For the Love of Trees

Thousands of shades of green are staring back at me as I look through one of the windows in my childhood house. This window is next to the table near the kitchen and looks out on the backyard which also happens to be a forest. One of these trees I have nicknamed “The Hunger Games Tree” because it looks just like how I imagined the tree Suzanne Collins described in Catching Fire. I see it through the leaves and branches of the woods and the enormity of it baffles me.

A breeze rolls through making all the leaves shimmer with excitement. Then they relax and settle back into their sleeping state.

I am so lucky to live in the Pacific Northwest. The greens here are richer and deeper. It has been a constant belief of mine that the colors are so beautiful here because of all the rain we get. I feel that it allows the colors to achieve their full potential and after having the wettest winter on record, this summer is going to be amazing.

The small douglas fir in the backyard has new growth on the end of every branch creating a lime-green starburst effect. Next to it is an ancient stump, overgrown with huckleberry bushes that my brother and I used to eat off of.

Over the last few years, I have found great artistic inspiration from trees. It’s in the way the leaves twist and curl, or when the sun is just starting to rise against the stark silhouette of a towering maple that’s still leafless, waiting warmer weather. There have been movies and shows where I will say out load, “That’s a nice tree!” Or even when we’re driving down the road – I don’t know, it just happens.

Artistically, pen and ink has been my friend when it comes to trees and I find a lot more difficulty with painting or just sketching. I’m not sure if it’s the finality of pen and ink, but I can usually find that power of suggestion more easily and know when I need to stop before it becomes a forced object. (I hope that makes sense to someone out there!)

My other reason for loving trees so much is shade (and how they help us breathe and all that good stuff, but shade is my focus since it’s much to early in the day to talk about science). I am a hardcore shade person. Don’t get me wrong, I love being outside in the sun and running around like a kid or helping with farm work. However, my skin isn’t the biggest fan of being in the sun too long. I am quite pale and sunscreen is my constant friend. My mom loves telling me how when I was a kid, my brother and I would go down to the garden to help her with chores and in less than twenty minutes she’d be saying, “Where did she go? Oh, she’s under the apple tree playing with the cat/picking at the grass/just being philosophical and staring at the sky.” Maybe not so much that last example but I am still know for my out-of-body experiences and staring into nothing. I’m still fascinated staring through the leafy branch of a tree and watching the colors change as the shadows move with the wind.

That’s my love of trees in a nutshell. Some other tidbits include the smell after a rainstorm, art projects as a kid with leaves and branches during the fall, and homemade swags and wreathes for the holiday season. Now I think it’s time to go outside for a walk and snap some pictures of a tree or two…


The Week I Did Everything

Let’s just say this week has been a complete rush.

One of my recent posts, Time Challenge, prompted me to take a different look at how I was spending my time during the day at work and at night when I got home. It took a few weeks for it to really sink in, but this last week a real fire got lit inside me.

It started two Sundays ago as I was cleaning the apartment. I had just got back from a long drive with the ‘Check Engine’ light on. Like many of my other wonderful ordinary people out there, when I get stressed I like to clean. As I wash dishes I can feel the stress wash off; as I wipe down the counters I can feel the crumbs of disappointment fall away; as I swiffer the floors I can feel a plan coming into focus.

This plan was to do everything.

It started with the engine light – I have to make a plan to get this fixed. Who do I talk to? I’m not from around here so who knows a trustworthy mechanic? Should I call dad again and have him tell me one more time that things will work out alright? Do I have enough money in case this turns into the worst-case scenario?

Then it continued with money – Rent recently jumped $100 so I need to figure out a way to save more…what do I give up? What do I neeeeeed vs. what do I want? How do I just not spend money, period?

And finally work – I’m starting to feel comfortable with my job, and that makes me unsteady. So it hit me – DOOOOO something about it. How do I take this position to the next level? Where can I expand my skill set and get the most out of my day?

Thus began the week I did everything.

Honestly, I have never seen my planner so full since college. I was on the ‘productive plane’ five days straight, before, during and after work. Stretching and some easy lifts with my 3 pound dumbbells in the morning, getting a jump start on lengthening my to-do list at work and finishing off with some solid workouts after I got home. Oh, and I can’t forget cooking! Somehow I fit that into one of those days too!

