Fruitcake For Foodies: It Exists Thanks To Laurie Colwin

[This is kind of a #tbt kind of post. I last made this cake TEN YEARS ago. Yikes.]

Apparently it is that time of year that everyone loves to make fun of fruitcake. Here’s my take: commercially-made fruitcakes can and often do suffer from all the problems that all commercially-made foodstuffs do, namely cheap ingredients and way too much sugar.

Take things to the next level, by making your own, OR by using a variant far more friendly to adults who like things a little tipsy, and now you’re talking. This Jamaican Black Cake is a long-running experiment by the awesome food writer Laurie Colwin, who wrote about it in her book, “Home Cooking“. She died in 1992, but remains an influence for many cooks and writers alike. Countless foodies and food blogs have delved into their own attempts over the years, like thekitchn, Saveur, and more. There was a “bake-along“. And over at the New York Times they simply featured a nice homage to Laurie and mentioned the cake.

I made this cake – cakes, actually – 10 years ago back when I actually baked, and it was received by family and friends.

Did they like it? Well, basically… it’s hard to say. This kind of an onslaught of deep flavor with bitter tones is a food best enjoyed by folks described as “adventurous eaters”. That, I am. That, many of my relatives were not. They sampled gamely and might have kind of liked it, but then went right back to the marshmallow fluff fudge.

I still consider it a success. Let me know if you make it (or ever have) and how it turned out. I should make it again because dang was it intense. And I LOVE intense.

Jamaican Black Cake (aka Fruity-Booze Cake): adapted from Laurie Colwin

Here is my modified recipe, with a warning – the whole process takes 3 distinct steps, the first of which must be started at least 2 weeks ahead of time.

STEP 1 (10 minutes):
Take 2-3lbs of dried fruits, any mixture you’d like of raisins – dates – figs – prunes – candied/glazed items – candied citrus peel. Steep them in a mixture of heavy & fruity boozes such as port, rum, bourbon, et cetera in a LARGE GLASS container. Plastic may stain, metal may do bad things. My vat contained rum and port (what I had on hand). Allow this to steep for a minimum of several weeks, up to a year or more. For future cakes, go ahead and double the amounts and start your batch for next year now!

STEP 2 (2 hours, give or take): can be started up to a week before you make the cake(s).

Making BLACK SUGAR is an amazing process in patience and home chemistry. Take 2 cups of brown sugar and put it in a heavy bottomed pan. Melt this over low-med heat. For the longest time it will seem like nothing is happening except that the grainy-ness of the brown sugar gets a little moist. DO NOT add water. Just keep stirring it so the bottom doesn’t burn, and after about 30 minutes Magical Transformation #1 will occur – the whole mass will liquefy at the same time. Once it does that you will have a caramel tan colored goo. Keep stiring and watching that until it gets darker….. and darker…. and darker….

If you walk away for a few minutes, you might come back to a fascinating sight:
Magical Transformation #2

Magical Transformation #2

Magical Transformation #2

…black lava-like bubbles in your tan sludge. Stir them back in and keep things going. Eventually the mixture will get VERY dark, almost black:

Almost black sugar goo.

Almost black sugar goo.

….and your kitchen will smell like, well, burnt sugar. Its not unpleasant, especially if you like complex verging on bitter flavors (coffee, for example). Keep letting it darken as long as you dare. When it is a hair’s breadth away from being officially burnt, heat up 1 cup of water to boiling, remove the pan from the heat, and pour the water in. Congratulations, you have just made black syrup. Allow it to cool, then store in glass in the fridge until you are ready for

STEP 3 (the cake(s); 2 hours including baking time):

1 cup Packed brown sugar
1/2 lb butter (salted), room temp
6 eggs
2 cups cake flour
2t baking powder
1t each of nutmeg and cinnamon
1/2t each of cloves and cardamom

