Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Mixtape

I sent a mixtape to a guy I like. A real one. On cassette. With all the excitement and expectation and insecurity of a high school senior circa 1999 (which - incidentally - is the last time I had done such a thing).

It started out as half-a joke. My favorite playground. I love to take an idea too far. To surprise and delight by blasting through everyone's expectations. To make a lasting impression.

What an opportunity!

So I ordered a tape recorder and four-pack of cassettes on Amazon. And spent one long Sunday sifting through my entire music collection. It honestly took forever to find the right set of songs. Music he would like. Messages in that not-often-sung zone of "I think you're pretty great. Let's hang out more. Ok?" I payed special attention to the tones and transitions between songs. I wanted this tape to be a work of art.

I nailed it.

And then, because I am the world's worst at surprises (I get too excited to hold them inside!!!), I sent him a snapchat of the tape. And also asked for his address. I probably could have found it, but I didn't want to be creepy...

The following Tuesday I left work in time to go to the post office and sent it on its way. At that exact moment, the terror set in. While the tape weaved its way through land and air and weather delays, I worried. It was a lot of feelings in one place. And there was no turning back. No ambiguity. No blame it on the alcohol. No hiding from vulnerability.

I emailed the girls and asked for a pep talk. And boy did they deliver!

Side note: if you don't have a pack of fierce beauties who love you more than words and aren't afraid to wreak you with honesty, stop everything you are doing and devote yourself to assembling one!

I carried their words with me as reminders. A mantra: maybe I won't get the response I want - hell, he could hate it - but at least I get to be brave.

And brave is what my musician friend called me when I told her what I'd done. She noticed that I do this kind-of thing all the time: go all in, fling myself off the cliff, dive in head-first without checking the depth. You'd think with a pattern like that I'd get comfortable with discomfort.

Sigh... Nope.

We continued the conversation for a few days. She asked how I recover when I go in big and it doesn't turn out the way I've planned. How do I stay brave enough to do it all again? I had to think about that one for a while. And because I don't really know what I think until I read it back, I tackled the idea in an email:

My dear,

It never goes as planned. Ever. Even when I make a deal with the Universe that this will be the last deal we ever make. Still no. Think of it like a movie. Like every great love story you’ve ever seen. There is always the leap of faith. The first one. The early one when Meg Ryan flies her happy ass all the way to Seattle only to see Tom Hanks get out of the car and hug another woman (not his lover, but she doesn’t know that!!) or Julia Roberts gets cozy in her fancy penthouse suite only to be propositioned by Richard Gere's dick-bag friend who smacks her across the face for refusing. Do you think that was part of their plan?! The stories we tell ourselves never come true in the timelines that we set for them (it’s part of the reason I think SMART goals are bullshit - but that’s another discussion).

So YES! recovery is important. Because recovery is mandatory. When you fling your heart off a cliff like that, you have to have the strength to climb back up. It is the only way to give yourself the opportunity to fling it off again… Because one time when you do, you won’t fall. You will fly.

The hard part is: the only way to truly build the strength for that climb, is in the climbing

Photo Credit: That same amazing photographer. 

But you can build other strengths, things to call upon when you are half-way back up and feel like your arms can’t hold on anymore. There are a few reminders that make it all possible:

1) It isn’t going to kill you.
You might feel like you want to die. But you won’t literally die. A boy can reject you. He can take a long look at your pretty little heart and decide that he doesn’t want to see it ever again. And even if he is an immature asshole and decides to stomp it into the pavement before he goes, it won’t stop beating. Hearts are resilient like that!

2) You’ve been through worse.
We all have. My constant refrain about these men is, “what’s he gonna do to me?” Because unless he marries me, controls me, abuses me, separates me from my friends and family, convinces me I’m unworthy of love, cheats on me, and ultimately decides to leave me because  don’t measure up, then this new guy ain’t got nothin' on what I’ve been through - and that’s part of what I mean when I say the strength comes from the climb.

You’ve climbed out of worse, yourself, my dear. You've marched forward when everything would seem to hold you back. You've flung your heart off that cliff and had to save yourself from the rocks.

3) There is always something better.
I believe in God. I believe I have a fierce and feisty guardian angel. I believe that the Universe has a force and power that is ultimately unknowable and probably is tied up tight with the Holy Spirit. And those wicked three have taken me from nothing to everything. They have protected me from danger. They removed my ex from my life when I was ready and willing to sit in that torture chamber forever. Because they have something better in mind. 

