Snowman Cookies and Holiday Shopping

This week I traded shifts with a coworker, so that I could have a much needed day off today. He was supposed to work last night, and I was supposed to work all day today. I figured that working 6 hours at Caribou yesterday morning, and then 6 hours at the Fruit Stand last night, would be a good trade off for a day completely off of work.

I slept in and woke up at 10 o’clock, then I went for a short, slow, “recovery” run. I’ve been using the Nike+ Running Club app with my new Watch, and so far I am pleased with the workout rotation. Their workouts seem to escalate at a good pace, and they are varied enough that I am not getting bored. Tomorrow I have 400 repeat workout, which I am unsure how to accomplish without a track, but I am sure I’ll figure it out. The one thing I don’t really care for with the watch and the Nike+ app is that I can’t start a specific run for my plan from the watch. I’ve been using the coaching feature to train for a 10-mile run I’m doing in March, but I have to start it on my phone in order to have it follow the plan. I hope in future revisions of the app, the developers allow the plan to show up on the watch, because it will encourage people like me to use the app more regularly. The plus side is that there is a way built in to the plan to credit any runs you do toward your plan.

I spent a bit of time this morning playing with my dogs, and I’m reminded that Lily and Sydney aren’t getting any younger. Sydney shivers almost nonstop, because he is very skinny and his kidneys don’t work well, but he still plays and runs, herding the other two dogs around the yard like a champ. Lily’s face is almost entirely white, and her back legs sometimes give out when she goes up and down the stairs, but she plays like a puppy and still likes to whoowhoo her blanket to procrastinate going for the morning walk.

When I play with them, I am reminded that all good things will end, but that each day is what you make of it. They are both 13 years old, but they are joyful and loving. At the risk of being one more person who says it, at the risk of being a total cliché, I learn something from my dogs every single day. How to forgive. How to have unbridled joy. How to play. How to give love, so much love. Man, I’m going to miss those two goofy pups when they’re gone.

Last night around 1:30 or so, I decided I should do my holiday shopping today, so after playing with my dogs, I headed to Woodbury to the Barnes & Noble. Surprise, everyone, I bought literature for Christmas! I just think books are never a bad idea. I bought some magazines for some folks, some books for others, and some Mo Willems Pigeon books for some small folks in my life (I’m looking at you Dubs and T-Bean).

Don't let the pigeon play Santa.

Don’t let the pigeon play Santa.

After I finished getting books and magazines for people I love, I stopped at the Starbucks across the parking lot to have a Holiday Spice Flat White and a Snowman Cookie. Or two.

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I knew I wanted to write today, so this was the perfect place to do it. I’m using this space here, this blog, to write for now. I know I need to work on some side projects that aren’t published here, and I know I need to start working on some serious pieces to send out to try and get published in legitimate literary journals. I know.

Now my time for myself is up for today, and I have to head home to shovel the driveway. Being outside in the quiet snow is a huge relief from the chaos at either of my jobs. The dogs will bark at me through the fence, and the kids will be playing in the snow at the park, but those are welcome, happy sounds.

I’ve started this post a million times…

or so it seems. I usually know with a certain level of accuracy how to express what I am feeling, but this week I am at a loss for words. I’m unsure what to say, and I’m unsure what to think, and I’m unsure what to do.

I’ve heard people say that the election resonated with them in the same way that the Pulse shooting resonated with them, but that’s not quite it for me. I’ve heard people say that they feel like a homeless person, because their home has been taken from them by force, but I can’t say that because I’ve never been homeless.

There are countless other ways people have described their disappointment, including a customer who came in, in tears, because she fears for her autistic son’s well-being and the loss of Arctic animals because of climate change. I, too, am scared—no terrified—for my GLBT+, non-white, non-“Christian” friends and the earth. I’m pissed that we are in a war in Standing Rock, North Dakota with indigenous people who are trying to protect the tiny bit of land that they were given by our government. This article by Code Switch is an excellent article about what’s going on there.

