Empowerment from an unlikely source

Empowerment, oh, how I would hunt you if I knew where to find you! But the truth is, you seem to come and go with no rhyme or reason. You are elusive; mysterious; an uncanny mix of ethereal conditions, each of which must be just so at the right time. And today I discovered you in the last place I would ever look: nail polish.

Let me be clear. To say I rarely wear nail polish is a vast understatement. In my adult life, I have worn it no more than 10 times, if that. For one thing, my perfectionist tendencies butt up against my lack of small motor skills, so I am never satisfied when I do it myself (and I’ve had exactly two manicures: one before a wedding in which I served as Maid of Honor; the other was a gift). Also, I am far too likely to use my hands for things that lead to chips, scratches, or other defects that mar the overall effect.

For another thing, something never feels quite right when I look down at my painted fingernails. Shiny with a delicate, pretty color. Or, once, a bold red. But the thing is, they don’t feel like they belong to me. They belong to a different Isabella Pen, one who is more feminine, more polished (Edit: no pun intended)…a more grown-up version of me. Even as I fantasize about what life would be like if I were that version of me, I know it’s useless because it’s just not who I am, and I’m not about to change who I am so that I feel comfortable wearing a delicate pink sheen on the tips of my fingers.


Yesterday, for reasons that are too complicated and unimportant to go into, I found myself wandering down the cosmetics aisle at my local drugstore. This was unusual in itself, for, like nail polish, I feel less like myself when I wear make-up. But there I was. And for some reason, I found myself drawn to a small bottle of blue nail polish, so dark it was almost black. It made me think of midnight, and suddenly I was gripped by a need to purchase it. Into my basket it went, and when I got home, I would take it out and look at it as though it were some precious stone.

This went on for a few hours until, finally, I could resist it no longer. Next thing I knew, my nails were midnight blue. It is not the world’s best manicure…not even close. There were smudges and places were it was stuck to my cuticles. But I was fascinated by it. I felt slightly daring, knowing that I would wear it to work today, a place where people don’t push the envelope in their personal appearance.

But this morning, I felt different. I looked down at my midnight blue nails and I smiled. I felt bold, I felt brave, and most of all, I felt like me. I felt like a version of me that can do whatever I want. I felt like the best version of myself—not an untouchable version of me that is better in some ways that are fundamentally foreign to who I feel like at my core—but the version of me that’s been waiting for a reason to come out and give life a real spin.

Maybe this is all some weird illusion. Maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow morning, look at my nails, and desire nothing more than to remove every last trace of the color. But somehow I doubt it. And even if that’s what happens, I’ll still have today and the way I felt. Because if nail polish can draw that heady swirl of power to the surface, it must exist inside me somewhere; and if it’s there, I’ll find it again.


Love letter to my feet

Dearest feet,

I simply adore you, and I don’t think I say that nearly enough. More often, I complain if you hurt, or I get annoyed at having to trim your nails again, or I use you to push something out of the way because I’m too lazy to bend over, or I walk a lot miles on you without saying thank you. I take you for granted, feet, and that’s not right!


Without you, I wouldn’t be able to run, walk to the park, wear shoes, skip, wiggle my toes. I wouldn’t be able to put you up at the end of a long day and relax. I wouldn’t be able to put warm, fuzzy socks on you when it’s cold out and feel cozy.

I am so grateful for you. Thank you for everything you do for me, for always sticking with me no matter what, for keeping my ankles company. I love you, and I promise to treat you better. You do so much for me, and you deserve someone who will take better care of you. But since you’re stuck with me, I will do my utmost to be nicer to you—new running shoes to keep you well-supported, massages to work out the kinks, maybe even some nice scented moisturizer.

Thank you, feet—you have earned my undying and eternal gratitude!

The rest of your body

On best friends

Today’s rescued calendar page (or, more accurately, the calendar page from last year on the same date) had only one thing on it that meant something to me…but what a thing it was:

Sitting next to your best friend

Here’s a truth about me: my best friends don’t live anywhere near me. I have good friends here, but the best of the best, the ones who know what I’m going to say even before I think it, they are elsewhere. One lives in Pittsburgh, one lives in New York City, and one lives alllllllll the way across an ocean in Berlin. So believe me when I say that I don’t take the act of sitting next to any of those wonderful ladies for granted. I’m not whining, though, because I am profoundly lucky to have stumbled across each of them, and even more profoundly lucky that they decided to keep me.

