Photographs by Meadow Linn

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

How to Receive Powerful Insights (and Maybe Even Find Some Money)

The Secret Alchemy of Clutter Clearing 

Have you ever noticed how the moment you become open to receiving, the lessons, revelations, and messages begin to flood your being. 

Currently I’m in a time of transition. The home that I live in is going to be put on the market soon, and as a result I’ll be moving in the coming months. I feel a lot of uncertainty about where I’m headed and what I’ll be doing. Knowing that organizing my exterior surroundings can bring clarity to my interior, I decided to spend an afternoon clutter clearing my closets and cabinets. If nothing else, I’ll have fewer items to pack when I eventually move.

A couple remarkable things happened.

1) I found a sizable amount of cash.

With so much uncertainty about my future, at times I’ve been filled with angst about money. To my sheer amazement, I found some $20s I’d forgotten about in a carved wooden box on my bookshelf. Not only was I delighted to unearth the money, but also it felt as though it came with a bigger message. Trust. Everything is going to be okay.

2) I discovered that I never buy myself jewelry.

Every piece of my jewelry—with the exception of one pair of earrings—was a gift. This realization filled me with deep gratitude for the amazing people in my life who gifted me so many beautiful things. However, this also made me curious. The earrings I purchased for myself happen to be what I wear nearly every day. Why was there so little in my jewelry box that came from me?

As it so happened, a few days later I had to go to the local jeweler to get a ring repaired. I could hardly even hear what the clerk was saying because I was so mesmerized by a sparkling green gem made from the ash of the Mount St. Helens eruption. The necklace cost exactly what I’d found during my clutter clearing. It seemed meant to be! But, I left the store without even trying it on, because I thought I should use the money more prudently. However, I couldn’t get it out of my mind, so I went back a few days later, but it had sold.

I’ve spent much of my life being practical. And, I’m the queen of weighing out all sides of every decision. Both of these things can be great attributes; they’ve served me well. However, there are also times when you just have to go for it. The Universe presented me with a unique opportunity, but I let it pass me by. This was a reminder to me that sometimes I have to jump, even when I haven’t yet examined every nook and cranny of the net that will catch me.

3) Once the physical space around me was cleared of debris, a spiritual gateway seemed to open. 

Immediately after doing the clutter clearing, I was awakened in the middle of the night three days in a row. Each time, when I looked at my alarm clock, words were displayed on the screen instead of the time. The first time it flashed “day” over and over again. The second time, the alarm clock showed the word, “Hi.” Oddly, the alarm kept setting itself to go off at 6:45 AM. I would turn it off, and then it would reset itself. It did this over and over again, right in front of my eyes. Although I’m still uncertain of the message, it felt like there was something important to gain from this.

The clutter clearing precipitated a chain of events that I couldn’t have possibly imagined. My future is still uncertain, but I’ve received some powerful insights as a result: Be open to whatever happens, even if it means stepping beyond what is comfortable. Just like with the necklace, there may be times in the coming months when I’ll need to leap rather than contemplate. And the money I found is God’s reminder that it will all work out.

I encourage you to take a step today toward your future. Perhaps it’s cleaning out a drawer or maybe it’s doing some journaling and meditating. Take that first step, and be open for whatever messages and insights come as a result.

 Mystic Chef® Savory Sound Bite (no makeup & crazy hair)...Clutter Clearing Excitement!

Emerald City Salad

In addition to clutter clearing my cupboards, I’ve also been doing some clutter clearing to my diet. I’ve been cutting back on sugars, starches, and alcohol, and at the same time increasing my vegetable intake. I’ve always eaten relatively healthfully, but I’ve noticed dramatic changes in my mental clarity and energy level with these adjustments, which is making me even more open to hearing the whispers from my soul.

For lunch most days I enjoy a large salad. This is one of my favorites! In honor of the Mount St. Helens jewelry and my hometown, Seattle, I’ve named it Emerald City Salad.

If you use full-size kale (as opposed to baby kale), remove the ribs/stalk, and massage the oil into the torn leaves. This will soften it and make it easier to digest. Plus, it just tastes better that way!

