Tuesday, August 30, 2011

In Search of A Spark

I'm sad to say it, but for the first time in eight years of teaching I am not (yet) excited for the start of the school year.  I don't mean it in the whiny "but I'm not ready for the summer to eeeeeend" kind of way that everyone who's NOT a teacher hates to hear.  In fact, to the contrary, I'm actually really ready to get back to a normal schedule and being busy.

It might have to do with some deadlines I have looming overhead and some frustrations I'm experiencing at work.  I've always been one of those people who throws myself into what I want to do, rather than what might be the responsible thing to do.  It drove my own teachers nuts, and my high school English teacher actually threatened to rescind one of my college recommendation letters because I had shirked some of my class responsibilities.  Oops.  

I wonder if it's because this was the first time in the last four years that I wasn't out at my summer master's program.  We always had such awesome clinicians and lecturers, it was difficult to NOT rekindle my passion for teaching.  Or I wonder if it's simply because, for the moment, the thing that is most interesting and challenging to me is yoga (and teacher training.)

I hope I can figure out whatever it is that has me in this funk, because a teacher who has lost her passion for teaching has no business being in a classroom.  I need my candle re-lit, and soon.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Weekend Recap: Irene & Om Guru Deva

You may have heard that the DC area had some bad weather this week.  Duff Man & I stocked up and hunkered down with the pups on Saturday night.

Because you can never have too much water, tp, or super foods during a hurricane.
My emergency radio didn't work, so I dug up this bad boy.  It's my walkman from 5th grade, and I was so high tech that it had both a radio AND an external speaker on it--so my friends and I could jam out to Richard Marx and Whitney Houston cassettes together.  (Yes, I realize I was a total nerd.  Still am, TYVM.)
"Hold on to the night... hold on to the memories!"
I was stupid excited that ARLnow retweeted the photo I took as I drove by the Drafthouse to their followers.  (Yes, I know I'm lame AND dorky.)

After all of that, we (thankfully) were fine.  Duff Man had to bail out the french drain at the bottom of the steps to our basement a couple of times, but other than that we came out unscathed.  No property damage, no flooding in the basement, no power outages.  As far as I know, my friends and family escaped with minor issues (power outages and minor water damage.)  This could have been a lot worse, so I'm grateful that any damage was relatively minor.

Meanwhile... when I wasn't hunkered down waiting out the storm, I spent most of the weekend at the yoga studio.  As you will recall, last week I the universe came to the conclusion that the yoga teacher training I so desperately wanted was actually within my reach.  So after thinking about it on Wednesday and talking about it on Thursday, I started on Friday.  

In short: It was amazing and it feels totally right.  But even though I'm comfortable with the teaching aspect, teaching a subject with which I am not 100% confident is really, really hard.  And we only practice taught a very short sequence of four poses this week--tadasana (mountain), utthita tadasana (extended mountain), utkatasana (chair), and uttasana (standing forward bend.)  On top of that, we also started learning about anatomy and the musculo-skeletal system AND talked a bit about yoga and teaching philosophy.  My brain is FULL and I'm loving every minute of it!  

We started the first session (and have ended each of the 3 sessions so far) with the chant:

Om Guru Om Guru Deva Deva
Aja Ki Jai Ananda Ki Jai

The first line invokes the spirit of the teacher within.  The second says "I have so much left to learn."

In addition to being a fitting way to start teacher training, it's helped me get more excited about the upcoming school year.  I start back to work with teacher planning & in-services this week.  My goal is to be organized and efficient so I can kick the school year off right.

I hope you, dear reader, had an uneventful weekend weather-wise and have an exciting week ahead!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sometimes the Universe Smacks You in the Face with a Two-By-Four

We interrupt your regularly scheduled program to bring you this breaking news bulletin.  (Which is a shame, because I've had today's previously scheduled "Random Friday Facts" post written for a week!)

I started this week with a post asking myself "Why?"  The funny thing is, the universe asked the question back several times--and I finally said, "Why not?"

Cryptic enough for you?  I'll elaborate.

I mentioned last week that I'm really sad I can't go through yoga teacher training at my studio.  Between events at my own school and my marching band schedule, fall is a really busy time in my life.  We have football games on Friday nights and competitions on Saturdays.  Teacher training is on Friday evenings, most of the day on Saturday, and Sunday afternoons.  It just wouldn't work.  And it broke my heart when a number of my yogi friends (and, I think, basically every teacher at my studio) asked me if I was going to go through training... and I had to say no.

