the best of intentions

I’ve called them resolutions. I’ve called them goals. I’ve constructed “goal boards” where I pasted images pulled from magazines of how I want my life to look and feel.

Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t, though I don’t like to use the word fail here. As I wrote in my review of the 13 in ’13, goals can evolve and be replaced by other laudable intentions.

Intentions. A yoga class on intention setting in the new year caught my eye, so now I’m taking it at two different studios. I mean, the reinforcement can’t hurt right? So in advance of all that bendy self reflection, I came up with a few intentions for 2014.

Just say no to jobs that make your face grow numb from stress and relationships that aren’t fulfilling. Drink less bottled water. Play more board games with the kids. Finish writing my novel. Experiment more. Complain less. Be better.

Happy New Year!

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making lemonade

It’s a little cold for lemonade, so this afternoon I made cassoulet.

And when I say this afternoon, I mean for the last three and a half weeks, I’ve researched recipes. I plotted approaches. I consulted a chef.

I decided to try cassoulet as prepared by Mark Bittman because while Julia Child can do no food wrong, I preferred a version with duck confit.

The duck. I ordered one from Union Market. I wanted a whole duck but frankly I didn’t want to dismember it myself. Red Apron agreed to deconstruct it for me and give me the entire bird (“except feathers and guts,” the butcher clarified) because I needed the carcass for stock.

I special ordered authentic French beans but ended up buying Goya brand Great Northerns when the fancy bag arrived light on the amount I expected to get for $14.99. I also ordered ventrèche (French pancetta, not as smoky as our usual stateside bacon offering) and garlicky sausage. Hey, I didn’t want lack of the right ingredients to mess with my dish.

On Friday, I marinated the duck legs in garlic, shallots and thyme. On Saturday I roasted the carcass (and all parts not leg or breast) and made a delicious stock that filled my house with a lovely scent. It turns out I should have flipped those tasks but hey, a multi-day recipe takes time to master.

Duck confit. Sausage. Lamb shoulder. Beans. Mind you, this is a dish normally prepared with what the French have in their refrigerators. (Someday maybe I will have extra duck confit laying around.) I took some liberties with Bittman’s recipe. For example, I deglazed the lamb and onions with port before adding the confit.

Cassoulet preparation was supposed to be a cooking date, but sometimes things don’t play out as you envision. Holidays come along, toying with emotions and nostalgia. People get back together with exes. I have no hard feelings. But I knew I’d be angry, at him and myself, if I didn’t follow through with our/my cassoulet plans. And with a fantastic array of aromas filling my house, I’m glad that instead of feeling tragic, I’m left empowered by my kitchen prowess. Not that there haven’t been tears, but I acknowledge my disappointment with grace.

And Pinot Noir.

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mirror, mirror on the yogic wall

Since having a life-balance-happiness epiphany in a yoga class in New York my friend Margaret brought me to in August, I’ve been trying to incorporate more of the practice into my life.

My first thought was to test a few different studios, taking advantage of the “one month unlimited” deals that many offer for new students. While studio hopping made me feel a bit of a yoga slut, it did expose me to some different places for relatively cheap. (They suck you in, make you like them, then triple the price, but it’s all in the name of inner harmony, right?)

My first stop was a small studio-not-to-be-named in Columbia Heights. The commute was awful. Parking was worse. And many who practice there eschew leg shaving. And some, deodorant. I know it sounds shallow, but I like my yoga pretty.

Next I tried Flow in Logan Circle. I like it there. A lot. Except its fiscally challenging location: next to Whole Foods and across the street from Lululemon. Though in a private deal I made with myself when I splurged on a regularly priced full month of unlimited classes, I can only go into Whole Foods if feeding my children is dependent upon it. And no more Lulu visits unless I forget to pack yoga pants. Unintentionally forget, that is.

