Friday, December 19, 2014

Where I'm From...



I am from muddy sneakers and girls in matching sweat suits.  From A-Treat soda and summer days spent climbing the blackberry tree in the park.

I am from the little yellow house on North Street with the rose trellis and the attic I was afraid of.

I am from the big maple tree in the front yard whose roots ran deep and wide enough to split our sidewalk.  From the lilac bush out back where I picked flowers for my favorite 3rd grade teacher.

I am from Sunday dinners and kisses (always) hello and goodbye.  I am from Michael and Mary and Salvatore and Alberta.

I am from the hard workers, the 'family first', and the faithful. 

From the 'Say No to Drugs' my grandfather wrote on every birthday card, and the 'Wait til your father gets home!' my mother would say when she was really mad.

I am from school uniforms, First Holy Communion, and Midnight Mass.  I am from Sister Regina who let us watch 'Reading Rainbow' in the 1st grade, and Father Reed who put candy canes in our shoes every Saint Nicholas day. 

I’m from the little town of Bethlehem, Czechoslovakia and Sicily.  I am from halupki and pierogi, baked ziti and hot ricotta sandwiches, and chocolate and strawberry milk that came in old glass bottles from the dairy.

From the family dog my mom said 'yes' to and my dad said 'no'.  The little ball of fluff who wore my father down and became the love of our lives for 15 years.

I am from the cardboard boxes filled with awkward school photos and pictures of every birthday cake I ever ate.

I am from immigrants who came to this country with hopes and dreams for their children's children and from parents who made their dreams come true. 

I am from 3 sisters who laughed and fought, played tag and rode bikes, hunted salamanders and raised hamsters, and will forever be tied by our common history. 




This post was a prompt from MamaKat's Writer's Workshop for 12/18.  I got super emotional writing this and thinking about my family and childhood.  I loved this exercise and think it's worthwhile for anyone to do, even if just in your own personal journal.  If you'd like you can link up a post here, or check out other's submissions for the poem.  The template for this poem can also be found here. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

My Christmas Wish List

World Peace.  Kidding.  Not really.  And also "...harsher punishment for parole violators, Stan".  (Name that movie!)

This was tough.  For the past couple of years, it has been harder and harder for me to come up with things I'd like for Christmas.  Tough problem to have right?!  The thing is, since I've downsized my life, and learned to live with less, I actually desire less.  I don't know if that's typical or not.  I'm not a scientist and I haven't conducted any controlled experiments.  Honestly, I personally would think that a significant drop in income and acquisition of material items would lead to a person craving them MORE, but I can tell you in my case that did not happen.  I caught the end of a documentary on PBS this weekend that may explain why.

The movie was called "Happy" and I just happened to find it while flipping through the channels on Sunday morning. 

 
The filmmakers interviewed people all over the world, as well as various scientists, to determine what ultimately leads to human happiness.  One of the most important points that stuck with me was when they quantified the two basic types of goals that humans pursue: Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic.  They broke down each goal into 3 main sub-parts as follows:
 
Extrinsic Goals:
  • Money
  • Image
  • Status
 
Intrinsic Goals:
  • Personal Growth
  • Relationships
  • Community
 
If you are focused on extrinsic goals, then you are placing your happiness in the hands of external factors.  On the other hand, intrinsic goals put the focus on what is within you.  They concluded the people who rated themselves as happiest were intrinsic goal seekers.
 
I think deep down, we all probably know this, but in this day and age, its very hard to keep the focus on the internal, and not the external.  Especially around Christmas! 
 
The things I want for Christmas really can't be bought.  I've been so focused lately on personal growth and fulfillment and finding ways to make my life meaningful that I haven't really had the time or money to want new 'things'.  Gift giving for Jill made easy this year!  Just help me find my life's purpose and a deep, fulfilling and lasting love and we'll be besties :)
 
I do love giving gifts though.  I bought a lot of gifts on Etsy this year because I felt better about supporting individual artists rather than big box stores (although I still shopped at those too.  Kill me at the mall this time of year).  And, I do believe giving and receiving gifts (whether they're material or not), makes both the giver and recipient feel good.  I know I'll love whatever gifts I receive from my family and friends because the intention behind them is love.  In fact, aren't gifts really just a physical token of appreciation or love?
 
