Archive for January, 2010

The sun has been struggling to break through the clouds for days now. Is this the day that it will actually happen? Metaphorically speaking, is today the day that each of us breaks through our own set of clouds? Will each of us choose to make selfless or selfish decisions today?

#1 – Blog4Change
In my quest for providing my readers with helpful information, I came across Blog4Change.org. Here’s its theory:
It has been said that people start their lives with equal parts of both selfishness and selflessness. Everyday, with every decision we make, there is an internal struggle between these two polar opposite sides of ourselves. The one that grows is the one that we choose to feed.

Do we let the car in with his blinker on beside us, or do we move up quickly because we do not want to lose the space? Do we lend an ear to the unhappy man behind the counter, or do we overlook his sadness because we are in a rush and must move on with our day?

Over the last thirty or so years we believe many people have been taken over by their selfish side. Look around, our world is full with people who drive nice cars but seek something faster, who live in nice homes but want something bigger, who have the latest TV, computer, phone, boat, or other toy, but are still not satisfied.

We believe it is vitally important to now, today, begin to retrain our bodies and rewire our brains to help make our selfless side stronger. We must feed our selfless desires, nurture them, help them to grow, and eventually, hopefully, our selfless side will once again dominate our selfish selves.

If a new visitor signs up to be a blogger at Blog4Change.org, writes three posts per week, and leaves three comments on other articles per week, it is our hypothesis that these visitors will be transformed from feeling generally empty, to feeling definitively fulfilled, from feeling generally down, to assuredly happy.

The idea is this: if the more you feed something the stronger it gets, which side of yourself do you want to be feeding?

With every blog post we will learn together how to live simple, expect little, and give much. The end result might just be something significant.

#2 – Recycling Towels
If you have bath or beach towels that you are no longer using, call your local veterinarian or SPCA to see if they can use them. Why donate to the SPCA versus the ASPCA? The ASPCA is a national organization headquartered in New York City. Its commercials feature photos of sad looking animals with Sarah McLachlan singing in the background. According to a customer of mine who is on the board of a local SPCA, if you donate to the ASPCA you may be helping animals, but your local SPCA will not receive any funding to continue its services.

#3 – A Kitchen Tip
Try using your kitchen scissors to snip your fresh herbs into little bits. It’s easier and faster this way. Hold herbs by their stems and start snipping at the other end. The herbs will look fresher and won’t have the bruising and dark coloration that chopped herbs can have.

#4 – Tips for Driving in the Fog
Courtesy of my local newspaper, here are tips for driving in the fog that I thought everyone should be reminded of:

A. Watch your speed. Fog creates the illusion that you’re going slower than you really are. Turn off the stereo and roll a window down a little to listen to trouble. If you hear voices or slamming doors, that’s reason for caution.

B. Use low-beam headlights, not high beams. If you can’t see the road ahead, concentrate on lane lines. If you have fog lights, use those, too – they help light up lane markers.

C. Avoid changing lanes.

D. Slow down. But if possible don’t stop, because you could be rear-ended.

E. If you must stop, the best option is to leave the highway using a designated exit. If you must pull onto the shoulder, get as far off the roadway as possible.

#5 – A Quote
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved on stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

Have a good weekend! Has the sun come out, yet?

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“Are you sure you don’t want to take more long-sleeved sweaters and fewer short-sleeved shirts?” I ask my daughter as she packs up her belongings for a study abroad in Greece. “I’ll be fine, Mom,” my daughter says without hesitation. I worry because I read that it can occasionally snow in Greece during the winter and my darling daughter is packing as if she were going to Hawaii.

If there were a job description for being a mom, I’m sure worrying would be right up there with nourishing. Being a mom is by far the most difficult job I’ve ever had and the white hairs on my head are proof. Using Sharpie pens to disguise those hairs has become too time consuming and, anyways, my triceps muscles are too weak to hold my arms above my head for extended periods of time. My parents have always said that no matter how old my siblings and I become, they still worry about us. Don’t get me wrong, none of us are hellions, but how well children are prepared to weather life’s up and downs are all causes of concern to parents.

Unfortunately children do not come with instruction manuals, so when mine were babies I would fret over whether they were getting enough to eat, whether sending them to daycare was the right choice, and whether they were developing normally. The latter was needless worrying since, thankfully, none of my children are normal. They are all extraordinary!