Serves 1 for lunch

2 large handfuls baby kale (about 3-4 ounces)
½ red bell pepper, thinly sliced
½ avocado, cubed
2 Tbsp. shelled hemp seed (hemp hearts)
2 Tbsp. (scant) extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. (heaping) aged balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

Combine the baby kale, bell pepper, avocado, and hemp seed. Toss with the olive oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper. Enjoy!

Here's a little video of me enjoying this salad. Mmm! Mmm!
Mystic Chef® Savory Sound Bite...Enjoying Emerald City Salad in the Sun on My Front Porch!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

My Vulnerability Quest

When in your life have you been really scared? What has made your heart pound, your cheeks flush, and your body sweat uncontrollably?

Although there have been a few times in my life when I’ve been afraid for my physical safety, most of the things that truly brought me to my knees wouldn’t sell much popcorn at a matinee. To the outside observer they may not even merit recognition, but they were monumental for me.

I have an innate desire to appear in control, confident, put together, and capable. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt like asking for help would somehow make you less than? And, have you ever felt as though sharing your truth could open you up to scrutiny or lead to a broken heart?

I’ve lived much of my life with my own version of a “don’t ask, don’t tell policy,” which has been especially pronounced in my dating life. The thought of discussing intimacy with a man ties my stomach in knots. For instance, I would rather have a date think I was a bad kisser than tell him how little practice I’ve had lately. Crazy, right?

I’m pretty good at receiving compliments, but I’m much more timid when it comes to fully opening my heart. For instance, many years ago when a boyfriend said, “I love you,” all I could say was, “thank you.” To be fair, my feelings for him were confusing, and I didn’t want to say anything that I didn’t 100% feel, but also I know that those words do not come to me easily.

What is it about being vulnerable that can be so scary? Why are we so hardwired to present ourselves a certain way? A friend likened it to an M&M. We have this hard candy coating, but underneath we’re soft and sweet. Why don’t we let people see the soft and sweet more often?

Over the five years I’ve had this blog, I’ve become increasingly comfortable writing about my feelings openly. But, as surprising as it may sound…sharing my deepest thoughts here isn’t nearly as scary as asking a boyfriend face to face for something I need or revealing to my friends that I might not *gasp* be perfect after all.

We often see vulnerability as weakness. I’ve never wanted to appear needy or broken. But, when I think about the people I gravitate toward, they aren’t necessarily the ones whose lives are tied up in a neat little bow. No. They’re the ones who stand in their own light with their heart open, while at the same time acknowledging where they may need support. I used to think that one could be either strong or vulnerable, but not both. However, I’m learning that not only is it possible to be both, it’s actually essential. Miraculously, our relationships will deepen and we’ll become an even better version of ourselves when we let others penetrate the candy coating.

The times I’ve pushed through fear and allowed myself to be vulnerable have sometimes been very scary—nerves ballet dancing across my chest and red waves of adrenaline pumping through my veins at warp speed—but the sense of connection that comes from sharing with another human being is worth the sheer terror that sometimes grips my heart at the outset.

My quest over the coming months is to ask for what I need, share my opinions, reveal my feelings, and express my essence more often (especially face-to-face, which is the scariest), while at the same time releasing my need to appear capable in all situations. And (now here’s the kicker), be willing for whatever happens as a result. One of the reasons it can be scary to show the cracks in our veneer is that we fear we might be so exposed that others will see that we’re just the man behind the curtain and not the Great Oz. And another frightening thing about opening ourselves up is that the protective shield around our heart has to come down, which makes us susceptible to pain. Yet, it’s also how we let in an abundance of love, joy, and happiness.

I invite you to join me on this quest. Stand tall. Be your strong, beautiful self. And step through the gateway to all that life has to offer. It may make you quake in your boots, but that’s how you know you’re playing all out. Here’s to feeling the fear and doing it anyway! Magic will abound.

Creamy Mango Nibbles
(Honey-Sweetened, Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free)

These creamy treats are soft with just the right amount of sweetness, just like me. To me, these nibbles symbolize what it feels like to be vulnerable. There is no hard candy shell protecting the tender center. The creamy softness is out there and up for grabs. But, it’s so worth it because you will bite right into them and immediately savor all they have to offer.

I use frozen mango because it comes pre-chopped, and I always have a bag in my freezer. However, you could use fresh. Just be sure to cook the mango. The enzymes in raw mango (whether fresh or frozen) can prevent the gelatin from setting, but once it’s cooked you won’t have a problem. 