I also got to thinking about WANT vs. NEED this weekend, when I found myself without water for a day.  Going without water in my home for day seemed like an insurmountable misfortune at first until I really thought about it.  I live in America.  There are fresh water and waste removal systems all around me.  All I had to do was step out my door to a shop, my gym, or a friend's house to grab a drink of water, use the bathroom or shower.  People in other areas of the world go without fresh drinking water EVERY DAY.  They die because of this.  One day without a shower for me, is not nearly the end of the world.  Plus, my friend invited me over, unshowered, and said she loved me just the way I was.  That's true love :)
 
So I guess for Christmas and the New Year, what I really want is to continue pursuing happiness in the form of intrinsic goals.  Some semblance of financial security, perhaps some new running gear or a new car radio (yep, still broken) and a man-friend (<----can someone make that happen please?!) would be icing on the cake. 
 
 
What's on your wish list this year?
 
 

 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Ch-Ch-Changes

Change is good, right?  Right!  I've made no qualms about the fact that historically, I've been a very change/risk-averse person.  Even in my not-so-distant past, I clung to the tried and true path like a baby to his security blanket.  But in just two years, I've grown leaps and bounds.  Mostly because I was forced to, but hey, I've grown!  Sometimes you just need to be thrown into the deep end of the pool to learn to swim.  (Coming from a nanny - NO, do not ever do this to a child! Terrible idea.)  But for some adults, (*cough*cough*) being pushed may be the only way they'll make a move.  Sink or swim baby.

I've known and anticipated for some time that 2015 was going to be a year of changes for me, in several areas of my life.  In particular, I knew the spring would bring about some professional changes, but it turns out things are going to change a loooooooot sooner than I thought.  Like January sooner.  Hellooooooooo!  Of course, I experienced the ever-familiar initial feelings of panic and shock after some recent developments, but my feelings quickly changed to excitement. I actually have been craving change recently and feel invigorated and motivated to do some new things.  After all the life changes I've gone through recently, I feel so much better equipped to handle life's curve balls. 

Another thing that has really helped me put change into a more positive perspective has coincidentally come from my new line of work.  Children, and infants in particular, change almost constantly.  Sometimes, it seems they grow and change overnight!  If you've ever worked with or raised children, I'm sure you're familiar with the developmental stages infants go through month-by-month.  It's actually amazing how much they learn, change and grow in the first 12 months of their life.  Without change, a baby would never progress from sitting, to crawling to walking.  Or move from liquid to solid foods.  Or learn to sleep through the night! (Parents everywhere rejoice when that milestone is reached!!) 

To remind myself how good change can be, I decided to think back on some changes I made and how they turned out to be positive milestones in my life:

  • Switched over from coke bottle glasses to contacts in the 12th grade.  Thank goodness.  Still a nerd, but a somewhat disguised one.
  • Stopped fighting the hair I was born with and decided to just go wild and free post-college.  No reason for a tiger to hide it's stripes.
  • Always thought I was a "dog person".  Took a chance on 2 shelter cats 10 years ago and never looked back.  I now consider myself an equal opportunity animal lover.
  • Despite my initial (negative) impressions of the city, took a chance and moved to Baltimore 10 years ago.  Of course there have been ups and downs but I have made some incredible memories and connections here.
  • Took a chance on romance a few years ago and although it didn't have a fairytale ending, it was a life-changing experience in more ways than one.
  • Decided to run a half marathon 3 years ago.  Relationship with running went from 'casual' to 'we're engaged'. 
  • Did a complete 180 and changed careers last year.  I'm now using my unique, natural talents and my heart more than ever before.
  • Started a blog.  What?!  It's not the biggest or the best but it's all mine and I love the feeling of putting my ideas out there and connecting with others.

Pinterest is always good for some choice words so let's end this post with a little cheesy inspiration! 








Now get out there and become beautiful butterflies you crazy little caterpillars!


How do you react to change?

Make any big changes lately?

