Full Assery

There’s a phrase we use at work that captures the essence of how we ought to approach life: Full-Ass. (Although I don’t know why we don’t say Full-Butte, given our unique location.) Say what? No, it’s not that we like big butts and we cannot lie. We are simply committed to defying half-assery in the pursuit of putting the entirety of our heart and soul into what we do, whether we are out on the slopes with clients, sitting at a desk working on a holiday video, or making up for lost creative time in the late night hours at home. We do everything with purpose and determination. Because the people we work with depend on us for a safe, empowering experience, there are no half-assed attempts allowed.

As I made my slow ascent up Tramway on my heavy clunker of a mountain bike yesterday afternoon, legs burning and fatigued from the morning’s intense yoga class and the steady incline from the valley to the foot of the Sandias, the coined phrase of our executive director popped into the forefront of my mind. Regardless of the unrelenting burn created by the constant torque in my ever-spinning legs or the numbness that made my rear feel anything but full, I was on a mission to ride to the base of the tram. No exceptions.

My dad and I are naturally gifted with this mentality of full-assery. Funnily enough, we tend to set off on adventures with a mindset of “oh, we’ll just see how far we get,” when – truthfully and tacitly – we begin with the goal of getting to the top, regardless of the initial limitations we place on our capabilities. It’s always about reaching the summit and pushing ourselves to the next level. At times, our tendency to push the limits has been downright ridiculous. Flashback to spring break 2015: hiking to the top of Angels Landing in the ice and snow without crampons (the first time I felt as though I was flirting with death…why did I press on through foot-wide passages covered in ice and surrounded by a thousand foot drop? Oh, that’s right. Full-Assery).

Of course, a 28-mile bike ride up to the tram and back is nowhere near the craziness echelon of our jaunt up Angels Landing, but we began the ride with our typical, “Oh we’ll start the trek and see how far we feel like going” statement and ended up pushing past the doubt and low expectations to arrive at the destination our hearts were truly set on from the start.

ASC’s dedication to Full-Butte’d achievement came to me smack dab in the middle of the ride up the 13-mile hill, just when I realized I was too far along to give up and too close to the tram to allow my legs to stop their constant revolution. Though my legs begged for a rest from the never-ending resistance, I willed my feet to continue orbiting on their pedals, battling my mind’s natural tendency to convince me I’m not strong enough, I’m too tired to push through the discomfort.

And then it dawned on me: discomfort is a prerequisite for growth. We’ve all got to go through the growing pains of struggling uphill in an out-of-bike-shape body on a heavy mountain bike if we want to become better, stronger versions of ourselves. It is absolutely necessary to be present with the expansion and deflation of our lungs as they provide life-giving oxygen to our hardworking cells, to not give into the nagging pleads of our muscles when they ask us to stop moving as they were designed, to remind ourselves that we are stronger and more resilient than we believe. And though my positive self-talk and encouragement did not rid my ride of the ache, my words made me believe wholly in my power to overcome and push to the top of that final stretch of all-too-steep hill to the base of the tram.

It is my job to give my all – even in the painful push up the foothills – to achieve the growth I need and seek. Hell, it sucks at times. But when I reach that plateau of flat ground, even if just for a couple yards, I quickly regain all clout and can carry on at an increasing velocity with swelling strength and rising confidence. And then the ease of flying downhill to the valley I call home, knowing I gave my all (and could have pushed on farther)? Priceless empowerment.

Let’s be full-assed people, committed to giving everything our best; pushing through the inevitable growing pains of life; and approaching each and every opportunity as an adventure, an invitation to push ourselves to excellence. Because we can do better than half-assing our way through life.

Faith in the Unseen

There are fluorescently white flurries flying toward my windshield at what seems like 200 miles per hour, and I feel as though I’ve been transported to a galaxy far, far away, speeding through the Solar System at the speed of light. I’ve never driven in snowfall, much less in a snowstorm in the pitch black countryside at 10pm. Though I am concentrating hard on picking out the reflective markers on the side of the highway and driving well under the speed limit (10 under might not be much, but you’ve got to remember I’ve been dubbed the Speed Demon by my family), the trajectory of the oncoming snowflakes is slightly amusing. Though they look malicious enough to break clear through the windshield and pummel my heat-blasted face with icy moisture, each flake dive-bombs out of the mortal peril of the windshield’s high velocity just in time. I wonder why, for so much snow, hardly any is landing on my windshield. But with the impending darkness ahead, I’m glad to have one less task taking up attention in my mental dashboard. My principal objective is to get my co-interns and me back to Crested Butte safely, my mind as full of prayer as the SUV is full of silence.

I am surrounded by white, suspended by the seemingly invisible layer of snow and hill below my skis. The heavily falling snow offers no respite for my straining eyes, no differentiation between icy ground, sky, and the space between. All I have is the awareness of my muscles to recognize the subtle changes in terrain. A slight bump here; a stomach lurching drop there. I find that, with the new powder and 5-foot radius of visibility around me, I am not very keen to rely on the knowledge that I will get down the mountain with my vision impaired. Even though I’ve done this run at least a dozen times already, I discover new intricacies to the terrain of the mountain I had never been as adept to notice before with my vision intact on a bluebird day. The icy patches feel much more tense, and my friend reminds me to stay at ease. I hadn’t noticed how rigid my body had become with the uncertainty of the weather conditions. Despite my efforts and awareness, my flexibility doesn’t seem to increase much. So I put my speed demon persona aside and focus on cultivating an adaptable response to the mountain below my skis.

Uncomfortable. Anxious. Tense.

I don’t like not being able to see.

Driving in what might as well be a blizzard for this desert valley girl, skiing in pitch whiteness: there’s a certain discomfort that occurs when we cannot see what’s ahead. In these two cases, fear of injury filled my consciousness, prompting me to rely on what few visuals I had accessible to me. In other cases, being unable to distinguish the path that lies before me can render me just as anxious. Though there are many parallels I could draw here, there is one that’s been on my mind as of late.

Faith is an act of trusting in something unseen. Many – if not most – times faith seems as though it is based in ridiculousness. Why would anyone trust in something intangible? Don’t we need solid, objective proof in order to believe?

But what would faith be if it weren’t for the intangible component?

I’ve often wondered why I have faith, why I trust that an unseen being created me and is waiting to welcome me home. At times it makes no sense. And more often than not my doubts appear in the times where I stand in the dark wake of the unknown, my mind flooded with the questions that highlight my greatest fears.

But there are two things I’ve realized through the cycle of my life: the past is a testament to the future, and we never stand in pure clarity of what’s to come.

When I look back, I can trace the trajectory of my life through a network of seemingly coincidental events. Those innumerable times spent shrouded in the anxiety of the unknown future turned out to be some of the most formative periods of my life. And though I’ve been completely unaware (and more often than not completely off track) of the path my future would take, the dawning of the future would always confirm the value of my faith. It is because of the clarity of the past that enables me to regain trust that everything will be okay when I’m overcome with worry and anxiety over the future. (There are many other reasons to substantiate my faith, and that's a topic for another day.)

What I’ve also come to realize is that faith recognizes that the future cannot be seen. Sure, I have goals and dreams that I am determined to reach. But faith allows me to recognize that we do not play the role of God. Funnily enough, it’s been in those time of perceived omniscience and control that I’ve been thrown off by the reality that I don’t have ultimate control over the universe. Because the universe is much, much larger than little ol’ me. There are so many complexities I’m unaware of, so many intricacies that the world is probably better off if I’m not able to control everything. Though this is completely contrary to my nature, it allows a sense of release. It allows me to be adaptable. To flex with the ebb and flow of life.

I took the StrengthsFinder test a couple years ago, and was dismayed to find that my third strongest quality is adaptability. In disappointment, I told my mentor, “This can’t possibly be right. I am not adaptable in any way!” And there is some truth behind that (ayo, unrealistic expectations). But over the past two years, I’ve become more accepting of the unknown. Because God has yet to fail me or prove that He doesn’t know me intimately and cannot provide the best future for me, I have faith, even driving in the snowstorm when all I have to look to is the highway markers to guide me home; even when I have absolutely no clue what terrain awaits me, steep or hilly. I know – and even more, believe – that the future holds a multitude of unknown gifts that will exceed any and all visions I concoct in my limited mind. The mind of God has no limits. He has proved that truth time and again. And so I trust in a future I cannot see, preparing my muscles to adapt to the new terrain provided, all because of His goodness.

That Time A Mountain Taught Me Humility

Here I am, standing atop a hill just below the summit of Mt. Crested Butte that might as well be a sheer cliff, willing myself to quiet the expletives and worries surfacing at the forefront of my consciousness. My legs still feel like jell-o despite my warm-up run, and I wish I could say my confidence had as strong a structure as a gelatinous substance. As I peer down the questionable slope at my companions gracefully whizzing through snow and ice on their own skis and snowboards, I propel myself, feet first, in their wake, praying that a) my body will magically pull through and muster all its strength and intuition to get me down to the base of the mountain, b) no one will notice my (blatantly obvious) struggle, and c) I survive.

As if I wasn't already aware of how out-of-practice I am on the slopes (it's been almost 3 years since I set boot in skis for one day in the Swiss alps, and even then, it'd been seven years since my last mountain rendezvous), there the mountain was, jeering at me as if I were the sacrificial lamb for the winter 2015-2016 season, and even worse, with ice to slip me up! I regretted looking down upon my fellow co-intern from the Paradise Lift just yesterday as he struggled down Paradise Bowl: presumably the first blue he’d skied this season, and maybe ever. I’d proudly thought, Ha, I have blues down! Now I was in his place, perhaps not pizza-ing down the icy slopes of upper Mt. Crested Butte, but still hurdling down the tsunami-sized waves of fear and self-doubt with an increasing velocity, just as I was doing on the icy mountain.

So...how did I get myself into this situation? A smart skier would have checked the terrain maps and seen that the entirety of the open trails on the Silver Queen were black diamonds. I’d even excitedly posted an Instagram on behalf of the ASC about the opening of the lift and several trails that side of the mountain, for goodness sake. Alas, I hadn’t bothered to peruse the trail map, assuming the only trails suitable for winter sports would be the blues. As the lift carried me to rising heights above the small mountain town that’s become home, I was keenly aware of the increasing slope. It was when I dismounted the Silver Queen Lift and noticed the trail signs – shimmering with black diamonds – that I knew I was in for quite the treat. Why the heck did I come up here with these guys? Maybe I need to reconsider my choice of friends…these dudes are going to get me killed! I should have known these guys were serious skiers if they can do blacks without a warm-up on an easy green! *%$&!!!! I’m screwed!

I won’t say I’m a great skier. Whenever someone here asks me if I’m a big skier, I downplay my skills and honestly tell them I’m getting my ski legs back. On the slopes I am certainly aware of my lack of technical skill, and have to remind myself regularly to cultivate self-confidence; therein lies the key to improving (I experienced the mental effects on performance as a diver, so I’ve learned my lesson).

Even though my current ski level is average at best, I have an intuitive sense for skiing, even if I feel – and undoubtedly look – awkward from time to time, especially face planted in the hills of Paradise Bowl. Plus I’m fairly certain I was a pretty good skier as a teenager. So let’s blame it on my rusty ski legs (which, yes, are extremely sore). And perhaps the confidence I have been able to muster comes from the remembered ease of skiing down the slopes of Santa Fe and Villars. My remembered self could manage almost any terrain except moguls, which makes sense, since I’m the speed demon and would much rather go straight down a run than have to turn on my heels each second to avoid a nasty bump. It could also be because 99 times out of 100 I could be seen, ski-less on a mogul run, my pride buried deep in the snow with my skis. Regardless, moguls are the enemy.

As soon as I reached the base, in the snowy wake of my ski buddies, I sighed two breaths of relief: one for making it down the mountain alive (without falling!!!), the second for my friends’ decision to take the Red Lady Lift to easier slopes. I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving, and hoped someone would suggest we make our way to Paradise Bowl (after blacks, a nice blue would be nothing).

To my chagrin, the guy I’d come with from church wanted to go into the trees. That’s when everything and everyone but me went downhill.

Let me tell you: if there’s one way to embarrass yourself in front of three guys you just met (who are evidently very skilled winter sportsmen, what with their flips and spins and whatever you skiing and snowboarding people call them), just fall on your face three times in the middle of the trees. And struggle with getting your skis back on. Works every time. It was all good fun until I realized the guy who was sticking back with me and witnessing all my blunders is going to be at the Young Adults gathering tonight. Crap. I am officially the most uncool 23-year-old ski bum. And I got to prove it on my first mountain outing with my new church friends as they sped through the “green” level trees and black diamond ice.

Well, here’s to hoping they leave the judging to God.

Thankfully, I had to leave to meet the new intern at home and show him around town. Enter: Leigh’s escape from extended potential embarrassment. The pride and confidence I’d had after my warm-up run buried deep in the powder where I’d fallen in the trees, I left the mountain severely humbled. Sometimes it takes a mountain to put your pride into perspective.

If anything, I now know I can survive a black diamond trail, even if I look incredibly awkward and unskilled as I slide haphazardly across icy patches. I have a lot to learn to be able to keep up with these CB ski bums. Since the only way to learn is by doing, it looks like I’ll be needing to push myself out of my comfort zone to develop those technical skills. As my father just texted me: “Take your time before getting too advanced. But what the heck you only live once go for it Leigh.” Unfortunately that means I will continue to be the most awkward skier on the mountain for a good while. Thank goodness I’ve got another four months to catch up with the true winter sportspeople: and the good news is it’s only the twelfth day of the season. Perhaps when all’s said and done, I’ll be able to pass as a ski bum, pride intact with my skis.

Cultivating Gratefulness

‘Tis the season for thanksgiving! And though the culmination of thanks is generally reserved for the third Thursday of November, gratefulness is worthy of integrating into our everyday lives. Of course, I am writing this three days after Thanksgiving, but it just as relevant for reflection as any other day of the year.

There is a plethora of articles exploring the benefits of leading a grateful life. Last Thanksgiving season, Forbes came out with an article re: 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude. On the list include improved physical and psychological health, better sleep, and an increase in mental strength. There’s really no downside to being thankful. Huffington Post also published an article highlighting the neuroscience behind why gratitude makes us healthier. In fact, a Google search for “research on thankfulness” will yield numerous articles, all of which indicate a positive result from this practice.

This leads me to my main point: thankfulness is a practice. It doesn’t happen overnight. Unless you are a naturally positive and thankful person (teach me your ways!!!), I’m sure it’s just as hard for you to count your blessings as it is for me, especially when you’re not exactly in the most positive of situations.

That is why thankfulness is something to be cultivated. We must begin with the seed: the foundation of a grateful mindset. At first, it might be difficult to plant this practice in your daily life, and it might be a struggle to continue watering that initial commitment to be grateful. Some days are so bleak I can only come up with a couple things or people I’m grateful for. The more you keep at it, the easier it becomes to identify the minutiae. The thing about growing anything is that a single seed has the power to yield a hundred, a thousand, a million more seeds; there is overflowing opportunity for growth. Seeds yield abundance, and when we tend to the so-called garden of gratitude (please pardon the cheesiness), the results are overwhelmingly plentiful.  

