5 New Year’s Resolutions Worth Keeping

Winding Down & Shifting Gears

The holidays are always an epic display of twinkling lights, iPhone portrait moments, gift-giving action, and a merry-making smorgasbord of delicious eats and drink. The magic of Christmas brings back childhood nostalgia, and memories in-the-making with family and friends. After a month-long cycle of feasting, I’m ready for a bit of detox and self-improvement.

New Year’s resolution – it’s that time again! This is where a pen and notepad come in handy, and I prioritize smart resolutions. Scouring the Internet, the Huffington Post quotes Amanda Stemen, a therapist and coach, who defines SMART as “specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely” goals. I’ve prioritized resolutions to an achievable list of five, which may resonate with you.

1) Follow through on a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). Why start out easy? I want to focus on a major goal that can have life-changing implications and take me out of my comfort zone. You probably have a BHAG that you’ve been ruminating about, and 2019 may just be the year to see it through.

2) Focus on the most important things and filter out the noise. With all the distractions that exist in this world, sometimes the hardest thing to do is to focus on what’s most important. This is where I focus on the most important things and people in my life. Happy and successful people are able to do this well.

3) Cook more and keep a bowl of fresh fruit visible at all times. It’s so easy to eat out or get take away on any given day, but I appreciate the process of cooking and creating healthier meals that contribute to longevity. I’ll have my cheat days, but overall I am committed to cooking more and being more mindful about what I eat.

4) Declutter with more of a minimalist mindset. I’ve been inspired by Marie Kondo’s book on the magic of tidying, and she makes the concept of cleaning as a life-changing revelation. I love the concept of only keeping items that have repeat utility and spark joy. Less is definitely more.

5) More family time in an analog kind of way. This is where we put technology aside and focus on activities that are fun and enriching for the family. Rediscovering classic board games, reading books, baking, exploring, and getting craft-y together.

Cheers to you and have a happy new year!

Do you have true grit?

Photo credit: Instagram @JohnWayne

Do I have grit? It’s a question I often ask myself. In my head, I conjure up the classic movie depicting John Wayne with a weathered smile and an eye patch. I see the resiliency of the 14-year old preteen Mattie Ross. She is gritty, and the one who hires John Wayne’s character US Marshal Rooster Cogburn to deliver justice for her father’s death. Mattie chooses him because she believes he has “true grit”.

Over the years, I’ve consumed books about people accomplishing remarkable things: heroic expeditions, scientific breakthroughs, artistic creations, and brand dynasties.  I’ve read countless texts about men and women who have failed and failed again, only to achieve an otherworld kind of success because they persevered, they followed through with a constant focus. Against all odds, they broke through and created something life-changing for themselves and for society.

Talent is one thing, genius is another. But talent and a genius IQ won’t necessarily get you far if you don’t possess grit. According to the Merriam-Webster definition, grit is defined as “firmness of mind or spirit : unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.”

Turning the concept of grit outcomes into a mathematical equation:
“Talent × effort = skill. Skill × effort = achievement” (source: Angela Duckworth).

I just finished the New York Times bestseller Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by psychologist Angela Duckworth. It’s a compilation of stories that share keen insights on what it takes to have a path towards outstanding achievement. She tells accounts of ‘grit paragons’ who broke the ceiling of what was expected of them, including national spelling bee champ Kerry Close, Cinnabon president Kat Cole, legendary 49ers QB Steve Young, Will Smith, and UK comedian Francesca Martinez.

One of the major takeaways of Duckworth’s book is her stance on education and parenting. As parents, we can be gritty role models for our children. If children fail at something, encourage them to get up and approach tasks with tenacity. If they lack goal-seeking focus, help them understand and aspire to long term goals. It’s OK to be demanding and to have high expectations, as long as its balanced with unconditional love and indefatigable support. I see nothing wrong with setting a high bar because I do so out of love and consideration for their bright future.

I have had continuous lessons in grit, largely due in part to my own gritty parents. Under their wing, I was able to grow academically and I learned the value of tenacity. I’ve been knocked down, only to get back up, ready for the next round. When someone tells me I can’t do something (and I have heard this before in various contexts), I possess even greater resolve to persevere.  Because that’s what gritty people do.

We grow up too fast, don’t we?

Once upon a time, I was a child…

I look at my kids most days with a mixture of pride, amusement, and befuddlement. Sometimes I feel like a bystander watching them with soft observant eyes, comparing mental notes to my own childhood. Was I that spunky? Was I that incredibly loud? Did I have that same kind of crazy kid energy? Hmmmm….I think you know the answer.