Everyday was filled to the brim and I felt so successful and proud of what I had accomplished. By the end of the week I was fried – completely out of energy and in desperate need of sleep. (Have I mentioned I’m over two weeks coffee-free? Yup, living on the edge.)

So now the second week has begun. I found that after last week’s goal of, “Be the woman who does everything,” I was burned out. From this, I shifted the goal to, “Get the most out of every day.” I know that I should be doing that and I’m not saying I don’t, it’s just taking it to a different level – doing things that would usually be put off till the weekend. So instead of taking my time working out, I went really hard for a solid 30 minutes (squats and all) and got the most out of that time. Afterwards, or even before, I fit in an errand or to-do task. At work, I continued to actively pursue projects small and large, and feel inspired.

With the second week coming to a close, I find this whole experience to be a success. Not only the amount I got done, but each day felt full and I thankfully did not reach burn out status this week. Sure, there were errands I didn’t get to but now there are only half as many this weekend. More time to write, paint, and finish the final season of Hannibal (oh my Mads, you are such an incredible actor).

I haven’t decided on next week’s motivational phrase…No matter what I decide I’m ready to stay on the Productive Plane and stay off the Struggle Bus.

Bringing back Sunday Night Dinner

Confession: I am not a good cook.

My go-to used to be chicken breast with BBQ sauce with some boxed organic mac and cheese. It was a great meal back then, but not so much now.

I also used to be afraid of raw chicken. Salmonella terrifies me to this day along with all the other food-born illnesses you can get. But it really was the actual touching of the chicken, so slimy and weird. Fortunately, over the last few years, I have slowly moved from having someone else touch it, to me using a fork to touch it, to finally grabbing it with my hands and cooking the darn thing with confidence. …And washing my hands three times afterwards…

Anyways, I have taken this small step of success as the beginning of a cooking journey. Jaques Pepin is not only a world famous chef to me, he is a comforting memory – My parents would watch him and Julia Childs every Saturday morning on PBS while I would sit on the couch and eat away at my Cheerios. This last Christmas, my dad got me Jaques’ dvd set – 13 beautiful hours of food. “From easy to elegant,” Jaques would say.

Here, I would like to inset a quick thank you to my boyfriend who watched all of it with me!!!

With overcoming my touching-of-the-raw-chicken fear, I now feel that there is a new world of cooking that awaits me. Thanks to Jaques, Pinterest, and a few cookbooks that I randomly purchased, I have been trying some new recipes out.

Both of our families and most of our friends live four hours away, so we try and visit at least once a month. Sometimes with holidays and birthdays, it turns into a twice a month, similar to how next month is going to go. For me, this presented the opportunity to try out a new meal for those weekends we stay at home.

Plenty of jokes have been made that it’s dangerous for me to be in the kitchen alone with sharp objects but slowly I have been gotten the confidence to tell the boyfriend, “Out of the kitchen, this is my meal for you.”

My first cooking adventure started with apple slices and smoked Gouda baked into a butterflied chicken breast. On the side, I made quinoa stuffed red peppers. SUCCESS!!! I couldn’t believe that I actually made us a meal where I didn’t need help and we were satisfied with it.

From here, I expanded my menu to a caprese avocado salad with a balsamic glaze, baked kale chips (surprisingly delicious), skillet caprese chicken, and snuck in a dessert of chocolate butterscotch cookies. Nom nom nom!!!

We’ve been on the road the last few weeks and now I finally have a weekend to plan a meal. It’s silly to me just how excited I am right now haha. I get a little thrill each time I read a recipe and think, I can make this!

Time a open up a bottle of wine and get some recipes picked out. Cheers!

About that Novel I started in 10th Grade…

Going back a little to my previous post, Losing My Resolution, I decided to get down to business this weekend when I visited home. The reasons behind my cleaning may or may not have been due to a little accident (ok, HUGE accident) my poor ancient cat had under the bed, but the fact is that I started to clean my little but over-stuffed room at home.

Treasures galore were under the bed! I knew about a few things that were there but a couple of surprises were there too! Finally found my sparkly headbands from back when I used to play ball, found the book of ads that my freshmen roommates and I had taped up to the walls of our dorm, and the biggest find of them all (besides the box full of my hard work in AP Physics)…the novel I started in high school!!!!!!!!