I went to yoga class on Wednesday morning, and Padma was teaching instead of the regularly scheduled instructor.  In addition to being one of my favorite yoga teachers and the studio owner, she's also my friend and we chatted for the first time in a while after class.  We talked about what I had been up to, we talked about Tuesday's earthquake, we talked about some changes going on at the studio.  We talked about her crazy teaching schedule and the addition of teacher training starting in two days.  And then she mentioned that a friend of mine was going to go through training--and it caught me by surprise.  I didn't realize that this friend was going through the training.  And it made me sad, again, that I wasn't going to... and my eyes welled up with tears.  The sudden emotion really caught me off guard.  How badly did I really want this?

So then I went home and thought about it.  And I entered the training schedule into my calendar "just to see" what it would look like.  There were still a lot of conflicts--about 10% of the total training hours--but... it wasn't as bad as I thought.  So I sent Padma an email... and asked, hypothetically, if someone had conflicts on certain days, if it would still work out.  

Without giving me a yes or no, she emailed me back later in the afternoon and asked me to ask myself why I wanted to do this.  For my own practice?  For the sake of teaching?  And how would I feel if one of my students wanted to take a course but had to miss an eighth of the classes? 

Then she went through my conflicts and realized that only one conflict was a real problem because of the importance of the topic (anatomy) and the fact that it was being taught by a guest.  And while it's inconvenient, I could work around that one day.  I could attend some comparable classes (Iyengar, Meditation) to make up the other days when I have conflicts.

But, this is all hypothetical.  Right?

I talked to Duff Man after we both got home from work on Thursday afternoon.  (Since it was raining, I left band camp early.  You can't teach drill outside in the rain.)  He wasn't surprised I brought it up--after all, when I got off the plane in July he asked me not if, but when I'd become a yoga teacher.  He wasn't really happy though, knowing how much time I spend at work under normal circumstances.  He's worried he'll never see me.  So we talked about setting aside one or two date nights during the week to make sure that we spend some quality time together--and there are several free weekends built into the schedule as well.  We talked about some other things we could do so he doesn't end up bearing the burden of all of the housework.  And besides, the two fall weekends he had already chosen to go out of town both fall on teacher training weekends--so we wouldn't have been together then anyway.  

So a "definitely no" became a "possibly maybe."  

And then I went to class on Thursday night and talked with Padma again.  

We talked about the questions she had asked me to ask myself.  Much of my experience in L.A.  led me to think about the things that I don't know but would want to learn about all facets of my yoga practice.  I told her that my goal in teacher training would be to enhance my knowledge and understanding of yoga.  I told her I could see myself becoming a teacher as an outcome of the training--but it wouldn't be the real reason why I was there.

Then I considered the alternatives.  Could I wait to do this?  Sure.  But I'm also looking at possibly starting another graduate degree program in the Spring--what happens if the next training conflicts with my master's program schedule?  And after that, we'll probably be considering having kids.  (I can't believe I just typed that.  Scary!)  So while I could wait, there's no guarantee that my schedule would work out any better in the future.  

Perhaps the earthquake was just a symptom, but the universe definitely shook some things up this week.  And it smacked me in the face with a two-by-four so that I would be sure to get the message.  The pieces fell into place.  The timing is right.

And that's why I'm starting yoga teacher training tonight.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Chicken Enchiladas Verdes

I promise, I really do make food other than Mexican food.  However... since I haven't been home and have had a few requests to post the recipe for the Chicken Enchiladas Verdes I made for Duff Man's Birthday (part 1), I figured I'd go ahead and post that recipe sooner rather than later.

Chicken Enchiladas Verdes

olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 medium onion, diced
2-3 chicken breasts, poached and shredded (if you need a tutorial, go here)
tortillas (I usually use the 8" size, sometimes called "fajita" size)
Your favorite cheese: cheddar, colby-jack, queso fresco, etc.
Roasted Tomatillo salsa (recipe below or you can use a big jar of salsa verde if you're low on time)

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Bring a pan to medium-high heat.  Add a drizzle of olive oil (1 Tbsp?) to the pan and allow it to heat up for about a minute.  Add the garlic and onion and saute until soft.  Add the shredded chicken to the pan along with about a cup of salsa--just enough to ensure the the chicken is most and coated.

