August. It's that strange time of year when kids go back to school, even though it still feels hotter than hell, delicious fresh produce abounds, and it's the month when I start to panic about summer slipping away.
I am a warm weather girl. I love long, hot days by the pool, taking walks along streets lined with towering full trees, early mornings and late evenings, seeing colorful flowers thriving, and farmers markets overflowing. It's usually around this time of year that I start to notice that the mornings are just a little bit cooler, the crickets seem to start chirping just a bit earlier in the evenings. The days, which are still plenty long, start to feel just the teensiest bit shorter. Each day as the sun sets, it takes just a little more summer with it.
Every year when August rolls around, I start to panic about whether or not I've truly made the most of these long summer days. Have I spent enough evenings enjoying the company of friends? Have I spent enough hours soaking up vitamin D by the pool? Have I lingered on enough patios? I know there's still some time left, but I know that soon it will be too brisk for the patio, too dark for an evening stroll. I want to make the most of what's left of the summer.
I don't particularly like fall. I know this is an unpopular opinion, particularly for a basic white girl such as myself. I get terrible Seasonal Affect Disorder, and the prospect of shorter days and cooler weather cannot excite me for all the pumpkin spice lattes and sweaters in the world. But whether I like it or not, fall is coming. This year I'm going to try to plan some things to look forward to during those shorter fall days, but I'm focusing on something else too - taking back August.
Instead of letting panic color my days, I'm going to fill my days with all the summertime things I love. I'll take the dog for an extra walk to soak up some sun, meet a friend for a drink on my favorite patio, go get an ice cream cone, and take my lunch break at the pool. Each morning when I wake up, instead of thinking about how few days I have until fall takes hold, I'll go outside and breathe in what's left of summer. I don't want to be so focused on the coming fall months that I forget that all those things I love so much about summer can still be enjoyed. I'm going to remind myself to be in the present moment, and in doing so, stretch summer out just a little longer.
This is the story of how a foodie fell in love with a fitness fanatic. Well, okay let's be real. We met on the internet and fell in love shortly thereafter. So really, it's more like the story of how a foodie and a fitness fanatic coexist in harmony.
I love food. I love cooking and experimenting with new ingredients and flavors. Making someone I love a really delicious, labor-intensive meal is one of my most joyful activities, and one of the truest expressions of my love. So imagine my surprise when I fell in love with someone who cares more about macros than macaroons.
If it were up to my fiance, he'd eat a balanced diet of steamed broccoli, scrambled egg whites (no salt), and baked salmon. He loves to eat, don't get me wrong. He just prefers to prioritize the nutritional content over flavor. Meanwhile, I'm looking across the table like "So... does this mean you don't want to split the lobster mac and cheese?" For this union to remain harmonious, I knew I'd have to get creative with my cooking.
So, how do we find the balance between indulgence and restriction? Here are a few of the ways we make it work.
Set the non-negotiables
There are bound to be a few small things on either side that will make a big difference. For example, I know JC doesn't want a lot of salt in his food, so I agree to omit it when cooking most of the time, and add it only to my own dish afterwards. But every rule has its exceptions. I will always add salt to potatoes, a tough cut of meat, or cook with it as I normally would when we host guests for dinner. The rest of the time, I agree to set the shaker aside. We also use cooking oil sparingly (about 1/2 TBS for every pound of meat), and I always always measure all the ingredients so that he knows exactly what the nutritional breakdown is of every meal. Once you have your rules established, you can start to experiment within your parameters, which is where the fun begins.
Try different cooking techniques
I don't know about you, but I can only eat the same grilled chicken and steamed veggies so many times. For this reason, I have a lot of cooking gadgets, and I use all of them. Instead of eating steamed broccoli, sometimes I'll toss it in just a little olive oil and lightly char them in a pan. Sometimes you can even find a way to make the same meal two ways using different methods of cooking, and it can give you an entirely different spin. For example, recently I made grilled mojo pork chops and we loved them. A couple weeks later when we had friends over and I needed to feed a crowd, I made the same meal, but used a pork tenderloin in the crock pot, but used all the same marinade ingredients. After cooking all day, I shredded it up before serving, and we had a meal that felt really different even though the ingredients were exactly the same.
Try recipes from all over the world
The wonderful thing about spices is that as long as you aren't using blends that already contain salt, there is no caloric intake. New spices alone can make a plain chicken breast taste completely different! If I'm getting bored of the meals we have in rotation, I'll look for recipes from a different part of the world. And, as an added bonus, it usually strikes up a conversation about travel (a passion we both share).