Makes about 40

1½ cups frozen chopped mango
½ cup canned coconut milk
1 pinch artisanal salt, such as French grey or Himalayan pink
¼ tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. mild raw honey
3 Tbsp. grass-fed gelatin

Combine the frozen mango, coconut milk, and salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, and then simmer for approximately 2-3 minutes until the mango is cooked. Stir in the vanilla and honey. Pour into a blender and puree the mixture on high until smooth. Sprinkle the gelatin over the mixture and blend on high briefly until combined.

With a small spoon fill a silicone mold with the mango mixture. I find that it’s helpful if I transfer the mango mixture from the blender back into the small saucepan so I’m not dipping my spoon so deep into the blender. (This mixture usually fills about 1¼ of my molds). I find that using a baking sheet helps keep the mold level when transporting it in and out of the fridge. (If you don't have a mold, pour the mixture into an 8x8 baking pan lined with wax paper. Once it’s firm you can cut it into squares or make shapes with a mini cookie cutter.) Chill in the fridge until firm, approximately 2 hours. Remove from the mold and store in the fridge in an airtight container. They will melt if left in the sun.

These are the molds I use:
(This is not an affiliate link. I do not make a profit when you click on the link.) 

This is the gelatin I use:

(This is not an affiliate link. I do not make a profit when you click on the link.)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Change Happens When You’re Ready

Nothing has changed. But. Everything has changed.

Have you ever felt that way, like everything is outwardly the same but inwardly completely different?

I’m exactly where I was one year ago. Last year, at this very same time, I’d planned to spend May and June figuring out my next steps in life. It was to be a time of inner reflection and physical action. Then I got whooping cough, and all my plans were thwarted. 

So, here I am one year later, face-to-face again with an open calendar and time to build the foundation for my future, both professionally and personally. So, pretty much…nothing has changed. Twelve months have passed and I’m doing exactly what I thought I’d be doing a year ago.

But, everything has changed. I’m not the same person I was then. From the outside, my life doesn’t appear to be very different. I’m a few pounds lighter, but for the most part I look like I did last year. I still live in the same house (for the time being at least). I have the same pets, wear the same clothes, and my work is about the same, too. So, what’s different, you ask? I feel different. It’s as simple as that. Something has shifted. There’s more flow. I’m experiencing and exuding even more joy. And, although there’s a lot of uncertainty spiraling around me at the moment, I feel remarkably calm.

Looking back, I realize now that I wasn’t ready twelve months ago to make the decisions I’m going to be making in the coming months. My heart wasn’t ready to open to the possibilities that I’m welcoming into my life right now. There’s a well-known saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” However, I believe this extends to other areas as well. When we’re ready for love, a new job, or a change in direction, they reveal themselves to us and everything seems to flow with ease and joy. 

I still have the same dreams, but now they feel more tangible. For instance, I’ve wanted to write a second book for a while, but it has just been an abstract idea. Now, I actually have a working title and I’m beginning to formulate a plan for how to proceed.

Shifts in my personal life are also beginning to occur. I’ve spent years talking about my desire to get married and have a family. But this vision was something that was separate from me. I wanted it, but I couldn’t feel it. It always seemed somewhat out of reach. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I just wasn’t ready. There were things I needed to do and experience first.

I used to spend hours imagining my wedding. The white dress, fairy lights, and dancing under the stars filled my thoughts on long car rides and languid summer days. Every minute detail, from flowers to appetizers, would run through my mind’s eye like a scene from Like Water for Chocolate. The only thing … often the groom was absent from my reveries. My visions were so focused on all the trappings of a wedding that somehow I seemed to have forgotten the essential part.

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but one day a few months ago, I realized that I no longer dreamed about my wedding in the same way. Instead, I dreamed about a marriage and the children that would fill my heart. For someone else this might not have been a big deal, but for me this was a huge revelation. Maybe this is simply something that happens when you get older. But, I think it’s actually representative of a more profound shift within me. Sure, I would still love to have a beautiful wedding, but now I see it as the beginning and not the endgame.

