Monday, October 03, 2011

Running: From Allergy to Obsession

It's no secret that Vancouver is a fit city. It's a fabulous city for the outdoors and sports. There are beautiful trails, not to mention our gorgeous long stretch of seawall that runs along beaches, trees, and shiny cityscape that is perfect for running. It's a city full of races, runs, and walkathons year round. I remember on my way to church on the skytrain some mornings, seeing people with race T-shirts boasting "Vancouver Marathon". I used to think these runner-people were crazy -- I can barely manage to roll out of bed and onto the skytrain at 9am on a Sunday morning, and they have already finished running 42km/26 miles by that time. Who are these crazy people?!

Well somehow, the impossible has happened. I've become one of them. I somehow still am not comfortable calling myself a runner... I'd rather describe myself as "a person who runs." I'm not sure what's behind my reluctance to just own it, but it really is weird to see that I've come such a long way with this thing called running.

I used to say, "I'm allergic to running." And people would laugh. And I'd say, "No, really, running makes me itchy." And really, it did! When I told my sister this one day many years ago, she enlightened me about this thing called "runner's chafe" and that if you choose the right clothes, it would reduce the chance of itchiness. Turns out she was right.

So I couldn't use that excuse anymore, not using a physical allergic reaction anymore as a copout, at least. But I was still mentally allergic to running. Once a year in high school phys ed class, we would do the dreaded Cooper Run -- 12 minutes of running laps in the gym. We were graded on how many laps we could complete. The more laps you ran, the higher the grade. I don't have a problem with using such an exercise to evaluate fitness, but there never seemed to be any warning, preparation or training for the task. You would just show up one day, and it would be Cooper Run day. As an asthmatic, unathletic person growing up, this was quite the dreaded task.

It was no surprise then, that when I started attempting to add the treadmill to my gym cardio mix last year, that 12 minutes was the mental barrier. But amazingly, using a run-walk rhythm approach, I gradually increased my endurance to run beyond a dozen minutes, one minute at a time. I was happily treading along on my contained cardio machine routines, when one day, my sister upped the anti.

She was renewing her running energies, she asked if I wanted to go along with her to run a 10K race, post Thanksgiving. I blame all my subsequent running obsessions on her! My all-or-nothing personality and way about tackling new interests kicked in high gear. After running that one simple race with her, we egged each other on in our running efforts. I'm not quite sure how it escalated to this point -- but this weekend, we are heading to Victoria. My sister will run her first half-marathon (go Flo!) and I will ahem, attempt my first full marathon. I'm still daily debating with myself if I've officially lost it... what was I thinking when I signed up?!

When I started diving into the whole arena of "race training" and preparation, I anticipated there would be many analogies that would parallel life and the many lessons along the journey.
  • You learn to pace yourself for the long haul, so you can finish the race without burning out too early on.
  • You learn to know your style, not getting caught up in trying to be like someone else. I'm such a bad sprinter and am a better long distance runner, so I don't need to freak out with my sluggish-start before I can really hit my groove past 10km/6miles. True to my form, it takes me forever to start at anything I begin!
  • You learn to listen to your body, to hydrate, rest and recover adequately.
  • You learn the value of having a training goal and plan, how structure and direction provide a good foundation.
  • You learn how a seemingly impossible goal is achievable, one step at a time, slowly pushing your comfort zone bit by bit, mile by mile.
  • You learn the value of accountability and having people to run with. There were some days my sister had to coax my butt out the door.
  • You learn the value of encouragement, and cheerleaders along the way, especially in the really hard parts where you feel you have nothing left.
  • You learn that having people to celebrate with at the finish line is much more satisfying than just accomplishing it by your lonesome. My sister and roommate running on the same day I did my first half-marathon made the euphoria grander, and the pain of laughing more joyful.
  • You learn to enjoy the journey, to look around and see the bigger picture of where you are. I've actually stopped listening to music as I find there's enough around me to take in, observe and absorb, and pray for people and the city as I pass on by.
Speaking of "the bigger picture" while I began running just to challenge myself, I realize that I'd be foolish to miss out on the opportunity that it can be to draw others into my journey for a greater cause. I was inspired by the beautiful and passionate women who recently completed the She-Loves Half Marathon to raise money for our sisters in Uganda who are suffering atrocious injustices.

