February 23, 2018

When Enough Is Enough: A Call To Action for EVERYBODY

These are the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High
School shooting. Let's honor them with ACTION!

This post has been brewing inside of me for more than a week. I have thought about it, researched it, and debated even writing it. Basically, I've been in turmoil over it for days. Just as I've been in turmoil over what happened in Parkland, Florida.

I started having anxiety attacks again last week. Not as bad as back in December, but there, nevertheless. I couldn't figure out why. We were experiencing some minor distresses in our family, kids having issues and such, but nothing that seemed to warrant severe spikes in anxiety. It took me a few days to connect the dots to the school shooting in Florida. It was when my kids got home from school one day and I felt myself relax that I realized that I was kind of terrified to have them away from me. I just wanted them close.

Though many of us may disagree on what needs to change following yet another horrific mass shooting, I have to believe that we are all shocked and appalled and at least a little bit scared by what happened...and the fact that it keeps happening again and again. We all must be feeling sympathy and empathy for the victims and their families and friends, and for the survivors and all they've gone through. An anxiety trigger for me is putting myself in the shoes of the victims' parents...what must it be like to find out that your baby was shot and killed at school. My body aches with despair for these parents. For all of those affected by the shootings.

Can we all agree that it's a horrible, horrible thing...that it is a tragedy?

And can we all agree that things must be done, things must change, to prevent more mass shootings from happening?

I happen to believe that common sense gun reform is a must in this country. I believe that it is the key to stopping these kinds of shootings and massively reducing gun violence in this country.

You may not believe that. And while I don't understand it, I do respect your right to your opinion. What do you think is the issue? What do you think is the key to stopping these shootings? Is it mental health reform? Is it education reform? Is it a reconnection with God? Is it parenting education? Is it the disconnection caused by the deluge of video games and smartphones and social media?

Whatever you think the key is to this problem, it is time to fight for the good.

Enough is enough.

This is a call to action for EVERYBODY!

If you believe that the issue is mental health reform, then get involved in pushing legislation at the state and federal level for reform. You can start by checking out the National Alliance on Mental Illness: https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Public-Policy/Mental-Health-Reform and the American Psychiatric Association: https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/advocacy/federal-affairs/comprehensive-mental-health-reform. Google mental health reform for more information and take action.

If you believe that education reform is the answer, then do your research and determine what you believe the best course of action is, and get to it. Start locally. Join the parent-teacher organization at your kids' school, join the school board, lobby local and state government for change. You might start gathering information here: https://www.usnews.com/topics/subjects/education-reform.

If you believe a reconnection with God is the key, then become a youth leader at your church. Start a support group for kids in your area where they can safely explore religion and expand their relationship with their higher power. Find a place where you can be the light, the change you wish to see in the world, and shine.

If you believe it's all about parenting, then volunteer to teach parenting classes at schools or local organizations, or start a parenting support group; volunteer in a mentorship program to be a positive role model for kids who may not otherwise have one. Check out mentoring.org or Big Brothers Big Sisters at bbbs.org.

If you believe it's video games and smart phones and social media that's to blame, then get out there and make change happen. Get some information to start with here: https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/children-and-media-tips-for-parents.aspx, here: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/media/Pages/default.aspx, and here: http://www.medialit.org/reading-room/what-parents-can-do-about-media-violence.

If you believe that common sense gun reform is the key, then I ask that you to get involved at some level in making that happen. Join Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America or Everytown for Gun Safety. Call/email/tweet your senators and congressional representatives (You can find their contact info here: govtrack.us/congress/members) and ask where they stand on tighter gun control and let them know that you'll only support candidates willing to take a stand on this issue. Make public who's taking money from the NRA. (You can find that info here: www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/nra-donations) Lobby your state representatives. Go to a rally. Show your support for others who are trying to affect change.

And I ask that you ALL, please study all of the various components of possible gun reform, and see if there are some that you agree with. If so, support those changes. For example, you might support better background checks and limiting the size of gun magazines, but not limiting open carry. Fine. Support the components that you do see as positive change, instead of blanketly saying you're against all gun reform.

Whatever you believe to be the key to this problem, PLEASE do something to affect positive change. Don't just sit around sharing nasty memes on Facebook. I vowed to myself that I would not attack those who are against gun reform in this post. If you haven't been convinced by all of the data out there that gun reform is needed in this country, then my little blog post isn't going to convince you. So instead of getting dirty in that fight, I'd rather we all find a positive way to make a difference. The truth is, I think positive change is needed in all of the areas I noted above. ALL. OF. THEM.

So go fight the good fight. Make a difference. Move us toward a better place...a world in which mass shootings do not happen.

Enough is enough, friends. And enough should have been a long time ago.

Until next time, please take action toward POSITIVE CHANGE.

