The Stankiest Tree of them all

Spring has sprung, and with it come a multitude of these beautiful trees that bloom in full force all over the valley every March/April.

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Beautiful, yes.
Fragrant, yes.
Bad, bad fragrant.
Bad like the stank of procreation.

When I first arrived in this city 2 years ago, spring was in full force and these trees were lining the streets, welcoming me with open blooms.
It was rainy and wet that week, so I had no idea what I was in for until the week after, once everything dried off.

That’s when it happened. Overnight, the city was flooded with a pungent smell that hit you like a slap in the face as you left your climate-controlled living or working quarters and ventured outside.

Seriously, a slap. In the face.

For a few days we wandered around wrinkling our noses and foreheads, asking each other at least once a day “What IS that smell?!?”

For more than a fleeting moment I thought I was smelling the creation of the next generation of babies that were to be born unto this city.

Then, in a moment of blinding, insightful genius, I figured it out.

The mystery smell, I discovered, was not evidence of rowdy locals who were just a tad over-excited about the arrival of Spring and their emergence from underneath piles of winter snow.

The unlikely culprit is this tree, the Stankiest Tree of them all, the tree that has become a welcome sign that we can put away our coats and boots, and dust off our open-toed sandals.

Hello, Spring.

Back in the Running II

The secret to work-life balance is to admit to yourself (and your family!) that it does not exist.

One day, the scales will tip in the favor of work. The next, they will (hopefully) tip back in the direction of life/home/family. And sometimes, when the universe does give you a little more from the life side of the equation, you have to prioritize and realize that you can’t do everything.

New personal objective:
- Stop multitasking and trying to do everything all at once. It only creates a version of you that is bursting at the seams of sanity, barely held together by flimsy threads of sometimes-awareness.

- Focus on a smaller number of achievable goals each day and each moment, and do those things really well.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, and although I have been running, it’s nowhere near the amount of running I should want to be doing, especially in preparation for a half marathon. And the measly runs I was able to get in have felt forced, labored, hard.

This week though, I feel strong. I think a big part of it is getting in a long(er) run on the weekend, which sets the tone for the coming week.
After not being able to get a run in for the last couple of weekends, this weekend I came back with a strong 7 miler on Sunday. I had wanted to do 10, but this time, instead of letting myself get disappointed, I made my peace with the universe and decided: 7 is just fine. Good enough, verging on perfect even.
(Reminder: You are perfect just the way you are.)

The weather was perfect, my iPhone was loaded up with all the latest Fresh Air interviews that I needed (still need) to catch up on, and my wonderful spouse had selfishly sacrificed his planned run, staying home with our 2 little Energizer bunnies, so that I could go out and pound the pavement.

And pound the pavement I did!
I kept going and going, only turning around to come back home because I knew we had a million other things to do that day (like go here) and only very limited time.

I am a firm believer in the power of positivity – positive thoughts beget even more positive thoughts, which hopefully beget positive actions and a more positive life. Being able to get out and have that hour of solo time to reflect and get some perspective was transformative – the rest of the day turned into a positivity-fest and ended in myself, husband, 2 boys, and sisters all in a heap on the boys’ bedroom floor, laughing uncontrollably as we watched Baby Z make the transition from infant to turbo-baby.

Phew! This one moves like you wouldn’t believe – in a split second he zips from one end of the room to another, bulldozing anything that stands in between his little body and whatever it is he wants to pounce on (and probably put into his mouth) next, like:

His brother’s toothpaste

 

His brother (!)

Or even… His auntie’s dinner!

In other news, big brother N had some shining soccer moments this weekend, scoring a couple of awesome goals and loving the idea of being a part of a team.

Back in the Running I

Dear Running,

I am back.

Froggie

Oddly and unexpectedly, I did not want to take off my Vibrams today. I always thought of them as an experiment, a way to maybe strengthen my calves and feet and see if my running felt any different in them vs. traditional shoes. This morning, I realized that I’m really enjoying how it feels to run in these non-shoe shoes. I feel engaged, present, and totally aware of every step. My whole body is awake, as if monitoring where and how my foot falls and making sure to appropriately distribute the impact.

Today’s Vibram mileage: 4

Note to Self

Get over your fear of a saturated market.
There will always be room for your skills, ideas, and even love.
There will always be room for your uniqueness.

It’s your responsibility to look for and find the best way to be your best self and to share that best self with the world.

Onward.

Signs you may have patience issues

1- People move out of your way when you walk behind them because they’re afraid you will run them over or sever a nerve ending or cut their Achilles tendon with that pointy work-appropriate weapon shoe you’re wearing.

