2017, The Year of Commitment

img_3151I can’t believe it is already mid-January. After I reflected back on 2016 and pondered over what I wanted 2017 to look like, I shared with Leo on choosing a word to represent the year 2017. I was incredibly inspired by Megan and Mike at The Fresh Exchange. Their blog continues to be a source of inspiration to live a simple, beautiful life of intentions. Thank you! Here is their post on 2017 The Year of Quality. I love the idea of not having resolutions as it can turn into a “to do” list. Instead think about how you want to LIVE as a whole.

After conversations and hearing each other out, we decided on our word for this year to be COMMITMENT. At times this word can sound negative as it can be associated with the feeling of “must do this” or obligations. For us, we want to make this a positive word, with positive experiences. Whatever we say we are going to do this year, individually and together, we are going ALL-OUT. This is going to make us really be mindful of our commitments as it is easy to over-commit.

It will mean committing to LESS things to actually commit MORE WHOLE-HEARTEDLY. This is about being intentional, being all there, and it’s a year where we examine what’s important and what is not. Obviously it changes with circumstances and seasons of life. In the year 2017, what is important to us? What do we want our year to look like, as a couple and individually? What do I need to say no to? What are my values?

Here are my values-based commitments on the various aspects of my life: I will commit to…

1. COMMUNITY – doing life together with family & friends. img_3032My parents only live an hour away and we don’t see them nearly enough as we want to. When weekend comes around, sometimes all we want to do is sit at home and do house stuff. Certainly there are times when this is much needed, but being around family is always a refreshing time. We also want to grow in our relationships with our friends. This can be so simple as sharing a meal together at each others’ homes. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant. It’s about the company and living life together. I personally want to be more intentional with recent friendships that’s developed at work.

2.  MARRIAGE – dating my spouse

img_4324Not too long ago, I heard a marriage talk on the radio and this particular statement still gets to me, “You don’t date to marry, you marry to date.” I think the truth behind this statement is that many of us stop trying once we are married. There are definitely many aspects of our marriage that is in constant need of work and grace, but this is what we are focusing on this year: dating each other. We commit to taking time aside and be in each others’ presence and date weekly. We are very happy with having a simple movie night at home, but sometimes going out is fun too. Whatever the activity, we hope to make new experiences together, laugh more, and make our marriage a priority – no matter how busy we get.

3. HEALTH – reclaiming my physical, mental, and spiritual health

img_2150Being physically active is who I am as a person. I love to run, practice yoga, hike, bike, and just be outdoors. When work gets a hold of me though, I feel completely drained and even depressed, I don’t make it a priority. In December, we renewed our yoga membership as a way to hold us accountable (and save money). I think what helps me the most is reminding myself how I FEEL after a yoga class/run/a long hike. I feel amazing. I feel strong. I feel energized and relaxed. I feel happy. Leo always tells me that I look the happiest after a sweaty yoga session.

In terms of mental and spiritual health,  it really helps me to have some alone time in the morning before heading to work. My mind is the most clear in the morning and I enjoy its beauty and quietness. In the past years, I have wake up  30 minutes earlier to journal, read the Bible and pray. It has given me the strength and peace throughout the day. Year 2016 was not good. I would get up with just enough time to get ready and rush out the door. I know this is totally fine for many people and I wish it was for me, but it isn’t. Feeling of rushing to get to work  has never worked for my mental health. This is also true for having some downtime before going to bed.

4. FINANCES – Finding freedom.

After reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up last year, we had donated bags and bags of clothing, books, and dvds. The amount of clothing I was buying just because it was on sale was pretty embarrassing. Since then, I bought less than 10 pieces of clothing this past year. We plan to save more and be much more mindful about what we spend our money on. “What value will this add to our lives” and “what purpose will this serve” are the question we will ask to keep us in check with our intentions.

5. Work – Where Purpose, Passion, Skill comes together. img_2768

This is one of the many beautiful poems in milk and honey . I’m kind of having this on the back of my mind as I go to work each day. I know I am a skilled teacher and there is purpose to what I do, but there is no passion. It’s not a good feeling when you go into the office or wherever you work, and have this gut feeling this is not it. I am committed to spending this year figuring out my next steps. But, for the time being, I pray that I will give my 100% because it does matter, even if you intend to leave.

