adventure, change, courage, inspiration, time

Leap: What Are We Waiting For?

From Pinterest

I love this decree by the Hopi Elders. There are many internet comments that say this was not written by the Hopi Elders even though it is heavily influenced by their sentiments. No matter. The sentiment is beautiful and worth sharing. When I read it yesterday I actually teared up a bit. It invites deep reflection followed by courageous action. Beware – you may feel highly inclined to better yourself in any and every way after the last line.

“You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour.
Now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour.

And there are things to be considered:
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?

Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.
This could be a good time!

There is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.
They will try to hold on to the shore.
They will feel they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly.
Know the river has its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of The river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.
See who is in there with you and celebrate.

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally. Least of all, ourselves.
For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over.

Gather yourselves!
Banish the word STRUGGLE; from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

~ The Hopi Elders – Oraibi, Arizona

adventure, creativity, failure, faith, grateful, gratitude, time, work

Leap: My Freelance Life Will Continue Into 2013

From Pinterest

“I have learned that faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” ~ Philip Yancey via my pal, Lisa, the lovely Charmed Yogi

About a year and a half ago, I decided that I wanted to try my hand at developing an independent consulting practice to freelance full-time on projects that are meaningful to me. A meticulous personal financial planner, I knew it would take me a year to put away enough money to feel comfortable to make this leap with my whole heart. I knew the final number I needed to have in the bank and set up monthly savings goals to reach it.

I made a deal with myself that I would try this lifestyle for 6 months, working my tail off to try to make ends meet. If I could cover all of my expenses by the end of 6 months, then I could keep going. If I couldn’t, I would look for full-time work again. And just to keep things interesting, I had to be very passionate about the freelance assignments I took.

June 15th of this year was Leap Day for me. I had my Mary Tyler Moore moment, wished my former employer a fond farewell, and off I went into the great big world of freelancing. While much of that time has been as close to career nirvana as I’ve ever had, these last few weeks have been slightly fraught with anxiety. December 15th is quickly approaching. I have turned down a fair amount of work because I just didn’t feel passionate about it. There were a couple of assignments I deeply wanted to secure that didn’t come to pass. I started to realize that I may not reach my goal, despite my very best efforts. A full-time job search looked inevitable.

And then in 24 hours it all turned around. I’m elated, over-the-moon, pleased as punch, ecstatic, and grateful beyond measure that I started a short-term assignment yesterday that put me in the black. With a couple of weeks to spare, I hit my goal of covering all of my expenses with freelance work by December 15th. I even have a little bit extra to put back into my savings and this gig has the potential to create a steady stream of wonderful, well-paid work into 2013.

Thank you so much to everyone who believed that this lifestyle could work for me, who cheered me on, who shared in this incredible journey in so many ways. I am humbled by your belief in me and deeply appreciative of the encouragement. I’ll find some way to say thank you that reflects just how much your support means to me. Happy holidays indeed!

creativity, work

Leap: Riding the Waves of Freelance Work

From Pinterest

I had dinner with my friend, Amanda, last night. She and her husband, Jordan, are my sages of freelance work. For all its lovely and numerous benefits, being a freelancer can leave you feeling like the 3 ring circus is a cakewalk. We juggle multiple clients, completing all of the work in front of us ahead of schedule and under budget, while also seeding the ground for future work. Dr. Seuss must have been channeling his inner freelancer when he wrote “life is just a great balancing act.”

The keys are to keep breathing and do the best you can every day. On Monday I was feeling a little down-trodden by the endless treadmill of excavating leads and today one of those leads hit big-time and I’m starting a new short-term contract with great people doing great work. Amanda explained that the nature of this freelance beast is sometimes you’ll have so much work that you need to turn some of it down and before you know it you’ll be knocking on 100 doors just to get 1 to open (maybe). That’s the gig and to thrive in it, you need to understand it and relish every step of the way, whether those steps involve feast or famine.