In the future I think I'll share some of the healthy recipes we come up with that satisfy my fascination for food and my fiance's nutritional goals. How do you cook healthy meals that pack a lot of flavor?
What does friendship mean to you? I've always been very lucky to be surrounded by great friends, though some have come and gone over the years. As I've gotten older, and especially over the last year or two, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the role of friendships in my life. Cultivating truly meaningful friendships has always been incredibly important to me, but I find that in this millennial culture it's easier than ever before to opt-out or remain very surface level friends. But I'm looking for something more than that, which is why I only give my time to all-in friends.
What are all-in friends? They are the people you know you can always rely on if you're in trouble, the people to whom you can tell anything and know they won't judge you or repeat it to anyone behind your back. But it's more than that. An all-in friend is someone who reciprocates friendship in equal measure, a friend whose doorstep you can show up on in good times or bad and know you'll be welcomed in with open arms. They are the kind of people who can see your differences and love you more for them. The people who invite you over on Christmas when they know your husband has to work. Your chosen family.
I've tried to be all-in on all my relationships for a long time now. I just don't see any other way to be. That's part of what is authentically me - showing up 100% and opening the door to vulnerability, because I think we grow closer when we know someone understands. To me, being all-in means showing up, both physically and emotionally. It means being open and vulnerable to show my friends that it's safe to be themselves when they are with me. It looks like celebrating life's changes (and you will change) and intentionally finding ways to grow together instead of growing apart.
I know this sounds like a lot. And it is. That's why I intentionally keep my circle pretty small. I'm sure I've scared people off in the past, because for a lot of people, that level of deep connectedness is overwhelming. But I want to show up for people in this way. I don't always do it perfectly, but I try. So for me, finding friends who are also all-in is key. To me, friendship is a commitment, but it's one I'm more than happy to make. If you're thinking this sounds like a lot of work, then keep looking for your people. I'm so lucky that I have some really wonderful all-in friends (and an all-in partner), in my life, because when you have people who are willing to be all-in with you, it makes doing the work so much easier because you know they will show up for you too. And when you do find them, don't forget to show them how much they mean to you by practicing the art of being all-in.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever received? For me, it's something my Grandpa has said countless times, and while it has never been billed as advice, I think the opportunity to apply it to my own life is implied. He says, "If I had my whole life to do over again, I'd choose the same job, and I'd marry the same woman." Not bad, huh? It leaves plenty of room for some different choices here and there, but how many people can genuinely say they would have the same job and the same spouse? Maybe one or the other, but BOTH... now that's a truly lucky and inspired life. Especially considering he came of age in an era where you picked both early, and stayed the course, even if you realized a little too late that you made the wrong choice.
I think about this bit of wisdom often, and it has helped me make some hard decisions. But I wonder how much different the world was back when my grandfather was choosing his path compared to now as I choose mine.
I imagine in the '60s that there were far fewer "paper pusher" desk jobs, not to mention entire industries that barely existed. My entire work day is spent staring at a computer screen, which definitely would not have been the case then. He chose to be a high school physics teacher, and I think he genuinely loved it right up until his very last day. I have many friends who decided to move away from teaching because the increased demand on teachers to be available 24/7 in our digital world was too stressful, especially for the meager pay. It may sound cliche to call it a "simpler time" but I bet it was. Yes, there were fewer career path options, but I would be willing to bet that more people felt they had a purpose and believed that the work they did contributed to something meaningful.
Relationships have changed too. In those days, it was pretty common to marry early, and rare to leave once you had. Luckily for him, he didn't need to because honestly my Grandma is the kindest and most magical woman alive (another thing he says a lot, specifically in reference to her, is "Damn, was I ever lucky!"). Today, with online dating and an ever-increasing pool of candidates, it seems like it would be easier to find the right person to share your life with, but the allure of someone new and different often wins out and causes a potential relationship to fizzle before it even really ignites. Not to mention, thinking about my own history, and the people I dated in my early twenties... let's just say luck doesn't begin to cover it. It'd be a downright miracle for any of those relationships to have lasted over 50 years as my grandparents' has.
All this to say, my Grandpa's bit of wisdom is my ultimate goal - to look back on my life and be completely happy with the biggest choices I made for my life. But I think in order to apply it to life in 2021, it isn't as cut and dry as two big choices. I have to really inspect the gray area. It's a constant series of choices, with consequences and rewards that aren't always immediately apparent.