That is part of the movie too. The second leap. The leap that requires you to love yourself and believe that you deserve all of God’s gifts. Think of Meg Ryan sitting at the top of the Empire State Building holding back tears with everything she’s got because she bet on magic and she’s up there all alone. Or Julia Roberts back in that dump apartment she shares with Kit after her whirlwind week. And then, when they least expect it, there they come: Tom Hanks up the elevator. Richard Gere charging into her neighborhood in the limo

The key. The critical key. Is remembering that the jump that doesn’t kill you isn’t going to be the jump that saves you in the end. Movies have to keep things simple. Life is bigger and better than that. Not dying (and climbing back up) isn’t the same as flying. And flying is what we’re after here

And the last most important thing is relying on your friends. And that’s a baby fling and a baby climb in itself. Because you have to be willing to be vulnerable with them, too. To be honest about who you are and what you want and what you’ve done. And all those baby climbs build strength for the bigger ones.

Take my stupid example: I had to be willing to tell you that I was scared. That’s not the same scope and scale as putting my soul into 60 minutes of music and shipping it 1000 miles. But it still requires vulnerability. And what if you had said I was stupid?  That he’s not that into me and I should have just let well enough alone? That reaction was a possibility I had to face to get the benefit of your enthusiastic support. It’s the same thing with the big flings. It’s why they’re so valuable. And worth all the effort of climbing back up after you fall. 


I don't know if I was quieting her fears or my own. I'm not sure that it matters. We both survived the week.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Unlucky in Love

I send men back to their ex-girlfriends, their former love-interests, their old flames.

A palm reader once told me that I am unlucky in love. She said that the men I want never stay and the men I don't want won't go away - but she could help me out with that for another $50. I declined.

So now I send men back to their old flames. I'm not being dramatic. This is statistically significant. I'm a scientist. I have the data. In the last six months there was the CrossFitter, and the Engineer, and the Lobbyist. And those are the ones I know about (some guys disappear without a Facebook-trace...).

I guess I could be offended by this. Take it to mean that I am so horrendous as a potential love-match that these fetching men have no choice but to seek the comfort of someone they had previously discarded, or previously lacked the courage or the space or the time to pursue.

But that's not really my style.

The way I see it, it could just as easily be my too much (rather than my not enough) that sends these men back down old roads. They come into my life looking for fun, looking for pretty, looking for amusement, and probably distraction. I provide all that. But I also have an inquisitive mind, an open heart, and a passion for the world. A vision. A direction. A life.

I am so much more than a one night stand.

And while it doesn't make logical sense that my too much would bring old embers and ashes back to life, I don't begrudge any of them. I might even understand.

I carried a flame for a man who was not my boyfriend for quite a bit of 2014. It was a shrinking flame - no bigger than a tea light or a birthday candle - by the time September rolled around. But it was a flame nonetheless. In September I also had a seemingly good - and different - man vying for my affection. Paying me attention. Taking me on adventures. Writing me poetry.

And I spent one frigid night in Alaska on the back deck of our wilderness lodge, bundled-up and worrying-out-loud to my travel-partner-soul-sister. Because you see, I was at that point: If I moved even one step closer to the Adventure-Poet, I would have to turn and blow the old flame out. No birthday wishes allowed.

Photo credit: the best photographer I know.

Things took a different turn with the Poet. So I didn't have to take that big breath in the end. But if I had, would it have worked? Or would that change in my gaze, that momentary increase in focus, have brought to mind all the reasons that I struck that match in the first place? How much I love birthdays?

Dim as it was, that flame was the only illumination for an imaginary ideal life. Would I have had the courage to snuff it out and make way for a bright but unknown reality? Or would I have rather poured on gasoline?

The harder question came after the Poet went away (long after, actually, but that's not the point): did I have the courage to extinguish that flame for myself? Without a well-read cowboy stoking a campfire somewhere nearby? Was I capable of making that wish and then sitting in the dark for a while?

If I had spent that $50, I might never have found out...

Friday, January 2, 2015

Resolutions Start on the 2nd

(everybody knows that)

Even my little sister - who refuses to make New Year's Resolutions - understands the importance of giving yourself January 1st to recover.

Last year I spent New Year's with her. I flew down to Florida on Christmas morning and spent 10 days camped out in her guest room. We went on a few walks with her dog. I went for a jog one time. But otherwise we relaxed and read books and shopped. And we agreed that we both needed to start a new workout routine in the New Year.

I had moved a few days before Christmas and didn't have a gym or workout strategy mapped out. My sister had canceled her gym membership for lack of use. So we both decided that we would follow We each downloaded the app, which is amazing. And we prepared to start. On January 2nd.

New Year's Day is just too much pressure.