I'm a fervent believer in being an active participant in your life. You can’t just sit at home and expect mana to fall from heaven. However, I also believe in not forcing things that aren’t working. Usually, when things are meant to be, they happen with ease. When the tides turn and there’s a shift in the air, you’ll feel it, and you’ll know when you’re ready. Suddenly, your dreams will realize and opportunities will present themselves. 

Life Is Sweet Homemade Fruit Snacks
Mixed Berry Gummies

Life is sweet. When we get mired in the drudgery of everyday tasks or when it feels like life is at a standstill, it can be hard to remember all that is wonderful in this world. However, no matter how tough things are now, eventually they will come right. You may feel like nothing has changed, or maybe you feel like everything has changed. But, as long as you remember that life is sweet, you will eventually find yourself in a place where doors are opening for you and your life is expanding. Just like life, these fruit snacks are simple and sweet. Some days life may feel complicated and overwhelming, but at its core, life is simple. Love as much as you can and experience as much joy as possible.

I spent months experimenting with different ways to make these fruit snacks, but this is the clear winner. I tried using only juice, and I also tried combining the gelatin with pectin and cornstarch. But, the blended fruit gives the best flavor and the best texture. The reason for dividing the mixture is to keep as much of the nutrients in the berries and raw honey intact as possible. However, heating half the mixture helps the gelatin to melt. 

Makes about 44 fruit snacks
1 cup frozen organic mixed berries*, defrosted
½ cup unsweetened berry juice**
2 Tbsp. mild raw honey (or to taste)
pinch of artisanal salt, such as French gray or Himalayan pink
3 Tbsp. grass-fed gelatin

*I use a blend of strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and raspberries.
**I’ve been using 100% blueberry juice, but you can use whatever suits your taste

Combine the defrosted berries and berry juice in a blender. Process on high until smooth. Pour half the mixture into a liquid measuring cup with a pour spout and pour the remaining half into a small saucepan. Put the saucepan on the stove over medium heat and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, stir the honey and salt into the mixture in the measuring cup. Sprinkle the gelatin over this mixture and stir until fully combined (a fork works best). Once the mixture on the stove reaches a boil, pour it into the measuring cup and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Pour into a silicone mold and chill until firm, about two to four hours. (This mixture usually fills about 1¼ of my molds). I find that using a baking sheet helps keep the mold level when transporting it in and out of the fridge. If you don't have a mold, pour the mixture into an 8x8 baking pan lined with wax paper. Once it’s firm you can cut it into squares or make shapes with a mini cookie cutter.

These are the molds I use:
(This is not an affiliate link. I do not make a profit when you click on the link.) 

This is the gelatin I use:

(This is not an affiliate link. I do not make a profit when you click on the link.) 

Monday, April 13, 2015

How to Live the Life of Your Dreams Every Day

Are you living the life of your dreams?

An interviewer recently asked me what had helped me create the life of my dreams. I paused for a minute, not really knowing how to answer. The question presupposed that I’d already reached the summit. In that pregnant pause, I could feel my mind and heart battling it out. Was I really living my dream life?

Just as the air was beginning to thicken with my silence, and I could feel my heartbeat quickening, I realized that I am indeed living the life of my dreams, but not in the way that I had always imagined.

For years I’ve pictured my dream life as something momentous, characterized by marriage, the birth of a child, a huge professional success, or a beautifully renovated yellow farmhouse. Although those dreams still waft around me like the scent of cookies baking in the oven, they have yet to settle in my immediate vicinity. Despite this, I lead a pretty extraordinary life. However, sometimes it’s easy to see only the holes rather than the blessings and good fortune that befall me daily.

It’s easy to think that once you lose weight, have your ideal job, or meet your soulmate that each day will then be filled with bliss, but surprisingly it’s the other way around. If you’re miserable now, there’s a good chance you’ll be miserable in the future, even if you finally get the things you want. But, if you’re joyful now, even if you don’t have the things you want, there’s a high probability that you’ll be joyful in the future.

Living the life of your dreams isn’t about finally reaching the summit or attaining that one massive achievement that makes you feel like you’ve finally succeeded. Living the life of your dreams is a choice you can make each and every day. You can choose to take pleasure in the beauty that surrounds you or you can choose to focus on challenge, lack, and unpleasantness.