My yoga practice helps. My yoga teaching helps. Writing helps. Dear friends like Amanda and Jordan help. To keep your sanity, keep breathing and keep working. That’s the game. Play it as it lays.

adventure, commitment, discovery, dreams, experience, failure, fate, fear, time

Leap: Take the Journey Away from Comfort

From Pinterest

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.” ~ Pema Chodron

Comfort feels so good that we never want to leave. The trouble is that if we never set out for higher ground, if we never throw ourselves out of our comfort zone and into unfamiliar territory, we don’t grow. We don’t learn just how strong we are. We only build resilience, determination, and grit by remaining focused in the face of discomfort. Life is a continual adaptation to change.

Sometimes, I wish this weren’t the case. I wish we didn’t need a burning platform to truly change our ways. I wish we could learn how to be calm in the face of discomfort without ever having to actually be uncomfortable.

It doesn’t work that way. Life is a full contact sport. We actually have to live it – all its ups and downs and the ride in-between – in order to understand what it’s all about.

For this reason, I don’t get frustrated or angry when the going gets tough. I may briefly feel sad or unhappy that something I wanted didn’t go my way. As a general rule, I give myself about 10 minutes to feel as terrible as I want to feel without passing any kind of judgement. I can sit in the dust of disappointment, shake my fists at the sky, and ask “why, why, why?” as loudly as possible. And then I need to pick myself up, shake off the dust, and get on with my day, grateful for the tough times upon me that help me to wake up and feel truly alive.

So often we hope that the clouds hanging above our heads will magically part but what I’ve found is that the clouds part through our own volition. We decide that it is time to clear them away. We climb up and with our own two hands, we brush them out-of-the-way to let the light in. We are happy, free, empowered, and awake by choice, not chance. We restore comfort in our lives by creating it in every circumstance of our living.

cooking, food, time

Leap: Experimenting with Homemade Pasta and Tomato Sauce

Encouraged by my baked brie and apples in homemade pastry dough, I set out on the journey to make homemade pasta and homemade sauce. All of my ancestors are Italian so this seems like something I should be genetically capable of doing. (Yes, I’m one of that breed that has not yet mixed into America which I always think is especially odd because I adore cultures that are radically different from my own.)

A few times in my life I’ve made sauce from scratch, though not in several years. I’ve never made homemade pasta before except for one attempt to make gnocchi in graduate school, which went fairly well. Armed with only an exceedingly simple recipe, a bag of all-purpose flour, and eggs I decided to dive in to see what these two hands could make.

The humble beginnings of homemade pasta sauce
The even more humble beginnings of pasta dough

I started with the sauce. I used this recipe from as a base but left out the fennel seeds (couldn’t find any at my local grocery stores) and substituted cubes of beef for the sausage. I also added paprika, chili powder, red pepper, rosemary, sage, and thyme. (Simon & Garfunkel would be proud.) I should have stuck with the sausage for its flavor and fat content though I love the kick of the added heat from the extra spices. I only had about two hours to let it simmer. Next time, I’ll let it cook all day.

Once the sauce was on its way, I turned my attention to making the pasta. I used this recipe though it proved to be a bit too simplistic. (More details on that in a moment.) Similar to my experience with pastry dough, I seemed doomed for failure at the start. The eggs broke through the flour well I made and went running for dear life for the edge of the counter. I was too quick for them and caught them in time but they wrecked my plan to gradually add flour from the sides of the well. I kept breathing and kneading until I ended up with two perfect looking balls of pasta dough.

Pasta dough – ready for a quick nap in the fridge

I tucked the dough away in the fridge for about 30 minutes because I saw some advice online that this would make the dough easier to work with. I think it would have been a better idea to let the dough rest covered right on the counter. The dough was a tad bit tough when I retrieved it from the fridge. I pressed on.

While the dough was in the fridge, I turned my attention to the architecture of the pasta. Yep, I said architecture. In the land of pasta, form begets function just like it does for so many other products, edible or not. Last week, I saw a piece on CBS Sunday about George L. Legendre, a principal of IJP Architects in London and a leading specialist in complex surfaces, who has spent years collecting samples of every conceivable shape of pasta ever made. He captured his findings in the stunning volume Pasta by Design, which is exquisitely photographed by Stefano Grazini.