I feel like I am inside some bad trip, where nothing makes sense, and someone is trying to help me down, but I can’t come down. I’m just stuck, here, in an alternate world where nothing makes sense and nothing adds up. People, who I previously considered friends, intelligent friends, say things that make no sense, things that don’t follow any kind of consistent ethic, and that don’t align with their previously stated morality.

I keep seeing these things posted on Facebook walls of people who voted for Donald Trump, and I can’t wrap my head around how people can reconcile this bit of Scripture with the running platform of our President Elect:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart. Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Everyone around me is angry or sad, and those who aren’t angry or sad are elated and willing to tell me so. Over and over again. People I don’t know post hateful things on my Facebook timeline.  I spent fifteen minutes yesterday with a customer who told me all about how the next four years are going to be the best of his life. When I said, okay, he said, your products are going to be made in the US again. I said, okay, and he just kept talking about how P.E. Trump is trying so hard to establish himself as a good president. I said, okay.

I’m tired. I’m taking a break.

*

About four months ago, on my 42nd birthday, I set some goals. The older I get, the easier it is for me to just ignore my goals, to not care about meeting those goals, or to just be lackadaisical about accomplishing them.

On this coming Sunday, Advent begins, so I think I might try to accomplish my goal of going to church. I think I need it. I think you need for me to go. I say this because I have not been my best self for the majority of November. Maybe a baby Jewish refugee in a wooden cow trough, who was birthed to an unwed teenage mother and father, who was brought gifts by “foreigners,” who was worshipped by the working class, and who was later saved from infanticide at the hands of the ruling class will be just the miracle to bring me around.

Anyway, I set a couple of other goals, too: running, compassion, pay it forward, social media and creativity, and finances.

I am working on running, while also playing soccer and nursing my plantar fascia on my right foot. I won’t be running a full marathon again next summer, but I am going to run a 25K trail race at Afton; 15 miles is a more accomplishable goal for me this year.

Compassion, which includes going to church, seems to be going the best right now, since I am trying so hard to understand what makes people do what they do. I’m also trying to work at allowing myself to be in someone else’s shoes; I’m hoping that maybe I will somehow be able to better understand my fellow humans. I’ve also been a bit of a slacker when it comes to meditation, so I need to refocus on this aspect of my life as well. I can really tell when I practice mindfulness and when I don’t. I’m not so mindful right now. I’ve been vegetarian, but not vegan, which is something I will fix at the new year.

I still haven’t worked on paying it forward, and I’d love to find somewhere to volunteer every week, even though my schedule is a bit wacky, I could just RTO time each week for volunteering.

The social media and creativity goal is the one that I should’ve kept working on with diligence. More than any of the goals. I find that being on social media is really damaging to my psyche. People are mean. I should’ve been drawing or printmaking, instead of spending all those hours on Facebook, getting angrier.

Finally, my finances are slowly improving. I’m paying more on all of my credit cards each month, and I have a separate savings account, where I deposit all of my wages from Caribou, for vacation spending. We went to New York and I paid for all but the dog boarding with cash, but I quickly paid off the dog boarding upon our return.

So, while I’m not making major headway, I feel like I am making some. I’m also taking a break. Until after the holidays. Peace. Grace. Joy. Love. Hope.

Roasted Vegetable, Goat Cheese, and Balsamic Pizza

There are days when I want nothing more than to create a beautiful pizza pie, pretending that one day I’ll have my own pizza café where I can wow my guests with unusual combinations of toppings that they couldn’t imagine should be on a pizza. Yesterday was one of those days. I worked all morning at Caribou Coffee and built an appetite for the pizza I was creating in my mind: Roasted Vegetable Pizza.

I began by heading next door to the Cub store and poking around for vegetable that would taste good roasted. I’d have preferred some beets on my pizza, but my wife doesn’t like beets, so I went with Yukon Gold Potato as the root vegetable. Next time, I’ll try half the pizza with beets, like a beet salad, if you will. I also chose a red onion, an orange bell pepper, shiitake mushrooms, and two small zucchinis. I though I had garlic at home, so I didn’t get any of that, but I did pick up some arugula to put on the pizza after it cooked.