If you're interested in learning more about gun sense organizations, here are some links for you: 

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is a grassroots movement of American mothers, similar to Mother's Against Drunk Driving, fighting for public safety measures that respect the Second Amendment and protect people from gun violence. It's a nonpartisan group looking to do things like close loopholes in background checks that allow felons and domestic abusers to easily access guns; support reasonable limits on where, when and how loaded guns are carried and used in public; and promote gun safety. You can find out more here: momsdemandaction.org, and here: facebook.com/MomsDemandAction.

Everytown for Gun Safety is the largest gun violence prevention organization in the country and has teamed up with Moms Demand Action. You can find out more here: everytown.org

Sandy Hook Promise. The organization's current focus is on limiting the size of gun magazines. You can sign a petition for this cause here: action.sandyhookpromise.org. You can learn more about the organization here: sandyhookpromise.org.

BeSmartforKids is a program that promotes gun safety. The SMART acronym stands for Secure all guns in your home and vehicles; Model responsible behavior around guns; Ask about the presence of unsecured guns in other homes; Recognize the risks of teen suicide; Tell your peers to be SMART. You can find out more here: BeSMartforKids.org.

If you are looking to effect change in gun policy: Join the above organizations. Then, please contact your senators and congressmen both at the state and federal levels. Call them. Write them emails and letters. Tweet them. Let them know where you stand and what you expect from them.

If you live in PA reach out to Senator Pat Toomey. He's taken $39,363 from the NRA. You can reach him at 202-224-4254; toomey.senate.gov; @SenToomey. If you happen to live in my district, reach out to our congressman, Representative Charlie Dent. He's taken $28,850 from he NRA. You can reach him at 202-225-6411; dent.house.gov; @RepCharlieDent.

Right now, in PA, we're trying to disarm dangerous domestic abusers with the state bill, SB501. Research it. If you agree with it, please email/call/tweet our 13 state senators to pass SB501. You can tweet this message: Disarm dangerous domestic abusers. #PassSB501 #ProtectPAFamilies. Here are some of the senators' email addresses: alloway@pasen.gov, jeichelberger@pasen.gov, wlangerholc@pasen.gov, boscola@pasen.gov, sgreenleaf@pasen.gov, jrafferty@pasen.gov, lbaker@pasen.gov, cbartolotta@pasen.gov, kward@pasen.gov. Here are some of their twitter accounts: @SenatorAlloway, @SenatorGordner, @WayneforSenate, @PASenatorGuy, @SenVulakovich, @SenLisaBoscola, @SenGreenleaf, @SenLisaBaker, @SenBartolotta.

Whatever you do, DO SOMETHING!

February 15, 2018

Creating Your Mission, Vision, and Values

What I want life to feel like much of the time...
Hello, dear friends! In this week's post, I'm giving you homework...but don't be frightened off by that. Because this is the kind of homework that could change your life. No, really. Ready yourself.

Okay, so here's where you're about to see evidence of my former life in the corporate world. If you have ever worked in the land of corporations or business consulting, then you are likely super familiar with the terms Mission, Vision, and Values when it comes to businesses (usually all lumped together like it's one word: missionvisionvalues). Most companies and brands and nonprofits have mission, vision, and values statements. For some organizations, these truly drive the business decisions and the corporate cultures...for others, they're more window-dressing and lip-service. But when they're used properly, they can be an excellent tool for drawing the map and driving the bus, for organizing ideas, and for making decisions...and that's true not only for organizations; it's true for individuals (like you!), too.

So today, I'm going to try to convince you that YOU should have a mission statement, a life vision, and a list of values; and that these missionvisionvalues should drive your life decisions: how you spend your time each day, how you define and go after your goals, what you worry about and what you don't. Whether or not you print it out and hang it on the wall, is up to you; but just going through the process of thinking it through-- all the way through-- can be enough to open your eyes to things in your life that don't line up with what's really important to you.

At least that's what I've found.

It started with a conversation a while back with my therapist about how much I value productivity and accomplishment, how ingrained the desire and need for those things were in my daily life. Then that same topic--productivity and accomplishment-- showed up in a book I was reading, Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. And I made the realization that those things, that productivity and accomplishment, weren't actually things that I valued. Yet so much of my day was driven by those two things.

And I kind of freaked out, internally, when I realized this. How could so much of my daily life be dictated by something that wasn't even truly important to me? That seemed like an epic failure.

So, after the panic attack faded, I was left with the question: What do I value? What is important to me? What should be driving my daily life? If not productivity and accomplishment, then what? I know that seems like a crazy question to ask. I mean, of course I know what's important to me. But have I ever really spelled it out? No. Have I ever taken the time to measure my day against what's really important to me? No. All I knew, was that things felt out of whack.