And so, I'd like to ask you to please give to SA (Servants Anonymous) Foundation -- a local Vancouver organization that works to fight human trafficking of women and children around the world. They are one of few organizations internationally that offers a comprehensive and uniquely designed long-term recovery program for young women between the ages of 16-29, who have been or are at risk of becoming sexually exploited and/or trafficked, including those who are pregnant and/or have children. Read more about Servants Anonymous here. Make a donation here. Please note that while the race is Oct. 9, the giving page will be up until the end of the month, as I was late getting into the fundraising arena.

If you think of it, and if you are the praying type, please pray that I would finish the run in one piece, but more important, pray for the countless struggling and exploited women to be freed to live in the dignity and beauty that God created for them.

Thanks for joining me on this journey...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Summer Miracles

O summer, where art thou? Growing up in sunny Saskatchewan, I am forever a sun-seeker. While the sunny season in this city is short, it is glorious indeed!

But with autumn in the air, and the official first day of the season past, I find myself in a lot of conversations answering, "How was your summer?" It's a bit like the back-to-school obligatory creative writing exercise within the first week of class.

While I stayed in the city for most of the summer, I kept it necessarily simple. Do the work I needed to get done, leisurely enjoy the sun and the city, and focus on my family.

At the beginning of the season, my 97 year old paternal grandfather fell ill and was admitted to the hospital. Amazingly up until that time, he was living with my grandmother on their own in a sweet co-op housing deal near English Bay. I would imagine that one of the most difficult things about the aging process is losing your independence, after having enjoyed it for most of your life. Basically our mobility and independence starts out zilch when we enter the world as babies, and if God grants us a long life, we eventually deteriorate to lose both those treasured abilities in our old age.

So most of the summer was invested in family support, with my parents and other relatives coming in and out of town, as my grandfather remained in hospital, and then eventually when he left us and passed on to the next life.

As the family busied ourselves with preparations for the memorial service, it turned out that my small contribution of sharing a portion of the eulogy, was a blessing in disguise. In the constant-being-with-family, my contemplative soul was hungry for some down time to slow down and simply remember. The assignment of preparing part of the eulogy was just the right accountability to pause and reflect. The process of looking back allowed me to really see, recognize, and receive the hidden gems and miracles of what had just transpired.

As I began to speak at the memorial service, I surprised myself with tears as I struggled to keep control of my words. I had not cried while doing my maternal grandma's eulogy. And I certainly did not expect to cry on this occasion, as I would not classify my relationship with my grandfather as close, warm or fuzzy. This reality of relationship was partly due to language barriers, but was also related to some difficult lessons of hurt and conflict that had occurred in our family in recent years.

As I looked at him and said my last goodbye on this side of heaven, it hit me why the extra emotion in the farewell. With the family drama and conflict that had gone down and dragged on in the last decade of his life, his (and our own) weaknesses were all the more apparent. A battle of pride, self-protection, and our typical Asian inability to truly resolve conflict left us with a painful several-long year gap of non-communication in key family relationships.

Our need was more desperate for God to intervene with his power to bring reconciliation to our seemingly beyond-repair broken relationships. The relational crack was so large and impossible to our doubtful natural human eyes... so when God showed up, it was so obviously supernatural, so evidently clear that it was his power doing the work of reconciliation. It truly was a miracle to see the softened hearts and openness that brought communication and relationship alive again for the last year of his life.

