Thursday, April 30, 2015

Golden Hour

My little bungalow is built into the side of a hill facing Los Angeles. From my backyard I can see all of Los Angeles, Catalina island, and when it's especially clear, the Pacific Ocean. It's a glorious view. I love soaking it in from my deck each day while the birds sing and the trees sway in the breeze. In the spring, I especially love to be home in the evenings when the setting sun turns everything to gold, flooding my bungalow with light.



I wish I could swallow the light from this golden hour. I figure if I could swallow it I could capture it somehow, forever united with it. But since I can't, I snap pictures. Lots and lots of pictures.



Tonight's clouds reminded me of long, lean dragons, floating lazily over the vast ocean. When the sun sank into the sea, I imagine it shot light through the water, turning it into a body of undulating liquid gold. The water burned and gleamed, and the scales on the dragons' bellies caught its light and began to glow like embers.


The dragons weren't expecting this. "Whoa, Myrna!" one said to his companion. "My tummy's feeling really toasty now!" I think the cure for dragons with stomach aches is to hover over the ocean during the sunset, allowing its liquid warmth to sooth their tummies like a giant hot water bottle. I'll make the suggestion to the next cloud dragon I meet.


Several minutes after the sun has set, the rest of the sky bursts into flaming color.



Even clouds on the eastern horizon catch the light, forming a 360-degree ribbon of electric pink, purple and tangerine. I like to think our ridge-top enjoys a colorful cloud hug each night.



About fifteen minutes into the sunset the cloud dragons disappeared and blazing jeep tread marks appeared. God and his kids must have been off roading through the sunset tonight. I bet they had a grand ol' time.



Sometimes, after the sky has faded, I feel a little achey, like I've lost something special. But then the valley lights flicker below, one here, one there, until the horizon is flickering with little galaxies and I don't feel achey anymore.



Once the valley is full of light, I go back into my bungalow where I listen to the breeze rush through the trees, and I notice how it sounds like ocean waves.

Ah, glory.


Peace and hugs to you, my friends.

Love,

Sarah




© by scj

Monday, April 27, 2015

A rather shocking surprise

Friday afternoon I was in my bungalow trying to muster the conviction to change from my sweat pants to my adult clothes and feeling rather like this:



when I heard a knock at the door. Curious, I opened it and found my college roommate, Rachel, standing on the other side.

SURPRISE!

Rachel lived down the hall from me my freshman year of college. We quickly became fast friends and ended up living together for the rest of college and the first bit of graduate school. Those were lovely years full of fun experiences:

We hiked.

We carved pumpkins.  

We went on walks. 


We took each other to the airport.

We dressed up.
Newsies!





We laughed a lot.

Here are some things you should know about Rach: she is kind, encouraging, thoughtful, talented, and gracious. When I was 19 I looked at her and said, "I want to be like her when I grow up." I've been saying it ever since.

Several years ago Rach moved back to her hometown in northern California, and making regular memories became pretty tricky. Our together time became a rare and special treat. So it was wonderful and rather shocking to find her on my front step on Friday. Unfortunately, I was on my way to tutor for the afternoon and she was on her way to San Diego for the weekend, so we made plans to meet up on Sunday.

Sunday morning Rach and her travel buddy and roommate, C, came over for breakfast. It was a cozy affair, but the best part was after breakfast when Rach and I sat at the piano and crooned some tunes. Well, she crooned; I warbled.

Also, I had a head full of curlers. It's a good friend who doesn't bat an eyelash when you serve them breakfast in your spandex, slippers, and a head full of curlers.


When Rach and I lived together, one of my favorite things was lying on the floor next to the piano while she played and sung. If the voices of India Arie and Lauren Hill could somehow procreate, their progeny would be Rachel's voice. She's amazing.


Sometimes, I'd get up off the floor, scootch onto the bench next to her, and we'd make music together, alternating who played the piano and who sang harmony. We still love to sing together, and whenever see each other, we pass the hours playing and singing. Those are golden moments.



Isn't life lovely? You just never know when you'll open your door and find a surprise just waiting to make adult-ing less like a burden and more like a gift packed full of joyous memories.

Rach and I with her friend, C






Rach, thanks for coming. You were the cherry on top of my weekend. Heck, you were the ice cream, the whipped cream, and the sprinkles, too. Your friendship makes life sweeter and I sure love you.

And hey, the rest of you, you sure do add richness to my life. I hope you're well. I'm praying for you. Do shoot me an email to tell me how I can pray.

Much love,

SJ




© by scj

Friday, April 24, 2015

Wedding Season: Bridesmaid Dress Tip


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It's wedding season, and engagement season, and go-to-JCrew-to-get-a-bridesmaid-dress season, which means for some of you, it's a stressful season. But I've just learned a helpful little tip that'll make procuring your JCrew bridesmaid dress relatively stress-free.