Generally, as a society, we tend to be suspicious of people who find great joy in tasks and events that we deem undesirable. We see them as naive, lazy, or lacking in drive; however, if you had a choice between being unhappy but seemingly savvy or delighted by everything you see, which would you choose?

Even if I were living my imagined dream life (husband, children, beautiful farmhouse), unless I took the time to savor each of the little moments and find joy in my daily life, achieving the dream is meaningless. The secret to living the life of your dreams is to find ways to feel—in this very moment—how you would feel if all of your greatest desires were to come true. One of the easiest ways to do this is to take time each day to be grateful for the many blessings that already exist in your life. Also, take time to look deeper. No matter where you are, there is always something beautiful, funny, or awe-inspiring. Sometimes it just takes a shift in perspective. Take the time to see with your heart rather than always with your eyes. When you do this, you’ll begin to see that you’re already living your dream life.

Dream Life Soup
with Celery Root and Apple

I love this soup because it’s so easy to make, but carries with it the elegance of a French purée. This blended soup contains three main ingredients: celery root for flavor, potato for texture, and apple for sweetness, which incidentally are three important components of any joyful and well-balanced life. I like to think of the individual ingredients as the small moments we savor each day and the soup as a whole is the dream life that is created as a result. 

Serves 4-6

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. French gray or Himalayan pink salt
2 large celery roots (about 2½ pounds), peeled and cut into chunks
8 cups water
2-3 gold potatoes (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into chunks
1 large apple, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks
salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste

In a soup pot over medium heat, sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil and salt until soft and translucent, about 5-10 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent the garlic from browning. Meanwhile, peel and cut the celery root into chunks. (Size doesn't really matter; though, the smaller they are, the faster they’ll cook. Uniform size will be helpful.) Add the celery root to the pot along with the water and increase the heat. Peel and cut the potato and apple. Add them to the pot. Cover. Bring to a boil; then reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook covered until the vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes, though this will depend on size. In a blender or with an immersion blender, puree until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Leaping into the Unknown

Are you in a time of transition? Do you know where your next step will take you?

I feel as though I’m on a precipice, about to leap into an abyss of unknowns. However, in my heart I feel calm and relaxed. Although I can’t see what’s ahead of me, and a storm of uncertainty is raging all around me, somehow I know it will all be okay.

When I was a child and I would jump off a log or something that felt equally high and scary, my dad would always be there to catch me. Just as I knew he would break my fall, I know now that no matter what happens, everything will be okay. Sometimes we have to battle the storm and sometimes it blows by like a gentle lamb, but either way, life seems to have a way of working out just as it’s meant to, even if it doesn’t always fit our plan. 

I’ve just recently learned that the home I live in will be put on the market likely next month, so my pets and I will need to find a new place to live soon. I moved to this town nearly six years ago because my parents were here. However, they’re building a house in a remote part of Northern California. I don’t plan to follow them there, but without them here, there’s little tying me to this town. The wind is blowing me in a different direction, but it’s not yet strong enough for me to know which way it’s going.

Where does your path lead?
My parents are already in the process of packing the non-essentials in their current home, the one where I used to envision having my wedding. Cardboard boxes line the hallways, piles of bubble wrap add texture to the carpet, and the scent of fresh paint will soon permeate the air. I have yet to start boxing up my own home, but I know it won’t be long.

Coinciding with this move, the project that I’ve been working on for the past nine months has just come to an end. It fulfilled me in so many ways; however, I’ve been looking forward to the day when I would have time to expand my coaching practice, revamp my website, and start writing my next book. However, now that I suddenly have the ability to do so, I need to decide where to start and then pick up my feet and move in that direction, which is simultaneously exciting and daunting.

I don’t believe that hardship is necessary for growth, but I do know that when it happens and we make it to the other side, it can give us new perspective. The calm that I feel now, despite so many unknowns, is born of my illness last year.

When I had whooping cough and couldn’t work for three months, the minimal amount of energy I had was expended panicking about money and my future. To help me get through, I decided it was a chrysalis phase preparing me for what was to come. However, when I finally emerged, I did not feel like a butterfly. Luckily, my mom reminded me that a butterfly must first dry its wings before taking flight. I now realize that I’ve been drying my wings for the past nine months. When I do finally leap off the precipice, I’ll be ready to soar.