Every family has its fair share of baggage, mine included. We’ve had our fights, hurtful words, and plain ol’ weirdness. As we process through the lives we’ve led up to this point, we can choose to dwell on the pain we’ve caused and experienced. We can also choose to acknowledge all of the incredible lessons we’ve learned from our parents, our siblings, our cousins, aunts, and uncles, our grandparents, or our children. While the difficult incidents in our lives are important in helping us understand ourselves better, the things for which we are grateful can foster a deeper connection with those we didn’t choose to go through life with (sorry, we’re stuck with them).

When I first arrived home this summer, I wanted to get the heck out of dodge. Sure, I loved my parents and understood that they had made a huge investment in my education, but I didn’t want to live with them again. Yet as they journeyed through my dietary adjustments, talked me through my mental breakdowns re: hi I’m a college graduate and I’m still unemployed and frustrated, and set me to work on helping rebuild the newly christened “veranda,” I became more and more aware of the support and work ethic I’ve received from my parents over the past (almost) 23 years. Instead of dwelling on that one painfully defining fight I had or those several disappointments, I began to consider all the ways my parents had showed me their love throughout my childhood, adolescence, and now impinging adulthood: weekend bike rides with my dad and his affirmation that I’m a strong rider (especially on days I felt like a slug); my mom’s attendance at every single dive meet, choir and a cappella concert, and horse show; their constant commitment to fostering communication and inclusion, which has fortuitously led to my deep connection and friendship with my sister. As a result, I have never felt closer to my family. I understand wholeheartedly how blessed I am to be a Kolb, quirks and all.

This goes for anything, not just our childhood or family life. It’s applicable to that injury you’re working through, a stressful week at work, the uncertainty of a new relationship. I know it sounds awkward and contrived, but finding the thankfulness in difficulty has the power to produce a sense of calmness and overall positivity.

If you’re one of those people like me [insert blonde girl raising her hand emoji], you might be thinking “Leigh, seriously? Get out of here. I’m not that kind of mushy gushy, happy-all-the-time people. This is all BS.” Yeah, well I can empathize. I was there at one point. Probably even sometime last week, too. Sometimes we forget to water the seeds we’ve planted. And that’s okay; we’re all busy people and it happens. Gratitude is ultimately a choice. I see myself more often than not as a pessimistic realist, but by tending to my garden of gratitude, I have noticed the increasing peace that comes with being thankful, and the increasing presence of positivity. You can do it! Seriously!

So here are 5 ways to jump-start cultivating thankfulness:

Write a List

Whether inside your head or on a sheet of paper, write a list of all the things you’re thankful for that come to mind. It can be one. It can be 100. Just the act of thinking of something you’re grateful for does the trick.

Write a Letter*

If writing is your go-to for processing, this is a great option. Expressing your gratitude to someone can be just as powerful to the other person as it is to you. Plus, this thoughtful act can foster a deeper relationship. *Sending is optional, but encouraged.

Plan A Phone Call/FaceTime Sesh

In this day and age, we all have friends and family scattered all over the country and globe. Intentionally planning to speak to or see a friend is a powerful medium for communicating your sentiments. Just like the previous point, it fosters intimacy.

Meditate

Just as you set an intention for yoga practice, set aside time to meditate on a specific item of gratitude. Why are you grateful for this? How did it come about? What makes it so special to you? This act of contemplation is helpful not only in cultivating thankfulness, but also in understanding ourselves and why we value what we value.

Be Thankful for YOU

That’s right; I said it. Find the characteristics you value most in yourself and find space to process that. We are oftentimes so quick to judge ourselves, denying ourselves the grace others would happily impart to us. If we are to live wholehearted lives, we must not skimp on showing ourselves love, but ought to honor the lives and bodies we have been given. Just remember, it’s okay to love yourself; in fact, I’m confident it will lead to a happier, healthier you.

As we head into the 362 days until the next Thanksgiving, let's choose to cultivate the seeds of gratitude so we can experience the many benefits of thriving in a garden of gratefulness.

Musings on Reciprocity

There’s this thing that’s been bothering me lately. Maybe because I overanalyze others’ intentions. Maybe because my expectations for communication praxis are based on unattainable ideals. Maybe because I catch myself red-handed too often for comfort. Maybe because I could repay my college loans with the sheer number of times I’ve complained, “I’m so sick of the lack of reciprocity! Relationships are a two-way street!” over the past month.

It’s funny how I first thought of writing this post. I was on the phone with a close friend, and had just finished telling her about my first week of work and next week's Thanksgiving plans when I returned to the topic we had been discussing briefly before I called her to chat. Instantly I spun into a frustrated, self-righteous rant about my latest bout with reciprocity. “So-and-so has no concept of reciprocity! I got so exhausted from trying to spur conversation that I gave up because so-and-so wouldn’t even engage in my life!” I kept going on, Neer neer neer!, until she said she had to go soon, she was having dinner with her family and then had plans with a friend.

And then it hit me.

I had just spent the past fifteen minutes of our conversation wrapped up in talking solely about myself that I hadn’t even thought to ask how her week was going or what plans she had for the holiday. I had fallen prey to my most recent pet peeve and had not spent a single minute intentionally engaging her in meaningful conversation.

We all do it. We get caught up in our rants and excitement and own selves and forget that a functional relationship requires input from both sides. Sometimes we’re oblivious to the fact that maybe the other person wants to be known, wants to be appreciated. And oftentimes empathy and curiosity are the cure for that relational gap.

First, it takes empathy because when we’re caught up in discussing ourselves (and I mean the ego-centric conversation that blots out mutual consideration of the other), we lose sight that, while the other person might be enjoying what we have to say, they also want to be part of the conversation. Have you ever had a one-sided conversation with someone that completely drains you of all energy and desire to even be around them anymore? I’m sure we’ve all been there. Sometimes that’s how it feels being on the other side while we’re going on and on and on and on and on……….about the dish of the day. Don't get me wrong, sometimes it’s necessary to take up the spotlight (e.g., devastating breakup, death of a family member or beloved pet). But in normal conversation, it is not only polite, but also of utmost consideration for the relationship, to engage in a two-way, rather than one-way conversation.

Curiosity is the strongest tool to breaking into reciprocal communication. Though no one would admit it openly, we all love talking about ourselves. To foster two-way communication, all you need is a bit of curiosity. Ask open-ended questions. What makes this person tick? What insight does she have into this topic? How is his research coming? It’s amazing how a simple question can stoke a conversation that – hopefully, ideally – includes both partners.

Of course, there is one caveat: you cannot manufacture another person’s interest in your life. I have no control over whether so-and-so gives a flying monkey about this blog I pour my energy into. With that said, we must take our relationships in stride, remembering to keep our end of the bargain. If you’re close enough to discuss it with your communication partner, then bring it up. The other person will never know what expectations you have unless you address it (as much as I hate to admit it, no one can read minds, so it is well worth the conversation, no matter how awkward it might be. Just remember to be gracious). If you’re not close enough to express your concerns…you might have to cut your losses. Or keep putting in your 51 percent if that is your decision.

Every relationship is a two-way street. It exists to serve both partners, and so it therefore requires mutual input and commitment.

Maybe what I perceive to be a lack of interest is not the other’s intent (known in the communication world as attribution error). Maybe my conversation partner doesn’t know that I appreciate when others take a genuine interest in my experiences, passions, and insights. Maybe I need to be more gracious, allowing wiggle room for others – and even myself, more often than not – to not always follow the law of reciprocity. Maybe I need to apologize to my friend for hogging the entire conversation (don’t worry I already did! And I apologize for all the times I haven't put in my share of consideration). One thing is certain: reciprocity is the backbone of every relationship, and we benefit from cultivating it.

The Start of Something New

I woke up this morning to a sight I haven't seen since December of 2005: a fresh, 8-inch coat of powder outside my window (we don't get more than half an inch of snow at our Albuquerque valley home, and even though you'd expect Switzerland to be thoroughly blanketed with snow in the winter months, we rarely saw much in the lakeside city of Lausanne, or really in any of the countryside towns). As I watched the graceful sheets of soft, white snowflakes making their way earthbound from the grey expanse of clouds above, I was filled with a sense of wonder and excitement. Winter is here!

Already equipped with my cold weather accoutrements - i.e., a space heater and heated blanket - to keep my room extra cozy, a kitchen stocked to the brim with the necessities (including my new Vitamix (thanks Mom and Dad for the early birthday present), which officially makes me the bougiest intern to ever walk this planet), and winter clothes, I am ready for the winter life that beckons. I even got to shovel snow off the front deck before heading out for coffee with my new boss. Though I am sure I might not approach the quotidian task of snow shoveling with such excitement in the coming few months, I hope I never lose sight of the joy I hold today in exchange for begrudgingly entering the arctic temperatures outside. As of now, there is a world of adventure waiting for me out there...once I get accustomed to the altitude, which I'm sad to admit makes the climb up the stairs to my apartment difficult for someone who graduated from "Stepperdine" and climbed at least 150 stairs to class each day...

I still cannot get over how incredibly perfect this opportunity is. What began as a 5-year volunteer position at a local therapeutic riding center to which my family had donated our horse, paired with a few summers and winters visiting my sister at Aspen Camp for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing set the stage for what would become my first (real) post-grad job, despite its nature as an internship. Combine my background with my passion for the outdoors, photography, and helping people, and you've got a recipe for the best winter adventure possible!

Meeting with my boss for a quick introduction to my position over coffee this morning only made me more excited for the coming season of subzero temperatures. So many opportunities await me on the mountain and in the company of incredible people with equally incredible stories. My heart is already so full with the promises of this season: the many days of skiing, the community of people committed to others' wellbeing, learning new skills for the years to come, dogs every single day at the office, the true alpine experience Switzerland never gave me (I promise I'm not bitter!), living with 5 others who have the same passion for helping people, and the small town feel of Crested Butte (hello, Pepperdine on steroids)! I can only imagine the many treasures I'll uncover along the way.

As for now, I am holding onto the excitement of fresh fallen snow outside my window and an office right at the base of the mountain, and am trying to be purposeful in taking each day of this new experience with fresh eyes and an enthusiastic heart. After all, it is the start of something new, so we can cue the High School Musical song, because it's only appropriate with this mountainous background.

A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.

If anything, these past six months have been nothing short of a physical manifestation of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. This season of post-grad "activity" was truly a period of transition, renewal, and reflection replete with moments of frustration, challenge, joy, pain, dancing, and weeping. Although my social media might suggest otherwise (let's be real, don't we tend to only highlight the, well, highlights of our lives?), my post-grad journey has encompassed much more than traveling with friends and spending each moment in pure bliss. However much I wish I could say that I truthfully found joy in each and every situation, I don't want to paint an unrealistic picture of my life.

When I first began thinking about my post-grad plans last fall, I knew one thing: I wanted to get the heck out of Albuquerque as fast as humanly possible. I wasn't going to be that deadbeat graduate living in her parents' house, jobless, in November. Even in May, upon the completion of my degree, I wanted to move on to bigger and better things than what my hometown had to offer. And quickly. So I began applying to jobs in Denver in hopes that I would move out in June. With no concrete plans, I returned to my previous retail job to make a little extra cash and keep myself occupied in the meantime.

Soon June became July; July became August; August became September...and I think you get the idea. The running joke at work became: "When are you actually moving?" No joke. When I told one of my co-workers that Tuesday was my last day at work, she laughed and asked if I was actually moving. She didn't quite believe me when I told her I was literally moving to Colorado on Saturday. Thanks for all the support, y'all.

Six months ago, I did not foresee this slight complication in my (highly) idealistic plan. I pictured things much differently. For a girl so keen on leaving, I seemed to be doing just about everything but that...

For fear of sugar coating the truth, I want to tell it how it is.

At times, this summer was really difficult. In the intermittent periods of sending in job applications, following up (which I admit I did not do as often as I should have), and waiting to hear any response whatsoever, I was overcome with paralyzing self-doubt too many times to count. Was the degree my parents paid for (and that I get to start paying loans for next month - yikes!) even worth it? Of what use is an Interpersonal Communication degree? It's all a load of BS, I would tell myself at times. With every rejection email I received, my pride and confidence took a blow. And about every fifth rejection email I received (if I even received one), I would break down either to my mother (bless her for sitting through all my frustrated sobs) or in the solitary and unseen vulnerability of my bed.

Being an extremely idealistic person (both a blessing and a curse), I entered post-grad life with a ridiculous list of job requirements. Let's just say I was looking for my dream job right off the bat, even though I'd been advised not to expect too much in my first job. Unfortunately, once I have an idea like that in my mind, I tend to get stuck on it. I wanted to do meaningful work in which I could help others enrich their lives while also learning new skills and employing my communication and relationship skills. So nonprofit work? Yeah, but I want to get paid, that's the problem...

If not nonprofit work (which I was open to), what does an Interpersonal Communication major do for a job? My degree is so general that I could use it for anything, yet so specific that no job would ever require an IPC background. Somehow I ended up looking into marketing. And ended up kicking myself for looking in that direction when I was confronted with the stark reality that marketing does not necessarily benefit people's wellbeing. I was conflicted with the difficult decision of applying solely to jobs that met my criteria or applying for any- and everything I found that had at least something to do with my four years of undergraduate education. Basically I was stuck with the decision between making great money at a job I didn't necessarily support or living on pretty much nothing but working for a cause I believe in wholeheartedly.

My first two serious interviews illustrated this perfectly: The first was with a small marketing firm in the Denver area. When I received the call asking me to interview I was stoked! My first interview, and I'd only been home for a month. I'd soon be on my way to Denver! Or maybe not...As it turns out, I learned that the interview process is just as much my opportunity to interview the company. I left the first interview feeling confident, but unsure how I felt about the company. After my second interview the next morning, I was extended an offer to shadow and make sure it was the right job for me. But something felt wrong. I would be making bank immediately after college - and quite a bit more than I was expecting - and I could move up to Denver in the next few weeks. But I had this nagging sense of discomfort in my gut that continued to rise the more I sat and thought about my options. I even had a good hour of a mental breakdown in Washington Park until I made the decision to turn down the opportunity. Amazingly, the moment I was on the road home, all my stress and emotions disappeared, and I knew I had made the right decision, even if that meant delaying my move.

The second interview was for a nonprofit also located in Denver. I was very well qualified for the position, and knew I could make a difference and be pushed outside of my comfort zone. But the position would pay barely enough for me to scrape by. When I received the offer, I had no idea what to do. I knew I could not live comfortably by any means, and would need to pick up at least one or two additional jobs to make ends meet. But I was at the point where I was receiving so many rejection emails that I honestly felt a bit desperate. I wanted to get out of Albuquerque. And the position would begin just after my summer plans were over. The decision to turn down the offer was extremely difficult. Just like the last time, I cried. A lot. What if I made the wrong decision and got stuck in Albuquerque for another three months or longer? Yet throughout the internal struggle of weighing pros and cons, I knew I had to trust that something would work out, and had to trust my intuition yet again. I've had too many bad experiences that resulted from going against my gut that I knew I had to let go of the offer. And trust.