The Year of Commitment will keep us in check with our values and intentions. It is not about the list of thing we must do. It’s not about perfection. Rather, it’s about our efforts into doing more of what gives us purpose, and less of things that don’t align with our values. Also, I am learning and realizing that the most important commitment I will make this year is COMMITMENT TO THE NOW, even if this is a season I wish to rush through.

easiest red lentil soup

Michigan winter is still going strong. After a mild Christmas and New Years, almost signal digit temperatures are back in full swing. Luckily everyone in our household loves soup because that’s all I cook in these frigid days.

I first had this Mark Bittman Lentil Soup  at our friends Liz and Mark’s house last month – another cold day. When I heard that Liz made it (Mark is usually the cook), I knew it’s something I could also make. Liz and I both find cooking stressful so when we must (because our husbands are working late, out of town..etc) do the cooking, it has to be EASY. I mean, minimal ingredients, preferably in ONE pot/pan, and under 30 minutes from prep to eating. Sounds like quite a standard, I know. So, when this soup came into my life, I had to try making it on my own. I made it last night and it turned out amazing.

My adaptations to the recipe and ingredients I used are here below. I didn’t put carrots or lemon because I didn’t have any. I also didn’t put cayenne because I couldn’t find it in our pantry.

  • Chicken broth (4 cups)
  • Diced tomatoes (instead of tomato paste because I wanted some chunky tomato pieces)
  • 4 garlic cloves (doubling it!)
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1 tbsp of ground cumin (more please!)
  • Red chili flakes

I followed the recipe, except for using the blender. I wanted the soup to have more texture. What I love about this soup (besides the fact that it’s super low key) is that you can adapt by adding other veggies into the mix or more spice.

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remembering 2016

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These were our little housewarming gifts to each other on April 22, 2016 on closing of our first home. This pot holder from me signifies a time of growth, as individuals and as a couple. Leo got this card for us, as a daily reminder to be brave and excited about life as we start a new chapter together.

 

Another year gone, a new year begins. As 2017 is already underway, I want to close the year 2016 differently than in the past. It’s easy to start fresh and I love that feeling, but in order to truly go forth with arms outstretched, I think I need to put 2016 to rest with much gratitude- not only in my thoughts, but on paper, making it permanent of all the great things that DID happen.

Year 2016 Gratitudes: 

  1. April 22, 2016- we became first time homeowners to a charming 1915 bungalow in a cozy neighborhood in Ypsilanti. Buying in Ann Arbor didn’t work for us financially and we were really sad at first. But, we absolutely love our neighborhood and couldn’t have asked for a better place to start this phase of our lives.
  2. Labors of love- painting, building, installing, taking down, making it our own…etc.
  3. Sue. friend and unofficial mentor.
  4. Friends who helped our move so painless.
  5. Hosting Thanksgiving: first time both set of parents celebrate holiday together.
  6. Hosting many dinner parties with friends. Good food, good people, usually involving games.
  7. Special farewell dinner party for our friend, Grace. Cooking together a mediterranean meal.
  8. Women’s book study
  9. Friendships- old and new, far and near
  10. Retreat Getaway to Traverse City/Old Mission. Much needed time of refreshment
  11. Leo’s health improving so much in the past few months. What a miracle.
  12. Spending time with my nephew, August. Seeing him grow up into a beautiful, happy, loving boy is a miracle unfolding before my eyes.
  13. Christmas/New Years with family. Thankful for a sister who traveled all the way from California to be with us.
  14. Finding a yoga studio that feels so natural to me- my love for the practice continues to grow. Diving deeper into yoga feels like me and I am thankful for it.
  15. Starting this personal blog and writing freely.
  16. Taking a chance at Yoga Teacher Training Scholarship, although I didn’t get chosen
  17. New Years Eve at our home. First time parents sleeping over and us hosting them.
  18. Professionally: contacting a few people whom I admire and asking for help/advice. This was scary. Vulnerability is hard.
  19. Attending an adoption conference (Lives Rewritten), with open heart.
  20. A new start to Leo’s career
  21. Found my way back to journaling – feels so good.
  22. Marriage is getting stronger, learning to love, listen, forgive
  23. Sharing our failed IVF story with other couples. Amazing how you don’t realize how your story can be a source of comfort for others.
  24. The year I really appreciated desserts: homemade earl grey lavender bday cake, dark chocolate/peanut butter cookies, lemon polenta cake (all made by Leo)
  25. The day we had a family snowball fight…just over this Christmas. I don’t recall ever seeing my parents play with snow.

Making this list was eye-opening and I realized that I have much to be thankful for. I believe that’s always the case and gratitude is practice, time and time again, day after day. Even if things like traveling more (outside of MI), redoing the kitchen, find my dream career was on my “list to do” for 2016 and did not make it, other great things happened and they are not any less.

