Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Surviving poverty

Last week my sister's car was stolen from her driveway.

There have been incidents daily since then and I spent the better part of the weekend feeling sad. Sad for the victims, sad that people choose to criticize victims (because perhaps they feel somehow exempt from these crimes happening to them), and sad we live in a world that tolerates and expects crime. Oddly, I couldn't help but also feel something for these criminals. Although I know nothing about them, I imagine them to be like many others who have been found in this situation: young, poor, desperate, hopeless.

While I may look like your average privileged white woman (and yes, there is privilege in that), I assure you there were times in my childhood I too felt poor and desperate.

Statistically speaking, the odds were stacked against me. Chances are my siblings or I would become an alcoholic (because my father is), we wouldn’t attend college (because my parents were not college educated), we would not be successful in relationships or marriage (because my parents divorced). We lived just above the poverty line; not eligible for benefits, but not able to afford so many of the basics those around us possessed.

And sure, I was envious of my peers; at times wishing so badly to have their things/parents/home/access. I watched them get new clothes, new cars, apply to colleges without concern about tuition fees, accept unpaid internships to boost their resumes. However envious I was though, I never once thought to take a short cut. You don't beat poverty by not doing the hard work or stealing from those who have.

When I graduated from college and knocked down doors to (finally) land a job and I rented my small downtown apartment, oh my goodness, I beamed with pride. It wasn’t a glamorous job and it certainly was not a glamorous apartment, but there was no greater feeling in the world than owning that life.

While I know my situation was not as grave as many of these children who choose to steal, I am saddened that they’re unable to see they are cheating themselves.

They are robbing themselves of the true satisfaction that comes from wanting something so badly, and working hard to get it.

Someone robbed my sister of the things she worked so hard to have, and in that, not only missed an opportunity to be in school or do the hard work, but they destroyed the faith of an ally. I can guarantee this though, she knows that joy and satisfaction, and someday soon she will add this to the list of challenges she overcame.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Learning something new

The tree in this scenario is a camera. You see, I bought a DSLR four years ago, and four years it has sat nearly untouched. It made an occasional appearance at holidays, but it served as a reminder that I intended to learn photography, but never did. I built a house and had a baby and filled my life with other (important) things, but mostly I didn't learn photography because it seemed like an overwhelming undertaking. 

Do you feel this way about learning new things?

I reacted similarly when it came to lesser things like using my Instant Pot (now my favorite kitchen appliance) or my immersion blender (equally convenient). And even silly things like using Instagram or wearing newly purchased clothing. I considered these items useful and important when I made the purchases, buying them with the best intentions, but when it came to incorporating them into my daily routine, I couldn't face the learning curve. Or maybe it's because I'm time deprived and feared practicing something I may not be good at would be a waste on many levels. Yet I'm constantly encouraging my children to try new activities, new foods, new sports, and learn what they love. 

There is always value in learning.

So here I am, a grown woman without so much as a high school photography class to go on, but determined to learn how to use my camera. Last weekend I cracked open the instruction manual, so now I know each button's purpose. It's a start, right? According to this article, Thursday may be the best time to start something new. But now seems like the best time to me, even if it's four years overdue.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Anxiety: A doctor's explanation

Two years ago, we took our girls to an outdoor summer concert. It was one of those beautiful, balmy evenings and our girls were dancing and laughing with friends as the sun began to set. As our younger daughter was happily dancing, a look of panic came across my older daughter's face. She realized it was nearing bedtime and she wasn't home. Despite efforts to calm her, she insisted she leave immediately. As we walked the three blocks home she cried and panicked, unable to catch her breath. It was 7:35 at night, five minutes past her usual bedtime.

Most parenting books insist on providing children with a routine because most children thrive on consistency, but this goes beyond routine. This is anxiety in the form of rigid behavior. It pops up at the most inconvenient times; school, test-taking, social situations, any unusual circumstances.

While Ronald Rapee's, Helping Your Anxious Child workbook has helped us make strides in this area, I'm always seeking more information on the topic, so two weeks ago, I attended a lecture by Daniel Siegel, author of The Whole-Brain Child.

His talk discussed the science behind anxiety, something I had not heard before. There are two main parts of your brain that handle anxiety: amygdala and hippocampus. When you are in an anxiety-producing situation, your amygdala, speaking the voice of your nervous system, activates first. So that stomachache, heart-pumping, uneasy feeling are all produced by the amygdala. As soon as the amygdala turns on, it activates the hippocampus, which stores memory and emotion. Because our amygdala is influencing our emotions and memory, science proves so much of what we remember about anxious experiences is totally inaccurate. So interesting, right?

Dr. Siegel says sleep, exercise and knowledge are important factors. It's important not to respond to anxiety with worry or explain that the amygdala is taking over. Ha. My daughter needs less stimulation, not more. A hug has defused many episodes for us, but Dr. Siegel prescribes a brief lesson in anxiety. That explanation will help open her thoughts on the brain's response, encouraging more flexible and optimistic thinking.