In essence, because of my grandfather's human frailty and weaknesses, I could see God's grace more clearly in him. He wasn't perfect. Nor is anyone in my family perfect. And least of all, I am not perfect. But the more evident our weaknesses and limitations are, the clearer that God's goodness and grace can shine through our cracks.

I am grateful to have gained this rich life lesson in this past season. God will need to help me walk it out in reality, so that I can increasingly embrace my weaknesses and find and share his grace there. The journey continues...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Goodbye to Grandpa Hwang (Yeh Yeh)

Spontaneous poem written by my grandmother

For seventy three years,
we loved and watched out for each other

You were an energetic man with wings

We could not fly side by side,
like love birds in the sky

We were like intertwined vines on earth

Today you went ahead of me,
resting in the bossom of the Lord

But I still treasure your foot prints

Forever you will live in my heart

Love, Check

My portion of the eulogy remembering my Yeh Yeh on August 19, 2011

We all know my grandfather had a love of all things air-related -- airplanes, flight and skies. By the time my grandparents arrived in Canada, and by the time we were born, his flight career was a previous chapter of his life. And I want to remember him more than just what he passionately did for his career. I want to share more personally of the person he was.

My grandparents first arrived in Canada in the spring of 1976. That was the year i was born, in May. My parents decided to put them to work right away and left me behind in their care when I was one month old, while they went off to vacation in New York. He was my first care giver.

When I got older, he continued to care for me in practical ways. I am glad that I came to Vancouver to study 16 years ago, because of the opportunity to grow in my relationship with him. He gave me his first TV in Canada so I could watch TV while at school. He gave me a fabulous clothing iron from the 1950s that I still use today -- it's much better quality and built to last than anything you could buy today. He always told me he would care for me, that if I ever needed him or anything, just tell him, because I was his granddaughter.

But more than these practical ways that he cared for me, what I will treasure most is the spirit he exhibited especially in his last days. I thank God for what a clear mind and heart to talk with us whenever we came for visits. He was always in good spirits, joking with us, telling us what we were like as children when he was taking care of us. You could tell he was taking pleasure in us and enjoying us and his family. The nurses repeatedly commented on what a good and pleasant patient he was, joking with them, saying how good their care of him was. Despite his weakness, tiredness and physical struggles and suffering, he didn't complain about being in the hospital. In fact he joked about why he didn't come sooner to the hospital to enjoy such good quality care.

I really feel God gave him a softer, more tender spirit in his last days. He was always thanking and praising God for giving him such a good life with so many blessings, and bringing him this far. On one particular visit where I arrived around his dinner hour, I had the privilege to help him with his meal. In between bites he kept saying how glad he was for a family that loved him and granddaughters that cared for him.

My grandfather left us a good example of leaving this life well. He had made peace with God. When the pastor visited with him, he knew of his place in heaven and God's love for him. Despite the conflicts that life brings, despite the conflicts that our human nature and weaknesses can stir up in our relationships, he made peace with all his loved ones. He was grateful for a good long life filled with blessing. He was ready to go.

Last week my sister and I went to the hospital for another visit, which turns out was our last. It was Sunday, the day he passed away. He was sleeping so peacefully, breathing ever so gently. So I didn't want to disturb him. I sat down and watched him while I prayed for him. I thanked God for him and how much Jesus loves him. To see him so tender in his spirit, really showed me how God was working in his heart and life. I could see Jesus in him. I prayed for Jesus to be close and present to him even in his sleep, every step until the time he would call him back home with a big warm welcome. And then I said goodbye and left.

And shortly after, he went back to his heavenly home into God's faithful presence, eternal and unconditional love for him. I know that he is enjoying an even better room than at the hospital -- he's enjoying the room and mansion that Jesus said that he is preparing for each of his children that love him. I know that he is joking with and enjoying God face to face. I am thankful that as we remember and celebrate Grandpa's life, we can have hope that we will see him one day again in God's presence.