First, I'm always hung over, or at least tired. I don't stay up past midnight very often. And I definitely don't drink champaign after (a lot) of liquor. Ever. So New Year's Eve is hard on my body. Second, lucky New Year's foods aren't exactly diet-friendly. I don't usually resolve to improve my diet, I'm allergic to enough as it is. But it's the principle of the thing... And also there is football to watch. And other equally-important reasons to stay on the couch, like new Christmas books to read.

So resolutions start on the 2nd. And today is January 2nd.

I've mentioned before that I always share my resolutions and goals for the New Year with DrLindsey. We keep each other accountable through email. And provide support when things go off the rails. It's amazing. We check in with each other every quarter. We reevaluate our previous goals. See what we've already accomplished. Replace any that don't make sense anymore - now that life intervened. And encourage each other to succeed.

This year, tho, we took a different approach.

Instead of our typical goal-setting-type goals (that often turn into one more to-do list) we have set... drumroll...

Goals with Soul 

(Watch the video. PS: I love how much she wanted to overcome her striving - I feel that way too).

I mentioned this approach last Spring, when I first found the Desire Map. I bought all-in to the idea of first deciding how I want to feel. And then - and only then - setting goals for the year that will help me achieve those feelings. I bought a copy for DrLindsey right away. And she agreed to take the leap with me.

It took me a while to discover my Core Desired Feelings. I worked through the process over multiple late-Spring evenings, sitting on my back patio. Often with a glass of wine. Basking in the soothing atmosphere. I didn't work on them after overly stress-filled days, or when I was in a rush, or when I had too much other stuff on my mind. I wanted to breathe. And do them right.

I discovered my Core Desired Feelings on May 9th. I was working through the final steps of the process, reading definitions, saying words out loud and sensing how they made me feel. Eliminating any that didn't sound right or feel right or look right on the page. And then - all at once - six little words ripped my heart out.

Authentic. Brilliant. In Awe. At Peace.

They hit me with a tidal wave of emotions. I still feel it breaking over me now when I see them all together in print. I was exhausted. And exhilarated. And overwhelmed. I had never seen anything so true about myself. In any shape or form. And I cried. Oh did I cry.

I tried them on for a few days, and then a few months. And I started to see the connection between those feelings and every decision in my life. The things I wanted to do. The things I didn't want to do. And the burning feeling inside of me that something was amiss - that action was required - when I wasn't feeling the way I want to feel.

I linked them to my work. I crafted them into a vision for how I want to exist in my basement cubicle. And I wear a reminder bracelet on my wrist. I told you: I am all in.

#truthbomb by Danielle LaPorte. Seemingly made just for me!

So, for the past few weeks I have been working on the next step: setting my intentions for 2015 based on my Core Desired Feelings. And that process has been equally exhilarating. You mean I get to dedicate my energy to feeling good? To feeling the way I want to feel? You mean my metric for success will be happiness?!? I'm in love with the whole thing.

I have four intentions for 2015. Well three and one that underwrites them all:

Build-up a robust and innovative team - this is my intention for work. My justification for pouring all my energy into enabling the people I admire most.

Dig into the depths of me - this one is for me. I spent 2014 rediscovering the girl I lost. And I like her! And I want to know everything there is to know about her!

Write like a motherfucker - this is a quote. And a call to action. Something I need to do. For myself - because I love it. For my work - because that's why they pay me. And for my relationships - because that's the best way I know how to send my love.

Prioritize my health and wellbeing - so that I have the energy to accomplish all the rest.

And they started today! I spent the whole morning working on a surprise for the team. And I know they're going to love it. And I'm writing right now. And I feel amazing. And I'm super blissed-out to have something so true to share with you. And that's the whole point.

I've also exchanged emails with DrLindsey. Because making a public declaration - as fun as it is - doesn't give me the deep, heartfelt support and acknowledgement that only she can provide. Sorry. I'm not sorry. You'll just have to understand...

Thursday, January 1, 2015

What I learned in 2014

It's that time again!

I get the feeling that I am late to the game with this post. Many of the blogs and news sites I follow spent the past week on their year-end wrap-ups. And I'm not going to lie: I've been thinking about this post for a few days, now. But I just couldn't bring myself to write it. First, because my January 1 post date is a tradition (I've done it twice!). And also, what if I had learned something amazing last night?

So here we are: January 1, 2015. Spending just a few more minutes looking back.

2014 was one of the best years of my life. Immeasurably better than 2013, for sure. Hanging out at the top of the list with the year I spent in Europe and the year I found my calling. For all the same reasons... This year was momentous and life-changing and deep and broad and bigger than I could have ever imagined.