Do you think 2015 will bring changes to your life?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Weekend of Firsts

Top o' the morning and happiest of Mondays to you all!  I hope everyone had splendid little weekends.  I did a wide range of activities this weekend; many of them for the first time.  How is that possible you wonder for an old timer such as myself?!  Well, let me tell you.

1.  On Saturday morning I got my FIRST haircut in 2.5 years!!!!!!  Finally made that happen.  I figured it was either that or become full-on Rastafarian.  I went into the salon looking like a shaggy mess and came out lookin' feelin' like a million bucks.  The girl that cut my hair was super talented and really knew her way around a curly head of hair.  When she was done she put my wet hair in cornrow/twists and told me to sleep in them and I'd wake up with the most magical hairdo ever.  I obliged and even went to the mall to do some Christmas shopping with my hair looking like this:

If only we could all be this cool! 

And then Sunday morning I woke up, unrolled them, and looked like this:
 
Get a good look, because my hair will never, ever look that good again!
 
 
2.  While out doing said shopping, I purchased my FIRST Christmas presents of the season.  At this rate I should be finished by about Jan 31st or so.  Making solid progress over here.
 
 
3.  On Sunday morning I attended my Nanny Baby's FIRST birthday party!  I have known this little peanut since he was 8 weeks old and it is amazing that an entire year has gone by.  This has been the fastest year of my life, and I don't know if it's because I'm so much happier than I had been for a long time, or if I'm just getting really old!  It has been a joy to care for and watch him grow from a teeny tiny baby into a walking, talking little boy.  It has really been a meaningful, purposeful way to spend the last year of my life. 
 
 
4.  Sunday evening I had my very first Pho ever.  (I totally pronounced that word incorrectly as 'Fo' until I saw a special on the Food Network and learned the correct pronunciation is 'Fuh'.)  My friend recommended her favorite dish but I decided to be an adventurous little lamb and ordered something else.  Andddddd, I didn't love it.  It sure looked pretty though.  My broth was sweet and sour, which is not really my thing.  Her broth had a different flavor which I preferred.  Better luck next time, Bean.
 




5.  And lastly, not a first whatsoever, but I watched my favorite Christmas movie of all time:
 
Remember kids, "no [wo]man is a failure who has friends".
 
 
 

What were you up to this weekend?!

Do anything for the first time?!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

9 Healthy Grocery Staples Always in my Cart

Today I want to talk about my grocery essentials.  I'm not a nutritionist, foodie, or expert cook, but I do consider myself a (mostly) healthy eater on a budget so I thought I'd share what's in my cart or in my pantry week after week.  These are foods that are constants in my diet and having them on hand means I always have something healthy to reach for when time is tight or when I'm stressed (helloooooo Holidays!).  (I'm not an expert so please use your judgment when selecting foods that are best for you.)


1.  FRUIT


Always in my cart:  Apples and bananas.  Just like the children's song (I like to eat, eat, eat apples and bananas; I like to ate, ate ate apples and bananas..).  I guess there's a reason they are a staple.  I've eaten an apple nearly every day of my life for lunch since I was in high school and I don't intend to stop anytime soon!  I don't get sick very often so perhaps there is also something to the adage about keeping the doctor away.  I'm not a huge fan of eating bananas straight up, but they are always in my smoothies, hence I need a constant supply.  Also who can forget the wonder that is the 2 Ingredient Pancake?!  I also tend to buy whatever fruit is on sale or in season - this is obviously a lot more fun in the summer.  In addition, I always have some frozen fruit on hand for use in my smoothies as well.


2.  GREENS/VEGGIES


Always in my cart:  Spinach and baby carrots.  I start off most of my evening meals/dinners with a big salad, hence the spinach.  I also add spinach to my smoothies.  I snack on baby carrots any ol time so they're always in my fridge.  Then, I pick up any other veggies I'm craving at the moment.  I really like to snack on mushrooms (weird I know!) so I buy them a lot.  I try to buy seasonably here as well, which makes the winters a bit rougher.


3.  PLANT BASED MILK ALTERNATIVE


Always in my cart:  Almond milk.  I've been lactose intolerant since the age of 11 or 12 so I have not drunk cow's milk in about 20 years.  I used to drink soy milk but started to become worried about the effect that would ultimately have on my fertility/cancer risks so I've switched to almond milk.  I also like coconut milk in my smoothies.  I always buy the unsweetened versions.  (No reason to add sugar to milk.)  I've heard cashew milk just recently came on the market, which I'd like to try, but I have yet to see that in any of my grocery stores. 