As they grew up and went to elementary school, I worried about constant colds, ear infections, and major childhood diseases. But also on my “worry meter” was their fine and gross motor skill development. Could they skip? That was always the test to see if they could progress on to first grade. When would they learn to read? Would they learn to say their “R’s” the normal way so that car did not sound like “caw?” These worries dissolved away as each concern was resolved.

When they approached junior high school, I stressed over eating habits, study habits, hygiene routines, and their burgeoning sport and social schedules. High school offered little relief for me as sports and social activities, driving lessons, high academic standards, and college applications all warred against each other. But alas, all that high school worrying was for naught; they all got into good colleges. Then the college years came and brought worries about drinking, driving, drugs, and roommates! After almost ten years I can see light at the end of the college-years tunnel.

You get the picture. My worrying can take a siesta now. All seems calm . . . but wait . . . will number one graduate and get a good job? Will number two continue to manage his health issues adequately? And will number three be alright in Greece? I don’t have a crystal ball that can predict the future, but I do know that I’ve tried to be the best mom I could possibly be and I must now rely on my children to remember all that I’ve instilled in them and to make the right choices. Hmm, I just noticed that it is 37 degrees in Athens right now. So why am I worried?

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It’s bleak and wet outside, but I’m thinking of the beautiful sunny days ahead. My garden will be lovely in the spring, but only if I put in the work now!

#1 – A Garden Tip
In his book A Year In The Life Of A Rose, Rayford Clayton Reddell suggests stripping (cutting not ripping off) the foliage of your rose bushes two weeks before pruning. He states, “When leaves are removed from rosebushes, the plant is given a signal to rejuvenate the foliar process immediately.” The best time to prune your roses? Reddell says, “Prune as soon as possible once dormancy is safely broken, that is, when you’re sure there won’t be another hard freeze.”

#2 – Recycle With Freecycle
Got a new Blu-Ray DVD player for Christmas, but don’t know what to do with the old one? Check to see if there’s a Freecycle group in your area. Freecycle’s internet site claims: “The Freecycle Network™ is made up of 4,878 groups with 6,913,000 members across the globe. It’s a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer (them’s good people). Membership is free.” Make sure to be smart and protect your safety and privacy when posting to any list or participating in any exchange.

#3 – A Kitchen Tip
When using honey in recipes try spraying your measuring spoon or measuring cup with non-stick vegetable spray first. The honey will pour out more easily.

#4 – Say Hello
Here’s how to say hello or good day in these different languages:
Greek – yassou
French – bonjour
Spanish – hola
Italian – buongiorno
Portuguese – olá
Chinese – nǐ hǎo

#5 – A Quote
I would disagree with those who say we cannot change the past. We can heal it, transform it, utilize it, build on it – any number of creative things.
Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way

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The howling wind and driving rain kept me awake most of the night. As I tossed and turned, I kept thinking to myself, “This soupy weather dictates staying home tomorrow and making a big pot of delicious soup.” I thought about a party I’d been to a couple of weeks ago. Someone had brought a great chicken tortilla soup. After begging the soup maker for the recipe, she finally relented and gave it to me verbally. I didn’t even have to write it down – that’s how simple the recipe is! The recipe may have Trader Joe’s origins, but am not totally sure. I tried making this soup, but made a few changes to the recipe by adding hominy, cumin, leaf oregano, and additional chicken broth. I also added the shredded chicken towards the end of the cooking period so it would not dry out and lose flavor. I think the changes were worthwhile.

My adaptation of Easy Chicken Tortilla Soup:
1 store bought rotisserie chicken or any left over chicken meat, shredded
2 (32 oz). boxes chicken broth
1 can (15 oz.) whole kernel corn, drained
1 can (15 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can hominy, drained
1 jar of Trader Joe’s Double Roasted Salsa
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2″ chunks
Topping ingredients below

Pour 1 box of stock into a stockpot. Add corn, beans, hominy, salsa, and carrots. Stir until mixed. Add ground cumin and dried oregano leaves to taste. Cook until carrots are tender. Add shredded chicken. Add more chicken broth if soup needs more liquid. Stir. Simmer 10-15 minutes longer or until soup comes to a boil again.

While soup is simmering, assemble your toppings:
Crushed tortilla chips
Fresh lime wedges,
Chopped cilantro
Sour cream
Shredded cheese
Chopped chili peppers

Serve while hot and garnish with toppings.

Enjoy this souper easy recipe!