"High Flight" Poem by John Gillespie Magee Jr, read by my cousin

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds -- and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of -- wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew --
And, while the silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the fate of God.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Simple Secret of Iced Tea

So apparently based on the response to a simple Facebook status update about sipping my Caramel Pear Rooibos home made iced tea, everyone wants to know how to make home made iced tea... and it's actually very easy.

Basically all you have to do is:
  1. brew your favourite tea,
  2. add your choice of sweetener to your taste (while the tea is still hot so that it dissolves easily),
  3. then cool and refrigerate until it's ready to drink!
Et voila! it really is that simple!

The secret to the fancy schmancy exotic flavours (caramel pear) wasn't anything I personally home brewed or added to my tea... I just bought the already fancy flavoured tea, which you can get at any tea shop (or just use whatever tea bags you have at home).

The caramel pear rooibos is from David's Tea, which Anita introduced me to in Ottawa. Luckily they have a location in Vancouver and they sell online as well. I highly recommend it! I walked out of there with three kinds of tea including Read My Lips (chocolate mint black tea), and one of their divine summer Luscious Watermelon fruit teas. All of them iced really well. Just going in to smell all the different teas is a treat in itself!

They have a collection of iced tea recipes, including alcoholic ones, like Spiked Strawberry or La La Long Island Iced Tea (oh that brings me back to the days of my frosh year)! The Watermelon Pops look delish too!

When I first read about how to make iced tea (can't remember where, but it was in a couple of places, from a display in a tea shop to a website), the directions were to doubly steep the tea (twice the amount of tea leaves), then add ice to cool it down.

Umm, is it just me, or does that seem like a waste of good extra tea leaves, only to be watered down? I suppose I'd try the iced method if I was in a pinch, but so far it's been easy enough to brew a jar and refrigerate it so it's ready to enjoy whenever I am thirsty or a guest shows up for an impromptu visit! Or, it's excellent in a blended fruit drink too!

Bonus Tea Tip: Rooibos tea is apparently rich in minerals, making it an excellent sports drink, helping to replenish your body after a workout. It sure tastes better than Gatorade in my books!

Summer Sippin' in the Sunshine

The perfectionist in me is also a huge procrastinator, so I've been waiting for "enough time" to post my last few rounds of recipes...Apparently I just need some accountability, which usually at work takes the form of deadlines. But for fun stuff, apparently all I need is to post it on my Facebook and get people asking for it!

So here goes... all are themed for some summer lovin'. And, as per usual the Justine-key-criteria, all are super duper easy, ready to be served in a pinch with spontaneous visitors, provided you have the ingredients on hand! :)

Hot Chocolate from Thomas Haas: Okay so this one is not really a summer drink, and it's not homemade so I don't have the recipe, but it does go with the theme of drinks. I can't help but plug how amaaazing the hot chocolate was. And what an inspiring place to have a creative work meeting... Leah and I felt like we had a little vacation during the time we were there.

  • 1 can of peaches
  • 1 can of lychees
Directions: Blend both cans of fruit including all the juices. Pour and enjoy.

Notes: Lychees are extremely versatile and go well with other fruits. Lychee blueberry is another one of my favourite combos, which makes an excellent pie.

There are multiple routes to achieve the frosty refreshing cold effect:
  • Add some ice before blending. (This option dilutes the flavour a bit with the added water. The below two options preserve the concentration of the fruit.)
  • Refrigerate the cans of fruit before blending.
  • Freeze the fruit (or purchase already frozen fruit) without the juices. Then blend the frozen fruit pieces with the liquid unfrozen juices.
  • 1 cup of frozen blueberries
  • 1 cup of iced tea
  • sweetener, to taste
Directions: Blend and enjoy.

Notes: You can experiment with different kinds of frozen fruit. And the possibilities are endless for the kinds of tea you could use... rooibos, green tea, black tea, fruit tea, oh my! Home made iced tea is the best in my opinion though.