As a planner and visionary, having no concrete plans was (and still is) terrifying. I typically manufacture trust by taking control of the situations I'm in. In this case, I had literally zero control over the situation. Once my application was in, I was powerless to control the outcome. There were far too many times when I felt like giving up. I became frustrated with myself for pursuing a seemingly useless degree instead of biting the bullet and going for a STEM or business degree that would be much more beneficial in the job hunt world, even though I know my brain wasn't wired to think that way, and I would have struggled my entire way through Pepperdine.

I became frustrated with God. And began to question whether my prayers were being heard. My late night mental breakdowns were riddled with upset wonderings and desperate pleas. I just wanted to know that my passions and desires were placed within me for a reason, and that God would fulfill his promises, because it felt like I was being ignored. Despite my growing fears (sorry had to put a Mumford reference in here somewhere) and wavering faith, I had to remind myself of the story of Sarah. Though she prayed for a child and was barren for many years, God still answered her prayers in his timing. I just had to acknowledge that perhaps my ideal timeline really wasn't all that ideal. And somehow I found resilience and trust in the midst of confusion and doubt thanks to the incredible friends (some of whom were in the same exact boat) and family members who encouraged me along the way.

The time I spent waiting was not fruitless, even though I'll admit I was prone to focus on the negatives. In the six months I spent at home, I was able to meet some really amazing people, make incredible friends, and strengthen the friendships I already had. I made some great friends at work who have encouraged me throughout my job hunt process, and who I suspect will continue to be friendly faces when I come home to visit for the holidays and special occasions. I even expanded my communication studies community, which has helped keep me in tune with my favorite subject outside of school (that's when you know you're a true nerd...when you get excited about discussing the theoretical when you're no longer in school).

These past six months have also been monumental for my health. Though I'm not at 100% full health yet, the difference between how I feel now and how I felt this spring is like night and day. I've learned how to listen to my body, how to nourish it, how to strengthen it, how to push it, and how to honor it. I've become a smarter consumer because of this lifestyle change. Had I not had the full six months to invest fully in my wellbeing, I know I would continue to struggle with my diet for years to come. This transition period provided me with enough rest and space from a hectic lifestyle to take time to listen and heal so I can be healthier.

Although I couldn't wait to move out of my parents' home, I am so glad I had the opportunity to spend an extended amount of time at home with them as an adult. I'm admittedly sad to be leaving too. The three of us have grown closer, and I was able to see and appreciate the strength of my parents' marriage and personalities, even if they can be a bit weird at times (cue the many moments of eye-rolling). It's taught me a lot about my own values when it comes to relationships, communication, and love. They've shown me just how much they do love and support me, even though I chose a major that can seem useless at times. They're wholly supportive of me, whether I am living at home with them and working a part-time retail job and going to sleep at 9:30 on a Friday night or moving to an isolated ski town to pursue a life of adventure and meaning. And I guess I should mention how awesome my sister is for sticking by me every single day, through all my emotions and difficult decisions and frustrations. And for being the best friend a girl could ever have. It goes without saying that we've grown closer through both our commonalities and our differences, and I am forever grateful for our nerdy relationship based on good communication. We are living the dream.

While this season was a time for pretty much everything - tearing down and building, planting and uprooting, killing (not literally!!!!) and healing, mourning and dancing, weeping and laughing, searching and giving up - I am excited to embark upon a new season in my life: a time of discovery and adventure in Crested Butte, Colorado.

After four long months of job searching and rejections, I applied for an internship that I knew I was finally qualified for. I had no idea whether I would even get it; the position had been posted for several weeks, and I was sure it had to have been filled already. But it was one of the two positions I'd applied for that I knew I would be fully satisfied with. Funnily enough, a few nights before I found the position, I'd turned down another full-time job that would move me up to Denver after watching an episode of NCIS that convinced me that I had a better offer coming around the corner. In the episode, Tony is talking to a private doctor who was offered a fantastic position at a hospital. A few days after turning down the offer, he began kicking himself for the missed opportunity: what if nothing else came up? (My sentiments exactly, sir!) However, a week later, he was offered another opportunity to open a private practice and do the work he dreamed of doing. I was in the midst of deciding whether to take the full-time job, and decided that this job - what I considered my last resort - was not the right one. Something better awaited me. Cue the anxiety. And more job applications. After applying to this internship position, I sent my follow-up email, and almost immediately got a positive response: I had great credentials and they wanted to interview me - ASAP! The day after my interview, I was offered the position, gladly accepted, and literally danced the rest of the afternoon away in pure joyous bliss. Truth be told, many of the days in the last month have been joyous, because no more job applications for the time being! I have a plan and a purpose!

In retrospect, I know this transition period was exactly what I needed: a respite from the past 16 years of schoolwork and a period of personal growth before I embark on my long journey through the adult world of full-time employment. Having recharged my batteries, I am ready to take on this next adventure into the freezing (and oftentimes subzero) temperatures of mountainous West Colorado. And having processed all that I've experienced in the six months between, I trust wholly in God's power to provide the perfect interweaving of past experience, idealized job requirements, and passions in my post-grad career. And did I mention my job requirements were almost impossibly too idealistic? Who would have thought God would give me my dream job right off the bat? Though I was anxious about what would come of my degree, I could not have designed a more perfect or natural next step as doing marketing work for an adaptive and therapeutic sports program that actively seeks to benefit those with disabilities. As I prepare to move to Colorado in two days, I know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).


A huge thank you to all of you who have supported me through the highs and lows of the post-grad experience (you know who you are). I am so grateful for your faith in me and in God, especially when I was lacking in confidence, motivation, and faith. I could not have regained my spirits or trust without your constant encouragement.

XOXO,
Leigh

A Dinner Party For Three

For years it has been my ultimate dream to bring good friends together over an exquisite meal for good times, conversation, and laughter. This past Thursday, I did just that with two of my good friends, Melissa and Carolotta (who just so happen to be fellow scholars in communication! Which means I found the magical intersection of my three favorite things: friends, food, and communication...aka I could use as much comm vernacular as I wanted all day long). When Melissa first introduced me to Carolotta in October, we hit it off immediately, and somehow the topic of food came up. Melissa and I had been talking about cooking together for a while, but hadn't made any concrete plans yet. We began discussing my diet and looking through Melissa's pantry as I explained which of its contents I could and couldn't eat, the hidden truths I've discovered over the past six months in food labels, and the fascinating nature of food sensitivities. Melissa reminded me of the cooking date we hadn't had, and I responded with the idea of having a dinner party for the three of us. From there, my brain went wild thinking of the entire evening: we would cook a three course meal with autumnal notes and flavors in each dish. In true Leigh fashion, I spent the next few days concocting a menu for our dinner party, which looked a little something like this:

 

Hors D'œuvres:

Cucumber Salmon Sliders with Balsamic Red Pepper Hummus

Entrée:

Ribeye Steak with Acorn Squash Purée

Potato Medley

Dessert:

Peach Sorbet

 

It may not look like much, but when all was said and done, we had quite a meal with enough leftovers for our pre-Halloween party the next day. And had a blast with all of our dinner prep.

The evening started with a little Beyoncé and a lot of dancing. Which is always a good idea. And popcorn. How could I forget the perfect snack for literally every situation? We began the cooking process with the natural first step: the hors d'œuvres. While the rosemary-herbed salmon and the bell peppers were roasting away in the oven, we continued dancing around the house to Queen Bey's songs. We had 20 minutes to kill, so why not spend them with the Queen?

Once the salmon and bell peppers were done, I got to work on the hummus. I had made the recipe once before and discovered the added richness of balsamic vinegar (one of my favorites in the kitchen; then again, I do say that about almost everything), but hadn't written down the recipe, so I went with the general gist of normal roasted red pepper hummus and added some vinegar to taste while Melissa and Carolotta set to cutting the cucumbers for the base.

Cucumber Salmon Sliders with Balsamic Red Pepper Hummus:

  • 1-2 large cucumbers
  • balsamic red pepper hummus
  • rosemary salmon

For the Salmon:

  • 8 oz. cooked salmon
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • salt
  1. Preheat oven to 400 and prepare the salmon filets with the above ingredients
  2. Cook for 20 minutes on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, or until cooked through to medium. Allow to cool before moving on to the construction phase

Balsamic Red Pepper Hummus:

  • 1 16-oz can garbanzo beans
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 Tbsp sunflower seed butter (or use tahini for a more classic hummus taste)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar, or to taste
  • 1 clove garlic
  • salt, to taste
  1. Cut the bell pepper in half and place facedown on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and place in the oven with the salmon, roasting until the skin begins to separate from the flesh and begins to blacken a bit
  2. Remove the pepper from the oven and place in a ceramic bowl, placing a lid on top for 10-20 minutes. This allows the pepper's skin to separate for easier peeling
  3. Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth, adjusting measurements to your desired taste. Add more vinegar and lemon juice for tangier finish or more sunflower butter for a creamier hummus

Slider Construction:

  • 1-2 large cucumbers
  • balsamic red pepper hummus
  • rosemary salmon
  1. Slice the cucumbers into 1/4 inch slices and place on a large platter
  2. Scoop approximately a 1 tsp dollop of hummus onto each slice of cucumber
  3. Tear apart the salmon flakes and top off each slice
  4. Place in refrigerator

Once the hors d'œuvres were ready to go, we placed them in the fridge to set and cool off while we got to prepping the next portion of the meal: the peach sorbet for dessert. Melissa had bought some peaches from the farmer's market a while back, and not having used them yet, she sliced each in half and stored them in the freezer for future use. When she told me about it, I was completely ecstatic. She and I had made peanut butter banana ice cream (to die for!!!) waaaaaaaaay back in July (seriously, how is it November?), and I had been dying to make other kinds of fruit sorbet, but simply hadn't because life happens and I forgot and lost the intentionality to make anything of the sort. And I am somehow too lazy to put frozen fruit in my blender (but really...I have about 10 frozen bananas in my freezer and need to use them up before I move out, so maybe I'll celebrate this week with some ice cream). But back to business! I'd been looking forward to this for almost two months, so it is needless to say that I was very excited to finally make the sorbet, not to mention to reintegrate peaches into my diet. Plus the recipe and method are both extremely easy...

Peach Sorbet:

  • 12 peaches, halved and frozen
  • raspberries
  1. Thaw the peaches enough to separate each half and blend in a food processor until smooth
  2. Place in freezer until ~1 hour before serving (because the sorbet is so water-based, it will be very hard to get out - trust me, we learned the hard way - so make sure it thaws a tiny bit before serving)
  3. Top with raspberries to serve

After the sorbet was taken care of, we got to work on the most exciting part of the meal: the entrée. Initially, I'd planned on roasting the acorn squash with the potato medley, but decided (very) last minute (aka when the squash was halfway done) to purée it with garlic and fresh rosemary to make a unique, autumnal sauce for the steak. This was perhaps my favorite part of the meal: using fresh rosemary from the bush outside my sunroom at home for a fun, fall-esque take on a dish that can really be eaten any time of the year. It was also my favorite part of the process, because Melissa, Carolotta, and I set off the fire alarm in the making.

First, we began roasting the acorn squash and potato medley and then began cooking the ribeye on the stovetop about halfway through the roasting process. Being rather unskilled at my kitchen timing (I always finish everything at discrepant times), I actually managed to get the purée, steak, and potato medley done at the same time. I think it was a kitchen miracle! While Melissa and I had been struggling to get the sorbet to blend together without burning out the motor on her bougie food processor (which might disappear with me to Colorado...) Carolotta did the great honors of cutting the sweet potato, an equally frustrating process.

Potato Medley:

  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 5 small russet potatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 400
  2. Chop the sweet potatoes into 1-inch cubes and russet potatoes into long slivers, and dice the onion
  3. Cut two equal-sized rectangles of aluminum foil, placing one atop the other
  4. Place the diced potatoes and onions onto the foil and drizzle with olive oil, salt, and the rosemary
  5. Wrap the outer edges of the foil around the medley until it resembles a metallic calzone and place in the oven for 60-80 minutes, or whenever the potatoes are tender

Acorn Squash Purée:

  • 1 medium acorn squash
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
  1. Cut the acorn squash in half and remove the seeds
  2. Place facedown on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and roast for an hour at 400
  3. Chop the garlic 
  4. Melt butter in a skillet over low heat and add the chopped garlic and rosemary; sauté until lightly caramelized and fragrant, about 5 minutes
  5. Scoop the roasted squash into a food processor and add the caramelized garlic, blending until smooth
  6. Cut the base of the empty squash shell so it sits flat on a dish and ladle the purée into the shell - it makes for a festive serving bowl!

Ribeye Steak:

  • 1.5 lbs ribeye steak
  • kosher salt
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 stick butter
  1. Marinade the raw meat with kosher salt for at least an hour; the longer the better
  2. Preheat a cast iron skillet with olive oil until you can see wisps of smoke rising from the skillet
  3. Place the steak on the skillet and sear each side well, making sure to limit the number of times you flip the steak, since the meat will lose a bit of flavor each time it is flipped
  4. Don't set off the fire alarm with the steam from the stovetop (our big mistake...which led to clothes that still smelled like meat a couple days later before doing laundry)
  5. Add 1/4 stick of butter on top of each cut of steak to add some extra flavor in the last few minutes of cooking
  6. Let sit for approximately 10 minutes to let the juices settle before serving your "luscious" steak
  7. Serve with acorn squash purée to complete the autumnal flavorings

Once all the plates were prepared, we set the table with our first two courses and, before harming the aesthetic of the meal, took a couple (more like a dozen) photographs and selfies to document our monumental feat of creating such an exquisite meal.

Over dinner, we discussed a wide variety of subjects, not limited to our Halloween costume ideas for the Comm Graduates Party the following night. Though I am not one of the grads, Melissa and Carolotta invited me as their plus one, and laughed about going as Com Theory puns. In true Leigh fashion, I wanted to go as an onion, because Social Penetration Theory. In the end we decided to go as the men in tights from Robin Hood: Men In Tights because "you've got to be a real man to wear tights" and "we're butch!" Overall, it was a fantastic evening of cooking, laughing, eating, and talking, and well exceeded my expectations for my first dinner party. I can confidently say I am ready to take on a lifetime of dinner parties with good friends.

#TBT

I woke up this morning just like most other mornings, because November 2 is just an ordinary day in the life of Leigh. But when my phone's screen reminded me of the day, I couldn't help but chuckle at the throwback memory and send an emoji-filled #tbt text to my friend, Erin, who spent the better part of November 2, 2014 by my side.

I listened to the Serial podcast on my latest trip up to and back from Colorado Springs and Denver in September, and was struck by the leading principle of the series. So many of our days blend together that it is nearly impossible to recall what happened on any specific day in the past unless something out of the ordinary occurred. While listening, I tried to think of a personal example to illustrate the plight of human memory. Alas, nearly two months later, I have found it. All because of a little blood.

November 2, 2014 was a Sunday like most other Sundays. It was filled with my routine activities: hanging out with Erin, studying at Starbucks for a reading quiz in my literature class the next morning, and a bit of shopping at the Oaks Mall (Anthropologie and stationery stores are my biggest weaknesses, and Erin and I couldn't resist a trip to T.O.). Like most Sundays, there was nothing special about this day: no friends' birthdays, no national holidays. It was simply the second day of November. Ordinarily, if asked what I did on any given Sunday, I would respond with an assumption that I'd spent my day studying with Erin. Because that's just what we did on Sundays. But thanks to my good friend, Joan Didion (please note my exaggerated tone of sarcasm), I can now recall the entirety of the afternoon of November 2, 2014 fairly lucidly, save for the minute or so I was rendered unconscious.

