Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Resolve to Remember Your Goals

Memorial Day has passed and today is the last month of May. Tomorrow is June! Where has the month/year gone? On this day after Memorial Day, I am going to take this opportunity to look at the goals I set at the end of last year and see how I am doing. So, in addition to remembering the people who died for us in the service of our country, I am going to perform a gut check one short month, before half the year is over. My goals are usually the same: Start writing more, lose weight, travel, have more fun and learn Spanish. So how am I doing? I still need to start writing more, and to dedicate more time to my craft. Of course, discovering this fact right before school's out for summer is not the most brilliant timing, but I need to come up with a plan to make it work. Losing weight? I probably weigh the same as when the year started, but now I'm on this extreme diet (that's making me cranky), so hope springs eternal. I am running 2-3 times a week and exercising 2 to 3 other times, in addition to yoga and tennis, so I feel like I'm doing pretty good on the "staying in shape" front. Travel- not so much this year. Other than Key West (and that was in January) and a couple short trips to the Keys, nada. Hopefully, the summer will offer some more travel opportunities (or I shall just make them happen myself). I have had quite a few parties this year- Wine tasting supper club in Feb,, St. Patty's Day dinner in March, End-of-the-year Tennis Party and Family Birthday Party in May. In addition, my daughter AJ and I catered a Garden Party for 30, something that was a new and fun experience. Although I didn't get to go see the shuttle launch, there is one left I am registered for, so I have my fingers crossed. It is the last shuttle launch for NASA. Learning Spanish, unfortunately, was a total wash. I signed up for the class, paid $150 and only made it to two classes. I guess it will just have to go on my list for next year.

How are you doing at this "almost half-way through the year" mark? What do you want to improve on/do more of/stop doing? You still have 7 months left- so make a new list, rededicate yourself and make the most of the rest of 2011! Adios muchachos.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Just Desserts

I remember hearing a story about Jackie O and a restaurant she would frequent. The owner always sent her over a tray of desserts after her meal and she would usually take a small bite and wave the rest away. After she found out she had cancer, he did the usual and she took a bite. The waiter came over to take the plate away, and this time she waved the waiter away with her fork, telling him not to dare take the desserts away- that she was going to eat every last bite of them. I was thinking about this, because I am on this diet and thinking about eating out and getting dessert and how usually only a couple bites will satisfy my sweet tooth, so why do I eat the whole thing? Like the old commercial said: "I can't believe I ate the whole thing!" And then I think about the Queen Latifah movie Last Holiday, where she thinks she is dying, so she orders everything on the menu at her hotel's restaurant. It turns out she's not dying, but my point is, I'm having a hard time reconciling the idea of "Live each day as if it's you're last" with living in moderation or, worse yet, deprivation. I think about Jackie Kennedy and how great she always looked- slim and chic- but realize it was not without sacrifice. So, is the choice, deprive yourself and look like Jackie O, or indulge yourself and look like Queen Latifah? Or, is the answer, as I am guessing, somewhere in between? As for me, I am planning on ordering Key Lime Pie down in the Keys and splitting it with my hubby for our 7 year anniversary. I guess you have to do what you can live with, right?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Rack Up the Sales

Somehow, I missed getting that "girly gene" that loves to shop. Although I like shopping for things around the house, I HATE shopping for clothes. I would rather go to the dentist, the gynecologist, the DMV, get my oil changed, my teeth drilled, watch paint dry, than spend a day at the mall. Yet, sometimes of course, one needs clothes. While I usually favor Marshalls or T.J. Maxx (which are both part of the same company), their selection can be hit and miss. Sometimes it's feast, other times famine and if you are going in search of one particular item it's always a risky proposition. I avoid Department stores at all costs, but have been having a great deal of luck lately at Nordstorm Rack. I went to get a dress for an event and ended up walking away with three dresses, all marked down half price or more. On a previous visit, I bought this white Classic Calvin Klein dress that can be dressed up, down and kind of reminds me of the dress Ilsa wore in Casablanca when she first walks into the club and sees long lost love Rick. The other two are Maggy London that I wore to two events. I also got a knockout red Adrianna Papell. They have designer duds SLASHED in price. My daughter, who used to only buy in Department Stores LOVED Nordstrom Rack and walked away with some great buys herself. It is clean, well organized and seems more like a department store than a Marshalls or T.J.Maxx. According to the website "Nordstrom Rack offers a wide selection of apparel, accessories and shoes from our Nordstrom stores and Nordstrom.com at reduced prices." This place is not just for girls, they have men's stuff too, as well as clothes for kids, maternity clothes and a wide selection of shoes. I sound like a commercial so I have to say "Try it, you'll like it!" Or at least it will make shopping less painful.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Don't Be a Jerk about Your Chicken