Sift the flour with the baking powder and spices in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, then beat in the eggs one by one. Fold in the soused fruits, and half to all of the black syrup (until batter is as dark as you want it to be). Then fold in the flour mix, and pour into 2 well-lubed AND parchment-lined cake pans, or small loaf pans (note the brown color of mine; I could have added more of the black syrup):

Black cake batter in little pans

Bake about 90+ minutes at 325, until a toothpick comes out moist – not wet, but not totally clean, as the cake should be very moist. When they come out of the oven sprinkle the tops with dark rum, allow to cool, and then keep in an airtight container (or double layer of foil, or plastic, etc) until ready for consumption or gifting. Every few days, drizzle with more rum if they look a little dry. Cakes will keep at least a month and are better a few weeks after baking, though I’ve heard its tradition to keep one of the batch until next year (whoa).

Whew. Now, get cracking on your soused fruits for next year! 🙂

Tuesday Tribute: Erika Napoletano

Today’s Tuesday Tribute is Erika Napoletano. There are a lot of ways to summarize her personality, from ass-kicking public speaker, motivational coach to Gen X laggards like myself, esquisite and judicious potty-mouth, and heart-forward strong woman.

Erika doing something she does really well - not having a lot of f*s to give.

Erika doing something she does really well – not having a lot of f*s to give.

Technically, including Erika is a little bit of a cheat – I actually have not met her in person, but we have conversed over email and I’ve devoured much of what she’s wrote in the last 6 years.

So, who the fuck is she? (Yes, for this installation I’m bringing out the bombs.) Her bio lists off her attributes: the things she can do for her clients like get people UNstuck in whatever thing their life is presenting, her choice in bicycles, her appreciation for warm coats in Chicago winters, and her published works both online and in hardback.

BUT. To me it is the last bit of her About page that is actually important and what makes her work so useful:

And she is happy.

Ridiculously happy.

Because it is happy people who ooze that juju out of their pores, out of their sparkling eyes, out of their manners and way of speaking. Watch her TEDx talk in Boulder. At the end she does a spontaneous victory dance – the only indication in the whole video that she was terrified all along.

How do people become happy? That’s a ridiculously difficult question that occupies many a writer and thinker. Many people seem to have a default happiness “set point” that they come back to even after periods of trajedy or prosperity – that is, if you lose your job you’ll come back to the same level just like you will if you win the lottery. The “amount” of happiness that set point represents varies from person to person. But that doesn’t mean you are doomed to your default level – I believe that a measure of grace and happiness can grow from terrible loss. We all know someone who only really started living after their cancer diagnosis or scare.

For Erika, it was the death of a new love, a potential soul-mate, if you believe in such things. When she first met him, he was a fan of her work and they became quick friends. Then, she says, “And that night, a friendship began that grew into something I never expected: the beginnings of a relationship where I never had to be anything but myself.”

Jason died four years ago, on Halloween, after two months of joy building that relationship with Erika. Two months. But here is why Erika is here on this post – it is what she did publicly – the very next day, in fact – when it happened. She ripped her heart open bare on her blog, grieving in real-time for the world to see.

Today is day one. Tomorrow is day two. I’m scared shitless of days three and four. Five is horrific. Six – incomprehensible.

She had nothing to lose and – perhaps – had a glimmer of a thought that in the long-term this kind of vulnerability would help someone who chanced into reading it. She was right about that, even for people who didn’t suffer as deeply as her. I felt sorrow reading her Jason story, even though I’ve never lost someone in that way. It drew me in and added to the respect I’d already built for Erika’s work.

That’s why I chose her, this week. She along with writers like Brene Brown and Ella Francis Sanders and Cheryl Strayed (in her Dear Sugar days) are all trafficking in pure openness of heart. You gotta love that.

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**Tuesday Tribute is my way of showing off the women in my life who have done something to influence me for the better, through direct advice, great example, resilience, strength, bad-assery, or any number of things. Almost every week. Always Tuesday.

What Makes An Ultrarunner: Guts, GU, and (minimal) Glory

(Cross-posted from Medium.com)

I’m experimenting with writing long-form for Medium, and would love to have your feedback over there. It’s a lovely site with good content.