Enter: Mission, Vision, Values.

I've thought about going through this process for a while, years actually, but this year was the first time that I actually sat down and, over the course of a couple of weeks, worked out what my mission and vision are for my life, and what the things are that I value most. And now I'm working on making my daily life reflect those things.

Here's what I did...

I think values is a good place to start. Values are the foundation for everything. There are all kinds of values lists online and in books. (Here's one of the lists I used: https://scottjeffrey.com/core-values-list/) So, I searched for some lists and simply wrote down any words that spoke to me. After that, I looked for themes and repetition on that list to really hone in on what was most important. This is what my list looked like:

The values that rose to the top for me, the ones that I made certain to include in my mission statement, were grace, kindness, joy, love, gratitude, and abundance. (You may notice that none of these are even akin to productivity and accomplishment. Yeah, that point wasn't lost on me.)

Once I had that, I went back online and searched for personal mission statements and read other people's to get some ideas. I even read through some company mission statements. And I read a lot on how to go about developing a mission statement.

Here are some of the questions I used to get the ideas flowing:

- What do I value most?
- What makes me happy?
- What do I like to share with others?
- What's the reason I exist?
- What do I hope to achieve in life that would bring me the most satisfaction?
- What am I good at?
- What must I have in my life feel fulfilled?

I took my list of values, combined like ideas, and then pulled out the most important ones. Then I took the 5-10 core values and used my answers to the above questions to link everything together into a statement.

I decided to come up with a sort of "complete, long version mission statement" and then a short version that would be easy to repeat to myself each day-- something I could use as that measuring stick when making decisions. I played around with it a little bit, but I tried not to get too caught up in editing it, as long as the sentiment was right. The long version looks like this:

The essence of it, my daily measuring stick, is this:

I will find joy, give grace, and feel gratitude while living a creative, fun, healthy, and mindful life.

So when I start to worry about getting every little thing on my to-do list done, I stop and think, is this in line with my mission? When I think about skipping my workout, I think, is working out in line with my mission? When I consider avoiding my writing by doing busywork or Facebook, I think, where's my mission? I'm finding that if I'm freaking out about something, if I'm feeling overwhelmed, what I'm doing is likely not in line with my mission. My mission stuff doesn't freak me out, not like that anyway.

A while back I started work on a vision board. I haven't finished it, but this gives you an idea of what it is. This is a fun, rather therapeutic, activity...even something you can do with your kids. You can search old magazines, you can find pictures online and print them, you can create a virtual board. (I'm planning to build another one on Pinterest.) The exercise of building a vision board for your life (or for a specific project or endeavor) has two main gifts to give you: 1) Just the act of doing it-- of looking for and finding pictures and words that capture your vision-- feeds that vision. It switches your brain from looking at what you currently have- or worse, don't have- and focuses it on where you want to be. And it helps clarify the details of what you really want. 2) It gives you something concrete to look at every day as a reminder of where you are headed. It's a reminder of what's really important to you. If your whole vision board is filled with pictures of a beach house, but in order to get that beach house, you need to save $50,000; and you look at those pictures on your vision board everyday; you just might rethink that Amazon order you're about to put through, or that Starbucks you're thinking about stopping for on the way to work. That money could go toward your vision instead.

Hang it on the fridge. Pin it to the board over your desk. Tape it to the wall by the sink in your bathroom so you stare at when you brush your teeth.

Same with your mission statement and your list of values. Hang them up. Look at the every day. These are the things that you want to fill your brain space with. These are the things that you want drawing your map, driving your bus, organizing your ideas, and guiding your decisions.

When I'm in a panic about getting all the daily shit done that comes with life, I can look at my vision board and clearly see that none of it is on there. What's on there is daydreaming, reading, writing, sleeping...love, joy, gratitude....friends, family, mentors...transforming the world. All that random shit I need to get done? It ain't transforming the world. Sure, I need to do it at some point, but it doesn't deserve my stress. I'm too busy giving grace and finding joy to be worried about that stuff.

So, here's what's changed since I did this: everything. I know that sounds like a massive over-statement. And in a way it is, but also, it isn't. Because from the outside I doubt my life looks all that different. But on the inside, it really, really is. I feel like I'm looking at everything differently. I really do measure my days against my mission now. And they're getting closer and closer to alignment.

Until next time, ask yourself...What do I value most? What makes me happy? Why am I here? And let the answers to those questions steer your ship.

February 7, 2018

A Thank You to My Facebook Friends

If you read my last blog post then you know that last month I did the 21 Day Oola Challenge. (It's 3 weeks of daily reminders to help you live more Oola. If you want to know what that means, read about it here: my-2018-oola-goals-wait-whats-oola-goal)

So, one of those daily challenges was this:

Think of a friend who's positive change has inspired you to positively change your life, and thank them.