Capitol Hill Yoga offers a pleasant setting and challenging classes that aren’t over-crowded, but the schedule rarely seems to work with mine. (Though for those who have workplace flexibility, I highly recommend the 4:00 class on Mondays taught by Joan.)

Last week, Nancy and her neighbor Riikka invited me to join them for hot yoga at Mind the Mat. And when I say invited, I mean I crashed on their plans to do yoga and then cook a fabulous holiday dinner. (But I made up for inserting myself by contributing my new favorite dish, Leek, Shiitake and Truffle Risotto.)

And this is where the mirror comes in.

I’d never done yoga in front of a mirror. After four relatively short months of yoga practice, I was feeling pretty good. In my heart, my “Warrior Two” is solid. I gracefully move from “Reverse the Warrior” to “Triangle Pose” with ease. I look strong and determined and lean. But the mirror told a different story… I was like who is this clumsy, uneven person trying to do yoga in front of me? Yeah. Right. That’s me.

But it’s not how you look, it’s how you feel. And I felt great after class. The ultimate and universal beauty advice applies across the board. Did you put on a few extra pounds over the holidays? But enjoy yourself doing it? It’s all good. Maybe you aren’t any closer to becoming a yoga instructor than you are into fitting into the jeans formerly known as your favorite pair. But if you are living honestly and happily, you’ll glow on the outside.

Just remind me never to bring a love interest to yoga class.

the fours have it

My unlucky number has always been four. And today, I turn it in duplicate. (How the hell did I get to be 44?) On top of it all, I have to spend most of this age in the year of 2014? What does this mean for the next 12 months?

I don’t even remember where and when the number four became a harbinger of doom. But we did make up recently during the playoffs. I was about to eat a fourth salted caramel with David Ortiz up to bat with the bases loaded. I started to stop myself, but couldn’t pull my arm back fast enough. I had just bitten into the delicious confection when he hit a grand slam. Which, by the way, is four runs.

With that spirit in mind, I refuse to feel jinxed. Whether today and the 364 days that follow end up as I imagine, plan, hope them to be, or something totally different, I will embrace each moment. Love. Laugh. Live. Create joy. Buy the expensive serum to ward off wrinkles. Wear the amazing push up bras (happy birthday to me) that defy what I know about my anatomy. And face it all with strength, grace and a sense of humor. Maybe just fewer salted caramels than I consumed in year 43.

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an update on the goals

Remember the 13 in ’13? Good, neither did I. In fact, I wouldn’t even earn a gentlewoman’s C if I were to grade myself. By my generous calculations, I fulfilled 3 out of 13 goals, which for you math geeks is 23%.

But rather than focus on what I didn’t do, I’d like to focus on what I did achieve.

I may not have published the sequel to My Night with George Clooney, but I did start my first novel – and am more than halfway done writing it.

I didn’t get spin certified (thank to the concussion I sustained one day before training was to begin) but I rediscovered yoga, which has been a savior.

I hosted nothing even coming close to a full-fledged dinner party, though I did have people over for a plethora of meals, including Thanksgiving. And I brought food to other people’s houses for their events. In fact, when I look back on the year, I cooked quite a lot. Sometimes just for me.

I didn’t make it to Italy or back to Hawaii, but I did manage New York City, Lake Michigan, Maine, New Hampshire, Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco/Napa. I made lots of treks across the river (and through to woods) to Nancy’s house.

I barely know more about Italian wine than I did a year ago, but I’m no longer reluctant to order it in restaurants. I mean, how am I really going to figure out that region if I don’t experiment and figure out what I like and don’t like.

I didn’t make an iconic fashion purpose, fall in love or refinance my house. But I went on some great dates, started my own company, found good life-work balance with the boys and had some great belly laughs. I tried to be a better friend, listen more, put my devices down when the kids are talking to me, and generally be more attentive.

I haven’t started to think about what challenges to set for myself next year. But in closing out 2013, I don’t look back with regrets, only awe at the way life evolves and my ability to adapt, at times with tears but mostly with grace.