I wrote a very long report from the viewpoint of a pacer for a 100-mile race, the Javelina Jundred in Phoenix. I’ve run the race before so I know it pretty well, and I was assisting (with another friend) a runner to their 2nd finish. We encounter GU, nausea, the founder of ultrarunning in the US, sand, and pizza. Enjoy.

What Makes An Ultrarunner: Guts, GU, and (minimal) Glory

On The Primal Importance Of Less Stuff

The past week's haul. Lots of paperwork and ephemera.

The past week’s haul. Lots of paperwork and ephemera. And the closet is still full.

For months I’ve been slowly purging the unbelievable amounts of crap I own, because it had started owning me. So far I’d estimate I’m down 10-15%, if that. Right now I’m only counting things in the actual house, not the skis in the garage or the rotten box of gawd-knows-what next to it. I know for a fact there is a box of 15 year old MREs, too. Don’t they last through the apocalypse? Anyone want them?

I don’t know what triggered it – likely some long-held rebellion against my own pack-rat tendencies plus some schooling from The Minimalists – but it has been snowballing and now I feel almost desperate to have a manageable footprint. It’s a little Tyler Durden creeping into my mindset.

This is not how to be human.

Fixing this does not necessarily need a business trip with the gas stove left on.

Not everything he said was crazy man talk. The idea that our consumer culture is a toxin to much of what is really human, has big resonance for me. I don’t think we’ll go to Tyler’s ideal final society where cityscapes are just barren places where people in leather clothes lay out meat to dry on the freeways.

But dear fucking god we do not need all this stuff.

Some things are unbelievably easy, though somewhat time-consuming. This would be CDs that are already ripped, weeding out paperwork from the filing cabinet, trying on clothes that I probably don’t need to see if they even still fit, that sort of thing. To get to the things ready for disposal, there is a little homework to be done. This will get more labor intensive with things that need to be archived first: photos, un-ripped CDs, the hundreds of greeting cards from friends over the years. These will all be digitally saved through ripping or photographing, then tossed.

Some things I get rid of have minor sentimental value but no real use or actual daily value. Today was a few plaques from things I’ve done: coaching a high school cross country team, and my Wasatch finisher’s plaque from 2012. I still have 2014 – guess I’ll wait until the race report is done so there’s closure.

The really sentimental things are harder. The cubic foot of heavy scrapbooks my mom deposited on me last xmas. She took decades (obviously) to make those. Hard to just toss them (not to mention digitally scanning them would take a long time, too). Gifts from close friends, like books or jewelry or kitchen dishware. But a lot of that can go, too. If the friend is important to me, THEY are important to me. Their gift has already been acknowledged and used and appreciated. That’s OK.

Gee, you think I grew this pack-rat thing? Nope, been there all along.

Age 15 bedroom: you think I grew this pack-rat thing recently? Nope, been there all along.

Julien Smith’s 16-step guide to horrifying yourself about how much crap you have is amazing. It’s one of the best, funniest, most heart-wrenching things you’ll read if you have any bit of Tyler Durden in you.

Next weekend (the 14th), I hope to be spearheading a MASSIVE yard sale at a friend’s house. She lives on one of the most busy residential streets in Albuquerque and always gets much of her yard sale offerings sold and gone. There, I’ll purge books and CDs and kitchen appliances and clothes and way more stuff that I haven’t yet been able to just give to a thrift store for fear that I might be missing out on some needed cash. (No, I’m not selling all my stuff because I can’t hack it as a freelance writer, but it’s a lean life.)

I Love To Run Even Though It Could Hurt Me

Hamster in a wheel, running just cuz it's fun. Maybe.

Hamster in a wheel, running just cuz it’s fun. Maybe.

I’ve been running for 27 years.

