Sunday, February 23, 2014

sabbatical week 2 + 3

I finished my first quilt! It's so not perfect, but I love it.



My own version of Chasing Ice. #mustseedoc

La Colombe, 02.22.14

It's mind boggling to think that the first month of my sabbatical is over. There is a tiny part of me that is filled with anxiety at all that I haven't accomplished. I haven't even touched my business plan, still haven't whipped this blog into shape, continue to labor over the ending of my book, and haven't solved all of the world's problems. Screw empowering anxiety. Let's put doubt aside and focus on what I have gained. 

It's not true that things remain dormant in the winter. Do you remember that personal growth I mentioned a few weeks ago? Tiny buds of change have taken root inside me and are threatening to full-on bloom like a motherfucker. I no longer wake up in the middle of the night with new items for my work to-do list or in a cold sweat from worry that some politico is going to kill my project. There has been no festering anger over someone's stupid decision, and the vise (aka stress) gripping my heart has released its hold. Don't get me wrong, I'm not like many of you who dream of quitting your "day job" or escaping the "cubicle". I don't have a cubicle, and I freaking love what I do. I eat stress for dinner and convert it to action. Still, it can be tiring and unhealthy.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've let go of the proverbial reins, handing them off to capable coworkers. I fill with a mama-like pride I didn't think possible as their brief texts or emails come through with tasks from my to-do list that they've knocked out of the park and have passed on the opportunity to review reports I'd previously planned to make sabbatical time for. These may seem minor to you, but if you were in my heart, you'd know just how huge these are.

Instead, there has been Russian-themed birthdays and dancing and snow. I've sewn my first quilt, watched four documentaries (all awesome), finished House of Cards, and laughed at Jim Gaffigan. I've written chapters and thousands more words and consumed copious cups of coffee. I've even made time for real life things working 50+ hours a week hasn't allowed for--like doctor's appointments and calling the IRS and talking to new men (I think you call it online dating).

I've got roughly four more weeks left. Let's see what we can make happen!

Friday, February 21, 2014

5 favorite recipes from Pinterest

For the better part of a decade, the only "real" meal I can remember cooking is spaghetti or similar pasta dishes. The kitchen intimidated me, and I had no real interest in the culinary arts (ha). I still don't really, but over the last few years, I have developed an interest in actually eating real, home-cooked food. Eating out and frozen dinners can only take you so far, and eventually, I was just over it.

I overcame my intimidation with a handy three-prong approach, which you, too, can embrace.*

(1) Claim your space. I got a lot more comfortable in the kitchen when I moved into my own apartment and wasn't sharing with a roommate. Roommates are great, but mine fancied herself a chef (i.e., dominated the kitchen and shared her food...where's my motivation in that scenario?).

(2) Enlist help. I'm a smart girl. I can read and follow instructions. Still, it sounded more fun to invite a couple of friends over and have them "teach" me. Yep, I cobbled together myself some lessons ;-)

(3) Just do it. Buy the ingredients, look up recipes and try. Timing large meals (I'm now in charge of cooking Christmas dinner for my family each year!) is still super challenging for me, but whatever. I put on my big girl pants and get it done. If you're like me, this means you'll decide to leave out ingredients you don't like and otherwise wing it when necessary.

Look at me rambling on before getting to my actual point. It really is difficult for me to give you a simple list ;-) Anyway, what I really want to share, in addition to my witty humor, are a few tasty recipes I've made over the last couple of months. Pinterest has been really helpful for keeping track of recipes I've made or want to make. If you can't tell, I've been really into my slow cooker this winter.

*Satirical statement folks...just in case you don't get my humor.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Pain which cannot forget...

Often the books that affect me most deeply are the ones in which I struggle to frame why the book was so impactful and why it should be devoured, posthaste, by everyone. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell is one such book, which, if you've heard of the book at all, you'll know is both a relevant and ridiculous goal. Relevant in that it is a book written to be impactful and to make you think about life's tougher questions, topics that are tackled over and over again in self-help books and spiritual tomes.

Why do bad things happen to good people?
                                        What is the will of God in a world full of hateful acts and immense suffering? 

Ridiculousness in that the book has hardly gone unnoticed. Since it was published in 1996, it has won several awards and generated plenty of reviews. Of course, when you find yourself thinking about a book with tears streaming down your cheeks as you drive to a meeting in Annapolis, you kind of don't care about all of those other articles and just need to work through it on screen for yourself.

I realize I've probably painted a picture of this dark, preachy novel, but it's not that at all. The story is told through the discovery of life in another galaxy (the planet Rakhat) and the Jesuit priest, Father Emilio Sanchez, who mounts an expedition to meet and learn more about this alien race. He's joined by a diverse cast of characters (agnostic, atheist and Jesuit alike) who have been his family for years. It flashes back and forth between the discovery in 2019 and 2059/2060, when Sanchez has arrived back on Earth. As the only survivor of this expedition, he has returned an incredibly broken man (both physically and spiritually) and is being asked to account for what happened while on Rakhat. Those who rescued him reported back that he was found acting as a prostitute and had killed a child.

Over the course of the novel, we learn of the great beauty and depravity experienced on the expedition. It touches on issues of faith and fate and intent, and provides a glimpse into the anthropological study of cultures. There are even parallels to be drawn to atrocities like slavery we've seen in our own culture.

A couple of days after I finished The Sparrow, I found myself reading a post on Sojourners by Catherine Woodiwiss called A New Normal: Ten Things I've Learned About Trauma and found myself drawing parallels between Woodiwiss's advice and the Jesuit priests who ministered to and, at times, interrogated Father Sanchez upon his return. Because, let's be frank, trauma is probably the kindest way to describe some of what happened on that trip.

