Always Do Your Best

When I read or hear those words in the title above I get childhood flashbacks.  I can hear my first or second grade teacher tell this repeatedly to us in class as we worked on whatever assignment she gave us.  Or my parents telling me the very same thing whether it was in ballet class, that paper mache project, Easter egg dyeing or learning to ride a bike without training wheels.  Over and over.

But it's also the 4th agreement in Don Miguel Ruiz's book The Four Agreements.  Ah.  A few weeks back I made a commitment to read one chapter a week and blog about it.  And I'm just a couple weeks behind given another book which distracted me profoundly and a quick mental vacay on my typical blogging day Sunday last week.  But it's all good.  Now I am realizing this is probably my last post of 2011.  Where does the time go?

OK, focus.  Ruiz sums up this chapter like this:  "Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick.  Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret."

See what I mean about words that are so simple and so profound?  I've probably made that comment ten million times in each post about these Agreements.  Don't plan on this book being a quick read if you really want to get the most out of it.  You'll want to re-read each chapter several times.

And the beauty of this chapter is that this 4th agreement points back to the other 3.  Always Do Your Best to...1. Be Impeccable with your Word; 2. Don't Take Things Personally; and 3. Don't Make Assumptions.

Ruiz goes on to explain how much "doing our best" will vary.  When we're relaxed and refreshed our best is going to be better than when we're tired.  It will be different when we are happy as opposed to upset.  And, as we continue to incorporate the 4 Agreements into our lives, our best will become better than it used to be.  

If we do our best we won't judge ourselves.  We won't punish ourselves.  Ahhh...how freeing is this!!  Especially someone like me who inherited a big ol' Perfectionism gene.  If it couldn't be perfect - whatever it was - it (or rather, I) sucked.  I beat myself up.  Or I'd get so overwhelmed I'd procrastinate or even worse not do something at all.  What an ugly downward spiral!

It's taken years for me to wrestle and fight off that unreasonable, unrealistic quirk that's so deep in my DNA.  Probably a little over ten years ago when I first started seeing a therapist was this pointed out to me.  HUH?  Well, she was right.  

My new, more modern, personal mantra?  "Excellence, not perfection."  And I guess that's similar to this 4th Agreement in a way.  These words resonate deep in my bones whether I'm focusing on a work project, getting ready to hit the ice and play hockey or continue to grow my Silpada jewelry business.  And every other area of my life too.

Ruiz explains more:  "When you do your best, you take action.  Doing your best is taking the action because you love it, not because you're expecting a reward."  He goes on to explain the cliche of a worker.  A worker who only works because he/she is expecting the reward - the paycheck.  They work hard the whole week, suffering the actions.  They have to work to pay the rent, to support their family...and when they do get their paycheck they are unhappy.  There's only a couple days to rest (aka the weekend) and they then try to escape by getting drunk or what have you.

If we take action just for the sake of doing something without expecting a reward, we will enjoy every action we do.  If we like what we do, if we always do our best, we are really, truly enjoying life.  We have fun, we don't get bored and we don't have frustrations.  Man, sign me up!

What about when life takes away something from us?  Ruiz explains - "...let it go.  When you surrender and let go of the past, you allow yourself to be fully alive in the moment...if you live in a past dream, you don't enjoy what is happening right now, because you will always wish it to be different than it is.  There is no time to miss anyone or anything because you are alive.  Not enjoying what is happening right now is living in the past and being only half alive.  This leads to self-pity, suffering and tears."

Practice makes the master.  Ruiz reminds us that we didn't learn to speak, read, write or ride a bike right out of the box.  We had to practice, practice, practice!  And not judge ourselves when we fall.  If we break one of the Agreements, we tell ourselves OK, we'll start over again tomorrow and try again.  It will be challenging at first, but as we practice we will get better and better at honoring all four.  Stay in the moment and do not worry about the future.

See why this book is going to be a perma-fixture on my bedside table for awhile?  It's powerful stuff.  Life transforming.

After reading this book I now feel like I have a new, freshly-sharpened set of tools ready to make 2012 an even better year than this one was!  

Today is December 26, 2011.  It's the beginning of A New Dream.      


There's this thing called the "other" folder...

It's been quite awhile since I've had a double shot post week, so why not now?  Something about the holiday season, shopping rush, the solstice...my whole world just tingles with good (and restless) energy.  There's a mad scramble at work to get stuff done before the office pretty much goes quiet this week and next as people take vacation over the holidays and into early January.  And for those of us still plugging away over a hot desk and laptop, well, there's that funny struggle of wanting to get more done while it's quiet, but there aren't enough people around to truly get it all done or all the right decisions made...ah, the classic dilemma, at least where I'm working right now.  Years ago I used to work in the retail service management industry, and this time of year for vacation was a big ol' fuhgeddaboudit given the peak shopping season.  Nope - all hands on deck save for Christmas Day and New Years Day.  And today I sit here and think oh crap, I've gotta head into the belly of the beast tomorrow (meaning The Mall) and finish some last minute gift shopping. 

So anyway, last week I was on Facebook.  Now, how often have you read that or heard someone say that and think oh no. Right?  Well, as I said when I first launched fivenineteen over two years ago, my interpretations and musings on reality are better than anything I could possibly make up.  You might want to go pour yourself a glass of your favorite beverage for this one.

OK, back to Facebook now.  Last week on some ho-hum Wednesday night I happened to be browsing around and saw a post from a woman I know from the church I used to attend years ago.  Haven't seen her in probably 10+ years, which is kind of sad, but I don't attend that church any longer.

Her post: "You have two inboxes with facebook. You get notified of your messages; but you do not get notified of the messages in your "other" message box. Go to messages and click on it. After you do there is now the work "other" under your messages. (on the side bar). Click on that and see messages sent to you from people not on your friend list."

I thought OK, what the hell, I'll peruse over there and find this "other" folder.  Man, I love Facebook but it's hard for me to keep up with all the changes and learn all the nuances and whatnot.  By the time I'm home from work and on my home laptop, my brain is pretty much full and fried.

So there was the elusive little "other" folder, a tiny subfolder on my left menu bar.  I clicked on it and up popped a very long list of what looked like notifications, spammy type stuff and one email from some random weirdo dude who really likes my profile.  Uh huh, whatever.  Delete!

Then, there they were. Not one but TWO messages from a guy I was great friends with years ago who I was no longer in contact with.  Basically saying hi there, it's been forever, I'm about 92% sure this is you and would be great to catch up sometime.   Oh. My. God.  I about fell out of my chair!!  And then I about fell out of my chair again when I noticed he had sent these emails to me back in freakin' JULY!!  Holy moly...had I not seen that random post from my church friend I never ever would have even noticed that "other" folder in the Facebook message section!

My fingers flew on the keyboard.  I wrote him back, still in shock to have found this folder...and his emails from months ago!  Yes, yes, it's me, I'm alive...!!   

So what's the story with this guy, you may wonder?  In short, he is the closest guy friend I have ever had.  We met online I'm guessing around late 2004 or early 2005ish.  I had been in a relationship with another guy a good chunk of 2004 who I'd met through hockey.  He broke up with me that fall and I admit it broke my heart and put me into an emotional tailspin of sorts.  Hard to explain, and now with it being 7 years later the memories can get a little fuzzy and mushy both.  While I'm not typically the type of girl who always has to have a boyfriend, something about that breakup triggered something within me.  I immediately started online dating - on two different sites at the same time actually - and I THINK that might have been my first time ever doing that.  Nowadays meeting people online is not anything weird, but back then it still might have been a little odd given it had not been around that long.  Or maybe that's just my interpretation.  