November 2, 2014 stands out as one of the most embarrassing and stressful days of my college experience. However, with a year's distance between me and Ms. Didion, I can appreciate the simultaneous hilarity in the situation. Let me tell the story, as best as I can remember.

Like I've said, that particular Sunday was nothing but ordinary. After a relaxing morning, Erin and I decided to go shopping in Thousand Oaks, where I ogled over all the beautiful clothes at Anthro and bought too many cards to send to my friends abroad at the stationery store. Like usual, we planned on stopping at Starbucks to get our studying done, since shopping hadn't been quite so conducive to the necessary productivity. Instead of driving back to study at the Lumberyard location (hello, too many Pepperdine students), we decided to stay on the east side of the canyon and see if the Calabasas location was less busy. It was, so we got our drinks (hello, 2 dirty chais with coconut milk; could we be more basic?), camped out in a little corner at a tall table with equally tall stools, and got to work: Erin on her Spanish translations and me on my Literature and Film in Hollywood reading.

Now, for those of you who don't know me, I am just about the most needle phobic person in the world. I used to sob and crumple into a fetal position on the floor whenever it was time for me to get my routine blood tests, and even researched the topic for a psychology paper just so I could prove that it was a real issue people other than me and my sister have. Oh, and the blood component? Yeah, that's really not up my alley either. Combine the two, and you get psychological and physiological havoc!

To my utter delight, Joan decided to write about an abortion in her novel. I'll skip over the details, but will say that my imagination went a little bit too far with Didion's description of the scene. Although my professor laughingly claimed that the scene was "barely graphic," I was sent straight into lightheaded oblivion.

What felt like hours later, I awoke to a horrifyingly confusing scene: Erin was by my side, rubbing my shoulder and asking me if I was awake, and trying to explain to me what happened once I regained consciousness. Though I knew exactly what had happened - I was just putting my head down because I thought I would pass out; no I knew I would pass out - I was nevertheless extremely disoriented, my mind fogged by the loss of blood to my brain - I passed out? Why is everyone staring? I could have sworn I was dreaming. Evidently I had not only passed out, but had also apparently started convulsing. The barista was on the phone with 9-1-1, and asked if I needed an ambulance. As if needles and blood weren't enough shock for one day, I had to go to the hospital, the source of needles and blood and everything gross and....obviously I refused. I'd been through this before, only with an actual needle poking into my back (see why I'm not so keen on needles?) and had survived, so I didn't need no doctor to tell me I'd passed out. Then there was the pandemonium inside the café. All eyes shifting nervously in my direction. Is she okay? I never wanted to be the girl to pass out and convulse in public. And I will admit I was so embarrassed, especially being the type who would prefer self-sufficiency and privacy in these vulnerable situations. It was all I could do not to prove my independence by grabbing all my things and walking, unshaken, to Erin's car, somehow being able to wipe people's memories of the sad little blonde girl who passed out because her mind got away from her...

But in those next hours, I had to learn to be dependent and open to vulnerability.

After an emotional call to my parents, Erin drove me to Malibu urgent care, where the doctor suggested I go to the ER to get a CT scan after hearing Erin's recollection, seizing and all. The more detail I received, the more emotional I became until I was a mess of tears. I made yet another emotional call to my parents, who agreed with the doctor. Though I could remember convulsing the last time I'd passed out, I hadn't thought it was a problem. But being so far from my parents, who hadn't been present this time, I understood it was safer to get definitive answers in their absence than risk skipping over a potentially larger problem. So Erin and I made a pit stop for food and comfier clothes at our apartments before making the drive to Santa Monica and waiting what seemed like forever in the ER. 

All the while, I felt increasingly dependent upon Erin, as she had become my surrogate mother for the evening, driving me around, packing food, and making executive medical decisions (I hadn't wanted to go to urgent care, but having a doctor as a mother and a personal background in medical missions, she was more of a medical expert in that moment than I). I felt extremely powerless. That's coming from the girl who would prefer to drive herself everywhere. I also felt extremely vulnerable. I don't think you can be any more defenseless than when you're lying face-down, unconscious on a café table with a couple dozen people watching. Erin certainly got to see the messiest part of my fears and emotions that evening. To top it all off, I had to help lead formal chapter that night and had forgotten about my commitment to talking to the new members about chapter operations and programming at their meeting. There was no way I could make it to urgent care and the hospital and back in time, and I didn't want to draw attention to myself or make any grand assumptions about what Erin and the doctor suspected had been seizures. It was stressful to back out of an important responsibility and lose hours of studying time, but I couldn't just not show up without letting our president know, so I did my best to back out gracefully, feeling guilty and vulnerable once again.

The ER wasn't quite as bad as I was expecting it to be, though. It was mostly a ton of questions and waiting. And a blood test. And an IV in my arm for about five ungodly hours. Though I was admittedly terrified, I knew I had my best friend by my side to hold my hand and talk to me about irrelevant, funny things as the nurse drew my blood and put the IV in my arm. And somehow, within that ER room, as we spent the empty hours of waiting together, the initial shock and embarrassment of the evening wore off. Erin and I were soon in tear-streaked laughter, talking about our greatest moments of friendship, appreciating the time we had together, even if it meant that I would fail my reading quiz the next day (I ended up ditching class as a rebellion against the reading materials, take that, Joan!!!) or that Erin would be behind in her Spanish translations and homework. We laughed at the irony of our raucous laughter in the ER of a hospital and saw the utter positivity of the situation where before we had only seen dread. In those moments of intense vulnerability, we came even closer together than we had before. I realized that it didn't matter if Erin saw me in my most vulnerable state; we'd already been through some of the most painful experiences of our lives together, and this only meant that our friendship was becoming stronger. If anything, we'd have something to laugh at a year later. And we do.

After waiting too many hours in a quiet hospital filled with bursts of loud Erin and Leigh laughter, we got my blood results back to find that I was totally okay. My convulsions were normal, not seizure-like. I just needed to rest and ensure that I get enough blood to my brain when I do become lightheaded by lying on my back with my feet in the air. Though the outcome was wildly underwhelming (we just spent six hours in the hospital for a couple pieces of paper that tell me I go through vasovagal syncope every time I pass out?!), I will admit that November 2, 2014 was an incredible day for understanding the power of friendship, dependence, and vulnerability.

Looking back, I still shake my head that I was the girl who passed out in Starbucks. Thankfully it's lost most of its embarrassment factor (but still, I passed out in the midst of a ton of people because of a book with "barely graphic" descriptions of an abortion. Why do things like this happen to me?), and gained a ton of hilarity (after all, I did pass out, and that would happen to me). What stands out the most is the positivity that arose from an initially overwhelming situation. Despite all the hours lost in that room in the ER, Erin stuck by me, uncomplaining, the entire time. She held my hand through the hardest and scariest parts, and comforted me with her patient and loving presence. I could not have asked for anything else to get me through such a stressful situation. Even more, the things that made November 2 such a typical Sunday are some of the things I appreciate most about my friendship with Erin: eating bean and rice tacos for lunch; shopping; studying together; laughing at ourselves; spending quality time with each other; and being fully, vulnerably ourselves in the other's presence. Though, on a normal day, these activities might not stand out as awesome adventures, they truly mean the world to me. The added drama of an ER trip, if nothing else, gives me so many reasons to be grateful for my friendship with Erin, and also challenges me to think of all the ordinary experiences I have with all my friends that make our relationships as strong as they are. Though I left the hospital with just a couple pieces of paper and an enormous bill to pay for an IV and blood test, I'm glad I got to spend the evening with an incredible friend, filling the ER with the sounds of our strengthening relationship. So I guess thanks, Joan Didion, for the fond memories.

A Practice in Perspective

I spent this past weekend visiting friends in beautiful Malibu, California. If you didn't know it already, this place is actual paradise: the location where palm trees and misty ocean breezes meet the rugged hillsides of the natural California landscape. In essence, it is a fusion of my personal terrain preferences, with a few compromises (I prefer mountainous adventures, and while Malibu certainly sports some elevation changes, I'm all about the climb to the top of a mountain). Needless to say, my weekend was amazing. My close friend and former roommate, Jenny, and I spent our five days together exploring LA, Malibu, and Santa Monica, learning some crucial lessons along the way.

I will not say that this was the perfect trip (is there really any such thing?). We definitely ran into more than our fair share of disappointments and challenges. I can't necessarily say I've grown because of them, but I can say that I am approaching a place of acceptance when it comes to the unexpected disappointments characteristic of life.

For example, Jenny and I got into some trouble with parking. Over the course of two days, we somehow managed to accrue $125 in parking tickets. I will take the blame for all the money we owe, because I was the one who inadvertently didn't notice that disclaimer on the bottom of the parking sign that a parking permit was required to park on that side street in Beverly Hills. I was also the one who suggested we park illegally by the beach in Malibu, because doesn't everyone park illegally there? True, I may owe the state of California a good $62.50 (which I am not happy about), but I realize there are worse things than having to pay a parking ticket. Or two.

Another perfect-day-gone-awry moment happened Sunday when I was running on the beach. I hadn't worked out in a few days, so I decided a run down to and on the beach was suiting for my Malibu vacation. The last time I'd run this course was during my freshman year (how was that four years ago?). Incidentally, my friend, Winston, and I had taken our shoes off and placed them in a drainage pipe that led from the road to the beach, thinking our shoes would be safe and sound in the dark hiding place. They weren't. When we returned, our shoes were gone, and we had no way to get back to campus without walking barefoot up the rocky bluffs. Thankfully Winston had brought his phone, and was able to call a friend to pick us up. Though my shoes had been stolen, I was admittedly more upset that someone had stolen my arch supports (yes, I am an old lady) since I rely on those to prevent any back pain.

Wanting to avoid the shoe thievery this time around, I kept my shoes on throughout my run. Unfortunately for the shoes, I had picked the wrong time to run on the beach: high tide. They soon became waterlogged and filled with sand, and I am not quite sure if they will survive (then again, it was about time for me to buy new ones anyway). Not wanting to reencounter the bad luck I'd had as a freshman, I dredged along the beach with my disgustingly heavy and scratchy shoes until I literally could not pass and had to take the road to the entrance of the public beach, commonly known as Ralph's Beach (note: if you're visiting Malibu, this is not the beach to visit). Once surrounded by people who had also left their stuff lying around, I took off my shoes, hid them behind a couple logs (just in case), then took my arch supports out and carried them with me as I continued to run the remaining stretch of beach. In all, I ran more than I'd run in the past few years (I'm not a runner, so this was a great feat for me).

Now, Jenny had been at Mass, and was scheduled to pick me up around quarter after noon, so after splashing around in the swimmable ocean for a while, I decided to check my phone to let Jenny know I'd be out in the water when she arrived, so just holler for me. Stupidly, I stepped between the two logs and onto a shard of broken glass. Alas! My perfect day had been splintered by some idiots who had decided not only to drink on the beach, but also to break their bottles on the beach.

Usually, I would have been enraged by my circumstances, and even with myself for stupidly stepping between those logs (everyone knows those logs are bad news!). For some reason, I wasn't. I kept my cool, let Jenny know it would best to pick me up sooner rather than later, and waited patiently for her arrival. I knew I would inevitably have to clean the sand out of the cut and deal with the gore (I am by no means comfortable with blood or injuries; thus why I have never had any desire to pursue any kind of medical career, and generally avoid hospital/doctor visits). I just prayed stitches wouldn't be necessary. I can't deal with needles. But for some reason, I was able to keep my composure and coax out the unruly grains of sand embedded deep within the wound throughout the day (thank goodness for hydrogen peroxide!).

Sure, my walking is greatly hindered (it might be time to forego the shoes for a week or so) and extremely painful, but in the midst of the desire for this not to have happened, I have been able to find delight in my situations nevertheless. I'm in Malibu, for crying out loud. And I was able to spend an amazing weekend with so many of my incredible friends. So when it comes down to it, I really can't be too bothered that I owe L.A. county a pocketful of cash and will be that one girl hobbling down the streets of Santa Monica later this afternoon. After all, life is what we make it, and I'm actively choosing to seek the best in the moments I have with my dear friends even when my circumstances might be the furthest thing from ideal.

A Youthful Wisdom

It is not uncommon to hear me describe myself as an old lady. I'm the kind of gal who enjoys spending my evenings in the comfort of my home or in the intentional company of close friends, going to bed by 10pm (the earlier the better), and drinking a nice cup of herbal tea whilst reading my latest literary find (my current treasure: Rising Strong by Brené Brown; however, I do recommend any and all of her books). Although I can typically hold my own through a late night (unless provoked or hangry), I am not a night owl by any means. Did I mention I go to bed by 10pm?

I've had friends and acquaintances describe me as "mature for my age." Which can be true. And I must admit I take pride in that characteristic. Truth be told, I've spent quite a bit of time reminiscing on my awkward phase in life (i.e., the years between 3rd grade and....senior year of college; possibly even today, since I have the incredible knack of making any and every situation awkward). I have noticed a trend of immaturity in my actions, beliefs, and attitudes throughout the expanse of that awkward phase. As an effect, I've tried to grow up, for goodness sake. Make better choices. Don't be as obnoxious (if only my college freshman self could read this post...). Act older than your own age. So far, it's seemed to work. But let's put this post in a time capsule for 20 years and see what 42-year-old Leigh thinks.

In not so many words, I believed I needed to act like an adult; get my life together. Be meticulously mature, and life will sort itself out.

There's also a part of me that clicks with those younger than me. The highlight of my summer 2014 was spending copious amounts of time with my younger co-interns Anika and Austin, goofing around like little children, as well as jumping around on trampolines, bowling, and discussing high school life with the kids in my youth group. We all clicked so well, and it was such a joy acting younger than my age for a whole eight weeks. Truth be told, spending time with younger kids took a lot of the pressure of maturity off my shoulders. Although I was there to serve as a mentor, I took delight in relating to my high schoolers. I just had the requisite wisdom of a high school (and soon to be college) grad.

When I returned to Albuquerque after graduating this spring, I remember hashing out post-grad life with my closest friend from high school. We discussed who we were keeping in touch with, and I explained that many of my confidantes included girls along the spectrum of collegiate classes who I'd grown close with. In turn, she made a comment that initially bothered me. "You seem to bond better with girls younger than you." At the time, I perceived her comment to be a judgment on my maturity. If the majority of my social group is younger than me, then I must not be mature! I will honestly admit I ruminated on her comment for a good few days, and replied in defense of my maturity. "Oh, but I'm really close with all these people who are the same age as me!" 

But something curious happened yesterday. In the midst of a very atypical 48 hours, where I spontaneously went to a Florida Georgia Line concert with a complete stranger, stayed up way past my bedtime until 1am, and woke up 5 hours later for the Balloon Fiesta (okay, this might not sound outlandish to you, but for me...I just about never do anything as crazy as buy concert tickets 10 minutes before the concert starts), I came across a sign that seemed unexceptional at the time. As my parents, our family friends, and I biked our way out of the Fiesta grounds, we were stopped by a traffic controller who was allowing the chase vehicles back into the park to collect their landed balloons. As we waited for the go-ahead, I surveyed my surroundings and noticed a trailer with the phrase:

Growing old is inevitable, but growing up is optional.

