sprout for joy

emerge, spring up, grow


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my secret garden

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A few months ago, as I was scanning Craigslist postings for a place to live, my eyes suddenly met with an intriguing caption: “In-town Apartment in Grand Queen Anne Victorian… private garden-like grounds… bamboo forest… rooms with 13′ ceilings… original woodwork… vintage fireplaces… too unique to fully describe.” My heart leapt! And then the dreaded (all too familiar), “cats are welcome.” My heart sank. Needless to say, my beloved 14 year old shih-tzu companion and I are a package deal. I’d rather live in a shoebox with him than without him, which we actually did in Texas… a 450 sq. ft. box to be exact, and we were blissfully content.

Oh well, who wants to pay rent to dog haters anyway? It was also a tad out of my price range… and I swore I’d never live in an apartment again, especially not one without a washer and dryer. But at the same time, I knew this place would go fast, it was less than a mile from my new job, and on one of the most beautiful, historic avenues in town. And it did make my heart leap… I try never to ignore that feeling. Before I knew it I was typing a polite plea, explaining that my darling furry friend was in fact more like a cat than a dog (true story), one that doesn’t even shed. The posting had also indicated a subtle aversion to college students, so I made a point to explain my status as a quiet, responsible working professional.

Two weeks passed with no response, during which time I felt forced to look into some other possibilities. I found an immaculate loft space in a gorgeous historic home, much smaller than the Victorian apartment but slightly less expensive, and so artistically renovated it could easily grace a magazine cover. The owner was an architect; we quickly hit it off and it seemed like a sure thing, until I mentioned my little buddy. Nope, no go, no exceptions. What the hell is wrong with people?! I had to strain so hard to keep the hot tears hidden, my eyeballs almost popped out. Defeat.

The next place I checked out was also an old home with a crooked front porch and peeling, shabby chic paint. In the words of my practical mother, “People in Athens sure do pay a lot to live in crappy old houses.” So true. “It’s all about character,” I told her… she rolled her eyes. But this house happened to be right on the greenbelt… a six mile running path to a nature center. I started to feel a little spark returning, but when I excitedly told a friend the location, she made a face. “Is that area safe?” she asked. I knew it wasn’t entirely, but I was getting desperate. We decided to go for a run on the running path by the house before my appointment to scope out the area. The run was a disaster. I was sure we were going to get mugged or kidnapped in broad daylight. I cancelled the viewing immediately after, in tears again, wondering why I’d left Texas.

Time was running out, and I was starting to feel the strain from a number of factors. For one, my new job was off to a crawling start and therefore only part-time, with a promise but no guarantee of when it would become full-time. I was subleasing a tiny house (it was old, minus the character) for the short duration of two months, so I didn’t bother unpacking or decorating. It basically felt like camping indoors with a bathroom. I had decided that within those two months, I could find another more permanent place, or jump ship altogether and move somewhere else if I didn’t want to be in GA after all… I was scanning job postings in every corner of the country daily.

I knew that leaving room for this major indecision would keep me suspended in a very unsettled state (it has), but I’ve grown accustomed to feeling this way over the past few years. It seems strange, but I’ve learned to find comfort in the discomfort. Feeling insecure in the direction my life is going forces me to practice patience, especially when faced with the inherent pressures of this life stage. At a time when most of my friends have planted permanent roots and started having babies, I chose to start over. But I’ve never regretted my decision. I’ve felt stronger and more like myself each day since the moment I realized there was something better for me… I just didn’t know what. And truly, there’s tremendous power in the unknown… not knowing has taught me more about opening my heart and faith-based living than I could ever dream.

