Morning motivations

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Journaling my way to happiness

Truthfully, I have never been very good about journaling. I always start strong, write for a few consecutive days, and trail off within a week. For me, a journal has always served as a sort of sounding board or outlet to vent about my day or how I was feeling about a current problem, but there had never really been a true intention for my entries. However, that has changed over the last few years.

During the fall of my junior year of college, I helped lead a youth group retreat for first-year students at SMC. During some of our down time between talks and activities, it was common to spend it journaling about the weekend. However, I was a bit stuck. I wasn’t really focused on the retreat I was leading but instead, worrying about things back at school or at home. That whole semester, I had been finding it more and more difficult to remain present in the moment, and too caught up worrying and upset about other aspects of my life. It was very draining. This looming black cloud was following me into my classes, my yoga time, even my precious free time. Stuck, I went to the adult group leader for some guidance.

Anna, our assistant campus ministry director and head of all the campus ministry programming, was the group leader for this retreat. If you don’t know Anna personally, I can tell you she is empathetic and kind, sort of a mother figure for students in this home away from home. When I explained my situation to her, I received some truly wonderful advice. She had said that she had gone through something similar when she was in college and was advised to begin a gratitude journal. In it she would write everything that she was grateful for that day. That way, she was able to look beyond the troubles of the day and see just how many wonderful blessings that she did have. I was intrigued by this sort of intentional journaling and decided to give it a try.

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I decided to give myself parameters for this gratitude journal so that I didn’t get off track like I had been known to do before. First, I bought a new leather bound book for the sole purpose of my gratitude journal and planned to write in it every night before I went to bed. This would serve as a cleansing tool = the blessings and positive aspects of my day would be fresh in my mind before bed as opposed to the things weighing on me that I might otherwise mull over all night. Second, the goal, per Anna’s advice, was to write down a list of everything that I was grateful for that day. She had said that every day might not be wonderful all the way through, but there are always at least five things that we can be grateful for. Then, to build off of this, I gave it one final parameter. I started writing a second list, at least three things that I was praying for that day. These would be my intentions.

I have to say, I absolutely loved the idea of this gratitude journal when Anna first told me about it and I love it even more so now. I am able to end my day on a positive note and feel less weighed down by things that are stressful during the day. I am able to be more present. I also have been finding myself more in touch with my goals since I have been writing them down as intentions. I feel that writing them down gives me accountability so it motivates me to actively work on them, and ultimately be successful in my endeavors. It has also encouraged me to change my perspective and shift my focus away from just thinking about myself. In writing the things that I’m praying for that day, I’m now also thinking of who else might need a prayer and some support in their own endeavors. I love ending my day this way.

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Gratitude journaling has become an important aspect of my before-bed routine and leaves me with a clear, happy, and open mind. What are some of the intentional journals that you keep?

-elise

What I’d like to call the cat/cows of yoga

If you’re wondering, the cat/cows that I’m referring to are the ups and downs. Yoga is a joyous, restorative, and devotional practice for me but that doesn’t mean that sometimes it doesn’t leave me drained and questioning.

First off, I love the physical practice of yoga. I started with my mom doing children’s yoga when I was around six and reconnected with the practice in high school. It was a Vinyasa Flow class mainly geared towards the elderly. Slow, grounded, gentle. I absolutely loved it. The teacher eased us into practice, her voice soothing and her flow compassionate. At the time I was highly involved in my competitive dance team and it was such a relief to go to yoga to gently stretch and strengthen my body after a strenuous week of pushing my body to greater and greater heights. Monday nights with the lights off, the room just barely illuminated by the candles up front…those were the nights I felt restored.

Fast forward to college. My very first class, my First-Year seminar, was centered around Yoga and Yogic Philosophy. In that class we studied the history and cultural relevance of yoga, read the Yoga Sutras of Patangali, a bit of the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads and practiced Yoga on Friday afternoons. This class taught me so much about the eight limbs of Yoga, asana being only the third of eight. We studied the devotional and metaphysical aspects of yoga and I began to understand it as so much more than just a physical practice.

