Goodness & Joy

Instagram puff pastry.png

Yesterday was a wonderful day. I woke up early and baked some rosemary prosciutto twists made from puff pastry I’d prepared from scratch the night before. They came out perfectly golden brown and still in their tight, spiraled shape full of flaky goodness.

I ate a light breakfast and went for my mid-morning run, and for the first time this year, I finally felt like I hit my stride. I ran three miles without stopping except to walk briefly at the turnaround point. For me, this was a huge accomplishment. I celebrated the joyful occasion by treating myself to a coffee-chocolate-banana protein shake from a nearby juice bar.

When I got home and showered, I logged into my email to let my current apartment complex know I’d be moving out, giving them my sixty day written notice per the terms of our lease agreement. I was surprised to almost immediately get an email back directly from the community manager, who told me she didn’t want to lose me as a tenant and was willing to take $250 off my monthly rent (which translates to $3000/year). Surprised but pleased, I let them know I’d found another complex for even less rent that also shaves twenty-five minutes off my commute “but thanks for the great offer.”

I walked down to the office to pick up a package that had arrived for me (nothing exciting – just something I’d ordered off Amazon), and though I’d only given my notice a few hours before, the male leasing agent who normally runs the front desk commented right off, “Aurora, I hear we may be losing you as a tenant.” Wow, news travels fast.

I explained to Eddie that I was changing careers to teaching and taking a job further north of town. “Yeah, I can see that,” he commented. “I’ve always been able to tell that you’re more about relationships and building connections with people. The money’s not that important to you.”

He could tell that from our brief interactions over the past two years? “Thanks, Eddie.”

“Yeah,” he went on, “I’ve always had a sense of this aura of goodness about you.”

I floated out of the office, completely taken aback by his words but so thankful to know that God’s light has been shining out of me in even the little things. It’s not often we get to hear feedback on how we’re doing on displaying the fruit of the Spirit.

Seth and I have been attending Fusion – our church’s pre-engagement class – for a few weeks now, and although most of the sessions are in a large group with 15 other couples, last night we met with a mentor couple individually. The four of us had a great conversation with lots of teasing and laughter. They’re a great couple; so fun and full of wisdom and transparency.

Near the end of the evening, the husband of the mentor couple commented in all seriousness, “We are so thankful to have the two of you in our Fusion group this season. Some of the other couples we’ve worked with are young in their faith or tentative about opening up about their relationships, but you guys are obviously so mature in your faith and willing to be vulnerable because you really want to enter into marriage with a strong foundation.”

Seth and I smiled lovingly at each other. It was nice to hear such encouragement. The mentor went on, “And every week, we see you two come in with such joy on your faces, like you’re really excited to be there and engage in conversation. That means a lot to us as a mentor couple.”

For the second time that day, I floated on air. Goodness and joy; Joy and goodness. It’s nice to have people call out the character they see in you. Hearing those words of affirmation really spurs me on to love well and live well. And it’s a great reminder to compliment those around me on the character I see in them. It makes such a difference when we build each other up!

Authentically Aurora

I’m a Fixer Upper

Chip and Jojo

Have y’all seen that show Fixer Upper? It’s about this adorable couple Chip and Joanna Gaines who buy questionable houses in great neighborhoods and flip them, transforming them into dream homes within the budgets of their clientele.

Fixer Upper has been on HDTV for three years, but as a solely Netflix girl myself, I’m a little late to the house flipping party. But now that it’s on Netflix, I’m watching and loving it. Who doesn’t love a good before & after story?

While watching an episode last night, it occurred to me that this week (fraught with the stress of almost-swimsuit-season) I have been brainstorming how to do a fixer upper on myself. Oh, this body has so much potential. If only we could fix this here and update that there… Yes, gentlemen, that’s generally how the female mind works. Our bodies are perpetually a canvas; a project; a fixer upper just begging for updating.