But, I can tell I’m growing weary, which means a turning point is approaching. I feel such an intense mixture of desires and longings… wanting to ground and establish myself in a good place, to feel secure, like I belong somewhere… coupled with an anxious urgency to never settle for less than I want, to make the most of this time in my life, to continue exploring and seeking. My feet are stepping in two different directions, unwilling to commit to either. While I enjoy the excitement of new possibility, at some point I must make a choice. I know I’m here for a reason, to learn more lessons, so I’ve decided to quiet my adventurous spirit (for now) and work on committing to being here. I’ve also gotten very far off topic…

In one last ditch effort, I sent a second email to the “Grand Victorian,” and this attempt met with success. I could tell by the response the owners were actually in no hurry to rent the place; they were waiting for the right fit. I met with the owner’s wife and instantly felt a unique connection. Within a few words, we were openly sharing far more than you typically would with a stranger. I felt the same casual, relaxed energy all around and throughout the house. She said the house was very special to them, like a secret garden. I was sold.

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I’ve moved seven times in the past three years, since I was 28, and never in my life have I felt more at peace. I’ve fallen in love with my new home, and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else right now. The beauty of this place speaks to me, telling me I’m right where I need to be. For the first time, I find myself taking the time and care to fill each room with objects that hold special meaning, so that I’m always surrounded with love and protection. I’m creating an environment around me that reflects my soul, that touches my heart.

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001005 I can’t say that both feet are decidedly planted, I still feel homesick for a place I have yet to discover, but being here brings some security while I continue to allow life to unfold. In all of this, somehow I still have no doubt I will find what I’m seeking, and I’ll look back on this time with wistful, dreamy remembrance. I’ll know the years of uncertainty were all worth it, to get me to this place. I can’t see it yet, but my heart knows where I’m going. I’ll get there in time, and have gratitude for each moment along the way.

“At some point in the journey, we may become tired, weary, and confused. Homesick. All the mountains, the scenery, the food, the people, the experiences just don’t do it for us anymore. We want to go home. What am I doing here? we wonder. Nothing worthwhile is happening. Yet another part of us knows the truth and whispers, Yes, something is happening, something worthwhile

Feeling homesick is part of the journey. It can mean we’ve reached a turning point. When we get to that place, it means the journey has really begun.” – Melody Beattie

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cauliflower crust pizza

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If there’s one thing I love about cooking, it’s that the possibilities are endless. Case in point: a crust made out of cauliflower. I love pizza, love it, but there is something a little off-putting about greasy fingers and blotting your food with a paper towel. If this is you, this recipe is for you! Not that cauliflower can in any way claim to be like bread… it is a vegetable after all… but I was really blown away by how well this turned out. The crust holds together very well, you can pick it up with your hands (no falling apart), and the edges were even a little crispy. Most importantly, it’s easy to make, quite tasty, and very healthy. Win!

(note: you will need a cheesecloth, I got one at the grocery store for $3).

Ingredients:

  • 1 small-medium size head of raw cauliflower, washed and broken up into florets
  • 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese (you could use any kind of soft or shredded cheese, but I really think this was the secret ingredient)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Italian seasoning and salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup pizza sauce
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese for topping (I used a mozzarella/parmesan blend)
  • your favorite toppings (I used mushrooms, bell peppers, sweet onion, and chives)

Steps:

1. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat oven to 375 degrees.

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2. Grate cauliflower florets into a bowl using a cheese grater (could also blend in a food processor but I don’t have one) to make little flakes.

3. Spread cauliflower flakes evenly on baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. (I filled a 9 x 13 inch pan, there was leftover cauliflower that I didn’t use, about enough for a second smaller crust).

4. Remove cauliflower from oven and let cool for a few minutes. Then scoop batches into a cheesecloth and squeeze out water into a bowl. (This takes a little muscle, but the more water removed the better). Scrape cauliflower “pulp” into another bowl.

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5. Beat 1 egg into cauliflower “dough”, mix in goat cheese, garlic, and seasonings.

6. Place dough back on baking sheet (I used a new piece of parchment paper), and press into desired crust shape, about 1/2 inch thick. I made the edges a little thicker.

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7. Bake crust for about 20 minutes, until it starts to brown a little. Meanwhile, chop up your toppings.

8. Remove crust from oven, spread pizza sauce, sprinkle cheese, and toppings evenly across, and bake another 5-10 minutes at 400 degrees.

