truly experience for once how mind and body all worked together for a common goal.
Throughout the yoga retreat, Kathryn’s main focus and intention was simple: Observe without reaction. Take in the surroundings, external and internal actions, small movements in your body, even slight discomfort and observe it without jumping to an immediate reaction. It was a message rooted in meditation, in being completely present without judgment. In short, it was a message I needed not only to hear, but to experience.
Gradually, I felt myself give way, trading in that mental roadblock of frustration to accepting what was in the present. I caught myself whispering during an especially long hold of single pigeon, this is where you are today. This is what your body feels like today. That doesn’t mean it will be this same way tomorrow, so be OK with where you are right now. It sounds trite, but as someone who grew up competing for everything from school grades to dance trophies, I needed to have that internal conversation and affirmation. What really made a difference for me was what happened to my body once I truly felt acceptance.
It began to open up and respond to me again. My shoulder and I were a team once more. I paid attention to keeping my shoulders and upper back aligned, and once protected and in its correct place, my shoulder began to bear weight without much effort. The girl who could barely carry a messenger bag a week prior was learning to do headstands in the middle of the room and arm balances for the first time. It was liberating and exactly the result I needed to affirm my newly curated thoughts of accepting the present. Once you accept and embrace the world, the world opens up for you. Like a Wes Anderson movie without all the sadness.
Now, three months later, I am practicing yoga almost daily. Kathryn’s yoga retreat is an experience I keep coming back to, and its lessons have awakened a new fire in me. I’ve had the pleasure of taking another class with Kathryn since she is locally-based, and even back home, her words remain an applicable reminder. I hope to continue my practice with her, as it seems her timing is impeccable. (Seriously, as an aside, she just posted this relevant piece on yoga and pain. The context that her words were born out of may be different, but the message is the same. Get it girl!)
What always drew me to dance in my youth wasn’t the competitive factor, but the ability to express a myriad of things through the body. In a way, yoga is my body’s new form of expression. I treat it as an active meditation, a place where my body can communicate to my mind its worries, its weaknesses, and most importantly its strengths. It is that search and yearning for strength that brings me back to the mat. It is the place where I can hear my whole self and learn something new.
And my shoulder? It is still on a long road to recovery. Yet, as I keep it protected, it holds me up(side down) happily and with a nurturing strength.