May 22, 2013

Evening Walks with Cooper

In the evenings, once the kids are in bed, I lace up my tennies (or pull on my boots, coat, hat, scarf and mittens when there is snow and freezing temps), slide the leash on the dog, and head out for our nightly walk. 

For 20-30 minutes each night, we wander the neighborhood or the park across the street. Sometimes I catch-up with someone on the phone, sometimes I check email, sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I chat with neighbors while Cooper greets their dogs, and sometimes we just walk. 

In the winter, our walks are always in the dark and are typically very quiet--just the crunch of my boots in the snow. It is the most peaceful time in my day and the reason why I usually don't mind heading out into the cold, dark night. 

In the Spring…like right now…it is such a beautiful walk. Trees and flowers in bloom, sun shining or colors intensified by the rain. Moon on the rise. I am often struck by the beauty of nature and the wonder of where I am so lucky to live.

So I thought I'd share. Come walk with me...

Cooper's ready to go.

A moonlit evening walking through the park. Case-Barlow Farm and baseball field lights in the distance.

Case-Barlow Farm. The sky was gorgeous this evening and the light so lovely.

I tried to capture the colors, but this photo doesn't do the sky justice. It was a deep, serene blue.

One should always live with a bright red barn somewhere nearby.

The baseball field lights across the soccer field expanse.

The crescent moon.

A bench we wander by each night.

Green! Green! Green is back! Hurray for Spring!

A beautiful shade of pink.

Little pops of color at our feet.

Seriously, I just love Spring.
These feet were made for walking.

Until next time, get outside and go for a walk. Now please.

May 17, 2013

Brene Brown and Daring Greatly: Fascinating Stuff

Brene Brown on Oprah's Super Soul Sunday
First, some background:

I was recently introduced to Brene Brown's work last week on a dvr'ed episode of Oprah's Super Soul Sunday show on OWN (love the Super Soul Sunday, by the way). Oprah did a two-part interview with her that I found both extremely interesting (particularly the second half) and unbelievably timely and poignant for me (see earlier post: Letting Go of an Achievement Mentality). You can watch that interview here:

Oprah's Super Soul Sunday interviews with Brene Brown

So Brene Brown has a PhD in social work and is a professor and researcher at the University of Houston in Texas. She has focused her research of the last ten-plus years on shame and vulnerability, among other things. After I watched her interview with Oprah, I googled her and found she had done two TED talks (TED talks are another love of mine!) and some PBS and NPR interviews. So I stayed up late that night watching those on my iPad (who needs sleep when you're having epiphanies!). Her research and her presentation of it are fascinating! You can check out her two TED talks here:

Brene Brown: The Power of Vulnerability

Brene Brown: Listening to Shame

Her interview with Oprah was prompted by her most recent book Daring Greatly (she's written two previous books as well)...which I promptly put on hold at the library and just picked up this week...I will get back to you on that after I've read the book.

Brene Brown's most recent book

And now, why I'm writing about it:

Anyway, what I found so fascinating about Brene Brown is her scientific exploration of atypical scientific stuff, like emotions and the psyche and self-talk. I also found the results of her research fascinating, some of which fly in the face of standardly accepted thinking...like the idea that being vulnerable means being weak, when in fact, vulnerability may be the foundation of happiness. Or, as she says: Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, creativity, faith and love. We must let ourselves be vulnerable in order to live life fully.

What makes this particularly poignant for me at the moment is a conversation I had recently with my friend Heidi, which I wrote about in my post Letting Go of an Achievement Mentality. Essentially, where I landed mentally after our conversation is that the key to unlocking the next level of happiness for me, as well as releasing me from whatever is keeping me from doing some of the things I want to do, is letting go of my tight leash on control and of my fear of failure.

Both of which, interestingly enough, would be directly related to allowing myself to be vulnerable.

Oh.

And you say vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, creativity, faith and love, Ms. Brown?

Well. Shit.

...And this is what I was referring to at the end of my Letting Go post…yet another thing put in my path just when I was ready for it. So I am off to read Daring Greatly and I will let you know what I learn and how it effects my current path.