Thanks 2016 for all the big, little, and in-between things that happened, and even for the things that didn’t. There is always something to be thankful for.

unnamedApril 22, 2016. Sunny skies, all smiles – 100% happy and 100% scared.

best nut mix ever-rosemary, chipotle

img_2777We discovered this Ina Garten nut recipe about 3 years ago when I really really wanted to make candied nuts, but have it taste better with better ingredients and less sweet. Well, we have been making these during the holidays ever since. It is no exaggeration when I say it tastes like Christmas in a single bite. You get the sweetness from the honey and brown sugar, roasted aroma from the nuts, spice from the chipotle powder, and to me no herb resembles all the delicious dishes that are made during this season other than rosemary.

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As you know from our cooking, our recipes are either original or tweaked from someone else’s. Here are our thoughts about what to keep in mind with this recipe:

  • Get an orange and squeeze the juice out of it yourself. We made it three times already this season, twice with an actual orange and once from “freshly squeezed” juice. You really can taste the difference. The actual orange will give you more of a zesty flavor that is worth it.
  • We added 1/3 of more nuts than what the recipe called for, making it less sweet.
  • Get whatever nuts are on sale and what you will actually eat. We skipped the cashews (also because we are not a fan) and added regular peanuts to the mix.
  • A little chipotle powder goes a long way. We like it spicy, but we wouldn’t go more than what the recipe calls for.
  • Go crazy with rosemary. We probably doubled the amount – we sprinkled a lot at the end so you have that fresh rosemary flavor as well.
  • Do not skip the part about about stirring it at mid point. If you don’t do this, the nuts will stick to the pan.  Also stir when they are finished until it has cooled a bit.

This mix has become our go-to for any time of the day snack, snacks when we have guests over, and this year we are giving them as gifts in lovely mason jars. Everyone loves them!

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Oh- and Leo discovered that these also make awesome ice cream toppings! The ice cream pictured is from our local ice cream store, Go Ice Cream. With our roasted nuts, we tried the Single Malt Butterscotch. OH MY.

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ode to our vintage kitchen, a thanksgiving lesson

img_2647When we moved into our home in May, one of the renovations we wanted to get started right away was this kitchen. Everything about it is old, small, and seemingly nonfunctional for people who love to cook, eat, and gather. Granted we bought a 1915 bungalow and we absolutely adore the charm, character, and the bone of an older home. But, that doesn’t mean I wanted everything to stay in the 1900s. When it comes to a kitchen, we prefer new and sparkly.

Well, very soon after we moved in, we realized renovation of any kind is not in the budget. We ended up painting all the cabinets white, spray painted the hardware gold and recently Leo built a kitchen island for much needed counter space. Still, it leaves us with a vintage stove and oven. To be honest, we were apprehensive about its function! The thing is though, this old(er) stove and oven has not compromised our love for good food. I’m sure the fact that Leo is an amazing cook has something to do with the magic. Regardless, it’s pretty incredible. Even our friend Brian mentioned this at Thanksgiving – the contrast between the stove and fast-forwardness of the meal that was produced. I was reminded yet again the gift of what we have and appreciating the now for what it is.

There is magic beyond what one can imagine if you let yourself see it. I so need this reminder. Thank you for letting us see your beauty, our humble vintage kitchen.

 

spanish tortilla, an egg dish I like

It’s funny how this dish is so unlike us. We will occasionally have eggs for breakfast although we really should do more of it because Leo makes an amazing herb omelette. As for potatoes, unless it’s oven baked japanese yam (that I can literally can have every winter night as a snack), it’s not something we crave. When we do, it’s sweet potato fries or truffle fries from our favorite places in town. But again, we don’t normal cook with potatoes.

So,  I’m not really sure how we ended up making this spanish tortilla dish 3 times in the course of 2 weeks when I don’t like any sort of egg heavy dishes like frittata. But, it happened. That’s a lot of potatoes and eggs – a combination that is unfamiliar in our home.

It all started when we randomly found this food show that I can’t seem to remember the name of right now. It’s about a chef who travels the world and takes an ingredient that is local there and makes a beautiful, simple, delicious dish. The first episode we watched he made this dish that looked like an omelette, but it was so much more. That’s when we learned of the spanish tortilla. Spanish Tortilla is a Spanish omelette consisting of potatoes and eggs. It is fried over oil and usually served at room temperature as an appetizer. It just looked really hearty, perfect for a cold day, and simple.