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Try something new. Change your routine. Challenge yourself to find different ways to help others.

#1 – Helping Others
Looking for a way to make a difference? Here’s a link to VolunteerMatch. The description on the site reads, “VolunteerMatch strengthens communities by making it easier for good people and good causes to connect. The organization offers a variety of online services to support a community of nonprofit, volunteer and business leaders committed to civic engagement. Our popular service welcomes millions of visitors a year and has become the preferred internet recruiting tool for more than 74,000 nonprofit organizations.” The site was easy to use. I typed in my city and a list of organizations in my area looking for volunteers came up.

#2 – A Beauty Tip
Instead of buying expensive facial scrubs, try reaching into your pantry instead. Here are a couple of ideas: Baking soda mixed in with your favorite facial cleanser acts as a physical exfoliant by removing dead skin cells. Whirl oatmeal flakes in your blender with a little baking soda and water and you got a great soothing scrub. Or mix together 1 cup of granulated sugar with a 1/2 cup of oil (preferably almond oil) for a gentle moisturizing exfoliant. Try one tonight!

#3 – A Nutrition Tip
Which do you enjoy more – a wedge of iceberg lettuce with blue cheese on it or a Caesar salad? Did you know that romaine lettuce is far more nutritious than iceberg? According to e-Cookbooks, romaine “has three times as much Vitamin C and six times as much Vitamin A.”

#4 – Style Tips
Fashion designer Bradley Bayou’s top 5 reasons to pay more attention to accessories:
1. They change an outfit from formal to casual (and vice versa) in just a few seconds.
2. They’re more affordable than clothes.
3. They play up your sexiest assets.
4. They’re a great diversion from your flaws.
5. They can add a trendy touch to your neutral basics.

#5 – A Quote to Think About
If you judge people, you have no time to love them.
Mother Teresa

Enjoy your weekend!

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Most days I sit at my computer and keyboard one-handed. It’s taken me years of diligent daily training to reach my current level of proficiency with each individual hand. My right-hand is deft, but my left is almost as good. I know what you’re thinking. Why on earth would anyone train themselves to type with one hand?

More than a decade ago my family decided to adopt a puppy. It took seven years, four hamsters, and about five Betta fish before we were ready to fill the huge emotional void that the death of our dog Pippin left. Any dog following in Pippin’s paw prints was going to have to be extraordinary. The search was on. Breeders were contacted, classifieds were scoured, and puppies were cuddled, but none seemed to be the “it” dog. Finally after months of searching, a cock-a-poo breeder forty miles away called me. Her dog Chloe was due to have a litter soon. Having pick of the litter was a new experience for my family and we impatiently waited for the breeder’s call. The call finally came a few days after Christmas, “One little boy and three little girls,” she said.

A mother’s demeanor can be a good indicator of what her children’s temperament might be like. These were the words of a veterinarian, not a child psychologist, although they’re probably not far from the truth as far as humans go, too. If that statement were true, then all four of Chloe’s puppies were sure to be little angels.

The breeder was aware of our preference for a female and preferably a tea cup-sized one at that. We knew our decision was not going to be an easy one, but after multiple visits to the puppies, one little personality stood out. The adorable females had lovely dark coats, but it was the lone buff-colored male, nicknamed Brutus by the breeder, that caught our attention. Brutus was so named, because he was the largest of the litter and because he clumsily climbed over his little sisters to find the most abundant source of milk. How could we not fall in love with the little one who was born with a double chin, who played tug-of-war with artificial plants, and who did such ferocious kick backs that he’d kick his poop right off the piddle pad? Our decision was made. So much for the little tea cup-sized female, Brutus aka Romeo was ours.

The moment we brought Romeo home we started training him to ring a bell that hung from a family room door and opened to our backyard. Our intention was to train him to let us know when he needed to use the outdoor facilities. In hindsight, Romeo really trained us right from the start. That clever pup quickly learned if I ring it, they will come, for it didn’t take him long to figure out that he could also ring the bell for more food! As he is approached at the door, he either remains at the door or he runs back to the kitchen wagging his tail in hope!

So I finally come to the point of my story as to why I keyboard with one hand. It’s obviously because Romeo has trained me well. Most days when I am at my computer Romeo comes and sits by my chair and whimpers ever so quietly. I bend over and pick him up and put him on my lap so he can snuggle in my arms. I’ve even fashioned a sling that goes around both of us so that much of his weight is supported by it. I may not keyboard as fast or accurately when he is in my arms, but I wouldn’t trade these moments with my little muse for all the left hands in the world.