I am inspired in one way or another by all of my friends and family. And I'm inspired by lots of people I know from the various groups I'm a member of. And I'm inspired by lots of people that I don't know at all, but read about.

(Here's a good example that's also a children's book recommendation: Malala's Magic Pencil. I just read this book with my daughter and thought it was so well done-- with beautiful illustrations-- and felt inspired once again by Malala's story.)

As I thought more about this idea of being inspired by others, I thought of Facebook and Instagram and other social media. When I think about social media, I often think of the negative impact that it's had. I think of the disconnection it can encourage, when we replace live interaction with others with the online variety. I think about the way we often compare our worst selves to others' best selves shared on social media. But that's not what I thought about this time.

This time I thought of all the ways that people I interact with on social media have positively impacted my life-- especially people I wouldn't otherwise interact with. And so I thought I'd take a minute to say thank you to my Facebook (and Instagram) friends.

Thank you to all of you who have spread positivity and laughter and joy on social media. Thank you to all of you who have shared pieces of you that make others feel less alone in their journey through life. Thank you to all of you who are being activists to inspire positive change in our world. Thank you to all of you who have recommended great products and services and programs that have made my life better. Thank you to all of you who have shared kind words when I share things online. And thank you to all of you who are getting out there and doing things that I want to do, too-- for inspiring me to go after what I want and build the life I want to live.

Though there are too many to cover them all in this blog post, here are a few specific thank yous...

Thank you to the people in Juliette Crane's art classes who share their work on Facebook and remind me daily that I really want to get back into art class.

Thank you Becky VanDyken for your never-ending humorous take on daily life and over-arching positivity.

Thank you Joy Coleman for reminding me of all the movies I really need to watch.

Thank you Becky Bates Ballard and Stacy Tholking and Jessica Fette for showing me that you can have kids and travel all over the place...and for just making me want to travel more.

Thank you Confident Oilers Facebook group for all the great information and recommendations.

Thank you Beth Bates Chen for reminding me that my 2 kids actually don't have that many activities and I should stop complaining about carting them around (#supermom).

Thank you the Hershey Area Moms Facebook group for all of the recommendations for, like, everything.

Thank you Karen Papa for always liking everything in a way that oozes love just like your infectious grin.

Thank you Brooke Barnette Moore for once last year "liking" a Danette May page, causing it to appear on my feed, which resulted in my joining the 30 Day Challenge last year and getting healthy again.

Thank you Molly's Place Rescue and Lisa Binns for all of the cute puppy pictures that brighten my day and make me say, "Aaaawwwww."

Thank you Linda Scherzinger for sharing photos that make me want to live on the beach and travel.

Thank you Glennon Doyle Melton for sharing inspiring words on Instagram that make me feel good and want to do more and better.

Thank you Karen Corrigan and Lexi Scherzinger for showing me activists that actually take action and Michele Lee Bordelon for always showing that love is the only way.

Thank you Ashley Hackshaw for sharing pictures of your inspiring art work and projects and words on life on Instagram that make me want to be more like you when I grow up.

Thank you Caryn Cole Gargalino for sharing openly your struggles and triumphs and showing that when the going gets tough, the tough really do get going.

Thank you Fit Rise Tribe for sharing encouragement and recipes and love that inspire healthful living.

Thank you Lexi and Katie Scherzinger for sharing cute selfies that make me giggle at how totally incapable I am at taking cute selfies...or doing eye makeup.

There are so many more of you I could thank for inspiring me in some positive way, but then this blog post would never end. So, to all of you, a sincere thank you. Thank you for sharing your real selves-- your wins, your losses, your hurts and struggles, and your joys and triumphs. Thank you for sharing cute photos of your kids and pets. Thank you for keeping me up-to-date on your lives. Thank you for sharing funny memes and yummy recipes. Thank you for sharing thought-provoking articles and great book recommendations. Thank you for connecting in this unique and new way, across the miles and, sometimes, the loneliness.

Just. Thank you.

Until next time, share your story...share the love; share the inspiration; and share the gratitude.

January 31, 2018

My 2018 Oola Goals...Wait, What's an Oola Goal?

To know me is to love me...and to accept my weird obsession with resolutions and goals and betterment-seeking.

I sent this picture to my dear friend Wendy the other day.

Here's our text conversation that followed:

Me: Do you think I have a New Years resolution planning problem?
Wendy: Yes! But I appreciate your attempt at organizing your life, self, etc.
Me: Are you questioning our friendship right now? Because I'm working on my personal mission/vision/values*...and I'm using colored pens.
Wendy: No, I am rooting for you...and your pens.
Me: I love my pens.

That's the love of a true friend, yo.

