Let’s Get Pancakes

“Let’s get pancakes” I said. “It will be fun.” I said.

That was a few days ago when Snooze AM Eatery brilliantly marketed their National Pancake Day celebration on my Facebook feed. Those damn targeted ads. They work.

So when my phone buzzed at 6 am with one of my friends texting she was sick and wouldn’t make our breakfast date I almost rolled over and went back to sleep. Then I couldn’t find a comfortable spot in my bed and my alarm kept buzzing back from snooze singing to me, “It’s time to get up in the morning.”

I got out of bed. It was still dark out. Let me repeat. It was still DARK out. I never wake up when it’s dark out. Sorry folks, I just don’t.

I got dressed, kissed my sick husband on his feverish forehead and left the house.

As I walked to the garage I noticed a thread of bunny tracks in the snow across the driveway. A sign of life in the glistening powder that was gifted to us last night. Tiny animal prints reminding me that we share our yard with other little creatures.

I got in my car, turned on the heat, drove the twenty miles to get a delicious breakfast. Heat in my car. A beautiful thing on a frosty morning.

As I drove the sun came up, turning the sky from dark to pink to blue. Shivering trees brushed the sky, reaching up their branches into the promise of another appearance from the sun.

I never wake up early enough to see the sunrise. I should witness that beauty more.

We sat down to warm coffee with rising cream in those perfectly crafted yellow mugs  and placed our order.

And then our waitress brought us these.

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Giant.

Giant pancakes. We started laughing. I thought we ordered off the special flight menu for, you know, National Pancake Day.  The tiny pancakes. I guess I was wrong.

Beauty in abundance on my plate(s). In white flour and caramelized pears, in strawberry jam mixing with sausage, and white chocolate mixing with coconut flakes. Beauty in pools of syrup and perfectly weighted forks.

Beauty in enjoying time with friends. Beauty in feeling productive before 8 am. Beauty in frequenting local restaurants that give back to their communities.

And later, tonight as I thought about this post, I asked my friend, “Hey silly question, did you take a pic of all those pancakes this morning?”

Of course she did. It’s so great when you have friends who get you. Who snapchat their food and document culinary adventures so I can share them with you.

Today reminded me that it doesn’t take much to be delighted. Mix up your routine. Watch the sunrise. Order the pancake or two.

You can always take home the leftovers for breakfast tomorrow.

 

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She Gets That.

People have been sending me quotes from Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are for awhile now. An excerpt in an email here, a meme or two tagged on Instagram there. I received the book for Christmas and I wasn’t brave enough to open the spine. Until the book, sitting on my coffee table for weeks, began to whisper at me. I started reading slowly, in January, feeling the weight of such honest words in the pages.

Ann calls us to share in her practice of giving thanks. Much like what I do here, she was desperate to see the good in an aching world. Her list of 1000 things carried me through big questions and the small details in routines, laundry and mess. I’d digest a chapter each morning, while sipping my coffee and watching the sun rise.

Her beautiful prose made me stop, think, ache, and praise. Praise God for all of the good that is granted to us when we just lift our chins to the sun. Or the rain. Or the trauma lingering in our hearts. What happens when we say thank you to God for the experiences we have been given – no matter how painful.

Nothing new here. Not a new concept. Just a radical practice we must do every single day.

The weekend of my birthday I was so caught up in the message of chapter two that I brought the ingredients of communion to my birthday dinner.

On a snowy Sunday I wept into these pages, Ann’s words – Eucharisto – causing me to remember my dad delivering the communion message in front of congregations. Me sitting in the front pew as a five year old, legs dangling from the church bench scratching on old upholstery. The same girl turned teenager, new church, now cold metal chairs, same bread and grape juice. Same version of the last supper. Gospel of Luke. Same truth.

How long had it been since we broke bread and drank from the cup in remembrance of him? In remembrance of the promises that Jesus brings to our lives? Too long. I’m still wrestling with a Jesus who would choose to take good and holy things away from us. Away from me. Ann gets that.

Now grown woman, near thirty, sitting at the kitchen table dotted with turquoise plates. Same bread. Now wine. No father. He’s gone, but the memories remain, my voice picking up where he left off, taking over the verses with less command and familiarity than he. Practice, it will require. Still Luke.

I finished the book this week. And so, inspired again, I have been giving thanks.

Thanks for another birthday. For my health and my dreams of what I want to accomplish this year. For a list of 29 things to do before I turn 30. Gulp. What a privilege.