2- You get frustrated with the microwave because it is simply Not Fast Enough. (Then you get to the point where you skip the microwave altogether, because eating soup straight out of a can is less torturous than having to wait idly by doing NOTHING while the whir of the microwave fan/vent thingy threatens to drown out the sound of your own thoughts)

3- You wonder why the elevator has to stop on ALL those floors before finally reaching yours. (Yours = the 3rd floor)

4- You press the walk signal button for the tenth time in a row (in a record time of 0.67 seconds), knowing full well that it won’t make a bit of difference. (Obviously, if anyone can will that light into action it’s you, so it’s always worth a try).

5- You finish people’s sentences because they aren’t finishing them fast enough.

6- Standing in line gives you hives. Actual hives.

7- You perfect the traffic lane bob-and-weave to avoid red lights at any cost.

8- Every time you tell yourself “This time I’m just going to WALK for exercise”, you end up running because walking is just. so. slow. (Even at 9 months pregnant).

9- You get mad as you wait for the 3 dancing dots (…) on your iMessage to turn into words (WHY CAN’T THIS PERSON TYPE FASTER?!?!?!).
Even worse is when the 3 dancing dots disappear and words never materialize after you’ve been waiting and watching. (Absolutely UNFORGIVABLE is when the 3 dancing dots come… then go… then come back again… then go, in a mind-numbing exercise of indecisive text messaging that leaves you ready to strangle the person on the other end and curse Apple for giving you too much information).

10- You are a loyal member of the Church of DVR (fast forward through all ads and unnecessary content!), and are waiting to invest money in the person who’s going to invent the “Skip all commercials (except the Carl’s Jr. ones)” feature.

Big Brother

You know the role of big brother has totally kicked in when you catch something like this – totally spontaneous and unplanned (I did my best to be sneaky, but you can see at the very end where N realizes I’m there and asks “What are you doing mama?!?!?”)
(Volume on the video is really low so turn it up if you want to hear)


 

Since the sound quality’s not so great, let me give you the rundown:

My guess is that N was going to get a toy from his room, and knowing that I had been trying (unsuccessfully) to get Baby Z down for a nap, decides to help.

He starts singing Rock a Bye Baby, then realizes a few seconds in that he doesn’t really know the words, at which point there is some huffing and puffing/sighing action.

Giving up on the lullabye, he says “Here, Baby Z, you want me to come in … with you?” and he climbs right into the crib!
I had to stop myself from laughing out loud so the boys wouldn’t see me trying to hide and record them at the same time. So fun.

Note to self: Pay more attention to moments like these, and work harder on capturing them.
Before you know it, this will be replaced by the two of them duking it out over which one of them gets the last slice of pizza, or who gets to take the car, or *shudder* who saw that cheerleader first.

Avocado Beet Goat Cheese Salad

Sometimes, things come together on a plate and it’s Just Right.
This salad from last week was just that. A delight.
I took my time making it, savoring every step of the process, then savoring every. single. bite. Slowly. Mindfully. Joyfully.

Wanted to use the beets that were left over from my beet panini from the other day, and I had just bought some delicious-looking goat cheese and pears. The stars were aligned, and then I aligned them all on my plate.

The play between textures and sharpness of flavors between the pears and the goat cheese was wonderful, and was nicely complimented by the fresh earthiness of the greens.
I actually enjoyed some parts of the salad that had no dressing on them, as it allowed me to really taste the ingredients.

Ingredients:
Mixed salad greens, about 2 cups
1 pear, sliced
1/3 can sliced beets
1/4 to 1/3 cup goat cheese, crumbled (mine was an herbed chevre)
1/2 avocado, sliced

Dressing:
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 – 2 teaspoons olive oil (I tend to keep the oil to a minimum, but if you enjoy  more oil on your salad, go ahead and use more)
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried or fresh rosemary
fresh black pepper to taste
Using a fork or small whisk, whisk the dressing ingredients together

To prepare the salad, assemble the greens on your plate, then place the beets, avocados, and goat cheese on top of the greens. Assemble the pear slices around the plate, then either drizzle the dressing on top of the salad, or keep it on the side.

Here’s to a greener, healthier us! After eating this salad you will feel both satisfied (by the healthy fats in the olive oil and avocado), and light – a great combination in my opinion.

My evolving relationship with Costco

Costco craziness
Photo credit: nytimes.com

Deep down in the depths of my heart, I possess a fear that you may call irrational, illogical, unwarranted. But it is there. And it is real.

Friends, I have Costco-phobia. The mass production, the generic nature of the products, the temptation to over-consume and over-waste, and the SIZE OF THOSE CARTS! You could fit a family of four in one of those, people!

For the longest time, I avoided shopping at Costco. I was fortunate enough to be able to afford shopping at the smaller, frou-frou shops and promised myself I would never be one of THOSE people I used to see walking out of Costco with 1 or 2 carts filled to the brim.

That was 2 children, a better economy, and many naive, inexperienced brain cells ago.