I can surely agree with him that I have unquestionably found the right person to share my life with. Someone whom I would gladly choose again and again, no matter how many times the question was asked. That said, I am also cognizant that in order to make our relationship work, in order to keep choosing each other, it requires a lot of work, a lot of give and take from both sides. We are constantly expanding our thinking and learning new ways to be better partners to each other, in order to make a relationship last in a world that is designed to cause it to fail. I think having an awareness that at any moment one of us could make the choice not to be together, an option that wasn't available (or acceptable) for many people until the recent past, makes that hard work easier, and it makes the continued choice to stay together all the more meaningful.
As far as work goes, is it my dream job? No. But in today's world, aren't most jobs just sending emails all day anyway? Instead of thinking about the work itself, I think about the life that this job affords me. My job offers stability, which in turn allows me the time and opportunities to travel and pursue other hobbies that give me the fulfillment that people in previous generations relied more heavily on their jobs to provide. Not to mention a nice retirement pension that will (hopefully!) result in many years of unencumbered time to spend doing the things I love. This job is so much more than just the work. It's the life it allows.
There are always challenges in life, but there are big wins too. I think the challenges I face today are different from those he may have faced, but it strikes me that those two big, but seemingly simple choices he made, only look big and definitive after a lifetime of making the same small choice every day for many decades. Making the small choices day by day that he knew would add up to the life he has loved. All the little decisions I make from day to day, are adding up to something bigger that I won't fully see until later.
So, when it comes right down to it, if I had my life to do over again, would I choose the same job and the same husband? In the words of my Grandpa, "Damn, am I ever lucky" to have chosen exactly the life I wanted.
Over the past 14 months, while we've all been home during the pandemic, there have been a lot of unanticipated things that changed because of the way we've been living. Some of them have been wonderful, like being able to sleep more now that I don't have a commute, and better work life balance that comes with working at home. Of course, there have been many other things that I haven't loved as much, like missing out on concerts and events I had been looking forward to or missing big family events at the holidays. Now that we are finally starting to come out of our hibernation and slowly return to our lives as they were before March 2020, I've realized something I missed a lot that I didn't even realize I was missing... the friends of my friends.
These are the people you see four or five times a year at your friends' birthday parties and backyard summer barbeques. The people you have grown to know over the years through being at the same gatherings. The people you might be friends with on Facebook or Instagram, but don't have phone numbers for. The people on the fringes of your life, whom you never had FaceTime calls with during lockdown, but would genuinely care to know what's going on in their lives.
Their lives all carried on during lockdown too. The tiny babies you remembered are now toddlers, and new tiny babies have made their debut. People have bought houses, gotten dogs, cut their hair, and a million other big and little things. Things that seeing someone even four or five times a year don't seem as dramatically noticeable as when you haven't interacted with them in over a year.
It's easy to think of your friends as being the people in your innermost circle, or even to think of the pandemic as a way of paring down, or showing you who was really important to you by way of seeing who remained close during time apart. But even while talking to those close friends this year, and being so grateful to have that network of people, there were times when things felt lonely. After seeing some of these friends on the outer edges of my circle again, I'm reminded that even the most casual friendships truly help round out our social circles in an almost surprisingly meaningful way. They play a bigger role than I had realized in keeping my circle full and vibrant. Just because you don't see someone often doesn't mean that you wouldn't miss them if they were gone, and I'm grateful to this time away for showing me how much it means to be part of a larger network. As the days get warmer, and the pandemic finally (hopefully!) starts to wind to a close, I am really looking forward to seeing these people again and growing my circle back to its former glory.
Several years ago, I was registering for gifts for my wedding. I sifted through so many websites looking for the perfect set of plates, and just couldn't find what I was looking for. In my mind, I kept thinking of my Mimi's dishware. Old white plates with a kind of geometric Native American type design along the border. Not really my style, and yet, I kept looking for something that looked like those plates. But no matter how many places I looked, I couldn't find just the right thing. There's no way I ever could have, and not just because they were decades old and no longer available for purchase.