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With that in mind, I was expecting to love the practice on Friday afternoons where we were training ourselves to experience yoga in a new light, with the teachings we’d learned throughout the week. I did not. This practice introduced me to blocks and blankets, bolsters and belts. Our poses felt less restorative, more like a wringing out, the same that one does to a dripping towel. Instead of inspiring a light from within, this seemed more like expunging the bad. It was a deep-seeded uncomfortableness, not so much in the poses but in my experience. The teacher, the same that guided us through such heavy texts with ease and nurturing, felt colder and more stringent, a stark contrast to the warm, grandmotherly teacher I was used to before. Even the light of the room on that afternoon felt wrong. I much preferred the serenity of the dark.

I began to question my thoughts about yoga. The physical practice itself wasn’t very hard so why did this yoga feel so wrong in my body?

Sadly, I did not answer that question nor return to yoga after that until my senior year. In yet another philosophy class, the final class in my psychology major, my Senior Seminar, I studied yoga again. This time, I focused on the meditative aspects. I was studying the effects of a mantra on well-being. I led a five week course on the practice, each week focusing on a different aspect (posture/asana, picking one’s practice time and space, breathing techniques, tips for clearing one’s mind, etc) and found myself returning to the centeredness and restoration that I had felt from the class in high school. I studied guided meditations and wrote my own. I even finally understood the concept of a clear mind during meditation. Not necessarily empty or void like I had thought, but clear and open, like looking out at the vast blue sky from the top of a mountain. I was grounded once again. (I did find, by the way, that mantra meditation was more effective than a simple guided meditation or none at all in increasing a sense of well-being. I studied 30 college students over the course of six weeks…in case you were wondering).

I could feel my own sense of contentment and well-being rising, in what could have been an extremely tumultuous and stressful period. Graduating college can do that to you. I was calmer, more even in my emotions and was viewing situations more positively than I was before. I couldn’t give that up now.

I continued yoga throughout the summer, finding a small class of again primarily adults to practice with at noon taught by a librarian at my college. The practice, though during the day, was reminiscent of the class I had so enjoyed. It was gentle and grounded, and serious. No young people talking. Everyone who was there wanted to be. This one though introduced music. I found I liked quiet instrumental the best. It was better than complete silence where my mind sometimes wandered but music with words, no matter how gently delivered, felt jarring and woke me from my sort of meditative daze. This teacher also introduced a scent during the practice. The teacher sprayed a small spritz of an aromatherapy spray called Indu: Nectar of the Moon during our shavasana at the end of class which I absolutely LOVED. The scent and my deeper meditation through shavasana became linked, classically conditioned. As soon as the scent permeated the room, I was able to fall deeper into my meditation, less stirred by external sounds. This class I loved. Unfortunately, being a college graduate, I was looking for a job and by the grace of the universe I found one that I loved. However, it meant that I now I’d be deeply entrenched in work at noon and not at my beloved class. Time to look for a new studio.

During the winter, I made some resolutions and one of them was to get back to reading. One of the books that I chose was Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. The memoir chronicled a spiritual journey of a 30-year old divorcee through her year of exploring and finding herself. She begins her healing in Italy, drinking in the sweet nectar of pleasure, namely language and food. She then develops a strict practice in an ashram in India to get in touch with her spiritual side, and finally relaxes and enjoys simplicity in Bali where she falls in love.

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While I loved the whole book, the second part of the book, her story in India really spoke to me. Liz really struggled with a daily chant and prayer (182 verses long) called the Gurugita. As part of her practice, it was mandatory but she absolutely hated it. It made her sweat, feel tense, frustrated, angry, upset, nauseated – this was reminiscent of the early college class that I took. She consulted her teacher about the chant and the physical effects that she was experiencing, hoping that she could substitute another prayer for that one. However, he told her that it sounded like it was working on her and that she should stick with it. That’s when she began to realize that part of the cleansing process is getting rid of any bad before any good comes in. And I finally got the picture. I should have stuck with the uncomfortable asanas long after the semester ended as I likely would have experienced some really wonderful effects only after the detox or cleansing had occurred. After the bad, my stress mainly, had been worked out. Needless to say, I was understanding yoga a lot better after reading this.

