Sunday, May 26, 2013

36 Pictures of Two Americans Smiling in Peru

We are Americans who have like three outfits and one facial expression: huge grins, especially when we are standing by impressive Peruvian scenery.

1. Pre-gaming in Cusco.

2. Starting our ascent on the first day of our trek.

3. Fake smiling because the ascent was way harder than we thought.

4. Planning to drop dead at any moment.

5. Astounded that we had reached the top.

6. Triumphant.

7. Among the rock sacrifices for good luck.

8. Finally enjoying ourselves in this beautiful valley.

9. Night falls and the clouds roll in. Many hours of trekking await us.

10. Starting our trek, day 2.

11. Posing on a cliff.

12. Crossing a waterfall.

13. Resting in a field.

14. Posing in our swimsuits is our favorite.

15. Trekking day 3. 

16. Arriving in Aguas Calientes!

17. Statues in the Machu Picchu town.

18. Showered and eating dinner inside.

19. Morning Machu Picchu mist.

20. Among Incan architecture.

21. Early morning light shining through three important windows.

22. Posing by the young mountain.

23. Trying to determine the date with the sundial.

24. Standing by a mountain.

25. Standing in a narrow passageway.

27. Standing by a statue of a mountain in front of a mountain.

28. Interrupting someone meditating.

29. Reflecting in the water mirrors.

30. In the condor temple.

31. Hiking.

32. Still hiking.

33. Continuing to hike.

34. Finishing the hike!

35. Sweatier than ever.

36. Saying goodbye to Machu Picchu.

Friday, May 3, 2013

What else?

...Our lives are loaned to us. Not long.
And not to pile up money. Not for power.
And how we pay that loan back does matter:

with interest, yes—with being interested;
by promising and keeping promises;
by caring more and minding much less instead.

From "Some Things Have One Meaning, Some Things Don't:" by Rob Carney


Yesterday I remembered something that happened almost a year ago and I didn't like it. I was acting characteristically for the version of myself I then was but am no longer. I was thrilled when a self-analysis confirmed that I would do no such thing now. I have changed.

April 20, 2012 I graduated from BYU and I'm sure I had a vision of the person I would be one year later. I am not that person. Maybe I am less accomplished, and I certainly don't "have it all figured out." No one does. Turns out that's not really a thing. 

After determining what I am not, "it might interest you to know, speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world, that I am the sound of rain on the roof" ("Litany" by Billy Collins). In addition to that, I am also a much fuller person than the person I thought I would be one year after graduation. I have a year's worth of memories (for real, I remember almost everything) and a life full of people I feel a real connection to, including a bunch of new additions who didn't exist in my life a year ago. I have made resolutions and kept them. I feel more capable. I feel like I am good. And I feel like I'm happy. If I think I'm happy, then I certainly am happy. I am interested, I promise and keep promises, I care more and mind much less. No matter how accomplished and "figured out" I thought I would be at this point, I never could have created in my mind such a round, dynamic character as I currently am. So I guess I won.

Friday, March 8, 2013

A Cooking Rut

I would not say that I have natural talent with cooking. I have talked about my cooking failures extensively with most of my friends and I even wrote about it for the blog of my mom's old bakery (RIP Flour Girls and Dough Boys). There have been times in my life where I haven't cooked a single thing in months. That was okay while I was in college, since social opportunities to eat out were common and my income source somehow never ran dry. However, at age 24, I am now somewhat of an adult, and I think it is important to be able to cook for myself if necessary (and in the last couple months, my then-impending and now current #unemployment has made it necessary to cut costs where I can).

Whenever I thought about cooking meals for dinner or even packing a lunch for work days, I was completely stuck. How could I decide what to eat? There were infinite options! It's not like I kept my kitchen stocked with food, so I would have to go to the grocery store no matter what. Analysis paralysis (please forgive that annoying rhymed cliche) plagued me and I was incapable of doing anything about it. So I didn't cook. I would snack, I would eat at restaurants, and I would accept meals from friends. But my cooking skills were getting no better and my wallet no fatter.

Toward the end of December, I decided to introduce a challenge into my culinary routine starting January 1. The challenge was being VEGAN. Yup. I said it. I decided to cease my consumption of all animal products (meat, dairy, and eggs) for a period of 11 weeks. And besides the health benefits and the increase of discipline I have developed, it has done wonders for my cooking abilities. I can't find acceptable food at parties or at most restaurants. My kitchen is the source of almost every thing I eat. And therefore, I have learned how to cook everything I want to eat.

