Busy, the New Balance

“Busy is good because it shows you’re alive” -Alison G. Bailey

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few years, it’s that stillness is not in my vocabulary.  I have always wanted to be that person who unplugs from work and goes on vacation and is perfectly content with laying on the beach with a book or napping in a hammock, but my inner busy bee gets the best of me each and every time.  We all choose to unwind and detach from the craziness of work in many ways, mine tends to consist of home projects, road trips and generally trying new things.  Could it be that staying busy and putting yourself out there is the key to rebalancing?

Stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying new things is not a new concept to any of us, but after learning to listen to my inner go-getter and being inspired by similar explorers of life’s opportunities, such as my father who learned to play the bagpipes at 51, I was able to confirm the rumors were true–being busy makes you feel alive and reprograms the workaholic’s priority list.

Progress over the last year has looked a little something like this:

  • Stand-up paddle boarding
  • Mastering the art of last minute trips
  • Cooking classes
  • Tennis
  • Investing in a personal trainer
  • Painting
  • …starting a blog

I remember the first time I acknowledged the positive impact these new activities had on a drive home from cooking class at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts last fall–for the first time in at least 2 years I felt alive–that jump up and down, nothing can stop me, the sky’s the limit kind of feeling that suddenly engulfed my dull workaholic persona.  This feeling was indescribable and I knew I had to have more–the most shocking part: I was actually still living and moving at my same workaholic pace of 100 mph–the difference was increased energy, carving out more time for myself and a thirst for more extracurricular activities. 

These new experiences had inspired me on new levels that fostered greater self confidence and a more optimistic view on finding and achieving balance.  It was about becoming the producer in life and leaving behind the reactor and the feeling of being a hostage to my career. And while it may have taken 30 years, I finally found the real April and started listening to what makes her tick, what makes her skittish, and what brings her joy.  

Some of the more impactful lessons learned from listening:

  • Putting yourself out there is the only way to push the limits to achieve your full potential
  • New adventures warrant focus and focus demands you to exist in the present
  • Happiness is a trophy only you can design and achieve
  • Stillness has nothing to do with balance–embrace your life’s inner pace, even if it is a steady 100 mph
  • For fellow math geeks out there- new hobbies = new brain cells– doctors at the Mayo Clinic have proven that trying new things, such as learning a new instrument, playing a new sport or tackling the daily crossword puzzle can help protect against certain types of dementia, not to mention lower blood pressure and improve physical function

Balance for a workaholic isn’t defined as simply laying on the beach and relaxing, but discovering new hobbies, new experiences and new challenges outside of work that appeal to the individual who resides under that compulsive career overachiever.  The first step is putting yourself out there…

“Pearls don’t lie on the seashore. If you want one, you must dive for it.” – Chinese proverb

 

 

Cozy Up with Clean Cobbler

While January is traditionally a month that celebrates self restraint and purging our bodies of the damage inflicted throughout the holiday season, sometimes it is nice to indulge–at least a little.   Dr. Alejandro Junger, author of Clean Eats, Clean and Clean Gutwalks through a series of recipes ranging from breakfast to sides, soups and even my favorite–desserts.

Clean eats book cover

The cliff note version of his mantra on clean eating: Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day.  Teach a man how to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.  While some of the recipes call for items a little outside of my comfort zone, such as mesquite meal (found here: Mesquite Meal Link) and nutritional yeast (found here: Nutritional Yeast), I was drawn to the promise of increased energy and unprocessed foods.  Being honest, this book is not for everyone, but as mentioned before, there are several opportunities to dabble in the methodology before taking the leap and purchasing this book.  Try Foodgawker — Clean Eat Recipes

After the first several pages, I began my quest for healthier meals, more energy, and just a genuine interest in exploring all things uniquely healthy– and let’s face it, nothing is better during a chilly blizzard than Blackberry Cobbler, especially one that claims to be Paleo-inspired.

Here’s the recipe adapted from Dr. Junger’s Clean Eats:
Yields: 4-6 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:
4 apples peeled, cored, and cut into large chunks
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of stevia powder
1-1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen berries
2 teaspoons coconut oil

Topping:
2 cups of raw almonds
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
2 dashes of cinnamon
2 tablespoons coconut nectar or honey
1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat over to 350 degrees

In large bowl, gently toss the chopped apples with the cinnamon and stevia. Gently stir in the berries– the recipe calls for frozen blackberries, but I opted for the antioxidant berry mix in the freezer case, which includes, raspberries, blackberries and tart cherries.

