Monday, April 30, 2018

Mother's Day Gift Guide

Here are my favorite pretty things for Mother's Day. Some I've recently ordered for myself (that's totally allowed, right?), and some I'm planning to gift to others.

Whether you are a mother, plan to be one, or are motherly and loving to others, we all deserve to be celebrated. Our gift is so important. I hope this holiday serves as a reminder that no matter how distracted/tired/impatient we might feel at times, we are always enough.

How are you celebrating Mother's Day?

1. Mother and Child. This book is getting rave reviews so I didn't hesitate to order a copy. 2. Haven + Blythe Soaking Salt. It's moisturizing, smells amazing, and there's no better gift than the promise of relaxation. 3. Personalized Keychain. An adorable idea for a mom who is always losing her keys at the bottom of her purse (update: this keychain is small and works best for a single key). 4. Scattered Hearts. A new favorite everyday necklace. 5. Kate Spade Cameron Street Garden Wallet. A colorful, daily reminder of how much she's appreciated. 6. Joules Myriam Scarf. A cheerful pop of color for her hair, wrist, or neck. 7. BeautyCounter Lip Conditioner in Peppermint. Similar to my beloved Burt's Bees, but so luxurious.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The accidental, but delicious sesame chicken

I've been excited to share this recipe since I gave a preview on Instagram last week (you can follow me here). It was supposed to be another recipe entirely, however, I made the mistake of not reading all the way through and was missing several necessary ingredients, so with a little improvisation, I came up with something we loved more than the original. This wonderful accident made up for my recent recipe hack fails (I'm looking at you, grain-free brownies). Everyone had seconds and cleaned their plates, and that's saying a lot in this household.

2 lbs. chicken breast, cut into one inch cubes
1/4 c cornstarch or arrowroot starch

1/4 c honey
1/4 c tamari or low-sodium soy sauce
2 minced garlic cloves
3 T rice vinegar
1 T tomato paste (I recommend having this on hand)
1/8 t to 3/4 t red pepper flakes (depending on your preferred spiciness)
1 t grated ginger (pro tip: peel ginger and store in your freezer - easy to grate and keeps for months)

1 - 2 green onions/scallions thinly sliced
2 t sesame seeds (optional)
6 T avocado, canola, or high heat tolerant oil

Salt and pepper
3 - 4 c cooked rice
Green beans or broccoli (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 if serving the chicken with a side of roasted veggies.

Toss green beans or broccoli (or another choice vegetable) with a drizzle of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

While the vegetables are in the oven, whisk honey, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, rice vinegar, tomato paste, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Note: this can be done 4-5 days prior and stored in the refrigerator (as part of meal prep).

Generously season the cubed chicken with salt and pepper. Toss with arrowroot or cornstarch. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in pan over medium heat. Cook a single layer of chicken (approximately one pound), turning occasionally, until cooked through. Remove cooked chicken and set aside on a plate. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil to pan with the rest of the chicken. Cook through. Add all the chicken back to the pan with the sauce. Cook for 3 minutes, or until sauce has thickened slightly.

Remove vegetables from the oven. Sprinkle the chicken with sliced green onions and sesame seeds. Serve the entire meal over rice (keep things simple with the Trader Joe's organic microwaveable brown rice). Enjoy! And don't be surprised if your family is begging for this weekly.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Give and you shall receive

That’s how the saying goes, right? At the root of almost every act of giving, you will find the expectation to receive. It’s only natural. Last week I discussed giving to my children. But it hasn't been without expectation that they will be grateful, and eventually wildly successful because of it, right? And I'd be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that I thought dedicating time to this space would bring a little compensation (turns out that’s no easy task).

Even with the purest intentions, we give in the hopes of eventually being on the receiving end.

These expectations are typically pinpointed; only allowing for a specific result. In the case of this blog, for example, I anticipated earning a small amount of money through advertising to cover my expenses. Well, I’ve currently earned 36 cents, people! Instead, what has happened, surprised me. I’ve had friends reach out to share what something I’ve written has meant to them. I’ve been asked for advice. My relationships with family and friends have deepened. This gift has been so much greater than my narrow-minded expectation.