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When I am at work my snack of choice is homemade GORP also known as trail mix. The word GORP is thought to be an acronym for “good old raisins and peanuts” or “granola, oats, raisins, and peanuts” or “gobs of raw protein.” Besides containing carbohydrates and proteins, which provide a good boost of energy, there are a few other reasons why I take GORP to work. It can be eaten a pinch or a handful at a time which makes it easy to sneak in as a quick snack. Plus, there’s no mess to deal with or odor to be worried about.

There are primarily three categories of ingredients in GORP. Nuts, dried fruits, and extras. For convenience I include legumes and seeds in the nut category. Most nuts are nutritious, but studies done on walnuts show that they contain a higher amount of omega-3 fatty acids than other nuts. Almonds are high in monounsaturated fats, which are believed to reduce the risk of heart disease. If you buy raw nuts, toast them first in an oven to bring out their flavor.

Dried fruit is not a substitute for the one to three cups of fresh fruit recommended every day and most drying processes cause a significant loss of nutrition and a concentrated sugar content thereby increasing the calories. However, there are some benefits of eating dried fruits. They tend to have higher amounts of antioxidants and fiber. Some are also high in iron, potassium, and selenium, which are important nutrients in maintaining healthy blood and muscles. Eating dried fruit is better than eating other sugary snacks and because of its size it travels well.

Adding extras to your GORP can be both good and bad for you depending on what you select. Dark chocolate, for instance, is good for you. It is reported to lower blood pressure and cholesterol because it contains flavonoids, which act as antioxidants. A high fiber cereal would be a good choice, too. Forty-five mini marshmallows have 22 grams of carbohydrates and are ninety calories. Average trail mix has 140 calories and 9 grams of fat per ounce, so as you select ingredients to make GORP from the lists below – choose wisely!

Here are some commonly found ingredients in GORP:
Sunflower seeds
Pumpkin seeds
Soy nuts

Dried Fruit
Dried apricots, quartered
Dried blueberries
Dried cherries
Dried papaya, cut into chunks
Dried mango, cut into pieces
Dried pineapple
Dried apple, cut into pieces
Date nuggets
Crystallized ginger bits
Candied orange peel

Note: Although these items are shelved in health food sections of stores, be aware that banana chips are normally fried in coconut oil, which is a saturated fat and coconut shavings contain saturated fat.

Carob chips
Bittersweet chocolate chips
Peanut butter chips
Chocolate covered soy nuts
Yogurt covered raisins
Mini marshmallows
M & M’s
Goldfish crackers
Pretzel bites
Chex cereal
Crispix cereal
Life cereal
Oriental rice crackers

How To Make Gorp
It’s a great clean-out-your pantry type of snack. I always have a variety of dried fruit, nuts, and chocolate on hand. Select your ingredients and put them into a large bowl or large Ziploc. Stir or shake gently to distribute ingredients evenly. Store in an airtight container. There’s no end to what can be added to GORP. Why not clean out your pantry, let your imagination go and make some GORP today!

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Holiday decorations are once again stored away and the New Year brings a fresh start in many ways. Lately, I’ve heard numerous conversations that contain three little words that manage to bring out the best and the worst in all of us, “Clean my closet.”

#1 – Organizing Your Closet
Have you ever gone clothes shopping and purchased an item very similar to one you already have or have you even purchased the exact same item again? I hear this all the time at work when clothes are being returned. One way to prevent this is to organize your closet by type and by color. For example, hang all blouses together. Then sort by sleeve length – group all long-sleeved ones together, short-sleeved ones together, and sleeveless ones together. Then within each sleeve length group, sort by color. Blacks with blacks, blues with blues, etc. By organizing this way you will always be able to take a quick visual inventory of what you have before you shop. After doing this myself I found out that I have seven white blouses!

#2 – Donate Clothes to a Cause
After cleaning out your closet consider donating the discards. Your donated clothes can make a difference in someone’s life. Here are a few organizations that will make good use of your clothes:

Dress for Success – Suits to Self-Sufficiency
“The mission of Dress for Success is to promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.” www.dressforsuccess.org

The Women’s Alliance – Someone’s Future Is In Your Closet
“The Women’s Alliance is a national organization of independent, community based members who provide professional attire and career skills training to low income women and their families seeking self sufficiency.”