Legendre’s work and my own career as a product developer made me carefully consider the shape of my pasta. Knowing that my sauce was hearty and needed to be scooped up, I settled on orecchiette, a tiny ear-shaped pasta which gives it its name. “Orecchio” is Italian for “ear” and the addition of “-ette” at the end of an Italian word means “little”.

To make orecchiette, I rolled the dough out into a long tube, sliced it thinly and then used my thumb and a knife to roll the pasta into the ear shapes. Forming pasta felt like a very natural action for me – genetics at work combined with an intense desire to figure this out.

Putting my thumbs to good use. You could also use a flat-edge knife to shape the pasta.

After shaping the pasta, I placed it on a floured cookie sheet and then brought a pot of very salty water to a rolling boil. In went the raw orecchiette and out came the al dente ears about 5 minutes later. Slathered in sauce, I grated some fresh romano and parmesan cheese (we might as well go all the way here, folks!) and sat down to my very first entirely homemade pasta meal. And I was proud. Very proud. It was a solid first attempt with an endless amount of runway for improvement.

The finished product

Next time, I’ll use a more complex recipe for the pasta dough to improve both the taste and texture. I recently found this one that suggests a combination of semolina and all-purpose flour as well as a bit of salt and olive oil. Here’s an excellent resource that explains the differences between different types of flour. I found my pasta to be a bit too plain and a bit too tough. Also, I need to make the individual pieces of pasta MUCH smaller and thinner. My ears were giants in length and thickness which affected their texture and consistency. Luckily, I’ve got another 3 portions of pasta in my freezer just waiting to be used for another meal in the not-too-distant future.

After my meal, I sat down to my computer to write this post with the almost-winter sunshine of late afternoon streaming through my window. In the glow, I felt all of my dearly departed Italian ancestors sending good wishes for joyfully attempting to make something new to nourish my body, mind, and heart. There is something so special about crafting sustenance with our own two hands.

With all of the dishes washed and put away, I settled in with a mug of cocoa and a handful of gingerbread cookies for dessert. Sipping and nibbling away, I realized there’s no reason why I couldn’t make these treats during my next set of kitchen tricks. A homemade life is rather addictive, isn’t it?

Next on my list of culinary adventures – making my own hot cocoa and gingerbread cookies. Stay tuned!
grateful, gratitude, holiday, time

Leap: The Miracles of the Season

From Pinterest

“It is a miracle if you can find true friends, and it is a miracle if you have enough food to eat, and it is a miracle if you get to spend your days and evenings doing whatever it is you like to do, and the holiday season – like all the other seasons – is a good time not only to tell stories of miracles, but to think about the miracles in your own life, and to be grateful for them.” ~ Lemony Snicket

The holidays are always an intense time of reflection for me. I think about what’s happened over the course of the year – what went right and where I fell off the tracks. I also consider what I’d like to manifest in my life in the coming year and what I might do to bring those circumstances to life. It often involves a combination of letting some things go, making time, exerting effort in a positive direction, and raising my awareness.

After traveling to India in May, I became hyper-aware of everything in my life that is wonderful and good. I found that if I put more investment into those areas of my life, those gifts multiplied while the unfortunate circumstances of my life that weren’t so joyful began to fall away. I also found that if I focused on the blessings right in front of me rather than always looking so far down the path at what I thought I needed, I enjoyed each day more and that happiness extended over the days ahead, soaking deep into every moment.

There were far more miracles in my life than I realized and to finally realize them felt like a much-welcome and long-overdue relief. I do have true friends. I have my fill of good food to eat. I spend my days and nights engaged in things I like to do. What more could I possibly need? The real miracle is to wake up knowing that I do not lack anything, to understand that I live a life of great abundance.

This miracle is at work every day and my first thought in the morning and my last thought at night is always “thank you, thank you, thank you.” May the same revelations find you this holiday season.

commitment, cooking, experience, failure, food

Leap: The Determination to Bake

My baked brie and apples in pastry dough – made from scratch!

Baking is an act of pure belief and stubborn patience. We sift together dry ingredients, add wet ingredients, form a dough of some sort that (we hope) looks nothing like the final product, and send it off to the oven to be transformed into something edible. We are not certain of our success until some brave soul takes a forkful.