But what if the results aren't as great? You tirelessly give your child the world and he finds himself in trouble anyway. Or you work really hard on a project and your boss doesn’t give you the recognition you deserve. What happens when the expectation is never realized? Failed expectations lead to disappointment, repeated disappointment leads to resentment, resentment leads to unhappiness. You can see where I’m going with this.

On the contrary, can you remember a time you approached something without expectation and were pleasantly surprised? There has to be a happiness study being conducted on this somewhere because gosh, those have been some of the greatest joys in life.

But unless you’re an amazing God-like person who can constantly give only as an act of love and kindness (the ultimate goal, but one that can be so difficult), you have some expectation of receiving. How do we eliminate this to uncover greater happiness?

The short answer is we don’t.

The long answer is we change our mindset. Expectations are typically outward-focused, meaning we are seeking an outcome from someone or something that is entirely out of our control.

If I slave over dinner anticipating my family will love it and instead my children tell me it’s gross, I’m resentful. But if I’m making dinner because I enjoy cooking and want to practice a new recipe, I’ve succeeded before the meal hits the table.

If I spend hours perfecting something I’ve written here expecting it will be groundbreaking and increase readership, and it bombs, well, I’m disappointed. However, if I writing in hopes of achieving personal growth, I’ve succeeded no matter the external response.

If I’m understanding and supportive of my husband after a terrible day at the office, expecting he will later acknowledge my efforts, and he misses it completely, I’m bitter. But if I’m making a personal effort to practice patience and empathy, I’ve succeeded.

If we shift the expectations inward, it is always sustainable.

Where have expectations failed you? How do you give, no strings attached?

I also want to take a moment to thank you for reading. Please keep your messages coming (although I won’t expect them. Ha!). I’m so grateful for each and every one of you that has read, shared, or shown interest in this space. Look for some fun, lighthearted posts in the next couple weeks, including a delicious recipe on Thursday that's guaranteed to make your weekly dinner rotation.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The mother's dilemma

If you ask any mother what is most important, she can quickly answer with her child’s happiness, health, and family togetherness. At the core, we know what's important. Yet, I've found myself struggling at times, balancing my role as a woman and mother with the daily tasks of running a household.

My identity as a mother and wife is built upon the foundation of love, but it's most visible in my daily giving. Chauffeuring to school and practice, a warm meal on the dinner table, clean laundry, homework help, bedtime conversations about life's big questions, are all acts of giving.

During overwhelming times, (which happens more frequently with three little ones), my sanity depends on eliminating the burden of any additional responsibilities. It shows up in the form of a declined invitation, a conversation cut short, or my general distraction, but at the expense of someone else (and often myself). I can't consider a friend's feelings in that moment because I have nothing left to give. And let me tell you, feeling guilty while you're constantly giving, drained of time and energy, is the worst feeling in the world.

But what can us mothers do? We are building children we hope will become kind, conscientious, responsible adults. We are building marriages we hope span lifetimes. We are building family relationships and making memories. These things take time!

I've discovered my problem lies within the way I've always thought about and structured time. If my children's happiness is the ultimate goal, I thought my time is best dedicated to that purpose first. I've slaved over the never-ending family to-do list and whatever time was left over, would be for myself/fun. And this worked for many years, until recently, when it didn’t. There just wasn't any remaining time to take myself on a walk, read or write, take a bath, or just think (letting your mind wander is the ultimate luxury sometimes, isn't it?).

After a particularly difficult summer (discussed here), I realized to serve others, I must serve myself first. This isn't a new concept. For the same reason you're told to put your own oxygen mask on first in an airplane emergency, you won't survive long without giving to yourself, but as a mother of young children, this is the most difficult task.

