Saturday, December 31, 2011

How-To Create Goals for the New Year

   So far, we've established that, in most cases, in order for New Year's Resolutions to be successful, there needs to be two things present:  clear goals & accountability.  For example, if you want to run a half marathon, you find and sign up for the race you want to run, and then you go get a training partner who will meet you on those gray, bleak days when you'd rather not leave the house, and who may even run the race with you.  It's a win-win.  You have someone encouraging you and holding you accountable, and in return, there is a great relationship being built through shared experience.
   So, how do we think through our goals for the New Year?  For some, all goals are physical, for others, professional.  That's not a bad thing, but it may leave us incredibly unbalanced as the year unfolds.  Instead, let's look at different areas of our lives and see how we could move forward and grow in a way that promotes a healthy, balanced lifestyle.  
   The first thing I do is come up with a phrase or word for the year.  This is my blanket that covers all of the resolutions.  No matter what goal I'm striving for, this concept should be present in each.  For example, my last year's phrase was "living boldly with grace."  As I traveled by myself to Costa Rica with my four kids, launched my blog, & began a new health program, this was the undercurrent beneath each.  It is helpful to cast a bigger vision of what we want our year to be about.  My sister, who has a fabulous stamped jewelry company called As You Wish Design, even did a necklace with this year's motto.  I love it!
   The next thing I do is come up with a goal in the following areas.  For me this approach has given some balance as I move into a new year, and it has proven to be a manageable number of goals.  When we get too many going, it is very hard to finish them or even remember what they are!
1. Physical - This one is pretty self-explanatory.  Hitting the top 10 New Year's resolution list every year is.... you guessed it, to lose weight & get fitter.  If you are in this category, decide on a specific plan and find a weight loss coach or trainer with whom you weigh in once a week.  Have them test your body fat, so even if the scale doesn't change, you can measure progress.  As you think about physical health, don't limit the analysis to diet and exercise.  I would encourage you to look at other aspects as well:  sleep, sugar intake, vitamins, stress, and the amount of quiet or "down time" in a day.
2. Spiritual - Neglecting this area can take big tolls on the well being of our soul, and yet it is often the one most ignored.  There is now extensive research pointing to the fact that religious people are happier and less stressed than non-religious.  Regardless of where you are on the spectrum of this journey, creating a goal that allows space in your life for something bigger than yourself will pay great dividends in your sense of peace, your relationships with others, and most importantly, your relationship with God. Some examples in this area could include:  going to church on a regular basis, spending 15-30 minutes in the morning reading a devotional and praying, memorizing scripture, or committing to listening to podcasts or other spiritual teaching to and from work.
3. Relational - Each one of us has multiple important relationships that we are juggling at any given time.  This area could sweep over us like a tidal wave and bury us if we let it.  Sometimes it seems daunting to invest in and improve all of the relationships in our lives.  My encouragement would be to pick one or two and create specific ways you will improve those.  For example, if you choose your spouse, you could commit to having couch time every night for 10-15 minutes while the kids clean up from dinner.  Or, you could schedule dates for the next few months - sitter, location and all.  Another example would be a boss or employee.  You could commit to saying one positive thing to that person a day for the next month.  This literally only takes seconds of your time, but could have a huge impact on how you interact with and think about that person.  Most of the time in relationships, it is the little things that add up to make the biggest impact.
4. Professional - Many people spend the majority of their weekly life at work, but sometimes don't take the time to evaluate how their work life is going, and where they are headed professionally.  Make a list of 3 things that are going well, and resolve to keep those present, and list 3 things that could be improved in your personal work-a-day world.  Break down how you will improve those areas.  For example, maybe you find that you aren't able to return calls in a timely manner.  Commit to returning calls for the first half hour of your work day.  Or maybe your profession is a stay-at-home mom but you feel that your hours get squandered away by chores and little tasks that take too much time.  It may be time to create a more productive schedule.
5. Educational - I am a firm believer that when we are growing and learning, we are better.  It feels good and empowering to learn a new skill or explore a field of interest.  Sometimes this means improving in an area where we have a few skills already, but haven't taken the time to really become proficient.  To me, this is like the sprinkles on a cupcake.  Some of the other areas of our lives are more foundational, but this adds fun and spice.

Here is a worksheet to get you going.  Dream big, have fun, and make 2012 one of the best yet!

Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Goals: Who's Watching You?

     Everyone loves a fresh start; a new, crisp blank page on which we can write our future.  Beginning a new year gives us that chance.  Celebrating what was behind, or closing the door, we look hope-full toward what lies ahead.  Sometimes, though, we don't know where to start and how to actually accomplish those things we've set out to do.  
     If we are going to be successful in these New Year's goals, of course we need to name what they are, but the most important component hands down is ACCOUNTABILITY.  This is what actually will keep us moving forward when it gets hard.  This is what will inspire us to finish what we've begun.  This is what we need to fight the inevitable laziness that creeps in 4-6 weeks into our new program.  It can be as simple as choosing a work out partner who will meet at the gym in the early morning hours, or signing up for a class so that there has been a commitment made to that area of growth.  Sometimes it means gathering a small group of like-minded people who are working toward the same purpose, or putting dates on the calendar with your spouse.  Whatever the method, there needs to be another PERSON on the other end of the agreement.  I realize there are exceptions to the rule, and that sometimes people meet their goals on their own, but for most of us, our own selves only motivate for so long.  We require someone outside of us to spur us on and hold our feet to the fire to get it done!  
     Over the next few days I will give a couple of examples of how this plays out in my life, and how I create my New Year's Resolutions.  For now, begin dreaming about what 2012 will look like for you and who could possibly join you on the journey.... 
See you tomorrow!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Christmas Meal: Meat Perfected

