Thursday, December 4, 2014

Happy & Healthy Holidays

Since September, I have been participating in Health Challenges led by an aunt of mine, whom I have seen make incredibly impressive strides toward healthier living in recent years.

When I began these Health Challenges, I did so for two main reasons. The first was weight-management. At that point, I had reached a higher weight than ever before, I no longer fit into any of the jeans I had been wearing for years, and I was constantly feeling unhealthy when I looked at my ever-expanding stomach. I read about weight gain in the abdominal region being the most potentially damaging type, and was becoming worried about my future ability to ward off disease. I will be turning 30 in just one month! So all this year, future health has been on my mind.

The second reason was that I wanted to begin seriously preparing my body for the possibility of becoming pregnant. I would like to be living in my youngest-feeling, most-healthy body possible when I have children . . . not only so that I can carry them healthily through pregnancy, but so that I can roll around and laugh and play with them once they arrive! I want to offer my best to my kids . . . but even if for some reason I never bear children of my own, I know that I want to also offer my best to myself. If I'm ever going to teach my younger siblings, nieces & nephews, or students that they are deserving of all the best this world has to offer, I have to start believing that for myself! And if I deserve the best, most healthy body possible, I know I have to show myself that I am worth cooking & exercising for.

This Holiday Season has already begun, and I recently celebrated the best Thanksgiving of my 30 years alive so far. With family on Thursday, and friends on Saturday, I managed not only to refrain from over-eating and to take smaller samplings of each available dish, but also to lose 1 lb. the week of the feasting! I haven't been depriving myself of things that I love, so much as I have been celebrating all the many delicious (and nutritious) things that I love, that my body also loves. I've been listening to my body (which rewards sugar intake with headaches) and reacting to my hunger and thirst in healthy ways. It's a beautiful thing, tracking every bite and sip we intake, increasing our awareness of how we are treating the body we are living inside . . . this is it, folks. This is the body you were born into, and it's the body you'll leave when you die. We should treat it as the precious, surprising, amazing, curious, living, breathing flesh it is!

I hope, if you are reading this, that you will remember to breathe and listen to your beautiful body this winter, as well -- may your Holidays be Happy & Healthy!


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Summer Reading

My Dad and Wicked Stepmother moved to California a few months ago.

They had been living a mere half-an-hour away from my home in Salt Lake City, Utah for more years than I could count . . . their home was where I lived during my final two years in high school, and where I knew I could always find shelter, good food, laughter, and love whenever I needed it.

Since my early teen years, my Dad & Judy have been two of my most trusted mentors, advice-givers, film & literature critics & connoisseurs, life-supporters, and, perhaps best of all, friends. They have been supportive, and often even nonchalant & unfazed, during many of my most humiliating growing-up years. They have taught me not only to love living life to its brim, but to express that love for life with a wisdom, grace, and calm confidence I can only hope to emulate.

Their relationship has served as a beacon of hope through difficult relationships I've come through, and their strength, creativity, and passion for learning have inspired me to live my life in stronger, more creative, and more passionate ways. I am sure they'll never fully know the gratitude I hold for them. How can we, as children, ever fully show our parents the measure of gratitude that would ever be commensurate to what they have given us in love & support, through all the hardest times of our lives, let alone for the one gift they gave us, to which no other gift can compare -- Life?

My Dad gave me life originally, along with my Mom, and he has continued to give me all the life worth living that he has had to offer. And Judy, knowingly or not, gave me life again, through junior high & high school, by recognizing symptoms of depression and anxiety that, had they gone untreated, could have resulted in the gravest of outcomes. The teenage years are times of hardship, confusion, painful transition, and growth -- for every teen, and for every parent! So I know how much I truly have to be grateful for, with these two loving parents for friends.

Their home, now in California, will continue to be a place where I can find shelter, good food, laughter, and love for many years to come, so there is no mourning necessary! Of course, I miss them dearly. But I also have the pleasure of talking with them often, and now having a great excuse to vacation near Yosemite National Park.

