On not having it together, for now

Have you noticed it? I know I have. It’s there, in the calmest moments of the day. It’s in the minutes of quiet and relaxation. It’s filtering into the space that’s reserved for pure enjoyment and nothingness.

It’s the pull to be doing.

It seems like everyone and their mom has some sort of new morning routine, a side hustle, or a deliberate plan to achieve their goals in 2018 and beyond. Congratulations to everyone and to their mothers on all of this.

But for any woman out there who’s like me, I’m here to say it’s ok to just… not. If this is you, or if you are me, listen up.

You don’t have to have a plan to tackle your goals. You don’t even need them, if you don’t want them. It’s okay to live life as it happens and see where it takes you. I’ve found the flexibility in this mindset has opened doors and paved paths to happiness that are far better than any plans I could have drawn.

You don’t have to have a morning routine to be a happier or successful person. It’s just not for everyone. And because people you admire for their success, power, or status might do it doesn’t mean that that’s what makes them successful, powerful, or accomplished. Please feel free to sleep in or do whatever if that’s what makes you your best you.

You don’t need to have a job on top of a job on top of life responsibilities and relationships and commitments. In most cases, women bear an unequal division of household labor (I should note that I am extremely lucky I don’t) and general life tasks, not to mention the weight of societal pressures and routines that simply take more of our free time from us. Add up all the time you spend on beauty routines, for example. You don’t have to monetize your hobbies. You don’t need to make the things you do for fun the things you do for work. This also ties into the generally bad advice to “do what you love” — often, taking that path can leave you with nothing but cold, pure hatred and disdain for things that used to bring you joy.

Ask me how I know.

I’m not writing this as a criticism of women who do or enjoy these things. If they enrich your life and truly bring you happiness, by all means, please continue on your personal path to greatness.

This is more of a note I’m writing to myself as a reminder that stillness is acceptable. (And maybe right now isn’t the time for these things, but another time in the future will be. I’m learning life has many rich and varied seasons.)

Creativity needs space to thrive.

There’s a time for work and discipline in life, and turns out it’s not every waking moment of your existence. It simply doesn’t have to be.

In the spaces between, life is allowed to be still, quiet, and empty. And that can be good.

The late eighties and early nineties

The cover of Judy Collins’ Wildflowers
The sounds of the harpsichord on “Both Sides Now”
Knowing that my mother studied the instrument but I’ve never heard her play it
I wish I could hear her play it

A rare evening with the lamp over the piano as the only light in the room
Mom at the bench, fingers rolling over keys through scales, her feet pushing the pedals to let the music pause, breathe
Bound books of piano music from the ‘60s with plastic covers that seem quilted; I still don’t understand what they were made of, or the notes someone had written in pencil on the pages
Stories about her piano teacher, Lois Gardell, Mrs. Gardell
The chords of “Feux Follets,” a song that doesn’t seem to exist in the outside world, only in our old living room with the fluffy brown carpet
For years I couldn’t find a recording of the piece, but I remember that room

Cassette tapes with songs that very much exist in the outside world
Michael Bolton, Milli Vanilli, a specific one labeled “Toto – Africa”
Records, too: Carly Simon, The Moody Blues, Diana Ross, boxes of them
The illustration on the cover of her copy of “Mahogany” is probably why I love design today
Tapes labeled in her perfect school-teacher print
Oh my God, blasting those tapes on giant speakers, all the speakers then were so giant
Dancing around the room with music at full blast, jumping on the bed
Not sure why she let us break that rule
I’ll ask her

Long plaid wool skirts with pleats
Bangs curled up and also down over her forehead
Curling irons coated with the crust of a thousand mists of Paul Mitchell hairspray
A tube of gel-like Revlon (?) liquid blush that smelled slightly floral
A compact Mary Kay eyeshadow palette, all blues that never worked with my green hazel eyes
Rows of heels I liked to try on that always caused me to sprain my ankles
How did she teach for all those years in heels?

Being so short, hugging her very tan legs as we stood by the pool
Feeling her warm skin in the Arizona sun
She has always been so, so tan
And yet, there’s a Dartmouth pennant with creases of being folded and stored for decades that reminds me she had a whole other life before Arizona
It was all lived in snow (I imagine)

The kitchen with square yellow tile, not a bright yellow but more like the Crayola crayon called Goldenrod
Seeing her tears one afternoon, I think it was the afternoon
Too young to grasp the weight of the news that my uncle had died
I have a better understanding now