Your time is sporadic and can always be filled with more work. I have exhausted myself too many times trying to get through a to-do list thinking I could get ahead only to wake up the next day and realize I have to do it all over again. It's the quickest way to living a resentful life. And the hard answer is, my mom guilt, exhaustion, and resentment wasn't promoting happiness and emotional health for my children either.

I've found it's important to carve out me-time, and I mentioned this briefly here, but I want to expand on the use of boundaries. It has surprised me that there is not always clear "good" and "bad" tasks and circumstances when it comes to the balance of self, motherhood, and responsibility. So my approach begins with what I call the good/better/best theory; meaning uses of time can be classified as one of these. Take inventory of behaviors, people, and activities that leave you happy and fulfilled, and create boundaries to reduce time spent on those that don't. While it’s good to have a clean house, regular girls' nights, volunteer at school and in the community, help a friend, and involve my children in extracurriculars, I have to be mindful it’s not being done at the expense of the best things. I want to have enough energy to allow for self-care, and in doing so, also support my children’s growth and happiness. If I don’t say "no" in some situations, however good they may seem, I’m inadvertently saying “no” to things that actually deserve my best attention.

Good/better/best choices can (and will) change based on the current needs. Some weeks the best thing is choosing a date night with my husband over being home for bedtime, or lunch with a friend over another kindergarten soccer game, or turning down an invitation so I can spend time comforting my daughter after a hard day. The art of balance requires the continuous and delicate ability to pivot and adjust.

These days I’m loosening my grip on the to-do list and reminding myself there is no guilt in declining things that interfere with the time required to be my best self. In doing so, patience, love, and laughter flow from me more freely and my highest purpose is unmistakably visible in my children's smiles.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Leaning into winter

As I type this, I’m wrapped in a blanket as I watch snow flurries dance by my window. Not exactly where I thought I’d be mid-April. Trust me, I’m just as “over it” as the next person. But as is the case with other phenomena, I can’t control it. I can choose to fight it, be annoyed, or find the silver lining and lean into it, knowing it won’t always be so.

Here’s how to savor the last of the winter season:

Light a candle or a fire. This is the quickest way to bring a little hygge into your home (more on hygge here). There’s no need to shell out a lot of money on a candle; most of my favorites are from here.

Watch movies under a blanket. Our favorite thing as of late is to enjoy a cozy picnic dinner and a movie. The entire family loved this one and this one. And my husband and I just watched this one.

Drink tea. I have been living on tea all winter. I drink this when I'm trying to curb a sweet tooth, this when I’m looking for something warm and comforting, this when I’m feeling under the weather, and this before bed.

Spend more time in the kitchen. Roast a pan of vegetables. Make this soup. Bake cookies and eat them fresh out of the oven. Warm foods will nourish your body and soul.

Crack a window and breath in some fresh air. Perhaps not conventional advice when it’s 30 degrees outside, but that cold, crisp air will wake-up your system and feel so refreshing, even for a few minutes.

Treat yourself. Indulge in a hydrating face mask (I love this one) or take a long, warm bath. If you aren't hooked on the smell alone, this bath soak is also moisturizing, and you can feel good about supporting a local, woman-owned business.

Winter has long been recognized as a time of restoration, spent indoors surrounded by those we love. Before we know it, the first signs of spring will emerge, we’ll open all the windows and let in the spring breeze. The days will get longer, and quickly fill with playgrounds, and play dates, and friends, and swimming pools, and activities. So let’s enjoy these last few days of winter for what they were meant to be: slow and relaxing.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Our adventures in real estate

Classify this under "most frequently asked questions." I promised this post, but I've struggled making it interesting and relatable, even if building a home is not part of your dream.