Pour a couple of tablespoons of salsa into the bottom of a baking dish and shake it around until the bottom is coated.  Dip a tortilla into the chicken/salsa mix (or into yet another dish with salsa in it) so that it's been dampened, then fill with 1/2 cup or so of the chicken/salsa mix.  Fold the bottom up, the sides over, and then roll up.  ('cause that's how I roll.)  Place the enchilada seam side down in the baking dish and repeat until you've used up all of your filling. Normally 2 large chicken breasts will make 5 enchiladas total--2 for me and 3 for Duff Man.  Top with any remaining salsa and sprinkle with cheese.  Cover the top with foil.

Bake for 20 minutes (with foil) and 15 minutes (without) until cheese is melted.  Serve with sour cream and/or hot sauce.  Enjoy!

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

12-15 whole tomatillos, papery outer skins removed and rinsed
1 jalapeno peppers (you could also substitute or add poblano peppers, banana peppers, or any other kind of pepper you'd like.)
1/2 medium onion
a handful of cilantro
vegetable oil (Note: I would not suggest substituting olive oil because of its low smoke point.)

Move the broiler rack so that it's about 6-8 inches from the flame and turn the broiler on high.  Line a broiler pan with foil (because, really, who needs excess clean-up?)  

Once you've removed the papery skins and rinsed the tomatillos, coat them and the jalapeno with a layer of vegetable oil.  I normally just pour some oil in my hand and rub them all down.  [That's what she said.]  I suppose you could be a little cleaner and use a brush to apply the oil--but where's the fun in that?  

Line the oily vegetables up onto the broiler pan and let them roast until the skins are blackened and charred--probably about 8-10 minutes on each side.  Usually I just wait until I hear the tomatillos exploding from the built up steam, then I turn them over and move them around.  

Once the vegetables are done, take the pan out of the oven and set them aside.  Toss the onion into your food processor and pulse a few times until it's diced.  Cut off the top of the jalapeno (and remove the seeds if you'd like), then add the jalapeno, tomatillos, and cilantro to the food processor and pulse until it's as smooth or chunky as you like.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Chicken Enchilada Soup

I promise, my culinary exploits are generally far more eclectic than simply making Mexican-inspired dishes.  However, as I mentioned yesterday, Duff Man has a soft spot for Latin-American cuisine.  (Seriously, I think he was Hispanic in a former life.)  

When I saw So Tasty, So Yummy post her recipe for Crockpot Chicken Enchilada Soup yesterday, I thought it might be something that Duff Man might enjoy.  I also appreciated the fact that she took a few (quick) additional steps to avoid using cream of crap soup.  As I looked a little more closely at the ingredient list, I realized that I had everything I needed (or an approximate substitution) in order to make it--which was perfect, since I won't be home to make dinner at all this week.  I modified the process from the original recipe a bit, but it still only took me about 20 minutes to prepare everything and toss it in the crock pot so that DM came home to some delicious soup.  

Crockpot Chicken Enchilada Soup
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
½ cup chicken broth
2 cups milk
1 can (15 ounce) Mexican Style Chili-beans, rinsed and drained (the original recipe calls for black beans, but I used what I had.)
1 can (14.5 ounce) Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes (another substitution--original recipe calls for a can of Rotel tomatoes with jalapenos)
1 package (10 ounce) frozen corn
½ medium onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 poblano pepper, diced 
1 can (10 ounce) Enchilada sauce
2 whole chicken breasts


Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a saucepan or pot.  Once melted, add the onion, bell pepper, and poblano pepper and saute until just soft (a few minutes.)  Sprinkle the flour on top and stir through the vegetables; cook the flour for 2-3 minutes.  Slowly whisk in 1/2 cup chicken broth and 1/2 cup milk; be sure there are no lumps in the flour.  Reduce heat to low and allow to thicken, stirring occasionally.

Add the beans, tomatoes, corn, and chicken to the crock pot.  Whisk the remaining milk (1 1/2 cups) into the thickened pepper/milk mixture, then add the enchilada sauce as well.  Pour the milk/enchilada sauce/pepper mixture into the crock pot.  

Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4 hours.

Once the soup has finished in the crock pot, remove the chicken breasts and shred.  (Duff Man did this on his own, since I was off at camp by then--but he said that the chicken fell apart really easily.)  Return the chicken to the soup.  