Like I said, this sage proverb seemed unexceptional. I'd heard my dad say "Age is just a number!!!" about a million times throughout my lifetime. Okay, yeah, I get it.

After riding home and spending some last minutes with our family friends, I begrudgingly went off to work. Being extremely exhausted from a late night and early morning, I'll say I wasn't really having it. Work was the very last place I wanted to be after expending all of my social fuel. I was bitter that the four-letter word had stolen me from the warming rays beaming upon me as I sat on the front porch, reviewing the photos I'd taken that morning.

While at work, I encountered the sweetest little girl I think I have ever met. Let me preface this with a disclaimer: I am not the biggest fan of children. They typically persuade me to wait even longer to even consider thinking about maybe....conceivably having kids, and more often than not, I decide I really couldn't handle a child. But this girl was different. She was nothing short of incredible. Not much older than maybe six years old, she was so curious, so interested, so clever, so delightful. She reminded me of a kangaroo, bounding around the fitting rooms and store as I helped customers. She helped me find an array of clothing for the women with which I was working. She asked me question upon question upon question as I went about my work. Normally, I would think a questioning child would be annoying after about the fifth question. But the poise and curiosity with which she asked her questions was astounding. I could tell she was sharp and creative, the way she would contemplate my answers aloud and paint stories with her six-year-old vernacular. Our play continued the entire time she was in the store, and she made that hour fly. Her parents apologized for her constant questions and Energizer Bunny energy, but I saw her character as refreshing, for all too often I see children who are uninterested in anything rather than utterly fascinated by their surroundings. She approached her life like an adventurous explorer, searching the store for answers and excitement. I had to bite my tongue from asking her parents if I could adopt her right on the spot. I was smitten (and still am) with her boldness. As her father pointed out, she is unafraid to approach strangers like me and welcome them into her life. She was joyous.

I didn't quite put two and two together until I got home about four hours later. Call it coincidence, call it an aha moment, or call it a God moment, the happenings of my day served as an important reminder that age truly is just a number.

Many times we look at children as being too immature, too much to handle. But today prompted me to consider some of their greatest gifts: curiosity and energy. For the most part, children enjoy the heck out of their lives. They play, sing, dance, explore without a care in the world. Their imaginations are limitless. Think for a moment about some of the happiest times of your childhood. If they're anything like mine, they're filled with a playful narrative and eagerness to absorb all there is to know.

The little girl I played with yesterday gave me a sense of perspective on this "age is just a number" adage. Even though I am closing in on 23, I was able to approach my work with a sense of wonder, joy, and energy, solely influenced by the presence of a girl a quarter of my age. One of my favorite quotes comes from none other than a Yogi tea bag: "The purpose of life is to enjoy every moment." This young girl was certainly enjoying the heck out of her life, and it was inspiring to me. Instead of griping about spending her Saturday indoors with a bunch of adults trying on clothing, she was bounding around, excited to be where she was at the moment, making a game of finding that size 6 royal blue dress. I'm not saying life needs to be a game, but maybe we need to reconsider the importance of play and excitement in our lives.

Just think about it: when you are truly excited about something, whether it's an upcoming concert, trip, or night out with great friends, you are filled with excitement and joy. All too often we get bogged down by our adult lives: upcoming tests, a progress report, or a stressful project. I've had days filled with multiple job rejections that have depleted me of my sense of zest for life. But the promise of discovering the right path for my unique life and finding the place where work feels like play has kept me afloat. And besides, there is more to life than our careers and grades. I truly believe it is the moments of discovery and exploration - personal or worldly - that connects us to that inner child who innately desires the experience of joy and play. We can certainly reach that through an adjustment in perspective and attitude, as long as we remain eager for discovery.

With innocence comes curiosity, a desire to learn more and expand the depths of our understanding.

As we age, we tend to put off our curiosity. We've all heard the adage "Curiosity killed the cat." But if curiosity leads to creativity, where would we be without all of those who dared to allow their curiosity lead them to a great discovery? Brené Brown writes about curiosity in Rising Strong. Oftentimes, especially with emotions, we prohibit ourselves from emotional curiosity, from reckoning what is truly going on under the surface. I've heard time and again that age kills curiosity and that unique childlike wonder. If you think about it, it makes sense. Curiosity kills the proverbial cat because curiosity poses a risk to our sense of wellbeing. It can be painful to explore the painful emotions that arise after a heartbreak, a death, or a personal failure. We are taught to - ahem - conceal, don't feel the emotions and deeper grievances in our hearts because we've learned to avoid the hurt. As Brown states (quite adeptly) in Rising Strong, "Curiosity is a shit-starter." Please pardon my Français. But it is also "an act of vulnerability and courage... Getting curious about emotion is not always an easy choice." And her research clearly points toward leaning into this vulnerability and discomfort to living a wholehearted life.

I will not even pretend like I've got a handle on a curious approach to life; all too often I'm guilty of shutting down, becoming uninterested or detached before I can become threatened by acknowledging what's truly happening beyond the surface. Simply recognizing my tendency toward blunted affect brings to light the necessity to engage in curiosity, even if it is a shit starter. Because I realize (thanks to Brené) that I cannot begin to refine my life without going through the fire. James 1:2-4 serves as a comforting reminder that pain is indeed a byproduct of life, but that this discomfort leads to greater maturity:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

It's curious to me that approaching life with a childlike curiosity can lead to discomfort, but that the trials we face ultimately lead to maturity. Though they seem like night and day when juxtaposed, they are of the same essence that keeps us going. Neither can exist without the other, and they each encourage us to develop into who we are as we age.

With age comes wisdom, an effect of mistakes, trials, and the learning that occurs thereby.

Maturity is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon; it doesn't happen overnight. I touched on this in my comment about the time capsule earlier in this post. Rather than being either immature or mature, maturity accumulates as we go through the trials of our lives. For instance, I wouldn't have become wiser about handling conflict if I hadn't failed miserably at managing it and even burning several bridges completely to the ground over the course of my lifetime. Sometimes my curiosity has made a cat of me (thankfully I'm not dead), but has served as a means to becoming wiser about what actions to take and avoid in the future. If it weren't for the risk of curiosity, we wouldn't learn anything. Inevitably, we will look back on this day in a week, year, or decade and see our current selves as immature in some capacity. But we are all on a spectrum of maturity in each aspect of our lives that is unique to the circumstances we find ourselves in.

But maturity does not mean we need to approach life with a stodgy outlook. Sometimes when I think of maturity, I think of bland oatmeal. Like hey, I absolutely love oatmeal, but not when it's straight up oats. But maturity doesn't mean you need to cut out all the flavorful fun from your life! There's plenty of room for maple syrup, peanut butter, nuts, fruit, or whatever you like with your oatmeal. Maturity does not connote the absence of joy in a state of disconnect from youthful energy.

So, how do we live in a state of youthful wisdom? It seems so contradictory, and I've definitely spent a good chunk of time in the past day trying to make sense of it. For starters, I think one connection between the two is a willingness to learn. In our youth, we are keenly interested in learning new things; as a consequence, we automatically fall prey to failure, which in turn leads to wisdom and maturity. But the acquisition of maturity requires eagerness to continue learning, despite the trials we might encounter along the way. It is the tenacity with which we approach our self-actualization that allows us to live a wholehearted life, unencumbered by the fear of vulnerability and discomfort.

Living with youth also means finding joy in our circumstances (even though many children are wont to complain and cry, just like the rest of us). There are always opportunities to don our explorative garb and discover the joys in our lives, even in the midst of our trials. Just like climbing a mountain, there are times where the journey will be riveting and the scenery will bring immense joy to your life. There will also be moments where the river might be too high and you get swept away, only to learn to take a different path the next time. Even so, we can be grateful for the experience nonetheless, for in our mistakes we can acknowledge that there is joy in knowing the better path to take in the future, and that there is always opportunity for abounding curiosity that will lead us to the pinnacle of the mountain we are climbing.

I may be the girl who prefers a night in with my bed (aka bae) over a late night out, but that doesn't mean I can't find adventure by my own, unique means of curiosity. Find what lights your curiosity fire and keep at it, discovering new adventures along the way, and remaining unafraid to feel and experience your life deeply.

Until next time!

XOXO,
Leigh

Autumn Glory + Cherry-Vanilla Muffins

There's a crispness in the air, the smell of green chile roasting at the local markets, a curl-up-under-the-blankets chill in the morning air, gleaming beams of golden light streaming in the sunlit morning windows, and the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta just four days away. That means that autumn is officially and fully upon us. Even better yet, 'tis the season for decadent, autumnal muffins.

Today is my rest day, which means that I woke up with an hour-long gap in my morning. After making a delicious smoked salmon and veggie potato hash for breakfast, my morning felt essentially devoid of production. I promised my dad I'd cut the grass and vacuum the pool (I refuse to relent on my pool activities with the cooler weather!), but that felt a little too...sullying...after I'd scraped the last bits of salmon off my plate and read through the August edition of Better Homes and Gardens by 8:30 in the morning. What with an additional hour to my day and the aura of autumn absorbing into my bones (cue the I feel it in my fingers....song from Love, Actually), I knew it was prime time to try out the perfect muffin recipe I'd stumbled upon in the latest copy of Better Nutrition the other night.

As I was whipping up my batch of delectable muffins, I realized I've spent the better majority of the four hours I'd been awake cooking...first breakfast (which did nothing to stunt my devotion to smoked salmon), then a couple mugs of lemon balm tea for my dad and I (Dad is playing hooky from work today what with a cold; and fun fact: lemon balm does a world of good for your immune system! So drink up, because it's got zero calories and innumerable benefits for the body, including stress reduction & immune strengthening), followed by a nice carafe of French press piñon roasted coffee (for the New Mexican in me). Add on the muffins (and now pinto beans that are on the stove as I type away...), and you've got 90% of my morning activities accounted for: kitchen time! What I also realized is the peace that comes with my solo time in the kitchen. I've found that the more time I spend making my own food from scratch, the more I find peace of mind in the kitchen, even if that means putting together a crock pot casserole at 10pm on a Sunday night. There's something oddly cathartic about dicing bell peppers...maybe it's just a personal thing, but it's such a relaxing time! (I hereby give you permission to call me a kitchen nerd.)

There is certainly truth in the phrase "eat to live; don't live to eat," but I must propose a caveat to the opposite: while I acknowledge it is unhealthy to focus too much attention upon counting calories, obsessing over weight, etc., when spending intentional time in the kitchen, investing in a healthier diet, it is not necessarily bad in and of itself. I spend a ludicrous amount of time cooking because I not only find enjoyment in the process, but also because I know that by doing so I am investing in a healthy life for myself. When my body is happy with the nutrients I give it, well, my body is happy! And I feel like I can conquer the world. Funny how eating clean can not only give you an increase in physical happiness, but also mental peace. This is why I endorse whole food as the ultimate medicine.

In true autumn spirit, I must add my newfound appreciation for the season. Back when I was living in Albuquerque as a child and teenager, I didn't think much of fall. Summer was the ultimate season because no school, pool parties, and loads of free time (although I think I'm blocking out the daily chores I was assigned). Because I spent the better part of my four years of college in SoCal (land of the uniseason aka summer all the time, except those few weeks where it's in the 60s and we wear Uggs and coats, but then it climbs back up to 90 in January) and hardly paid attention to the seasons in Switzerland probably due to my fascination with the places I was traveling, I haven't fully experienced autumn until now. And what I've come to realize is that, perhaps this is my favorite season. The crisp air; golden tones; unique fall smells; balloons floating, as if suspended in full appreciation of the serenity of morning chill; sweaters (YESSSSS!!!!!!!!!); and pumpkin everything because, yes, I am as basic as basic gets. And the word autumn itself elicits sentiments of grandeur and poetic tenderness reminiscent of days spent jumping into gigantic leaf piles and scavenging for the biggest pumpkin in the patch. Now, unencumbered by the schoolwork and essays of my previous years as a student, I can appreciate the season for its beauty, and not be caught up in the overwhelming tasks of my prior schooldays.

But enough of my reminiscing...let's get to the heart of this post, and the reason why I began writing to begin with! Cherry-vanilla muffins!

The Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups almond flour
  • 1/4 cup ground chia (or flax) seeds
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pistachios
  • 1/3 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature; if vegan or egg-free, use either chia or flax eggs (1 tbsp of ground seeds + 3 tbsp water & let sit in the fridge for 15 minutes until the mixture has an egg-like texture)
  • 1/4 cup almond or cashew milk (I used cashew, and recommend homemade milk, as it is fresh and has no unnecessary preservatives)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries

The Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 375. Grease 12-cup muffin tin with coconut or almond oil, or line with paper muffin liners or squares of parchment. If using flax/chia eggs, mix the grounds with water and let sit in the refrigerator while mixing the dry ingredients.

  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine almond flour, chia/flax seeds, coconut sugar, baking powder, pistachios, and salt. Stir to mix.

  3. Crack eggs into separate bowl. Using hand or standing mixer, beat eggs until light and frothy, about 2 minutes. Turn speed to low, and beat in nut milk and vanilla. Using spatula, fold dry ingredients into the mixture. Fold in cherries.

    1. If using chia/flax eggs, whip the egg-like substance for about 1 minute, until thickened and homogenized. Continue with the milk and cherries

  4. Spoon the mixture into prepared muffin tins, filling each about halfway. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven, and let cool completely. If using paper liners, muffins can be turned out of the pan while slightly warm. Serve immediately.

Notes:

  • I spent quite a while painstakingly removing the shells and skins from the pistachios; if you are impatient or not about spending 30 minutes de-shelling the nuts, I would suggest buying pre-shelled and skinned pistachios. It will save your fingers from some rough prying!

Now that you've made your first batch of autumn muffins, I prescribe a leisurely hour to soak in the wonder autumn has to offer and munch on one (or even two) of these muffins. They're so good, I might have to make a couple more batches in the next few days...or take them into work to avoid eating them all myself!

Bon appétit!

XOXO,
Leigh


This recipe is adapted from Better Nutrition Magazine October 2015 issue.

Single and...Happy?

Hello, my name is Leigh, and I am happily single.

Yes, I really did use happily and single in the same sentence. No, I am not out of my mind.

For years I've bought into the societal notion that being single is like being afflicted with some type of life-sucking, deadly disease. *Cue the penetrating, icy cold emptiness of three hooded dementors closing in on their single prey to perform the deadly kiss* That being alone is the same thing as being lonely. That, if I'm single, there must be something wrong with me (oh, shoot, does he not like me because I forgot to shave my legs today?). This belief leads to nothing more than an ungrateful and deficient existence.

My parents were the exact same age as I am now when they got married. For the longest time, I measured the quality of my love life against the timeline of their relationship, as if it was expected of me to find the man of my dreams and marry by the ripe age of 22. From the time I was about nineteen, I was keenly aware of the impending three years I had to snatch this so-called dream man and put a ring on it. The more I wanted, the less likely it became. The more I worried, the less comfortable I became with myself and all of my seemingly unredeemable qualities. The more weight I put upon my love life to fulfill me completely, the more dependent I became upon a male to fulfill my worth, and the more aware I became of my lack of a love life. All this worry led me to believe that, as a young twentysomething, I was on my way downhill from the peak of my youth and allure. If I weren't married by the summer after I turned 22, I would become a cat lady overnight.