Photos of her that look like me, photos of me that look like her, all in a three-ring album with a fluffy padded suede cover
Photos of her as Lockport Junior Miss
Unfortunately, the trophy and I think the crown were lost to fire
A small plastic briefcase perfect for toting Barbie to her next destination with Beautiful Hair, Breck, a label and slogan of a brand and time that will only ever be hers, not mine
It came from the Junior Miss pageant and it’s still here

Cream rinse, and how I hadn’t heard anyone call it that until just last week
A specific Jhirmack shampoo that smelled like creamsicle, which she let me use and I sometimes snuck without permission
Her very small gold hoop earrings I brought with me to college, definitely without permission
I can count on one hand the number of times I have worn them
I wonder where I can still buy that shampoo

Reading her the stories I’d woven from little words and big ideas
Hunting for “treasure” in the neighborhood and sharing my finds, exquisite pieces of gravel, foliage
She was mostly patient
But she always listened

Warming rituals and relaxing spaces

On the second day of the cold snap, I decided nothing would help restore my frozen limbs quite like a hot bath.

I lowered myself into the hot water, at first one frozen toe at a time. Then foot, then ankle, then calf. I felt the gentle burn of warm water on my cold skin, resigning myself to the feeling and giving in to it, inch by inch.

Once finally submerged in the tub, I thought about the comforting ritual of baths. It’s more than just being warmed on a cold night. Baths take us all back to our childhood, to the leisurely play of splashing around in a tiny ocean of our own that boasted no fish but plastic alphabets and rubber duckies. What a calming luxury of time and freedom. And for me, soaking in a hot bath for no reason other than to feel warmed to my core reminded me of all those nights I’d resort to the tub, exhausted after hours of training in the pool and long days of school.

Do I even deserve a bath right now if I’m not sore and tired, with a few hours of math homework and reading ahead of me? I wondered. (Deeply rooted Catholic guilt is a powerful thing.) I enjoyed the soak anyway.

A few days later, the cold became too much, so I decided to take some time to myself in the bath once again. It was then I realized how much I want to bring stillness and quiet back into my life in 2018. I can’t think of a more perfect way than a long soak to calm my mind, and it almost goes without saying that I love simply being in water. And self-care is so important! I know this goes well beyond things like bath bombs, glasses of wine, and cliched, basic-white-girl rituals, and I’m thinking about what else I can do to slow down and truly relax.

Some other ideas I have in mind for this year:

Returning to doing my own manicures and pedicures. It doesn’t save me any time at all, but there’s something really satisfying about getting the polish just so and taking the extra time to do something yourself. It doesn’t hurt to save some money… and then use it to buy even more nail polish. Ha!

Cooking at home more often. In the spirit of the previous list item, making a great meal is something to be proud of. This also falls squarely in the intersection of things I like: making things with my own two hands, delicious meals. Unadvertised benefit: fun activity for introverts to recharge! 

Baths, for staying warm reasons, relaxation reasons, and cozy reasons. Baths are pretty hygge, right? And then at the end of it, I guess you’re clean, which is nice.

I know no one needs or even wants an update on adventures in leisurely baths, but as for the other things on my self-care radar, I will probably continue to document some things here.

Hello, new year

Hello from the other side of my life’s greatest craft project, our November wedding!

We made it out alive, and even better, the entire experience of the wedding events, honeymoon, and newlywed life was nothing but perfect. The bliss is real and I wish this sort of unbridled happiness for everyone. 

Leading up to the wedding, I had no idea how busy things would get. I had aimed to keep all the DIY on a tight schedule and minimize the number of last-minute tasks. But you know how life goes. The to-do list kept getting longer and the few days before the wedding got a little crazy. It was all good and worth the effort in the end. I couldn’t believe how beautifully everything turned out and how happy we were on the day itself, and not just thanks to well-executed crafts. I won’t forget the way I felt every second of the day.

Our honeymoon in Mexico was an extraordinary escape. For the first few days, we stayed at an adults-only all-inclusive resort. Those two conditions made the departure from reality a truly relaxing and indulgent adventure. We slept in, ate three or more full meals every day (cheese plate and wine for lunch, anyone?), floated in aquamarine seas, and lounged beachside with books and cocktails. If you’re wondering if that gets old, it does. So a few days in Tulum on our own were just the thing we needed to feed a nagging desire for adventure and self-sufficiency. I’m still dreaming about the powder-soft sand, gentle seas, and lush jungles leading right up to the beachfront. What a magical time it was. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to experience that and hope to make a trip back soon.

Now that the wedding and honeymoon are over, I’ve been reveling in the newfound sense of space in my life. Without a whole lot on my to-do list, I can take more time to read, write, and explore some creative endeavors. Of course, we’re filling in a good bit of time searching for a home of our own, an exciting development that gives me so much life when I think of all the things I want to do. Garden! Cooking in a space much larger than the one we have now! Feeling a sense of permanence after years upon years of moving, change, and never knowing what’s next!