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I’m a huge fan of cauliflower so I love the taste and texture, but mixing in cheese and an egg really does give it an awesome “doughy” consistency, and the garlic and seasonings give amazing flavor. To make this vegan, substitute vegan cheese (still trying to find one I like – any recommendations?), and vegan eggs (can make by mixing 1 Tb ground chia or flax seeds in 3 Tb water – whisk together, becomes gooey like an egg). Hope you enjoy!


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tofu pizza stuffed portobellos

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This recipe was inspired by my brother, Alex. He suggested we make stuffed Portobello mushrooms… I had tofu, veggies, and marinara sauce on hand… and voila! These were some of the best stuffed mushrooms I’ve ever had, I think Alex agreed. And just to note, I have the coolest little brother ever. Well, he’s not little… I have to reach up to hug him, and I can basically fit both of my feet in one of his shoes. He’s seven years younger than me, which should mean he still seems like a baby, but he doesn’t. He’s a full grown dude, sings bass, and is kicking butt in his second year of veterinary school at UGA, where he also serves as president of the vet school fraternity. He’s about the most genuine, fun to be around, laid-back person you could ever hope to meet. I pretty much adore him, if you can’t tell. And for the first time in our adult lives, we actually live in the same town and make time to hang out on a regular basis.

So, you can imagine my sheer delight when he suggested a weekly sibling dinner party night… he even requested vegetarian meals. We’ve cooked dinner every Tuesday since I moved back. It’s been a blast testing my recipes on him. I mean, I know I love to eat plant-based, but seeing my brother, with his man appetite, feel full and satisfied on veggie dishes gives me a huge feeling of accomplishment. Each week it seems like the recipes get better and better, this week was no exception. These were so good (and easy) it actually blew my mind.

Ingredients:

6 medium sized Portobello mushrooms (remove and chop stems to use in sauté)

2 Tb balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes

1 package extra-firm tofu, crumbled

1/2 yellow bell pepper, diced

4-5 green onions, chopped

1/4 red onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 jar marinara sauce (My favorite is Newman’s Own Sockarooni)

1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes to taste

Steps:

1. Drain tofu, slice into smaller pieces and press with paper towels to remove excess moisture. Repeat several times with dry paper towels, the more water removed the better tofu cooks. (I usually let it sit wrapped in paper towels with heavy book on top for an hour before cooking it).

2. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat oven to 400 degrees.

3. Rinse mushrooms and pat dry, spread evenly on baking sheet cap side down, and drizzle balsamic vinegar on each.

4. Bake mushrooms for 5 minutes and remove from oven.

5. Meanwhile spray non-stick skillet with cooking spray and turn to medium-high heat.

6. Sauté onions, garlic, bell pepper, and sun-dried tomatoes about 5 minutes.

7. Crumble tofu and stir in, let cook until tofu slightly browned, about 5-10 minutes, add Italian seasoning and red pepper to taste.

8. Stir in jar of marinara sauce and let simmer on low a few more minutes.

9. Spoon tofu mixture into mushroom caps, sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top and bake another 5-10 minutes or until cheese slightly browned.

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Recipes from previous veggie cooking nights:

week 1: homestyle quinoa veggie burgers on pita with hummus, and sautéed zucchini and sweet potato fries

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week 2: paella primavera, similar to this paella recipe but with different vegetables and without the tempeh

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week 3: creamy cauliflower alfredo

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week 4: spaghetti squash spaghetti

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trust in transition

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A wise teacher once told me to think of my life in terms of cycles, as gradual and ever-changing as the seasons. We may live in a world of lightning-speed, but our souls are connected to nature. Just as I can’t expect to plant a seed and immediately see a flower, I can’t expect myself to grow and change on demand, no matter how badly I may want to. It makes this whole growth process easier to accept; it makes it easier to accept myself. Living in harmony means allowing myself to weather changes with patience. It’s still easy to become frustrated when I can’t see what’s next, but I have learned to respect the cycles and seasons of my soul, and to trust my heart to tell me when it’s time to move on.