I am one of those life-long leaner types. I am a seeker. I am always looking for ways to broaden my horizons, deepen my understanding, and better myself and my life. I am always on a path of enlightenment of one sort or another. And the beginning of a new year has a tendency to really amplify this characteristic in me...so does getting older, I think.

I know this because it's January 30th and I'm still working on "this New Year's stuff." Not just still committed to my goals, but still working out those goals. I have some very straight-forward goals for this year, like "Improve my flexibility" and "Attend a writer's conference." But even those seemingly straight-forward goals are all tied up in more complex "life vision" goals, like "Live my life's mission every day." Which, if you stop and think about it, is pretty deep stuff.

One of the tools that I discovered this year, and have found really helpful, is Oola.

What is Oola? You ask. Oola is a state of awesomeness. It is about finding balance in an unbalanced world. Whatever rocks it for you, Oola means living life firing on all cylinders--joyful, wholehearted, and ready to take advantage whenever good times and opportunity appear. To live Oola means to pursue your dreams; to seek balance and growth; and to live a dream lifestyle of simplicity, tranquility, abundance, and opportunity. It means to live an extraordinary life linked to your purpose and future goals.

Sounds pretty great, right?

The Oola movement was started by two guys, Dave Braun and Troy Amdahl. You can learn more about it on their website, here: https://www.oolalife.com. You can also check out their books, Oola: Find Balance in an Unbalanced World and Oola for Women. I checked Oola for Woman out of the local library to do a little further investigation beyond the Oola website and videos. I'm not done with it, but I haven't yet actually found the book to be all that great or to really add anything more to what I'd learned on the website. I even found a few points in the "for women" book a little patronizing (kinda like two dudes trying to talk about "women stuff"), but that's just me. (And I think their intentions are good, so I just brushed it off.)

I also participated in their 21 Days of Oola. You sign up on their website and for three weeks they'll send you an email each day with a specific Oola Challenge. For example: Give someone a compliment that's specific, genuine and unique to them. Or, Take 30 minutes to do something for your soul. The idea is to get you thinking more about an Oola way of living. I thought it was nice as a daily reminder to "live more Oola."

Mainly, though, there are two things I love about Oola. First is the general concept of Oola. The paragraph above about What is Oola...I dig that definition. What a great thing, to strive to exist in a state of awesomeness; to live life firing on all cylinders and pursuing your dreams. That just sounds good and right to me.

The other thing I love about Oola is their identification of 7 key areas of life. The idea is that when you are both BALANCED and GROWING in all 7 key areas, you are living Oola (and when you're striving for this balance and growth, you are seeking Oola). So, they ask you to look at these 7 key areas of your life and assess where you are and where you want to be and then chart a course to get from point A (where you are) to point B (where you want to be). This is such a helpful idea!!

And this is the part of Oola that took hold for me. So what are the 7 key areas? They're the 7 F's: Fitness, Finance, Family, Field (career), Faith, Friends, and Fun. The Oola Guys ask you to look at each of these areas and honestly assess: Where am I now in this area? What's my big dream/ultimate vision for this area? What are three goals that will lead me toward that dream? They ask you to make these SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Accountable, Realistic, Time-linked). On their website, they even give you a worksheet! Just scroll to the bottom of the site's home page and click on the link under Oola Plan to download the worksheets.

So I did it. Here's what my worksheet looks like:

For each of the 7 areas, I thought about what my ultimate goal would be...if I could have this thing in each area, life would be a dream! Then I came up with 3 goals for 2018 that I felt would get me closer to that big dream, and were in line with the other goals/resolutions that I'd been working on for the year.

Here are some examples of what I did:

So, for Oola Family, my dream is To grow a connected, close, happy, supported, loving family. My three goals for 2018 are: 1) Daily family connection (real conversation, reading together, family dinnertime), 2) Weekly family fun (game night, movie night, family date night, outings), and 3) Monthly family adventures and traditions (trips, geocaching, holiday celebrations).

For Oola Fitness, my dream is To feel and look amazing; to be pain-free; and to be able to, physically, do whatever I want (no physical limitations). My three goals for 2018 are: 1) To improve my flexibility (do more stretching throughout the day, have nightly family stretch time, take yoga classes), 2) To exercise/move everyday (to keep up with my Danette May workouts, to walk the dog daily, to take any opportunity to move more), and 3) To seek outside support for my physical wellbeing (massage therapist, chiropractor, doctor, naturopath, whole foods, supplements, essential oils, etc.)

Taking the time to look at all of these areas of my life was a big help and forced me to widen my view for my goals for the year. And thinking about the big picture vision for my life-- where do I really want to be-- made me honestly assess what was important and where I want to spend my time and energy. For this focus and shift in thinking, I thank the Oola Guys. I love what they're doing.