All this being said, I plan to make much more regular appearances here and really begin sharing some things I’ve experienced and done. Cheers to a 2018 that promises space to expand in every direction.

Create, no matter what

Over tea, I explained to a friend how I’ve all but ceased to write lately. Creative endeavors tend to make a sensitive soul feel pretty damn narcissistic when the world turns faster than usual, seemingly spinning off its axis. Whether or not I ate too many calories today or how that run went doesn’t seem to matter in the grand scheme of things.

But then we talked about how the grand scheme of things can’t only be the bad things. And the good doesn’t come from nowhere. You have to search for and even create good to maintain the balance in life.

Lately, creating is all I want to do. Write things, make things with my hands, build things I care about. But writing for fun, for personal projects, sometimes just doesn’t happen. It sometimes can’t.

During a particularly rough patch near the end of July, I wrote a few words down that capture how much I want to do just this, but how tough the doing can be.

Can you sense how badly I want to put all my eggs in this basket?

Can you sense my fear that I’m not good enough to make it work?

Can you sense I’m struggling to come up for air as the wave rolls over me and briny swirls pin me under?

There’s no clever lesson or ending or conclusion here. Just keep writing, girl.

On the brink of September

I haven’t heard anyone say it yet, but the light is changing. This morning I noticed it as I stood in the shower, the room slightly darker than usual. The first indicators of fall are barely imperceptible unless you’re me, looking hard for them and daydreaming about what’s to come.

This time of year is always one for looking back. Katrina, other storms, transitional periods of my life, and a lot of bad I had to overcome. Fall is a time when I’ve historically rebuilt myself. I always seem to be drawn to reinvention and refocus right around now, whether out of necessity or longing for a past self that seemed to simply be better. Will I be my ideal self again this fall? Will I finally find myself lacing up my running shoes? Remember when I fit into this or that and did so many things?

Of course, there’s the added pressure of my wedding, which is a strange beast. It’s a happy time for sure. There’s also stress coming out of nowhere relating to my dress and how I look, though, and it’s gotten to my head a bit in the past week or so. I’ve had so much time to figure it out, so why am I waiting until the eleventh hour to get it together? I guess the bright side is that I haven’t felt the need to change myself before now.

I’m heading into the next month with renewed motivation and focus, and a plan for keeping my goals in sight (stick to a running schedule and track what I eat, pretty simple). I know that no matter how I look on the wedding day, I’ll feel like the most beautiful and loved woman in the world. I already do.

Soon there will be a chill on weekend mornings, and I’ll find myself liberated from the boredom of the treadmill and enjoying cool air on my face as I run the stress out. And the light will have fully transformed into that golden-hour, soft early-fall glow I’m just starting to recognize in the days at the end of August.

My go-to chimichurri recipe

Ed. note: Here’s an old blog post of mine from 2013 on the sauce to end all sauces. If now’s not the time to dollop heaping spoonfuls of this on nearly everything you eat, I don’t know what is. Savor the state of being alive and let this magic take hold of you.

If you’ve been reading this blog regularly for any period of time, you’ve noticed how often I mention chimichurri. You’re probably also starting to think it’s just something I made up since I haven’t yet posted a recipe for this incredible sauce. Well, today’s the day. Chimichurri is real, you guys.

For those who have never had chimichurri before, I’d describe it as a tangy, bright, garlicky, somewhat spicy sauce that comes together quickly and is easy to make. Now’s the ideal time to make a batch, as you spend what remains of the summer grilling all the things. Chimichurri is a perfect complement to grilled chicken, beef, seafood, and veggies. That’s right, it’s excellent atop any type of food you can imagine. It’s even perfect on a warm slice of rustic bread, if that’s your thing.

Most of the time I serve chimichurri on grilled flank steak or skirt steak, which I marinate in a mixture of garlic, citrus, and spices. Like all things fancy, chimichurri gets better with time. Make this a day or two before serving, if you can.

Chimichurri

Adapted from Gourmet

  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 c olive oil

Combine ingredients in a food processor, blender, or tall container if using a stick blender to mix. Pulse until cilantro and parsley are finely chopped and sauce emulsifies slightly. Add a second tbsp water if needed. Spoon onto grilled food of your choosing and do a little dance* because oh, it is so good.

*Non-optional.

August and forever

Ed. note: I originally published this post on a previous iteration of my blog in August 2014. Thought this would be a fun throwback. 