I started going out on a bunch of dates and kind of having casual, not too serious mini-relationships of sorts (and yes, hookups) with a couple of guys.  I felt lost and hurt after getting dumped and was just looking for some reasurrance that I was really still desirable to men.  In that timeframe, I met L, probably for coffee and dessert or something.  We had hockey in common and I just remember him being nice and friendly with an offbeat and awesome sense of humor.

We went out on a couple dates and talked on the phone a few times (this is the olden days before texting became so commonplace) and somewhere in all of this we somehow realized we were better off as friends rather than dating.  I'm giggling right now, because if he happens to read this at some point I'm sure he will let me know if my memory of all of this is correct or not.

Let's just say 2005 was a hell of a year.  A lot of Life happened and it was intense.  My grandfather passed away in early February, a month short of his 94th birthday.  13 days later my niece was born.  My Dad retired.  I was growing restless at my job - a company I had worked at for over 6 years at that time and I really loved it - but my new Director and I were butting heads quite a bit.

And in the spring of that year, I went through a very dark season in my life.  There was legal drama involved in it too.  I am not going to delve into that in here, but just know it was a very bad time for me and given I am an expert at beating myself up, combine that quirk with dark drama and I just felt very lost.  I felt like my world was turned sideways or upside down...like my reality had just snapped, shifted and toppled over.

I felt lost but not alone, thank goodness. L was there for me through it all.  An amazing friend and confidant he was for me.  I confided in probably only my uber close friends circle and my family about what I was going through.  L listened and helped keep me laughing when I needed to and gave me advice.  He helped me with a few projects around the townhouse here and just was a great shoulder to lean on.  And in the funny, small world we live in, it turns out another (female) friend of his has a beach house not far from where my family has had one for 3 generations.  The 3 of us even went down there together one weekend.  Can't help but laugh at the Threes Company-ish thing it was, but it was great. 

Now somewhere in all of this, L and I started up a mini episode of Friends with Benefits.  Ummmm...yeah.  Don't judge, people.  Yeah, whenever I hear about people getting into dealios like that I used to judge and think I'd NEVER do that.  But definitely no regrets...and he and I later talked about it and agreed we would not cross that line any longer.  And we didn't.

As my dark drama was finishing up that fall, I met another guy online and it got pretty serious pretty quickly.  L and I shared our dating stories all the time, and he was genuinely happy for me when this one started taking off.  And I was very open about my friendship with L with my new boyfriend.  Nothing to hide.  

But he would have nothing of it.  He didn't want me to be around L and didn't want to meet him or anything.  Nope.  And I got grilled with ten billion questions about him too and the nature of our friendship.  Now, side note here - as I've shared this recently with a few close friends - friends I've met since that era who never knew L or my boyfriend then - it's amazing the wide variety of opinions that come out.  Some friends say well, you should have run the other way when your boyfriend got controlling and possessive like that early on.  Others say yeah, I can totally see why he wouldn't want you having a close guy friend still in your life as you were focusing on a new relationship. It's all water under the bridge now.  But I tell you, I'd never been in a situation like that before and I haven't since.  

L gradually faded from my life.  I'd made the decision to focus on my new relationship.  He and I may have gotten into a couple of spats while this 'transition' was happening too.  Again, fuzzy and mushy memories.

When I walked away from that boyfriend in spring of 2007, I kept moving forward and never reached out to L.  I had great memories of our friendship and time together but never made any effort to try to track him down.  Sometimes people are in our lives for a short while to make a difference, help us and then move on, and I chalked him up to being one of those.

And...life moved onward.

So.  2 days after I discovered those emails in my Facebook inbox last week I was on my way into Ballard to meet L for dinner.  My God, had it really been six years?  It was like no time had passed.  I cannot tell you how great it was to just see an old friend and pick up right where we'd left off.  Definitely no hard feelings or regrets.  Just hours of talking and catching up.  And a brief interlude between restaurants to walk his friend's dog - the one with the beach house near my folks'.  Even seeing that dog again brought another wave of great memories whooshing back.  Wow.

What a wonderful end of year surprise!  Oh, and he and I are Facebook friends now, of course.  He says, "hey, let's try staying friends this time, OK?"  

I think that's a GREAT idea.                               


Don't Make Assumptions

OK, last week's mental vacay was exactly what I needed.  Time to re-focus on this mini 4-week blogging project...where are we now?  Oh yeah, Week #3.  Andddd, only a couple weeks behind given Tangent Time and my vacay.  This is part of what I love about blogging - no worries on things being behind because it's just my words and the small handful of you who even read this or stumble in here accidentally.  Welcome...and welcome back, by the way!

So, cyber throat clearing, we're on the 3rd of the Four Agreements book by Don Miguel Ruiz.

Don't Make Assumptions.  Ruiz opens this chapter with a great summary:  "Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want.  Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama.  With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life."

So simple, and yet so profound.  That's what I've really enjoyed about this book...it's easy to read but mind blowing too.  Definitely one to keep on the nightstand, for I always discover new gems when I read chapters I've already read before.

All the sadness and drama in our lives stems from us making assumptions and taking things personally.  (Don't take things personally is the Second Agreement, by the way.  That was a great one to ramble on about a few weeks back in here.)  See how these Agreements tend to build one upon the other?  Pretty cool. 

The poison that is called gossip - this is how we communicate in the dream of Hell, as Ruiz explains.  Because we are afraid to ask for clarification, we make assumptions, and we believe we are right about our assumptions; then we defend our assumptions and try to make someone else wrong. 

How often have we all made an assumption about something or someone, only to have been totally wrong later?  Our bubble bursts and we get mad, sad and the drama starts.  But let's back up a minute...why do we even make assumptions in the first place?

Ruiz explains:  "It is very interesting how the human mind works.  We have the need to justify everything, to explain and understand everything, in order to feel safe.  We have millions of questions that need answers because there are so many things that the reasoning mind cannot explain.  It is not important if the answer is correct; just the answer itself will make us feel safe." 

So if someone doesn't tell us something (and we don't ask) we make assumptions and believe our own assumptions.  We also make assumptions about things we hear but don't understand.  What a big, ticking time bomb this can be in relationships!!  Damn, haven't we all been guilty of assuming our partner knows want we want, whatever it is?  "You should have known."  Lovely way to start an argument.  We blame our partner but in reality we have no one to blame but ourselves.  We didn't ask!

We don't always ask partly because we assume that people see the world the same way we do...think the way we think, feel the way we feel, judge the way we judge and even abuse the way we abuse.  Ruiz says this is the biggest assumptions we humans make about one another.

Anyone else out there guilty of getting into a romantic relationship with someone, thinking your love will change them, change the things you don't like about that person (and even deny there are maybe huge things out there that you don't like about him/her?).  Raises hand...yep I sure have.  The truth is my love will not change anyone.  Neither will your love either, by the way.  Ruiz even quips that "real love is accepting other people the way we are without trying to change them.  If we try to change them, this means we don't really like them." I'm not sure I am 100% on board with that last sentence...need more thinking time here I guess.  Sure if there are huge things we don't like then we have to wonder why we're even involved in a relationship with that person.  But if it's something silly like I don't like the way he squeezes the tube of toothpaste?  Annoying maybe, but not a deal breaker.  Honey, can't you squeeze the tube from the bottom, not the middle?  You won't?  OK, I'm outta here.  Ridiculous, right?  I'm pretty sure that's not what Ruiz meant...it's just my mind conjuring up a funny scenario like that.  

Ask questions!  This is Ruiz's wise advice to us all. Once we hear the answer we will not have to make assumptions because we will know the truth. 