Many people choose a special cut of meat for Christmas dinner.  I highly recommend a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the cut to make sure it doesn't overcook.  If the meat isn't cooked well, all of that money spent on buying the nicer cut is wasted.  Here are the recommended temperatures for various meats:
Rare-                120-125 degrees
Medium Rare-  130-135 degrees
Medium-           140-145 degrees
Medium-Well-  150-155 degrees
Well-Done-       160 degrees and above
Rare-                135 degrees
Medium Rare-  140-150 degrees
Medium-           160 degrees
Well-Done-       165 degrees and above
Chicken-           165-175 degrees
Turkey-             165-175 degrees
Pork:       150 degrees and above
After the meat is cooked, here is an easy way to dress up the main course!  Cut a few lemons and pomegranates in half and place cut side down in a pan over medium heat.  Cook until slightly browned on the edges.  Lay the meat on a bed of lettuce or parsley then arrange the fruit around it.  

Beautiful and festive!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fruit Loop Necklaces & Bracelets

This is one of my kids' all time favorite food crafts.  Everyone can do it, and likes doing it, from age 5-13 in my house.  It's a 2 ingredient no-brainer:  licorice strings and fruit loops.  String on and tie the ends off. Great for a fun Christmas time activity.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas Morning Creme Brûlée French Toast

     There was a time I was getting up at the crack of dawn (after being up late stuffing stockings and such) to fix monkey bread and other fun holiday morning deliciousness -- what in the world was I thinking??  Running myself ragged is NOT my idea of a meaningful Christmas day.  Enter... make ahead breakfast dishes!  It revolutionized the morning for me.  
    This fabulous, caramel goodness is indeed made ahead of time, making it a perfect Christmas morning treat for the family!  You can even freeze it and de-thaw if you really want to avoid the last minute rush.  
Cut french bread into cubes and place in a dish (use wheat or white).  Wisk the eggs in a dish with the milk, half -n- half, vanilla, salt, sugar, and liqueur.  Boil the other caramel mixture on the stove.
 Pour the egg mixture over the bread.
 Top the entire stack with the caramel mixture.  Let sit at least 8 hours or overnight.  
 Bake at 350 degrees for 45 min. covered.  Uncover and bake 15 more minutes.  
Creme Brûlée French Toast
3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cup firmly packed butter
3 tablespoons corn syrup
1 loaf french bread, sliced 1-inch thick with each piece sliced in half diagonally
1 tsp. vanilla
6 eggs
2 cups half and half
2 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Grand Marnier (optional)
powdered sugar for dusting

Lightly butter a 9x13 inch baking dish and set aside.  Melt the butter and brown sugar with the corn syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat;  stir until smooth and bubbly.  Pour the mixture into a prepared dish.  Arrange the bread slices on top in two overlapping rows.  In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, half -n- half, milk, vanilla, sugar, salt and liqueur until well combined;  pour evenly over the bread.  Cover with foil and chill for at least 8 hours or overnight.  Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake until set in the center, about 45 minutes.  Uncover the dish and bake an additional 15 minutes until golden brown.  Dust with powdered sugar and serve with sauce from the dish.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Setting a Beautiful Holiday Table

There is something special about transforming our normal eating area into a sparkling wonder of Christmas candlelight!  And it's easier than you think.  I set our table for the entire season, and sometimes I even leave the good china plates out just for fun and we eat on them during family nights all season long.  After all, if we don't USE them, what is the point of having them???  
There are many ways to decorate a Christmas table -- here is how I do it!
 Step 1:  Begin with a table runner and a centerpiece.  Here I used an oversized glass jar and filled it with fake "snow" and various ornaments that vary in size, color, and texture.
 Step 2:  Add candlesticks.  I like these crystal ones that I found in the TJ Max clearance section after Christmas.  They were $5.00 each and they sparkle and shine!  They don't need to match.  In fact, it makes it more interesting if they don't.  Be sure to vary height.  
 Step 3:  Add something low in between the candlesticks.  Here I used star tea light holders that I found at Pier 1.  Again, shop the after-Christmas sales and there will be plenty!  Again, the more candlelight the better....
 Step 4:  Sprinkle in "jewels."  Here I used star shaped glitter ornaments, both large and small.  I also used those clear jewels that you can find in packs at any craft store, and some gold and silver balls.  

 Step 5:  Add some height with two tall items, like these silver trees, or you could use spires.  I saw the cutest chocolate tree idea on Martha's website.  Those would be cute for an edible option.  My kids would LOVE that! 
 Step 6: This step is just a little somethin' extra.  I like adding a focal point that hangs from the chandelier or ceiling.  Here I used a glitter spired star.  I hang it with fishing line so it looks like it is suspended in mid-air.
 Step 7:  Add chargers to the place settings.  These are beaded around the sides, and I alternate between gold and silver since I like to use both metals at my holiday table.  Leaving the table "set" like this makes it look so welcoming -- like it is ready to be used for a big family meal at any moment!

Step 8:  Add napkins that sit on top of the chargers with some fun napkin rings.  You can also put your china there if you are going to leave it out.  I use two kinds of holiday napkins, one that is gold on the silver plates, and one that is a white/silver/gold on the gold plates.  

That's it!  Set the holiday table -- it will serve as one of the most festive parts of your house during this blessed season.