Oil an 8-inch cake pan with the coconut oil. Spread the apple and berry mixture in the pan–time to make the topping. Note: ensure that the pan is deep enough for the apple/berry mixture

In a food processor, pulse the almonds (you can also use 1 cup of almonds and 1 cup Brazil nuts) until they are crumbly in texture. Add the coconut, cinnamon, coconut nectar/honey, coconut oil and vanilla, and pulse several times until everything is combined, but still chunky.

Sprinkle the topping over the apple and berry mixture. Bake the cobbler for 30 minutes, checking and baking a bit longer if you want softer and mushier apples. The top should be brown and crispy.

Cobbler 1

There are several iterations for the ingredients in the recipe above–including swapping almonds for walnuts or simply mixing 1 cup of almonds with 1 cup of walnuts–whatever your fancy.  Depending on your palate, you could even include on tart berries, such as the cherries or blackberries–any frozen berry mixture will do!  This may just be the recipe that motivates us all to pick up the shovels and tackle the 2 feet of snowfall from today’s blizzard.

Bon appetit and stay warm!

The No-Gym, No-Shame Workout

Snow–a love hate relationship

As I sit here with a cup of tea, my heating pad and a bottle of Aleve, I suddenly feel less guilty about not making it to the gym on Friday.  Shoveling the latest gift from Mother Nature for the last hour and a half has not only produced some undesired side effects (aching back, wind-whipped cheeks), but some welcome byproducts, primarily a sizable dent in my daily caloric burn goal.

Not everyone has time or money to go to the gym and perhaps even the thought of fitness videos via your cable’s on-demand program or even DVDs still doesn’t motivate some to workout.  Have no fear–what you’ll find is that there are all sorts of ways to multitask, combining your routine workout with your dreaded household chores.  After reviewing more than 2 dozen websites on the caloric benefits of housework, I finally collapsed the lengthy data into a small table–mostly relevant to my own checklist of weekly household chores

calorie table

So this morning’s back-breaking shovel expedition potentially netted a 400-600 calorie benefit, while also providing a needed escape from being trapped indoors throughout the duration of yesterday’s storm.  As a Maine-native, I have never shied away from snow or hard work, so the 8 inches of heavy-wet snow blanketing our vehicles, driveway and walkways was a challenge physically but also a way to sneak in some additional activity.  While I often dread the foretasted storm, the day after, generally sunny and breezy, always rekindles that school-girl snow day feeling–there is something about the crispness to the air and the beautiful glass-like look of the snow in the sunshine–and of course burning 400-600 calories sure isn’t bad either.

With reward always comes a word of caution…When flexing those muscle at home, doing anything from housework to yard work, keep in mind some helpful tips:

1. Right Tools– having tools that provide certain ergonomic features can go a long way towards preventing injury (i.e. bent shovels, knee guards when you’re scrubbing on the floors, etc.)

2. Proper Form –sounds silly right? but there are proper techniques to cleaning in order to maximize quality and minimize the likelihood of injury.  Still not a believer?  Take a quick read through this link for the real reason to change your form: Work Safe Cheat Sheet

3. Have Fun–jamming out to a few of your favorite workout tunes can make the time pass quickly–some of my greatest non-conventional workouts have been successful thanks to the likes of Janet Jackson, Britney Spears, and even Tom Petty.

In a world moving 80 mph, it is not always an option to head to a gym, yoga studio or spin class–but rolling up your sleeves to tackle household chores can help dispel those guilty thoughts and result in a great mind-clearing sweat and a tidy abode.

Getting in shape can take on all different shapes and sizes–so embrace the different ways you can schedule a good sweat and do not get hung up on the conventional routines!

Wonder Woman must wear these…

A good pair of underwear is like a new pair of shoes–instant confidence

Now I generally don’t put a lot of thought into my workout attire, but just before Christmas I happened to stumble upon something that claimed to be a game changer for all things athletic–Fitknix underwear ( sorry for the gentlemen out there- this one is for the ladies only – for now…)

Shown below and found here: Fitnix these gems can also be found on Amazon for all the Prime-exclusive folks out there – Amazon Fitknix

The real reason to believe? Only the fact that they do not ride up, do not retain excess moisture and the best part of the thong- no embarrassing VPL in front of your classmates or gym rats. It goes without saying that underwear is often overlooked and becomes an afterthought in most daily routines, but there is no contesting the instant confidence you feel when you’re wearing a new pair of knickers.

I have been wearing these new under garments for a little over a month now and haven’t seen even so much as a hiccup in their performance and fit–so here’s some additional observations and tips:

1. Washing– always wash with cold water and hang dry. I babied these panties and washed alongside my dearest Seven for all Mankind jeans on the gentle cycle and air dried. The color has stayed vibrant on all 3 pairs–the cobalt blue pictured below is by far my favorite.