But the best thing you can teach your child is relaxation of the body. A child can do this by focusing on the breath. Only when the body is relaxed, can you train the thoughts of the hippocampus. So as the sun set over that summer concert, but before complete panic set in, my daughter could have found her breath and taken control over how she thought and felt (and would ultimately remember) missing her bedtime for that special circumstance. And imagine how quickly those positive feelings induce more positive feelings and experiences. We have the power to change our brains and our brains have the power to change our experiences. Mind blown; literally.

So if a worrisome problem is encountered and you don't react with anxious symptoms, does your brain perceive it as a "problem" at all? I think not. And anxiety or not, having that ability to change your perception of a problem is invaluable in many of life's most challenging situations.

Do you or your children suffer from anxiety? How do you cope?  

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Instant Pot (or slow cooker) chicken tortilla soup

To say my children love tacos is an understatement. If it was an option, they would eat them every night, so I try to find variations so us adults don't get bored eating the same ol' thing. This warm "taco" soup was just the thing to get us through the latest cold spell.

And with the exception of the cilantro and ground chicken, most of the ingredients are kitchen staples. It doesn't get much easier than this.

I used a pressure cooker for this recipe, but you can certainly use a slow cooker. If you’re on the fence about investing in an Instant Pot, send me a message and I'll give you all the compelling reasons to buy one today. I love a slow-cooked meal as much as the next person, but these days we don't have time for “slow” in our house, especially when it comes to meal prep.

1 medium onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb of ground chicken (or substitute 3-4 cups of shredded chicken)
1 T olive oil

1 1/2 t cumin
1 t chili powder
1/4 t paprika 
1 1/2 t salt

14.5 oz. can tomato sauce (be sure it's salt-free or reduce added salt in the recipe)
14.5 oz. can fire roasted diced tomatoes
4 oz. can fire roasted green chilis
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
1 lime
Tortilla strips or chips
Optional toppings: avocado, cheese or sour cream

Heat the olive oil in a pan or the Instant Pot set on saute. Add onion and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes until translucent. Add ground chicken and cook almost through, breaking up into small pieces. If you are using rotisserie or leftover chicken, there's no need to cook it again. 

Add the seasoning, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, green chilis and broth. Give it a quick stir and set the Instant Pot to "manual," "15 minutes." If you are not using a pressure cooker, add all the ingredients to the slow cooker and set on high for two hours.

When the cooking is complete (do a quick release of the pressure cooker), remove the lid and stir in the cilantro and juice of one lime. Season with additional salt as needed.

If you're really going for it, you can slice 4-5 tortillas into strips, put them in a bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and salt. Bake them at 400 in a single layer on a cookie sheet for 5-10 minutes until lightly brown. Top soup with tortillas and other optional toppings. 


*For a thicker soup, blend one can of pinto beans with the tomato sauce and reduce chicken broth to one cup.

**One jar of salsa can be used in place of the green chilis and diced tomatoes.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Be the light

I hope you had a good (long) weekend. I spent the "extra" day dealing with website technical issues, but as a result, it forced me to finally invest in some new functionality and a new look. I would greatly appreciate if you would leave me a quick comment (or send me an email) giving me some honest feedback. Thank you.

I also spent some time reflecting on Martin Luther King Jr.'s influence.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

His powerful, timeless words serve as an inspiration. I internalized so much negativity and sadness in the world last year and often felt overwhelmed and helpless.

But I'm not helpless. I am guilty of forgetting to be the light and love in this world. And I don't have to look any further than my own children for a lesson. They know no hate or envy, and approach life with hope and uninhibited love.

As we were leaving school last week, we witnessed an older brother shove his younger brother off the sidewalk into the mud. He immediately started crying and his father, clueless to the prior events, scolded him. My (normally very shy) daughter, walked past him, gave him a smile and quietly asked, "Are you okay?" He nodded and smiled back.

That small gesture didn't change his life, but I like to think she provided him some light in an otherwise dark moment. It made me think, how often am I asking others if they are "okay?" How often has busyness, assumptions, judgements or even jealousy prevented me from showing love and compassion?

I have noticed something in my own life recently. When I have been able to forgive, love, smile, support someone's passion, the light is reflected back to me. Doing this on a small scale, brightens the darkness in my mind and fills me with a sense of fulfillment and love; and we can all use more of that in our lives.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Worthy reads: January edition

It's difficult to express in words what your messages and encouragement on this post meant to me. Thank you for reading. Thank you for supporting me. Thank you for reminding me that sharing something personal (and even scary) is worthwhile.

I have so much more to share (including another deep dive next week), so I hope you will join me every Tuesday and Thursday. Until then, here are some worthy reads for your week:

The most impactful article I've read on the topic of anger.

This is giving me life in the mornings. A couple drops in my hands, a few deep inhales and I'm good to go.

I'm making a big batch of our favorite this weekend. A healthy tip: Add a can of white kidney beans in place of the cream and it's just delicious. Added bonus: protein.

These glycolic peel pads are saving my dry winter skin (they are so good I’m almost afraid to share).