Are you a white meat or dark meat kind of gal (or dude)? While the white meat wing is actually my favorite part of the chicken, it has very little meat and a lot of skin- not good for dieters. Fry it and add some Buffalo wings sauce, even worse. But, for day-to-day eating, I have been choking down dry chicken breasts, thinking I was making a better nutritional choice than dark meat. Come to find out, dark meat (my favorite is chicken thighs) only has 5 more calories than white meat and (even better news) has four times the zinc, three times the iron and more thiamine, riboflavin and vitamin B6 and B12 than its paler counterpart. The reason dark meat is dark is due to having more Myoglobin in the muscles; But I don't want to think about Myoglobin or muscles when I eat chicken. I just want to relish in the delicious, juicy and tasty morsels that are perfectly cooked chicken thighs. Mmm mmm good! No wait, that's soup. Better to say: (as Colonel Saunders) "Finger lickin' Good!" Here's a recipe for Jerk Chicken I made last night for dinner that falls into that category. I used organic, boneless and skinless chicken thighs from Cotsco. This recipe makes a seasoning that's a little sweet, salty and complex, with a kick of heat to it. The good thing about this, is you should have all the ingredients on hand (excepting the possibility of green onion and jalapeno) to whip up a batch of Jerk marinade anytime the mood strikes. It must have been good Mon, because hubby came home to eat the leftovers. I served it with red beans, rice and cucumber salad (to cut the heat). The only thing missing was an ice cold Red Stripe.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

1/3 cup olive oil

3 T fresh lime juice (I used lemon)

1 T sugar

1/4 cup minced scallions

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 scotch bonnet or jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced

1 tsp dried thyme leaves

3/4 tsp ground allspice

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts and or thighs (these can be cut into bite sized chunks and put on a skewer, if desired)

In a glass or stainless steel bowl, combine all ingredients except chicken and mix well. Rinse the chicken under cold water, pat dry with paper towels and place in a large, sealable plastic bag. Pour in the marinade, seal the bag and squish it around to make sure all the chicken is covered. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, up to 24. (The longer the better) To cook, prepare a medium fire in the grill. Remove chicken from marinade and grill until done.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Green Eggs and Bad Baloney

AHA! Vindication! I am known around my house as sometimes using (or serving) food or items from the fridge that are a little bit "past their prime". I realize this goes against my Martha Stewart reputation, (my friend Susie calls me Gina Stewart) but I hate to throw away perfectly good food. With this goal in mind, I've been known to cut a little mold off a block of cheese, or scrape some suspicious looking gunk out of the jelly jar. And the time I served my son Brad (then about 3) a piece of green baloney, that he promptly threw up all over the couch, is a day that will live in infamy. Not my proudest moment, to be sure. But, did you know that Americans waste an estimated 14 to 40 percent of food they buy? 14% is okay, but 40%? That's almost half of groceries you've paid good money for. And the price of groceries seems to be going up by the day. Given these statistics, I feel vindicated to find out that experts say that the use-by, sell-by and eat-by dates are largely designed for quality, not the safety, of food. So, it might taste a little-less-than perfect, but it won't kill you. Experts say not to eat something if it's obviously gone bad (green baloney, anyone?), but if it smells, looks and tastes OK- it probably is. So there, children! And Brad- sorry about that green baloney.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Just What I Needed

Sometimes taking a deep breath can be refreshing, energizing and delicious. Just like a cold drink of water on a summer's day, breathing air into our lungs is always available to us and free. While we are doing a difficult yoga pose, our instructor will sometimes tell us to "Breathe through it." Holding your breath (something we tend to do when we are in pain or having difficulty) actually makes getting through the pose more difficult. When I was running yesterday, I realized all I needed to do is put one foot in front of the other and keep breathing. A deep breath costs just as much as a short, shallow one and it feels exhilarating. "Take a deep, luxurious breath," our yoga instructor advised us this week. So yesterday, when I had a very stressful day and was in the grocery store eyeing a bag of pork rinds and very tempted to buy them and eat the whole pack right there, I instead chose to breathe through it. I took a deep breath, and the urge to munch and crunch my way through the stress and anxiety left me. I saved a lot of calories, about a buck and some clogged arteries. I have come to realize I am a stress eater. While some people can't eat when they're stressed out, I eat (especially crunchy things like pork rinds or potato chips) to get through it. The bad thing is I can't even really taste the food, or appreciate it- it's just a way to cope. Now, I have found I have another tool to get me through stress and that is breathing. Some meditation exercises focus on the breath- breathing in, out, feeling the sensation of the breath entering and exiting your lungs, focusing on your chest rising and falling. When we are lying in shivasana (corpse pose) at the end of our yoga practice our instructor says "Observe how you are feeling now- relaxed and calm- and when you get stressed out during the course of your day, remember that you can always access this feeling. All you need to do is go back to your breath." Namaste.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ We May Never Pass This Way Again