But we need the courage to ask for what we want.  Sure, it one's right to tell us yes or no, but that's also true for what others ask of us.  The Right to Ask is everyone's Right.  I've chickened out of asking sometimes throughout my life, I admit, and a lot of times when I'm dating someone.  Why?  Was I afraid of what the answer might be (as in NO)?  Was I afraid of being rejected, and even at risk of 'losing' that person out of my life?  Didn't want to rock the boat?  Wasn't sure how to articulate what I wanted and didn't want to risk being seen as stupid, needy, high maintenace, whatever?  Yep, probably.  Aha, I assumed how the person would react and therefore did nothing and probably got resentful later.  BINGO. 

So once again, Ruiz nails it with another great chapter in his book.  I'm going to continue working on this - it's a lifelong process for sure - and find the inner courage to ask, ask, ask!      


Mental Vacay

Guess the Holiday spirit is in full force here.  So much so I really need some extra downtime this morning. Busy weeks/weekends usually energize me but today I'm just flat out tired.  The only thing on tap today is the Comcast guy swinging by to fix some pixelated TV channels, and then hockey later tonight.  Hopefully I'll have a second or third wind by then to skate!

So, the 3rd of the 4 Agreements post is next weekend.  Hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season!


Tangent Time!

I admit it, I got distracted and didn't have my "homework" ready for today.  Yeah, I could have crammed and tried to read and ponder the 3rd chapter of The Four Agreements, but you know what?  It's not worth it.  This is deep stuff that needs to be read with passion and concentration, not some lame attempt at speed reading just to feel "ready" for today's post.

So what happened?  Well, I had lunch with T, one of my dearest friends.  We met at Wildfin in Issaquah...she'd heard great things about it and I am always up for trying a new place to eat.  I ended up having a small burger and went easy on the fries.  I don't eat meat everyday but I guess I was craving red meat way deep down.  After a few nights in a row of yummy pasta tossed with a little pesto it was time.

T has been attending these seminars about...understanding men.  Really?? And she just raves about them - she says it's totally changed her outlook and viewpoint on dating and relationships, and has strengthened even her friendships with women too.  Sounds pretty profound, eh?  Wow, what's going on here?  How can you learn stuff like this in a class?  Led by mostly women?  

She smiled and pulled a small paperback book out of her fabulous Hermes Bolide handbag.  Called Making Sense of Men, by Alison Armstrong.  She couldn't wait to loan it to me!  Now, I admit, I'm a "black hole" book borrower (that's a self-coined term by the way).  It's not intentional, but I am not a voracious book reader, and books loaned to me, well, tend to get absorbed into a bookcase here forever and ever, never to be returned again and possibly not ever read at all. I promised T I'd do my very best to not do that in this case.  And she's pretty tenacious, so I'm sure if I don't return it promptly she'll have no qualms asking for it back - as she should!

Now.  If you knew you were going to focus on reading the Third of the Four Agreements, but then had to choose between that and a book suddenly plopped in front of you called Making Sense of Men, what would you do? Read them both perhaps?  Well, this is me we're talking about here, and given I don't do a lot of book reading, I caved and chose the Men book to focus on.  Can't blame me...plus it would be less likely to end up on a "black hole" bookshelf here in the townhouse.

I didn't know how quick a read this was!  I pretty much read it in one evening, and have re-read it a couple of times!  Can this topic be summed up in a 70-page book?  Well, of course not...we're human and complex creatures.  And yeah, I've read John Gray's Mars & Venus books, the 1990s classic The Rules and a few others about dating and relationships too.  All endlessly fascinating really...and anything I can learn about these creatures called men who I adore and who also sometimes drive me batshit crazy, well then all the better.

It's fascinating how entirely different we are wired.  Amstrong proclaims that 99% of the confusion and frustration between men and women is because we - mistakenly - assume we are versions of eachother.  "Men are not hairy women," she goes on to say!  Ha ha ha that made me giggle.

She goes on to break down the two types of attraction men have towards women.  The first - Sexual Attraction.  Obvious, right?  OK, I won't give away Armstrong's list of what goes into that - check out the book for yourself.  And what does her list of sexual attractions trigger in men?  They want to have sex.  Period.  Doesn't mean they want to date us or have a relationship with us or fall in love with us.  Nope.  I even remember some John Gray books talking about the same thing a little differently.  If a man is physically attracted to a woman, it's just that and nothing else.  This confuses us as women, because our first 'degree' of attraction in a man is if he's mentally stimulating to us (whereas in men the first 'degree' is physical).  With mental attraction in a man, maybe it's his humor or intelligence that stirs us.  By the time we as women are feeling physically attracted we've already gone through two other 'layers' or 'degrees' of attraction if that makes sense.  So ladies, if a man is physically attracted to you, enjoy it and don't take it too seriously. 

What's the other type of attraction a man has for a woman (but not ALL women per se)?  Charmed and Enchanted.  Aha!  Who wouldn't want to be with a man who is compelled to spend time with you, take care of you, protect you, contribute to you...and make you happy?  Without you needing to do anything but just be fabulous YOU?  Damn, sign me up.  Makes me even swoon here a little just sitting in my office chair, relishing those moments men have done those things for me.  Without any need to make any effort and certainly not nag.  THAT'S bliss right there. 

Armstrong goes on to explain in what she calls "Men-glish" (love that) - what men say and what it means in female-speak.  Things they say to us or offer to do for us when they're Charmed and Enchanted.  Believe me, I'm not affiliated with the author of this book or the publishing company or anything, but if you're intrigued by my ramblings here, go pick up the book for yourself!  One big key?  We as women need to be receptive to these wonderful things men want to do for us!  Anyone here ever have a man offer you his jacket because it was cold?  And responded by a, "...but won't you be cold?" in return?  No, no no!!  You are not his mother...accept his generosity and snuggle in his jacket for pete's sake!  Hell, I never turn down even the grocery store bag boy's offer to carry my bags to my car.  Just enjoy it and smile with a warm thank you.  Sure it's his job, but you've probably helped make his day too.

And there is serious "juice" required of us to be the best we can be as women.  Things like being self-confident and authentic.  And if a great outfit and killer pair of shoes helps you get there, go for it.  Nope, we can't be self-confident fueled on emptiness like sugar and caffeine.  Rest, good nutrition, exercise...THAT'S what does it.  Don't forget passion...whether it's for our kids, cross-stitching, volunteer work or salsa dancing, as Armstrong explains.  And RECEPTIVITY to men's offerings...the doozy!  YES!  If that guy asks you out for dinner and you're even the slightest bit interested, go!  All you have to do is show up, look your hot self and just enjoy a great evening out.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Receive it graciously, ladies.

I could go on and on, but I'm just intrigued with these simple yet profound insights from Armstrong in her book.  Don Miguel Ruiz, I promise your 3rd chapter is my focus this week!  

The Third Agreement:  Don't Assume Anything.     


Don't Take Anything Personally

This calls for a cup of coffee! 

And this is the second part of The Four Agreements book I've committed - joyously - to read and blog about over the next four weeks.  This book is compelling enough that I know it will be well broken-in and loved even after I am done with my first read through.

The author, Don Miguel Ruiz, summarizes this chapter:  "Nothing others do is because of you.  What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream.  When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others you won't be the victim of needless suffering."

Wow.  Just, WOW!

Why do we take things personally?  If someone random dude on the street yells, "hey, you stupid bitch," without even knowing me, it's not about me, it's about them.  If I were to take that random mudslinging personally, then perhaps I believe I am a stupid bitch.  I might even wonder "...how does he know?  Is he clairvoyant or does everyone else out there see how stupid - and bitchy - I am?"  The minute I choose to agree with this I've taken the 'poison' as Ruiz calls it, and I'm trapped...trapped in a dream of Hell.

Why eat others' emotional garbage?  Emotional garbage...ah, love that term too. 