Instead, I'll start with our story:

Once upon a time there was a boy who owned a downtown condo. He unexpectedly fell in love with a girl, who didn't embrace his bachelor pad despite her best efforts to change it. So shortly after they wed, they purchased a 1920s home north of the city. After touching every room in the house to make it their own, they took a chance on an unfinished, shell-of-a-new-build in short sale during the real estate downturn. They embarked on a year-long journey to finish the interior (think cabinets, counters, flooring, plumbing and lighting fixtures, hardware, paint...and the list goes on). Despite, or perhaps because of it's grandeur, it never fit quite right; so when the timing was right, they sold. Fresh off a high of having sold to the now-former Milwaukee Bucks coach (and maybe feeling just a little too much validation in her design abilities), and facing few other options, they decided, once again, to custom build what they wanted. This time tearing down an existing home and building new in its entirety. Hard lessons were learned (all documented on this blog, but later removed after a legal scare), but they thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the adventure. They now happily live in their forever home with their three beautiful children.

The end (for now).

Point being, when someone asks me how we did it, I always begin with, "we didn't start here." It's been an exhilarating journey, one that I've fell head over heels in love with.

As a long-time lover of design, I started my career in advertising, later dabbling in graphic design. So consistent with my previous job requirements, I had a vision for our home from the start. So much so that I could close my eyes and imagine myself walking through the finished house, simplifying the selection process. If you're beginning a similar project, but worry about the process, enlist a designer or creative friend to help. Often times, it's far less expensive than the cost of a mistake (additionally, he/she can act as a third party consultant/negotiator when dealing with the contractor).

Once you have a vision, do not sway from it. This is where being a little headstrong will serve you well. You can ask my builder about that one. Ha! See your vision through to the end.

I once read that for all visions to become reality there are three requirements: creativity, perseverance, and actions. I wholeheartedly agree. The ability think creatively was one aspect of the design/build process, but even more so, perseverance and action proved to be of the utmost importance this go around. It was a true labor of love, but one that fills me with such pride.

Have you remodeled or built your home? What did you find most challenging/rewarding?

I'm looking forward to sharing more building and design details with you in this space. What topics interest you? What specific questions do you have?

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The resurrection of the unicorn

After a chaotic morning with a screaming toddler and a fight over who ate the imaginary cheese trophy (yep), I headed over to a quiet corner at Barnes and Noble to surround myself with sane people and read in peace.

Instead I found myself surrounded by unicorns. Unicorn cookies, lollipops, puzzles, unicorn snot (it’s a thing), and books (this one being my five-year-old’s current favorite).

Maybe the unicorn never died, but it certainly seems to be on the upswing these days. The Boston Marathon has adopted it as it’s mascot, and yesterday there was a celebration in honor of National Unicorn Day.

In the age of social media, perhaps it’s no surprise that the unicorn, with it's colorful, glittered mane, has become so prominent. But in a time of often depressing politics and cultural divide, it's deeper than that. People seem to be seeking the uncomplicated wonder symbolized by this mysterious creature.

Last weekend, we headed to Chicago for a very spontaneous family trip, but after a rough car ride and a less than enjoyable dinner, we decided to abandon our lofty aquarium and sightseeing plans and spend the day doing what the kids really wanted to do anyway: swimming at the hotel pool; enjoying a visit from the ice cream man; and having pizza, popcorn, and movies delivered to our room. Rather than sticking to a parent-led agenda, we let the crazy inventors of the imaginary cheese trophy dictate our plans. To our amazement, it ended up being a real "unicorn" of a weekend; filled with ever-elusive child-like fun and playfulness that only comes with abandoning all expectations.

So although the unicorn has long represented an unattainable ideal, today's unicorn is showing up in the magic of every day life, including ours. Maybe it’s in a family vacation, or colorful clothing, or on your dinner plate. Perhaps the significance to this magic is in the effort; never trying too hard to capture it.

Who knows what’s next? Perhaps the loving and alluring mermaid if Starbucks has anything to do with it. I, for one, will embrace anything that reminds me to add more joy into my usual routine.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Five unexpected (and totally free!) self-care practices


Self–care is discussed a lot these days. I often read about self-care as a monthly massage or facial, dry brushing, a warm bath, or that glass of wine to unwind at the end of a hectic day. While I love all of these things, self-care can't be an escape from life, it must be a way of life.