With cooking, we can taste as we go. We can sample and adjust. We see the process as it happens and can pivot if and when needed to save the meal. Before anyone attempts to taste it, we already know the quality because we’ve tasted it all along.

By contrast, a sampling of dough is a terrible idea for many reasons. One, it (God willing) won’t taste the same as when it’s baked. Two, raw ingredients like eggs aren’t safe. Three, it makes no difference if you taste it along the way or not because it cannot be adjusted. Still, we press on fully aware that there is no saving a bad baking job. If it’s bad, all we can do is chuck it, chalk it up to experience, and begin again. Or not.

For these reasons, I have long lived in awe and loathing of the act of baking. (Please see my post from about this time last year regarding a failed attempt at baking a pumpkin pie that I continue to lovingly refer to as “the oven incident”.) Or at least I did until a few weeks ago. I was shopping in my local Whole Foods and navigated my wheel-y basket to the sandwich bread. $4 / loaf. Sounds like an awful lot of money for a loaf of relatively boring bread.

“I could bake bread,” I thought to myself, “for a heck of a lot less than $4 / loaf.”

“You can’t bake,” said a tiny voice that popped out unexpectedly from behind a corner of my mind.

“Oh, shut up,” I replied (thankfully using my inside voice as I was still in Whole Foods surrounded by other people.) “I could bake if I really wanted to.”

For the next week every time I opened up my kitchen cabinet where I keep my dry goods, I saw a barely used bag of flour just staring at me. I bought it when I fancied myself a pumpkin pie baker. This did not go well. I tossed the dough, sealed up the bag of flour, hid it in the back of the cabinet, and decided that I do not bake.

Nothing will get me to grow a new skill set faster than my thriftiness. $4 for a loaf of plain, commercially baked bread just seems ridiculous. So I set about learning to bake. Or at least learning about learning how to bake.

The other day my sister, Weez, posted a Pinterest picture of a gorgeous loaf of fresh-baked bread in a powder blue Le Creuset Dutch oven. I gasped out loud (I was home so no inside voice necessary. Phineas is quite used to my constant audible stream of consciousness.) It was gorgeous. I clicked through and found a remarkably easy recipe for making homemade bread. It actually seemed foolproof, which is exactly what I need.

In the meantime, Thanksgiving arrived. I spent it with friends. My lovely friend, Crystal, was kind enough to have my dear friend, Amy, and me over to her home. Crystal’s a top-notch chef who owned a restaurant prior to business school. I was in charge of the cheese plate and decided I wanted to bring a few of my favorite types along with Brie and apples baked in pastry dough. I took myself to the grocery store and they were all out of pastry dough. I thought about possible alternatives like biscuit or pizza dough and decided against them.

“I could make pastry dough,” I thought to myself. “I actually already have all of the ingredients at home.”

Tiny Voice returned. “Pastry dough is tough to make! Tougher than pumpkin pie and you remember how that went!”

“Oh, shut up,” I replied. (Are you sensing a pattern here?)

I went home and googled “pastry dough recipe.” This one popped up on Seemed foolproof. (Another pattern.)

So I set about sifting together flour and salt, adding water, rolling out butter to refrigerate, and then incorporating the butter into the dough – over the course of 2 hours. Yes, 2 hours. You have to roll in the butter, turn, refrigerate, roll in the butter, turn, refrigerate, roll in the butter, turn, refrigerate. My first turn (that’s a technical term in the world of us pastry dough makers) was in a word, awful. The butter broke through the dough, got all over my rolling pin and the counter. The dough was sticking to everything. The recipe predicted this may happen and it instructed to add more flour. I was skeptical but followed along. I added more flour, and more flour again, until it turned into some kind of unruly balled mess.

“I told you this was hard,” said Tiny Voice in that lilting know-it-all tone that all Tiny Voices use.

Not easily deterred, I turned down the volume on Tiny Voice, wrapped up my messy dough ball, and refrigerated it again as the recipe instructed. “I could save this,” I kept thinking. This thought was followed closely by, “I wonder if using pizza dough as a substitute really was such a bad idea.”