Oh man, I remember getting teased a lot as a kid. Painful.  Kids can be absolutely verbally brutal to one another, don't you think?  I'd come home in tears sobbing about this and that, crying on my Mom's shoulder.  And I in turn picked on others I saw as 'weaker' than me.  I remember my Mom saying stuff like, "Just ignore them and it will go away," or even the doozy, "Don't take it personally."  That's a LOT for an 8 or 9 year old to process...when you're young all of that playground politics IS your world and nothing else matters.

What if someone insults us, truly hurts our feelings deep down to our core?  Ruiz responds by saying, "...it is not what I am saying that is hurting you; it is that you have wounds that I touch by what I have said.  You are hurting yourself."

So THAT'S it.  Oh, and how did I come across this book, on a side note?  Remember the "Two Surprising Ds" post I did recently?  I am really enjoying this new friendship with D, the woman I used to see 'squatting' in a building cafeteria where we worked - as did I.  (Consultants without official workspaces get to eek out space wherever we can!)  Thank you Michael Kors for getting us officially acquainted - she recognized me waiting in line at the store in Bellevue Square and I am so glad she said hello!

One night at a happy hour I was venting to her and a few of her friends about how I got my chops busted a little at work.  I was still fuming a bit and feeling taken down a notch or two.  Vulnerable.  I strive to be open minded, open to feedback from co-workers around me, but when it's delivered in front of another consultant I have just met, well, that's NOT OK in my book.  The energy in that small meeting was jacked up and just overall way off.  And I felt cut off at the knees, embarrassed, and in my defense, got, well, admittedly, defensive.  Hate to admit it, but I did.  There, I said it.  So D immediately cut to the chase and said ummm, you took it personally and oh you SO need to read this book!    

There's something about a double whammy back at me when people tell me to not take things personally.  I get stubborn and feel like lashing out with well hell I will feel however I want to, so NEENERS.  Yeah, that's mature, right?  It's been a lifelong process for me to shed that, grow up, and even take things to the next level by reading this book.  Nope, it's not about me.  Nothing is.  Not even when people get mad at me.  My truth is only my perception - no one else's.  I let someone push my buttons and I fell off my 'stance.'  I got defensive when someone told me to not be defensive!  Whoops.  

Now I can breathe and learn through that recent experience and let it go.  And it feels fantastic!

What about the flip side, say when someone says "you are wonderful."  Ruiz explains:  "...they are not saying that because of you.  You know you are wonderful.  It is not necessary to believe other people who tell you that you are wonderful.  Don't take anything personally.  Even if someone got a gun and shot you in the head, it was nothing personal.  Even at that extreme."

OK wow, I had not even taken it that far in my mind but alrighty!  But let's back up to the compliment of "you are wonderful."  What's wrong with acknowledging a compliment like that with a genuine THANK YOU in return?  I was always taught to appreciate compliments and not brush them off.  I'll have to keep mulling over that one.  Perhaps he means that - let me read my paragraph above again - that if we already feel that way we don't need others to tell us?

When we take things personally, we set ourselves up to suffer.  To suffer for nothing.  Ruiz even talks about abuse: "...if you have the need to be abused you will find it easy to be abused by others.  Likewise, if you are with people who need to suffer, something in you makes you abuse them...they are asking for justification for their suffering."

If we don't take things personally, we will never be hurt by what other people say or do.  How freeing is that?  We are not responsible for the actions of others...we're only responsible for ourselves.

So my goal is to really, truly incorporate this mantra into my daily living and breathing, even moreso on top of my tough lifelong journey to shed that old skin.  I know I can do it and I won't judge or beat myself up when I slip either.  Onward!

Next week's post:  Don't Make Assumptions.                


Be Impeccable With Your Word

OK, we're off and running here!  Last week I committed to blogging over the next four weeks about an amazing book I'm slowly savoring and reflecting upon.

It's called The Four Agreements, written by Don Miguel Ruiz.  And if you have sharp eyes you'll notice the picture of the book is from the nice people at Amazon.com (thanks, everyone!)  This book was written about 15 years ago, but the wisdom it contains goes back thousands of years.  The knowledge comes from the Toltec people, stemming back to southern Mexico.  It's not a religion, but it does honor all spiritual masters who have taught on Earth.

Ruiz explains that dreaming is the main function of our minds, and our minds dream 24/7.  The difference is when we are awake "...there is a material frame that makes us perceive things in a linear way.  When we go to sleep we do not have the frame, and the dream has the tendency to change constantly." 

Wow, that's profound!  I never thought we're actually dreaming while awake too (except for day dreaming).  No wonder our dreams when asleep can be so wacky and random, only making sense in their moment.  Once we're awake - poof - they're mostly gone.

Simple and profound - this is the exquisite content within this book.  I find it both very challenging and relaxing to read and contemplate, and much of it I will need to read several times through - joyously - to truly attempt to understand.  Don't get me wrong - the language is easy to read and the tone is like firm love.

He calls what society teaches us "human domestication."  We didn't choose to speak our native tongue when we were growing up, we didn't choose our religion - we didn't even choose our own name!  What happens during this process is we "...form an image of what perfection is in order to try to be good enough.  We create an image of how we should be in order to be accepted by everybody...like Mom, Dad, brothers and sisters, the priests and the teacher.  Trying to be good enough for them, we create an image of perfection, but we don't fit this image.  We create this image, but this image is not real.  We are never going to be perfect from this point of view.  Never!  Not being perfect, we reject ourselves.  And the level of self-rejection depends upon how effective the adults were in breaking our integrity."

He talks about abuse...how much we judge and abuse ourselves for our mistakes.  In relationships, if we are with someone who abuses us more than we abuse ourselves we will likely walk away from that person.  But if we are with someone who abuses us just a bit less than we abuse ourselves, we will probably stay in the relationship and tolerate it endlessly.

So here is the first agreement and my (gloriously imperfect) ramblings about it:

Be Impeccable with your word.
Speak with integrity.  Say only what you mean.  Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others.  Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

Through our word we express our creative power...through it we manifest everything.  Our word is a double-edged sword...we can create beauty with it or destroy everything around us.

What does impeccable mean here?  It means we take responsibility for our actions but we do not judge or blame ourselves.

Wow.  That's huge. *Raises hand*...I am likely the queen of self-blame and self-criticism.  Only in the past, most recent decade of my life, thanks to an amazing therapist, was this pointed out to me...reflected back in my face like a giant mirror, on how badly I beat myself up over everything I do that falls short of perfection.  Rather, we are human and gloriously flawed.  Breathe, breathe....strive for EXCELLENCE, not perfection.  This is the relatively new internal message I've worked so hard to incorporate into my core being, swimming upstream against decades more of habit and DNA. Oy. It's a journey, not a quick fix.

Ruiz goes on to discuss gossip and how mainstream it is for us as a communication vehicle - and how poisonous it is, like a computer virus within our minds.  How many times have we gossiped about the person we love the most to gain support from others for our point of view?  Reality check:  your opinion is your point of view.  Doesn't mean it's true...rather it comes from your own belief, your own ego, your own dream.

How fertile are our minds for negative ideas and "spells" people put upon us?  If we are impeccable with our word our minds become only fertile for words that come from love.  And how we feel about ourselves - how much we love ourselves - is directly proportionate to the quality and integrity of our word.

So this is the first of four new 'seeds' planted in my (fertile) mind.  How impeccable am I with my word right now?  How often do I tell myself how wonderful and great I am?  Do I speak (and write) the truth in everything I do?  I've been called "honest to a fault" by some, and I actually take that as a huge compliment.  How many white lies do we tell every day?  To others?  To ourselves?  Yeah, I love gossip as much as the next person, but I wouldn't label myself as gossip-y.  My goal this past week and going forward is to always say what I mean and mean what I say, both speaking and in writing.  And to not beat myself up if I am not perfect.