  • 3 tbsp of Caffe d'Amore Vanilla Smoothie Mix
  • 1 cup of ice
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • 1/4 cup of Skor bits
Directions: Blend and enjoy.

  • Try this also with Oreo cookies... yum-a-lum! Or I suppose any crunchy candy like Smarties or Reese Pieces would be a good bet too!
  • You can buy the amazing Caffe d'Amore mix at Superstore which works magic in turning any liquid drink into a happenin' shake or smoothie. They also have a coffee frappe version if that's more your fancy.
  • You can substitute cow's milk with almond or soy milk, though the drink mix powder does have dairy in it.


Ingredients: 1 watermelon
  1. Cut the watermelon into cubes about the size of an ice cube tray (2 inch cubes).
  2. Refrigerate half of the cubes.
  3. Put the remaining half of the cubes on a flat sheet separated slightly and place in the freezer, so that the cubes do not freeze in one giant mass which makes for easier blending.
  4. Once the cubes are frozen, place equal parts of frozen and refrigerated cubes and blend until smooth.
The trick with this (or any other icy fruit blended drink) is not to add too much (if any) additional liquid/water, as it can dilute the flavour of the already subtle watermelon. The melon has enough liquid in it already, so you only need to take advantage of its natural juice by freezing it.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Berry Tasty Bars: Long Run Fuel Marathon Chunks

Despite the fact that I watch a total of only 1.5 hours of television each week, there are indeed perks to having a sister who works for a television station. Media outlets often sponsor large events happening throughout the city. This means they get "free" sponsor tickets to use, which are conveniently up for grabs via contests.

So I wanted to go the Wellness Show, but of course I was too cheap to shell out the money for tickets. Conveniently I asked if she could enter the draw and win me tickets. Luck was with her again, and she won! Turns out the tickets were worth every dime we paid; they would have even worth every cent we would have paid had I not been so cheap and bought the tickets for real. There were tons of samples and we left quite full.

Of all the goodies we tasted, the category most represented by far was the oodles of energy and protein bar samples. Of the many we tried, I can't say any of them were decent enough to warrant me wanting to remember the name nor spend the effort to make a purchase. The textures were not very appealing, to say the least. The flavours were even more disappointing -- enticing flavours like "Cookies and Cream Delight" or "Chocolate Peppermint Stick" were overly-sweetened and artificial. I might as well have a real cookies and cream chocolate bar or chocolate peppermint patty for the same amount of calories.

Normally energy bars are not even a product I would be looking to consume. (There was the one time, prompted by a sale, that I bought a pile of Clif bars, and treated them like granola bars. Not a good idea when granola bars are one of my choice items to consume on a carb-sugar-craving-binge. Anyway, that time doesn't count! ;)

But since I was inspired by my sister to start running, I began a hunt for home made recipes for energy bars that tasted like real food to fuel my longer runs. I found success with two recipes, both quite different.

The first one is a three-grain based bar that I'll just link you to from here, because I pretty much followed the recipe, other than doubling the cocoa and eliminating the coffee since I'm just a boring hot-water drinker. Quite delicious and chewy -- and I like to chew everything, from ice cream to frozen baked goods. When I was still in high school, my mom once asked me to stop running down to the deep freeze because I was eating all her frozen muffins she was saving for later. Oops.

The second one is a fruit-and-nut bar I'll post here, because I altered about half the ingredients. You can see the original recipe here. As usual, I like to look at the broad strokes of a recipe and improvise where I can. I love this recipe because it's so simple, and you can swap out any number of adjustments to suit your taste.