4.  NUTS


Always in my cart:  Raw almonds.  I also pick up any other kind of nut I'm fancying that week.  This week it was pistachios and those coconut almonds which are insanely good.  I am often out of my house by 7am and don't return until after 8pm some nights so I need lots of snacks with me for the day.  I pretty much eat a handful of almonds every evening in my car on my way to the gym after work.  They're the perfect snack.


5.  BARS

Always in my cart:  Raw Revolution bars.  Like I mentioned above, I'm out of my house for long hours during the day and need snacks to keep me going.  I love snack bars because they are quick and easy and usually are a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals.  These can sometimes be hard to come by for me because I need bars that are vegan and/or dairy free.  For the past year, I've been obsessed with Raw Revolution bars but I also enjoy others from:  Luna, Kind, Odwalla, Clif, etc.  Anything dairy free and relatively low in sugar are fair game.


6.  HUMMUS



Always in my cart:  Athenos hummus.  Other brands I like include Sabra and Wegmans store brand, but Athenos is hands down my favorite.  Hummus is a great, filling, protein-packed food to have on hand.  I snack on hummus most often with those baby carrots up there but you can really dip anything in hummus (Ok, maybe not anything!).  I don't often have a loaf of bread on hand (don't really eat it) but sometimes I have pita or flatbread which both taste lovely in here. 


7.  OATS


Always in my cart:  Old fashioned oats.  If I have nothing else around for breakfast, this is a quick go-to.  No, I'm not a fancy blogger and have never tried 'overnight oats'!  I just boil water and pour it on these oats with either a little brown sugar or honey and some fruit.  DONE!  Oats are known to reduce cholesterol, they've got good fiber content and they keep you full.  They're also super cheap when you buy a big tub like this!


8.  PLANT BASED PROTEIN POWDER


Always in my cart:  PlantFusion.  I know people have mixed feelings on using protein powders but I am not shy about admitting I like them.  I don't have a protein shake every day but I find them good for recovery after a workout or run, or as a quick, easy snack.  I obviously stick to plant-based powders (as opposed to those made from whey) and Plant Fusion has been my favorite for years.  I also like Vega but it's a bit more expensive.  And I just bought a few samples of Shakeology's vegan formula so I'll have a review on those once I try them.  I most often just use a Blender Bottle and mix my Plant Fusion powder with unsweetened almond milk.  Sometimes I'll add it to green smoothies as well.


9.  TEA


Always in my cart:  Decaffeinated black tea.  I drink hot tea almost daily when the weather is cold.  My basic cup is any brand of decaf black tea + honey but I also enjoy sampling seasonal and herbal blends.  Tea is great way to up your fluid intake during the day and add antioxidants to your diet.  It's also just comforting :)


This is my basic go-to list.  It's certainly not fancy or trendy and doesn't contain a lot of expensive items.  This is obviously not representative of everything I eat in a day or a week and there are many things I've left off, but the foods I've mentioned are things that I always buy and always have on hand.  In addition, I usually always purchase some kind of lean meat (turkey or beef) or seafood (usually frozen - salmon, shrimp, mussels, crab) which is the base of my evening meal.  I usually always have eggs and peanut butter on hand as well.  I do not purchase many packaged snack foods like chips, cookies, crackers, etc because I don't really eat those things.  I do eat treats and they are usually some type of candy, or dark chocolate, or frozen vegan 'ice cream'. 

One more note:  I usually do not buy organic, simply due to price!  It's not really in my budget, although I do worry about what all of the chemicals are doing to my body.  I think once I have kids, my stance might change and I will probably shell out the extra money to feed them organic.  I also try to buy non-GMO when possible, but some of these items are probably, definitely the result of genetic modification, which also scares the bejesus out of me.


I wasn't compensated for mentioning any of the brands in this post.  These are all just my personal faves!


I'd love to know what's in your grocery cart every week.  Please share!