As this chapter is closing, it doesn’t really feel as though another one is opening. Instead, it feels like I’m at the beginning of a new book whose chapters are yet to be written.

From what I gather from numerous conversations, I’m not the only one who is taking a leap of faith into an uncertain future. What is ending in your life right now? And, what is beginning?

It’s fitting that this time of new beginnings should happen just as we step into spring, which is traditionally a time of renewal and rebirth.

I’ve noticed that when I panic about money, love, career, or any of the other main aspects of modern life, I reap nothing but more panic. However, when I’m calm and accepting of whatever comes, I open the doorway to increased possibility. As a suggestion, when panic, overwhelm, and concern begin to flood your being, acknowledge their presence. Then, take a deep breath and tell them to take a hike. Sometimes the journey is difficult, but eventually it will all work out. Your life is unfolding in magical ways, even when it doesn’t feel like it. Here’s to new beginnings and awakening possibility!

Creamy Chicken and Vegetable Curry 
for Grounding and Centering

No matter what’s going on in my life, I always take time for a good meal. It’s what grounds and centers me. Good food nourishes the mind, body, and soul. And, when it’s made with love, it’s like wrapping a warm sweater around your heart. This curry is warm and comforting, the perfect fuel for a leap into the unknown.

Tandoori seasoning is usually used for marinating grilled meats; however, I love it in this dish. And, I love the ease of just adding one spice blend to the pot rather than measuring multiple spices. You can find it in well-stocked groceries, natural food stores, or from a spice retailer. Omit the chicken to make a delicious vegetarian curry.

Serves 4-6

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and grated
3 three-inch fresh turmeric roots, peeled and grated
1 two-inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 tsp. French grey or Himalayan pink salt
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 Tbsp. tandoori seasoning
½ tsp. cayenne
1 small eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 bell pepper (any color you choose), cut into 1-inch squares
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 16-ounce package frozen green beans
2/3 cup raw cashews
½ cup water
1 lb. free-range boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into pieces

Peel the garlic, turmeric, and ginger, and then grate them on a Microplane into a small bowl. Be careful with the turmeric—it stains everything in sight! Grate the ginger last since its fibers have a tendency to clog up the Microplane.

In a 5-quart Dutch oven or other sturdy pot with a lid, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, turmeric, ginger, and salt. Stir frequently so the garlic doesn’t burn. Meanwhile, dice the onions and a then add them to the pot along with the salt, tandoori seasoning, and cayenne. Sauté until the onions are soft and translucent, about five to ten minutes.

While the onions soften, cut the eggplant and bell pepper. Add the eggplant, bell pepper, diced tomato, and green beans to the pot, and stir to combine. Cover the pot with a lid and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the cashews and water in a Vitamix or other powerful blender. Start on low speed and work up to high. Process until smooth, about a minute. Cut the chicken. When the vegetables are soft, add the cashew cream and chicken to the pot and stir to combine. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked and the curry is bubbling, about 15-20 minutes. Serve with basmati rice and mango chutney.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Two Simple Steps for More Powerful Love

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, but I learned a few things this year that I want to share.

From start to finish, my Valentine’s Day was magical, not because a man who looked like he stepped out of a magazine suddenly whisked me off on a romantic getaway, nor because I was showered with cards from friends and family near and far. No. It was amazing because I decided to make it amazing.

You might be familiar with the expression, “Unhappiness comes from unfilled expectations.” Hallmark, candy companies, flower merchants, social media, and a whole host of other entities have taught us to expect certain things on this one day and when those expectations aren’t met, it can be easy to let the little gremlins into your head. They wrap their knotty fingers around your heart and tell you you’re not worthy of love and they tickle your eyes with their onion spray to make you feel like you’ll always be alone. When expectations are unfulfilled it’s easy to downward spiral. Each thing in your life that might not live up to your ideal can become magnified in these moments.

But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Here’s my two-step process for creating a magical Valentine’s Day (or any other day).

My parents circa 1984 (My shirt says, "I love joy.")
1. Change Your Expectations

There are many ways to feel love, be loved, and spread love. Changing your expectations doesn’t mean lowering your standards or giving up on romance. It simply means shifting the way you imagine love should be demonstrated. Romance doesn’t have to happen just on February 14th, and it doesn’t have to be shown with a heart-shaped box of chocolates or a dozen red roses.