At that age, I was watching Sesame Street and The Great Space Coaster, unpacking toys from my hallowed Happy Meals, hoarding bazooka gum wrappers to read later, and playing chase with the wily ginger-haired twins down the street. I remember taking pride in my red suspenders and bright corduroy pants, patched up at the knees with bright quilted flowers and butterflies.

I remember having a quiet, thoughtful conversation with a neighborhood friend, asking why her shoes were two sizes too big. They were careworn hand-me-downs. Her mom said she would grow into them. Looking back, I realized her mom couldn’t afford a new pair. As young kids we didn’t quite understand. It didn’t quite register until years later. Instead we laughed and played with whatever we could get our hands on, often coming home with dirt smudged on our faces and a twinkle in our eyes.

Then there was the evolution of my hair. Bowl cut graduated to pigtails graduated to ponytail graduated to spiral perm. Full stop.

Once upon a time
Little old me

Flipping through the leaves of an old family album, I would remember things with greater clarity. History condensed down to these album pages.  I pause.

When did I become my parents? Why did childhood summers seem to last forever while the last few months race by – only to remind me of my own ephemerality. When did I become so old?

My solitary moment is shattered when my toddler daughter chortles and rolls around on the floor. She’s swiffering the floor gleefully with the force of her entire body. At the very same moment, not even a yard away, my son is obsessively doing the floss. His arms swinging back and forth with metronome precision, rapid-fire style. It’s a race in a never-ending loop. Impressive. Thank you Fortnite for this mind-numbing visual.

Floss
Doing the floss

I can relate to my kids’ range of pure emotions that take them on a rollercoaster ride all in a 24-day cycle. Peals of laughter that would deafening in an echo chamber, hard stubborn expressions when the wrong sort of vegetables appear on their plates, and the saddest of disappointments when they fail at something important. I look at them through Seussian lenses, delivering the exaggerated character expressions that warrant their quizzical looks and verbal appeals of “mommmmmmmm…..”

While times have certainly changed, the fundamentals of being a kid have not. While we navigate our grownup world, we have the ability to hold on to our childhood essence for a lifetime. To play, to laugh, and to be authentic.

Play time
To play, to laugh

 

Relationships are work (in a good way)

Marriage, a journey in progress

Whoever said marriage is easy has not been married. It’s hard work. Just like you work to excel in your career, parenting, sport, or other pursuit. Marriages are not Netflix Originals where someone realizes the error of their ways, and decides to whisk you away in romcom fashion for a happily ever after.

It’s also not a dating app scenario where you get to swipe right if something doesn’t work in your favor. Don’t like the way he picks food from his teeth. Too bad. You’re committed. Unfortunately, we live in a challenging time in which a “disposable” mindset is so pervasive. Fragmented families, experience with unhealthy family and romantic relationships, and an instant gratification culture where you’re just an app, tap, and swipe away — can make commitment that much harder. Everyone comes from a different place, and everyone comes with their unique set of baggage.

So, let’s talk sustainability.

Great relationships take work because it’s worth the investment.

We are products of our childhood, upbringing, and cultural norms. Statistically speaking, children of divorced parents are more likely to jump ship. And, if your parents married others after divorcing, you’re 91% more likely to get divorced. (Source: Nicholas Wolfinger, Cambridge University Press 2005). 

But statistics are just numbers at the end of the day. Like Ben Stiller’s risk manager character in Along Came Polly, it’s best to throw the risk assessment out the window and commit to doing the work. And be your own best judge.

After reading key publications and articles on the subject (the work required is consistent), I’ve distilled the summary down to five points.

1) Be a good listener and ask questions

As a busy mom I am engrossed in work, caring for the kids, running errands, and juggling multiple projects. Being a good listener is one of the most important aspects of being a great partner. You can visibly see your partner’s reactions and emotions. We each have our own idiosyncrasies, and it’s important to be present for those we love.

2) Have high standards for each other

Having high standards for each other is crucial. There was a reason you got together in the first place and exchanged ‘I do’s.’ If something bothers you, address it immediately. Don’t tolerate negative or hurtful behavior on either side. Talk it out, and work on nipping the problem in the bud.

3) Learn to argue constructively

Sometimes you agree to disagree. It’s inevitable. I can have strong opinions as does the hubs. Arguing constructively means respecting the others’ opinion and exiting the argument gracefully. That may involve humor, a time-out from conversation, and sometimes just an acknowledgement that both views hold merit. Agree to disagree.