There were many relationships I started or stayed in simply because I was chasing after this idealistic life I'd constructed in my mind. If I was one step closer to marriage (read: if I was not single), I figured I would be happy. Regardless of the quality of the relationship. I was actually watching an episode of Friends this morning in which Rachel is unhappily single and Chandler is very happily happy solely because he is in a relationship. It struck me how common it is to hear people groan about their loneliness as a single person. As the Bobby Vinton (and Akon) song goes: "I'm so lonely, I'm Mr. Lonely / I have nobody for my own / I'm so lonely." Yes, there are times at which I do feel lonely as a single person. But if the foundation for our happiness lies in the circumstance of relationship status, we waste precious time pining after something that is, at that moment, unattainable, rather than relishing in the numerous blessings and opportunities of the single life.

I've heard it said that you truly find out what you want and need in a future spouse based upon the people you date. I agree. Having dated guys whose beliefs totally and utterly contradicted my own, I stand behind this truth, knowing that I need a man who can walk alongside, push, and encourage me in my faith, for example.

But I also believe - wholeheartedly - that it is not until you have experienced an extended period of time alone that you discover the qualities essential in a spouse.

Being "perpetually single" (a fun term my sister and I have coined for our ongoing, single relationship status) has been nothing short of a blessing. Although it is socially looked down upon, I would argue that my perpetual singleness has prepared me well not only for marriage, but for life. 

Come again? you might ask. How can being single prepare someone for marriage?

Because I have spent an extended period of time as a single lady, I have been invited into a space of deep personal reflection and understanding. Four years ago, at the outset of my undergraduate career, I knew very little about myself. Although I dabbled in various, noncommittal relationships and idealistic daydreams of crushes-turned-lovers, I spent the majority of my time alone. As noted before, I spent a lot of time wondering if I would obtain the coveted ring by spring. Underneath these questions and convenient relationships was an underlying sentiment of discomfort with myself. If I was so dependent on someone else to give me value, did my existence as a unique individual really mean anything to me? If I was so encumbered by this question of finding "the one," was I even ready to commit my life to him? If I was too uncomfortable to spend time alone, even in the occasional loneliness, would I be anything other than a clingy, dependent girlfriend?

Over the past couple years I have started to become more comfortable with myself, as well as my relationship status. I have come to understand, in quiet hours spent alone, as well as in loud, bustling crowds, what makes me tick. What are my likes and dislikes? On what qualities will I refuse to compromise? I've noticed destructive patterns of thinking and awesome qualities in myself. Instead of masking my insecurities behind a façade of relationship security, I have begun to tackle the why behind these insecurities so that I can work towards being more whole. I believe that, in being able to confront the world as an independent, single woman, I will be better equipped to enter a relationship as a strong, wholehearted woman. None of this would have become possible without this season of singleness.

Singleness, in other words, is a period of reflection and strengthening. It allows us the space to discover our strengths, and sheds light upon weaknesses we might otherwise cover up with a relationship. Singleness provides the nutrients for spiritual and personal growth, so that we may come to know ourselves and our faith in the most intimate setting of our hearts, without external distraction, as well as to know our inherent worth as an individual.

Singleness also puts marriage in perspective. Although I believe marriage to be a wonderful and beautiful promise of commitment, I realize that oftentimes we skimp on the intentionality within our other relationships in favor of romantic prospects and relationships. Regardless of whether we are single, in a relationship, engaged, or married, we do have a commitment to other relationships. Over the years, I have lost quite a few friends because of significant others (some cases were my fault; some were not). Being single has taught me the power of friendship, because no matter how hard I try, guys will never understand me like my close girlfriends do. Just as nothing can replicate the relationship between a man and a woman, absolutely nothing can simulate the bond between friends.

I just spent a couple days with my closest friend from college last week. Like me, she is perpetually single. We joke about the day when we both get married (that is, assuming both she and I get married): Who would ever dare tear us apart? But in all reality, we have a mutual understanding (which, yes, was explicitly stated. Gotta love that communication major life of intentionality) that we will continue to dedicate 100% to our friendship, and that we will continue to be intentional with each other. We both know that the majority of our time and energy will be devoted to our husbands, but that the institute of marriage does not diminish the value of our friendship. Like I said before, although marriage holds a high standard of intimacy, there is a level of intimacy created between friends that marriage cannot rival. It is our responsibility to uphold these relationships, for one's spouse should not be the sole relationship in one's life.

Family ties are also an essential in living a wholehearted life. Yes, I acknowledge there is dysfunction in each and every family, but as we grow older, we have innumerable opportunities to work through those dysfunctions and come to appreciate the people with whom we grew up. As children, we are naturally predisposed to think of ourselves. However, families are a source of support, and no unit could be unaffected by the other units. In developing my communication with my family, I have been able to grow closer to each individual. And when you think about it, marriage provides yet another space for creating a family. True, you can't pick your family, and you can pick your spouse, but that does not diminish the impact of your family upon your life. I am choosing to work through the uncomfortable, unhealthy patterns of behavior I have with my family members for the sake of our collective wellbeing, because I don't think any relationship should be left without intentional refining, as through a crucible (throwback to amily Crucible in my Family Therapy course this spring). This dedication to relationship building within our own families sets a template for future interactions and openness in the families we create, and can help build resilience in other relationships as we refuse to let our problems tear us apart, but to strengthen us. After all, when you get married, you are joining families, and you will have to work through the unique dealings of your spouse's upbringings. It might be a worthy cause to be cognizant of your own unhealthy habits for future reference....

I have also realized that marriage is a false pinnacle in the development of our lives. Please note that I am not saying that marriage is unimportant. It is a huge transition that is worthy of reverence. What I mean is, many of us, myself included, fall prey to the belief that once you're married, you're set for life. That marriage is the end-all-be-all of life. There seems to be a myth that, once married, all troubles and sadness vanish upon saying I do. If this is so, then wouldn't all of the world's problems cease if everyone were married? Oh, if that were the case! But life goes on beyond marriage. Just like the period of aloneness beforehand, we still experience tragedy, loss, heartache, conflict, loneliness in the romance of marriage. Marriage does not make us immune to the natural cycles of pain and happiness in life. I know there will be times in marriage (if I do get married) where life will suck, even though I may be surrounded by the love and support of my husband. Yet having the resilience to go through these heartaches alone - before those till-death-do-we-part stretch of years - can prepare us for the future struggles. Enduring the growing pains of life alone, with incredible friends at our sides, can actually prepare us for the companionship we need when we are most alone in marriage, and can strengthen the friendships we take along into our future lives as spouses. As long as we are mindful that the state of being married will not make us utterly happy and complete.

For some, marriage is simply not a part of life's trajectory. Oftentimes, we assume that marriage is, yet again, the end-all-be-all of life. Some are not called to a life of marriage. But do not assume that this absence of a romantic partner does not diminish one's quality of life. There is no 11th Commandment, telling us Thou shalt only experience happiness within the union of holy matrimony. There have been, and are, many individuals experiencing a high caliber of life who are quite single. By societal standards, these individuals are outliers to the expectation of marriage. What these people have come to understand is the universality of relationship. Despite a spouse, these people have discovered how to live a fulfilling life in the absence of a spouse. Gasp. Isn't this example what we should strive for, though? Developing meaningful relationships not only with those surrounding us, but also with ourselves? Though they might not experience the so-called benefits of marriage, they are capable of understanding the sanctity of friendships, the intentionality therein. All while pursuing their passions and still living life to the fullest.

It goes to say that quality of life is not directly related to relationship status. As a single woman, I am quite possibly happier than a married woman might be. At the same time, I might not be as happy as another married woman. Rather, I think quality of life is directly related to the quality and intimacy of one's relationships on a whole. If we strive to be wholehearted and intentional in all our relationships, including the ones we have with ourselves and our Creator, we have a much better chance of attaining a higher caliber of life than clinging on to whatever romantic relationship may come our way for the sake of avoiding the occasional loneliness and discomfort of a single life. Take it from me, it is much better to reach a place of discernment in your relationships that comes from a deep understanding of yourself than to succumb to fleeting desires to spend your time and energy on someone who you know, deep down, is not the right fit, but to hold out in pursuit of a healthy relationship.

A couple weeks ago, while at work, one of my new managers asked me where my boyfriend and I live. I simply laughed and said, "I don't have a boyfriend." He looked appalled, and scrambled to repair face, apologizing profusely as though it must embarrassing for me to be single. A year ago, I really would have been embarrassed, as if I didn't have my life together. My manager's question would have summoned deep feelings of shame, disappointment, and unworthiness. Even self-critical thoughts. Today I laugh because I've come to realize the worth of this time of singleness. My romantic relationship status has come to hold less gravity than the quality of friendships I maintain. And, to be truthful, I would rather spend some more time in this period of aloneness, because the time of reflection has brought to light so many ways in which I would like to be wholehearted as a single woman. And I have the rest of my life once I'm married to live with a man...I'll pass on that for as long as possible. And if marriage isn't in the cards for me, I can get an extra beagle...

A Newfound Lifestyle & Resolve

Today marks the completion of my first 18 weeks and four months of my new lifestyle change. Truth be told, when I was informed that I would no longer be able to eat some of my favorite foods - tomatoes, avocados, cumin, eggs - I was wary. In fact, most everyone I discuss my diet with expresses the same sentiments I initially held: there is no way I could ever do that!

While this change in diet has certainly tested my capabilities to whip up functional and yummy meals in the kitchen (I mean, who actually knows what to do with cabbage? And what the heck is ghee? What do you mean, I can't have salsa, guacamole, or green chile?! I'm a New Mexican for goodness sake!), it has had an even greater impact upon my self-restraint, teaching me that my resolve to not pine after a glass of malbec during happy hour or a perfectly decadent stout while I'm hitting the local breweries is, in fact, stronger than that supposed need to imbibe. Sure, I have gone through intense cravings for those foods I cannot eat (I still wonder when I'll be able to eat a proper, gluten-full chocolate cake or Sadie's salsa again), but I know that it is for the improvement of my health that I remain 100% committed to this diet, even if at the end of the day there are more foods I cannot eat than I can eat.

Perhaps the most frustrating comment I get is along the lines of Oh my gosh, I would die if I had to follow your diet! I am so sorry! I am thankful that people do see the challenge in this change; however, I think many people miss the point. For one, I am not dead, nor do I anticipate the positive results of this diet to shorten my life; I am quite possibly more alive on this diet. Secondly, this diet has enabled me to explore the depths of my character, to understand my motives for taking on this challenge, and has shown me a positive picture of my present and future.

When I first met with my nutritionist just over four months ago to discuss the results of my blood test and the process of my food reintegration program, she honestly scared me out of my wits. She explained that the program was extremely difficult, and that it would be easy to slip up. With her words on my mind, I was dreading the day I wouldn't be diligent or strong enough to follow my plan 100%. Maybe my feelings of obligation toward my parents for their full support through the transition have encouraged me to stick to my plan more than I thought. In the 18 weeks since I have started, I have stuck to my diet wholeheartedly.

More than that, though, is a sense of duty to myself. I have been given one body to get me through this one life. Heaven knows the horrible things I have put in it in the last 22 years, the ways in which I have compromised my health - either knowingly or unknowingly - by eating processed foods and whole foods that cause inflammation in my body. Just as a homeowner tends to the internal cleanliness of the home in which he or she resides, I must tend to the internal health of the body in which I live. Knowing the reason why my health rapidly declined over the better part of a year and a half, why would I ever intentionally choose to put my body through that again? Nobody would wish that upon their loved ones; in order to care for my body, I must treat it lovingly. Besides, it's gotten me through a heck of a lot of painful injuries and sicknesses in my lifetime, so I see no reason not to strengthen and nourish its core so I am better equipped to take on whatever may come.

In short, the intention of this lifestyle change is just that: it is a change in my habits so that I will be able to live a healthy life, uninhibited by the consequences of inflammation in my body (which leads to a plethora of diseases, as well as the weakening of the immune system). And along the way, I get to practice self-restraint!

So far, the consequences of my choices have been nothing but positive. Sure, it is frustrating beyond belief to go out to eat, having to ask the restaurant for a full ingredients list, and sometimes not being able to order anything. Sure, it is frustrating going out for happy hour and drinking a pitcher of nothing other than water while my company throws back their pitchers of beer. Sure, it is frustrating when friends make it a big deal when I can't eat or drink what they're consuming, as if it's a detriment to my worldly experience. The thing is, I can eat and drink whatever the heck I want. If I truly wanted to, I could break all the rules and spend a night out with friends, drinking beer, eating pizza, and indulging in some glutenous chocolate cake (see what I did there?). But I won't. I don't want to. Instead, I choose not to indulge. I know just how terrible I will feel - in my conscience and in my stomach - if I go against the commitment I have made to improve my health. Thus, it is not a matter of ability, but of conscious choice, of self-restraint. Yes, it did take a considerable amount of willpower initially. However, now that I have carved new habits into my lifestyle, it has become much less challenging. I crave the foods that nourish my body (like lamb and salmon, which I used to detest) and would choose those over the foods I know would throw my system out of whack. Funnily enough, those no longer seem all that appetizing to me.

Overall, I feel about a hundred times more energetic than I used to feel. Four months ago, an 8 mile bike ride was enough for a day's physical activity. Now, I could probably bike 50 miles and still have energy to spare. I've noticed that I am stronger than I used to be. Not only in the physical sense, but also in mind and character. I've learned the importance of routine upkeep on my body and the benefits therein. If I feel so much better four months in, how much healthier will I feel four years in? Although it's a bummer my body does not respond well to some perfectly healthy foods, I consider it a blessing to understand the importance of nurturing and strengthening it with the foods it was designed to enjoy. And I get the added bonus of learning how to cook alternative meals, using my creativity and palate to guide what have been some of the best culinary discoveries I've made.

So while my current situation may seem bleak to many of those I encounter, I consider it an enormous blessing to learn so much so early into my life. It has tested and strengthened my resolve, and has also shown me the necessity of healthful habits and the importance of adhering to my goals, especially those that will enhance my quality of life.

As much credit as I would like to take for the success of this process thus far, I would like to thank all those who have encouraged me throughout these past 4 months, particularly my wonderful parents for setting aside the time, energy, and patience to support this lifestyle!

 

Peanut Pineapple Coconut Curry

Mom is out of town on a business trip this week, so that means the time is ripe for a good plateful of coconut curry. Since I'm the best youngest daughter and am in charge of the dinner menu while my mom is gone, I figured I would whip up a wok of curry for my beloved father because 1. it's Monday, 2. it's his favorite, and 3. it's curry.

The last time my mom went out of town and left my father and I to our own devices, we experimented with lamb. If you've read my Lamb Burgers for the Dubious, you're familiar with the story. To put it simply, our experimentation didn't go as planned, and our tummies were not very satisfied that night.

I am pleased to say tonight was a very different story.

Despite the lingering summer heat in our still un-air conditioned house, this curry hit the spot, especially as we sat out on the front porch, basking in the evening's cool breeze, a respite from the otherwise torrid atmosphere inside.