It’s almost like finding a diary and reliving memories. I remember writing most of it on my bed in that same room. Reading through it, all those exciting tingles of putting pen to paper and suddenly magic happens and you can see the scene set by the words. Gah! It’s amazing the power that can be captured by those few written words. I remember writing until I fell asleep one night, it seems like it was almost out of a movie. The excitement pulsing through my fingers right now is just getting me all riled up! (And it’s almost bedtime…whoops.)

I made it six verrrrry short chapters back then and the story was just getting started. I know that when I got to that part, I really didn’t know where I wanted the story to go. I didn’t know my characters through and through. There were all these big, broad ideas that I had, and now, after years of reading all sorts of genres and books, along with watching an eclectic assortment of films, maybe I was meant to pick that story up now. Perhaps now I can make that decision for blue eyes or brown eyes. I would also like to think that I have a more developed writing level and a better vocabulary than I did in 10th grade but we can’t win them all, right?

Time Challenge

Welcome to another day where the ordinary outweighs the extraordinary, but I am quite ok with that for the time being.

Today’s challenge, like many other days, concerns time – How am I going to use my free time?

Generally, this is who my day goes:

  • Wake up at 6am
  • Stretch while waiting for water to boil for peppermint tea
  • From 6:10 to 7:15am enjoy breakfast and tea, get ready for work
  • If the line isn’t too long, make the morning extraordinarily awesome and get a coffee at my favorite coffee bar
  • Work from 8am to 5 pm
  • Drive home and after 5pm: the challenge: what to do with my time…

As of late, it has occurred to me that there just simply isn’t enough time for all that I want to do. I want to embrace Tim Gunn’s always inspiring “Make it work!” mantra, but I also want to try and get 8 hours of sleep (like the doctors say you should).

Here are the main things I want to do when I get home:

  • Write
  • Draw/sketch/paint
  • Read
  • Workout (a must with summer fast approaching…see my last post for more details)
  • Spend time with the boyfriend
  • Watch whatever fantastic show we’re into (Peaky Blinders = Complete Awesomeness)

Like all of my other ordinary, wonderful people out there, there is never enough time to get everything done. How am I ever going to become an artist/writer if I’m too tired after a whole day at work annnnnd working out??? Gah! Priorities!

Unlike many of my friends, I do not have kids or pets (unless you count our mechanical fish Harold and Harvey). There are no goats to feed, no pasture to clean, no yard work either because we live in an apartment…so why can’t I make this all fit?! I must pick and choose and sometimes that seems like the hardest part. Kind of like picking out the next book that you’re going to read…you feel that you might hurt the other books’ feelings by picking this other book and you really don’t have a preference on which you read first but the whole time you just want to read them ALLLLLLL. Tough stuff I tell ya…

Anyways, math-wise, if I want to get at least 7.5ish hours of sleep, I have about three and a half to four hours of free time, not including time to shower off the day’s stress and sweat down the drain annnnd do a quick kitchen clean up after dinner.

Please understand that I know how lucky this is. I used to have a horrible work schedule and maybe two hours at home before I would have to go sleep. I understand that I don’t have kids or other large responsibilities so this may seem like a plethora of time to most. But like I said earlier, I want to do all these activities and truly the hardest part is deciding what to spend that time on.

Tonight was a great start to the week! I got home quicker than usual thanks to a few extra green lights on the road and I had a decent upper body workout. During this workout, I was thinking about this post. How can I make the “What should I do tonight?” question easier?

So here it goes – For the next week I am going to do my best to be conscious of what inspired me or caught my attention that day. Did I leave my book in the middle of a great chapter? Did I think of a great topic to blog about? Or maybe I just feel like getting a solid workout in and chilling on the couch with the boyfriend?

I know that I can’t fit everything in but perhaps this is a start to making it happen through the week.

That Real Ralph Lauren Bikini

You cannot escape summer and therefore, you cannot escape swimming or at least standing next to the water…in a swimsuit.

Year after year, I trained for my collegiate sport during the summer so when everyone else was trying to slim down, I was bulking up to beat out my squat max and impress my coaches. Never did I have the bikini body I wanted.

Now, things are much different. After my four years of running foul poles, and  doing endless burpees, I workout for the body I want. My wonderful boyfriend (who is very much in to fitness) so kindly put together a couple of 4 week workout courses for me. Some of the exercises he has written down have made me furious with memories of painful conditioning after practice.