Two years ago I moved to Austin, Texas all on my own with a strong, clear purpose. I needed to reconnect with myself, to recover and heal from the trauma of leaving a marriage. I needed a fresh start. The wide open spaces and endless skies of Texas seemed like just the place, and it was. I met amazing people, ventured and explored as far as I could go, to my heart’s content. Opening up and pushing myself allowed me to change and grow more during that time than ever before. Austin will forever hold a place deep in my heart; it’s been the perfect adventure.

It seems strange to want to leave such a place, where I’ve spent the best two years of my life so far. But somehow I felt an ending approaching, an instinct kicked in telling me it was time to move on, to seek more change, new growth. So, I put the wheels in motion and began parting ways with my life in Texas. Now the dust has settled and I find myself in just about the last place I thought I would be: back home. That word… back… has been quite a struggle for me. I mean, who wants to go backward? I could have gone anywhere… and yet here I am.

I’ve been back in Georgia for about a month, and things are finally starting to make a little more sense. It’s only been in closing that cycle of my journey, my lone star state, that I’ve come to fully realize and appreciate the gifts I received, so many more than I ever expected to find. I’ve learned to value myself, to become fully and completely conscious of my feelings and take responsibility for them.  I’ve reconnected with myself; I’ve even found true love and trust for myself.

“Step into love for yourself, and the universe will reflect that love back to you.” – MB

It all begins here. I’m so deeply thankful for having had the chance to experience this fundamental truth in my life. This was the answer I was seeking, before I even knew the question. My heart knew exactly the lesson I needed to learn, and I was led to the places, met the people, and had the experiences to teach me. It has healed me, and given me a strong foundation to stand on for the rest of my life. Whenever I feel lost, I know how to come back to my heart, and have patience and trust that answers will come in the right time.

Oh the irony… to now find myself in just the right situation to test the lessons I’ve learned. The truth is I don’t really know why I came back, or what I’m doing here. I feel lost all the sudden. It’s strange to feel so insecure in such a familiar place. I feel more vulnerable now in moving back to GA than I did moving to TX all alone. I feel downright fear. It’s as if I’ve been stripped of the protective armor I earned, left defenseless. I’m back in the void, where my vision is limited to almost nothing, and my mind is waging war with unanswerable questions. Have I lost the strength I found? Does this uncertainty mean I’ve made a mistake? Will I revert back to the old me, now that I’m back in my old surroundings? Will I always be alone? My mind has been reeling for answers, searching for some sense of security. Maybe I should just go back to Austin… I have great connections there and could fit right back in… but I know that’s not right either. It would be like going back to a relationship after it’s ended, just because you can’t stand being alone. I wouldn’t really be dealing with the issue: me.

It took some time, but I finally asked myself something I knew the answer to, and instantly felt a wave of reassurance. Will everything be alright? My eyes welled up with tears at the answer, which made all the other questions fade away in significance. Of course it will. Which means it is right now, and has been all along.

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I am in a beautiful place; surrounded by giant shady trees, the ones I’ve missed so much. The view from every window and doorway is full from top to bottom with light filtered through lush greenery and bright flowers. The sounds of cheerful chirping birds, lawnmowers off in the distance, and rolling afternoon thunderstorms fill the air. I am safe, I am loved, I am home. I’ve entered a new season. All I need to do now is let it unfold naturally, and understand that temporary growing pains are necessary and to be expected. The lessons I’ve learned will never leave me, and more are on the way. I know that the wisdom of the heart is powerful, and while I may feel vulnerable, strength lies in having trust.490

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Pandora’s Box of Rocks quinoa

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Pandora’s Box of Rocks… how’s that for the name of a trail race? The “rocks” part is no joke. I became well acquainted with many last weekend during my first trail half marathon through the rugged Texas hill country. It was awesome. I much preferred it to road racing. The challenging, constantly changing terrain, the gorgeous views, wildflowers, wildlife (ok all I saw were some cows)… it was a combination of my two loves: nature and running. Not to mention, you’re expected to run at a slower pace due to steep climbs up rock faces and descents down jagged paths, hurdling over fallen trees, and refueling at the buffet-style aid station food spreads. It’s just a different type of challenge than the intense PR-driven, Garmin-scrutinizing, pee on yourself rather than stop for the sake of time races. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still do those (I haven’t peed on myself… yet), but it was a perfect change of pace, literally. The ultimate goal of a trail race is just to finish.