This will restore your faith in humanity.

I hope your week is as happy as this little man, and again, thank you to so many of you who made mine.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Coming to terms with an absent parent

"What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we have."

Such wise words spoken by Oprah at Sunday night's Golden Globe Awards. These words are not limited to the #metoo movement, but they transcend throughout so many of life's challenges and have inspired me to finally share more of my truth. But you have been warned, this is not a light-hearted read. Rather, it is one I hope will help provide someone who is struggling with an imperfect parent the tools to begin to heal.

The last three Christmases, I came home to find a package on my doorstep with scribbled, nearly illegible handwriting. Our names are spelled incorrectly and the gifts are inevitably two sizes too small.

They are from my father.

Although he will never meet my children or know me, I send him a thank you note and a photo, gently reminding him of my children's names and ages. It has taken years to get to this point, but I'm living proof it is possible.

See, my father has been in and out of my life since I was a child, often disappearing for years. Upon his return, he is just helpless and apologetic enough that I'm easily charmed. The charactertistic of a true alcoholic; never fully understanding the pain he has caused in the wake of his absence.

There was a time I felt so.much.anger that he would insert himself back into my life at his convenience, only to leave as quickly as he came. I did not understand his choices and I counterproductively blamed him for the wrong in my own life.

My anger has diminished over time as I've poured my energy into more positive things in my own life; first my career, then my marriage, my passions and my family. I have found so much comfort knowing that him and I are not the same and I have chosen differently.

In more recent years, I made a conscious choice to replace anger with compassion. It's helpful to think of my father as a flawed human being. I don't know his struggles (and I lost the desire to make sense of it all), but I don't care to punish him. I am busy raising a family he will never know and that seems like punishment enough. And that beautiful family has given me the greatest gift of all, a second chance. A chance to have the childhood I had once wished for myself, through my children. As I watch them experience life and I am able to provide them with comfort, security and unconditional love, it is healing my heart.

This healing is an ongoing process, but worth every effort. However painful my truth has been, it has also served as my greatest motivator to do and be better. And when I see it that way, it closely resembles a blessing.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

2018: The year of patience

A few weeks ago, we celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary. I spent the previous week reviewing our years together to make a book (side note: I highly recommend Artifact Uprising if that’s your thing). As I sorted through thousands of photos, I recalled the chronological order of events and decisions, but realized that none of those decisions seemed as life changing as they do on the other side. I remember making decisions together…selling a house, buying a house, having a baby, going on vacations, but I literally could not remember why we choose this neighborhood or this house or a certain career path or lack thereof? All the decisions were a natural progression, and that’s wonderful. So why didn’t I realize how quickly they would add up to this life? It feels like unconscious “planning.”

Yesterday while I was considering applying for a part-time position, because it looked interesting, I had an epiphany. Each of those (seemingly) little decisions is a big decision about where I am placing my energy. Now that we are rapidly approaching late thirties and can count the number of years our children will still hang out with us, I feel like we need to be really thoughtful about where we put our energy. What do we want to accomplish in the next couple years? What’s on our must-see list? What are my husband’s career goals and how can I support him? What are my personal goals? Needless to say, I did not apply for that job.

We have declared 2018 to be a year of presence, patience and goal-setting.

Do you know that feeling when your children are suddenly quiet and you’re like “what are they plotting now?” That’s us right now. And those who know us are aware of how difficult it is for us to stand still for a while. But this year is the perfect opportunity and as silly as it sounds, we’re looking forward to it.

How do you and your spouse set goals and make decisions? Regular date night discussions? Tips much appreciated. I’m embarrassed to admit how many of our decisions have been made via text message.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

How I got my energy back

Happy New Year from our ZERO degree temps today. Don't mind my hat hair for the next 9 - 12 weeks.

I don't know about you, but I start the new year with a handful of goals. This year I'm hoping to do more of the same; you know, right after I detox from all those cookies. You see, last fall, I decided I couldn't continue to live how I had been living. I was exhausted. I went to a doctor convinced it was a thyroid issue or something that would result in a quick fix. Nope, not the case.

I needed a drastic change. I throughly stalked Dr. Junger's Clean Program and spoke with a representative who suggested I incorporate some of the program's clean eating ideals, but because I was (and still am) a breastfeeding mom, I hold off on doing any kind of formal cleanse or strict regime. They sent me a packet of recipes and information and I went to town on our pantry and fridge, donating about one million boxes of unopened crackers.
That handful of cereal on the way out the door, the cookies after dinner, the crackers and cheese for lunch have been replaced by roasted vegetables and a handful of nuts or a hard-boiled egg. By default, I am probably eating less, but only because what I am consuming is nutrient-dense foods and protein. Adding exercise would also be beneficial, but sleep is still a bigger priority for me. Ha.

Now I am not a doctor or medical professional, but I am shouting from the rooftops that cutting out dairy, sugar and gluten worked for me. I'm alive!

What gives you energy? I'm always looking for new suggestions. Are you interested in our favorite (and family-friendly) clean recipes?
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