At least half of those years were “seasonally” around two-thirds of the year or so, in fair weather or around the competitive season. When I was off, I was really off, not doing much of anything for several months (youthful metabolism is what made that tenable for so long). However, the last decade has been year-round training – and not because of slowing metabolism, but rather to be more competitive and get rid of the inevitable training curve/wall after a few months off. I did get faster – and I got skinnier – and how the two are related and not related is another story.

It took many years of those 27 before I had any idea that running was anything but super awesome for the human body. I mean, how could it not be? All that fitness and endorphins and pleasant exhaustion…. Hell, even mice like to run for no reason at all. I looooove this! Some animals, including we crazy humans, like to run just to run. Brain cells grow, stress hormones go down (within some limits), and things are just good. Usually.

Opposition on a running wheel. From https://www.flickr.com/photos/eyesplash/

Opposition on a running wheel. From https://www.flickr.com/photos/eyesplash/

But there’s two sides to the endurance running deal. The benefits of judicious jogging seem to be pretty clear: all the stuff mentioned above like better thinking, lower disease markers, lower stress, better cardiovascular fitness, et cetera. But when you get into territory like many habitual runners – an hour or more every day on average, with more on weekends or race days – that’s when the benefits rocket down to zero or below.

Net Negative Benefits?

Why? Right now I think there are two main areas of concern: atrial fibrillation and movement monotony.

Atrial Fibrillation

In some adults – those with a predisposition, it seems – endurance athletics will bring out their latent Atrial Fibrillation (“AFib” to the cool kids) where it might have been dormant for a lifetime of less vigorous movement. Only a few years ago it was easy to dismiss the folks who collapsed and died during marathons as pure probability given the population numbers. Those fatalities are still explainable by demographics, BUT there are likely a lot more runners out there with ticking AFib bombs in their chests. A google search for “atrial fibrillation endurance athletes” turns up 3190 results. Yowch.

So, this is just like the misconception that running will GIVE you knee problems when in fact it is slightly protective of your knees in general. What happens is that your knees – if they’re normal – will be benefited from running. If you are prone to knee problems like arthritis or degeneration, you *might* notice those issues sooner because you as an athlete are more in tune with your body and you demand more of it. Running does NOT cause knee problems.

Likewise, running does not seem to cause heart attacks or sudden death, but for some people it functions as a very sobering “stress test” and can make their life quite a bit shorter.

Finally, many, many years of running might actually contribute to AFib. That’s the thing that as a runner you should know about. Not necessarily worry about, but definitely consider it if you are actively choosing to be a runner instead of taking up other pursuits. The research is still ongoing, but it does not look like a win for running when it comes to AFib. Aside from the medical research, there are some runners and medical professionals blogging about the nexus of AFib and athletics, like Michael McCullough’s site AFibRunner, a great reading for all endurance athletes. I also like the site Athlete’s Heart by Dr. Larry Creswell – he is looking at the issue as a very interested 3rd party point of view. Good stuff.

Movement Monotony

Trust me when I say I will have a lot more to write about this, so this little paragraph is but the beginning. Here’s the nutshell. Many endurance runners like myself have desk jobs. We move from the coffee pot to the chair to the bathroom and back just a few times per day. Then we sit down to eat. We sit down to read. We go to sleep and we wake up and run for an hour and think we’re OK. We are not OK. I repeat – we are not OK.

In the always spot-on words of Katy Bowman, we athletes are doing the equivalent of saying to ourselves, “Hey, oranges have vitamins! I’m gonna eat 20 and then have some milkshakes!” We are taking in movement nutrients that are vastly inadequate and unvaried. We should be getting up from the chair every 20 minutes to bend and stretch and focus on the wall 20 feet away. We should take walks in the sunshine and squat down to pick up our groceries and kids. And then, maybe if we want, then we can do something as ‘crazy’ as striking the ground at 2.5x our body weight for 6000 reps (the amount of footstrikes in a 6 mile run)!!!

Ok, more Katy to come. Don’t worry.

After all that… why in the heck do I and we run?