My parents have been married for forty years, and they have one of the best relationships I know. Valentine’s Day for them, however, is not a romantic holiday. Neither my mom nor my dad expects anything special for this day; instead they share their love in other ways each and every day. Since my mom works long hours writing and teaching, my dad makes dinner most nights. And even when my mom is on a tight deadline, she always sets aside time in the evenings just for the two of them. 

2. Create Your Own Joy

If you’re in a relationship and Valentine’s Day is important to you, tell your partner. Unless you let him/her know that you might like to receive flowers or go out for an elegant meal, he/she may not know. Or, if Valentine’s Day just isn’t your partner’s thing, rather than hoping that one day this will change, and then resenting him/her when it doesn’t, instead create the romance you desire for yourself. This is also a great thing to do if you’re single, like I am.

My Valentine's Day flowers
Treat yourself to a special day. This can be done on Valentine’s Day, but you might also consider doing it at other times as well. When you cherish yourself this creates a ripple effect, and there will be increased magic in all areas of your life.

A great way to feel love is to spread love. The more love you share, the more you will feel. However, in order to do this effectively, it’s important to do so without expectations of how, when, or if the love you send out into the world will be returned. Do it simply because it makes you feel good to sprinkle love, not because you’re subconsciously hoping it will boomerang back to you. I’ve tried that, and it only leads to more gremlins. 

On Valentine’s Day I bought myself a beautiful bouquet of tuberose and orange and yellow spray roses. Their perfume filled my entire house and every time I looked at them, I was filled with such joy. For dinner, I made myself steamed lobster claws with aioli, and I opened a bottle of French wine I’d been saving. And, of course, I finished off the evening with a bit of chocolate. It was a beautiful day from start to finish because I made it that way.

You are the most important person you’ll spend your entire life with. Treat yourself with love and kindness. Fill your home with flowers, draw yourself a warm bath, and make candlelit dinners. Rather than lamenting unfulfilled expectations, change your expectations or find ways to meet your expectations on your own. Here’s to abounding love!

Love Spell Brownies
(Gluten and Dairy Free)

To feel immense love for yourself and your life, make this decadent special treat with the intention that love is flowing to you, through you, and from you.

Makes 16 brownies

2/3 cup coconut oil
1¼ cup sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 eggs
1 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour*
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

*My favorite is a blend of brown rice flour, tapioca flour, and potato starch.

Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Prepare a 9x9 inch pan by lining it with parchment paper or aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.

Combine the coconut oil, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a 3 qt. pot and place over medium heat. (A double-boiler is a better option if you’re a multi-tasker; however, I prefer the ease of having just one pot to wash. But, it does mean that you’ll need to be attentive.) Stir frequently until the coconut oil is melted and the mixture is smooth. It will be quite hot. Turn off the heat and set aside until just warm.

While stirring, fill the pot with love. I like to imagine my heart as a red, pulsating light that expands with each turn of my wrist. I picture the shimmering light flowing from my heart and swirling into the pot. You may even want to visualize those who eat the brownies being filled with love and joy while experiencing increased magic in their lives.

When the mixture is warm—not hot—stir in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time and stir vigorously with the intention that the brownies are filled with the energy of love-filled new beginnings. When the batter is thick and shiny, mix in the flour and stir until very well blended. Mix in the chocolate chips and walnuts (if using). Pour into the prepared pan and spread it evenly into all the corners. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a bit of moist batter, about 25 minutes.

Cool completely on a rack before removing from the pan and cutting into squares.

Friday, January 30, 2015

How to Experience Increased Joy and Wonder

Do you feel lonely at times and wish you could share special moments? Have you ever remarked on the beauty of a rainbow, only to discover there’s no one there to hear your gasps of delight? Do you sometimes get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of the day that you forget to notice little glimmers of magic, and do you sometimes feel too overwhelmed and stressed to appreciate the simple joys of being alive?

In December I was supposed to fly to Vietnam with my parents, but due to some airline mishaps, I ended up getting separated from them and had to make the approximately 36-hour journey by myself. Since I’d been expecting to travel with my parents, and my dad had made all the arrangements, I hadn’t paid much attention to the ins-and-outs of getting to our destination. Despite having flown on my own numerous times, I was feeling surprisingly daunted by the idea of a seven-hour layover in the middle of the night alone in Saigon and having to navigate a sea of people in an unknown land to purchase a flight to Da Nang.