Officially I had done 12 weeks of his workouts and loved the results. My legs were so much leaner and they might not be as strong as they used to be, but they fit into pants much easier and I quite like the way they look in leggings.

The “Skinny Gene” has never run in my family so it is in my mind, my responsibility and choice to create the body I want. I have to work hard at this, I have to make conscious decisions about the food I put into my body. Most of all, I want to do it the healthy way. I have enough will power to give up dairy (acne medication requirement) and bread (just because I wanted to see if I could), and now it’s the challenge of constantly make the right decision. Some folks (ahem, Mr. Boyfriend) do not hold my will power in the greatest of light because I get home after a long week and want dark chocolate with sea salt, and that means I have terrible will power.

…Thanks for the support?…

My diet is absolutely more healthy because of him – he is fantastic cook! Right now, he is making a potato/leek encrusted halibut with brown rice and a salad on the side. I have also become accustomed to having a salad at lunch. When there’s no salad, I feel sluggish and well, squishy. My family came from farming backgrounds where dinner was meat, potatoes, and whatever vegetable was in season or available cheap by can.

Like I said, the skinny gene has avoided my family.

After a few unseen and unfortunate events , the gym did not happen for two weeks. My good habits or working out every day and eating well at every meal evaporated and all of my hard work vanished from visibility. To put it simply, I feel that I am right back where I started. 12 weeks of hard work and now I can’t do a pull up – a goal I fought for and achieved, and now I’m back to square one.

Why is it that falling off the workout wagon is so easy? My body felt so good and was in a rhythm where salads and workouts were wanted, even craved! Now I’m just frustrated with myself and those two weeks where my mountain of workout success crumbled over microwave popcorn, wine every night, pastries with morning coffee, and large portions of home-cooked dinners. I could feel my body saying, “No! I don’t want this! Don’t eat it!” But I already get so much crap from a select few back home about the food lifestyle my boyfriend and I have chosen. So I challenged them and ate as if I didn’t have that new Ralph Lauren bikini in my closet back at the apartment. The teasing stopped for the rest of the trip but now that I’m back at the apartment, disappointment hangs in front of me like a shower curtain you can’t pull to the side and walk away from.

Those few months of hard work were wasted and now it’s time to start over again. June is here and summer is coming on fast. If I’m going to make my goal and feel amazing in that new bikini (the first one I’ve bought in over 5 years), my willpower has to go to a new level and my workouts do too. The frustration of flab has reached a new high and so has my inspiration. I am going to do this because I want it. This is not for someone else, but for me.

And what better motivation is there than to try and better yourself?

I truly hope that when the wagon gets tipsy, I can look back on this blog post find the inspiration and willpower to stay on there and keep trucking along.

Here I come Ralph Lauren bikini bod!

Losing my Resolution…Again

Slightly inspired by REM’s song, this post is about my disappointment in myself for once again, falling off the New Year’s Resolution Wagon. Is it just me or does that wagon need better suspension?

Last year, I wanted to improve my posture and I am happy to say, I did that quite successfully. This year, I wanted to push myself a little more. So, after much deliberation in my mind and perhaps a little list making, I came to the conclusion that I have a lot of stuff. Looking around at my apartment, I see things that I need, that I worked hard and saved up for, and those other things that I’m not too sure why they are here. Then this lead me to thinking of my parents’ house and the amount of stuff I have there: childhood toys, homework from grade school, clothes, sport uniforms, gah!

What amazing parents I have. Every time I come home they are so gracious and tell me that this will always be my home and my room and my things can stay there as long as I need them to. That is, until my Christmas visit where it was hinted that I should start taking some of my things back with me…hmmm.

That is where it all started, my goal for being more conscious of my personal items. To begin, I broke out the following categories:

  • Need
  • Wanted and Worked For
  • Family History
  • Don’t See the Need
  • Trash
  • My Mom Won’t Let It Go

Clearly the last category is the most difficult. Having already gone through this process when I moved back into my parents’ house to finish my last quarters of college after my 4 years of NCAA was over, I knew which things my mom would not let go of.