We followed this bon appetite recipe here because it was the simplest that we found and we had many successes with their recipes. We followed the recipe and added tons of fresh rosemary and thyme. We also ate it hot, and for dinner- all 3 times.

So, there is an egg dish I like, I learned. img_2485

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retreat, a new way to vacation

I remember going on retreats in middle and high school with my church youth group. This was a devoted time where we left our daily lives to recharge and spend time with God. I loved these times. Believer, religious, or not, I think we can all benefit from retreating. Whether it’s to seek clarity in the direction of your life or to find rest, we all need times in our lives where we need to LET GO and RECONNECT. I’m here to share with you how we retreated from our daily life to reset.

When we were planning our vacation to Northern Michigan, we knew we were looking for something that will have us truly get away. Both of us have been worn down from our jobs and we just needed to refresh and reset. We are pretty adventurous when we do travel and like to pack our schedules to make the most it. This time though, we wanted to plan intentionally for a retreat vacation. This is fortunately easy to achieve in Northern Michigan.

img_8261img_8274How we planned our retreat:

  1. Purpose– The purpose of a retreat vacation is to find balance, clarity, refreshment, and/or rest. This changes everything when thinking how our days will look and how I wanted to feel at the end of each day on our vacation.
  2. Where/When – Once we knew the purpose of the trip, we could start thinking about where. We knew it was Northern Michigan. The vibe there is so chill and you can’t beat the scenery. We have never been to Northern Michigan in the autumn and have always wanted to go back during a different season. We were also limited to time (days off from work) and finances.
  3. Activities– We made sure of two things when it came to how we wanted to spend our time. First, less booking/reservations – in short, less schedule. Second, we carefully choose activities that we find relaxing.

For our retreat vacation, we stayed at a lovely farmhouse through airbnb. It was in Cedar, which is in between Suttons Bay and Traverse City. We knew we wanted somewhere remote, quiet, and in nature.

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On our 3 nights/ 4 days in the Traverse City area, we did the following:

Old Mission Peninsula: Mission Point Lighthouse and searching for Petoskey stones.

There is something about searching for hidden treasures in the water that is meditative. The colors of the water, ripples, sound of the waves, feel of the gritty sand… it was so refreshing to explore the waters this time of the year. And when it’s only 50 degrees, there aren’t many people in the water, which makes it all that much more of a calming experience. Leo found not one, but two petoskey stones!

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Wine and Cider. Our favorites are Tandeum Ciders and Big Little Wines 

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Of course food was involved.

Inspirational meal at Trattoria Stella (only reservation we made). Amazing, farm to table, seasonal foods. Food always awakens our souls. img_2169

img_2171Farmer’s Market on a rainy morning.

Farmer’s Markets are a place of inspiration and joy for us- especially Leo. He would walk around to all the vendors, see the amazing produce that’s in season and think about the dishes he would create. There was a slow pace to the Traverse City Farmer’s Market compared to the Ann Arbor one, which was to be expected and refreshing to experience.

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Bon Fires/Smores/Sunsets… more reasons we loved our airbnb.

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To end our retreat vacation, we finished our “40 before 40” list that we (individually) started months (I mean months) ago, but never finished writing. This was inspired by our friend, Grace, who made a “30 before 30” list. It was a list of things she dedicated herself to do/make/accomplish before she turned 30. This made us think about how intentional this was and we wanted to do the same! We are 4 years away from 40 so we decided to make a list of 40 things we individually wanted to do before we turn 40 years old. It was so meditative to journal and reflect over a fire, sunset, and some hot tea.

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Sunrise on our last morning that I almost missed! 

I was my usual self –  packing to go home, making sure we had gathered everything. As Leo was loading up the car, it’s so like him to wander off. 🙂 He took notice of the sunrise and literally called me out. I’m so thankful for this partner of mine who pushes me to slow down and BE PRESENT. This was the first vacation we took where we came back truly refreshed, rested, and energized. Most of the times I am seeking a vacation FROM my vacation. We plan to make it a tradition of ours to take a retreat at least once a year.

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The busier life gets, the more I need to take a moment. This is one of the biggest lessons in my life right now.

It’s in these moments I have to slow down , instead of working faster and harder. I am so not good at this, but I want to make more of an intention to practice it. Whether it is a retreat with my husband, a solitude time with God, or a quiet walk alone, I am convinced more than ever before the value of TIME AWAY (even if it’s in my own home!) IN THE MOST BUSY TIMES. It refuels my spirit.

How do you refresh or reset?