When I mentioned my anxiety to my friend, Kyla, she suggested I imagine a small version of her keeping me company and pointing out all the cool and wondrous things along the way. My shoulders began to relax and my breath deepened as I realized that this solo journey could actually be a lot of fun. Kyla has a keen ability to see the best in each situation and find magic everywhere she looks. For instance, one time at Disneyland, she even managed to make getting trapped on a ride for an hour feel like a blessing. So, I knew that with her voice in my head I was in for a joyous adventure.

Just before embarking on the first leg of the journey, I put a small heart-shaped rose quartz crystal in my pocket and decided to call it “Mini-Kyla.” I liked the idea of having a physical object to represent my imagined companion.

Every time boredom, fatigue, or loneliness set in, there was Mini-Kyla in my pocket remarking (in my imagination) on the friendliness of the cabin crew, the array of food options in the Hong Kong airport, and the thoughtfulness of the United pilot who gently woke me so I wouldn’t miss my flight from Hong Kong to Saigon.

One of the beautiful sights I enjoyed in Vietnam
What started simply as a way to find pleasure in a long overseas flight has become a wonderful new habit. The rose quartz (Mini-Kyla) is now in my pocket every day. If I’m in a bit of an uncomfortable situation, I gently touch the outside of my jeans pocket, and I feel its love and support. And, if I’m watching a particularly glorious sunset, somehow it feels as though it’s also sharing in my joy. But, most importantly, having the stone in my pocket reminds me to enjoy and appreciate simply being alive. It’s so easy to get caught up in work or family commitments and forget to cherish the beauty of our breath and the rhythm of our beating heart. So, some days I will stop halfway through composing an e-mail or pause while washing the dishes and ask, “What would Mini-Kyla appreciate about this very moment?” Even though Mini-Kyla is just a small stone buried in my pocket, this exercise makes me take time to feel increased gratitude and harvest even more joy.

When Kyla suggested I picture her keeping me company during the flight, she likely had no idea that Mini-Kyla would end up taking on a life of its own, but I’m so grateful to have the comfort of the stone in my pocket and the daily reminder to create moments each day that fill me with wonder and awe.

What do you want to be reminded of daily? Just like tying a string around your finger or writing a note on the palm of your hand, Mini-Kyla prompts action. If you had a small object in your pocket, what would be its purpose? What gifts would you gain from its presence? What would you call it? “Mini-Kyla” is the name that has stuck with me, but I suggest you choose a name that resonates with you, though you can, of course, also call yours “Mini-Kyla,” if you desire. You don’t have to call the object anything, but for me… giving it a name has brought it to life. Here’s to savoring each and every day!

Mini Kyla

Sweet and Sour Beet Soup

When I was making a pot of this the other day, from the depths of my pocket, I could practically hear Mini-Kyla squealing in delight at the magenta color. Not only is this soup a delicious balance of sweet (from the beets) and sour (from the vinegar), but also it’s stunning to look at. I also love how it’s a metaphor for the harmonious balance of the sweet and sour aspects of life, just in the way that Mini-Kyla reminds us to see joy and wonder even when it seems there’s none to be found.

To make this soup heartier, use chicken broth in place of the water and add a pound of boneless, skinless chicken thighs.

Serves 4-6

1 small onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. Himalayan pink or French gray salt
½ tsp. coarse ground pepper
1 lb. beets (3-4 small), trimmed, peeled, and grated
½ green cabbage, thinly sliced into short strips
¼ cup dried dill
10 cups water
2/3 cup white or apple cider vinegar

In a 6 qt. pot over medium heat, sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil, salt, and pepper, until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, peel and grate the beets with a food processor or with a box grater. Add the beets to the pot. Slice the cabbage (you can also use the food processor, but I prefer to do it by hand). Add the cabbage and dill to the pot, and stir to combine. Add the water and vinegar. Increase to medium-high and bring to a gentle boil. Then, reduce the heat to medium and simmer for an hour, or until the beets and cabbage are tender and the flavors have melded. Add salt and pepper, to taste.