Here’s another truth about me (even if it’s all too easy to forget momentarily in the rush and bustle of daily life): my best friends are always with me, no matter how many miles (nautical or otherwise) there are that separate us physically. They are with me because, in addition to inhabiting the physical world, they live in my heart, my mind, and my soul. They are home and safety and laughter and joy and adventure and life.

e.e. cummings said it best, so I will do nothing more than borrow his words:

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
                                  i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

Gratitude on a Random Tuesday

Growing up, my mom would buy me a page-a-day calendar every year for Christmas. But here’s the thing—I was pretty bad at tearing those puppies off. So bad, in fact, that I have on more than one occasion found myself tearing off a huge chunk at once—even up to 6 months worth. Kind of defeats the purpose, right?

Well, for Christmas 2010 it was a calendar that listed 10 things to be happy about…everyday. It was amazing. I kept it at the office, because last year I definitely needed something to motivate me to go to work everyday.

In all honesty, some days nothing spoke to me at all. But when something gave me a nice smile in the morning, I saved it. At first it was just a little pile, but as time went on I started finding something worth being happy about most days. It was more than happiness, though. Reading the calendar every morning reminded me of all the little things in life to be grateful for. Gratitude has, at times, been a rare emotion for me. Not that I’m not aware I have plenty to be thankful for, but there were long chunks of time where I was so miserable that I couldn’t find the mental fortitude to slog past the big awful things to see what lay on the other side.

So now it’s 2012 and I have an enormous pile of pages saved from last year’s calendar that are chilling on my desk. What do I do? Well, I can’t throw them out—it would go against the spirit in which it was done! (Sidenote: yes, this exactly where the road to hoarding begins.) What’s a girl to do? Why, revisit them, of course!

So, a year ago it was Sunday. Let’s see what we had to be happy about…


I’m going to hazard a guess as to what made me happy and grateful on March 13th, 2011:

kind words—kind of self-explanatory
cool socks—a throwback to high school and college
using a foreign accent for a day—oh, the stories I could tell…

Special mention for positive thinking items on the 12th: a day without excuses, letting go of the struggle, and music that fits your mood Note: Saturdays and Sundays were always on a single page.

So there you have it. Gratitude on a Tuesday. What are you grateful for today? I’m loving the sunny, blue-sky weather, the fact that my allergy pill finally kicked in, and that I have dear friends coming into town on Friday!

30 before Thirty (and beyond)

Here’s something you probably don’t know about me: I will turn 30 before 2012 is out. In all honesty, I don’t mind the idea of getting older. I’ve felt older than I am for a lot of years, so I’m excited to cross over into a new decade. Plus there’s really nothing particularly significant that will be different between the day before I turn 30 and the day after—chronologically, I will be two days older, and that happens a few times every week.

But. (There’s always a but in these conversations, right?)

But, when I stop and consider the larger significance of it—that, in all likelihood, somewhere in the vicinity of 1/3 of my life is behind me—I start to feel a bit of panic. Have I seen enough, done enough, lived enough, etc? Now, I know that there’s absolutely nothing I can do about the past, but it makes me feel an even stronger desire to make sure that what comes next falls under the category of “life lived to its fullest” instead of “just another day/month/year.”

So, to help me with that, I’ve stolen an idea I’ve seen on two of my favoritest blogs (with the recognition that many others have done, are doing, or will do this or something similar): a list of 30 things I want to do before I turn 30 in November. I’ve actually been working on this list for a while now (and adding to it—because coming up with 30 realistic things is really HARD), so some of these things have already been completed (go me!)—and you may even recognize some of them.

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They were right…

…and by they, I mean anyone who has ever said that taking a walk outside during lunch is a good idea.

It’s a glorious day here: warm, sunny, blue sky, and there are buds everywhere. I sat tapping away at my computer and thinking how sunny it looked outside. That happens often. But today? Today I broke free from my desk chair’s death grip and escaped into the fresh air (note: fresh is a relative term…it’s still a city). Oh dear—it was the epitome of a natural high. I spent an entirely wonderful lunch break walking around, absorbing vitamin D, and chatting on the phone with my mom.

Note to self: do it more often.

Also, look what I saw:


Spring may finally be here, my friends, and it’s so refreshing that right now I don’t even care that we barely had any snow this “winter.” If this is what lies ahead, then bring it on!

Month of Kale: The Recipes

By request (and because, really, I should have done it in the first place), I’m going to share some of the recipes that I made during my Month of Kale.

Most of them came from my current favorite cookbook: Appetite for Reduction. It’s a low-fat vegan cookbook by the brilliant Isa Chandra Moskowitz. I know that, for many, either the low-fat or vegan label would be enough to scare a person off—let alone both together—but I have been cooking from it almost exclusively for the past two months, and I have been remarkably satisfied. That woman is a genius with spices—really, it’s alchemy, pure and simple. In other words: keep an open mind! And read on for the recipes…

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