Serve with shredded cheese, crushed tortilla chips, and some sour cream.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On!

In case you haven't heard, the a 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit DC today.

Here's the extent of the damage at my house:

I think the biggest catastrophe is that I now have to dust our entertainment center.  Since the earthquake shifted everything, you can really tell how dusty it is at this point.

Honestly, I'm shocked that the rickety bookshelf in our sun room didn't topple over and scare the dogs--and that Rowdy didn't hop the gate to cower in fear in the basement.

Delicious Dinner with Duff Man at Dino's in DC

Before I start with the real business of this post I wanted to let you all know that I will, from here on out, refer to my husband as "Duff Man."  I know that he'd prefer that I not use his name in my posts, but I hate using the term "my husband."  Also, my husband  looks a bit like Duff Man (blonde, muscular, wears sunglasses frequently), is a big fan of "The Simpsons," and likes to stink up my house with his home brews.  I thought the name was rather fitting.
My husband is Duff Man.  Oh yeah!
Duff Man's birthday was earlier on August.  His birthday fell on a Wednesday, so we decided that I would  make him dinner on his birthday itself and that we'd go out to dinner on Friday or Saturday.  His also requested that one dinner would be Italian and the other Mexican, but he didn't care which was home made and which was at a restaurant.

On Wednesday, I made Duff Man a dinner of Chicken Enchiladas Verdes and using fresh roasted tomatillos and jalapenos with a side of Mexican Rice.  

On Friday evening, we ate at Dino in Cleveland Park.   I chose it because it was listed among the best Italian Restaurants in the DC area by both OpenTable and the Washington Post Going Out Guide.  

Our reservation was at 7:15pm on a Friday evening.  We found street parking pretty easily and were seated right away.  The weather was gorgeous, so we decided to sit out on the patio.  I thought it was odd that they chose to seat us at a table that was severely slanted because of the angle of the sidewalk, while there were two available tables on perfectly flat ground right next to it.  When our waiter dropped off my drink and told me I should probably take a sip so it didn't spill, we asked to move to one of the flatter tables instead.  

We ordered a couple of drinks.  Duff Man was excited to find that Dino carries DC Brau's beer (in cans, not on tap)--which he'd been hoping to try for a while.  He enjoyed "The Public," a high compliment since the man has become significantly snobbier about his beer consumption since he started brewing.  ("Blue Moon?  Feh, that's piss water!")  I had a Toni's Revenge (purple raspberry infused gin, Dimmi, Orchard Apricot, Prosecco) and later on a Blueberry Bellini (local blueberries, Trevisol prosecco.)  I enjoyed the Toni's Revenge, but the Blueberry Bellini was a lot sweeter than I had expected and didn't have blueberries in it.  (I was expecting to see a berry or two, not just infused syrup.)  

Duff Man and I decided to try the 3-Course Dinner Special ($39/person).  The first course could be any antipasti or half pasta; the second course could be any pasta or secondi, and for the third you could choose either a cheese course or one of their desserts.

For Duff Man's first course, he chose the "Saltimbocca ~ meatballs  ~ Dorsey Farms pork {MD} ~ rose veal & Lioni fresh ricotta {NY} ~ oregano & tomato sauce" ($8)

DM enjoyed these, but I thought they were a tad dry.  Regardless, they were still quite flavorful

My first course choice was the "Baci ~ “Italian kisses” ~ pancetta wrapped scallops with duck liver & dates ~ 3 ginger & 3 citrus duck stock glaze" ($10)
These really were little kisses of awesomeness.  I wish I'd though to use the bread to mop up the delicious sauce before the server took the dish away!  Definitely try these if you ever go to Dino!

Because Dino makes all of their pastas in house, both of us decided to stick with pasta for the secondi.  Besides, why would Duff Man request an Italian restaurant for his birthday dinner and NOT end up getting pasta?

Duff Man chose the "Lasagnette ~ Not Your Nonna’s Lasagna!  ~ non-traditional, free form ~ rich pork & veal ragu ~ fonduta ~ bacon ~ grana ~ house pasta."  ($20)

This was interesting.  Instead of being served as a traditional lasagna, it was more like pappardelle dressed like lasagna.  The dish was really flavorful, but so rich that I wouldn't have been able to eat more than a few bites.  Duff Man, however, polished the whole thing off.