Here’s what I know: the main benefit to me is in my inner world. What I mean by that is I get good shots of positive neurotransmitters (the runner’s high) in addition to mental calming and the ability to brainstorm and daydream while out there. This is why I don’t listen to music during 99% of my training time. Now, the runner’s high is real and can be proven by lots of research. But – and this is a big but – the rest of it might just be a self-reinforcing addiction. I get to daydream and clear my head because that’s what I expect from running. It calms me because I haven’t figured out any other way to calm my caucophony.

THERE ARE OTHER WAYS. There’s gentle yoga (not that power/hot stuff – that’s also addictive). There’s just daydreaming while taking a long walk. There’s meditation. All of these involve minimal exertion while having proven mental benefits.

And, I love my running friends, all over the country. I am able to go and experience beauty and connection and soul-crushing fatigue in myself and in those around me, and we get through it. When it’s almost over, we see our families and cross that line and it’s magical. How could you not love my 2 year old niece running to catch me in this photo???

Andrea and Howie finishing Wasatch Front 100 2014, family and pacer in tow.

Andrea and Howie finishing Wasatch Front 100 2014, family and pacer in tow.

I know all of this. If someone new to exercise or fitness or general lifestyle health were to ask me “what should I do?” I would NEVER tell them to take up jogging or running. If one is starting from scratch or starting over, everything I know suggests that we should do three major things with our time. In order from most time spent to least, those three would be: tons of general movement and walking, meditation, and power bursts (sprints, climbing, jumping, weights).

Running is for becoming a better runner. Period. And becoming a better runner all by itself just might make you a more fragile organism if movement monotony isn’t balanced with really well-rounded movement nutrients in the rest of your life. Here’s to a long and movement-filled life.

Tuesday Tribute: Kaila Prins, vibrant podcaster and hug addict

I invite female friendships into my life because they don’t seem to come naturally, at least not in my history. My tomboy predilictions has made for a small circle of women around me, but once in a while a rare one breaks through – that’s Kaila Prins.

Paleo f(x) 2013: we first meet! Kaila with the LOVE shirt.

Paleo f(x) 2013: we first meet! Kaila with the LOVE shirt.

Kaila (“ky-lah”) and I met a year and a half ago, at a conference in Austin for Paleo-ish folks, called Paleo f(x). Within a day we’d hit it off and spent hours talking about the ideas we had to bring this amazing thing – a lifestyle grounded in real food, real nature, and real movement – to a much larger audience. Podcasting seemed like a good way to start building momentum, and while I languished over the usual ephemera, Kaila used her blog, In My Skinny Genes, to launch Finding Our Hunger in less than two months. She used her voice to tease out the intricacies of women’s relationships to their own lives, whether that was a hunger for change or just for chocolate.

Because I’ve seen the change it’s made for her – how fans will approach and talk about how much they get out of each show – it’s renewed my interest in creating a podcast. THAT’S what personal inspiration is about and comes from: this Tuesday Tribute, human interactions, friendships, everything. When you open up around people like Kaila, you receive equal or more.

Since then she’s just been doing more and exploring what it means to be Kaila, and how she can use what she knows to reach and help as many people as possible. Her physical woes with repeated ankle surgeries means that she can empathize with anyone struggling with chronic pain or limited mobility. Her movement to embrace hugging and promote addiction – to oxytocin – was and is an amazing meme. Play along with #hugsarepaleo – there’s no time limit!!!

Kaila on the right, hugging for oxytocin.

Kaila on the right, hugging for oxytocin.

There are women in my life who have impacted me because of the contents of their life – what they’ve done, how they do it, and how they have succeeded despite a difficult past – or even how they are working toward an inevitable success. Kaila is no exception, and in her I can claim the bonus of being a close friend.

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**Tuesday Tribute is my way of showing off the women in my life who have done something to influence me for the better, through direct advice, great example, resilience, strength, bad-assery, or any number of things. Every week. Every Tuesday.