Just call this number: 1- 800 - 261 - 7422

Really, that's all. This is the number to JCrew's Very Personal Stylist line. It will connect you with a personal stylist who will make buying the right bridesmaid dress in the right size much easier.

Here's what my personal stylist did for me:

1. She waived my shipping fee AND shipped my dress to me overnight.

2. She helped me figure out which size would be best for me.

3. I got my dress on sale which, according to the site, means I can't return or exchange it; however, the stylist waived the final return policy which allowed me to buy a couple of sale dresses in a couple of sizes with option of returning them.

Gals, if your wedding party is decking out in JCrew, this stylist line is a great option.

This was just too good not to share!

Hope you're having a grand Friday. Cheering for ya, Skillets.

-SJ
 




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© by scj

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A case for dancing: five reasons to get groovy

I did not dance until I was 24 years old. Those 24 years were good years, but they weren't without angst.

Every time I heard a pulsing beat, my inner, imaginary dance diva began to tap her toes till her torso swayed. The next thing I knew she was flying feverishly across the dance floor, spinning and dipping to the music. She was a sight to behold. But behold her was all I did; I never joined her.

My inner diva was compelling, to be sure; but she wasn't as compelling as my inhibitions. "I have no idea what I'm doing" I'd whisper when she urged me to join her. "I don't want to make a fool out of myself." So I let her do her thing while I sat quietly, occasionally allowing myself to sway timidly to the music.

But the pain. Oh, the physical and spiritual pain of sitting still to music that made my heart pound with adrenaline and my soul swell with longing to just.move. Self-doubt has a way of precluding all sorts pleasure and joy.

And then one day, when I was 24, I defied my inhibitions (take that, you silly, false beliefs!) and signed up for a salsa dance class at my town's small community center. My roommate at the time joined me, and together we learned to spin, dip, and follow a lead. And I discovered that dance combined two of my heart's deepest joys: athleticism and music. It was love at first dance.

One of my first salsa dance lessons back in 2009

Since then, I've also dabbled in swing dance, two-stepping, and wedding reception free styling, but I've not gotten good at any form of dance. I've been either too busy with grad school or too incapacitated by illness to get beyond the "I have no idea what I'm doing, but boy this is fun!" stage. But that's okay. Dancing, for me, has not been about mastery and performance. Instead, it has been about personal growth. It has facilitated emotional and physical healing, and has taught me to live more freely and fully.


It turns out dancing, whether in a group, alone, or with a partner, is one of life's greatest gifts. And so, today, I give you a five reasons why you should put on some music and get low, low, low, loooow.

1. Dance helps us to live in the moment instead of the land of "If Only." I'm inclined to take frequent trips to the land of If Only: "If only my life were different"; "If only I hadn't screwed up at work yesterday"; "If only I had more bacon." But when I dance I'm present in my body, in this moment, and I remember why right here and now is the best place to be.

2. Dance causes your body to release endorphins. Endorphins are magical things. They reduce stress and your body's perception of pain, and they increase increase feelings of well-being. They're essentially your body's natural anti-depressant.

3. Sometimes, the best way to eradicate inhibitions is to defy them — when they tell you to do something, go and do the exact opposite. Inhibitions are often rooted in shame. They're a defense mechanism that helps us cover up the parts of ourselves that don't seem acceptable or worthy. But when we bravely bare those "unacceptable" and "unworthy" parts of us, we discover our inhibitions are really just blindfolds preventing us from seeing our worth, and shackles keeping us from living life to the fullest. Dancing, especially in a group, requires vulnerability; and vulnerability, when practiced with safe people and met with acceptance, chases away shame. When we bare the parts of us that we're used to covering and people still accept us, it teaches us we're more okay than we realized. That's when our inhibitions begin to crumble.

4. Dance teaches us that our bodies are our friends. I've spent a lot of my adult life criticizing my body's external imperfections. When I got sick, I began to criticize my body's internal inadequacies. My body has often felt like the enemy. But when I dance, I remember that my body is a vessel that opens me to grace. Without my body, I'd never be able to hear pulsing Latin rhythms or twangy country tunes. Without my body, I'd never be able to spin when the music accelerates or sway when it slows. I'd never be able to sweat, or laugh with my dance partners, or feel those endorphins. Our bodies are our grace vessels — our friends.

5.  Dance cultivates solidarity. A group of humans grooving on the dance floor can remind us that we're all the same — we all have the same capacity to enjoy beauty and goodness, to express and create, and to relate to each other with enthusiasm and vulnerability. We're not just animals; we're sacred and unique souls. We're worth celebrating. And let me tell you: dancing is one of the BEST ways to celebrate!