Until next time, take a look at the 7 key areas of your life and think about your BIG DREAMS; strive for both balance and growth; and live in a state of awesomeness.

*P.S. I'll tell you more about this mission/vision/values stuff in an upcoming post.

January 23, 2018

Super Yummy, Healthy Brownies (for real)

The problem with these brownies is that they're so good we always start
eating them before I ever remember to take a picture! No beauty shot here!

So, it's January, and I'd say there's a decent chance that you're currently trying to eat healthier...and possibly you're wavering in your efforts. Eating a clean, healthy diet is an awesome goal. But completely giving up all indulgence isn't my kind of thing. I tend to be a eat super healthy 90% of the time, kind of girl...the other 10% is mainly pizza and chips...and brownies!

BUT, I love it when I find indulgent treats that are good for me, too. I found this recipe on Danette May's website. She calls them "No Guilt" brownies. I call them healthy and delicious. These are as good as any brownie out there--just ask my husband and kids--but there are no "bad" ingredients in them. I'm pretty sure I'm still not supposed to eat an entire pan (I totally could...just by nibbling on them all day long), but when I do indulge, I don't feel like I just put a bunch of junk in my super clean, post-detox body.

So, here you go: moist, chocolatey, delicious, healthy goodness...

Avocado-Dark Chocolate Brownies
1 ripe avocado
4 oz. dark chocolate (preferably 70% cacao or darker, but 60% is okay)
1 tbsp coconut oil
3 eggs
1/4 c. almond butter
1/2 c. raw honey (bonus points if it's also local!)
1 tbsp vanilla
1/4 c. raw cacao powder
1 tbsp almond flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 c. chopped walnuts or pecans; or dark chocolate chips (optional)

Mash avocado in large bowl until all chunks are gone. Melt chocolate with coconut oil in double boiler or pan over medium heat, stirring regularly. Make sure not to burn it if your just using a pan. Add melted chocolate to avocado. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl. Mix for 3 minutes, until completely combined and smooth and light. (I use a hand mixer for this. A stand mixer would work. If doing by hand, use a whisk.) Poor into prepared baking pan. (I spray mine with coconut oil.) If topping with nuts or dark chocolate chips, sprinkle those over the top before putting in the oven. (I usually sprinkle half our pan with chopped walnuts and leave the other half plain for the kids.) Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

So yummy. So good for you.

Until next time, enjoy a little indulgence while still taking care of your body.

January 19, 2018

Middle Grade Books My Middle-Grader Is Loving

So my 9 year old daughter is a voracious reader, like her mama. But, unlike her mama, she has, at any given time, about 5-10 novels in active reading mode. (I tend to have one fiction and one non-fiction book going; or one hardcopy and one audio book.) She switches from book to book depending on her mood. She carries at least three novels in her backpack at all times (that sucker is heavy!). And always has one in her hand when she climbs into a car. She takes them with her when we go out to dinner or, really, anywhere where there is even the slightest chance of a few minutes of downtime when she could slip in a few pages. She moans at bedtime when I tell her it's lights out and she has to put away the books.

This, not so secretly, gives me unending pleasure. I LOVE that she is so into books. Love, love, love! And I encourage it. I support it...like a dealer supports a junkie. I'm constantly picking up another book from the library (or Amazon) that looks good. And now that she's into middle grade books, I read a lot of them, too.

So, today, I thought I'd share with you a few of the books my daughter has been reading lately, in case you're looking for something good for the middle grader in your life to read...or even for yourself! (See the "post script" below for a few middle grade books that I've really enjoyed as an adult.)

The Spaghetti Detectives by Andreas Steinhofel...This was one of those books that I picked up in the library, opened to a random page, and read. If that page catches my interest, I get the book. And it did. This is a cute, quirky, funny little book. I read it first, then gave it to my daughter. We both enjoyed it. Part of what we liked is that it's written by a German author (and translated) and is set in Germany. Which made it a little different from your average MG book. Plus, she's taking German in school, so that made it even more appealing. If you like quirky characters and a little mystery, this is a good one.

the Bliss series by Kathryn Littlewood...We read the first book together and then my daughter read the second and third on her own. She pretty much raced through them, and asked for the sequels back to back, so I figure that's a good endorsement. I loved the premise of the books...magic baking. And the flawed but brave and determined heroine. They're cute.

the A Series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket...My daughter devoured these. She had a chance for a big ticket reward item last spring for all her hard work at school and chose the Series of Unfortunate Events box set. She just finished book 13, and loves them so much that she's reading all the auxiliary books to the series as well as pretty much anything else written by Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler. P.S. He wrote a picture book called The Composer is Dead that comes with an audio cd with a narrator reading the book along with orchestral accompaniment. It is awesome! We listened to it again and again in the car. So good.