Tuesday Tribute: Carey Smoot

Tuesday Tribute: Carey Smoot – lover of life, cheese, islands

Part of a Carey selfie

Part of a Carey selfie

“Did I ever tell ya about this guy I met with the Cuban restaurant?”

“Did you know that the cheese at XX restaurant came from XX weird country?”

“I’m so busy – I have so much to tell you!”

Not long after I met Carey, she began to bombard me with every little interesting thing going on in Albuquerque’s restaurant scene. It was dizzying and awesome. Who was fired, who just opened a new place (and if it sucked or not), which place was doomed…. it’s just her nature to be gregarious while cultivating a wide network of friends. Carey has had her hands in the local food scene for many years – everything from her own gourmet shop to cheese distribution to burger joint mastermind to French pastry seller to chocolatier‘s administrator.

Carey is one of those women who is instantly on your radar, usually in a fabulous way. She’s blunt, energetic, and enthusiatic. She’ll tell you about her drama-filled family shenanigans, point out that you have something in your teeth, and then reach into her purse for the gift she couldn’t help but get for you, all while asking if you’ve had the sweetbreads at some new place in the North Valley.

How did I meet Carey? That’s a story I’m racking my brain trying to dig the nuggets out. Was it email? Possibly. Was it before she opened her amazing Downtown Grocery store (which lasted only a few years before vanishing into the local food nostalgia-sphere)? It doesn’t really matter how we first met. Our friendship is punctuated and enduring. Lately we seem to meet up for an overly long lunch or social hour at least once a year, but boy those months go screaming by.

 

She’s been through a lot – with her spunk and experience you can’t really avoid a vibrant life – but nothing is as interesting to her as what’s next. Plans are her thing, and boy does she have some awesome ones that involve building and travel and new places to live. She’s an island fan, so I’ll leave it at that.

Here’s to a lot more years, and many more three hour lunches.

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**Tuesday Tribute is my way of showing off the women in my life who have done something to influence me for the better, through direct advice, great example, resilience, strength, bad-assery, or any number of things. Every week. Every Tuesday.

Tuesday Tribute: Katie DeSplinter

Hi kids. I’m back on the posting wagon, finally, with another Tuesday Tribute. The schedule goes back to weekly from now until eternity or I run out of amazing women in my life. That could be awhile. But now, on to Katie DeSplinter, ultrawoman of mystical powers. She doesn’t break bad, she breaks excellent.

Katie downhilling a not so technical trail. (from iRunFar.com)

Katie downhilling a not so technical trail. (from iRunFar.com)

Me: “Holy shit you’re running amazingly fast!” Katie: “Not as fast as those guys!” Me: “No one runs as fast as those guys. Seriously.”

Those guys were Dominic Grossman & Co, screaming down a loose cannonball run of babyhead rocks next to a steep creek drop-off on the way towards Grouse Gulch on the Hardrock Hundred course. It was a training day, but it seemed to me that Katie was getting some serious turnover practice for future racing days ahead.

Katie is a new person in my circle, but one of influence in just a few encounters. She’s learning her way around racing ultramarathons in one of the most open and generous and patient ways I’ve seen. She blogs about her successes, her worries, her failures, and the intersection of all three. Case in point, AC100 this year was planned to be a dream race, sub-24, with everything looking pretty good. Then, worries about training load (too little) and previous issues with kidneys (too much) and finally, she just went and did it. The write-up is pretty spectacular and takes a meandering course through angst, joy, flow, bloody pee, and rain in Los Angeles. Yep.

“The only thing I honestly feel right now is everything.” – Katie

Just read it, already.

Are ya back after reading that? Good. Now, let’s talk about AC in general. She’s part of the overly-feared next generation of young ultrarunners. Young ‘cuz she is only 31 – the age at which I knocked off from ultras and went down the marathon rabbit-hole for 5 years, losing all sense of moderation and some of my bone density in the process – and yet she is capable of winning races. A few for now, but more to come I’m sure. Her generation (really a sub-generation, but whatever) is overly feared by some in the long-standing ultra camp who think youth entails enthusiasm at the cost of respect. But in many young runners, as well as many older runners, the respect and volunteerism and community are part of the ultra life. They give back. They volunteer and crew and pace with abandon. They do trail work. They organize their own races (hello Nick and Jamil), adding to the pool of awesomeness out in the country and world.