I feel happy and alive on this journey...waves of goodness wash all around me and inside me too. Is this some sort of cleansing?  I'm not questioning it one bit; just loving every second of this new "work."

Next week's Second Agreement post:  Don't take things personally. This one's gonna be a doozy in so many ways.       


Holy Grail Hair Care

OK, it's been awhile since I did some product reviews, so here we go.

I love the changing seasons here in the Northwest, but the rain does a number on my hair.  I joke that my hair is a human barometer...a little humidity or drizzle outside and POOF.  Frizz. 

Hair is emotional for a lot of us.  Let's face it, we wear our hair everyday so it's always on display and out there. If I'm having a bad hair day it ruins my mood.  I'm sure I'm the only one who notices, but still.

Back in the 1980s when big hair ruled, I was right there.  Mousse, curling irons, hair spray - I did it all.  And my "helmet hair" looked pretty damn good even if it didn't move much.  Neither did anyone else's!  Some of our sorority pictures from the late 1980s have resurfaced in Facebook Land thanks to scanners.  Damn that was a LOT of big hair!  We pretty much worshipped Paul Mitchell products...or Aqua Net as a super cheap (but super stinky) alternative.

Hair trends change (that's a good thing, plus it makes for funny memories looking back).  Somewhere into the early 1990s big hair went away.  Ah, now I remember. It was the Jennifer Aniston shag cut (from the Friends TV show) that pretty much launched a new era of hair style.  Long, choppy layers...and straight, not curly.

Hard to believe that was over 15 years ago!  But hair is still worn much more loose and natural, not in the stiff, shellac'd and crunchy curled 1980s way.  And that's fine by me...I haven't used hair spray in years and my bangs are no longer 2" above my head.  I still have a curling iron but it's slept dormant in a bathroom drawer for eons.  My profile pic is pretty accurate, save for the bangs which I've grown out a little longer (full on bangs are too high maintenance for me I discovered in a brief interlude c. 2009.  But they did hide the forehead crinkles which was nice).

All these cool, long layered styles are fabulous, but for me a problem.  My hair is pretty thick and wavy...if left to dry on its own without a hair dryer it morphs into wildly-varying forms of waves and curls.  A tad freakish.  It's funny how back in the big hair days I spent so much time every morning getting my hair all curled and sprayed.  Now fast forward a couple decades and I spend time daily...smoothing it out.  Which is a chore.  And every day it behaves a little differently.

So in all this rambling you can probably guess I've tried tons of products out there to keep my hair smooth.  Not to get it poker straight, but straight enough...and it's got to stay that way all day which is the problem.  Yeah, there are things out there like Brazilian blowouts and other semi-permanent straightenings but they scare me.  I stick with getting my highlights touched up and don't really want to add any more chemicals into my hair, even if they say those treatments are OK for color-treated hair. 

After going through several flat irons - frustrated - I discovered the GHD Styler thanks to some nice online discussion/enabling and raving about it.  Gulp...$240??  That's what I plunked down for it a few years ago (I see it's come down in price slightly in that link).  But you know what?  4 years of near daily use and this thing is a champ.  It heats up super quickly, shuts itself off, and has curved edges so you can do waves or even curls with it too (it comes with a DVD to show you how).  And it doesn't dry out or damage my hair...it just smooths it out and makes it look nice and shiny!

And speaking of shiny...this hair journey wouldn't be complete without talking about some of my favorite shampoos, conditioners and styling products.  Step into my shower and you'll find a good 6 or 7 shampoos, conditioners and a couple of cleansers and body washes.  Yeah, I have no brand loyalty in this department either (just like makeup) and love rotating products daily.  Even the smell of shampoo is wonderful to savor in a hot shower, and helps me wake up and get energized.

I tend to be a hair product snob.  I'm pretty good at mixing cheaper makeup products in with the spendier ones, but with shampoo and conditioner I've always gone more high end.  Brands like Kerastase, Alterna and Arbonne.  No shame here in plunking down $25-$30 for a bottle of shampoo.  After all, it's fabulous quality, smells amazing and lasts a long time.  And it's for HAIR!  There used to be a fantastic beauty supply store right on my commute home which was like kryptonite or crack to me.  Maybe it's a good thing it's closed down.  But then that cool thing called the internet?  With items marked down and/or free shipping?  I'm a sucker...sign me up.

Then one day in the grocery store I passed by the shampoo aisle and they had some tiny samples of Garnier's Sleek & Shine shampoo and conditioner.  I thought hell, for $1 each, why not?  I opened the bottle and wow...a very happy green apple fragrance too.  Sold.  If I didn't like it, no worries, I'm just out $2.

I am truly, truly impressed with these Garnier products.  And now the proud owner of two large bottles of shampoo and conditioner.  Each was around $5 apiece, a fraction of what I usually pay.  And this stuff WORKS.  And it does what it says it will do.  I am amazed how great my hair looks...no midday poofing or curling.  We have not had a lot of rainstorms here - yet - so that will be the true test.  I bet it's going to work out wonderfully.

Garnier also has a cream in a tube to use on towel-dried hair prior to blow drying.  Got it at the grocery store for all of $3 and it is amazing.  So long to my pricier Tigi after she's used up.

OK, now I have also fallen in love with a pricier brand, so this journey is still hard on my wallet.  Moroccan Oil.  There is a small group of shops and restaurants a short walk from my office building, and there is a salon on the main floor.  I stopped in once on my way to grab lunch and had a great chat with the girls there.  They had a Moroccan Oil product display and I asked if any of it would work on my hair.  They suggested a bottle of the treatment oil - it comes in a formula for light colored hair too!  I dab a little on my ends occasionally to keep them weighed down.  Love it!  I also am now a huge fan of their shampoo, conditioner and glimmer spray.  The spray just adds a little shine, not hold like a hair spray.

So between Garnier and Moroccan Oil I'm smiling big through the season that normally wreacks havoc on my hair.

And, major gear shifting here...next week I am going to start the first of a 4-part review of a book I've recently purchased and have just started to read.  Just putting that out there to keep myself accountable.  Wish me luck!   


That Glorious Extra Hour!

Oh man ohmanohmanohman...I am sitting here grinning ear to ear, sunshine streaming into the home office...and...

It's. Only. 11am!!  Not noon!

Seriously, people, our flip back to Standard Time (clocks go back one hour) is my most FAVORITE time of the year.  Payback...we balance the books.  It's no secret DST kicks my ass when we lose that hour in the spring.  I feel jetlagged that entire week, and perpetually stressed that I am constantly running late.  Tired + late = bad combination.

But now, time to chill.  I woke up Saturday just knowing this morning was coming.  Kinda poked around the house and later, fueled by a salted caramel mocha from a Starbucks drive thru (which I RARELY do even though there is one just 5 seconds from my house), I drove out to visit my dear friend T in Sammamish.  She's going to do a Silpada party later in December - an absolutely perfect time to host a party as it's prime time shopping season!  Blue sky, leaves turning - ahhh anytime I need to whip out sunglasses in November I am a happy girl.

I had a major sushi craving as I was driving home, and swung by the Metropolitan Market to pick up some other groceries too.  I used to commute through the Houghton neighborhood a couple of years ago when I briefly worked in Kirkland and I miss it.  The Metropolitan Market is absolutely amazing, and the people who work there have their shit together.  Nice, knowledgeable, energetic.  You can just "feel" it when you walk in. 

So I grabbed some pre-made sushi (it's actually pretty decent as they make it fresh right there in the store), got home and added an extra blob of wasabi and a few shakes of Nama Shoyu (unpasteurized soy sauce as recommended in my raw food cookbooks).  Even found my chopsticks too!  Bliss.

