All posts by AJ

All the tiny beauties, pt. I

I start with the gleaming red kettle, half-full of cold water, on the back-right eye of the range.

I turn a task light on, highlighting her smooth curves and sturdy handle, then I summon the spirit of fire under her chrome bottom.

Next, I open a waxed paper bag; feel the stiff texture under my fingers.

I pour the beans – small, dark, hard – into the bell of the grinder. Those beans have had a long journey, but most recently, came from some folks just down the road who do the roasting.

I grasp the grinder around its waist with my left hand, and start turning the crank with my right. I can feel my muscles flex a little as I work, and my body rocks slightly side-to-side in time with my efforts.

Work done, I put my nose into the grinder’s opening and inhale greedily. Fresh-ground coffee.

After I clear out yesterday’s grounds from the glass French press, I add today’s coffee. I pour it in slowly, letting it waterfall from grinder to press, enjoying the tumbling interplay of tiny, fragrant brown boulders.

Next is time.

Time for the kettle to do her thing. Time for me to write another half-page, ink spidering across paper; smudging on fingers.

Then, hot water – steaming, but not boiling, if I’ve done my job right. I carry the kettle to the press (never the other way ’round), and pour generously over those new grounds.

I rotate the press as I pour, thirds of a circle at a time, wetting all the coffee evenly. The grounds rise and make foam – iridescent at first, then muting into milk chocolate.

And the aroma. Oh, my nose! Heaven!

I put the lid of the press on, the better to keep its precious contents warm.

And more time.

One tradition dictates three minutes of steeping. Another says I’ll get lost in words for a while more, before eventually being tugged back to the press by my nose.

Next is the plunge.

I’ll slowly push the plunger of the press down, feeling the growing resistance of the grounds, watching my coffee clear from swirling morass to “shut up and take my money!”

I lift the press, feeling it’s heat and full weight, and pour into my mug, steam rising in a prayer of thanksgiving.

My mug.

My coffee mug was made by a potter I knew. He was the first person I ever worked for. Starting at the age of 12, I was his gopher: weighed clay, mixed glazes, mowed the lawn, helped him pack for shows, babysat his boys.

He made this mug for me 16 years ago as a wedding gift.

It’s volume is right. It’s a little bigger than average, but not grotesque¬† like a gas station’s plastic flagon. The handle fits two of my fingers perfectly, with no wiggle room; no sloppy questions for my early morning.

And the glaze… Deep red interior that highlights the ridges from the potter’s fingers; Blue and tan and hen-mottled white on the outside with more splashes of red.

Once this work of art is full of my morning’s elixer, it starts radiating warmth into my hand. And sometimes against my cheek, if I’m feeling particularly needy.

Coffee in the mug, it’s time for the penultimate step: Cream.

It’s organic half-n-half for me. Smooth, thick, white, curling and blooming into – as one friend called the color – “cardboard.” Enough cream to smooth out the coffee, to shave down its rough, acidic edge, but not so much as to hide the drink’s essential character.

If I’m feeling especially decadent, this is also the time I’ll add a large spoonful of maple syrup to my mug. You haven’t lived…

Finally, it’s time for that first slurping sip.

The coffee flows over my tongue, spreading its smooth, hot, bitterness throughout my mouth, evoking ten thousand other moments of similar early-morning pleasure.

I sigh, and am content, surrounded in the beauty of this moment.

Imma just build The Thing

Every morning, the very first thing I do (other than tell my woman I love her), is have a conversation with myself.

I get my pen (a Pilot G2 #7 in black, thank you very much) and my paper (El Cheapo legal pad in yellow), and I just start writing.

I never know what I’m going to write about or where I’m going to end up. The whole point is to just let my psyche connect with the physical act of writing and try to get my internal editor as much out of the way as possible.

In my conversation this morning, I realized that I have a thing for online content marketing. Like, it’s something that I gravitate toward, that I do anyway.

I have ideas for cool domain names. I grok the basics of traffic building and lead pages and conversion funnels. I already have chunks of social management systems that I use for my own accounts.

I already do this stuff.

Huh. Cool.

The thing I don’t do, that I’m not good at, is being in it for the long haul. Patience is not my strong suit.

I always stop building the thing before it has a chance to get going.

I register a domain name, whip up a WordPress site, post some content, make a couple social media accounts, tie it all together, post some content, and sit back and wonder “Why don’t I have traffic? It’s been like two days!”

I’m in the process of building a new thing. It’s been a month (shut up; it’s New Math). I’m in the “I need to back-fill all this content to support my marketing efforts / I have to write another post about what?” mode. When I looked at my analytics yesterday, I had five visits to the page for the day. I assume they were all from me.

<sigh/>

But!

It’s time for me to hang in there, to get another cuppa, to take a walk and come back, to do whatever it is I need to do to be here for the long game. Because I realized another important thing this morning:

This is a year of foundation building.