I went with the "Cinghiale ~ wild boar {TX} & pork belly {VA} ~ tomato, golden raisin, currants, red wine ~ grana ~ pappardelle" ($20)

This dish was something special.  The fresh pasta was perfectly al dente, and the sauce was deep and complex.  It was delicious and fulfilling without being heavy.  Loved this!

While we contemplated choosing a cheese course, both Duff Man and I ended up settling on Dolci for the third course.  His pick was the "Tiramisu “pick~me~up” ~ Frangelico, Carolans Irish & Drumgray Scotch cream liqueurs" ($7)

This was a pretty standard tiramisu--not bad, but nothing outstanding.  But then again, when is tiramisu ever bad?

My dessert choice was the "“Cappuccino” di Nutella: Nutella & mascarpone ~ bourbon soaked cherries ~ whipped cream ~ cocoa" ($7)

Nutella + Mascarpone should be a sin.  This was rich and creamy and amazing.  Please excuse me while I catch my breath and then say 10 "Hail Mary"s for penance.  

Overall, Duff Man and I had a good experience at Dino.  The food was definitely the highlight--very fresh and flavorful and reasonably priced.  The weather was beautiful and we enjoyed our (non-tilted) patio seating.  The menu also offers lots of gluten-free options; in fact, it lists which items are gluten free, which ones aren't but can be made gf, and which ones cannot be made gf.  That said, our server wasn't the most attentive person (we had to wait a long time for our water to be refilled, and our check came with an error on it.)  Also, I would caution anyone dining there to calculate the cost of your meal before deciding to take the $39 3-course-meal option; if you add up the cost of our meals, it actually should have come to less than $39 (although apparently it was supposed to come with a complimentary glass of cello or moscato--which would have made up the difference.)  I would definitely go back, given another opportunity!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Discovering My Why

One of the main reasons I decided to start a blog was in order to help discover my "why"--my personal philosophy, the thing which drives me in life.  (In fact, the title of this post was something I had considered as the title of my blog at one point.)  After all, a blog is pretty much a glorified (and public) diary.  At this point, I mostly write for myself; I anticipate that most of what I say is mundane drivel and additional internet white noise to everyone else.  But it's okay if I'm boring if I'm only writing for myself anyway, right?  Okay, I'll admit that I'm a bit narcissistic and I like it when people click--or even better, comment.  But ultimately, I really am writing for me--to put my thoughts down, observe my patterns, and maybe get some feedback from family, friends and random internet strangers as I try fumble along on this journey.

About a year ago, someone turned me on to TED talks.  TED promotes "Ideas Worth Spreading" through "riveting talks  by remarkable people, free to the world."  Sometimes I sit and listen to various TED talks while I'm cooking or working on the computer.  

One of the most influential TED talks I've watched to date is Simon Sinek's 2009 talk on "How Great Leaders Inspire Action."

After I listened to this talk, I purchased Mr. Sinek's book (called "Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.")  The book reinforces concepts and examples in the talk (Apple, Tivo, Martin Luther King Jr, The Wright Brothers) and expands on them with additional examples (Southwest Airlines among others).  He goes into detail about "Why" vs. "How" people--the visionary CEO (Steve Jobs) and the person who can implement the structure needed in order to put the plan in place (Steve Wozniak.)  He also goes more into detail about the biological connection between the brain (neocortex vs. limbic brain) and decision making (what you know vs. what you feel.)  The book is thought-provoking but still accessible and easy to read.  

Once I saw the presentation and read the TED talk, I started seeing the idea of "Start With Why" everywhere--from the poster the superintendent left in a classroom at my school to the committees I sat on in school.  I'd think (and ask), how are we supposed to define a policy before we decide the reason for its existence?

I also began to reflect (as I often do) on my own life.  What is my "why"?  What is the purpose/cause/belief that connects the way I approach my activities and interests and relationships?  Why IS it that I'm drawn to music/yoga/administration/food?  How do my beliefs affect the choices I make in my life and how do the choices I make in my life affect my beliefs?  What can I do to go from being a leader to one who leads?  

I don't think there's a very "neat" way to organize this kind of thing; and honestly, I usually come up with my best ideas after a messy, chaotic brainstorming session.  So, I'm just going to list the things that come to mind and let them sit--because this kind of self-discovery is not going to happen in one blog post.