Then, one my way home, I realized that I hadn’t actually purchased any cheese, nor did I think that we had any in the refrigerator, so I stopped at the Cub on my way home in Cottage Grove. I don’t like going to that Cub, because I’ve had some less than pleasant interactions with employees there, but I had to pick up a prescription anyway, so I stopped for cheese. I was thinking I’d do a nice asiago, but then I saw the goat cheese. I’m smitten with goat cheese, so that’s what ended up on the pizza. It was amazing.

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Crust

I have two go-to recipes for pizza crust and you can find them here and here, or if I am doing gluten-free, I use Bob’s Red Mill and simply follow the directions there. If you have a favorite crust, use it. I use the first recipe, the beer crust, for lighter pizzas or if I want a slightly sweeter crust. I say slightly, because it isn’t really sweet, but it isn’t as nutty and hearty as the second one, the wheat one. Bob’s gluten-free crust is actually pretty delicious, so I use it, even if I am not really concerned about gluten-freeness. I make them all vegan if I can; Bob’s has the vegan recipe right on the bag.

I always par-bake my crust for 5-7 minutes or until it’s firm enough to not get soggy when I add the sauce. I hate squishy crust, so this is important to me.

Sauce

For this pizza there really wasn’t a sauce. I did brush it lightly with a mix of butter, olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Turns our we didn’t have any garlic at home, or this would’ve had roasted garlic, instead of garlic powder.

Toppings

I cut the vegetables, except the mushrooms, into fairly equal pieces, tossed them in the same butter and olive oil sauce, covered them with more salt and pepper, and roasted them until the potatoes were edible soft and the onions were getting sweet. That took about 40 minutes this time.

I made a balsamic reduction by putting a bit of brown sugar into some balsamic vinegar and let it bowl down until it was fairly sweet and viscous. This I reserved for after the pizza was out of the oven.

I used the arugula, cheese, and mushrooms with cooking them first.

Putting It All Together

I used the beer crust, but with water instead of beer. After it was finished proofing, I cut it into equal thirds. One third I froze for a pizza next week, one third I used for this pizza, and one third I used for garlic knots. I par-baked the third I used for the pizza tonight for 5 minutes before adding any toppings.

First, I coated it very lightly with some garlic butter sauce. I then put on half of the goat cheese, the roasted vegetables, the mushrooms, a very light drizzle of the balsamic reduction, and the rest of the goat cheese.

I baked the pizza for about 15 minutes, or until the sides of the crust were a light brown color.

After baking, I took the pizza out of the oven, spread it all over with arugula. Then I used the rest of the balsamic reduction as a drizzle over the top.

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I also made some garlic knots from the other half of the crust.

Basically, I just roll the third of the crust for this into a log. I then cut it into 6 or 8 equal pieces, deepening on how many people are eating the knots and how much the crust rises and proofs up.

I take each piece and roll it into a snake, then tie it into a knot. I place them on the baking stone and brush then with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, garlic powder, and Italian seasonings.

I bake them for about 10 minutes, then brush them with some melted butter, and then bake them until they are a nice light brown color. They will likely be a bit doughy, which is how I like them.

You can make a sauce to dip them in, but I think they are nice, just as they are.

When I cook, I don’t really measure or use recipes, so you can do whatever you need to for taste. Best of luck to you. If you have questions, feel free to comment and ask! I’ll be happy to try and help.

 

Kindness. Running.

Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look. ― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart

Yesterday at work I was an asshole to a someone. I was short with her. And the interaction immediately felt bad. Generally, people describe me as patient when I work them, but I was so impatient with her that I was embarrassed as I talked with her. And I was rude. But I couldn’t stop. My behavior was like a rapidly spreading cancer or food poisoning induced diarrhea. I couldn’t stop it.

