Sunday, November 30, 2014

4 Simple Ideas to Deflate Your Holiday Stress and Inflate Your Holiday Joy

I want the holidays to be a special time, but I always end up a stressed out ball of blah rolling around with a smile pasted to my face. How can I change that?  How can I help myself enjoy the holidays? 

I firmly believe that I can't take good care of my family if I don't take care of myself.  With the world telling us to think big and shoot for the stars, my solution probably sounds really off base . . . I've lowered my expectations for myself.  I try (notice the word TRY) not to focus on the number of gifts I'm able to buy or the fact that I stink at decorating the outside of my house or that I don't have time to bake a lot of cookies (not that I want to eat that many any way!).  Instead I focus on purposefully doing FOUR things during the holiday season.  Four inexpensive, easily achievable things that make me happy. 

1) I add whipped cream to my coffee.  I can't afford stops at fancy coffee shops or mani/pedi's or massages - but I can enjoy a squirt of extra creamy whipped cream on my coffee as I prepare to face another day.  The fact that I don't do this any other time of year makes it special for me.  What simple, inexpensive treat can you add to your day to give yourself a treat?  Use peppermint scented lotion?  Buy a pair of fun snowman earrings?  Wear a pair of crazy Christmas socks?
My coffee this morning!

2) I go for walks in my neighborhood after dark to look at the Christmas lights.  Enjoying the lights from your car is nice, but you get an entirely different view when you get out of your car and walk.  I love to head out around 10PM for a stroll.  I occasionally drag my family with me.  They grump at first, but will often find that they enjoy it by the end.  Sometimes we carry mugs of hot cocoa with us and other times I have it waiting for us when we get home.  I love when it is snowing and our footprints are the first marks in the fresh snow.  The fresh air is invigorating, the exercise feels so good after being inside all day and the lights are pretty.  I can't help but feel happy when i get back to my house!  (SAFETY NOTE: Please wear reflective gear and/or carry a flashlight!!!)

3) I sing along in a very loud voice to the Christmas songs on the radio.  No matter what craziness is happening in the "real world," when I close the car door, it is just me and me alone.  How can I not smile as I am singing along to the fun adventures of Frosty or be reminded of the powerful precious gift that God gave to us as I sing the First Noel.  I get out of my car feeling refreshed and ready to face the next event.  I'm sure that I've provided some humorous entertainment to those driving next to me, but I don't worry about them.

4) I pick one special activity that I want to do and make sure I do it even if I do it by myself.  This is actually something that I've been doing for the past couple of months.  I'm always telling my husband that we can talk and talk and talk about all of the things that we want to do and accomplish, but nothing will get done unless we take action.   The list of things that I want to accomplish and experience is very long, so I am tackling the smaller items on that list one thing at a time.  I don't give my family any input on what that one thing is because that will lead to an argument.  I simply choose it and invite whoever wants to come with me to be ready at a certain time.  So far there hasn't been a month that I haven't had company.  I haven't decided what my one thing for the month of December will be yet - that's a decision I will ponder during my drive home from my in-laws this afternoon.  Walk around downtown Pittsburgh to look at the Christmas decorations?  Tackle my grandma's Pizzelle Cookie maker?  Drive out to Ohiopyle State Park for a hike?

The one word that is not included in this post (until now) is guilt.  As a mom and a caregiving spouse, I often struggle with feeling guilty about 101 different things every day.  The key for me when it comes to doing these four things without guilt is what I mentioned earlier - If I don't take care of myself then I can't take care of my family.  My family reacts to my stress.  In the same way they react to my joy.  So in a way, if doing these four incredibye simple things make me happy, my family will be happy, too! 

I encourage you - as we prepare to flip our calendars over to December - pick even just one thing that you will purposefully do this month to make YOU happy!  What can you plan to do to deflate your stress and inflate your joy?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Don't Forget to Massage the Kale!

When food assignments are given out for family holiday meals, I am normally assigned to bring a salad.  I never know whether that is a hint at the fact that I'm not the best cook in the family, a loving offer since I am a working caregiving mom or an ode to the fact that I never just open a bag of mixed greens and throw them in a bowl.  I take my salad assignments very seriously.

My Thanksgiving Salad this year featured one of 2014's favorites among healthy eaters: KALE.  I'd never eaten kale before.  I was actually kind of afraid of the rough thick leaves, but I knew that it was considered a Super Food loaded with vitamins, fiber, minerals and antioxidants which basically means it is really good for you.  What I did not know is that kale is very high maintenance when it comes to being in a salad.  You don't simply wash and chop.  You need to massage the kale.  That's right . . . massage.  Massage turns this bitter chewy green into a tender and sweet centerpiece for a deliciously healthy salad.

I washed the kale and removed the leaves from the stems.  I sprinkled it with some sea salt and extra virgin olive oil.  Then I went to work with my fingertips to gently massage the kale in the same manner I would massage someones shoulders.    After five minutes, the stiff leaves were looser and more relaxed just like a stressed out person turns to putty in your hands after a good shoulder massage.  I was amazed! 

Topped with roasted butternut squash, toasted pumpkin seeds, crisp bacon, diced red onion and a warm apple cider dressing this was one yummy salad!
Massaged Kale and Roasted Butternut Squash Salad
I was obviously not the only one who did not know the impact that massage has on kale.  As my family began to fill their plates and came upon my salad, one after another asked with scrunched up noses, "Is this kale?  In a salad?"  I explained that it was not just regular kale . . . it was massaged kale.  I was happy when everyone who tasted it really liked it.

Next time you're making a salad, don't pass up the kale!  There is no need to be afraid.  Just know that it requires an extra step before tossing it with your favorite toppings.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Thank you for reading my blog and following my crazy journey of attempting to make healthy choices in a stress-filled, busy life.  I am thankful for the opportunity to share it with you!
Staying warm before Turkey Trot 2014

Monday, November 24, 2014

Just Move the Darn Bag!

Sometimes I make things WAY to complicated.  There has to be a plan or a theme or a prize or a chart . . .

There are times when obvious simple solutions are right in front of me and I totally miss them. 

One behavior of mine that I have always struggled to change is my grazing of chips and pretzels.  I often munch when I get home, while I prepare dinner and then throughout the evening.  A couple of chips here.  A pretzel there.  Munch.  Munch.  Munch.

The kitchen is a main thoroughfare in our house.  We need to walk through it to get to the computer, the basement and the dining table.  I'm constantly walking through there.  It's a constant path for the whole family.  I've always kept the bags of chips and pretzels on the counter under the microwave.  Nearly every time I walk through there, I grab a handful of chips or pretzels. 

"It's no big deal,"  I told myself.  "It's only a couple." 

But a couple times seven equals a lot of chips! 

I began to notice that I was not the only one sticking my hands in the bag of chips.  Throughout the evening I would hear the rustling of the bag or I would find the bag sitting on the counter wide open.   Other members of the family were picking up on my bad habit.

How was I going to change this? 

The answer was so easy and obvious!  I simply moved the bag.  For the past two weeks the bag of chips has been in an undisclosed location in our kitchen.

Guess what?  No one appears to have noticed!  No one has asked.  No one has looked around.  They've just accepted the fact that we have no chips.

Guess what else?  I haven't munched either!  There must be truth to the old saying - Out of Sight, Out of Mind.

What an easy solution - I simply moved the darn bag!