You see, what I realize now, that I didn't then, is that what I truly loved about those plates were the many, many streaky silverware marks that made once white dishes swirled into gray. (It's no surprise thinking back now that I ended up registering for gray plates... the closest I could get, I guess.) I remember once when I was very small, cutting something on my plate at Mimi's house and realizing the lines I left behind with my fork, feeling both a little guilty and also kind of amazed. Before that moment, I hadn't realized that those weren't originally part of the plates, but rather markings from the people who used them. What I was trying to register for all those years ago was the physical manifestation of a happy, well-lived life. Something I could never buy, or even force. Even if I'd bought thrift store plates, those wouldn't be MY silverware markings. It's something that simply takes time. Many marks made over many, many years. From special birthday dinners, and little snacks before bed, to a piece of fruit loving cut for your sister or your nephew. It is the evidence of happy memories you didn't even realize you were making in the moment that added up to be a wonderful life when viewed in retrospect.
I'm finally starting to see some of those markings on my own dishes, albeit with a different husband (a whole different story for a different day). Every time I take out my favorite casserole dish and see those little gray scrape marks, it fills me with happiness and gratitude for the beautiful life I'm building, and I can't wait to see how they accumulate over the years to come.
I think this may become a regular column here, as I have many more little moments and manifestations I'd like to share, but I'd like to let them stand alone to really appreciate each one. What is your physical manifestation of a life well-lived? Whatever it is, I hope you take time to cherish it.
I've been working on an idea for a new poetry series for a while now, but it's been taking a little time to let it come to fruition. I often use poetry as a device for processing my feelings, and expressing the deepest, most tender emotions that regular language can't find the words for, and this new project is no exception.
Over the last couple of years, I've felt these changes coming. A tremendous tilling of the soil. It wasn't necessarily something I chose to do, but it happened nonetheless. The friendship fields, once bursting full of flowers, have been taken down to the earth again. And I'll be honest with you - it has been difficult to look out into that sea of brown, lifeless earth, just praying for the return of spring. The return of life to my once full garden.
But as I often do, I have used this quiet, dormant winter season to reflect on seasons passed. I'm taking time to carefully replenish the soil, nurturing fragile new seeds in the hopes that they will take root and blossom into something beautiful. I've been saying goodbye to some beautiful flowers that I thought would remain in the garden forever, while also taking respite in the shade of one or two glorious trees that rooted down deep long ago and reliably grow taller year after year, reminding myself not to take for granted the ever-present companionship of their branches.
It is hard to turn the earth, especially when you actually really loved the garden the way it was. And new growth takes time. But these poems are helping me to grieve what's gone, and perhaps more importantly, to truly nurture and appreciate each new bud that springs to life as I replant my garden. If you're tilling your soil too, or maybe just in need of a reminder to tend your garden, I invite you to read this opening poem from my new series. I hope you enjoy!
My Friends, The Flowers
by Bitel Beyette
my beautiful friends,
you bring so much color to my life
some seasons growing wild
vibrant and aglow
cold, and lifeless
I am always
to see you go
I try to tend my garden well
giving water, sun, and soil
yet some still wilt away
and retreat despite my toil
the seasons come and go
but still they take me by surprise
old beloved flowers
I miss what's right before my eyes
and leaves spring forth
a new season to explore
the garden takes new shape
but blooms for me once more
Here we are again, my friends. The first blog post on my blog... well, that is to say, my new blog. Those of you who know me probably know that this is not the first time I've typed out a blog post, announcing a new project, a new blog to follow, one that will definitely stick this time. The practice isn't new, but the intention is.
In the past, every time I have tried to start a new blog, I start with a great idea, but quickly become bogged down in the details. Creating the perfect design, selecting colors and logos, trying to find that perfect niche that will be both interesting and profitable. I spend so much time thinking about what content will be engaging that I lose sight of why I started in the first place - just to write. To share my thoughts and ideas, to tell stories, to share a piece of myself with anyone interested enough to listen. Because truly, that's all I have ever wanted to do with past blogs. Just to be able to work on my craft, and hopefully, to share that gift with others. I don't really care about making sure I'm using the right SEO key words, or what colors I will use for my "signature brand." All I truly want is a place where I can come to type out a post, or an essay, or a couple of poems. A place to collect my thoughts without worrying if they tie into my niche or seem like a departure. So, that's what this is. Just that and really nothing more. And it feels so freeing to allow it to just be... exactly as it is.
I can't promise anything that will be life changing. I can't promise that you'll get the same type of content on exactly such a day every week. But I can promise that the musings you find on this page will be written from the heart. Be it a true personal story, or a fictional one I've crafted just for fun, you'll get the real me, not the one I create to be Pinterest famous. So, I hope you'll come along with me on this journey to see what new and wonderful things we find in the wide open spaces of my heart and mind. I can't wait to see what's been waiting for us there!
See you soon,