So there you have it, friends: a case for dancing. And hey, if you're new to this whole dancing thing, maybe start by dancing alone in your room (in your "stretchy pants," obviously (name that movie)) before working your way up to a group dance. And when you're ready for a group dance, give me a call. I want to come join you.

For those of you who can't dance because of physical limitations: these limitations can be so discouraging, but I've found a way to enjoy dance in spite of them. Here's what I do when my body's not well enough to dance: I watch other people dance (Youtube!) and then I close my eyes and imagine myself dancing. It helps! It really, does.


Cheering for you, Skillets,

Sarah




© by scj

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Chocolate Mousse Parfait: dairy, gluten, egg and refined sugar-free

Several weeks ago I had to modify my Paleo diet to accommodate my stricter medical needs. As a result, I've been eating absurd amounts of cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and squash. I've also started having reoccurring dreams in which I am stuffing my mouth with cake, cookies, and slabs of German chocolate. Bless it.

When I wake up from these dreams, my tummy is usually grumbling for something rich and sweet and non-vegetable-y. Enter: this dessert I like to call "The Elixir of Happiness and Spreader of Peace on Earth," alternatively known as "Chocolate Mousse Parfait."


This parfait is dairy, gluten, egg and refined-sugar free, but don't let the absence of these ingredients fool you: this is AMAZING. I made this for the first time last week, and since then, I've eaten it every day. I've also begun to have dreams about eating it. Take that, you dreamy piles of cake, cookies and German chocolate, you. 

Here's what you'll need to make this simple, quick dessert:



For the chocolate mousse:

  • One 14-ounce can of FULL FAT coconut cream*, minus the watery liquid at the bottom of the can
  • 5-6 tablespoons of pure maple syrup
  • 7 tablespoons of cocoa powder

For the vanilla cream:

  • One 14-ounce can of FULL FAT coconut cream*, minus the watery liquid at the bottom of the can
  • 3 tablespoons of pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
Optional garnish: semi-sweet chocolate
 
*I prefer Trader Joe's coconut cream, although other brands will work just fine.



Preparation Directions: 

This dessert requires some planning as the cream needs time to thicken in the fridge both before and after you make the parfaits. 

1. Put both cans of cream in the fridge overnight. This allows the cream to thicken and separate from the watery liquid at the bottom of the can. (Not all cans of cream will have this liquid.)

2. After the cans have had a night to sit, open one can and scoop out all the thick cream, leaving any watery liquid at the bottom of the can. You can dispose of this liquid or save it for a recipe requiring light coconut milk (I save it for baking projects).

3. To make the vanilla cream, put the cream in a food processor, along with the maple syrup and vanilla extract. Process ingredients until they are thoroughly blended.

4. Pour the cream in a bowl. If the cream is still runny, cover it and put it back in the fridge for several hours (all day or overnight is best).

5. Open your second can of coconut cream and separate the cream from the liquid. You can dispose of this liquid or save it for a recipe requiring light coconut milk.


6. To make the chocolate mousse, put the cream in the food processor with 7 tablespoons of cocoa powder and 5 tablespoons of maple syrup. Process the ingredients until they are well blended.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Because every can of coconut cream has a different ratio of thick cream to coconut water, the cocoa powder and maple syrup measurements may need to be adjusted to taste. 


Instructions for parfait assembly:

1.  Cut off the tip of one of the bottom corners of a large Ziploc bag to create a piping bag of sorts. Spoon the chocolate mousse into the bag.


2. Pipe the chocolate mousse into a parfait, wine, or champagne glass until the glass is 1/3 full.

3. Make a second Ziploc piping bag and scoop the vanilla cream into it. Pipe the vanilla cream on top of the chocolate mousse until the cup is 2/3 full. Your vanilla cream may be runnier than your chocolate cream. That's okay; it will still work. The chocolate mousse base should be thick enough to keep the vanilla cream from running to the bottom of the glass.

4. Pipe chocolate mousse on top of the vanilla cream until the glass is full.

5. If you'd like, grate semi-sweet chocolate on top of the cream for a garnish.

6. Put the parfaits in the fridge to set for a few hours before serving.


Is that easy or what?!

This would also be yummy with alternating layers of raspberries or sliced strawberries. And if you can eat cookies (gluten-free or not), this would be delicious with alternating layers of crushed chocolate cookies!

And of course, the chocolate mousse is divine on its own. I make it regularly, and eat it straight out of a big ol' tub. 

Bon appetite, my friends (and SWEET dreams!)!