In fact, now that I think about it, I'm going to make my brainstorming on a page and update it periodically.  Find it here: Discovering My Why

Thanks for reading, everyone.  Have a great week!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Random Friday Facts

  1. I often fixate on a song or album and will listen to it over and over for days (or even weeks) on end.
  2. I'm not a particularly devout Catholic, but I almost always have a rosary with me.  I've also never taken communion anywhere but a Catholic church--it feels too awkward.
  3. I once took an over night trip from Harrisonburg, VA to Ithaca, NY.  We were probably gone for about 36 hours and spent more than half of that time in the car.  It was totally worth it.
  4. I'm really, really sad that I can't do yoga teacher training this fall because of marching band.
  5. As much as stupid new stories annoy me (like the local Fox news affiliate running a story on the "Songify" iPhone application), they also bring me comfort.  Slow news days mean there aren't any major catastrophes going on in the world.  
  6. I learned how to do handstand push-ups this week.  My heels still graze the wall, but I feel like a total badass when I'm doing them.  
  7. I have four pairs of the exact same shoes (4" round toe pumps) in different colors/styles.  I had owned 3 pairs of these shoes in the past before I ordered them in multiple colors.  
  8. I can swim well enough to not drown, but I never took any swimming lessons as a child.  When I'm at the pool or the beach, I don't feel comfortable in water deeper than my chest.
  9. I always giggle (although usually internally) when someone farts during a yoga class.
  10. I've been inhaling insalata caprese this week.  Sometimes twice a day.  It's like food from the angels.
Farmer's market heirloom tomatoes, a sprinkle of salt, fresh mozzarella, farmer's market basil, and balsamic vinegar.  Amazing!
Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Facing Challenges and the Success of Failure

In my Sunday morning yoga class, Padma asked... "Why do we do things that are challenging?"  

I often find that there is a lot of overlap between what I do in the studio and outside of it.  The question has been percolating in my brain for a couple of days now and various answers--and more questions--have popped up throughout the week so far.  

Band camp started this week.  Our students will rehearse for 8 hours a day for two weeks, during which time the students will learn our marching style, drill formations, and the music for this year's marching band show.  And while all of that is important and results in an entertaining halftime show, the bigger thing that they learn is mental toughness--because, let's face it, August in the D.C. area is hot.  and humid.  and there are a zillion other things these students could be doing other than standing outside in the sun marching in an 8-to-5 roll step from endzone to endzone.  Marching band is hard, both physically and mentally.  Plus, all of your Friday evenings and many Saturdays are filled with football games and competitions where you have to wear goofy uniforms and can't go sit with your friends or go to the concession stand any time you want.  So why do it?  

And if marching band is so hard for the rest of us, why on earth would anyone want to start a marching band of blind students?  (Side note: I should add that there is a set of blind triplets at my school.  I teach two of them in the band and the third is in orchestra.  Watching this kid's story got me to wondering if they could be a part of the marching band too, which is when I found the clip from the Ohio School for the Blind--which made me cry.  I have a lot of hope for my students.)

Also during Sunday's class, we practiced yogini dandasana.  When executed correctly, it looks like this:

Photo courtesy of Peg Mulqueen at www.pegmulqueen.com
Mine looked kind of like that, except you'll have to imagine my face falling towards (and colliding with) the floor as soon as I lifted my free leg.  Several times.  Every time I've attempted it, ever.  I don't need to do yogini dandasana to have a strong yoga practice.  There are lots of other poses I'm good at that accomplish the same thing.  So why fall on my face over and over and over again?  

Finally, this week I finally sat down and had a meeting which I had been dreading for about two months.  I knew what it would be about, and most of the things that were said were things I'd already been thinking about.  But even when you think you're prepared to face constructive criticism, getting your ass handed to you on a platter hurts.  The challenge I faced was not physical this time.  While I am generally in a constant state of self-reflection, setting aside your ego to have someone else point out your shortcomings is a lot more challenging than performing any yoga pose.  Or at least it was for me.  

So why DO I work through challenges--even "unnecessary" ones?  

Challenges make me grow--physically, mentally, and emotionally.  I'm a lifelong learner with a wide variety of interests; Doing what I already know how to do can get pretty boring.  Trying something new can be interesting--but at the same time I can't be good at everything I try either.  I learn through failure.  In fact, here's a great blog post all about the benefits of failure.  Maybe I fell on my face a lot in that yogini dandasana, but I also figured out that I needed to engage my core and squeeze my legs together more the next time I do it.  I learned a long time ago that failure is not the end of the world--you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.  Maybe I had a lot of professional challenges last year--but I learned from them and will be a better teacher as a result.  