When our first son was about 1.5 or 2 years old, we ventured into our first Southern California Costco. My husband had to push me to keep walking IN, TOWARDS the aisles of merchandise, and away from the exit. As of that first visit, we weren’t yet convinced that we consumed enough to warrant shopping for things in such large quantities.

It was months before we went back to Costco for a 2nd visit, this time the reported savings on diapers and baby wipes being the main motivator. We felt so smart and pleased with ourselves as we walked up to the checkout counter, 2 items in hand (cart), the only ones checking out with less than $100 of stuff.

We became Costco members that year, and figured we’d probably only need to go for some basic essentials. We didn’t even have room in our teeny tiny apartment to STORE the bed of toilet paper that Costco sells, so in many ways, the decision was pretty much made for us to stick to only a couple of items per visit.

Then our son started eating actual food. And then we moved to a bigger apartment, with more storage space.

It started with toilet paper and laundry detergent. Innocent. Our boy didn’t even LIKE milk, so there was no way we were buying the crate of 3 huge milk containers just so we could throw out more than half of it!

Now, approximately 4 years later, I have become one of those people. I am the one pushing a FULL cart with 2 kids in the front and treasures of food and non-food related finds in its belly.

I don’t even recognize myself any more.

This post is mostly in jest, but in all seriousness, I would like to say the following:

Yes, I still fear the large quantities and the aisles of mass-produced, non-customized merchandise. But I am thankful, too.

Thankful that I have a family to provide for.
Thankful that my husband and I are ABLE to provide for our family.
Thankful that we can save a few dollars by buying things in quantities that I might not be comfortable with.
Thankful that we have been really good at only consuming what we need, avoiding waste, and resisting the temptation to buy and consume more just because it is available.

Food Shortages, the Arab Spring, and Obesity

In an article published today in the Economist, titled Food and the Arab spring: Let them eat baklava, the magazine investigates an issue that it argues is rooted in as well as is a result of the Arab Spring: food shortage in the Middle East.

I became interested in food shortages and their effect on communities around the world back in 2008, when I started to read more about the issue. Some articles from that time include Food: The Silent Tsunami, and Food and the poor: The new face of hunger.
I distinctly remember reading these articles and feeling a sense of deep concern about what the next few years would bring.

Would the world rally together and come up with practical, targeted solutions to relieve the suffering of millions of people threatened by hunger?
Would societies rise up against their governments and demand a solution, forcing those regimes to take a hard look at their tradition of corruption, and finally take steps that will be in the best interest of their people?

In the Middle East, the answer to the latter was Yes. The popular movement started with Mohammed Bouazizi, a street food-vendor, nonetheless, protested Tunisia’s lack of concern for its citizens’ rights to basic human dignity by setting himself on fire. His act subsequently set the Arab world on fire, starting the string of uprisings we now refer to as the Arab spring.

As events unfolded, I continuously questioned how desperate people in the region I come from, Palestine/Jordan, were for change. How deeply were/are they feeling the need for reform, for renewal, and for the restoration of their own dignity and basic human rights?

How hungry (in all senses of the word), are we, as a society?

The article in the Economist brought to light a link between food shortages and the uprisings that I hadn’t considered before, and it made me consider what our future holds all over again.

One thing governments have been trying to do in order to quiet the revolutions is provide food subsidies to their people. I have heard stories of corruption even in the distribution of these subsidies that have left me sick to my stomach. Why does it seem that the ones who are always the most in need are the ones that are most easily brushed aside and ignored?

This corruption, coupled with non-targeted, blanket subsidy policies will backfire. In my opinion, Arab governments need to do more to reform themselves by weeding out the corruption (something that apparently only changes when the movement is driven by the people), target subsidies to those who really need them, and cut costs in other areas.

One effect of cheap food subsidies that concerns me, since it touches me and my family members that live under these regimes personally, is the sharp rise in obesity levels. I am troubled by the statistic in the article that says that 35% of Jordanians are obese.

Obese. Not just overweight. Our need for cheap calories has caused us to consume the worst kind of calories, the ones that cause us to balloon in weight while at the same time contributing to our levels of disease and health decline.
Obviously, there are other factors causing our obesity rates to rise, besides thoughtless, nutrition-empty food subsidies, such as the rampant spread of fast food consumption, but still, I believe a large part of the issue is the need to buy the cheapest food possible.

Our society is at risk of being killed by the one thing that is supposed to sustain us: food.

What will we do about it? What can we do about it?

These are questions I will be contemplating myself over the next months and years. Although I might not be able to affect others, I can start with my own family and encourage a focus on health in addition to cost consciousness.

I realize that this is not enough. I realize that we need change that targets those most in need, and I hope that by collectively thinking about the issue, people will be driven to take action.

Must. Stop. Eating. Guac.

This needs to stop.

Guacamole addiction

Recipe here. Enjoy.

And good luck trying to “just have one bite!” (That was me, a few pounds ago. Thanks a lot, Costco, for all those cheap-ish avocados!)

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