This is a year of setting myself up to get what need and want in the future.

This is my year of patience.

Those first few weeks

Me, pretending that I don’t, in fact, want to drink an entire bottle of wine with my large frozen pizza after that goddamn run.

I’m a multi-sport athlete.

I run, bike, cross-country ski, and in my “down” time, I sail, hike, lift weights…

I go.

I do all this stuff because it gets me out into the wide world, where the act of propelling myself merges with the beauty around me and helps me find joy, God, the sheer exultation of being.

And though I’ve been active like this regularly for nearly a half-decade, I have a confession:

The first few weeks of a new season suck.

They suck big, hairy donkey balls.

A little afternoon torture session

I went for my first run in a while today.

Oh, fuck me.

Windy. Cold. Tired. Sore. Runny nose. Need to poop. Whiny. Cold-sweaty. Icy puddles.

And my body isn’t used to moving that way anymore.

We’ve been doing this thing on skis for the last several months, and now you’re asking for what???

My brain, on the other hand, is all like, “Dude. Yesterday you skied 15k. You tellin’ me you can’t jog a measly 5k today? Pffft.”

Shut up, brain.

Be gentle with yourself

It takes time for the body to adjust.

It takes time for the mind to adjust.

It takes time for the spirit to adjust.

When you’re starting a new endeavor, be it sport, business, relationship, job, adventure… give yourself time.

Savor the transition.

Drink a lot of water, and a little wine.

Stretch.

Eat well.

Enjoy your time as a beginner (again).

In the Company of Butter

I am here.

I exist right now, in this place.

My hand is guiding my pen across this paper.

This ink is spreading, seeping into the pores of the yellow cellulose, forever staining it in squiggles and slashes.

I am here, and the time is now.

I have a kettle on the stove, fresh-ground coffee in the press, and a loaf of bread cooking in the over.

The sun is rising. My brain is waking up, too.

Here I am, in this chair, with this pen, making these words.

Soon enough, the kettle will whistle its shrill song.

Soon enough, my mouth will pucker and sip at the morning’s first swallow of warm, bitter coffee.

Soon enough, all the other things will happen today, tomorrow, next week.

But for right now, this moment, my left elbow rests firmly on the kitchen table, supporting my forearm, my hand, my head, my thoughts.

For right now, the small of my back has a tiny ache from a deep night’s sleep.

For right now, a block of butter, softening in the morning’s warmth, keeps me company as I hold off all those other things and just exist.

Here.

Now.

Birthday Beauty for Carolyn

  • Blessings to this house and all who pass through.

Happy birthday, sweetheart!

This morning, you asked your friends to look for something beautiful and post it on your Facebook wall.

I love it when you ask me (and us!) to be intentional about seeing the world. Each time it opens my eyes anew to where I am right now.

I walked up the hill to my office with my head up, my eyes wide, drinking in every color, every texture: the tattoo-swirl of the snow in the street, the sun poking her warm head above a Lake Superior cloud bank, the way the chilly air nipped at my cheeks. I saw the school bus’s bright red led flashers way down at the end of the street and just dove into that color for a moment…

I took some photos. Okay, maybe more than “some.” And I’m going to keep looking, keep being blown away today. I’m going to stay open to the world. I’m going to edit this post with all these captured moments throughout the day¬†so I don’t overwhelm your wall with my stuff. I want to see what your friends find, too!

I love you, Carolyn.

You open me up to the world, you teach me things I don’t know, and remind me of things I do know, but have forgotten. You support me both in my windmill-tilting and my more productive efforts.

You make me a better person.

Thank you.

Love School

My old friend and college roomie, Jonathan, was up from Atlanta to visit last night. It’s been a decade since our last visit but we immediately went deep with our conversation.

“What’s the point of all this,” he asked, waving his hand around my small kitchen, but including the whole world; our entire existence. “Why are we here? I’ve been thinking a whole lot about this lately.

“I think it’s to learn to love.”

Continue reading Love School

My personal baseline

What’s your personal baseline? What are those things you must have, you must do? Do you know how to find it?

Here’s my process:

I ask myself a bunch of questions like these…

  • Am I happy?
  • Can I do the things I’d like to do? (Can I chase my dreams? Can I see the sunrise from my yard?)
  • What can I do better?
  • How can I make the world a better place?
  • Do I have what I need?

…and I try to listen closely to the answers. Here are this morning’s:

Continue reading My personal baseline

Keep Fucking Going

This is a note I wrote to myself. But I’m going to share it with you, because just like me, you look like you could use a little motivational kick in the ass, too.

Don’t worry that it’s about writing, because it’s really not. It’s really about anything that’s big, scary, hard. Maybe you’re working on your relationship with someone; Maybe you’re trying to lose weight; Pay down debt; Stay out of the snowbank on turn three of the ice track…

It doesn’t matter. This is for you.

Continue reading Keep Fucking Going