4) Show you care

I grew up in a household where “acts” (i.e. making a favorite meal, planning a special trip) spoke volumes when it came to love and commitment. For others, those acts aren’t enough. Some require more tactile or verbal demonstrations of care and love. Talk about and understand what your partner needs from you (and vice versa).

5) Plan regular date nights

Life gets in the way, and you find yourself frequently exhausted and drained. Having kids are an absolute delight, but it’s hard to schedule regular date nights. This is an area that can provide a great opportunity to re-connect, and just have fun.

Enjoy the journey (there will be bumps)

For my part, I am a work-in-progress and on this journey with my partner.

Yes, marriage is a lot of work. It has its ups and downs, and that’s par for the course. The down times can be incredibly tough, but it’s an opportunity for an honest relationship assessment, and a time to reboot with kindness and forgiveness.  I read a refreshing post (encourage you to read) by Winifred Reilly, a Marriage and Family Therapist, which gave her perspective on 36 years of marriage.

My parents have an amazing relationship and 40+ year marriage, which came from a shared journey with shared goals, and a belief in a happily ever after.

 

Healthy Chocolatey Banana Smoothie

Kid tested, dad approved

Hail to the super food drink that’s deliciously smooth, and a healthy way to start the morning. It’s also a better alternative to a rich cake or sundae. My hubs loves his smoothies and the kids love them too. Smoothies are simple to make and require only a handful of ingredients. The recipe below can make 2.5 to 3 large drinks. For little tykes, you can divvy up and pour into smaller cups.

Smoothie History

A smoothie is basically that cold frothy beverage made from pureed fruit (sometimes veg) and combined with ice, milk, or juice. You’ll often find nut butters incorporated into chocolate smoothies. A smoothie is a healthier cousin to milkshakes.

Smoothies go back to the turbulent 1930’s when health food stores started making and selling them. All thanks to the invention of the electric blender.  The term “smoothie” found its way in recipes during this decade. By the late ’60s, they were more widely distributed via ice cream vendors and health food stores. Smoothie bars came about in the ’70s.

Smoothies are ubiquitous now. Walk into any grocery store, coffee shop, Starbucks, chain restaurant, and gym, and you can order one up. They come bottled up, or made to order.  Some smoothies contain a scary amount of calories, packing 600-1000 calories in a single serving!

When possible, make it at home. It takes you <5 minutes.

Chocolatey Banana Smoothie Recipe

The ingredients are simple. The only appliance you need is an electric blender. We like the Ninja blender.

Assemble your ingredients
Get your ingredients together. Almond milk, organic cacao powder, bananas, raw honey, almond butter, and monk fruit (powdered form).

Assembling ingredients
Gather all your smoothie ingredients

Toss into the blender
Place sliced bananas, ice cubes, cacao powder, unsweetened almond milk, almond butter, monk fruit powder, and raw honey.

Ingredients go into the blender
Toss all your ingredients into the blender container

Blend for up to 2 minutes
After securely placing the lid, blend for up to 2 minutes. Everything should be well combined.

Blend your smooth
Ready, set, blend!

Serve it up with love
Smoothies look great in a tall glass, or a cool stainless steel cup. Add a small detail like a colorful paper straw when you serve it up to loved ones.

Chocolate smoothie
Yummy smoothie that’s good on the tummy

Ingredients

– 2 bananas
– 1 cup almond milk (unsweetened)
– 3 tbsp of almond butter
– 2 tbsp of cacao powder
– 1 tbsp of raw honey
– 1/2 tsp of monk fruit
– 1 1/2 cup of ice cubes

Optional chocolate spice version, include:
– 1 inch fresh ginger (sliced)
– 1/2 tsp of cinnamon

Optional chocolate mint version, include:
– fresh mint leaves (small bunch)

Monk fruit usage advice (if you’re a newb)
As a word of caution, don’t overdo the monk fruit sweetener. A little goes a long way. It’s extracted from a small melon native to China and Thailand, and has been used for centuries in traditional Eastern medicine. You can buy monk fruit in dried and powdered forms.

Enjoy for breakfast, post work-out, or dessert
Have a smoothie without the sugar crash! It’s a favorite in our home, and the hubs is the master smoothie maker. Kid tested, dad approved!

Yummy smoothie
Kid tested! Dad approved