Lo and behold, I did find a new studio to try. It was recommended to me by my teacher and I tried out some classes during the winter. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction! Sangha Studio -North’s Spa Yoga and Slow Massage Flow classes are my absolute favorite Logoof all the classes I’ve ever taken (which admittedly is not a lot but bear with me). These night classes work primarily with grounded asanas and hold for long durations to allow us to sink into and breathe into areas that need it. The teachers also use hands-on assist, re positioning us. On top of that, they do a bit of massage which eases any tension that might be building up. I absolutely love this aspect. It helps that when some asanas are especially working on releasing any of the bad, the massage acts as an assist to relax me and fight through it. Sometimes they use essential oils to massage as well, reintroducing the scent that helps link me to my deeper meditation. I look forward to class every week and each time return happier and rejuvenated.

Yoga has not been a part of my life for long and it hasn’t always been easy and relaxing. But I am learning to be gentle with my body, to treat it right, and to work through discomfort with an openness. I hope to continue my practice for a long time. It is such a powerful tool for cleansing and restoring. Who else here likes yoga?

-elise

Taking risks

If anyone ever gives you the chance to do something that you will otherwise never have the opportunity in your lifetime to do again, do it. Check that box on your bucket list.

One such opportunity came for me last week. My friend is a pilot and he’d offered while we were in school to take me up in his four-seater propeller plane. I mean, first of all, how cool is that?! Kid has his own plane! Second, uh DUH I want to go! Well, needless to say I cashed in on that offer and had one of the most thrilling experiences of my summer.

Driving to the airport my heart was beating nearly out of my chest and I did for like one second say to myself, is this actually happening? You’re really gonna let your 22 yr old friend fly you around in the tiniest plane you’ve ever been in? Do you trust him to keep you safe? My answer to that was yes, 100%. So gone were my anxieties and away we flew.

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My pilot next to his Cessna 172 Skyhawk, just to show you how tiny this plane really is.

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Sitting right up there in the cockpit playing the co-pilot was insanely cool. My friend taught me about the controls, what he needed to do to gain altitude, drop down a bit, how to steer, control the nose, etc. Though I don’t like to consider myself bookish, I do tend to study everything. People, places. I commit them to memory. Before we took off, I was watching my friend, memorizing his movements. Everything was calculated, calm. It was pretty awesome seeing my friend in a totally different capacity than how I usually see him. However, as soon as we got into the air, I stopped studying. I just gave into the experience.

This plane ride was absolutely incredible. There really aren’t words to describe how I was feeling in that moment. It’s not like I’ve never flown before and was experiencing flying for the first time, but it was as if that was the case. It’s a whole new and exciting experience being first, in a plane this small, and second, up in the cockpit watching the magic happen. We’d make dips and quick turnarounds where the wings were closer to perpendicular to the ground than parallel, sometimes without much warning. But I wasn’t frightened at all, it was honestly quite freeing. I’ve never felt like a bird before on any of my plane rides, but in this moment, that’s exactly what I imagined a bird might feel like. It was freedom. It was bliss.

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We flew over the Berkshire mountains, over lakes, through valleys. He pointed out all kinds of landmarks and buildings that we’d just driven past on the way to the airport, this time from an aerial view. His friend even managed to catch a picture of us up in the clouds from below.

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He gave me the opportunity to take hold of the steering wheel, instructing me that to pull closer to me was up, pushing in was down, left and right were respectively so. I put my hands on the co-pilot wheel and he let go of his. It was the only time I felt fear the entire flight. I immediately retracted. I was going to leave that to the professional. One day if I ever get the chance to fly again, I’ll  give it a go, but for now I was completely satisfied taking in the view.

I can honestly say that if he hadn’t offered this plane ride, it’s something I would never have had the opportunity to do in my lifetime. Sure, there’d be other plane rides, probably flying over some pretty cool places, but nothing will quite compare to having your friend share his love of flying with you, toting you around in his private plane and giving you the experience of a lifetime. Thank you Devin!

-elise

Julie/Julia Project

If anyone follows me on social media, you’ve probably noticed my recent infatuation with posting food, either incredible food that I’ve had the pleasure of devouring or meals that I’ve tried my hand at making. I’m extremely blessed to be surrounded by such rich local farm-fresh food in Vermont and even more closely in my jobs serving at weddings. I can’t tell you how many times my mouth has watered at the dry rubbed fire-roasted bone-in chicken with tomato panzanella or the cast iron seared salmon over a beet puree or the sirloin steak with bordelaise sauce over a luscious bed of creamy mashed potatoes and charred sweet onions. Just writing about it is making me salivate (insert heart eye emoji here).Don’t even get me started on the appetizers….