Long Run Fuel Marathon Chunks

  • 1 cup dried fruit (I did mostly blueberries, with a few cherries thrown in)
  • 1 cup raw nuts (I used raw cashews)
  • 1/2 cup nut butter (I used my all time favourite hazelnut butter, adjust for desired consistency)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2-3 tbsp of liquid sweetener (I used agave, but you can use honey or maple syrup too, adjust for desired consistency)
  • 1/3 cup raw sunflower or pumpkin seeds
  1. Combine all (save the sunflower seeds) in a food processor until well mixed.
  2. Turn the mixture into a bowl and fold in the sunflower seeds.
  3. Remove and press into an 8X8 foil covered pan.
  4. Refrigerate overnight.
  5. Remove and cut into small chunks.
Notes and Cautions:

According to the original blogger, this can be tough work for your food processor if you use larger fruit like pitted prunes or apricots (I would imagine pulsing would help ease the work, but learn from my errors which resulted in a morgue of small appliances -- if it starts to overheat or smell burnt, just stop or risk killing it!). Smaller fruit like berries worked like a breeze.

I used my silicone baking mat to press the mixture flat after wrestling with a sticky and uneven spoon. You could replicate the same effect by pressing down on parchment paper. I've also seen some other bloggers make similar recipes by shaping the mixture into balls.

I'm a huge fan of berries and really quite hate prunes or apricots, so the combo I used tasted a lot like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a bar form. Super tasty! So tasty I have to restrain myself not to eat too many of these if I'm not immediately planning on going for a run. I did a rough calculation and with the ingredients I used -- these puppies pack about 175 calories per 1.5 inch square. Yikes! Great for a run, but not so good for a couch potato movie snack!

I took these for a test 12 mile run, wearing them in my pack, as a dry run for my race next week. They got a bit squooshy half way through. Next time I think I'll try freezing the chunks and see if that helps.

So there you have it. If you try it out, let me know what twists you added, and tell me how they turned out!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Blueberry Lychee Pie Goodness!

I'm intuitively a better cook than a baker. Cooking welcomes creativity and flexibility. Baking requires scientific precision. My mother drastically alters baking ingredients without thoroughly recognizing how it impacts the overall recipe chemistry. I inherited this trait, yet luckily my baking adventures result in delicious success sometimes.

Like my blueberry-lychee pie experiment. 

Inspiration #1: I love lychees.

My go-to way to enjoy lychees is to blend them in a simple smoothie = one can of peaches including juices + one can of lychees including juices. [Did you get that bonus recipe?] Once I requested a lychee-peach blend at the best bubble tea place in Vancouver. I laughed when the woman obliged, but only after a stern disclaimer, "We don't guarantee it will taste good." I bet the regular Asian clientele doesn't usually order off the proven menu.

The accidental discovery of the fabulous marriage of lychees and blueberries: During one spontaneous visit, I offered my guest a smoothie. I had a can of lychees, but no peaches. What about trying the frozen blueberries? What a delicious surprise!

Lychees are fragrant, but subtle enough to complement other foods, even savoury ones. One Thai restaurant cooks lychees in their tasty ostrich curry!

Inspiration #2: Beyond Savoury, to Sweet Dumplings
Once my neighbour celebrated her birthday with Chinese dumpling wrapping (and gorging) party. We wrapped, pan fried, and ate Chinese savoury dumplings to our hearts' content.

For dessert, at the lead of a non-Asian guest, we filled the leftover dumpling wraps with a sweet filling of fruit. Apparently it's a European dessert. We pan fried them and they were delish!

This year for Chinese New Year, we received a last minute invitation to another neighbour's dumpling party. Desiring to bring food, but too lazy to go shopping, I searched my kitchen. Lychees and blueberries! We wrapped blueberry-lychee dumplings for dessert. We steamed them, but they didn't quite taste right. Pan fried worked better!

So with the leftover blueberry-lychee filling, and knowing deliciousness comes with fried, greasy goodness, I experimented with it as a pie filling.