Poppy Mayberry, The Monday by Jennie K. Brown...We picked this one up because the author did an appearance at a local library. Another cute premise...everyone is born with a special power based on the day of the week that they're born on (i.e. people born on Tuesdays can read minds). There are currently two books in the series and we're reading the first together.

the Who Was books...I'm sure everyone is aware of the Who Was/Is book series, but I just had to say that we love them. We read them together and I'd say we have to have read at least 20-30 of them. Right now we're reading about Albert Einstein. Reading about Anne Frank prompted my daughter to ask to read The Diary of a Young Girl. And reading about Lucille Ball had her asking to watch I Love Lucy...which she is loving! These books are such a great little introduction to the lives of great/interesting/famous people.

The BFG and other books by Roald Dahl...So I put The BFG here, but we're really saying All Books By Roald Dahl. My daughter's pretty passionate about Roald Dahl and we've read A LOT of his books. But I think The BFG is still her favorite.

Superfudge and other books by Judy Blume...Also read this one as All (age appropriate) Books By Judy Blume. Superfudge is just an example. I loved Judy Blume books when I was young, so it's no surprise to me that she loves them too. They are fun and funny and totally relatable.

Encyclopedia Brown books by Donald J. Sobol...Apparently these were my brother's fave when he was a kid. My daughter loves these books. She's big into mysteries and wants to be a detective/spy, so she loves trying to solve the mystery in each story. They're nice for reading together because 1) They're short enough for bedtime stories, and 2) It's fun to try and solve the mystery as a team.

The Wanderer by Sharon Creech...I have to read this one (I haven't yet). My daughter read it for school and loved it so much that she asked for her own copy for Christmas so she can read it again and again. I'm guessing it must be good.

Rule of Three by Megan McDonald...I haven't read this one either, but my daughter read all of the Judy Moody books a couple years ago and loved them, so when she found other books by the same author, she was super excited. She's read this one twice.

So those are a few books that my 9 year old has been enjoying. Got any middle grade books that you and your youngster have loved? Please share the titles in the comments below. We're always looking for our next great read!

Until next time, happy reading!

P.S. If you're looking for a middle grade novel that both you and your middle grader can enjoy (like you're own little book club), try one of these titles. They're all books I've thoroughly enjoyed reading as an adult: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, Wonder by RJ Palacio, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, and A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd.

January 12, 2018

Welcome 2018! Let's Get This Party Started!

I LOVE the new year...like, really love it.

After the crazy indulgence of the holidays, there's something just refreshing about the blank slate of a new year. Everything seems possible at the beginning of the year. The fatty, sugary food gets trashed. The decorations come down. The kids go back to school. New calendars and planners come out-- fresh and clean.

It all makes me want to deep clean the house and get rid of all the junk. It makes me want to detox my body and rekindle a healthy relationship with food and exercise and meditation.

I make lists of all the things I want to do...all the things I want to be. I brainstorm and read articles and listen to audiobooks and meditations. I get so excited by all the possibilities! I mean, I could be a completely different person this year, than I was last year. I could be anyone...anything.

More of this. Less of that.

What will I be? What will you be?

Every new year, it's like being young again...if we let it be. The world laid out before us...our oyster, once more.

What do you want to do this year? Who do you want to be? What do you want to change? What do you want to do more of? Less of?

Last year I deemed 2017: My Year of Health and Wellbeing...and boy was it ever!

I made flossing every day a real habit. (I think I can count on my fingers, and maybe a few toes, the number of days I didn't floss in 2017....about the same number that I DID floss in 2016!) I joined Danette May's 30 Day Challenge, then her Forever Fit group, and lost 20 lbs. I made daily workouts a habit again. I made clean eating and daily meditation a new habit. Later in the year, I faced a new level of anxiety head on and with the help of a therapist and my MD dealt with it. I worked with a massage therapist and a chiropractor and a naturopath to improve my health. I started using new supplements and essential oils and healing foods to keep me above the wellness line. My health and wellbeing truly was my focus for 2017. And all of those new habits have taken hold, and I happily carry them with me into this new year. (You can read my 2017 New Year's post here: https://mamamanagement.blogspot.com/2017/02/2017-year-of-health-and-well-being.html.)

So what will be my focus for 2018?

2018: My Year of Abundance

As I think about goals and changes, and brainstorm ideas, and begin to fashion a vision for the year ahead, I take lots of notes, then look for themes that might tie together the things I want to focus on. I also search myself to see if there's a particular feeling that I want to cultivate this year, and if there's a word or value that is calling to me. The words that rose to the top for me this year were Grace, Joy, Gratitude, Fun, and Abundance.