The Sparrow is a page-turner that gives you plenty of weighty issues to chew on, but maybe that's just me. I definitely recommend it. Let me know if you read it so that I can put together a Sparrow drinking party discussion club.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

How to listen to podcasts

Let's file this under things that may seem obvious but aren't. Not everyone knows where to find, and how to access, podcasts. Maybe the newer versions of iTunes threw you for a loop (it did me), or perhaps you adamantly refuse to join the cult of Mac. Either way, I've had to walk enough people through how I listen to podcasts that I figured a quick explanation might be warranted.

Let's start with how I do it. I listen to podcasts exclusively through my iPhone. I'm either bopping along with my earbuds jacked in, pretending my phone is this decade's version of the '80s boombox and rocking the 'cast out loud, or with my phone sitting in the cup holder of whatever vehicle I'm driving. I listen to 90% of the podcasts I follow during my 2-3 hour (RT) commute or while driving to one of my many out of town meetings or field visits. Needless to say, I probably have quite a bit more time than the average person to listen to podcasts.

Step 1: Podcast app

description here Download the Podcasts app from the App Store. To find it, I just searched for 'podcasts', and it was the first to come up. You want the one put out by Apple. I'm sure there are others that will also work, but I like this one.

Step 2: Searching for podcasts

description here Using an app like Podcasts will allow you to subscribe and keep track of all of the various things you'd like to listen to. To add your favorite podcasts, click on the magnifying glass at the bottom of the screen to search for the various feeds. Type in something like, oh I don't know, 'thats what she read' and hit the search button. Click on the image under podcasts toward the bottom of the screen, and it will direct you to basic information about the feed, an episode list, and a button to subscribe (upper third of the screen). Click subscribe.

Step 3: Adding episodes

description here Once you've subscribed to a podcast, you can listen and manage that feed by clicking 'My Podcasts' at the bottom of the screen. The feed you just subscribed to should be listed alongside the other podcasts you dig. When you first subscribe to a new feed, you'll find the app adds only the most recent episode to your list. To add more, click on 'Add Old Episodes' for a full list of available episodes. Simply select all the ones you're interested in by touching them and clicking 'Add' when done. When you're done listening to an episode, you can clear it by swiping to the left across it and selecting delete.

Step 4: Listening to episodes

description here You have a couple of options when listening to a podcast episode. If you're like me, you don't really have a desire to download a lot of data to your phone or may not be near a wifi connection to download a longer podcast. I like the ability to stream episodes right from the app and listen this way almost exclusively. Just click on the title of the episode and press play once you see a screen similar to the one on the left. Depending on your settings, you may have to verify that you wish to stream this episode over your cell network.

To download an episode, click on the little cloud with the down arrow. I'll load up on a few episodes this way if I'm traveling to a more remote location or am headed on a long flight. Be wary of your episode settings. I turned off the auto-download feature to preserve data.

That's the gist of how I manage all of the podcasts I listen to. It just so happens that a new episode of That's What She Read is live for your listening pleasure. It's one of our dinner club episodes, and our guests include Scarlet, Randi, and Steven!

If you've got an Android phone or are just looking for an alternative app, you can download Stitcher. Once you sign up, you can browse stations or type in the name of the podcast in the search bar. Click the name of the podcast to pull up a description and other details. Add it to an existing (or create a new) playlist by selecting the + symbol near the top. You can find this and other podcasts you add by selecting 'My Stations'. Unlike the Podcasts app, it will add almost all of the available episodes to your playlist, and the episodes are all streaming. To listen, click on the episode title you want to play.

There are, of course, other apps for listening. This post lists a few. Road test a couple and figure out which one works best for you. You can also stream podcasts directly from their website. I use Podbean for each of my podcasts, and you can download or listen directly from the respective podcast webpages.

Don't forget to subscribe to That's What She Read if you're into books and the reading life, and of course, we're chatting all things Gilmore Girls every other Friday on Friday Night Dinner!

Sunday, February 02, 2014

sabbatical week 1: care and upkeep of me

Tomato soup is simmering in the crock pot, and I've been watching The Flying Nun for the past hour, not a bad way to wrap up the first week of my sabbatical. I gave myself this week to ease into it--no big goals, no alarms to wake me up in the morning, and no writing. Having spent the last week leading up to my sabbatical writing a big grant proposal, I needed to give my brain a break. Kindness shouldn't just be reserved for others. Give yourself a break.

Thanks to Scarlet, I caught up on the first two seasons of Game of Thrones (and then proceeded to curse her for getting me hooked). I cooked hearty, winter meals (root veggie barley risotto [meh] and tortellini sausage soup [so good]) and whipped up these amazing energy balls. I got into The Goldfinch, was able to record a couple of episodes of Friday Night Dinner, and saw I, Frankenstein. My apartment finally got its first good cleaning since before my staff retreat in December (hey...I was out of town or working super long days) and spent some time on a few home projects. Finally, I had a few lovely people over for dinner, cocktails and good conversation.

Week 1 has been good.

Added the newest bowl to my collection, the purple and blue pottery by Roger Allen.

Created a loop to hang my uke from after realizing I'm not quite ready for this lovely investment.

New shower curtain and rug. I loved the solid white, but it was so difficult to maintain!

Friday night dinner guests. Everyone was tired, so they'll likely hate this photo, but I the moment needed documenting. :-)