2. Styles– each one of the 4 styles (thong, bikini, boy short and high rise) all claim to have a seamless design to prevent the dreaded VPL–I have not tested this claim for the bikinis, boy shorts or high rise, but the thongs do have an extremely flattering design and fit comfortably around my hips and do live up to the no VPL assertion.

3. Keep it Cool– they certainly will not be your personal fan to keep you cool on the treadmill, but they do a great job keeping you dry, which indirectly makes you feel cooler throughout your workout.

4. Sticker Shock– some out there are descending upon FitKnix’s site and scratching their heads at the price tag–a cool $28 on average per garment is a little much when you consider it is hidden from the outside world and only worn during your workouts, but a little goes a long way and even equipping yourself with a single pair to start may just add that extra pep in your step at the gym when you’re ready to throw in the towel.

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I am always interested to hear what other gadgets, tricks and routines help add a little extra something to a workout routine–any suggestions out there?

Up next Clean Eats takes over dinner…

Junk in January

After watching an episode of Tiny House nation on FYI, I thought “I could certainly live that lifestyle” but after a glance in our upstairs closet–affectionately referred to as No Man’s Land in our house–I realized that we were fostering useless relics. Now I come from a long line of neat freaks and I can say that I’ve always been a fan of periodically purging but after 4 months of birthdays, Christmas, a new job and just no spare time, I thought it was only fitting to tackle No Man’s Land and several other sneaky hiding spots for all things clutter.

The timing wasn’t altogether coincidence, as part of my January no-spend challenge was to review and reassess. Why? As per several no-spend resources, it is helpful to go through your things, and I mean all your things, and determine what is needed, what makes you happy, and what items that had previously brought joy but had lost their luster. After 3 hours of going through the closet, every drawer, cabinet and bin, I had amassed a small pile of success on my dining room table. The scary truth of this expedition: I have plenty of personal items–further reinforcing the notion that mindless spending (pre no-spend challenge) was only adding to this mountain of purged household goods–otherwise known as a waste of money.

Part of the rebalancing act as a workaholic is to identify and conquer the crutches we all use to achieve temporary satisfaction that generally have no correlation to actual solution. Ever had a bad morning at work and decide you deserve a treat because the world has wronged you? (Hoping for honest internal monologues here) I am a guilty of this reward system and the result has been countless trips to Home Goods, Starbucks, Marshall’s and even Cupcake City (amazing cupcakes but not for this reason)–downstream impact: a house full of stuff–not meaningful, thoughtful tangible goods but rather visual confirmation that a rebalance is needed. My January no-spend challenge has forced me to find alternatives to sooth the sting of a hectic morning like taking a walk around the floor, or listening to classical music in our company’s sleep pods (amazing employee perk). It’s taken some getting used to but I’ve learned to appreciate just silence when it feels like the world is tumbling down. What a novel concept.

Next up- the miracle garment for every work out…

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Cure for a case of the Mondays?

Sometimes surviving a Monday, especially one plagued by snowy traffic jams and a to-do list large enough to smother you, deserves a little treat–but after successfully conquering the gym and not so much as even thinking about a grande non-fat no foam latte from Starbucks, I thought it was only fitting to reward myself with some chocolate.

In good conscience, I decided to spruce up my sugary indulgence with my new favorite, the chia seed, and a fruit that I have admittedly received 3 times in my Boston Organics weekly box, and shied away from using each time–the pomegranate. So far my New Years resolution to conquer new ingredients is off to a good start–first the fiber-packed chia seed and now the beautifully bright pomegranate. After watching a few YouTube videos on how to tackle this fruit–I finally felt confident enough to proceed.

For those Martha Stewart and Ryan Seacrest fans out there, here’s a humorous how-to: How to Open a Pomegranate

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Chocolate Bark with Almonds, Pomegranate & Chia
1. Line a 9″x9″ glass baking dish or other shallow dish with wax paper

2. In a microwave-safe glass bowl, melt 2 cups of dark chocolate chips (I used the Ghiradelli dark chocolate melting wafers)–making sure to melt the chips in 20 seconds increments; stirring in between. You can also melt chocolate over the stover–I’ve used a medium saucepan with 3 inches of bowling water and a glass mixing bowl set on top–stirring constantly

3. Once melted, evenly spread the melted chocolate over the wax paper-prepared dish

4. Let your imagination run wild–I used sliced almonds, pomegranate and chia seeds — sprinkle toppings over melted chocolate.