I have excuses—bad excuses—for why I was this way. I won’t list them because when I’ve tried, in a few previous drafts, to list them they all sound petty. Extremely petty. I could say that it was the other person’s fault, the woman I dealt with earlier who treated me poorly. I could say that I was tired. I could say that I don’t like working on Sundays, so I was already foul. I could say that I wasn’t supposed to be helping her because I was supposed to be doing something else. I could say a lot of things, but as I mentioned, they all sound like feeble attempts to not take responsibility for my own behavior.

I’m working on this kindness thing, this being present and real and compassionate in every moment with every person I meet, and I’m finding that the more I work on kindness and compassion, the more I am smacked in the face with the moments I am unkind. Or impatient. Or rude. Or short.

Or just an asshole.

And there are many moments I wish I could go back in time and change the tone in my voice, the look in my eyes, the mannerisms of my hands, or the unspoken language of my body positioning.

But I can’t. I can only try better later.

Is that another excuse? Is that another way of my excusing my own behavior, or is it a healthy way to move forward trying better next time? Is there a way to stop myself in the middle of an interaction with someone and just admit that I was being inconsiderate, unkind, or impatient?

My goal this week is going to be to allow myself the space to breathe between interactions, to stop myself if I feel like I am being less than kind or compassionate, and to really force myself to be fully present with each person with whom I interact. No excuses.

*

While I was out running this morning, I was thinking about how running is getting easier again, slowly but surely. I was noticing that I have time and energy now to look around and notice what’s around me as I run. My breathing is improving, my form is getting back to normal, and my legs are feeling stronger each week.

I found myself being incredibly thankful for this moment of renewal in my life, the time here and now when I am not a slave to sadness to anxiety. I am thankful for second—let’s be real 1000th—chances and that I am here to live more days.

I took some time, too, to pray and meditate while I was moving, which is  really the goal of it all anyway. My mental health, and ultimately my ability to accomplish kindness and compassion, is wrapped up in my ability to begin my day with a long period of thinking, praying, and breathing.

Days, like today, when I don’t work until noon, are perfect for me. I can read, I can write, I can run, and I can pray and meditate in a slow, leisurely, intentional way. Days, like today, where I can sit on the porch and write while drinking coffee, are the days that make life worth living for me. And I know that sounds cheesy, but I know how true it is, so I’m grateful.

I’m also so very grateful to those of you who continue to read my words here, even when they seem sad, or hopeless, or cheesy, or beautiful, or cyclic, or uneventful. Thank you.

Namaste. Peace. Love.

 

September (FALL/AUTUMN) is Here, and I Couldn’t Be More Excited

Pushups for Veterans

I was challenged by friend Shon Byrum, the Mayor of Winchester, Indiana, to a Facebook challenge. I don’t typically partake in Facebook challenges, because I fail to see how they do any good, since they focus on some effort that neither raises money for, nor provides a solution to, whatever problem the challenge is supposedly addressing. This challenge, though, raises awareness about a problem that I think is particularly important.

Why is it that so many of our honorable veterans come home, only to end their lives shortly thereafter?

For the particular challenge Shon invited me to do, the acceptor of the challenge is required to do 22 pushups for 22 days in honor, or memory, of the approximately 22 veterans per day who commit suicide because of PTSD or another mental illness. I’ve done two days worth of pushups, and I’ve challenged two other people to the same challenge, which is a part of it. They are then requires to pass the challenge on, so awareness is spread via the viral nature of social media.

Starting tomorrow, I’m raising the bar on this challenge for myself. I’m putting 50¢ in a fund toward a veteran’s charity that helps with mental health care services for members of the military who are returning from war. By the end of the challenge, if my math is right, which it may not be, I’ll be donating a total of $220 to help our veterans who’ve been damaged by the effects of war. I haven’t yet decided which charity I will chose, but I’m doing research. I’m leaning toward The Soldier’s Project; my only hesitation is that their help is only available in limited parts of the country.