Here are five of my self-care favorites:

Water: How it makes things new again, brings new life, and quenches our thirst. It has always been a calming presence in my life. So much so, it inspired the name of this blog! We are fortunate to live in a state with so many lakes, including a great one. It's impossible to watch the waves roll in without feeling a sense of calm wash over you.

If you can’t get to a park bench to take in a lake view, try a shower or bath. I do my best thinking during my morning shower, and the occasional evening bath quickly relieves the stress of the day.

Nourishment: If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, this one probably won’t surprise you, but I’ll say it again. When you eat nutrient-rich foods, your body will thank you. After years of living on handfuls of cereal and my kid’s leftovers, I notice a drastic change in energy when I’m purposeful and thoughtful about what I’m putting in my body. It doesn’t take a complete overhaul; start with getting more vegetables on your plate.

Get moving: While I'm not getting to the gym much in this season of my life, getting outside for a quick walk around the block does wonders for my mental health. Bonus if you can do it without music or a podcast. When I walk in silence, with only my thoughts, I can see the dimensions of my life more clearly. That’s when true recovery and growth happens.

Boundaries: Self-care is love. It is recognizing your inner feelings and needs and knowing what activities and people aren’t helping you live your best life. Boundaries are such an important part of love. I encourage you to listen to this podcast to help you to weave this into your daily practice.

Forgiveness: In the famous words of Oprah, “Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could be any different. It’s accepting the past for what it was and using this moment and this time to help yourself move forward.” I can’t think of a higher form of self-care. Forgive others. Most importantly, forgive yourself. Live with lightness and love.

Self-care is not indulgent or selfish. Self-care is healthcare! And it has become an integral part of my wellbeing. What are the ways self-care shows up in your daily routine?

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Believing in yourself

I hope you had a lovely spring break. As I watched my daughter in the pool on our Florida vacation, I found myself writing this post in my head. You see, my daughter believes with such conviction that she's an Olympic level swimmer. She jumps in the water, flailing her arms and legs, only to emerge wide-eyed with the realization she is not. I have to give her credit though, because she gets right back in and tries again. I've stopped trying to convince her she's not quite ready, because someday soon, she will be and believing she can do it is so much of the battle, isn't it?

Somewhere along the way, we lose that ability to truly believe in ourselves with such certainty. Self-doubt, and logistical and financial realities replace the space where hopes, dreams, and conviction used to reside.

And wow, that self-doubt can be all consuming and has definitely made me hesitate going after some big things in life. It almost prevented me from being able to share with you in this forum. I'm no expert, not a doctor or a therapist. I'm simply a woman, wife, and mother who has experienced a lot of life. Each time I sit down at my computer I wonder if that is enough.

I have never been much of a goal-setter, it's seems so "big idea." But lately I have begun this process of meditating on an idea; call it a goal if you will. I really allow it to take up space in my mind, envisioning the excitement/pride/happiness I would feel in accomplishing something big. The adrenaline gets me going and encourages me to work backwards to figure out the steps required to get there.

So I'm ready to put this idea out into the universe: I want to grow this blog. Not to make money or have some kind of social media fame (I don't understand social media enough to make that happen! Ha!) or to finally put my journalism degree to use. I want to grow this blog because it encourages me to live authentically and transparently. In this crazy world of curative content, the portrait of the "perfect" family, photo editing, and product placement, this tiny space on the internet centers me and brings me back to my truth.  In sharing that truth, I hope it encourages others to live in theirs. And don't we all deserve to live the best, most authentic life possible?

I'm taking a lesson from my five-year-old, and I'm jumping into the deep end hoping I will swim.

If you like what you read here, would you please consider sharing this site with your friends or family? Thank you for all your support.

For good measure, I've also added a few of our (non-edited) vacation photos below.

© Lake House Effect. Made with love by The Dutch Lady Designs.