What I can tell you now is this: just what I've learned and become aware of so far, in these past few weeks since my original conversation with Heidi, has relaxed my shoulders and let some creativity flow through. And even that little bit has felt amazing. And has left me yearning for more.

Until next time, go listen to Brene…you may not have epiphanies, like me, but you'll at least learn a little something and be entertained for a bit.


Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness.  --Brene Brown





May 13, 2013

Honey Lime Shrimp: An Easy and Delicious Dinner

It's only been in the last year that I've added shrimp to my regular cooking routine. As it turns out, my daughter likes it, so it really expands our protein options at dinner time. Plus, shrimp is SO easy to cook--first, because it cooks fast, and second, because buying it frozen means it's easy to have on-hand (and you might as well buy it frozen, because, unless you live seaside, it has been frozen before it gets to you whether you find it in the freezer section or not).

Anyway, I've been experimenting with many different shrimp recipes and have had lots of luck. I'm certain I will share more in the future, but this one was so good when I made it last week, that it inspired me to share it with you right away.

The flavors of honey, lime and shrimp just go together…like they were meant to be. So this dish is absolutely delicious. And it is SO EASY! (You know that's my favorite--delicious AND easy!) Especially when you make it on the stove top--there is so little prep time involved…the rice you make to go with it will take longer to prepare that this shrimp (it was delish served atop Jasmati rice). And the flavor profile is just right for the warmer weather that it upon us.

So crack open a Corona and get your shrimp on!


Honey Lime Shrimp
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined (I buy the already peeled and deveined frozen shrimp and simply dump them into a bowl and run cold water over them to thaw them right before I use them.)
1/2 c. olive oil
4 tbsp honey
Juice of 1 lg or 2 sm limes
Zest of 1 lg or 2 sm limes
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flake (more if you want more heat)

One of the nice things about this recipe is that you can prepare it two ways, depending on your mood…on the stove top or on the grill. I did the stove top because it was still pre-grilling weather here when I made this, but I would imagine that grilling the shrimp will be delicious as well. Either way you make it, the ingredients are the same. So here you go…

Stove top
Prepare sauce by combining all ingredients except shrimp in small bowl. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat then add shrimp and sauce to the pan. Cook until sauce is warmed through and shrimp are done. Serve shrimp and sauce over rice with a veggie side of your choice (we did steamed green beans).

Grill
Prepare marinade by mixing together all ingredients except the shrimp in a small bowl. Skewer the shrimp, then place the skewers and the marinade into a large Ziploc bag--making sure it's sealed tightly. Move the marinade around to make sure it coats all of the shrimp and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Turn the bag a few times throughout the marinating time to make sure all of the shrimp are getting coated. Remove the shrimp from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for about ten minutes, then grill and serve.

Recipe can easily be halved or doubled depending on the amount of shrimp you need to feed your crowd.

Until next time…


recipe adapted from thedoughwillriseagain.wordpress.com


May 7, 2013

Letting Go of an Achievement Mentality


I was talking with a friend the other day, and over the course of our conversation I came to realize that most of my current personal struggles might actually stem from my achievement mentality. If I was going to get really "therapist-y" on you (which I kind of am in this post), I would say that my self-worth has become wrapped-up in my accomplishments, both big and small. (Read: reaching a high level in my career (big) or crossing things off my daily to-do list (small).)

That would be like saying, you are not necessarily inherently good, but only as good as your last accomplishment. You ran a marathon? Wow, that's impressive. You're a VP with the company? You must be smart. You got all of that done in one day and cooked dinner from scratch? Whoa, you sure are earning your keep.

Which begs the question: Am I still worthy and lovable if I don't do all of this stuff? And, who the heck am I trying to impress or convince anyway? I'm pretty sure my friends and family don't give a crap. (I have to say, I think it's kind of sick that I get a surge of worthiness, a mental pat on the back, every time I cross something- however minute and meaningless- off my to-do list. Yeah, my lists mean that things rarely fall through the cracks-- I AM on top of things! But at what cost? And who really cares? Will I care, on my deathbed, that I was always on top of things? Kind of doubt it.)

The more I think about it, the more I realize that this surface-y value, which is driving my behavior on a day-to-day basis, has skewed so much over the years that it no longer actually lines up with my true, internal values. Striving to always do my best has become something else entirely.