Guidelines for Blueberry Lychee pie (Use as a starting point, not a precise recipe. I can't part from my fluid artsy ways ;)
Pie crust recipe is found here (thanks to Dilys for pointing me there!)
Filling Ingredients (with possible substitutions)
  • 2 cans of lychees, drained and loosely cut into pieces, to your desired chunkiness
  • 2 cups of blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1/3 cup of liquid (any kind of juice, left from the lychee can; the remaining juices from the can make a refreshing cocktail with a punch of lychee liquer!)
  • 2 tablespoons of tapioca starch (or corn starch, any thickening agent)
Sweeten to taste with sugar (or alternative sweeter, like Stevia or agave). I didn't add any sweetener, because the canned lychees contain enough sugar. You could use fresh lychees if you're trying to go sugar free.
If you're gluten free, try a crumble topping, with quinoa or millet flour instead of a wheat pie crust.

The substitutions are endless! Try other fruits, like peaches to go with the lychees. As long as you have about 4 cups of fruit you could change up the ratios and put more lychees, if you want to experiment with stronger lychee flavour.
The Method:
  1. Heat the fruit filling ingredients in a pot over medium heat. Slowly stir in corn starch until thickened.
  2. Fill pie crust with filling. Cover the pie with a top crust, being careful to seal the edges. Poke the top crust with a few holes using a fork.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown. Cool to let set. Then Enjoy!

See how un-precise I am? I can't even give you a time to bake, based on your pie format. This recipe made me 10-12 little pie crusts, the size of individual muffins, which I baked for 20 minutes in my convection oven (I pressed the pie dough into silicon muffin liners). But the pie crust recipe is enough for a 9 inch pie. Bake longer for one large pie. That's why I stick with the "golden brown" rule.
Have fun and let me know how it goes!

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Let There Be Light (and Life) Again

It's been quite the ride finding my way again -- some things are so long gone and behind me, and other things are coming back to me that I wasn't sure would ever come back.

There is one thing that came back that I am so grateful for -- the return of my creativity. Seriously, in many of my moments of deadness and lack of creative energy in the last couple of years of wasteland, I wondered if I would ever see it again; I wondered if it wasn't to be a part of my new landscape.

As often how Jesus speaks and whispers to me, it came to me in the normal course of life. (Often I think he'll only speak to me in lightning bolt revelations when I pull away for a weekend retreat, which he still can do, but so often I see how God appears to people in the course of daily life with major words and directions.) All in one week, three design projects came to me. My friend asked me to design a Christmas flyer for her. I designed a wedding programme for a dear friend. And the kicker -- a sweet little old lady from Orilla, Ontario contacted me through my website and asked to order some of my ooooold Christmas card designs from 2005 (I mean, only one person has contacted me from that site ever, and I'm not marketing it at all. It's got to be page 100 or something if you googled it!). I felt the creative part of my soul coming alive again.

If these had happened as isolated opportunities, I probably wouldn't have noticed. Because I really am that dense.

Slowly, but surely since then, I've been getting my creative mojo back. It helps to that my sister comes into my room for impromptu brainstorming sessions on what we can do with our respective creative skills and interests.

In January I went a little overboard actually. In the course of one weekend, I finished several major projects. Some were new projects for the year, but most of them were projects that had been waylayed 3.5 years ago when the burnout truck hit me. I seriously didn't know if I would ever finish some of them.
With the new light, there is new life, and new fruitfulness.

Bear for my friend's baby in Japan: I started this one 3.5 years ago and didn't think it would ever be complete. But thanks to my friend's Facebook "home made pay it forward challenge" I had new motivation. This bear was quite the work in process -- it's the same one that my friends winced at because the incomplete look of his face appeared scary to them. He turned out alright in the end I think!

Home Hankerchiefs: In an effort to reduce my carbon footprint, save money (you would be amazed how much it cost to pay someone else for a simple square piece of cloth), and re-learn/revive my sewing skills, I embarked on the quest to sew my own hankerchiefs. The empty envelope box from my Christmas mailing was the perfect object-of-otherwise-waste to be reclaimed and reused as my "kleenex box". I may decide to make it prettier one day, but for now it's good enough for my at-home-only-use.