I made the mistake of trying on swimsuits yesterday. That was really the impetus for this whole concept of transforming myself through my very own personal fixer upper. I have estimated my costs as follows:

MANICURE

PEDICURE

HAIRCUT

WAXING

STITCH FIX

In these house flipping shows, there’s always a budget crunch, so when I was considering the slush portion of this month’s budget ($300), I decided to pluck my own eyebrows instead of having them threaded. I’ll also shave my own legs instead of having them waxed. Together, that should save me about $60 and keep me within budget.

Then there’s always some disaster – some unexpected expense, like foundation or electrical issues. In my case, it was realizing that even the cutest clothes Stitch Fix has to offer can’t fix up this body until I shed some tonnage. I’d like to lose about six pounds in the next three weeks, but there is a cost associated with losing two pounds per week. The weekly cost?

DIET AND EXERCISE

Spending $300 on a spa day and new clothes? Sign me up. But depriving my body of delicious cookies AND sweating it out at the gym?! That may be more than my personal budget can handle. I was okay with all of the other expenses, but this last one – the unexpected disaster that is those six extra pounds on my hips – may do us in. Looks like this Flip may turn out to be a Flop! 

Authentically Aurora

P.S. Handy as he is, Seth almost took a job as a general contractor for a custom homes business earlier this year. I’ve decided that we need to get married STAT and start flipping houses. We’d be even more adorable than Chip and Jojo.

(P.P.S. Seth, if you’ve found my blog by now, I’m just kidding about getting married stat. I’m not envisioning myself in a white dress by Christmas. Please don’t freak out and break up with me on Monday. xoxo)

He’s American as Apple PI

Apple PiThat memorable Sunday when Seth and I became reacquainted was in early March, a few weeks before my birthday and well before the end of my dating fast. I felt myself drawn to him and had a sense the feeling was mutual, but I had no way of knowing for sure.

In mulling over those unexpected interactions we shared while sitting cross-legged on a purple mat surrounded by children, I felt simultaneously frustrated and thankful to have nearly a full month before a potential end to my break from dating. One of the more practical benefits to not dating, I discovered, was a built-in check on my expectations. Thank God, I thought, because even with tempered expectations, my emotions were all over the place.

That first week, I didn’t hear from Seth on Monday or Tuesday, but – true to his word – Seth sent me a Facebook message on Wednesday afternoon asking me for the time and location of my bible study so he could visit our group.

Excited to see him again, I touched up my makeup after work that Wednesday and allotted a few extra minutes to be sure to get to bible study on time. But Seth showed up late and settled himself far across the room from me when he arrived. My heart sank. He was situated such that I couldn’t even see him around the heads of the people between us.

Disappointed, I tried to focus on the discussion going on around me, but I was distracted by my confusion. Seth already had a bible study group – in fact, he taught his Tuesday night group from time to time – so why had he decided to visit mine? I’d thought it was to spend time with me, but he hadn’t made an effort to sit by me, which left me unsure of his interest.

At the end of bible study, Seth came over to say hi, and I started to hope again, especially when he decided to leave at the same time as I did. We walked out into the rainy night together. Seth had parked far down the block, so I offered to drive him to his vehicle. We climbed into my sporty BMW and drove to the truck he indicated,  his calloused finger pointing to it through the downpour.

Glancing over his truck, I decided it suited him. Like Seth, the rugged truck showed the effects of years of hard work, but it also looked solid and dependable. I’d anticipated Seth would want to sit and talk with me for a few minutes before getting out, but as soon as my Beemer rolled to a stop beside the muddied truck, Seth hopped out, thanking me for the ride and closing the door almost before I could respond with, “You’re welcome.”

Stunned, I drove away, comforting myself that I wasn’t dating anyway, so his hasty exit was probably for the best. But I found myself feeling disappointed again the next Sunday when Seth walked right past me in the hallway of church and didn’t seem to notice me or my bright pink sundress – one I’d chosen specifically for its happy hues. I’d spent three days looking forward to running into him at church, but Seth didn’t even so much as give me a second glance.

However, on Monday afternoon I was pleasantly surprised by a message in my Facebook inbox. Our bible study group – full of engineers – had discussed hosting a Pi Day (3/14) celebration at Roy’s house. Having heard the discussion on Wednesday when he’d visited, Seth wrote to me that he was interested to know if he was welcome to join our group’s party. Smiling to myself – heart full of hope again – I encouraged him to attend, so he did, asking for my phone number in case he needed help finding the house.