“The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color.” – Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

Something clicked last Friday. Something changed so swiftly that I suddenly became aware of the length of days, which have gradually become shorter since June. A minor cold front reminded me one morning that fall will be right around the corner before I know it. Afternoon thunderstorms no longer demand our attention; instead, skies once occupied by the weight of rain that has yet to fall and sudden flashes of lightning and sound are now hazy and indifferent. Tourists seem to have vanished from our streets. And I’m left here, feeling a bit melancholy now that my favorite part of the year has passed and the next two months become a drawn-out waiting game for fall to begin.

Of course, there are perks to August, too. The quiet that pervades has given me space to think, space to feel stillness and accept it. Along with the cooler temperatures of September and October (let’s be real, it’s mostly October I’m talking about here) comes my busy season at work. Now feels like the time to prepare, to rest, to fortify my mind and body for the onslaught of what’s to come.

Today I enjoyed a leisurely lunch with some friends, fellow marketers at other area law firms. We scored the best seat in the house at Domenica, a perennial favorite of mine, and enjoyed great conversation and the thin, lightly charred pizzas from the restaurant’s wood-fired stove.

I don’t normally read horoscopes or take them seriously, but I recently caught these lines from a post on one of my favorite websites, The Hairpin, with some words that spoke to me (Aries). I can’t stop thinking about this passage:

You can lay down in the dark field of all your questions: who you’re supposed to be, what time is made of. Under countless winking stars, you might not get the answers you want, but you will get the ones you need.

On the walk back to my office, I stopped at Merchant, a quiet café tucked away among banks and offices and new residences in the CBD. Iced Americano and cream sweating in my hand, I walked up Carondelet and felt the sun on my shoulders. I thought about those difficult questions in my life that I don’t know—can’t know—how to answer and where the changing seasons might take me. Please, please, let this year be different than the last one. Please let fall be kind. 

Momentum

Eighteen days seemed enough time for my latest Whole30. There’s something about having done the exercise once that’s left me feeling emboldened to bend or break the rules each subsequent time.

Is it bad to say I just really, really badly wanted some pizza and a glass of wine?

After the week I had last week, it felt indulgent and almost like self-care not to care.

It’s alright to give ourselves a break when something becomes too much work, I think. Willpower is a limited resource much like time and energy. I don’t fault myself for throwing my hands up when I was running empty on all three.

Over the weekend, to help fix my life and attitude and lack of inertia, I took some time for myself, wrapping up a few wedding details and getting a few good workouts in and letting myself sprawl out on the couch for hours with my full attention plugged into the mindless escape of beautiful ideas on Pinterest. Different cures for the same thing, but they work (especially in concert).

I started off this week with sore legs, abs, arms, and back, the classic sign of a job well done and a feeling I miss when I’m in an exercise slump. Few things make me feel more like myself.

Getting to work in the kitchen also helped. Last night I whipped up a variation of chicken marbella, accompanied by roasted Yukon gold potatoes and Brussels sprouts with bacon and a hint of bite from red wine vinegar.

I want to cook even more this week to keep the momentum going. This energy and great food just feels good. In the spirit of the abundance of summer, I want to grill a whole host of things and slather them with chimichurri, the perfect herbal salsa to pair with char and simple flavors.

More on those endeavors later this week.

The end of July, a Monday

My nails are white. A good idea for a fresh summer manicure, I’d thought to myself yesterday afternoon, then took the better part of an hour to swipe the thick paint across the round of my nails and correct it with a brush until it looked just so. Today I’m pleased with the result but am already thinking about the bold orange-red I’ll go for next.

I’m eating cold cherries at my desk, one by one, and slowly. Only a few of them are sweet and what I would classify as “good” — a disappointment in one of my favorite summer fruits, to say the least. Maybe the trees got too much rain this year. Maybe we’ve all gotten too much rain this year. As I pull cherry pits out of my mouth, they layer a crimson stain on my fingertips.

My mind is stuck on the fact that it’s almost August. Normally, I find ways to savor the early months of summer, an effort to be present in my favorite season and bottle the feeling of sunlight on my skin for the wet cold of December and beyond.

The ease and seemingly limitless time of summer come to life in things like abundant sprigs of basil, Creole tomatoes, white nectarines so ripe they could burst in your hand. And cherries, too. Taking walks with Pearl and noticing how the sun seems to hold in place just above the horizon well beyond dinnertime.

All that seems to have passed, even though I realize we’re only technically a month or so into Actual Summer and that there will be plenty more balmy mornings and flame-like sunsets through October or so.

I’m making a note to treat August as I would have June and July this year. With the wedding seemingly just around the corner, it’s been easy for me to get more wrapped up in the future than I typically would.

Slow. Down.

I drop the last cherry pit into the bowl in front of me.