Whispered thanks in the grocery store that we have an amazing bounty of food to choose from. Thanks for the resources in my bank account to fill a cart without concern.

Thanks for Cara Cara oranges and for lunch with my husband at an overflowing Whole Foods. For the holes made in Ciabatta bread. For thick slices of cheese.

Thanks for friends who come to watch a Super Bowl. For my mom who opened up her house to us. For buffalo chicken dip and celery crunches and puppies staring curiously at the t.v.

Thanks for the woman who wanted to get rid of her piano and the man who daringly saved the beautiful instrument in a warehouse for twenty years.  For the dusty tarp protecting the instrument. For the father-in-law and friends who take time out of their day to move the music into my home.

Thankful for boxed cake mix turning to batter, swirling red, mixing chocolate, cold golden egg yolks pooling in a bowl.

Thanks for white cream cheese frosting on knives licked clean.

Thanks for the brilliant creators of This is Us and the reminder that we, my family, that me, that I, have come so far in this process of grief. Thankful for healing and hope and tears.

New music. Old memories. Thanks to raw writers who inspire and breath life into the aching areas of my bones. For the chin tilt that prompts a smile. Thanks for the reminder and choice to delight in the magic of suds in my sink.

The keys, just waiting to be played.

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Thanks that we get to play on.  How beautiful.

 

February Favorite Things

I’m back on the bean.

The truth will set you free, they say, and the truth is tea is just not as good as coffee. I tried. I failed. I’ll drink a bit more Earl Grey tea, but coffee has my heart. I’m trying to limit the vanilla syrup and switch to honey. Again, not as good. But I’m sipping my way towards less sugar and more love for myself when I “slip up”… or sip up. I crack myself up.

Ahh February. Typically the weather is colder, we get more snow, and I’m sad because Christmas and my birthday are over. February means I’m in for the long haul towards Spring. It’s not my favorite month, but here are a few of my favorite things that can make the month more bearable.

  1. Felt Letter Boards

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My friend got me a changeable letter board for my birthday and I am so excited! I am using it for a little fun this month. Send me your favorite beauty quote and I’ll capture it on my board and share it on Instagram. Then I’ll round up all the contributions for a special post at the end of the month. Leave a comment here or send your thoughts on beauty to 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com. Keep in mind, the phrase has to fit on a felt board.

Other future uses: Cocktail lists for parties. Positive vibes. Dinner Menus. Bible Verses. Love notes to Dylan or to myself.  Show your friends just how quippy you can be. It has retro charm and modern day potential.

2. Zucchini Noodles

Cutting out carbs seems sad. I love pasta. And potatoes. And carbs. Yet, I’m slowly pulling myself up on the Paleo bandwagon and trying to integrate healthier meals into the rotation. This Spiralizer will help. Come over for zoodles or maybe I’ll make you ribbons of butternut squash. The possibilities are endless.

Let this cookbook be our guide.

3.Groundhog Day

The old classic. I like it. It’s a reminder that we have choices in how we live our lives. That we can make changes, break out of routines, keep practicing until we get it right. Perhaps About Time captures these themes better, but one must pay homage to Bill Murray every February 2nd.

4. Air Plants

I kill plants. But Pinterest promises me all these plants need to live is air. They can pull the nutrients they need from the AIR. I just have to soak them in water once a week and their tangly arms and blooming flowers can grace glass bottles and hang from my book shelves with little effort. I got six for my birthday and I’m still placing them around my house. And ps, did you know you can buy PLANTS on Amazon? Of course you can.

5. RxBars

My new favorite protein bar. Again, a Paleo thing. But these protein bars have real ingredients, low sugar, and are tasty! I like the mint chocolate flavor. Dylan prefers peanut butter. I like that I feel full in the morning and there are no mystery ingredients. Throw one in your purse. Stick on in your husband’s work bag. Have a snack. Share the love.

Mine.

Unofficial titles I’ve had at work over the years. Levity Lady, Head of the Fun Committee, Social Activity Coordinator.

I like spending some of my work hours planning social outings, celebrations, and bringing humor to the office.

Some other words to describe my impulse to want to make people feel happier – encourager, coach, mentor, supervisor, friend, writer.

Whisperer of beautiful things.

As I work and I process and I heal my childhood wounds of the confusion of complex emotions, I realize just how many of my coping mechanisms involve trying to fix other’s happiness levels.  It comes out at work and it comes out in my family and I am wondering if it’s coming out here too.