...almost as blissful as sleeping in today until 10am (which really was 11am but I remembered to turn the clocks back tonight - oops, well most of them).  Funny how my cell phone didn't make the automatic change (booo) but the old, crappy laptop here sure did.

So that's about it.  Just enjoying a nice, lazy weekend - hockey is the big exclamation point later tonight.  Can't wait!  

And the nice people at amazon.com are sending me a book that was very highly recommended by my new friend D.  I'll leave it at that for now - it's on it way and I will likely have my first ever book review post in here soon!  


Vitamin Rambling

I rolled around in my bed this morning, feeling so rested and so lazy too.  And laughed at myself when I realized it was 10:30am!  What a lazy butt I can be.

Reflecting on this past week...I have a lot to be thankful for.  I feel happy, energized, confident...not that I wasn't before but I'm feeling that inner surge and whooshing around that just makes me feel, well, happy!  I DID start taking vitamins more regularly - is that one of the reasons, or just a coincidence? 

I usually take a couple of fish oil capsules every morning - they say those extra Omega 3s are good for your brain and digestion so it couldn't hurt.  I like the unscented ones because while I love fish I don't need to start off my day with my breath smelling like it. 

And when cleaning out a drawer in my bathroom I discovered a jar of Vitamin D that I'd forgotten about.  Expiration date's still aways in the future so into the routine she goes too.  Where else do we get Vitamin D besides some daily sun exposure?  Milk?  And mushrooms I think (sounds strange though)?  Well, around here daily sun exposure is non-existent and laughable to attempt, especially this time of year.  I don't drink milk either (though I never met a cheese I did not love, but does cheese have vitamin D in it?  It must if it's made with milk, right?).  

And...good ol' Vitamin C.  Doesn't hurt to pop a couple of those every day as we head into the winter flu season.   I've already had a cold since starting this new job and earlier this year I had that cough that lingered easily two months.  No more of that, thankyouverymuch. 

What else did I find in that bathroom drawer?  Some multi-vitamins.  Jar half empty and expiration date still OK (I am VERY anal about pull dates on food/vitamins/you name it.  They're there for a reason!) 

NOW I remember why I stopped taking those.  They upset my stomach no matter how much extra water I'd drink after taking them.  I'd feel like I was going to puke on my drive to work.  Not fun.  But I decided to try eating a little bit more in the morning (I'm usually so rushed I have a quick wedge of cheese and that's it till lunch time).  Anyway as I ramble here, I'm trying to allow just a few extra minutes in my morning routine to take these vitamins with a ton of water...and I feel great!  Is it just psychological?  On the other hand, the stupid bruise on my knee is finally going away (don't ever bump into your dishwasher when it's open - just sayin), and some of the sharp knee pain I've experienced occasionally - recently - going up or down stairs has vanished.  I slowly, carefully, knock on wood about that. I figured the knee pain was a reminder that I need to lose weight AND that I am not getting any younger.

So we'll leave that alone for now.  I rolled out of bed yesterday and headed to my favorite spa for a little, ummm, maintenance.  And I actually got there early enough to head into the Starbucks across the street and relax a little.  Lo and behold I had a Starbucks gift card hiding deep in my wallet I'd completely forgotten about!  Bonus! 

I tried my first ever salted caramel mocha.  With half the usual chocolate as someone suggested.  Delicious!  I sat outside at one of the small tables, browsed Facebook on my phone and just savored my coffee.  This is freakin' late October, people, and it's sunny and I'm sitting outside enjoying the changing leaves, slight breeze, and a beautiful view of Lake Washington.  Amazing!

I've known my esthetician, M, for probably 10 years and she is wonderful to chat with.  As we were waiting for the eyebrow tint to work its magic she said you HAVE to come check out the knitware we have in the front of the spa.  It's flying off the shelves and the prices are amazing (amazing as in low, ha ha). 

Sure enough...a few minutes later I picked up a black infinity scarf and a medium grey toque with a fleur de lis design in grey bling on one side.  LOVE IT!  I loved it so much I immediately cut off the tags and wore it running errands the rest of the afternoon.  Perfect new fall accessories!  And they were $40 total - yes for both!  If you haven't tried an infinity scarf, check them out.  It's a scarf that's in one continuous loop - so easy to just plop on and it always looks great!  And doesn't fall off either.  I actually have this one on its way in the silvery knit from the nice people at Nordstrom.  It will go perfect with my new toque!

Now it's time to get caught up on reading, cook up some chicken for an early dinner and get ready for hockey later tonight.   Best way ever to wrap up a weekend!


All Plates Spinning


OK, I'm tired.  I can't decide if this is a good tired or not, so I'm going with good...for now.

I got a lot of seeds planted over the past year and half. Seeds like job connections.  Doing the pro bono work with my friend/colleague when I was unemployed.  Representing Silpada.  And it's funny how sometimes the seeds sprout up all at the same time!

I had one of those weeks where I barely had time to sneeze, starting with Tuesday.  Oh yes, glorious hockey.  Hockey is that regular rhythm that is such a delicious part of my lifestyle...a wacky outlet that continually surprises people when I tell them I play (yes, year 'round, co-ed).  Normally we have games on Sunday nights, but this week we played on Tuesday night...a 9:30pm faceoff at a rink about a half hour drive from my house.  We had a tough 4-1 loss, but on the other hand it was probably a good 'keep the ego in check' kind of game, because our previous two games were blowout wins.

Getting home at 11:30pm on a Tuesday night, knowing morning is just around the corner, is surreal.  It's hard to wind down and immediately get to sleep, so the next day I am usually on adrenaline and crash early the next night.

Wednesday?  After work I met with a former co-worker for a quick drink.  He used to be my Director way back in the early 2000s, and we have kept in touch over the years as our career paths moved onward.  Most recently he and I worked together on that pro bono project with another mutual colleague.

...that project which is pro bono no more!  Later that night I got home, got a 2nd (3rd?) wind and fired up the home laptop.  Did I mention that the company did finally land some actual business with an actual client?  And that while the gig was in progress the founder of this company (my friend/colleague who was actually doing the work himself because it wasn't enough to justify hiring someone) meanwhile also landed some full-time work of his own with a different company and moved to Baltimore?  And asked me to help finish up the project?  Yes, 'tis true.  Whew, did those last few sentences make sense?  It's all a big whoosh, just like it's been in my head trying to process it all.  I'm flattered he asked me to take over the work to be done, and also am learning how much my brain needs to stretch to keep the mental "work" energy fresh and vibrant for an extra 10 hours or so a month.  I got home Wednesday night after that drink with M, called A (who is on east coast time so it's super late for him), fired up the laptop here and worked for an hour on another version of a project schedule.  Ah, the classic time and resource constraints.  We now have a recommended schedule and a shortened, condensed version of the schedule, which we may have to resort to if our client's budget runs out end of calendar year.  And we need a decision quick because time is ticking.  Nope, the calendar is not our friend.

As I was working over the phone with A updating the spreadsheet, I was mentally multi-tasking, thinking ahead to the next morning - Thursday.  We had a training session onsite with that client, and earlier this month I was a little worried on if I'd be able to take a half day off from my "real" full-time job to go to the client site.  Thursdays are typically super busy.  But the universe smiled, and it was easy to get my time off approved.  Even better, the FTEs at my full-time job had an offsite event all day, so I didn't feel too guilty about being away either.  None of the pro bono work I'm doing is in direct competition with my full-time job, but still it feels a little funny doing this side work...not in a bad way at all though.