Facing challenges in my life has help me develop persistence.  I talk to the students a lot about how Marching Band is every bit as mentally challenging as it is physically challenging.  In both yoga and marching band, there are times when our bodies are fatigued and that voice in the back of our head starts saying, "Hey, this is hard.  I can't do this.  Can I stop now?"  By facing challenges, I have learned to tell that inner voice to calm down--my arms won't fall off whether I'm holding a Virabhadrasana II for 5 minutes straight or pointing my horn to the pressbox.  

Ultimately, overcoming challenges gives me--and anyone really--a sense of personal accomplishment and pride that can only be cultivated from within.  It makes us open to continue our personal growth by setting aside our fear of failure and our fear of the unknown and frees our mind, body, and heart to achieve heights we had never previously considered possible.

I hope you are fortunate enough to face a challenge today--whether you succeed or fail, you will be a better person for it.

(And to think, I started going to yoga for the asana practice... ha!)  

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Summer Wrap #3: Venice Finale: Beach Biking and Frozen Yogurt

Aside from yoga and eating, Venice and Santa Monica are home to lots of cute shops.  We had hoped to go surfing at some point while we were there, but the timing (and COLD water) never really worked out.  However, on Thursday we rented some bikes from a shop on the boardwalk and rode up and down the beach.

Check out my sweet ride.  

Our trip... minus the last 2 miles we rode home after lunch.
Starting the bike shop we followed the bike path South, past the skate park (significant since Venice was the birthplace of skateboarding as we know it.)

We continued down to the end of the path and then rode in the streets until we reached the canals.

Once we reached the canals, we turned around and headed back North, picked up the bike path, and rode past "Muscle Beach" and past the Santa Monica Pier.  We saw lots of weird stuff along the way.


Once we got to Santa Monica, we stopped and had lunch and some Pinkberry, then headed back or our place to get ready for some afternoon yoga.  I have to say that the best part of biking on the beach was that it was totally flat.  We rode for a total of 13 miles and I could have easily gone much farther than that.

Since the "sour" frozen yogurt trend started in California, we couldn't resist treating ourselves once or twice.  Having had a bad frozen yogurt experience (icy yogurt = blech) after I came back from Venice, I especially appreciate how good the product was at both of these places!

Pinkberry is the biggest name in fro-yo these days, and I had my first experience in the Santa Monica location.  It was smooth and creamy and delicious--everything that I'd heard!

Smooth & creamy frozen yogurt--chocolate yogurt with raspberries, coconut, and heath bar. Yum!

Our other favorite frozen yogurt stop was much closer to our apartment and the yoga studio.  Sparky's frozen yogurt is located less than a block away from Exhale and has been selling frozen treats in the same location for nearly 30 years!  The yogurt was fabulous and was open late--so we were able to hustle down there even after eating a late dinner at the Venice Ale House!  Bonus:  The quirky owner, Sparky, was behind the counter every time we went; he was funny and really sweet and was generous in doling out the free samples!

Peanut butter & vanilla frozen yogurt with gummi bears and heath bars
If you're not into the frozen yogurt thing, they also had shakes (with a ton of different powders and additives you could add--anything from spirulina to whey protein to bee pollen) and tons of energy bars for sale.  If you're in Venice/Santa Monica, be sure to stop by Sparky's!

This was basically the perfect vacation--awesome weather, fantastic companions, new friends, delicious food, and a ton of kick-ass yoga.  I really hope I have another opportunity to go back and do it all over again.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Summer Wrap #2: Good Eats in Venice!

Believe it or not, I did more than just yoga in Venice.  Mostly, I ate thanks to the zillions of yoga calories I was burning.  There was a ton of fresh, local, and mostly organic food within walking distance of our apartment.  

On most days, we ate breakfast at home, went to a class or two, came back and ate lunch on the roof before heading back to the studio for and afternoon and/or evening class.  

Our view from the roof deck--which was loaded with lots of comfy lounge chairs, a table, and a grill.

We asked around and got so many recommendations for fabulous restaurants, we ate dinner out almost every night.