I wrote this post at the end of 2016 about how hard it can be to encourage others. How challenging it is to look for the light. How lots of people prefer to yank us out of our seats and into the stinky mud on the ground. There is always more mud on the ground.

Because I feel for people, deeply, and I have trouble not dragging my empathetic toes into the circles of others. Because I care. And I want you to see the light. All of the glorious light that exists when we lift our chins.

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A beautiful friend boldly told me to start saying, firmly in my brain, “that is NOT mine.”

That grief, that conflict with your co-worker, that gut wrenching diagnosis. The government shut down, the fight with your mother, that unemployment and dashed dreams. All NOT mine.

It’s a new tool for survival. A safety shield for the ever-feeling heart.

Anne Lamott wisely says,

” there is almost nothing outside of you that will help in any kind of lasting way, unless you’re waiting for an organ. You can’t buy, achieve or date serenity and peace of mind. This is the most horrible truth, and I so resent it. But it’s an inside job, and we can’t arrange peace or lasting improvement for the people we love most in the world. They have to find their own ways, their own answers. You can’t run alongside your grown children with sunscreen and ChapStick on their hero’s journey. You have to release them. It’s disrespectful not to. And if it’s someone else’s problem, you probably don’t have the answer, anyway. Our help is usually not very helpful. Our help is often toxic. And help is the sunny side of control. Stop helping so much. Don’t get your help and goodness all over everybody.”

This quote got me thinking. Is that what I’m trying to do here? Acting out my need to save others by sharing what’s good. Sure, I hope my words cause epiphanies in your lives and spark you to think about small, simple blessings that dance through your days.

But I’m not sure it works, and that shouldn’t be the point.

The beautiful, beautiful point, is I do this work for me. I look for the beautiful to make me feel sane. And if it works for you too, my gosh, let’s cheers with some bubbles. I don’t want to be toxic, I want to be balm. I don’t want to be controlling, I want to be free.

And looking for the beautiful helps me, me, me, my, MINE to do that. That process of healing, of unhooking from other’s drama, of allowing me to stand on my chair, chin up, arms open and up, tears streaming down my cheeks.

I also read this funny article about writing on Medium today. Poet James Avramenko writes about what he’s learned from writing a poem every day for the last six years. I love this nugget of truth that he shares,

  • The ones you like often get no play, the ones you think suck often explode

My most visited post on this blog is about the tv show Friends. I’ve poured out my heart and talked about grief, and shared bravely about MY own stuff. And the light hearted post about my obsession with Friends is most frequently read. The deep stuff gets glossed over and often ignored. I thought last week’s post was awesome. No comments. Crickets. Doubts. Temptations to press delete.

As an artist, that’s frustrating. But James is right. We don’t get it, we just write. We don’t know what’s going to stick and we can’t anticipate the impact. Maybe there is none.

So for this year, I’m changing my intention for the blog. I don’t want to get my help all over you. I want to help myself. Help myself heal, love this magnificent, magical world, build gratitude, dream bigger, and experience new things. I’m going to write about it.

If you feel it’s beautiful, consider sharing. As James also says, “Once it’s in the world, it’s out of your hands.”

Thanks for joining me.

 

 

Grief Cookies – A Story of Resilience

I just turned it over onto the cutting board. The banana bread, that is, as my pinky fingers flexed to hold the hot glass bread pan over the corner. It bounced out of the pan. Success. No oozing. No repeat experience like this one. I am learning to follow the instructions and actually leave the gooey batter in the oven for the full time that the recipe calls for. It usually works, if you follow the directions.

I think that’s why I like baking. You take flour – yum – sugar – double yum – and butter -yes please – and can blend them into all kinds of beautiful things. Add the essence of cocoa, a bit of fruit, chunks of chocolate and the results get even better. I can follow a recipe and mix and blend and whisk and the outcome is usually pretty tasty. Sure, sometimes an extra bit of baking soda gets in, but that just adds fluff to the cookie. Fluff, cushion, softness, chew. A beautiful thing.

I wish there was a recipe for grief.

Er no, ha, not a recipe. All that requires is loss of something big or small.

I wish there was something like a baking manual for grief. A set of instructions that tell me to do this or that and put your emotions and anger, newly complicated family relationships, and friends who don’t “get you” anymore in an oven at 350 degrees for ten minutes and ding, you’re done. You’re free from this drastic change and ready to be enjoyed.