But enough about other runners. Katie’s getting the podium today. I ran into her, not quite literally, on the PCT outside of Los Angeles last weekend. She was running with a friend, as was I, in opposite directions. The four of us stopped to chatter about everything under the warm sun, only finally disbanding when we all realized we probably should get back to our respective days. She sported a hat that can only be pictured to be appreciated.

Katie says 25% of people get it. I'm surprised it's that high. (by Geoff Cordner)

Katie says 25% of people get it. I’m surprised it’s that high. (by Geoff Cordner)

It’s a snarky hat from a snarky 2008 youtube phenomenon, but underneath the hat is a good dose of earnestness. Without the dippy video, this could actually be Katie’s motto. Do what you like and give zero Fs to those who stand in your way without reason.

That’s why she is here. Another woman making me rethink what it means to be solid in your own self.

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**Tuesday Tribute is my way of showing off the women in my life who have done something to influence me for the better, through direct advice, great example, resilience, strength, bad-assery, or any number of things. Every week. Every Tuesday.

Dreamcrafting: DIY Meaningful Dreams

Running, dreaming. Photo by Vanda Mesiarikova via Creative Commons

Running, dreaming. Photo by Vanda Mesiarikova via Creative Commons

This is a new thing to experiment with – directing the subjects of your dreams. Build meaning into your dreams by some deliberate intentioning.

We’re all familiar with having panicked dreams about work or something urgent going on the next day when that’s all you been thinking about the night before. For example, before ultramarathons I typically spend one or more hours trying to sleep, worrying about the alarm, and such. Then I do fall asleep and only dream about the alarm. When I worked jobs that I hated, I would dream I was caught in a neverending work day full of anxiety and angry/disappointed bosses. On the other side of the coin, when we don’t have stressed out dreams, it seems our other dream-mode is just whatever comes up, because our evenings are often routine or uneventful.

I’ve been trying out a few things with planting ideas or subjects for the night’s dreams.

To make this work well, I have crafted two rules of importance:

1. no depressants before bed (alcohol, sleeping pills, et cetera)
2. intellectually and/or emotionally compelling experiences in the few hours before bed

I am not a nightcap kind of gal and I hate sleeping medications (no matter how hard it is to all asleep), so #1 is no problem.

Number 2 is the fun part.

Let’s say you normally spend the few hours before bed reading random things on the internet, browsing reading materials, watching routine TV shows or movies, or doing repetitive tasks like housework. Let’s say that you do these things in an unattached way.

Here’s how to change that up. For one night, or more, do or watch or participate in something extremely engaging of the mind and/or heart. Read someone’s old love letters. Have a heartfelt discussion with a friend. Watch a movie where you get really really into the characters. Read academic works in your area of passion – the kind of reading that makes you break out the highlighter. In other words, do things that have MEANING to you. Soulful meaning, connection with the universe or people or your purpose. Whatever gives you that cerebral tingle.

THEN. See how your dreams are affected. Does the person you conversed with show up in the dream (or someone that seems to represent them in context)? Do you have exceptionally idea-rich dreams, the kind where you need a bedside notebook? Play with it.

Brainbow from the National Institute of Mental Health

Brainbow from the National Institute of Mental Health

I’m receiving two big benefits from this. From the intellectual reading experiment, I get crazy amounts of idea generation. From the personal conversation experiment, I feel a deepening of the connection that had already started with the other person. The only drawback of this secondary effect is that there is no guarantee THEY also experience that sensation. It could tilt the friendship in a lopsided direction. Of course, there is the possibility that they had the same dream experience in the wake of the evening’s interaction, and all is level. That is ideal and pretty cool to ponder.