Starting tomorrow, I’m also going to include a different link to a different charity each day in my post. I’d love it my friends and family would also make small donations to those charities in honor of this challenge. Then, I think, I’d feel like I’m doing more than just raising awareness of a problem, but I’d also be helping to provide a solution to the problem as well.

Goals

Running: I’m doing it, and I’m enjoying it more, so I guess that’s progress. I’ve also started swimming again. Merideth and I started with a four day a week pact, but four days is a bit daunting along with running, too, so I am shooting for three days a week from here until the end of October.

Compassion: I’m struggling right now to articulate my spiritual beliefs. On the one hand, I do so love the Jesus, but on the other hand, the things I love about Jesus feel more Buddhist to me than anything, so I am reading a lot about people who have a similar struggle that I do. And there are many of us.

I’ve slipped bit on the vegan front, and I even ate a bit of meat when I was in Texas for training for work. I regretted it immediately. I wanted to breathe the life back into the cow, but I couldn’t, so I just cried instead. Into my hotel pillow. How sad.

Looking back, I’ve lumped a bunch of things into this category of compassion and the one that doesn’t seem to fit is meditation. But it does. I mentioned the other day that meditation has helped me more in my adult life than prayer has, that isn’t really true, I suppose, except that meditation is helping me become friends with myself in a new way. By focusing on my very existence—my breath—  I’m able to recognize my absolute physical impermanence, and through prayer while running, I’m able to contemplate how to use my newfound settledness, inner-peace, or contentment to love in a new way. (I’m sorry if this seems a bit scattered or not really well articulated, but I’m trying to find a way to describe some feelings that are utterly foreign to me.)

To focus my meditation, I’ve been using a mala that I made from a bunch of beads I’ve had since college, but today I ordered a new mala made of jade. Because I use beads when I pray, I find to be especially helpful—but in very different ways—to use beads when I meditate. Meditating each day for nearly a month now has helped me to empathize with people more easily, to pause and give space in conversation, to not have to talk as much, to be able to listen more, and to be able to have unbridled compassion and love.

It’s really beautiful.

Social Media and Creativity: I came back onto Facebook, because I missed some of my friends. I’m learning to balance it and my other activities, so that I am not consumed with comparison (Facebook envy), anger, and an irrational need for feedback and approval. I haven’t done any art, and I’ve done little writing. I have done quite a bit of listening to Podcasts, which are feeding my imagination and making me think differently about the world in which we live. And I’m still reading quite a bit, so I’ll call this successful for now.

Finances: I’m paying things down. Slowly but surely. Not as fast as I wanted, but it’s happening.

Pay It Forward: I’ll be in Canada during the classes for the sexual assault advocacy, and now that I really think about it, there are probably other volunteer opportunities that will suit me better, ones that won’t cause me personal distress. I’m open to suggestions of things people might see me doing, so if you think of anything, I’d be happy to hear about it.

Fall and Autumny Things

Most people know that fall is my favorite season of the four. The air is crisp, the trees are filled with color, and everything looks and feels like it might just curl up and take a nap. Fall is filled with apple cider, hot chocolate, bonfires, and pumpkins; all of which make me extremely happy. I get to have impromptu coffee and writing time with fine people like Ico, and the drive to work doesn’t feel so bad with bright red and yellow trees guiding the way. Essentially, everything is more amazing in the fall.

The two most exciting things for me this fall are that my friends Julie and Alan are coming to visit this weekend and we’re going to an apple orchard/pumpkin farm, and then a couple of weeks later, I get to vacation in Canada with my beautiful wife and my amazing little brother. What’s most awesome about our vacation is that we’ll also get to spend time with Merideth, Josh, and T-Bean in New York.

The end. 

Basically, my life feels like it is on an upswing. I’m working hard to help this be a new way of life for me,

  • one in which I have a balance between setting goals and achieving them, or not.
  • one in which I have personal health, and a healthy way of interacting with other.
  • one in which I am serious, and also feel free.
  • one in which I respect those around me, but I also respect myself.

Peace. Grace.