One of the final requests I made of my Dad before he moved away, was that he let me in on his reading lists. My Dad is an exceptionally talented artist, writer, and computer graphic designer. One of his many creative endeavors of late is his blog on writing, which he calls The Leaky Pen 2.0. It's this awesome collection of thoughts, inspiration, advice, and encouragement for writers of all stripes. Whether you write news articles, blogs, humor columns, screenplays, fiction, non-fiction, or anything else, The Leaky Pen offers jump-starts to creativity in every way imaginable. I love reading every post, thinking about what he might come up with next, and, most of all, learning about what all the famous writers he spotlights have (or had) to say about writing.

So this summer, I've gotten in on the action! Dad told me the next author he would be spotlighting (he writes about one author a month, to honor them in the month they were born) was George Orwell, and the book he would be reading was "Animal Farm." I was thrilled, since I loved reading "1984" (once in high school and again as an adult) and had always been curious about Orwell's other work. It was extremely enjoyable to plow right through that one, as short as it was, and to laugh with my Dad on the phone about every genius thing the Pigs had said.

After Animal Farm (which was a blast to read aloud with friends, by the way), we tackled "The Sun Also Rises," by Ernest Hemingway. This was a surprisingly enjoyable read, since I hated it for the first few chapters. The writing felt bland, a bit like the main character was simply writing laundry-lists of what had happened to him day by day . . . "I went to work. This guy came to visit me. I tried to get rid of him by taking him out to coffee and hinting I needed to get back to work. He didn't take the hint and followed me back up to my office. Then we went out to eat. Then these other people met up with us."

Had I not been reading this one alongside my Dad, I probably would have put it out of sight, out of mind, shortly after opening it to give it a chance. However, I was surprised to find, a few chapters in, that I legitimately cared what on earth was going to happen to the laundry-list guy, the annoying fellow following him around, as well as the other characters (one feisty woman in particular, much more interesting to me than the main guy) he met/interacted with along his way.

The bull fights were intriguingly disturbing to read about, and there were surprising developments and increasingly entertaining dialogues as the novel continued. Excellent read.

Now, I've got to admit I'm no horror fan. So, for my Dad's sake, I legitimately tried to get interested in H.P. Lovecraft's short stories. I checked out a beautiful collection of Lovecraft's writing from The Murray Library, which, in the midst of the flooring project that's been going on here in my apartment, I promptly lost.

Don't worry, I'm happy to donate the replacement cost of the book to the local library so others can enjoy Lovecraft's work! I'm sure it'll turn up around here someday, in which case maybe I'll have a good gift for my Dad, lover of horror books & films that he is. I only made it about halfway through "The Call of Cthulhu," before misplacing my copy, which was, admittedly, quite an enjoyable read. I found it similar to Shelley's "Frankenstein," or Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," both of which I enjoyed immensely, so I'm sure I will like it when I eventually do finish it.

As for the final book of the summer, we've only just begun reading it this week. But so far, this one is calling for the most calling! What I mean is, when I finally called to admit I hadn't finished "The Call of Cthulhu," my Dad sort of brushed that aside to say that the next author and title is William Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury," which pronouncement he followed with, "Go and get it. I need to talk to you about it." I laughed, said I would check it out that day, and call him the next. That was one of our briefer phone calls this summer, but it was followed up two days later by the following:

*Ring, Ring*

Lauren: "Hi, how are you doing?"

*angry pause*

Elaine: "I am halfway through The Sound and the Fury. How the hell do you THINK I am doing?"

*hearty laughter followed by intense, possibly hour-long conversation, including much referencing and quoting and reading aloud of passages we had both read thus far, and lots of good-natured yet frustrated bantering back-and-forth regarding character's names, relationships to other characters, and genders*

We then agreed to keep reading, taking notes, and paying attention to certain things the other had brought to attention, and I proceeded to start the book over from page one (for the third time).

Two days later, I called again, and this time, I am a bit further than him, so now I know exactly how he feels and I'm the one saying, "Read more, now! I need to talk to you about it!"