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Days For Which We Give Thanks

And just like that the holiday season is upon us.  Even though I'm at a loss for where the entirety of this year has gone, I'm ok with it.  I love the holidays and their mass quantities of food, family and friends. 

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving.  I spent the past 4 days in Bethlehem eating more than I normally do in a week and hanging out with many of my favorite people.  There was a lot going on and I was having so much fun that I kinda missed the boat on taking pictures most of the time.  But here's a few and a little play-by-play of my holiday.

Wednesday:

I had to work so we watched the snow come down and made some turkey crafts!

 
 
 
Thursday:
 
I set off in the morning for PA.  Apparently, half of the country had the same idea since it snowed Wednesday, so it took me quite awhile to get home.  Thankfully I made it just  in time for dinner!  There was more snow in Pennsylvania than in Maryland, which made it feel more like Christmas than Thanksgiving but it was quite pretty.
 


We had 22 people at our Thanksgiving table this year!  Yippee!  It was loud and fun and there was SO MUCH FOOD.  Perfection.  I didn't take a picture of my food, but I'm pretty sure you've seen approximately 72 pictures of people's Thanksgiving plates at this point and they all contain THE EXACT SAME THING.  The only things that are a bit different are the Italian meat stuffing we eat and the cardoni (which is fried artichoke stalk - YUM!).  Oh and the palate cleanser my aunt gives us after the meal, which is just lemon sorbet!

One of our tables



All of my cousins were in town this year.  One of them even drove 16 hours from Florida!  Ironically, both of my sisters were missing this year.  My sister from ATL couldn't travel with the new baby, and my youngest sister usually spends the day with her husband's family in Jersey.

My favorite moment of the day happened just before we ate.  We went around the table and each person took a turn stating something for which they were thankful.  On their turn, my parents announced they were expecting a new grandchild and my cousin looked right at me with wide eyes and a shocked expression and said "Jill?!?!?!".  Hellooooooooooooooo not currently with child.  Just setting the record straight here.

Friday:

After sleeping off the food coma from the day before, I went out for a 4 mile run.  I am not a Black Friday shopper so there was none of that happening.  I've never succumbed to the hysteria and I don't plan to anytime soon!  Later some of my family members met up at our favorite pizza shop for dinner (Martellucci's is the best, if you're ever in Bethlehem!) and I also picked up Vegan Treats on the way home. 

Saturday:

We had the long-awaited surprise party for my grandmother's 90th birthday!  It's actually amazing that no one in my large, loud, nosy, giant family let the secret slip.  That never happens.  News travels fast and nothing, nothing is ever a secret for very long.  So she was REALLY surprised :)  I only snapped a few pics:



 
My mom and her sisters
 
The guest of honor!
 

And then on Saturday night I got to see 3 of my very best and favorite friends ever!  We went out for tapas downtown.  Main St in Bethlehem is absolutely beautiful at night during the Christmas season.  Lights and trees everywhere. 




Oh the food was good too :)  I had some hummus, olives, charcuterie and shrimp.  Oh and some cocktails.  Once again I didn't really take many pics of the food but I did snap a fuzzy, tipsy pic of downtown on the way out, so there you go!




Sunday:

I went out for a quick 5K and then had lunch with my parents, before getting back on the road and battling traffic once again in the opposite direction down to Baltimore.



And there you go.  Food, family, food, friends, and some more food! 

I hope your days were just as lovely.

Happy December 1st.  There is less than a month until Christmas.  Where on earth did this year go?!?!



Did you travel for Thanksgiving?

What was your favorite part of the holiday?

Approximately how many pics of Thanksgiving food were in your feed this weekend?!?!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thankful for the Struggles and Giveaway Winner

The giveaway winner for the WIN Sports Detergent has been drawn!  Congratulations!  Check the Rafflecopter here to see if it was you!  I will be emailing the winner to get your info (mailing address/etc) to send to the company.


About this time of year, everyone becomes a bit more mindful of the blessings in their lives.  As we are surrounded by family and friends, in warm houses with too much to eat, we are aware that many are not so lucky.  My Thanksgiving post is not going to be quite so typical, in that I'm not going to list out all the incredible, wonderful (and probably undeserved) blessings in my life.  Ok, I might do that too.  But today I want to talk about being thankful not only for the good things in life, but for the not-so-good things too; the things that sometimes feel like curses at times.  What I'm starting to realize is that the struggles make me who I am and without them I probably wouldn't be the person I am today. 