The Pi Day celebration ended up being epic. People brought all sorts of pies – chocolate and blueberry, store-bought and homemade – and after sampling all of the delicacies, Roy’s roommates broke out their assortment of party games: Code Names, Two Rooms & A Boom, Four on a Couch and the like.

Throughout the evening of laughter and fellowship, multiple girls asked me (with gleeful, teasing grins) how long Seth and I had been dating. Each time, my eyes widened in surprise. “We’re not dating,” I’d tell them, adding mentally with a hopeful smile, “yet.” But everyone evidently observed the way Seth watched me make my way around the room, serving drinks and hugging friends. He seemed captivated by me, and I caught him looking at me several times.

As the evening grew late, I gathered up my purse and glanced over my shoulder to find Seth moving my way through the crowd. “May I walk you out?” he asked. I was immensely glad.

We said our goodbyes to the others and made our way out to my car. Telling myself to release any expectations in light of his quick departure the prior week, I gave Seth a quick hug goodbye and started to fish in my purse for my keys, but to my surprise, he leaned against my car and struck up a conversation.

Half an hour later, still deep in conversation about our families and hobbies, the wind picked up and whipped my bangs around my forehead. I reached into my purse for a rubber band and put my long hair up in a ponytail to get it off the back of my neck and keep it from flying into my face. Still leaning against my car, Seth reached out his hand to gently squeeze my shoulder as he told me about his latest carpentry project.

My neck and shoulders were sore from yoga, so I subconsciously sighed gratefully, and Seth stepped closer to work out a knot in my left upper trap while he described the way he likes to fill holes in mesquite wood with turquoise stones. When he finished, I nestled into his chest, and he wrapped his arm around me, both of us smiling shyly at our joint reflection in the car next to mine.

Two hours later as midnight approached, I told Seth I should probably get to bed. It was, after all, a work night. He agreed and hugged me goodnight, telling me he needed to go get a run in anyway.

“A run?” I asked incredulously. “At midnight?!”

“Yeah, probably just a four-miler,” Seth said with a shrug. He has run a couple of marathons.

“Why would you go for a run this late?”

“Sometimes I go for a run when I get a little too amped up,” he told me.

“What has you amped up?” I asked in genuine innocence. Was he stressed about work?

He chuckled, dropping his eyes before looking back up at me and saying in his low drawl, “Oh, I don’t know. Talking to a pretty girl late at night will do it.”

Oh! My face burned, and he laughed in response. “You totally went fishing for that one!”

“No, I didn’t!” I countered with an embarrassed grin. “You’re the fisherman, not me!” He’d gone fishing the prior weekend and came home with some fresh catches.

Seth just laughed in reply and gave me another hug goodnight, leaving me with his woodsy scent and a longing for the next time I’d see him again.

Authentically Aurora

Of Planks and Pushups

We’re now nearly to the end of February, and I can still honestly say that I’ve worked out every day this year [insert mental image of shocked faces, including mine]!

Most of my work outs have been pretty basic, doing 30 minute yoga exercises or running a mile or two here and there. But even with those simplistic I’m-just-trying-to-create-a-habit work outs, I can already see some exciting changes!

Here are three things I can do now that I could not do at the start of the year:

  1. Chest Push-UpsPush up
  2. Triceps Push-UpsTricep push up
  3. Side PlankSidePlankPose

A part of me is embarrassed to even admit there was a time I could not do these things, but hey – judge me if you must. I can’t help that God made me busty with ridiculously tiny wrists. I was a soccer player, not a discus thrower. But I’m working on it.

Most of the exercises I’ve done this year have been shoulder and wrist strengthening exercises, and I am (finally!) starting to reap the benefits of my discipline to keep at it, silly though I may feel when I look out the window from my yoga mat to see hardcore Crossfitters puking on the sidewalk outside. I was one of them, once upon a time (a Crossfitter, not a puker. I like to keep my food inside my stomach, thank you very much. But I digress).