Here's a quick run-down of our dining out experiences in Venice:
  • On Monday, I met up with some of my L.A. area friends at Stefan's at L.A. Farm. You can read all about the experience (and salivate over the photos) on my friend weezermonkey's blog.  As you will soon learn, weezer's palette will never steer you wrong.  She picked a great restaurant--all of the food (and fun cocktails) were absolutely wonderful, but the restaurant wasn't very crowded so the noise level was low (except for the exuberent laughter coming from our table.)
  • Sauce on Hampton was recommended to us by Kyra, one of the Exhale yoga teachers (and by a few other people as well.)  The restaurant was small, but the food was delicious, seasonal, and organic fare; K really enjoyed the sides.  I'm not a sweet potato fan, but apparently the roasted sweet potatoes are very simply prepared but absolutely delicious.  They also had a great selection of whole leaf teas.  It's definitely worth checking out if you're in the area.   
  • We ate several meals at Firehouse--which was especially great for breakfast at any time of the day!  I didn't eat at the "other side" of the restaurant, but they serve dinner and also sushi.  The breakfast side has a nice outdoor patio where you can enjoy your meal in the beautiful Venice weather.  If you're into the "Muscle Beach" scene, they also have a special section of their menu dedicated to bodybuilders, which involved a lot of egg whites, spinach, and plain chicken.
  • La Fiesta Brava was recommended to us by a local at a coffee house--but we all thought the food was just okay.  Not worth going out of your way for.  You may also want to note that they don't serve alcohol, but you can BYOB.
  • Oscar's Cerveteca had only received a liquor license about a week before we arrived--so the place was absolutely packed when we went for dinner!  The food was really fresh and delicious... but I might try calling ahead so you don't have to wait as long as we did.  Here are some of the highlights:
Squash Blossom Quesadillas with Grilled Cactus
Normally I'm a sucker for anything with squash blossoms, but these were rather disappointing.

Mama's Fresh Halibut Ceviche Mandinga
Fresh and citrusy--really well-prepared and delicious!
Chicken and Cheese Empanadas
Well-seasoned and flavorful. 
Picadas "Mexican Pizza"
Fresh ingredients make this simple dish something special!
Fried Pickles
Who can resist fried pickles with garlic aioli? 

  • While we were waiting to get in to Oscar's, we headed next door to Venice Beach Wines, a wine bar serving small places which also happens to be owned by the same Oscar for whom the Cerveteca is named. Venice Beach Wines was also packed, but we enjoyed some small plates (dates wrapped in bacon = delicious!) and some wine and chatted with some locals until the waitress from Oscar's came over and got us (which I thought was really courteous!)
  • We enjoyed great salads, sandwiches, and fun cocktails at the Venice Ale House.  The food was great, although the service was a little slow.  We sat outside and were thrilled that they had heaters to keep us warm as the temperature dropped.
  • Sunday was a day of hamburgers for me.  J took a trip to Umami Burger, located inside of Fred Segal, on Saturday.  She came back and raved about it--so we had to try on Sunday.  The burgers were amazing, but weezer was right about the fries--they weren't anything to write home about.  I wasn't a huge fan of the house-made ketchup either--but that's just me.

 I had the namesake "Umami burger"

Meaty & delicious with a parmesan crisp on a brioche bun.  Mmmm...

Check out the cute little stamp on the top of the bun!

Umami also serves desserts--and based on weezer's recommendation, I had to try to ice cream sandwiches from Milk.  As always, she was spot on--the cookie was soft, so it didn't fall apart while I was eating the sandwich. It was a great end to a great meal.  (Thanks, weezer, for never steering my tastebuds wrong!) 

I'm a sucker for coffee toffee anything, and this little baby didn't disappoint.

  • Finally, what trip to the West Coast would be complete without a stop at In-N-Out  Burger?  On Sunday, after taking one last class with Kyra, I packed up my suitcase and called a cab.  My driver's name was Eugene and he was WAY nicer than my cabbie on the way in.  Eugene drove me to the In-N-Out in Culver City on my way to LAX.  He even offered to wait for me so I didn't have to call another cab--so I invited him to come inside and have dinner with me.  It was nice to have some company for dinner!  

Double-Double Animal Style, you're my only friend.

At this point I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn that, despite taking 22 yoga classes in a week, I came home having GAINED 2 pounds.  But I don't care--every bite was worth it.  I hope you get a chance to head out to Venice/Santa Monica sometime to taste all of the delicious offerings that I did!