And I learned a lot about myself, and my passions, and my desires, and my feelings. Way more than I ever could hope to contain in a single post. Or a single conversation. Or a single anything really. So after quite a bit of consideration, I've narrowed my lessons down to two. Two major lessons from 2014. Two big truths that I had not uncovered until this year.

I take up space in the Universe. 

I know what you're thinking: Well that's just silly. Of course you do! You're a scientist! How could it have taken you this long to realize that?! And you're absolutely right. Guilty. My only retort - and it's a whisper - is that our space in the Universe is much more than physical. Even though I had to learn that I do in fact take up physical space, too.

That was the easy part. The physical one. I achieved my goal weight in 2013. And then when that year ended badly I achieved much lower than my goal weight. And finally Rachel had had enough. And she took me out for dinner. And she told me I am beautiful. And then she told me I can't weigh zero. To be clear: I didn't have an eating disorder. I was sad. But the result was the same. I had to realize that I have to weigh something and it should probably be a weight that reflects my strength and vitality.

Recognizing my right - my birthright - to spiritual space in the Universe was much harder. I'm a giver, by nature. And probably by nurture. I was raised to think of others, to have manners, to take care of those around me. It's how we all co-exist helpfully in this world. But I contorted giving to also include not taking. The result is self-sufficiency in a lot of ways, which is good.

The result also is worrying that my thoughts or feelings or opinions might become a burden on the people I love. Taken to its extreme that worry becomes poisonous. And I spent years in a land of extremes, shrinking myself in service of another person's ego. At the time, it was the only way to stay safe. But then that became a habit. And then that became a lifestyle. And I applied it in all the rest of my relationships. And then when I didn't have to do it anymore, I didn't know how to stop.

Until June.

I had a disagreement with a friend. And it hurt me more than it hurt them. And the imbalance made all my concern about burdening them seem so ridiculous. I had to acknowledge my wishes and desires. Out loud. And once it was done, my fear about their possible response was overcome by my indignation and the truth came like a flash: I'm allowed to say what I feel. I'm allowed to take up space in this Universe. But then, that wasn't enough. It's not about permission. It's a fact of my existence. The sentence came forward in big bold print: I take up space in the Universe.

Thank you, NASA.

The only grades that matter are the ones I give myself.

This one was nearly impossible for me to learn. My last five years out of school were no match for the 22 years I spent behind the desk. The books and articles on living my best life were no match for my family's high standards for achievement. And definitely no match for my nature. Because you see, I strive. I get the A. I worry about what I could have done to make that A an A+. I seek challenge. I pursue perfection. I. Strive.

And I apply the same strategies I've honed over two decades for predicting what my teachers and professors will want from me - to get the A - to determine what everyone else in my life will want from me, too. And I don't see their expectations as a burden. I seek them out! They give me something to achieve. A target for my energy and creativity. A guaranteed reward once they're met. And wow, do I love a gold star!

But as my social circle expanded, as my career developed, as my responsibilities increased, all that striving became exhausting. And overwhelming. And stifling to my creativity. And a load that I almost couldn't carry. But how could I say no? How could I turn it off? How could I remove the outside expectations when I had internalized them so deeply? What about my gold star?!?

See what I mean? Nearly impossible. And then...

It seems to me that it always is the counterexample that finally drives a lesson home. Something happens that forces me to ponder simultaneously both sides of the same coin. And then the light turns on. And I get it.

I had a particularly vulnerable few weeks recently. I have been opening my heart and applying my lesson about my space in the Universe and speaking my truth. Especially when that truth will be positive and uplifting to the audience. In essence I am working to show the people I love all of my love, in as many ways as I can design. But all that openness and feeling can sometimes make people uncomfortable - especially the data-driven-science-geniuses I roll with.

And so recently when I opened the lid and poured out my heart, I tried to sit quietly, content in the fact that one of my favorites would get a smile because of me. But instead I sat in the center of my vulnerability. And it was terrifying. What if they didn't like it? What if they didn't understand it? What if it was too much? How would I get my gold star?

And there it was: striving. Only this time I was seriously considering making myself less to fit comfortably inside my imagined-worst-case-scenario of someone else's expectations. Less! How can I strive to be less? That ridiculous question doesn't even fit in my mouth. It is something that I never would say out loud. But I thought it. And all at once every other how can I strive to be... question came into focus. Both sides of the same ridiculous coin. And I get it.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Carne Adovada

The Universe sent this recipe to me.

That's a fact. Maybe you don't believe me or maybe you're rolling your eyes at just how silly this little cavegirl has become. But it's a fact and I have proof.

The Universe sends me things all the time. The things I need to survive. The lessons I need to learn, right when I need to learn them. And pretty little gifts to remind me that there is a higher power looking out for me.