Cheering for you, Skillets,


Sarah



Are we Instagram and Facebook friends yet?! Let's be!

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© by scj

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Everyone, meet some of my favorite people

Yesterday I went to one of my favorite places in the world.

Not the library...

...Not Colorado...

...Not Trader Joe's...

Someplace better:

Azusa Pacific University's track. 

I love APU's track. I love the smell of its hot rubber and the grip of its spongy red surface. I love the hum of excited athletes and the sound of the starter's gun. I love the competitors' intensity and devotion, their guts and glory. But the best part about Azusa Pacific University's track is the people.

Would you get a load of these guys:


These two were seniors on APU's track team when I was a freshman. They are good men who taught me many important lessons my first year on the team.

Lesson #1: If you are leaning over the gutter about to puke after a workout, you should probably drink some orange Gatorade. It will help.

Lesson #2: Kindness, humility, conviction, character, and commitment to Christ are essential leadership qualities.

Lesson #3: Spandex is to track what cream filling is to Oreos. It is necessary for human flourishing, especially during those hurdling workouts.

Yesterday APU hosted the Bryan Clay Invitational track meet. Thousands of athletes and spectators gathered to enjoy the meet, among them a handful of alumni. Boy, it was good to see so many of my old teammates.


My teammates and I didn't watch all of the races because we were too busy catching up and reminiscing. Also, APU served alumni Chick fil A, and it is hard to cheer for athletes when your mouth is full of fried chicken. Oh training days of impressive musculature and low body mass index: you are a distant thing of the past. Bless it.

These people make me feel all warm and marshmellowy inside:


Let me tell you about each of these men.

Bibi (on the right) is one of the first people who taught me about leadership. I don't think he meant to, but I watched him and learned. Bibi includes the outcast and cares for the marginalized. He is loyal and kind and chooses to do the right thing even when it hurts. He cares for others' needs before his own. He's also fun and has a quick wit that sneaks up you and leaves you laughing till your sides hurt. His commitment to serve Jesus by serving others is a gift to his friends, his wife, and his sweet little kids.




On the left is Bryan Clay. Let me tell you a story about him: the first few weeks of my freshman year my teammates started talking about the dreaded 300 workout that would soon be part of our weekly training regime. The pain it inflicted was so intense, it was legendary. Several weeks into my freshman year I ran the 300 workout for the first time, and when it was over I found myself on the ground at the finish line in the fetal position, grimmacing from the pain. You guys: I am not even kidding when I tell you that I briefly wondered if death would be less painful than that workout.

But then Bryan, an APU track veteran, came over to me: "Hey, good work, Sarah," he said. "But your muscles won't relax unless you get up and move around." So he helped me to my feet and supported me as we walked a lap around the track. I have lots of stories like that with Bryan. He goes out of his way to take care of people — physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I think this is because he has a compassionate heart and strength of character. He's the kind of guy you want to win an Olympic gold medal so boys and girls everywhere make him their role model. Oh wait. That happened. I'm thankful that aspiring athletes everywhere have someone like Bryan to look up to.



And then there's Gabe (right). Gabe is tender and hard-working. Kids love him because he is playful and funny. Adults love him because he asks good questions and really listens to their answers. He leads by example and acts with integrity. Also, he is hilarious. I think he must be the best dad to his two little boys.

This here is Matt Sparks.



This here is Sparks and I circa 2006.



Sparks and I were both hurdlers so we spent approximately five million hours together over the course of four years. He's the perfect person to spend five million hours with. He's funny, fast, and is the best inventor of spur-of-the-moment games I have ever met. He also has a way of making you feel like you're interesting and important. That's a wonderful quality.

This is Jarvis. I call him Jarv and he is great.


He didn't get to goof off with the rest of us because he was making sure the meet ran smoothly. He's always helping out like that. Here's what you should know about him: if you ever have a chance to befriend him, you will love him for his loyalty, humor, and authenticity, Amen.



When my teammates and I are together, we talk lots and lots of track. Stats, events, and up-and-coming athletes. We also speculate about what kind of athletic performances we've still got in us.


 Naturally, this kind of talk almost always leads to someone sprinting over a hurdle on the infield:


Now if that doesn't look like an athlete in his prime, I don't know what does.

*No hamstrings were pulled in the making of this picture*

Track is life-changing, there's no doubt about it.  The discipline, the victory over pain, the travel — they all make life rich, like a slab of melt-in-your-mouth Belgian chocolate. But the people are what make track absolutey, positively glorious. It's always the people who make life beautiful.

And hey, the sunsets and stadium lights aren't too shabby, either.




I hope you have all sorts of glowing moments with your people this weekend, my friends.


Cheering for ya, Skillets.

-Sarah



© by scj