Cushion covers: to update and tie my new couches and cotton throws together. Man were these a breeze and treat to sew after the grueling hankerchief project!

Whew! I admit it was a little excessive. I am acutely aware of my old tendencies of productivity-addiction peeking through here. I want to be careful to not get hooked again on getting things done just for the sake of getting them done, even if they are fun and creative.

But for now, it's just good to feel the creative juices running again.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

I'm back...

Well, it's been a long time, but I'm back. A lot has changed since my last post 3.5 years ago. It's difficult to articulate it all as I'm still processing the major changes that have happened deep within me -- changes which are still incrementally working their way out into my outer habits and behaviours.

Suffice it to say that in the last 3.5 years, Jesus brought me through a complete system reboot. I'm still going through the process of deciding what needs to be installed on the new system -- some good old programs and systems need to be reinstalled, but there are far more that need to be left behind for good. I'm still figuring out how to run within the new operating system, learning lots as I go on in learning new ways.

The reboot and "comeback" was long overdue. It was three years ago I came to a point of total give-up surrender. I had just completed working on the final project for a counselling course which involved letting Jesus walk you through your own "stuff" (the premise being if you don't know personally to have Jesus rescue you through your own messy wounds and issues, it's difficult to help anyone else through their own baggage).

For that assignment I decided to be brave and work on my addiction to work and productivity. Literally at the start of the project I felt like I had to "work" on it myself and muster up enough effort to overcome my life-long problem of letting my identity be chained to my career or what I was able to produce or do.

Well by the time I was ushered through the process of understanding the entangled roots of my problem, my eyes were necessarily opened to how I was in way over my head. I was overcome by my sense of helplessness and powerlessness to change anything -- especially matters of the heart which all my external actions flow out of.

And so I gave up -- "Jesus! Understanding my problems and knowing what the right thing to do from here on, does not give me the actual power to do anything differently. I need you to do it. Because I just can't."

And that was the simple, yet difficult, point of turning my way of being into a new direction. I was experiencing the counterintuitive, yet powerful truths of AA's first 3 steps:
  1. We admitted we were powerless over (our addictions), that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.
It's counterintuitive that giving up my own self-effort will help me move forward. I'm realizing more and more how Jesus' ways of governing are so entirely opposite of human wisdom. In my mind it doesn't make sense that dying to myself would be the way to finding new life. But that's exactly how I found my way back to myself -- or rather, to my new self.

Shortly after I waved the white flag of surrender, every area of my life (professional, personal family, relationships, spiritual, emotional) surfaced multiple crises that ran me over like several trucks. I crashed.

My old house was demolished. The foundation was brought to the ground. Only then was there possibility for a new foundation to be laid.

With my work addiction slain, I didn't define myself anymore by what I could do. I actually swung to the other extreme where I was repulsed by questions of, "so, what do you do?" or comments of, "wow, you did such a great job on..."

In the demolishing, I had lost all my passions, drives, and dreams -- both good and bad ones. I felt like the North point of my compass was removed completely. And I had little clue as to what my new North should be or look like.

During the time I was a bit befuddled about who I was anymore, I had the amazing opportunity to go visit my friend and her husband who were doctors in Sudan at the time. The town where they lived had only one paved road. The rest were a muddy mess of jeeps, motorbikes, bicycles, pedestrians, and corrupt soldiers and police fining foreigners willy nilly. My friend's husband was helping the government form a primary health care system. It was eye opening to see how much we take for granted in our civilized existence.

The image was loud and clear to me -- it's messy to create a new society. Really messy. It's messy to learn a new way of life. Really messy.

Since then, I've been journeying along to discover the new ways of being, thinking and doing that I feel called to. Some days I'm taking steps forward. Other days I stumble and fall and lose my way, finding myself trying to live by the old ways in the new land.

But I'm back. I may be walking in a different land, but I am slowly learning to walk differently.