This year I want to focus on cultivating Grace in my life. Grace for myself. Grace for my kids and my husband. Grace for all others. I've written about grace before. (A year ago I wrote about it here: https://mamamanagement.blogspot.com/2017/01/giving-grace.html.) It's a word that took on new meaning and new importance for me last year (so much so, that my husband got me a bracelet to remind me to Give Grace). It's a word that beautifully captures the gift I most want to give myself and others. Grace is the opposite of judgment, of fear, of shame, of guilt. Cultivating Grace, for me, means letting go of the need for perfection (in myself, in others, and in life) and focusing on acceptance-- acceptance of who I am, where I am, and what is happening. Grace is about not fighting the moment, but embracing it, sending it love, and letting it be. Grace is the emotional embodiment of mindfulness and meditation. When I think of nourishment for our minds, bodies and spirits, I think our minds need mindfulness, or bodies need meditation, and our spirits need grace.

This year I want to find the Joy in as many moments as I can. I'm naturally an optimist, but that doesn't mean I can't get dragged into a bad mood or get stuck in the doingness of getting stuff done, and lose sight of the Joy in every day things. So much of Joy, I think, is simply about recognizing it when it's there. Too often we're so busy that we forget to find the joy in what we're doing. I was laying in bed with my daughter the other night, we were done reading and had turned the lights out, and it was time for sleep. But this is her favorite time to talk to me. I know she needs to settle in for sleep, but I don't want to shut down those important conversations. That night, as were cuddled in together and she was telling me about some new idea, I stopped, and focused....really focused, and this warm feeling of joy spread through my entire body. This is Joy, I thought. Warm and cozy, snuggling with my daughter, listening to her voice, seeing the love in her eyes--this is pure Joy. I rolled my window down driving home the other day--it was 45 degrees out after a stretch of below freezing weather-- and felt the fresh air and sang along with a song on the radio. This is Joy, I thought again. It's everywhere if we look for it.

Gratitude is easy for me...if I remember it. And that's exactly what I want to do more of: remember to focus on the Gratitude. There's all kinds of research that tells us that focusing on Gratitude is good for our health and wellbeing. Some people keep Gratitude journals; some people have family Gratitude jars; some people do Gratitude meditations or prayers; some people talk about it over dinner. Whatever the mode of recognition might be (because they're all great), the idea is the same: no matter what's going on in your life or your day, whether it's awesome or awful, find something you're Grateful for. I'm trying out the idea of Gratitude showers. The idea here is to find something that you do everyday, that you typically do without a lot of thought, (like brushing your teeth or washing the dishes or taking a shower) and use that time to think of things you're Grateful for. Yesterday, I think I came up with more than 30 in my 5 minute shower. They kind of snowball once you get going. Which is sort of the idea.

Fun. It's something I don't think I focus on enough...having fun. All too often I get caught up in the to do list and the daily running around and I forget to focus on fun. I do have fun every day, but I don't always focus on it-- recognize it, try for it, cherish it. I read this great quote about writing last year, from someone...I can't remember who, that said something like, "When you get stuck while writing for middle grade readers, you should ask yourself, 'What's the coolest thing that could happen to these characters?' And then do that." This got me thinking about life off the page. What if every day we thought, what's the coolest/funnest thing that could happen here? How can I make this more fun? This year I want to ask myself those kinds of questions daily... How can I make this more fun? What fun thing can I do today? Am I having fun?...And then, go do more of the fun stuff.

But the word that seems to provide the most perfect umbrella for all the things I want in my 2018 is Abundance. Abundance opens us up to the wealth of possibilities. It is a mindset, a belief, a value. It is raising our vibration to the highest frequency of positivity and optimism. The idea is to focus on Abundance rather than scarcity. Focusing on Abundance means there is enough for you and for me and for everyone. The universe is Abundant and can provide for all of our dreams. There is an Abundance of health, wealth, creativity, success, love, joy, fun. All around us the world is filled with Abundance. If you focus on, if your self-talk is about, all that you have, instead of all that you have-not, then that is what you will find to be true in your world. If you believe that the road will always rise up to meet you, if you tell yourself the road will always rise up to meet you, then the road will, in fact, rise up to meet you. We see what we want to see. We are what we think.

The world is Abundant. And so am I.

I am abundant in energy. I am abundant in patience. I am abundant in time. I am abundant in grace, joy, gratitude, and fun.

So much of what I'm really looking for in 2018 is about my mindset; subtle shifts in how I think, in what I focus on, in how I react to life. If I can live a life more filled with grace, joy, gratitude, fun, and abundance, I think I may be loving life more fully than ever before.

Until next time, give thought to your vision for your life in 2018. Dream big. And may you be abundant in your dreams.

P.S. In case you hadn't noticed, I was paying homage to the brilliance of my favorite poet, Mary Oliver, in this post. So I'll leave you with this...