The training Thursday morning was in downtown Seattle.  Le Sigh, how suburban I have become.  I was laughing to myself remembering how long it's been since I've worked downtown. 17 years.  How I miss it...I lived and worked in Seattle for years after finishing college and just took the bus everywhere - it was fabulous.  And I never lived in the suburbs while working in the city - the only time I ever did any regular commuting from the suburbs into Seattle was - gulp - in 1988 when I was taking some classes at the U of W for some extra college credit while home for the summer between my junior and senior year.

So that night I was wondering just how bad the traffic would be for the morning commute.  And I had to get up about an hour and a half earlier than I usually do.  It was almost dreamlike, busting out of my routine, heading over that bridge into Seattle.  The bridge where they're still struggling to get the toll functionality to work properly - looks like they've pushed out to start in December now.  I actually made great time and got to the building about a half hour early.  Ahhh, perfect.  Enough time to join the super long line at Starbucks.  I needed a double tall nonfat latte something fierce!  I reminisced, remembering how I worked in a building just across the street from where I was, high up enough to where we could look DOWN upon this building as it was under construction.  Back in those days when I dressed up for work in skirts, pantyhose and pumps, and the only computer in our office was a huge 386 desktop for all 6 of us to share.  We did most of our daily grind on state of the art (back then) typewriters and our essential fax machine. Ahhh, that morning it felt strange to be going to work without my laptop briefcase.  Just my purse and a notebook tucked inside.  How much things have changed in 20+ years!

After the client meetings that morning, I headed back to the 'burbs and my full-time job.  And made the drastic mental shift from consulting to...printing.  What's going on here?  Well, at my full-time job some of the team are conducting a long series of workshops where they use large wall posters as visual aids to do some grounding on why the heck we're doing the work we're doing.  We're a little tight on our supply budget, so I was asked to help out by doing some of the large poster printouts myself, using one of the huge plotter-style printers that are in various locations around our campus.  Sounds easy enough, but it sure wasn't.  Finding where they are, finding out if they're open for other groups to use (meaning, not private), finding out if they are actually working or not, getting the right printer drivers installed...  UGH UGH UGH.  Now I'm not one to bitch about work, but come on now.  How much money are we really saving having me, a well-paid (and, ahem, well-billed) consultant doing all this legwork that we could just hand off to a professional printer and be done with it?  Hmmm.

A 10 minute drive across campus and 3 hours later, I completed the printouts.  Getting them rolled up and clipped and into my car - in the rain - was interesting to say the least.  Paper is goddamn heavy!  No joke!  I'd hoped to get some other work done while these huge posters were printing but nope, no dice.  I found out just how high maintenance these print jobs are.  The paper does not capture well after it prints, so I had to hold it just so, so it wouldn't fold up or bend.

And at about 4:30pm, I mentally shut down.  I'd gotten up early, got out of my routine going downtown for half a day, then spent the other half of the day back at work cranking out posters on a huge printer.  Guess that hit my saturation point.  I went home, exhausted.

Friday was a good day to catch up on work missed Thursday, and I topped it off meeting up with D for a drink at Brix, a wonderful wine bar not far from my house.  D's the one I ran into at the Michael Kors store a few weeks ago (see my Two Surprising Ds post for that funny story!).  I'm really enjoying getting to know her!

And Saturday?  Keeping up with me here?  I did a Silpada party for my good friend S, who was my neighbor here in the townhouse complex for many years.  She and her boyfriend recently bought an absolutely beautiful home in Lake Tapps and it was time for housewarming and playing with jewelry!  We had a blast.  It's an hour drive each way to their house, but so incredibly worth it.  I earned $300 commission from the party sales - not too shabby for just a few hours of "work" eh?

So it's not surprising that I slept in till nearly 11am today.  Yikes, that even is late for me and borders on feeling wasteful of the day.  But that was how tired I was!

No rest tonight either save for a short nap maybe later. Yep, Sunday night means hockey.  And tonight's faceoff?

10:45pm.  Awww yeahhhh.       


Well hello again, Food Processor

...and time to change it up in fivenineteen land in here a little!  How do you like what I've done with the place? :-)

So it's that still, grippy grey outside again.  So silent this morning it woke me up.  No wind, no rain, no cars on the road.  Damn, did everyone leave town except me?

And I've just about finished up the last of that wonderful Bolognese sauce I made last week.  It keeps beautifully in a Tupperware in the fridge.  This batch went quickly so I won't likely need to freeze any.  

Now, in last week's post I made some comment about how I don't mind the chopping and prep work that you could do in a food processor in a fraction of the time. Maybe I stirred the sleeping beast way deep in the back, top shelf of my pantry.

I must have been craving something completely different for this weekend's cooking adventure.  I have a pretty decent kitchen, but it's nowhere near the size or with the open feel that more modern kitchens have today.  Nope, it's 1980 here in our townhouse complex, and while one of my neighbors did a glorious remodel to open up her kitchen area into a nice great-room flow, the rest of us have not yet pulled the trigger.  I'm glad I at least have a good-sized, open bar counter area on one side which looks into the dining room and a nice bay window and slider which plops out onto my back deck.  So no claustrophobia.  It's just a small-ish kitchen with not a whole lot of spare countertop space.

And part of that countertop space is a mini-showcase of my beloved cookbooks. The rest are in the pantry...and that pantry is a hodgepodge of well, stuff you normally put in a pantry, my spices, and some cooking gadgets I don't use super often.  And my hand mixer, a wonderful toaster oven with a mini pizza stone, waffle iron, plastic wrap, tin foil...hmmm, I think this baby is due for a major cleanout.

I took a good, hard look at those cookbooks.  How much have I REALLY used them recently?  The slow cooker recipes, raw "cooking," vegan, Primal, Italian food, American Southwest...time to pull one off the display and try something different, I told myself.

So I reached for Caprial's Bistro-Style Cuisine, by Caprial Pence.  (That's "kuh PREEL" on the first name, by the way.)  I have one of her other cookbooks, and way back in the day (late 1990s) she had a cooking show on our local public TV station, which is how I first found out about her, channel surfing on some lazy weekend afternoon.  Caprial's signature are recipes that are simple but super chock-full of flavor and come together very quickly, with a big nod to the flavors of Pacific Northwest cooking.

Here's what I whipped up - it's chicken with a wonderful, spicy peanut sauce which you can also use on grilled prawns or fish.  The sauce has a good kick but not in a blow-your-head-off way.  Head to the Asian foods section of your grocery store!  And when she says to mix ingredients in a food processor, she means it.  I dug out my 11-cup Cuisinart, blew the dust off and took her for a spin. 

Hot-as-Hell Chicken on Noodles with Peanut Sauce
Serves 4

Peanut Sauce
2 tsp peeled, chopped fresh ginger
2 tsp chopped cilantro
2 cloves garlic
2 fresh jalapeno peppers (whole, stems removed)
1/2 C red wine vinegar
1/2 C soy sauce
1 heaping C creamy peanut butter
2 tsp curry powder
1/4 C honey
2 tsp dark sesame oil

1 tsp olive oil
4 (6 oz) chicken breast halves
1/2 C dry sherry
1 C sweet hot chile sauce
1/2 lb dried Chinese egg noodles, cooked al dente and tossed with a dash of vegetable oil
1/2 C dry roasted peanuts or cashews (I used cashews)
3-4 green onions, minced

To prepare the peanut sauce, combine the ginger, cilantro, garlic, jalapenos, vinegar, soy sauce and peanut butter in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the curry powder, honey and sesame oil and process until smooth.  Set aside.

In a very large saute pan, heat the olive oil over high heat until smoking hot.  Put the chicken breasts in the pan and brown them well, about 2 minutes on each side.  Decrease the heat to medium and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the sherry, increase the heat to high and cook until about half the sherry remains, 2-3 minutes.  Add the chile sauce and turn the breasts to coat them well. Decrease the heat to low and slowly simmer while you prepare the noodles.

