Monday, September 28, 2015

kind words and chipotle turkey chili

Take a deep breath in. Let it out.

Do you have a mantra you sometimes say to yourself? Lately I've been repeating, Slow down and open your heart.

Slow down. And open your heart.

About a year ago, after a longer than expected period of dedicated attempts, I got pregnant. I was in the best and healthiest shape of my life and thrilled to begin a 10-month (lifelong?) journey of slowing down, opening my heart, and taking care of myself for the sake of another.

Being pregnant was at once humbling and empowering. In many ways, the growth of this tiny person was out of my control. By design, my thinking and worrying and preparing was largely unnecessary and unwanted negative attention. Take care of yourself and get out of the way, my body said. Rest and give us your love. I was overwhelmed and grateful for the awareness that our little baby was his own wonderful person, growing on his own trajectory. My job was to nurture and love and get out of the way. (And yes, of course, take those prenatal vitamins...)

The most impactful moment of my pregnancy, and one I will never forget, was an early 6-week ultrasound to check on baby's growth. We didn't expect to see a heartbeat so early, but there it was visible on the screen. A tiny, miraculous, flashing grain of rice. His beating heart. I had only known I was pregnant for a week or two and had no time to commit extra resources or worry. And yet here he was, beating and loving away on his own. And for the remainder of the pregnancy, I was continually humbled by how strong that little man was and is.

We delivered our son a few weeks early at 5 lbs 2 oz. He arrived to overjoyed and excited parents with work to do (to gain weight) but with vigor and skills to help show us the way.

The hot early summer gave way to a mild August and we spent hours watching him while he wiggled outside in the humid air. Thousands more hours wrestling to get the hang of feeding, swaddling, burping, lullabies, and other cumbersome acts of new parents.

Weeks later, we are still awkward, but moving slower and more confidently. Baby knows what he needs and we follow his lead.

Finley is a joyful, patient, and curious baby and a gift in our lives. Every day we are enjoying getting to know the person he is and will grow up to be.

A year ago, my mantras helped me begin a new chapter of my life at peace and unafraid. I didn't know what would happen or how I would feel. Is this the right path? Will I ever be a mom? How will I spend these next years of life? I was full of budding hope. These words helped me make room and let go of my fear.

If you're a new parent, a hopeful mom, or seeking to make other big changes in your life, I hope these messages resonate with you. Slow down and open your heart. Take care of yourself and let go. Just add water and sunshine. See what blooms. I am cheering for you.

In the midst of all these changes, I haven't forgotten that (suddenly) it's fall and we need heart-warming, belly-filling recipes to go with these kind words and football weekends. I'm sharing with you my favorite recipe for a spicy turkey chili that is easy to make and tasty. 

Admittedly, it's not gorgeous to photograph.  But please enjoy a warm bowl as part of whatever care you need this season.  The recipe follows.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

warm butternut squash and cranberry salad

To celebrate my 30th birthday, I hiked a mountain in Colorado.

And I planted some fall vegetables. 

That was a year ago.

We actually only hiked about half-way up the mountain, until our water was running low and we saw enough bear scat to motivate our retreat. 

And the vegetables were just baby seedlings for weeks, peeking out from soil I piled into a raised bed to replace the miserable red clay in the yard.  I had high hopes for the little guys.  The packets of heirloom seeds promised kale, spinach, brussel sprouts, turnips, broccoli, and chioggia beets in 45-90 days.  They grew a bit at first, but our expectations were low for produce.  It was the act of growing that felt important.

I don't have a green thumb.  And we probably won't ever get enough sun while we're tilted away for winter, plus an early frost wiped out the Italian broccoli.  And if I'm realistic, bagged dirt would not be enough to feed them to fruition.  But I learned a lot about gardening and patience.

Really it was the perfect exercise to follow a summer full of promise.  I made efforts to live a healthier lifestyle (sugar is badly addictive), trying new things (acupuncture: kind of cool), visiting new places (Hello Wild West!), avoiding my Facebook feed (so many reasons), and the biggest boldest move for me: I changed jobs. Like one of those pinch-yourself, is-this-really-happening? kind of changes where the stars align and your resume lands on the top of the pile.  My new boss and I agree: it was meant to be.  I left behind marble, mahogany, and male egos for a family-friendly, collaborative environment with yoga classes and M&Ms (so much for the low-sugar diet).  And a shorter commute.  It's a huge step in the right direction to put my money where my mouth is.  In other words, to put my values first.

So it makes sense that this season and this new decade is all about new growth. I can feel the little flower buds on my soul.  To bloom not now, but in spring maybe.  This is going to be good.

Why am I telling you all of this?  Because I first wrote it a year ago.  And it's true: everything has changed.  My 31st birthday just passed a few weeks ago.  The good things have stuck with me or even returned where they were waning.  We are knee-deep in new adventures.  The year was full of excitement and rest and growth.  More on that soon.

In the midst of all the other changes last year, one of my dear friends and I embarked on daily challenges in the fall: healthful changes and exercise in small doses every day.  Plus a recipe for each week.  One week we were inspired  by Deb's sesame turkey meatballs with smashed chick pea salad (from her fabulous cookbook, of which I am so lucky to have a signed copy when she toured and visited NC for a lovely book signing event).

For another week's recipe challenge, I embraced fall weather with a warm butternut squash salad dotted with walnuts and plump dried cranberries.  It's very French bistro actually. You should try it.  I've included the recipe below.

In the meantime, check out some of the snapshots from the mile-high city.  On our trip in between jobs and for my birthday, we enjoyed an historic hotel, hipster tapas restaurants, good beer, and dusty hikes. Well done, Denver. 

Cheers to the fourth decade... a year late, with lots to celebrate.  The recipe for warm butternut squash and cranberry salad follows.