So, if you're looking for an incredibly tantalizing, challenging-to-understand, yet enchanting and miraculous book, where you'll be asking yourself, "HOW did Faulkner WRITE this!?" from page one on through, pick up "The Sound and the Fury!" Now. Then call me. 801-654-7614. We need to talk about it.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Homemade Lasagna and Chicken Pot Pie

The past couple of days, I have felt an overwhelming sense of peace and gratitude every time I open my refrigerator. Perhaps this is just my overly-dramatic way of appreciating that I consistently have access to nutrient-rich, organic, ethically raised & farmed foods, and that I'm married to a woman who loves to cook.

Or it could be a reflexive, visceral response, left over from times when I was much younger and would open the fridge every day after school, hoping that my family had been able to shop that day for something new & exciting to eat.

When, more often than not, there was nothing available except milk and bread, or canned applesauce and peaches from welfare pantries, my hopes would feel a bit dashed. Grateful, of course, for the shredded pieces of bread I would pour milk and sugar over for breakfasts, and the "free lunches" served at school, I was always looking forward eagerly to the few outstanding, intensely memorable occasions when my Mom would come home from a store with an abundance of foods, which she would then use to whip up delicious homemade loaves of bread, cinnamon-sugar-coated tortilla chips, fruit salads, pasta dishes, or casseroles.

These days, I can't recall the last time I had only bread & milk available to eat . . . I can't even recall the last time I purchased any type of milk or meat that was not organic or locally produced. So when I open my fridge, I am consistently filled with excitement and gratitude because these days, I have enough . . . I actually have more than enough, and it's an absolutely amazing feeling.

About a week ago, my wife and I spent a good deal of time chopping veggies, mixing various cheeses and sauces together, and layering together the ingredients for a lasagna recipe that has left us with an abundance of this delightfully tasty & filling dish to enjoy for lunches or dinners throughout the week.

Then, a couple of days ago, we worked together similarly to chop all the meat and veggies, stir together the flour-and-chicken-broth sauce, and roll out the dough for the most amazing chicken-pot-pie I've ever sunk my teeth into. Okay so when I make it again someday I'll add just a bit less salt . . . but on a perfection scale, I think it was about at 98%!

And now, when I open my fridge, there's a round container with chicken-pot-pie, a square one with lasagna, and a big round bowl full of rice . . . we won't have to use up limited after-work energy any day this week to enjoy an amazing home-cooked meal! I just had to share these successes with you all, because I would love to share recipes of things that you & your loved ones prepare over the weekends, to last you through the week! Most people I know cook this way these days, when we are all working during the days and (in my case) haven't yet figured out the slow-cooker.

So if you have a favorite prepare-ahead recipe, please share it in the comments here! If you're interested, I'll share the recipes that we've been using for these two great meals.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Good Life

I have found an incredible YouTube Chanel! It's called "UU Music and Songs," by the Davies Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church in Camp Springs, Maryland. The songs and videos here are unbelievably well-made. The one I'm inspired to write about today is a UU version of "A Good Life" by One Republic -- listen here if you're interested.

It appeals to me because this Spring has been a major time of awakening for me ... I turned 29 years old in January of this year, and as I've been coming into these springtime months, I've realized that this is the 30th Springtime that I have been alive. It's rather humbling and inspiring to think back over what has occurred in my life and in the world since 1985.

And it's simply beautiful to appreciate this Spring of 2014 with the perspective that every single year of the past three decades (and, of course, every single year before that) the Springtime has come after the cold winter months.

The cycles that we so often disregard by turning up or down our heaters, layering or peeling off layers of clothing and bedding, and spending so much time inside buildings and cars . . . they are never-ending. Really. All the apocalyptic warnings that societies have propagated and internalized time after repetitive time immemorial . . . not a one of them have "come to pass."

The realities we are facing now are realities that we and our very own ancestors have personally and collectively created. And we personally and collectively have the power to plant the seeds required to continue making our lives and the lives of others genuinely "good."

Monday, April 21, 2014

Happy Birthdays!

April is the one month of the year when the most people I know were born! Let's see if I can get this right . . . .