No such thing.

This week Dylan has been sick so I’ve been trying to keep myself occupied in the evenings as he rests on the couch. On Tuesday, after watching The Crown (we have to pace ourselves people. There’s only eight more episodes in Season Two!) I wanted to bake. I went searching in my pile of Cooking Light magazines. I had a specific one in mind.  I started with the March 2016 edition. No, that couldn’t be right. The April edition would have arrived by then.

Cooking Light April 2016.

I inhaled sharply.

That magazine sat on my counter top as I cooked the last meal my dad would ever eat. Its open pages got speckled with oil as we prepared the main meal. I had tagged the corner, folding the fragile paper over as I was waiting to make the cookies after they went home for the evening. On March 17, 2016 I made these cookies and they turned out perfectly. And then, the morning of March 18, 2016, my dad died.

I ate these cookies the morning of his funeral for breakfast. I chewed absent-mindedly on the chocolate chunks and sea salt as I stared out the window from our kitchen, moving my foot against my calves as my black tights bothered my legs. Then someone told me it was time to go.

Later, in the evening, I offered the cookies to my cousins who were visiting from out of town. They reached into the jar, fingering the morsels, looking at me cautiously as they took a bite.

Weeks later I put that magazine back in the pile and ignored it. For almost two years. It took that long for me to be able to flip through the pages and find the recipe. Tuesday night I texted my mom for support, got out my white mixing bowl and I baked.

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I mixed flour and sugar and honey and butter and chocolate. I rolled the dough into tiny little balls. Smooshed salt into them with my fingers. I waited while chemistry worked its magic in the oven. And after the cookies cooled, I sat on the kitchen floor and ate one. Or two. Ok, yes, two. Then I packed up a tupperware full of them and sent them to work with Dylan.

Grief cookies.

Bummer there is no set of instructions for getting over grief. Maybe I never will. But I will continue to get back my strength, choose resilience, and bake. The gift of beautiful baked goods lightens others hearts. Extra baking soda effervesces and softens mine.

 

 

Except When

On Saturday, when I told the ladies in my book group that I was giving up coffee, six loud voices retorted, “WHY?”

Why give up the nectar of the gods?

“Just switch to an Americano,” one said while another quickly spoke over her and said “Yeah, I had to break up with my white mochas too.”

Because at the end of December, when I was still in the holiday festivities and drinking eggnog lattes, my pants got tighter and I’m trying to cut back. That’s why. Sure I could run, but that’s more torturous than no coffee.

Because tea, as you now know, is supposed to be my new thing.

Except when, ugh, it’s not.

I’m ten days in and English Breakfast Tea with honey and milk is NOT AS GOOD AS A VANILLA LATTE. I’m a little tense. The caffeine headaches are real. I’ve got 21 days to go until I might just say… will probably say… screw this and invite my favorite beans back into my life.

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Photo by Mark Daynes on Unsplash

Trying to hold yourself to new standards is a beautiful thing. Except when those standards drive you crazy and instead turn into punishment.

This week we got a rather large dental bill. Dylan calls me Smaug, like from the Lord of the Rings books, because I prefer to watch my savings account slowly increase rather than spend on myself or use those resources to meet my needs. So when I saw the amount due, my stomach dropped and I began to get tense.

No coffee + large expense = tense

“Have gratitude that you have the resources to pay the bill,” my mother said as I griped to her about the cost of adulthood. Ah, she is so wise.

So I started chanting in my head – I’m grateful we have the resources to take care of ourselves and our bodies – and slowly the stomach ache fear that comes with big bills began to dissipate.

I believe that saving money is a beautiful thing.  Except when it’s not. When my obsession turns into stomach aches I have to remind myself to let resources flow. Turn over the money and say there will be more opportunities for funds and abundance to come our way.

And tonight, when we went out with Dylan’s new friends I tried really hard not to watch the clock as the minutes passed and the time spent away from the dog ticked by. Knowing Olive’s past track record with us being gone for long periods of time has led to destruction and mess. I sat over beers and had visions of our only good couch left torn to shreds, or Olive laying in a pile of the remains of our kitchen rug as she looks up me saying, “Well where the hell have you been?” I drove home quickly, even saying aloud, “Just a few more minutes Olive.” I opened the door expecting disaster and took a deep breath.

Nothing. No mess. All our furniture intact and a dog, very ready to go outside, smiling at me as if to say sure I make messes “Except when I don’t.”