Put the noodles in the pasta insert and set in a pot of boiling water or in the stock pot and cook for about 2 minutes to heat them through.  Strain the cooked noodles and place in a large bowl.  Toss them with 1/2 cup of the peanut sauce and place on a serving platter.  Remove the chicken breasts from the sauce and slice.  Place the chicken slices on the noodles and pour some of the remaining sauce over the top.  Sprinkle with the peanuts or cashews and scallions.  Serve hot.

NOTE:  I had some bowtie pasta lying around and used that instead of egg noodles.  I bet this would be great over rice too. 


Late Night Mid-Week Slow Cookin'...

Fall is here!  Even on a rare sunny day like yesterday it felt different.  It's crispy outside (or soggy if it's raining).  It's getting darker a little earlier than it used to and the shadows are long even midday.  I met up with a good friend on the top of the hill here yesterday very spontaneously for a 90 minute brisk walk.  Leaves are starting to turn, and the tall sunflowers in that corner yard we always pass by are now top heavy and tired from their own weight.

So while I always mourn summer as she melts away into fall, I DO love this time of year for the clothes and food.  Time to bust out the sweaters, boots, leather jackets...oh yeah.  And cooking!  Soups!  Stews!

Last year I purchased a slow cooker for the first time.  I remember our Crock Pot as a kid - my Mom made wonderful chicken dishes all the time - and they seem to be coming around in style again.  Kinda like fondue.  Anyway, mine was free actually.  Remember the Refrigerator Drama from last year?  I got a $100 Sears gift card, one of the few bright spots in that whole episode.  So I used it toward a slow cooker.  Very nice, stainless steel, 3 1/2 quart size.  And my folks gave me a Williams-Sonoma slow cooker recipe book for Christmas.  Love it!

And it was time to bust a move with it again.  Last weekend I had 3 lbs of ground beef in my fridge, just a couple days away from use it or freeze it.  I really wanted to make a Bolognese sauce - the cookbook recipe is wonderful - but, being a smart cook, re-read the recipe.  Ah yes, now I remember:  once you make the sauce it needs 4 hours in the slow cooker on high heat or 8 hours on low heat.  Hmmm...how do I cram that into my crazy week schedule?  I know one cool thing about a slow cooker is you can put everything in it in the morning, turn it on low and come home that night from work with your meal ready!  But for some reason I've been a little reluctant to do that.  What if I get stuck at work late or in traffic?  I know they shut off to a low simmer once the timer goes off, but anyway I guess I'm not comfortable with something "cooking" in my house when I'm not there. 

Last week definitely was burning the candle at both ends.  Sunday night was our first hockey game of the season!  Woo hoo!  With a 10:45pm faceoff!  Not so woohoo.  But that's winter season for ya.  It was awesome seeing my teammates again, meeting a couple new faces and getting back on the ice.  I had not skated since around June and frankly have been woefully lame getting regular exercise.  But I actually skated and played a lot better than I thought I would.  And we had an 8-4 blowout win!

There's something surreal about leaving the rink after a late game. That night, it was midnight.  Luckily this game was at the rink that's just a 5 minute drive from my house, so no excuses.   Once I get to the rink, especially for a late game, time kind of stops mentally for me, except for our game clock.  I force myself not to look at the "real" clock...nope don't need to be reminded it's 11:30pm or whatever!  Crazy.

Now, it's uber hard to immediately wind down and get to sleep after hockey, as much as I want to/need to, especially on a Sunday night (errr, early Monday I guess).  So that means an extra cup of coffee at work.  Those of you reading this who play hockey or other late night sports know what I'm talking about!

So Sunday night was out for making the sauce.  Onward to Monday.  Well, I didn't get home as early as I'd thought, and so I got a late start getting the ingredients ready.  There's a bit of chopping and prep time, plus you need to brown 3 lbs of ground beef and make a little extra sauce with some deglazing.  I honestly don't mind doing a lot of chopping/prep work by hand.  Yeah, there are these really cool things out there called food processors, and I actually do own a couple - one large, one small - but when it comes to chopping, slicing or dicing relatively small amounts of ingredients, I'm good with my cutting board and a sharp knife.  My Mom says I'm my grandmother's granddaughter...on my Dad's side.  Right down to our mutual love of flour sack towels to get those last drops off of pots and pans after they air dry.

Getting the meat, veggies and deglazing sauce ready was all I had time for on Monday.  Even on the high heat setting, 4 hours in the slow cooker would mean finishing up at 1am.  And I just couldn't do it.  So I put the cooked meat and veggies in a huge Pyrex bowl, poured the deglazed sauce in it, covered it with foil and put it in the fridge.

Tuesday?  Well, that was a night out with my Silpada team.  We meet monthly and normally are at our team leader's house, but this time we changed it up and met at Purple, a wine bar in downtown Bellevue.  I loved seeing everybody and relaxing with some wine and munchies.  Someone even sprung for a round of salted caramels for dessert.  WOW.  We definitely were the most bling'd out table, and given it was a little noisy we just had a ton of chitchat rather than any kind of organized meeting agenda, and passed around eachother's jewelry for everyone to try on.  

I got home at 10pm that night.  So that's a no-go on finishing that darn sauce.

Wednesday night, anyone?  This HAD to be the night to finish.  I thought it would be OK, but a teeny part of me was worried that the sauce would turn out different or weird having been in the fridge for two days.  But, it turned out great.  Kinda weird getting steaming hot sauce to cool down and get divided up into Tupperwares...at midnight.  Ahh, blissful sleep.

So I learned that slow cooking is MUCH better done on a weekend.  Thankfully this sauce keeps beautifully in the fridge or freezer. (This sauce stores up to 3 days in airtight containers in the fridge or in the freezer for up to 3 months).  But it's soooo good I bet you won't be able to keep it around that long!

Here's the recipe!

Bolognese Sauce
Makes about 12 cups (3 quarts)

2 T olive oil
2 oz pancetta, chopped
2 small, finely chopped yellow onions
2 finely chopped carrots
1 stalk finely chopped celery
3 lbs ground beef
2 C beef broth
1 1/2 C dry red wine
1 can (28 oz) crushed or diced plum tomatoes
1/2 C milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh Italian leaf parsley, minced for garnish (optional)   

In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, warm the oil.  Add the pancetta and saute until it begins to render its fat, about 1 minute.  Add the onions, carrots and celery and saute until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the beef and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until it is no longer red, about 7 minutes.

Transfer to the slow cooker.  Add the broth and wine to the pan and raise the heat to high.  Bring to a boil and deglaze the pan, stirring to scrape up the browned bits on the pan bottom.  Pour the liquid into the slow cooker along with the tomatoes and stir to combine.

Cover and cook the sauce on the high heat setting for 4 hours, or the low heat setting for 8 hours.  Add the milk, stirring to combine.  Cover and continue cooking for 20 minutes longer.  Season with salt and pepper.

...now, how do you use this sauce?  Toss it with some fettucine and sprinkle in fresh-grated Parmesan cheese. 

Or try it with Polenta:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Butter a gratin baking dish (I actually just use a 9 x 13 glass casserole).  Take a tube of prepared Polenta (18 oz) and slice it crosswise into slices about 1/4" thick.  Arrange the slices in the bottom of the baking dish, overlapping them.  Spoon the Bolognese sauce around the slices generously and sprinkle a 1/2 cup of fresh-grated Parmesan cheese.  Bake until the sauce is hot and bubbly, about 20 minutes.  Served with minced fresh Italian parsley for garnish.

from the Williams-Sonoma Food Made Fast Slow Cooker Recipes book.