On April 4th, a Sister-in-Law of mine turned 28. On the 9th of April, one of my Uncles turned 42, and on the 10th, one of my Cousins turned 37 and my Step-Father turned 52. On the 13th, one of my Aunts turned 64, on the 14th, my newest little Nephew was born, and on the 15th another of my Cousins turned 40. On the 16th, one of my childhood friends turned 29 and one of my Nieces turned 16. On the 19th one of my Step-Brothers turned 34, and today, another one of my Nieces turns 3 years old, and another one of my Step-Brothers is now 17. Tomorrow, my Step-Mother turns 61 & one of our mutual friends shares a birthday with her. Finally, on the 27th, my closest friend (we've known each other since we were 12) will be turning 29!

That's at least 15 people who are close to me and were born in the lovely month of April!

In which month of the year were the most people you know born? On my kitchen calendar, January has 4 birthdays (including mine), February has 7 (including my wife's), March has 6, April has 15, May has 5, June and July have only 1 each, August has 4, September and October have 3 each, November has 4, and December has 6.

I find it fascinating how attached we become to the months when we were born ... I tend to view January not only as the beginning of each new calendar year, but quite literally as the beginning of each new year of my life! It's cold then, so I love having occasions like holidays and birthdays to celebrate that time of year. It's so important to keep family members and friends close in our lives during the cold, dark winter months ... people we love remind us that the Springtime will come again! How appropriate, then, that so many of the people I love celebrate the beginnings of the next years of their lives right when the weather is warming up and the Springtime is settling in.

If you're another person who was born in this lovely month, Happy April to you! I hope your birthday month is filled with warmth and sunshine.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wandering Wednesday

Where are you wandering this Wednesday?

Through workloads, past time-clocks, over desktops, under pressure, are you repetitively, relentlessly opening and closing folders and drawers?

Through dusty, cobwebbed academic library shelves reaching toward an unreachable ceiling, or up and down isles of well-lit, clean, modern public libraries or bookstores, are you searching, studying, pondering, or learning?

Through yards and neighborhoods, homes and gardens, streets and alley-ways, are you walking your puppies on leashes or your babies in strollers, exploring the wild or cultivated places you call home?

This beautiful Wednesday morning I am wandering through mindful as well as mindless passages of memories, hopes, and dreams.

My mind is wandering down the hilly, winding streets where I live to the relatively bustling downtown . . . just a couple of blocks west of State Street, to where a building lies in ruin, decaying daily, brick by brick. I wander around it, circling, listening . . . are there wildflowers growing through cracks in a hidden parking lot behind it? Are those bricks yellow, or brown? Were they once red, or white? Is every window boarded? Could I wander inside? Perhaps there's a rickety staircase in there (it looks tall enough from the outside) leading to a floor where offices once spread above a cafe or book shop below.

I'm wandering around this building in my mind because I've dreamt for years of buying this old, ruinous, frightfully enchanting place. Repairing it by hand, although I know next to nothing about construction, building real buildings, architecture, or real-world design. It's the age of Google! I do know a thing or three about hard work, and if I care enough about a project, I have the patience and determination I imagine might be required to gut, renew, and beautify something that ancient and brimming over with history.

Why would I ever dream such a ridiculous dream!?

Well, it's really not the first place I remember singling out for my dreams. I believe the first was an empty lot near where I lived from ages 10 - 16, in what felt like a small town, compared to Salt Lake City, about 20 minutes south of where I live now. I dreamed of building a small house there, just spacious enough that my childhood friend from North Carolina, whom I missed so dearly, could come there and visit me! As I grew up I dreamed that I would someday ask the city who owned the overgrown, malnourished little corner lot, and could I buy it for a steal? Could I build a little playhouse there?

I later dreamed of purchasing the small duplex in Spring City, North Carolina, where I was born at home in 1985 . . . my sister and I visited the place around Christmastime in 2005 or '06. From pictures and stolen memories, the town and the house hadn't seemed to have aged a day, let alone 20 years! I thought, if I could just buy it someday, I wouldn't even have to live there, but I could rent out one side of the duplex, and have the other side available whenever I wanted to return to visit my birthplace!