Dedicated to a few of the recent sources of rule #2. 

How to Hug For Introverts: The Non-BuzzFeed Way

Do you have friends who give really great hug? I hope we all do – at least one, for cryin’ out loud. One of the best way to up the ratio of meh-huggers to great huggers is to *become* a great hugger. Easy, right?

Unfortunately, the practice of hugging has a terrific load of baggage in our culture – Shane Snow wrote about the dilemma of male/female hugs in a professional setting, and The Wire even has a roundup of different types of huggers (woe to be the “Hug-fectionist” type of hugger – that’s just bad, and you’re a needy person! Or, be careful of those “hug activists” out there – just in it for the oxytocin!)

High schools have even been taking notice of this disturbing trend amongst their students – that of expressing human affection and friendship through touch – and are clamping down on that “very dangerous territory” ASAP, says an article in the New York Times: “Comforting as the hug may be, principals across the country have clamped down.” That’s real, and seemingly the newest example of old time-honored restrictions on physical contact by kids, just like using rulers to judge how far apart they dance. See what I mean? There is so much stigma on what constitutes a good and appropriate amount of physical contact between humans.

I’m calling bullshit, and I don’t even need to invoke bonobos (thanks, Christopher Ryan!). Hugs are awesome and the sooner you get that thought in your head, the better you’re going to feel – and the better hugger you will become. The Daily Love agrees with this idea and has created a wonderful tutorial on hugs – read it as a complement to mine.

Writing a “how to give good hug” crossed my mind about a month ago, for fun and incremental betterment of the world. And then, Buzzfeed came along with their cutesy video demonstration just two days ago. Take a peek:

Their video is cheeky and entertaining, and I can launch off from their overly snarky how-to into something a bit more substantive. Learning how to hug is easier than a properly contextual handshake – boy, that is rife with problems, especially when many of the handshake tutorials out there are how to NOT screw it up.

Hugging is easy

I say that as an introverted and somewhat socially-awkward person. When I was a kid and young adult, I never saw the value in hugging, nor did I give or receive many hugs. They seemed to be special occasion only kinds of things. Not that there’s anything wrong with special occasion hugs, mind you:

Yay! We won! Awesome hug of joy!!!

Yay! We won! Awesome hug of Canadian joy!!!

Three hugging tips

Here is my super easy peasy way to hug like you were born doing it. Go forth and make happiness.

1. Evolve your hug to the receiver. This tip takes a little practice, but the benefits are huge. Essentially, you adjust all variables of your hug moment by moment DURING the hug. Some of the best hugs in my memory are those with people I like and respect, who give me a slightly warmer hug than I was anticipating (see the next tip), and I reciprocate with an even warmer embrace and we both peel away with shiny unicorns singing and farting rainbows. It’s glorious.

2. Be 1% more affectionate than you think you can get away with. This is a way to reassure the other person that you value them, you value human touch, and that you won’t go overboard into inappropriate territory (see #1).

3. HOW TO ACTUALLY DO IT. Use both arms, gently wrap them up, pull in, close your eyes, smile, and squeeze following tips 1 and 2. Go with the flow and giggle if you smack arms or something. That’s it!

Perfect hug: both arms, smile, eyes closed, joy!

Perfect hug: both arms, smile, eyes closed, joy!

Finding practice opportunities (with little social repercussions in your own peer group)

This is super simple but obviously a little weird if you are an introvert. Even I need practice sometimes, as evidenced by this photo-op awkward hug with a dear friend in Austin:

Side-hug. Not very warm or intimate!

Side-hug. Not very warm or intimate!

That’s OK – Juan Mann has been there before you. He’s the guy who created the “free hugs” campaign in 2006. He was a recent convert to the world of hugging, after spending many years as one of those ‘dead fish’ kind of huggers. His free pdf ebook about hugging is seriously awesome and you should download it right now.

Practice on strangers!

Practice on strangers!