Here’s a quick peak of what I’m talking about. Farmhouse Group Events serves only the best…

Doesn’t that food look just scrumptious?? Photos courtesy of their Insta feed

Needless to say, having started out on my own, it was time that I learn to cook. Using the knowledge gained from hours of watching MasterChef, the preparation techniques I’ve seen the cooks use at work as well gaining inspiration from the fantastic food we get to indulge here in BTV, my friend Dan and I began our culinary adventure. We’ve always been the foodies of our group of friends and we were hoping to put our knowledge to the test.

As a jumping off point, I watched Julie &  Julia, the 2009 nod to the true story of a home cook in New York who follows in the footsteps of her idol Julia Child and works her way through Child’s cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, challenging herself to cook 524 recipes in 365 days.

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She blogs about her food journey and creates a following of like-minded “serventless American cooks,” foodies that share her love of food and motivate her when the going gets tough. As the parallel lives of Julie and Julia unfolded on the screen, it made me fall so much more in love with the idea of cooking. Food brings people together around the table, sharing in the bounty of our earth and keeps traditions of cultures and families alive. I absolutely love the idea of not just cooking for myself but sharing our gifts with others.

With Julie’s challenge in mind, we starting working through some of the recipes that we had that had been passed down in our families. We’ve never really been ones to start small so we jumped right in with pork scallopini with butter and herb noodles and  green veggies, fish milanese with pine nut couscous and most recently, skillet chicken in a mushroom and onion cream sauce over a bed of mashed potatoes and roasted brussel sprouts. Even our easier meals such as quiche or baked macaroni or spaghetti and meatballs get elevated with homemade (secret) family recipes as well as crunchy garlic bread sides and the like. Part of our learning process includes writing the date of our experiment, what we had paired with the protein as far as a starch and vegetables are concerned, and our amendments to the recipe (if any). The recipes are then entered into our official collection.

Learning to cook from scratch and elevating simple meals has added a whole new level of tastiness and an appreciation for fine food. This calls to mind some of my favorite lines from Chef Dider in the 2006 film Last Holiday. He says,

“The secret of life is butter”

“No butter, no cream, no wheat, no dairy, no fat! Eh merde! Why do they bother to eat?”

“The first time I saw you, I was so happy to see your appetite for food….for life.”

Didier’s philosophy has shaped how I feel about food and thus about life. Don’t ask for substitutions, just appreciate and experience all that we have been blessed with in our lives. When it comes to food, I don’t limit myself, count calories, or pass on dessert. Of course all in moderation but life is too short not to eat things that make you happy!

We cannot wait to continue honing our culinary skills. Got any recipes we can try? Post them in the comments!

-elise

Simple is better

Living in the charming state of Vermont, as a stark contrast to growing up in the hustling, high-traffic, and overall more gruff MA, has (gently) forced me to slow down. As proud as I am to identify as a Bostonian (greater Boston area still counts), it has made us as a people more worked up, aggressive, and unobservant of the simple pleasures that life and our earth have to offer. Vermont is so much the opposite that one cannot help but to inhale the crisp clean mountain air, allow the sun’s rays to warm their skin and the cool lake water to tickle their toes. God’s gifts are not taken for granted. Our earth is well tended here, and Vermonters have taught me more simple ways of living. I never really thought myself to be outdoorsy until I fell in love with Vermont’s sweeping mountain views, picturesque lakes and fields beckoning me to explore. I keep plants, eat breakfast outdoors on my balcony listening to the birds, and have considered starting my own fruit/vegetable garden. I find myself more grateful everyday for the bounty our earth has to offer and amazed at its beauty.

Some of my favorite days so far this year have been days spent outside, exploring the shores and craggy cliffs surrounding Lake Champlain. Just this past weekend, a friend of mine visited from MA so of course we had to show off our gorgeous state. A group of nine of us hiked through the woods to find a secluded stretch of beach, complete with a driftwood hideaway and a fire pit. Spending an afternoon tossing a Frisbee in the water, guessing our own and others’ spirit animals, roasting hot dogs and s’mores over the fire, and taking in the sunset was a day not soon to be forgotten.

We took “nothing but pictures, left nothing but footprints, and killed nothing but time”.

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How grateful I am to live in such a beautiful place with such adventurous people.

-elise