I've also dreamed of purchasing the House in the Avenues, or the House on Kensington -- two familiar homes from my childhood where my Grandparents and an Uncle, Aunt, and four cousins had lived. I could fix up the House in the Avenues, live in part of it, rent out the basement to a local family, and rent other rooms to students attending the University of Utah! The home was so huge to my memory, so cavernous, with towering shelves piled to the ceilings with musky-scented books, nooks and crannies everywhere for crawling out onto the rooftop, hiding notes and letters, or playing hide-and-go-seek. It was a kid's paradise . . . there were even cherry trees in the front yard, a trampoline in the backyard, grape vines along the back fences, and swings rigged to any tree on the property that might hold them! There was plenty of room there to have multiple renters, which could help pay a mortgage. The House on Kensington had a trampoline as well . . . there really are too few families with trampolines in our sue-happy modern times.

There was another empty lot that called my name in my early twenties, on maybe 500 East, just north of 400 South in downtown Salt Lake. I wondered every time I passed the place, how could such an absolutely prime area in downtown not be claimed, not be owned by someone, somewhere, who wanted to develop it? Of course someone, somewhere, certainly did just that . . . there's no more empty overgrown fire-hazard of a lot there, but a sparkling new condominium complex next to the renovated Burger King on the corner.

So, why indeed would I set my dreaming sights on this old falling-apart building near the downtown post office? Of course it wasn't once owned by any family member, and I didn't dream of building a playhouse there. I suppose you could say it's just the one that happened to catch my eye one day, when I was walking down that street, daydreaming about the possibility of opening a Community Center in Salt Lake City for the non-religious people of Utah.

I was interning at the old Utah Pride Center, around 300 South and 300 West, and I was thinking how completely amazing it would be if the Atheists, Humanists, Freethinkers, and Skeptics of Utah had a similar community center. A place where they could meet for tea & coffee, chill together in a comfortable lobby surrounded by walls filled with books on every non-religious topic in the world - humanistic thought and philosophy dating back to the Founding of America, then further back to the Greek and Roman philosophers, and including philosophical thoughts and ideas from around the world, from all cultures and places! People could play games, read science magazines, have group meetings, and host open-mic nights, book clubs, and lecture series. The upper floor could host board meetings, and be opened up into an interactive, modern office space where group leaders could meet frequently to plan meetings & programs to benefit the community in as many ways as we could come up with.

So today, I'm still wandering over there in my mind . . . running my fingers over the crumbling bricks, considering if a place like that could be built into a community center to celebrate reason, science, philosophy, and free-thought. Could a community of diverse-minded people come together to purchase an old, run-down place like that? Could you herd the cats of "non-joiners" to believe passionately in creating that space? Could they provide the man-and-woman-power required to rebuild and craft a place like that into something spectacular?

Because I could wander over there and run it. I could be there, 12-14 hours a day, pausing only for sleep, planting gardens, painting walls, replacing roofs and windows, scrubbing and making it shine.

Where would you wander this Wednesday, if you could?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Pansies and Finches

Common Pansy or Violet

This morning, as I sat down to breakfast on the deck looking out over our backyard, I watered the lovely golden, purple, fiery orange, and deep-red pansies my mother bought for me a few weeks ago, that I have somehow managed not yet to kill.

I also tried to find the source of an interesting, repetitive birdsong: "Ca-caaw-ca, Ca-caaw-ca!" I trained my eyes to the branches arching over our hilly, wild, grassy yard -- and soon noticed a tiny little grey-and-white bird blending easily into the trees. The song was not his, as I learned when he flew overhead to join a few friends in another tree, calling out to them with a garbled, quiet chuckle.

There are many varieties on birdsong to hear this morning . . . "chit-chit-chit-chit-chit," "t-t-t-t-t-t-t," a sweet, sudden "sstt!" and a celebratory "swt-swt-swt-swt!" So many patterned conversations are happening overhead that I have to wonder just what it is they are communicating to one another. Are they up there wondering, "I hear an unfamiliar chirping this morning, coming from that little blue thing the large, feather-less bird sits with ... "tap-tap-tap-"
House Finch Bird