One of the neat things about deciding to be disciplined in working out is that it teaches our psyches the very important life lesson of valuing perseverance; of sacrificing in the near term in order to benefit in the long term. We all know this in our heads, but sometimes it takes living it out to really believe that our discipline is worthwhile, whether it is persevering in exercise, scripture reading, relationships, folding that fifth load of laundry, finishing that kale salad, scrubbing every inch of your kitchen floor after you spill orange juice on it… or any manner of other situations.

Things that are worthwhile rarely come easily, and things that come easily are rarely worthwhile. So we persevere and strive to live above the common level of life. We were made for more than mediocrity. And kale salad.

Authentically Aurora

Exercise Exorcism

female boxingI have officially determined that there is absolutely no way I will ever exercise if it is not fun. I have, of course, made this determination through strict usage of the scientific method – namely, by observing years of failed New Year’s resolutions.

…Okay, I’m an engineer. It was a bit more scientific than that.

I would love to believe that I can just muster up the self-discipline to get myself to the gym or a running trail, but in the past six months, using that white-knuckling approach to force myself to be disciplined has only resulted in an average of 1.8 workouts per week.

I know, because I did the math.

In July, I worked out an average of 2 times per week. In both August and September, my performance went down to 1.5x/wk. October – 3.5x/wk (whoop!); November – 1.25x/wk; December – 1.5x/wk. Interestingly, October was also the month I felt the happiest this year. So if I’m going to make 2016 great, I need to get a handle on this exercise thing. Which means I need to stop thinking of exercise as exercise and more as a fun activity I have the pleasure of doing.

Being an analytics freak, I of course made a spreadsheet with some of my options, their associated costs, plus the travel times and distances to various gyms, parks, dance studios, etc. Only after doing all of this work did I have the epiphany that, really, the best form of exercise for me would be one where I frequently get to punch people in the face. Because that’s what I want to do all day anyway. If I could burn calories while punching people in the face, that would really be ideal.

Time to research nearby boxing gyms… Fit Aurora, here I come!

Authentically Aurora

P.S. You think I’m joking. But I’m not. Bye, 2015! Thanks for the motivation!

Problematic Dreams – Part I

ArsenalThe most recent time I’ve experienced an otherworldly connection with someone just happened a few weeks ago, and I’m still reeling from the after effects.

My a cappella choir sang in a talent show at the end of October, and since it was Halloween-themed, everyone came in costume. I borrowed a wig from one of our altos and went as a rather convincing Anna from Frozen (the innocent look comes naturally, but that whole chipper, cheerful thing took some work). #introvertproblems

Between performances of bagpipe playing and baton twirling, I marveled at the wide array of talents and also the creativity of some of the costumes. One guy in particular caught my eye, but not because of his costume. He was dressed as an archer of some sort (Arsenal, I found out later), but what really drew me to him was his aura. He radiated confidence and virility, leaning casually against the wall of the auditorium as though oblivious to the attention he garnered.

Michael and his roommate were slotted to close the show with an upbeat duet, but just before they took the stage, the archer uncrossed his arms, pushed off from the auditorium wall and strode forward. As he took a ready stance at the solo mic in the front of the room, I glanced down at my program to discover his name – Cory. As I looked back up to where he stood just twenty feet in front of me, his pianist began playing a moving ballad, and the archer opened his mouth to sing.

For the next four minutes, I sat transfixed as Arsenal/Cory belted out a humorous parody of a love song. His voice was flawless. He was clearly classically trained, but he didn’t let his perfect choral techniques get in the way of putting on an accessible and entertaining show. Even the high note at the end was sung beautifully, and I remembered in passing something that my mom whispered to me a decade ago in the back of my high school auditorium: “You have to be careful with boys like that, Aurora. You’ll fall in love with their voice and think you’re falling in love with them.”

Once the talent show had ended, all the performers mingled for a bit. One of my fellow sopranos, Noelle, has similar taste in men to me, so I was not at all surprised when she ran up to me, eyes wide, and gushed, “Did you hear that Cory guy? We have got to talk him into auditioning for our group!”