I went with some fellow running club mates from Austin’s very own Al’s Ship of Fools. Al has run well over 100 marathons, with no intention of slowing down. He and his lovely wife compete somewhere in a marathon every month. My first week in Austin, I Google-searched local running groups, went out for a practice, and fell in love with this welcoming group representing all skill levels. That was two years ago and I’ve been doing track workouts, hill repeats, and long runs ever since. There is a subset of trail runners in the group, the off-roaders as I like to call them, and I decided to see if I could hang.

The weekend involved camping, swimming, and a cast-iron skillet berry cobbler, in addition to an incredibly scenic trail run. There was a great sense of community among the runners after spending long hours on the trail and then drinking beer by a campfire. My contribution was quinoa salad, which turned out to be a hit. Quinoa packs a punch of nutrient dense protein, complex carbs and fiber. I made a batch the night before which kept pretty well. It wasn’t quite as popular as the cobbler, but there wasn’t much left over either.

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Ingredients:

makes 8 to 12 servings – may be cut in half

  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 4 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cups red, seedless grapes, quartered
  • 1 cup sliced raw almonds, toasted
  • 1 cup kale, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Steps:

1. Bring water to boil, stir in quinoa and pinch of salt, then reduce heat, cover and simmer until most liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Uncover and set aside. **note: quinoa has a translucent outer ring when done.

2. In large bowl, whisk together vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Slowly whisk in oil.

3. Add quinoa and toss to combine.

4. Mix in grapes, almonds, and kale, toss again.

5. Serve at room temp or chilled.

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spicy cashew butternut pasta

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An instant take-away from making this recipe: I love Sriracha hot chili sauce, and I think I’m a little late to the party. I’ve always overlooked the bright red bottles with neon green caps sitting on the tables of my favorite Thai and sushi restaurants, my mistake! I finally purchased some 083after eating at a friend’s house recently, and opening her fridge to find about five bottles of the stuff. She said she’d heard there was a shortage, and wasn’t taking any chances.

Another take-away: I’ve always been intimidated to cook with winter squash (how does one get in there?), and I’ve been missing out. They’re really not that hard to slice if you have the right knife. I overcame the fear with spaghetti squash and now use it regularly as a healthy noodle substitute. Slicing up a butternut squash into cubes was more involved, but well worth it. I even got a little arm workout. I suppose you could buy pre-cubed frozen squash, or even slice a whole one into two halves and scrape out the seeds, roast it and scoop out the soft center (just like spaghetti squash)… but I had something to prove this time, so I went for it.

It was quite a success! The light, fluffy texture… the sweet, savory taste… the health benefits… I’m in love with a food again. I’ve seen recipes blending butternut squash into soups, so I thought, why not a sauce? I’d also heard of soaking cashews and blending them to make “cashew cream,” and this seemed like the perfect combination with my squash.

For added color and an extra vegetable, I added broccoli which I highly recommend, but I’m sure any of your favorite vegetables would go nicely. I also saved some roasted butternut squash cubes to mix into the pasta for more texture, and just for fun. The subtle creamy sweetness of the sauce makes an excellent base for experimenting with your favorite flavors. I added hot sauce, garlic, and lemon. This one is definitely a keeper.