It has been thrilling to learn how to veganize my favorite foods. I have tried tons of recipes and some of them have failed, but most of them haven't. I have created for myself a goldmine of recipes that are easy and quick and tasty. I have cooked for several of my non-vegan friends and they have enjoyed these meals because apart from being vegan, they are independently delicious.

This week I had a friend over while I was cooking. I chopped onion, garlic, bell peppers, and butternut squash and then added cumin, chili powder, black beans and rice to the pan and served dinner. He was surprised that I had done it so quickly and effortlessly. When I told him he could make the same meal easily, he said "no, I would need to know the exact amount and length of time for everything." I recognized my former self in his words, but I realized how far I have come. I am kind of a cook.

One other important aspect of my vegan cooking: I don't really believe in replacements for meat or cheese. I have never purchased tofu or tempeh or Daiya cheese or even nutritional yeast. I look for recipes that are made with food that anyone with a "normal" diet would eat, and I prepare them in a way that is flavorful without begging for added animal products. That has had the best result for me.

I have linked my favorite recipes below. The message I hope you get out of this post is not that you should become vegan (because I realize that it sounds impossible and awful to most of you). Rather, if you are in a cooking rut, I suggest giving yourself some sort of challenge and seeing what happens. And, I recommend trying some of these recipes because they are honestly delightful.

Sweet potato chili is my go-to vegan recipe that literally everyone likes.
Orzo spinach soup was a recipe I found when I realized I had a huge bunch of spinach that I had to use before it went bad, which moment was a huge step for me because previously I was never even aware of what food items I had that were about to go bad and much less was capable of finding a recipe to use them in.
Thai curry was a dish I always thought would be impossible to make. Surprise! It's actually not very hard and super tasty.
Sweet potato black bean burritos. I have seen a bunch of recipes like these floating around and I'm sure they're all similar. The idea is that you put sweet potatoes and black beans together in a burrito and it's delicious. I left out the cheese and did not miss it at all.
Thai chili quinoa I actually made two days in a row. Embarrassing to admit? Maybe. I left out the chicken obviously.
Tacos with nut meat. This recipe is more complicated than the rest of them, but not because it's hard to make, just because there are a lot of steps. Also, my roommate is still laughing about the phrase "nut meat," so that's added value.
Peanut butter apple pie. I actually did not make this myself, but I found the recipe and started the crust. My dear friend Carol Ann finished it up and it was phenomenal. It tasted more like caramel than peanut butter in a super delicious way. Plus, most of the ingredients are actually not unhealthy, so as far as desserts go, this is a winner. We subbed coconut cream for heavy cream.

My original goal was to be completely vegan until March 16, which is the day I am running a half marathon in DC. I have a few non-vegan meals planned for that weekend, but this vegan diet is in no way exiting my life completely. If you have recipes you'd like to share, please do! I am definitely interested in maintaining and improving the skills I have developed.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A New Life!

A new person exists. And her name is Ellis Virginia Coppins and she is my niece.

One week ago, she was not in the world. Her world was the inside of her mother's body. My world was much lighter and less wet than hers and also it had 7 billion people in it but none of them were her.

She was due to enter this world (my world) today, February 21. But instead of doing that (which would have been fine), she came on Sunday. This was even better, because I happened to be in New York City (her birthplace) awaiting her arrival. She came literally right on time (my time), and that allowed me to see her during the first hour of her time in this world (our world).

Now she has a whole life to live and it is the greatest thing to see it start. She gets to develop a personality and learn everything starting now. And I (and her parents and all the other people watching anxiously) will be witnesses to this new existence that all of a sudden is.

Welcome to this world, Ellie.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Celebrations.

I would like to take this opportunity to say that celebrating holidays is a completely valid thing and we should never stop doing it.

I have heard several anti-Valentine's Day arguments along the lines of "A day devoted to what we should be doing year-round is a just a little ridiculous."

But wait. Shouldn't we love Christ year-round? But we celebrate his birth at Christmas with trees and gifts and his resurrection at Easter with bunnies and candy. Shouldn't we be thankful year-round? But we gather with family and eat a plentiful meal at Thanksgiving. Shouldn't we honor our parents year-round? But we have one specific day to think about our mothers and a different specific day to remember our fathers. Shouldn't we be glad every day that we are still alive and growing older? But we have a birthday every year!

I like to have a reason to make a day a little special. I like to watch fireworks on the Fourth of July and I like to wear green on St. Patrick's Day and I like to count down to midnight on New Year's Eve to welcome in the new year. I like to have a reason to bring some cheer into my life on every possible occasion.

Of course I agree that we should love whoever we do all the time. But I find no fault in celebrating love (or anything) in a special way on this Valentine's Day.