To start off, I want to say that I realize I am probably more fortunate than many others around the world.  I have the most loving family and friends.  I can feed, clothe and shelter myself.  I live in a nation that allows me freedoms that people in other nations only dream about.  I have luckily never personally experienced the traumas of oppression, war, disease or famine.  There are millions of people who cannot say the same, and yet, I'm sure complain less than I do.  So before I go any further I want to say I am grateful for all that I have and all that I am, even if I struggle with that gratefulness from time to time.

I think it is simply human nature to never be satisfied.  It certainly is reinforced in our American culture, and it takes a lot of self control and mindfulness to rise above the messages of consumerism we are fed every day.  Of course, I find myself envious of or craving material items others may have at times, but more often its the non-material things I find myself longing for.  The truth is, I don't think one kind of longing is 'better' than the other.  The key to happiness is to be able to be happy, exactly as you are.  It's a tough tough notion. 


There are many things I've struggled with in recent years, and continue to struggle with, and when times are hard I resent these struggles so so much.  I find myself envying others who I think have it 'easier' than I do.  Why haven't I found my life partner yet, I think?  Why am I still struggling to make ends meet?  Why can't I seem to find my path in life?  Why can't I run a 1:45 half marathon?! 

If things were always easy, do you think you would appreciate your circumstances and victories as much?  I really don't think so.  Perhaps my love/hate relationship with the struggle is what made me gravitate to running so long ago.  Running is not always easy.  It's just not.  It takes a lot of guts to stick with something day in and day out, when conditions are good and when they are terrible.  When you're having a great day and when you're feeling like crap.  To run in a snowstorm or in the middle of a heat wave.  But to quote Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, "...the hard is what makes it great..".  If running was easy, I don't think my love affair with it would have lasted this long.

As much as I sometimes lament that my current situation is not all that I'd want it to be, when I look back and see all the hard work I put in to get here, I am so thankful.  I think about all the $hit I went through at my old job, but despite everything that was happening never compromised my ethics or values.  Sure, it's hard sometimes when I worry about paying the bills, but that struggle proved to me just how strong I am, and how I won't back down from doing what I believe is right.  Although it sure felt like it at the time, I didn't crumble under the pressure.  And now I'm doing work that's putting real goodness back into the world, even if just in a small way.  If I never got paid a cent, I would still show up to care for, nurture, and love these children with zero obligation to do so.  It's really a shame that this modern society we humans built runs on money, instead of good deeds :)

As much as I hate being single sometimes, I know that these years are undoubtedly making me stronger.  Having to do everything alone can be really hard and scary sometimes but I've proven that I can do it over and over.  Having no one to 'fall back on' or rely on really shows you who you are.  It's possible I may never find someone to share my life with and I have to make peace with that.  I mean, who knows, perhaps I was married 8 times in a previous life like Liz Taylor, so I don't get one this time around?!

Here's something to think about - Do you know what is formed after many years of intense pressure and heat?  Diamonds!  Am I saying that one day I'm going to be a diamond?!  Ha, I don't know.  I'm not even sure that makes sense.  But the point I'm trying to make is that the struggles, the pressure, the work, is what make the final product so stunning, and I am the final product.  Not my job, or my money, or my house or my spouse.  Just smiling, shining, little ol diamond in the rough me.


So, today and always I want to make an effort to be thankful for the good things and the hard things, because without both I don't think I'd be the person I am today.

And just in case my family and friends think they're getting the shaft amidst all this talk of my problems, you're definitely not!  I know you all have my back and love me just as I am, just as I do you.  So, here's a little Beatles shout out to you all:




And now I'm off to the little town of Bethlehem to celebrate the holiday and my grandmother's 90th birthday, so you won't hear from me until next week, which somehow will land us in the month of December?!  I hope you all have a wonderful holiday!


What are you thankful for?

Do you think your struggles are something to regret or be thankful for?

What are your Thanksgiving plans?