A little history: both of my parents came from poor backgrounds and I am the first in the family to graduate from college. This is something that I am fiercely proud of. Grandpa is from the Depression Era and always saves what the new generations throw away. My favorite story is when he told my mom to get rid of this giant jar of clothes pins and two years later asked her where it was. She has learned that you save what he asks you to throw away and naturally, she had kept the clothes pins and was able to give them back. Clothes pins – so random, right?!

Anyways, knowing what can be saved for the future is in her blood and is what prevented me from donating my Barbie collection to Goodwill.

“You will be happy you saved them when your children are playing with them,” she said. “It will save you so much money and they (the children) will be happy to play whether they are new or used.”

Right now, I don’t see them being my children who get the toys because the words “mine” and “children” just don’t seem to fit. Sorry mom and dad. Maybe someday much later?

Hence, the category of ‘Mom won’t let it go’ wins out on quite a few items. Why did I start this resolution if I knew this was going to be such an obstacle??? I find myself being forced to think outside the realm of toys because clearly those are not an option.

Schoolwork. Still in the works of completing this one but, one of these trips home I plan on sneaking out my collection of homework from elementary and high school. I know that I could never, ever get rid of my work from AP Physics (which I scored a 1 on the test, you can only score 1 to 5…yeah, it did not go well) and AP Calculus (got a 2, woohoo!). But everything else can absolutely be recycled. College work was already processed before I moved home – there is no reason to keep my notes from the random dance class I took.

As for the apartment plan, my boyfriend and I constantly keep a box in the bedroom that we call, “The Goodwill Box” and throw in the items we want to donate. Actually, this has worked out quite well! I think it’s keeping the box out in the open that has really helped. Previously, when I’ve done closet cleanouts, it has always been hard to give away so much at one time. This way, I see a shirt in my closet that is old, and I’ve just lost my love for it. Boom – into the box it goes. Then that happens with some old work pants, and then a dress. And when we drop off the full box, it doesn’t feel like I’m letting go of all things at once and there are no doubts because I’ve let go of them for quite some time now.

Recently, I have fell off the wagon with make up/bath products. A big guilty pleasure of mine is high quality soaps and face products. My eyes are super sensitive so the eye shadow can’t have sparkles in it and I battle with some acne, so my face wash can’t be too aggressive and neither can my lotion. So high maintenance! (“Yes, I would like the house salad but with the dressing on the side – on the side is a big thing for you.” When Harry met Sally, anyone?)

Needless to say this was already an issue but when I got a mysterious rash under my eyebrow (it was just dryness thank goodness!), I had to stop all makeup use and start fresh in case any of my products were to blame. So into the trash everything went. Thankfully I had a few gift cards from Christmas to help me out but once you find that new magnificent brand that works for your skin, it’s so hard to stop.

First to be bought was an inexpensive but good quality black eyeliner – easy enough. Then I treated myself to a beautiful nude eye shadow palette, sans sparkles. Naturally, with this lovely purchase online came samples…this is where the problem really began. One of the samples was a delicate night cream that felt amazing on my skin and smells amazing. After weeks of stretching out the sample as far as it would go (and not having any negative skin reactions), I knew that I had to have it. Within a couple weeks of saving some extra money by not getting coffee in the morning, I did the deed and order the night cream.

I was so happy and completely content with this purchase until…I tried the samples that came with it.

The face cleanser wasn’t at all harsh on my skin and the moisturizer soaked in and stayed smooth all day. How could I resist? Going through all the reasons why I should spend a little extra to get these high quality products included but was not limited to: you don’t use a lot of make up and this is for the betterment of your skin, and no one has to know.

So, now I am up to the face cleanser, moisturizer, and night cream. Honestly, I do feel like I’ve taken a step off my path to having less, then again I did save up and reeeeeeeeeeally wanted these items. Plus, I use them every single day, even multiple times a day with the cleanser! But now I feel that I need to make stronger moves on a different front to compensate.

It’s not exactly staying on course when you get more items and the goal is to actually have less.

Darn it you lovely, high quality, amazing smelling products!!! Perhaps this is why I chose this as my resolution? Did my subconscious see this problem coming? I highly doubt it but I am pushing myself to dig deeper into what means the most to me.

Looking around the room, I see some ancient tubes of paint that probably have dried out years ago. And maybe there’s some old art supplies I haven’t touched for ages that I can donate. Those can go, at least it’s a start.