It’s true that we are in desperate need of more tenors and basses, so with my encouragement, Noelle hurried off to recruit him. She returned just a few moments later looking disappointed. “He says that he’s already really over-committed,” she told me in a dejected tone.

“Hmm, we’ll see about that.” I gestured for Noelle to accompany me as I walked over to introduce myself.

Cory looked up as I approached, and I reached out to shake his hand. “Hi, Cory. I’m Aurora. I sing with Noelle, and we both loved your performance tonight. You are a really gifted vocalist.”

“Thanks,” he replied casually, seeming to know what was coming next.

“We’d love to have you audition for our group. We meet on Tuesday nights,” I began, but Cory was prepared to tell me the same thing he’d already told Noelle.

“You know, I love singing – and I miss it – but I’m already really over-committed. I’m a first year med student, and I’m also currently training for a Triathlon with a running club on Tuesday nights.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Wow, that is a lot. Well, disregard then. Singing is supposed to be a fun, creative outlet, but it sounds like you’ve got a lot on your plate, and singing with us would just be an added source of stress for you.”

I started to step away, wishing him the best of luck with everything, but he took a quick step forward. “Wait – I mean, would anyone mind if I came late to rehearsals? Or came sweaty, straight from my running group?”

I turned back toward him and shrugged nonchalantly. “No, I don’t think so. We technically start at 7:30, but we don’t usually actually start singing until around 8:00, so that shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Okay,” Cory paused, gaze locked onto mine. The air between us sizzled momentarily as he peered into the depths of my eyes as though searching for something. Whatever it was, he seemed to give up on it because I blinked, and the intensity of the moment passed. He glanced between Noelle and me. “So who would I talk to if I were interested in joining?”

“Let me introduce you to Michael,” I told him, leading the way toward our director and attempting to hide my smile. Choir would definitely be more interesting with Cory in the group!

Once Cory and Michael had been properly introduced, Cory took his leave, and Noelle and I gave each other a quick high five, grinning ear to ear. Best recruitment team ever! Little did I know what I had just gotten myself into.

That night, I got what I thought I wanted. The attractive and mysterious Cory was considering joining our group, my crush Michael volunteered to walk me back to my car, and all seemed like it was going according to plan. But sometimes what you think you want isn’t what you actually want. In fact, sometimes what you want is exactly the opposite of what you need and what would be for your good.

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” -Proverbs 19:21

Authentically Aurora

Welcome, Autumn!

Autumn in Boston Public GardenGolden sunlight drifting through the window and the soft tones of birds chirping in the distance – this is how I started my morning last Friday. Since I work a 9/80 schedule, every other Friday I get to slowly ease into consciousness, enjoying the quiet peacefulness of a morning free from social obligations or occupational expectations. It is glorious.

This week, I got out of bed, stretched lazily, and stepped outside onto my porch. Perfect weather beckoned me to spend the day outdoors in the sunny coolness of autumn’s beginnings, so I threw on some spandex and headed to a nearby park for a leisurely run.

Three miles later, I stopped in a grassy meadow to stretch and soak up some vitamin D. Stretching after a run feels amazing – all my aches and tight muscles loosen as my body relaxes into its natural alignment.

I sat down in the grass for a core workout and saw a little girl running playfully through the field with her mom. Looking to my left, I spotted two women in their forties laughing uproariously on a swing set as they reverted to girlhood, swinging as high as they could go, guffawing all the way.

I smiled to myself, stood up, and found a sunny patch in the middle of the meadow. I turned up the music in my ear buds, closed my eyes, and embraced the driving beat of one of my favorite songs, subtly moving my feet in the motion of a solo salsa before finally letting loose with a whole-hearted freestyle dance of pure freedom there in the middle of the sunny meadow and crisp autumn air.

I love fall. I love the colors – the leaves, the fashions; the smells and tastes and spices; the anticipation of coming holidays; the focus on friends and family. It paradoxically soothes me and sets my heart on fire all at once.

So welcome, autumn. It’s been too long.

Authentically Aurora