Curry, like many of my Leigh Original recipes, has no rigid rules. It's a blend of anything and everything I see suitable for the occasion. Tonight's recipe contains every vegetable in the veggie drawer of our fridge - all the more nutritious!

 Just look at how colorful it all is!

Just look at how colorful it all is!

 A fresh sprinkling of turmeric on the veggies

A fresh sprinkling of turmeric on the veggies

The Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1/2 bunch green onions
  • 1/2 zucchini
  • 1 yellow squash
  • 1 head broccoli
  • 3/4 cup red cabbage
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups diced pineapple
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1 15 oz can coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp freshly grated turmeric root, or 3 tbsp ground turmeric
  • 3 tbsp curry powder (or to taste)
  • 1-2 tbsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups uncooked brown rice
  • 1 tbsp ghee, olive oil, or butter

The Method:

  • Cook brown rice in a large saucepan with the tablespoon of margarine and a sprinkle of sea salt (should take about 45 minutes)
  • In a large wok, heat the coconut oil on low heat and add the garlic and onions; sauté for a minute or two until fragrant
  • Turn the heat up and add the rest of the vegetables (don't add the pineapple yet!), stirring every so often to ensure they are cooked thoroughly. This should take anywhere from 10-15 minutes, depending on the heat setting
  • Once the veggies are cooked through, add the grated turmeric, cayenne, curry powder, coconut milk, and peanut butter, stirring thoroughly for a couple minutes to coat all the veggies
  • When the curry is just about done, add in the pineapple just long enough to heat up and mix with the other ingredients
  • Serve over rice, and enjoy!

I love this recipe because it's a combination of many of my favorite things: peanut butter, coconut, pineapple, and veggies. And it's just about the best comfort food. An extra tip: make sure you make enough for leftovers, because the flavors get better after sitting for a night!

XOXO,
Leigh

Turmeric...Everything

The results are in: turmeric is officially my new favorite spice. Not only does this root have anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, and antibacterial properties, it is also one of the main spices in Indian curries. If you can't get enough of curry, you're in good company. In fact, it's been used for millennia in Ayurvedic cooking and medicine, which utilizes herbs for medicinal practices, much along the lines of Hippocrates' famous quote: "Let food be thy medicine." If this spice were in Mean Girls, it'd be receiving all the Christmas candy canes. Four for you, Glen Coco!

While I am still building up my cooking repertoire with turmeric, I've discovered just how amazingly versatile this spice can be. Truth be told, the first time I tried it, I was a bit uncertain whether I liked the taste. Indeed, it is not the only spice in Indian curries, and I was expecting a bite of spice, so I was taken aback by its mild taste. However, the lack of spice has been quite beneficial in my cooking, which means that I've been throwing dashes of it into pretty much everything, including breakfast smoothies and porridges.

And that's what I'm here to tell you about!

This morning, after an intense seventy minutes of spin and weights (funny how just three consecutive days of spin has reignited my relationship with the stationary bike...but seriously, I get off the bike in red-faced, sweaty-bodied, lung-refreshed bliss and I honestly consider getting back on for another hour...until I make my turmeric shake), I decided it was time for my post-workout turmeric shake and porridge. It is the perfect reward for losing half my body weight in sweat. And yes, I'm a girl and I definitely do not glisten. I sweat!

This combination of ingredients is so simple to throw together, and takes very little time to blend into a cacophony of deliciousness. Since I had a leisurely morning, I decided to make both the porridge and the smoothie. Have less time? Just go for the smoothie and add oats. Either way, it's a winner.

The Turmeric Smoothie:

The Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup Coconut Water
  • 1/2 Tbsp Turmeric
  • 1/4 cup Plant-Based Milk (I typically use homemade cashew) or Raspberry Leaf Tea (see below)
  • 1/2 Tbsp Nut Butter (I used peanut)
  • 2 scoops Whey Powder
  • 1/2 Banana
  • 1/4 tsp Vanilla (optional)

The Method:

Funnily enough, there are only two steps here...

  1. Place ingredients in a blender
  2. Whir together, and drink immediately for best results

Note: If you choose to make the turmeric smoothie instead of the porridge, feel free to add the oats featured in the porridge; these recipes are basically the same, save for the medium & some ingredients

The Turmeric Porridge:

The Ingredients:

  • 1/2 Tbsp Ghee
  • 1/4 cup Oats
  • 1/2 cup Plant-Based Milk (again, I use cashew)
  • 1/2 Tbsp Turmeric
  • 1/2 Tbsp Nut Butter (optional)
  • 6 Cherries, cut in half or quarters
  • 1/2 Banana

The Method:

  1. In a small saucepan, heat the ghee until it melts
  2. Add the oats and let toast for a few minutes (about 3-5) on low heat
  3. Stir in the 1/2 cup plant milk, cherries, turmeric, and nut butter and bring to a simmer on high heat
  4. Once the milk begins to simmer, cover and let simmer on low heat for approximately 8-10 minutes or until thickened, stirring twice throughout to keep the oats from sticking to the bottom
  5. Slice up a banana for the topping and enjoy!

The Raspberry Leaf Tea:

Ladies, this one is for you! This tea is incredible. Not only in the taste department, but in the ladies department. My nutritionist advised to me to start drinking a cup a day, with emphasis on the two weeks before the end of my cycle for decreased PMS symptoms. I kid you not, it has helped in every single cycle since I started drinking it. Seriously, why didn't I hear about this sooner?

While this tea is great hot on a rainy or cold day, in the summertime it's best served cold. Since it has such a light taste, I recommend brewing a good batch of it (at least a quart, if not more) and sticking it in the fridge once it cools. It can be added to smoothies, enjoyed on its own, or used in a fruit-based compote for added flavor and nutritional factor. I'm pretty diehard about this tea; all of my girlfriends and co-workers have been hearing (possibly) too much from me about it, but hey, I just want to save other ladies from the horrifying pain that is menstrual cramps. Been there, done that, and now that I've got my raspberry leaf tea, not suffering through that again!

You can find this at most health foods stores - I advise using Traditional Medicinals, as they use organic and ethically sourced ingredients.

The Method:

  1. Following the instructions on the box, bring water to a boil and pour over the appropriate amount of teabags
  2. Cover and steep for 10-15 minutes; if you're making hot tea, let the tea cool to a manageable temperature (don't burn your tongue!) and enjoy!
  3. If you're making "iced" tea: remove the teabags and let cool on the counter
  4. Once cooled, store in the refrigerator for future use, then enjoy!

I know this is a lot of recipes for one post! But turmeric is truly deserving of it. I'm eager to know how you enjoy turmeric, and what recipes you come up with using this medicinal food. In the meantime, I'm going to get to work on my curries so all of us can relish in the deliciousness!

Let food be thy medicine!

XOXO,

Leigh

Gluten-Free & Vegan Buckwheat Sweet Potato Pancakes

I was devastated when my MRT blood test results came in. The long, yellow line next to the word "eggs" couldn't be true! I love baking too much to have a sensitivity to eggs! How in the world am I going to live without my Flying Star and Frontier breakfast burritos?! I can't even eat our own chickens' eggs anymore! Eggs have been such an integral part of my diet since we moved to the Valley 12 years ago and started raising our friendly chicken friends, giving them 1.5 acres of bug-loaded grass in exchange for their delicious, rich, free-range eggs. To know that I would have to cut out this food from my diet if I wanted to feel better was ludicrous. But it was necessary, and here I am, 77 days egg sober. It's been a tough road, but I will survive!

Perhaps the worst part of my lifestyle change is the fact that I cannot bake. I'll look at my nutritionist's Pinterest page for recipe ideas and stumble across the most mouth-watering baking items, only to realize that...oh, I need eggs. Though I have tried baking without eggs (I can't eat any kind of egg substitute), and the recipes fall flat. Quite literally. (And subbing baking powder doesn't work either - thanks, weird pseudo-allergic reactions). So I'm training my dessert-loving self to accept that pancakes, muffins, and the crowning glory of all desserts - the French macaron - are off-limits.

Until today!

I was browsing Pinterest this morning for buckwheat breakfast recipes, and while I'm all for buckwheat porridge, the words "gluten-free" and "vegan" alongside the word "pancakes" caught my eye. Oh my goodness. It had to be too good to be true! Thankfully, it wasn't. No eggs!!!!!!!! And if I took out the cinnamon and maple syrup, I could eat literally everything in the recipe! It's not every day this happens. My heart danced a jig. And of course my stomach started growling at me to hurry up and make them already; it's been missing pancakes. (Not to mention I'd already been awake an hour and a half.) So I gathered my materials, mixed the batter, and headed outside with little Kracken to cook some pancakes on my dad's fancy Christmas present. Known as a discada, this handy, portable stove-like contraption is ideal for camping and backyard cooking. Or for when the house has no AC during the hot summer months thanks to construction on our back porch - ahem, the lanai - and my dad's ambition to place the AC under the house for easier access after construction is done in the fall. Less heat in an already hot house = extremely necessary.

Derived from Helyn's Healthy Kitchen's Sweet Potato Buckwheat Pancakes

The Ingredients:

Pancakes (makes 6):

  • 3/4 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup baked sweet potato
  • 3/4 cup cashew milk (or other unsweetened pant-based milk of your choice)
  • 1/2 Tbsp applesauce
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 2-3 Tbsp oil for cooking (I used coconut oil)

Blueberry Compote:

  • 1/4 cup blueberries
  • 1 Tbsp cane sugar
  • 1/2 Tbsp coconut sugar
  • 1/2 tsp corn starch
  • 1/8 cup water

The Method:

Pancakes:

  1. Mix the dry ingredients together in a small bowl
  2. In a larger bowl, blend or whisk the wet ingredients together
  3. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and blend until completely combined. Note: the batter will be thick and gooey
  4. Preheat a skillet with oil, and scoop 1/4 cup dollops of batter for each pancake. Since they're gooey, I had to use a spatula to even out the mound of batter & make it into a flat pancake. Or feel free to make some pancake art. That's always fun!
  5. Let cook for about 4-6 minutes, or until the edges start to look dry
  6. Flip, and let cook for about 4-6 minutes on the other side
  7. Serve hot with a delicious blueberry compote:

Blueberry Compote:

  1. In a small saucepan, whisk together sugars, water, and corn starch (the starch needs to be blended in before heated so it is activated as a thickening agent; otherwise it will just clump together) and turn the stove on low. I did this step just before I put my pancakes on the skillet - just after step 3
  2. Add blueberries and cover until pancakes are done - about 10 minutes
  3. Stir and serve atop your delicious buckwheat sweet potato pancakes
 The cooking view ft. discada

The cooking view ft. discada

 Kracken & I were dying in the heat, but he was too enticed by the prospects of pancake droppings to leave my sweaty side.

Kracken & I were dying in the heat, but he was too enticed by the prospects of pancake droppings to leave my sweaty side.

 Meanwhile, in the kitchen...

Meanwhile, in the kitchen...

 Topped with a bit of ghee and blueberry compote. Delicious!

Topped with a bit of ghee and blueberry compote. Delicious!

 OM NOM NOM!!!!

OM NOM NOM!!!!

 Evidence of these pancakes' yum factor.

Evidence of these pancakes' yum factor.

I absolutely love this recipe! It's not only extremely easy to make, but is delicious beyond belief! I enjoyed it so much that I had to resist eating my leftovers. These would also be great with apple butter, peanut butter, or a creamy coconut sauce. Or pair with a creamy coconut, peanut butter, and banana smoothie. I know I will definitely be experimenting more with this recipe, and that pancakes are here to stay!

Pickle Me Green!

There's nothing quite like a delicious, crunchy pickle. And if you disagree, this is a topic we should never bring up in discussion, because you will always be wrong. Or we can be like Lily and Marshall in How I Met Your Mother, and I'll just eat all the pickles you won't eat. (Hey, at least there's more for me!) The pickle's perfect blend of vinegar and crunch is the perfect pairing for a burger, sandwich, or...another pickle! Personally, I prefer pickles by themselves, but, perhaps that's the German speaking. Vive la vinaigre! Avec tout! (Ironically enough, I don't speak any German...save for nein danke and bier bitte. But I guess French will do here)

I never used to read food labels extensively until fairly recently. Sure, I'd heard in my high school years that the fewer the ingredients in a food, the better. And of course, I went through my phase of I'll eat whatever, I don't care what's in it. It won't kill me! Over the past couple years, I've become more convinced that what we put in our bodies has monumental effects on not only our health, but our wellbeing and vitality. So much that I've become extremely skeptical of shelved foods. Just thinking of all the preservatives laced into my favorite packaged foods - ketchup, pickles, ice cream - now makes me uneasy. And (perhaps) it's a control thing, but personally I would like to know exactly what I'm putting into my body at all times by making food myself. Then there are no hidden surprises.

I remember picking a pickle jar out of my refrigerator a couple months ago during a pickle-craving phase of mine (quite a regular phenomenon: throughout my junior year, my roommate and I were known to go through many of these cycles. One month it was peanut butter, the next it was sourdough bread, then cashews...). I had recently bought the jar; in fact, it was unopened. Before I opened the jar, something made me think to look at the list of ingredients. Just for fun, right? Now I can't tell whether I'm glad I did or wish I hadn't. Needless to say, the garbage gained an entire jar of pickle friends that day. Tragic.

Processed foods are convenient, I will admit that. Nobody wants to spend the time figuring out the "natural flavors" that comprise a bottle of ketchup, a jar of pickles, or a can of Dr. Pepper and then go on their merry way to make it themselves. No! It's so much easier to put your trust in the experts who have carefully constructed your perfectly crunchy pickles and pick them up at the grocery store hours before the BBQ, ignoring the list of unpronounceable ingredients.

When I first started this lifestyle change ten weeks ago, I was unsure if I would ever eat another processed food - or condiment - again. I though maybe I would, after my system had cleared up and I wasn't in a constant state of nausea. However, after cooking all of my meals from scratch and carefully tracking the effects of different whole food items on my body, I can honestly say I'll opt out of consuming [insert unpronounceable ingredients], high fructose corn syrup, and various chemicals (which are all found outside of their natural state) most likely for the rest of my life. Even when experiencing a bout of side effects, I feel a million times better eating whole foods than I ever did eating processed foods. Is it countercultural? Yes. Will I do it anyway? Yes. Will it be worth it? Heck yes!

So today I decided to bring back the pickle! After mastering the art of sauerkraut, I feel pretty confident to take on this small feat. And really, making pickles is much easier than it may seem. All you need is the following ingredients:

  • 3 Cups Cucumber, chopped
  • 1/2 Cup Onion, sliced
  • 2 Cloves Garlic (or other seasonings, such as celery seeds, dill, or mustard)
  • 1/2 Cup Rice Vinegar
  • 1/4 Cup Sugar (optional; if you're not a fan of sweetness, I would cut the sugar to 1 Tbsp or cut it completely since this recipe does yield a fairly sweet pickle)
  • 1 Tbsp Salt

Seriously, the ingredients list couldn't be any shorter (unless you cut out all but cucumber, salt, and vinegar, which wouldn't be bad by any means).