Here's an example: I just read an article by Martha Beck in last month's Oprah magazine that rang true to me-- another epiphany, if you will. In it, she described a friend who held herself to such high standards that everyone else felt judged in her presence despite the fact that she never actually judged them. The woman's friends were unconsciously reflecting her own self-judgement. This story brought back a memory of a long-past conversation with my own friend who told me something about herself but then confessed that she was worried I would judge her for it. Of course, I never would. But her fear of this may have stemmed from reflecting my self-judgement and the crazy-high standards I often hold myself to. (Why are we always so much nicer to and more understanding of our friends than we are to and of ourselves?)

Now, in many ways, my problems are "good problems" or "functional problems." My controlling, achievement-seeking, high standards have pulled me through a pretty great life. I have had a successful career, a wonderful marriage, amazing children, friends and family I love with all my heart, and even some experiences that I wouldn't have otherwise had (like running a marathon and going skydiving). I live a charmed life. But as good as it is, I think it could be better.

As we grow and evolve over time, I think we learn and improve in certain areas of life, then move on to work on other areas. And skills that served us for one phase of life may become a hindrance in the next phase. So what served me in my twenties and thirties may need to be set aside and a new way of being put in place. Or maybe not so new...maybe, in fact, it's a return to who I was before I made myself an adult, sometime during college. I mean, I AM an adult now, no matter what I do (damn you 39!). So maybe I don't need to prove it anymore. Maybe I don't have to prove anything anymore.

What I can see now is that my current driving force presents two big problems for me: 1) I am not living entirely the way I want to live, and 2) I am, consequently, not being the role model I want to be for my children.  When I think about what I want for my children as they grow and develop their own lives, I can see clearly that I am not always modeling what I want them to value (i.e. I don't want them to be perfectionists!). I know they will chart their own courses, but I also know that what they learn from me and my husband will lay the foundation. What's the quote I recently saw on Pinterest?

Your children will become who you are, so be who you want them to be.

Yes. That is what I mean.

So, it seems a good idea to change. But how? I have been driven by to-do lists and accomplishments, by work-before-play, for so long that I'm not quite sure how not to be. And I have a fear of things not getting done if I let go. What if everything goes to hell-in-a-hand-basket? My fears of letting go of control and failure have ruled for so long...what will it be like? I don't know.

But I think it may be time to find out.

So, now what? My friend told me that she didn't have the answer but that I should just think on it. (Apparently providing a checklist for something like this sort of defeats the purpose.) So that's what I've been doing. Thinking. And exploring. And wouldn't you know that the universe keeps giving me gifts to help me along the way. And I've begun to feel a lightness that I haven't felt in a while.

For now I will simply say, "More to come." There will be much more to come on this topic.

Until next time, go accomplish nothing for a little while.


(And maybe check out the little picture book my friend loaned me: The Gift of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell. It is all kinds of cuteness.)

May 4, 2013

The Impromptu Racetrack

aka: The last-minute punt to occupy the kids so I could get dinner ready.
aka: I love masking tape.

Last week my husband was out of town on business for four days, leaving me the sole referee for the the crazy 4 and 2 year old that rule my world. Which, most of the time, is fine. But as the dinner hour approaches, things can get a bit harried (understatement). On this particular night I was trying to cook a real meal and the kids were having trouble getting along. Out of sheer frustration and determination to get dinner made, I had a creative burst. I left them squabbling in the family room and walked out into the kitchen, grabbed a role of masking tape, walked back into the family room and began pulling strips of tape out and sticking it to the carpet. The kids stopped what they were doing and watched intently. My four year old asking repeatedly, "What are you doing, Mommy?" To which I replied, "You'll see." In about two minutes time, I created this:




A car garage out of stacking boxes and a racetrack out of masking tape. I grabbed a car and showed them the idea. Asked for their help in loading the cars into the garage and then suggested they build some buildings to make a town around the track.

I walked away and they played happily together until dinner was ready. And the next day. And the next. And the next.

Sometimes the simplest activities are the best.

What do they say? Necessity is the mother of invention?

Yep. Sounds about right.

Until next time, go find something to create with masking tape.