As I was running yesterday I noticed the Royal Poincianas blooming along my route. They usually start blooming full force in June, but this year they're out early. They said the only thing that didn't go according to plan with the Royal Wedding was the fact they planted tulips to bloom that day, but they bloomed early and were no longer around. One thing (among many) we can't control in life is the weather. I went to visit a friend in college at William and Mary thirty years ago and I remember being so excited because I thought I would be there in the middle of the Fall Foliage. Unfortunately, a cold snap came early and there was only one tree left with leaves turning in downtown Williamsburg. My friend Chrissy brought me to see it and I have a photo of me sitting under that tree. Better one than none, I suppose. This got me thinking about #1 How some plants need a cold snap to get them blooming, which could be used as an analogy for life. Sometimes, something major needs to happen in our lives to get us to change course, seek new direction and bloom to our fullest. And I started thinking about how I was in Washington D.C. one year and the cherry blossoms were blooming, totally by chance. They were beautiful and I appreciated them. So lesson #2: if you are somewhere where the cherry blossoms, royal poincianas or tulips are blooming (or the fall leaves are turning) ENJOY IT, for "we may never pass this way again". I used to be a flight attendant for Air Florida and flew to Amsterdam a couple times, but for one reason or another, never made it out of the hotel room to go sightseeing. And, one day, just like that, Air Florida was gone and my visions of twirling windmills, creamy chocolates and blooming tulips were gone as well. So Carpe Diem! Seize the day , smell the flowers and all that jazz.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Happiness Takes Time

Another thing that I love, that cost me nothing, is my lychee tree. I got it during an "Adopt a Tree " event sponsored by DERM for Miami-Dade County residents. All you need to do is have proof you are a homeowner in Miami, and go and pick up the tree at the designated location. I also got an avocado tree this way, but I love lychees, maybe most of all because they remind me of a book I read in 7th Grade- Split Bamboo. In this book (a thriller because our English teacher Sister Joseph loved thrillers) the main character (a retired spy) is captured and requests lychees to eat from his captor, a wealthy man with extravagant tastes. The kidnapper obliges and the spy character splits open the lychees and uses the inside of the seeds to dye his face brown. He also fits himself with brown contacts, to change the color of his eyes. This is all done in order to fit in with the Asian population when he escapes. Anyway, just like I had to taste scones when I read about them in Agatha Christie mysteries, I wanted to taste lychees after this book. I did (I'm sure they were canned) and have loved them ever since. I got my lychee tree about two years ago and it has taken this long for it to finally produce fruit. That's the other thing about happiness- sometimes it takes time. Raising children, finishing a screenplay, getting a degree, aren't things done overnight, but they certainly can bring happiness, as well as a sense of accomplishment. As for me, I can't wait to taste the first lychee from my tree while re-reading Split Bamboo by Leon Phillips.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Gifts That Keep on Giving

Busy week last week- end-of-the-year tennis party Tuesday (at my house), a friend's bazaar Wednesday, Talbot Runhof fashion show Thursday, 8th grade prom Friday and Mother's Day Sunday= no blogging. At my friend's bazaar I splurged on an aromatherapy kit for my Mother's Day gift to myself. I have given myself my own gift in past years, because that way I get exactly what I want. Will my aromatherapy kit bring me happiness? Studies have shown that while we might get a slight bump of happiness from purchasing a new item, after a short while, our happiness level is back to normal. According to a Harvard study "Lottery winners, a year later, are no more happy than a control group of people who didn't win." I think whether or not an item brings me happiness depends on how much I use it. If I use it everyday, yes. If it sits on a shelf in my bathroom, no. One former Mother's Day gift that has given me a lot of happiness is my compost bin. Yes, I realize this is weird, but when I deposit my vegetable peelings, egg shells and coffee grinds into my compost pail in the kitchen (another gift), it makes me feel really good. And when I go dump it out into the compost bin (and hopefully don't encounter the family of rats living inside), I feel like humming The Lion King's Circle of Life theme song. One time, I put dead tomato plants in the bin and realized they would break down into rich, loamy compost to feed my new tomato plants and it gave me great joy. So that is the question I ask myself when I buy something- "Will this give me joy?" Or, on the converse- will this make me feel guilty, take up precious space in my house or, worse yet, end up at my next garage sale? Two other items that I've purchased that give me happiness are my sports watch and my pedometer. I use my watch almost every day when I run or lift weights and my pedometer (when I get it set up) will help me track my steps each day. This is my third one- I've come to the conclusion they last as long as their one year warranty. The other great thing about my compost bin is when I use the compost I get surprise tomatoes and dill plants that spring up all over. Hope you had a great Mother's Day (if you are a mother) and Hakuna Matata!