For example, I had been telling the Universe for months that I wanted a purple lacrosse ball (for mobility). I workout pretty hard in the morning, and then I go sit all day, which basically is a recipe for hip-mobility-disaster. So I needed a lacrosse ball to keep at my desk to provide myself some relief when the going got too tough. But I wanted a purple lacrosse ball. My basement cubicle is a drab-brown place and I wanted any new permanent fixture to be soothing and pretty.

Now before you link away because you think I've gone past silly and straight into ridiculous, let me be clear: I wasn't actively telling the Universe I wanted a purple lacrosse ball (you pictured me shouting my desire at the full moon, didn't you?). It's far more simple to communicate with the Universe than all that. In this case, every time I went to a sports store and found only orange or white, I'd lament to myself the lack of purple and walk away. Or when I felt myself getting tight at my desk, I'd think "man I wish I had a purple lacrosse ball right now." That kind of thing.

Fast forward a few months to this Summer. I was out for a run with one of my coworkers to take advantage of the beautiful weather and a long mid-day gap between meetings. We were on the jogging trail complaining about our management (as you do) and half-mocking-half-motivating each other through the final stretch when I spotted something on the side of the trail and had to stop. It was my purple lacrosse ball.

In case that isn't clear enough proof for you, let me describe the setting. We were on a jogging trail. Through a wooded area. With no lacrosse-approriate fields within miles. And I am a scientist working in a male-dominated field. Hell. My running partner and everyone else we saw on the trail that day was male. Where did this lacrosse ball come from? And why purple? Because the Universe sent it to me.

I carried it in and washed it off. Now it sits in a place of prominence at my desk. I let my co-workers hold it while I tell this story whenever someone makes fun of my Vision (white) Board or my claims that it totally works! It's pretty compelling. Stops the cynical mockery right in its tracks!

I also tell this story to friends when they hear me say "I want to be loved like a Brad Paisley song," and they realize that A) I'm not kidding, and B) I'm super optimistic. The Universe delivers!

But back to this recipe.

In June I was on a work trip to New Mexico and binge ate Carne Adovada and green chile. I only make it to New Mexico a few times a year, and my local "new Mexican" restaurant is a sad disappointment, so I started to think that I needed to find a New Mexican grandmother willing to share her recipe with me. I even bought a package of dried New Mexican chiles to have on hand when I found her.

I traveled back to New Mexico in August for work/play and again had the same thought, "I need a New Mexican grandmother's Carne Adovada recipe." I didn't want one from a cookbook or pinterest or I wanted something legit. With lard in it perhaps. And I put the Universe on notice.

Then. At the end of August, I made a new friend. We exchanged normal get-to-know-you information and I found out he was born in New Mexico. I didn't put it all together until a week or so later when I was walking home from the grocery store. He knew about my lacrosse ball so he didn't think I was totally crazy when I texted to see if he happened to have a New Mexican grandmother. He did! AND he was willing to call his mother for her Carne Adovada recipe.

And now I have it.

I had to modify the original to make it SillyLittle CaveGirl-safe. But the flavor is truly authentic. A real gift from the Universe.

Carne Adovada

Yes, those are corn tortillas. Sometimes I "cheat" a little bit...


3 lbs pork shoulder, trimmed and cubed
10 dried New Mexico chiles
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeño (optional)
3 cups water + 1 cup
3 tablespoons potato starch
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin


Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Remove the stem and seeds from the dried chiles and (optional) jalapeño. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 275 degrees for 15 minutes, careful not to burn the jalapeño. Remove from oven and place in a sauce pan. Pour over 3 cups of water. Place on medium-high heat until water boils. Remover from heat, cover, and let stand for 10 minutes until peppers soften.

Meanwhile, sprinkle the salt all over the cubed pork. In a large pot over medium heat, add olive oil and garlic. Once you can smell the garlic, add the salted pork. Turn the pork frequently to brown the sides. Remove from heat and set aside.

Once the peppers have softened, pour the mixture into your blender and blend until smooth. Return the sauce to the pan and season with oregano and cumin. You can add a touch more salt and pepper here (to taste) if desired, but be careful because the pork already is salty.

Pour the sauce over the pork and turn well so that the cubes are well coated. Let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate over night.

In the morning, pour the marinated pork (and all the sauce) into your Crock-Pot. Set on low and let cook until the pork is fork-tender. About 4 hours. Turn heat to low. In a small bowl, mix the potato starch into the remaining 1 cup (cold) water until dissolved. Pour potato starch slurry into the Crock-Pot and stir to combine. The sauce should thicken nicely. 

Serve with (homemade paleo) tortillas, salad, avocado, etc. Makes 6 servings.