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Ingredients:

  • your favorite pasta (I used 2 cups bowtie pasta)
  • 2 cups roasted butternut squash, diced into cubes
  • 1/4 cup raw cashews, soaked in water overnight and rinsed
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 Tb olive oil
  • 1 Tb lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tb Sriracha hot chili sauce (or your favorite hot sauce)
  • 1 Tb onion powder
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 2 Tb nutritional yeast
  • 1 cup steamed broccoli
  • salt to taste

Steps:

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees

2. Slice butternut squash into cubes, spread evenly over baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil

3. Roast squash for 20-30 minutes or until cubes are soft, and let cool (save a few cubes to add to pasta)

4. In high powered blender, add all ingredients: squash, cashews, almond milk, lemon juice, garlic, hot sauce, onion powder, chili powder, nutritional yeast, and blend on high until sauce is smooth

5. Cook desired amount of pasta noodles according to package directions

6. Steam desired amount of broccoli or other vegetables to mix into the pasta

7. Combine sauce with noodles, butternut squash cubes, and steamed broccoli

8. Add salt to taste

Sauce makes about 3 cups, plenty to get creative with later!

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tapped in

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Today was one of those truly good days. I’m so grateful too; I needed it. I’ve been feeling a little beat up by the past couple weeks. I’m currently in full-blown transition mode, planning to move far away and change jobs, but not knowing exactly where, when or what yet. It’s a bit unsettling. Things were beginning to take shape, but then I went through a break-up… the kind that blindsides you, leaves you confused and very sad.

If this were an earlier time in my life, I’d be handling it much differently. I’d be avoiding my feelings, denying them. Pushing on as if nothing were changing, attempting to feel in control. I’d be ignoring the things my body was trying to tell me. I certainly wouldn’t talk to anyone about it, and I’d try to stay numb. I would be completely and totally miserable, consumed with a chronic sinking feeling. Yuck.

Thankfully, that’s not me anymore. I figured out, that way sucks. There’s a better way, it just takes a little effort, but the results are more than worth it. Even though the past two weeks have been difficult, I’ve been accepting things just as they are. I’ve let myself feel all the things I need to feel without judging myself. The old me would see that as weakness. I know now that facing myself, my weakness and vulnerability, is strength and it pays off.

Everyone’s different, but times of stress make my body feel extremely lethargic and slow, it takes so much more effort to get up and move. As an active person, it’s hard for me to give myself a break, but I have been. I’ve been resting more, skipping workouts, doing more meditation and yoga, and trusting my energy will return. It has. I know that if I had been forcing myself to keep up my normal routine, the heaviness would have lasted much longer and gotten worse.hike

I’ve been good to myself. Friday night, I went for a slow trail run at sunset on the Austin greenbelt, cooked a healthy dinner and went to bed early (the 25-year-old me would be gagging).  Saturday, I went with friends to an intensive yoga retreat in a beautiful artist loft space, away from town. By Sunday evening, I felt the blues setting in, so I jumped in my car and drove to a new park I’d never seen before, and went for a peaceful nature trail hike. By that night, I felt cleansed, clear, and connected. I had done the work to get there, and the Universe began to respond.door 2

Last night, I called the person I’d broken up with and we came to an understanding… I think it’s going to work out after all. 🙂 Before I could even leave for work this morning, I got a phone call from the job I want to set up my interview. I slept through the whole night, and felt energized and alert all day. At the grocery store, I got a $2 off coupon for the first time for my favorite (ridiculously expensive) organic bread. Work felt effortless and enjoyable. I randomly received a download for my phone that restored it from a slow, worthless piece of junk to lightening-speed. I’m caught up on communication with my family and friends (rare for me). I just. feel. good.

I know that everything will work out for the best, as it’s meant to. All I’m required to do is ask for what I want, have gratitude for whatever comes my way, and trust that it’s all for the purpose of leading me where I’m meant to go. By taking care of myself and staying clear through a difficult time, I’ve tapped into the “life force.” It’s a knowing, deep inside, that I’m on my path. There’s nothing else like it… it’s the best feeling in the world.

Too much pressure can take you out of the present moment. It can inhibit the life force, the flow of life within you. That kind of pressure can make so much noise that you can’t hear your heart… Let off some steam. Release your emotions. Clear the pathway to the heart. The answer will come.” – Melody Beattie