The Princess Project
“The Princess Project promotes self-confidence and individual beauty by providing free prom dresses and accessories to high school girls who cannot otherwise afford them. Our effort is made possible through invaluable volunteer, donor and community support.”

Brides Against Breast Cancer
“To provide an opportunity for metastatic breast cancer patients’ dream or wish to be fulfilled by providing a special time of ‘Making Memories’ together with their families, a chance that might not have become a reality without the assistance of the Making Memories Breast Cancer Foundation.”

#3 – Organizing Necklaces
If your necklaces are in a tangled heap in a box or in a drawer, here’s a suggestion for you. In my closet I’ve hung one of those accordion-style wooden mug racks that has 13 pegs. Not only can I sort my necklaces by lengths, I can keep them tangle-free. Another advantage to this system is that I can see all of my necklaces at a glance – which makes it easier to select the right one.

#4 – A Restyling Tip
According to Deborah Mitchell, Senior Editor of Environmental Protections, “Collectively, Americans discard two quadrillion pounds (that’s a two with fifteen zeroes) of used clothing and textiles into the landfills each year.” Clothing made of quality fabrics can be restyled or recycled for you with the help of a seamstress. Often times a few changes can give an article of clothing a new look. Take it in, shorten it, take off the sleeves, make a top out of a dress. Be creative!

#5 – Einstein on Clothes
If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies. It would be a sad situation if the wrapper were better than the meat wrapped inside it.
Albert Einstein

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If you could only pass on three words of advice to your child, what would you say? Last fall a silver charm at a craft fair caught my eye. It very simply read, “Spread Joy.” With a blog tag line of “sharing and encouraging joy in life,” this charm was meant to be mine. I put it on a chain and started wearing it as an affirmation of what I was trying to accomplish in life.

According to Wikipedia, “Affirmations in New Age and New Thought terminology refer primarily to the practice of positive thinking – fostering a belief that ‘a positive mental attitude supported by affirmations will achieve success in anything.'” More simply put, an affirmation is a positive thought that you keep in your mind and the more you think about it and believe in it, the more likely it will happen.

I thought about buying my daughter a charm, too, but what words or saying would inspire her? One thought lead to another until the idea grew into, “What about making one-of-a-kind affirmation necklaces for her as well as six of my nieces for Christmas?”

To do so I needed a little help. I asked each of my sisters-in-law to come up with words of advice that she would like to pass on to her daughter(s). The moms had no idea why I needed these words. I felt that if I told them it was for a piece of jewelry, it would cloud their word selection. The exercise proved to be challenging, because it forced the moms to reflect on the unique qualities of each daughter and to choose from their life’s book of wisdom one concept to distill into a mere three words. Of course, it didn’t help that I presented them with this assignment during the hectic holiday season! In different forms, they all managed to give me food for thought.

My husband, my daughter, and I spent an evening interpreting and shortening the mothers’ information, until we were satisfied we had captured the essence of what each was trying to convey to her daughter(s). That was the difficult part of the necklace-making project.

The easy part came next. My husband and I cut pieces out of a sheet of sterling silver, filed the edges smooth, hand stamped each letter of every word, oxidized, punched holes, and polished them. The stamped affirmation charms along with other specially selected charms were attached to chains and a loving letter of explanation was written to accompany each necklace.

What three words did I choose for my daughter? After a little thought, the words came easily to me. In Amy Tan’s book The Joy Luck Club there is a recurring theme: Know Your Worth. These are words I want my daughter to carry in her heart – she must never undervalue herself in any relationship or in any circumstance in life.

When all seven of these young ladies wear their affirmation necklaces, I hope they’ll believe in the positive power of the words written on their charms and that they appreciate the wisdom of their mothers.

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Happy New Year! Most of us start off the year by making resolutions, so here are a few inspirational quotes to get you motivated!

#1 – The New Year
We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.
Edith Lovejoy Pierce

#2 – Housework
I am thankful for a lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning and gutters that need fixing because it means I have a home…. I am thankful for the piles of laundry and ironing because it means my loved ones are nearby. Nancie J. Carmody

#3 – Self-Improvement
Don’t wait, The time will never be just right.
Napoleon Hill

#4 – Consider the Environment
Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect. Chief Seattle, 1855

#5 – Improving the World
It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.
Robert Francis Kennedy

Wishing everyone a year of good health and profound joy!

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