So this week there is beauty in setting goals and freedom in saying maybe not. Beauty in having principles and penny pinching and grace for understanding that discipline led to provision.  Beauty found in being present rather than dwelling on the next pending disaster coming our way.

Beauty in remembering I get to live on the swing of life’s situations presented to me, swaying between yes, no, and except when with smiles on my face.

Women Helping Other Women – Guest Post by Brittany Larsen

Ahh the internet. That magical place where you can follow your high school classmates without having actually seen them in real life for ten years. When Brittany Larsen, who I was so jealous of in high school because she had a magical soprano voice, posted on her Facebook that she was starting a community for working women I knew I wanted to be involved. Never mind we haven’t seen each other since 2007.

Her new project supports women in all paths and her rallying cry to support one another as women is SO NEEDED in this world. I sent her an email and boom – another connection. She was so kind to feature me on her new blog and I’m happy to share her beautiful message with you – the first guest post of 2018. To women!

Author: Brittany Larsen

Website: www.livlyhood.com

I have always found beauty in things that are rare. I love finding what is different and seeking out the unique. I like to consider myself a connector and I love to find the links between people and their interests. This prompt got me thinking about what I consider to be beautiful, and I’ve realized what makes me feel beautiful is when I lift the people around me and find meaningful connections with them.

One thing I felt I struggled with growing up was maintaining uplifting female relationships, which is ironic given that I know Katie from High School and we just recently connected after a decade, so maybe I wasn’t as bad at it as I thought. When I got to college, I decided that I was going to focus on encouraging the women around me. I was in a predominantly female program (Broadcast Journalism) and it was extremely competitive. I wanted to figure out what made my fellow students tick and encourage them. For too long I felt like I had been competitive with the women in my life because of my artistic endeavors, so I learned a lot by trying to avoid gossip in my college years. At times this approach cost me friendships or “popularity,” which took some getting used to. But I persisted and tried to find the higher ground whenever I could.

In my first job out of college I struggled with this concept of lifting the women around me. I realized that working in a real career unfortunately had a lot more in common with my junior high experience than I had anticipated, and it likely didn’t help that I worked in politics. I quickly learned that back biting and negativity in the workplace were more common than I would’ve thought, especially from my female colleagues. I was frustrated with myself when I would get caught up in talking about things that just didn’t matter. Again, I had a choice to seek out the rare by finding women who would help and guide me, and women I could trust. I also had to choose to rise above the negativity. More than anything, I learned how to fight for myself and the women around me in a professional way. I am still not even close to being perfect at avoiding the stereotypes of working with women, which is why I have had to make a conscious effort to avoid negativity in my female relationships.

Here are a few ideas that you can start with right now that have helped me combat the stereotypes of women working with each other:

  1. Today, write a thank you note to a female mentor and express your gratitude for how she’s guided you. This can be a teacher, former manager, peer, etc.
  2. Publicly acknowledge a woman that you work with in a meeting for her ideas.
  3. Text an encouraging quote to a friend struggling with her career path.
  4. Next time you hear someone say something negative about a female coworker, find a way to redirect to one of her positive attributes or just change the subject.
  5. Stop yourself next time you make a snap judgement about a woman you work with or a friend’s career choices.
  6. When a friend posts about a new job on social media, congratulate them for their success.

It is truly a beautiful thing when women fight for each other, instead of against each other. This is one of the main reasons I recently started Livlyhood; a community for women who work.

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Women are already so naturally hard on themselves and I’m firm on the idea that we don’t need any negativity coming from each other. I’ve learned through trial and error that women can unfortunately be our own worst enemies. We don’t lose anything by positively recognizing the efforts of those around us, especially at work. In my current professional role, I manage a team of primarily female professionals and I constantly remind the women I work with that we have more in common with each other than what may be seen on the surface. I am so proud when they stand up for each other and positively encourage each other.

With Livlyhood, I hope to continue to shine a spotlight on my beautiful connections (both inside and out) and to share what they’ve taught me. Every woman is worthy of positive relationships, even in the workplace. The glorious thing is that we don’t have to be best friends to be kind to each other. I hope to contribute in a way that makes what is currently rare and make it commonplace… women helping each other climb the ladder of success in their careers.


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Brittany Larsen is an experienced communications professional with an extensive background in crisis communications and public relations. She currently leads the Public Relations Department at The Summit Group.

You can also find her here.

Twitter: @brittlesser  Instagram: @larsenlivlyhood