The timer went off. I marched over to the fridge to retrieve the dough ball and put it through its paces of roll, turn, refrigerate. To my shock and delight, it was actually much improved. It improved even further on the third turn. I could even see what would become the flaky layers once baked! My fridge is a magician! Following directions and having patience actually works in the world of baking. Every accomplished baker in the world was right and I was wrong. Go figure!

Buoyed by my dough success, I went to my kitchen cabinet to see what other food staples I might consider making rather than buying. The dried pasta stared back at me with a similar gaze as that recently re-employed bag of flour. In business school, friends of mine and I made gnocchi by-hand. That also looked destined for failure until somehow the dough came together as if by magic pixie dust. I always assumed it was the divine intervention of my Italian ancestors, but maybe it was baking patience at play.

I toddled over to the computer and found this recipe for fresh pasta dough. Again, to the rescue. Again, seemingly fool-proof. I’m beginning to like this pattern. And what’s become of Tiny Voice? Well, it’s been silenced for the time being. I intend to keep it that way by stuffing it with homemade goodness.

Folks, against all odds, I may actually learn to bake.

grateful, gratitude, holiday, thankful, thanksgiving

Leap: A Continuous Circle of Thanks

From Pinterest

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

Many people are heading off to the stores today to grab Black Friday deals. Holstee has a different idea. “Founded in 2009, Holstee exists to encourage a more mindful lifestyle through the goods they design and the messages they share with the world.” They’re asking people to re-frame the Friday after Thanksgiving into “Block Friday”, as in block Friday off for something special, something mindful, that doesn’t involve shopping.

On Thanksgiving morning, I woke up and made a pact to be grateful all day – my hot shower, breakfast, the sunshine that kept a smile on my face as Phin and I took a 2 hour walk in Riverside Park, friends whom I spent Thanksgiving with and all of the others that I connected with throughout the day to share my gratitude for having them in my life, the amazing meal prepared by my friends Crystal and Tim, and for all of the fun activities I have planned with friends in the weeks ahead as we all get into the full swing of the holidays.

I love this season because it asks us to spend time to say thank you, to be grateful, and to accept the gratitude of others. It really is such a beautiful thing to have a holiday built for the sake of togetherness and goodness and nothing else. We are so lucky, so blessed. It’s lovely to have a national holiday that asks us to remember that.

I like this morning pact I’ve made so much that starting “Block Friday” I’ve vowed throughout this holiday season to take a moment before I open my eyes to give thanks, to walk through my days saying thank you – silently and out loud – as often as possible. Giving thanks doesn’t cost a dime but what it brings back to you in priceless.

grateful, gratitude, holiday, thankful, thanksgiving

Leap: The Only Prayer We Need

From Pinterest

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘ thank you,’ that would suffice.” ~ Meister Eckhart

Are there any two words more beautiful, powerful, and necessary than “thank you”? When simply strung together they convey gratitude, love, compassion, understanding, relief, comfort, and faith. There is always a reason for them, even if that reason is not abundantly obvious on the surface of our living. There is always someone, somewhere who is thinking of us, wishing us well, proud of our past, joyful for our present, and hopeful about our future. That one person, wherever they are, is reason enough to celebrate this day and every day. And in turn we always have the opportunity to be that person for someone else.

No matter how you are spending this day, whether it involves many moments of reflection or just one, I hope a feeling of thanks floods you completely – mind, body, and spirit. Today my Thanksgiving is filled with thanks because it is filled with all of you.

generosity, gifts, time

Leap: How to Judge Our Quality of Life

From Pinterest

“Each of us will one day be judged by our standard of life — not by our standard of living; by our measure of giving — not by our measure of wealth; by our simple goodness — not by our seeming greatness.” ~ William Arthur Ward

I’ve always thought it odd that when we’re alive and vibrant we are so concerned about our titles, salaries, and possessions and then when our time is come and gone, no one ever remembers any of those things. They remember our kindness, generosity, and passions.

What if we could live in that latter realm? What if we could focus our energies on what truly affects others, on the impact we can have that will live on long after our days? How might our actual days change as a result?

We would take better care of our hearts, minds, and bodies. We’d take greater care with each other. We would make time to be with people, really be with people. We’d understand on a very deep level that the New Radicals were so right – you get what you give.