The Method:

  1. Chop up your veggies and place them in a medium bowl.
  2. In a small saucepan, bring the 1/2 cup rice vinegar, sugar, and salt to a low boil, making sure the sugar and salt granules are dissolved.
  3. While the vinegar solution is being heated, sterilize your voting container; I boiled water in a pot and dunked the lid components and my mason jar in for several minutes to kill any bacteria.
  4. Pour the vinegar solution over the cucumbers and veggies and let sit for a couple minutes, stirring occasionally to distribute the juices.
  5. Transfer contents to your jar and store in the refrigerator!
 Just look at that garlic!

Just look at that garlic!

 Basting, basting, basting.

Basting, basting, basting.

 Not nearly enough...Maybe I'll make a double batch next time :)

Not nearly enough...Maybe I'll make a double batch next time :)

 These pickles pair perfectly with a nice lamb burger with sautéd onions!

These pickles pair perfectly with a nice lamb burger with sautéd onions!

Pickle me green, these yummy condiments are here to stay!

Like many of my recipes, this one is open to your creative interpretation. Spice things up with some jalapeño (or green chile if you're New Mexico spice savvy) or add an extra element of veggie-ness with some green bell peppers.

Lessons in the Kitchen

Yesterday I embarked on a new adventure in the kitchen: homemade chocolate. Having lived and studied in Switzerland for a year, I will admit I've become quite the chocolate snob. I prefer my chocolate Cailler crémant 73% noir. It's that specific. However, since I am no longer living in the land of cheese and chocolate, I have had to accustom myself to the American standard of chocolate. That is, not my selected Cailler bar, but as good as you can get here (note: chocolate is one of my love languages, just as long as it's not Hershey's, thank you very much). Told you I'm a chocolate snob.

The procedure for Leigh's Grand Baking Adventures goes something like this: spend hours scouring the Internet for a good recipe to emulate, procure ingredients, spend an additional 3 hours making a mess in the kitchen, indulge in the treat, spend another hour cleaning up the atrocity that the kitchen became (so Mom and Dad don't get angry when they come home to all the baking dishes out on the counter and covered in whatever substances that have been used throughout the process...flashbacks to my first batch of macarons two summers ago). You could say that, if time equals love, I pour a heck of a lot of love into my baking.

But sometimes it doesn't turn out just right.

I'd found an irresistible recipe for dark chocolate coconut bites on Pinterest Monday night, and decided Tuesday morning after watching a couple episodes in the last season of Gossip Girl that I'd have to work a little to get to watch the series finale. These coconut bites are the equivalent of (health.....ier) Mounds. Which just happen to be one of my favorite candies (I say candies because I have quite the sweet tooth. Candy is also one of my love languages...among many other food-related ones. Fun fact: for loving sugar so much, I've never once had a cavity!). It only made sense to combine my favorite show with my favorite candy.

With the goal of a sweet, coconutty dessert to wrap up Gossip Girl, I headed into the kitchen and assembled my troops: all my ingredients, a million spoons, all our mixing bowls, half of the pans (I never said I was a tidy baker, did I?) and got to work. After proudly texting my sister and best friend that I was about to conquer the kitchen and make the coconut mounds. Not in so many words, of course. But the pride was obviously detectable.

The coconut filling was easy enough: coconut flakes, coconut oil, vanilla, homemade simple syrup. It was quite simple, pun intended. However, the recipe (obviously) called for chocolate. Instead of melting the bar of Swiss baking chocolate we've got somewhere in this kitchen (from Cailler, duh), I decided to make the dipping chocolate from scratch using a separate recipe I'd found a couple weeks ago when I was on a chocolate frenzy.

That's where it all went awry.

My sister has taken up this new method of communication called "randomly FaceTiming Leigh to catch up." Besides catching me off-guard each of the two times she's called me, it's a lovely way of staying in touch with Rachel, particularly when texting can only get us so far in one of our lengthy conversations. And lucky for her, she decided to call me just as I was starting the dipping chocolate. We discussed the normal sisterly things: how all of my childhood friends are now off and married/engaged, leading the Kolb sisters to appreciate friendship even deeper; how she has been working her tail off on transcribing interviews for her thesis (which is the British version of a dissertation...not the only thing the Brits are doing oppositely), needs to catch up on my blog (hey, sis!), and was rubbing it in my face that I cannot eat Indian food; how I've become the source of everyone's house sitting needs this summer (reconsidering my career goals...).

We had a nice conversation, and Rachel got to see a chaotic rendition of a chocolatier - and the chocolate-coated whisk - before she got back to her thesis work. In all the hubbub of our conversation, I got distracted from the steps in the recipe and somehow thought I was supposed to stir in the milk after taking the melted cacao/ghee off the double boiler. And was inevitably confused when the texture of the chocolate turned from luxuriously silky to congealed and grainy. But thankfully I had Rachel to blame for distracting me from the straight and narrow path to chocolatier success...or did I? (now you can see the influence of Gossip Girl on my writing...XOXO.)

Technically, I got the chocolate to homogenize, and there's no use wasting high-quality and high-priced cacao powder, so I scraped it all into a shallow ceramic dish and put it in the fridge. Maybe it'll turn to fudge, I hoped.

So here I was, back at the beginning. There was no way I was about to admit defeat and give up on covering these 21 mounds of coconut in chocolate. Plus, I'd made a rookie mistake that could easily be fixed. Just keep the chocolate mixture on the double boiler as I poured the milk and sugar in, and all my troubles would be whisked away. Plus, I'd started making a cherry syrup to flavor the chocolate, so that would make it even better.

I went back through the steps again (after thoroughly washing all the dishes I'd just dirtied and getting even more out to replace those too sticky with chocolate...see why my parents always have a headache when I bake?), this time looking five times at each step to make sure I wasn't missing anything. I even kept the chocolate on the burner. So far, so good. But once again, when I poured the almond milk in, the once-silky chocolate began to harden like it had half an hour before. I tried turning the heat up - maybe that was the issue. Nope. Not enough liquid? I added the cherry syrup, and still the same result. That wasn't it. So perhaps it was the almond milk (which does have a different texture and composition than milk). I have yet to investigate further, but I'd say that was the culprit.

Frustrated, I decided to just go with it and cover the coconut mounds with the grainy chocolate, literally using my hands to cement the chocolate to the coconut rather than dipping the mounds into a pool of perfectly thick and smooth dipping chocolate. I was disappointed. Not only because I had messed up twice, used the majority of my bag of cacao powder (grr), and spent the better part of three hours baking, but also because I had overestimated myself and taken pride in a skill I had yet to learn and hone.

Many of my friends and family see me as being a master in the kitchen. When it comes to cooking, I will accept their accolades (somehow I can cook well à la Parisienne, throwing together whatever is available in the kitchen, inventing new and unexpected combinations to make a dish I could eat for the rest of forever). Baking, however, is not my strongest suit. As much of a Type A personality as I am, needing everything to be put together and organized, when it comes to the kitchen, I much prefer ample room for experimentation. It's easy to conceal mistakes in cooking - using sweetened vanilla almond milk instead of plain almond milk for creamy roasted red pepper pasta sauce is forgivable and can sometimes go unnoticed (score for last night's dinner!). Unfortunately, there's not much of that room with baking, seeing as measurements must be precise, everything must be prepared in the right order, no mistakes, etc. Yes, I've succeeded in "mastering" the French macaron (which just so happened to be some of the best macarons I've ever had) and I make some killer Earl Grey lemon squares (caution: they're addicting), but baking necessitates a great deal of learning and patience.

Like so many kitchen experiences in the past, this one failed. Miserably. [insert bawling emoji here] If you know me at all, you know just how upset I get when something I've poured all my energy, time, and love into goes awry. But it's that passion to create that drives me to make mistakes for the sake of learning...and baked goods. Sure, I want to be successful in my baking endeavors. But there's more to it than just that. The kitchen is where I use a lot of my creativity and learn vital lessons in patience and self-forgiveness. In the past few years it's where I've discovered a lot about my personality.

For example, I've learned that the true test of my passion is failure. To explain it simply, if I'm not passionate about something, failure will be the end-all-be-all. Yeah, I "shouldn't" give up just because I've failed, and I could be good at almost anything if I put my time and effort into practicing, but if I don't love what it is I'm doing, why would I waste that energy? Where's the sense in that? I'm a woman of passion. And as George Burns says: "It is better to be a failure at something you love than to be a success at something you hate."

I used to do ballet when I was a youngin', but when I totally botched the routine at my spring recital and embarrassed myself in front of a crowd of who knows how many people, I decided I didn't want to do it anymore because I never enjoyed it to begin with (from what I remember, my recital reminds me of the Jingle Bell Rock scene in Mean Girls, only there were tutus, curled hair, rouged cheeks, and little Leigh dancing out of sync in the very front. Doing the complete opposite of the other little ballerinas. There might have been beach balls...or umbrellas, but the memory comes through like a distant dream. And there was no girl drama or fetch happening among those pink tutus).

But put me in a kitchen with a macaron recipe, and no matter how long it takes, how many times I mess up the recipe, or how many attempts I make in a single day (I once spent an entire day making two batches of macarons because I'd messed the first up. Let me just say, it takes about five hours on a good day to make macarons, start to finish), I will try time and again to perfect the French delicacy. Maybe this is because I'm convinced I'm a Parisienne at heart. Maybe it's due to my love of decadent foods. I do know for a fact that it's an attestation of my determination and passion in the face of failure.

Funnily enough, it turns out that my mom loved my coconut mounds. And when I reached in the fridge to try my fudge this morning, it was actually good. Not Swiss chocolate good. I'll never reach that level of perfection. But surprisingly rich and tasty for the failure it'd seemed to be at the moment. Perhaps this is a reminder that our failures aren't always what we chock them up to be. Just because things hadn't gone the way I'd planned didn't necessarily mean they'd gone wrong. It didn't mesh with my expectations, but gave me a result that was surprisingly just as good as I'd expected...in a different form.

So let my failure in the kitchen ignite a reconsideration of what your failure means. I'll leave you with a quote from Sophia Amoruso:

"There are secret opportunities in every failure."

 

XOXO,
Leigh

My Millet Porridge Obsession, Detailed

If you've been following the trends in my blog writing recently, I can assume you have become aware of my fondness for millet porridge. Not even kidding, I could sing songs about the wonders of this delicious meal. Just ask my sister - I interrupted her important day at a conference in Virginia to exclaim just how wonderful my breakfast was and give her the directions to make it. Thankfully Rachel is a wonderful sport and received my detailed description with exuberance. How great it is having a sister that gets as excited about porridge as I do! Figures, since she's become quite the UK resident.

When I first started my voyage into this new lifestyle change just less than two months ago, millet was one of the grains I could consume. Before that, I had only used it once in a black bean sweet potato veggie burger. Otherwise, the small, golden orbs were completely foreign to me. I remember thinking, How do you even cook this stuff? when I scooped the grains out from the bulk bin over winter break when I first tried the grain. In fact, I'd never even heard of it - much less seen it - before my first encounter six months ago.

Two months into my change, and what do you know? Millet and I have become fast friends. Sometimes I worry I eat too much of it, but then I find comfort in the fact that it's just so darn fantastic and has a knack for making me smile. A true sign of friendship. Millet has become my go-to breakfast fixing, and with continuous practice, I've found that it's quite an adaptable grain. Grind it and add it to supplement your veggie burgers, eat it cooled with chopped veggies, or whisk up some porridge. You can't go wrong with millet. Especially when it's in its most magical form: porridge.

Having added some new faces to my food repertoire recently (i.e., coconut and apricots), the millet porridge I'd once fallen in love with has only become tastier. I'm about to share my well-guarded secrets for what I personally believe is the best millet porridge in the world! (I'm thinking of cooking it again for lunch and dinner after I'm done writing this post...)

The Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup millet
  • 2 Tbsp butter, divided
  • 2/3 cup oat milk (or milk of your liking; homemade oat milk is sweeter, creamier, cheaper, and tastier than normal cow's milk, so I always recommend it)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 Tbsp applesauce
  • 1 banana
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 Tbsp sunflower butter (or nut butter of your preference; cashew butter would be great in this as well)
  • 1 spear dried, sweetened papaya
  • 1 apricot
  • 1 Tbsp shredded coconut

The Procedure:

  1. Pre-soak the millet in a bowl of water for about 20 minutes - or more - to soften the grain. I've found that immediately throwing the millet in the pan without soaking yields a harder grain that can be difficult to chew, so the solution: softening it before you begin to cook it!
  2. After the millet has soaked, drain and rinse it using a fine sieve (the grains are small, so a typical colander won't do; your entire breakfast will be washed down the drain)
  3. Place 1 Tbsp of your butter in a pan over low heat, and let melt
  4. Add the soaked millet to the melted butter and let it toast on low (!!!) for several minutes, until it's slightly more golden. My method is to toast it as long as possible, just as long as there's no burnage going on, because I'm one of the least precise cookers. Sometimes it works, sometimes not...use your best judgment and sense of smell.
  5. When your millet has reached a satisfactory level of toastedness, add the 2/3 cup milk and 1/2 cup water to the pan, turning the heat up to high, and stirring every so often to keep the millet from sticking, as well as helping the milk mix with the water (it can get a bit stubborn).
  6. While the ingredients in the pan heat up, prepare your banana by smashing it up! The smoother it is, the easier it will be to get it to mix.
  7. Once the pan is at a steady simmer, add the 2 Tbsp applesauce, 1 tsp vanilla, smashed banana, 1 Tbsp sunflower butter, and remaining 1 Tbsp butter (you can always opt out of this; I just love the extra buttery flavor) and stir for a good 30 seconds-1 minute until everything is mixed in evenly.
  8. Reduce heat to low, and cover the pan for approx. 10-15 minutes, until the contents have thickened (if you want your porridge thinner, cook for less time; if you want it thicker, cook longer; if you've cooked it too long and want it thinner, you can add some milk to the top...the coolness will keep your tongue from burning, which is an added bonus).
  9. While letting the porridge thicken, dice the papaya spear and apricot into small pieces. The apricot especially will add some fabulous flavor and sweetness to the porridge. If you're lucky enough to have an apricot tree, go ahead and throw some fresh fruit in! Knowing you're using very local produce makes it taste even better...or at least I thought so ;)
  10. After the porridge has thickened to your liking, spoon it into a bowl and top with your diced papaya and apricot, as well as the shredded coconut.
  11. Pair with a nice brew of herbal tea, and enjoy!
 The perfect pairing: millet porridge & herbal mint tea ...sorry I didn't do a great job with presentation; I just had to eat a few spoonfuls before snapping my photo

The perfect pairing: millet porridge & herbal mint tea
...sorry I didn't do a great job with presentation; I just had to eat a few spoonfuls before snapping my photo

Try it for yourself and see just how wonderful this breakfast option is! Like many other recipes you'll find on my blog, this is completely open to your interpretation. Don't like papaya? Use blueberries. Need some more protein? Add some whey...or whatever protein powder people use these days. Cacao powder and/or nibs are a great addition as well. This porridge is all about bringing happiness to your life, so make it what you want it to be! Like I said earlier, millet is a very adaptable grain, so use it to bring forth your most palatable flavors, and become a believer!

Let me know of any other creative ways to prepare this meal. In the meantime, I'm off to daydream about more millet recipes....

XOXO,
Leigh