Other ideas– pistachios, shredded unsweetened coconut flakes, sea salt, dried cranberries, and for those who are still hanging onto the holidays–there’s the ever-popular crushed candy canes

5. Place dish in refrigerator to set for a least 1 hour; for storage, continue to store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week

Make sure not to waste any of the remaining chocolate–in order to polish off the last of the fruit from the organics delivery, we peeled a tangerine and dipped the ends in chocolate. Place them on a wax paper-lined plate to set up in the refrigerator alongside the bark for 1 hour. These made for a tasty afternoon snack and one that didn’t leave me regretting the hard work at the gym earlier that day–finding a tasty dessert that doesn’t contain a full stick of butter is challenging but not hopeless.

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I recently received Clean Eats, by Alejandro Junger (found here on Amazon: Clean Eats) and while this week’s simple indulgence doesn’t necessarily align with the book’s message- I’m eager to dive in and find more creative ways to spice up everything from dinner to desserts–more to come and if you’re not ready to take the $25 plunge on Amazon, there are several great Clean-inspired ideas on FoodGawker (Clean Eat Recipes

Up next–a book report on how the January no-spend challenge has been progressing and some helpful tips–many thanks to my friends for hosting no-spend-friendly events, such as last Saturday’s Patriots game pot luck

Good intentions; surprising results

As I sit here at my desk with blood-shot eyes, no concept of how long I’ve been here, whether I’ve actually slept or what day it is, I realize that I had narrowly escaped a crash and burn moment after setting out with good intentions and careful planning at the beginning of this frigid week .

While planning, packing lunches/dinners/etc. at the beginning of the week, and blocking off my Outlook calendar, seemed like a genius way to ward off the evil workaholic spirits, I found myself driving home in the middle of the night wondering–how can this be reality.  It may have had something to do with the 3.5-4 hours of sleep each night this week, but I suddenly realized that while working 17 hour days, I had still managed to stay on track with several goals, as dutifully promised last week.

Bento box lunches and unsubscribing from the relentless on slot of online shopping emails has been but a small contribution to the week, but some that have managed to keep this accounting zombie from slipping off the tracks.   Amazon’s $15 Bentgo lunch system has managed to compartmentalize and organize at least one component of this seemingly hectic week (counted as a victory in my book).  Interested in giving it a test drive?  Here’s the link to the one shown below: Bentgo Lunch Box on Amazon

Bento

I know some of you are sitting out there shaking your heads–workaholic, yes; balance (this week), no, but the surprising outcome is that even in the midst of the professional fury, small personal escapes and treats end up producing surprisingly meaningful results.  Perhaps it is the 15 minutes of quiet as I open my lunch and just relax that enables a workaholic to find balance and not just scaling completely back (although I assure you that scaling back is a critical component to success longer term–I am counting the minutes until Saturday morning)

Here’s to staying warm and surviving the remainder of the week! (current temp in Boston: 5 below)

A Penny for Your Thoughts?

Has anyone out there attempted some sort of cleanse? As the new year inspires us to try new things and start anew and as a prudent CPA, I thought it may be interesting to switch gears and attempt a financial cleanse. While I’ve dabbled in both the juice and broth/fruit/veggie cleanse arenas in the past (I nearly passed out at work after day 3 of the juice cleanse), I haven’t tried to tackle the nasty habit of mindless shopping–even if it is for relatively small and inexpensive items.

The challenge
-Reduce shopping for unnecessary items, as a result of stress from work, boredom, not thinking through the actual necessity of the product(s)
-Save additional money for new projects/adventures
-Focus on purging and pairing down existing items at home –my mother and sister can attest to primal need the 3 of us have to reduce/toss/simplify the stuff in each of our homes (the men in our families have become desensitized to the quarterly clean out of closest, desks, coffee tables, and cupboards and some outsiders, who will remain unnamed, have often labeled this habit as OCD)
-To appease my inner number junkie– nothing makes me happier at work than to see restraint in spending– so the same happiness must hold true for my personal life, right?

Inspiration/Guidance/Structure
After reading several other fiscally inspired blogs, I have devised a list of my own rules, as well as including links to the various inspirations for this challenge–helpful sites:
1. Mint.com
2. For those looking for a daily no-spend challenge
3. Proof that a no-spend month can work
4. Tips on how to avoid no-spend challenge mistakes

Ground Rules
While the ground rules out there can range from inhumane to tolerable, I’ve developed the following rules for myself:
1. No frivolous purchases (i.e. new jeans, workout gear, cooking gadgets, nicknacks, etc.). I’ve already unsubscribed from sites like Rue LaLa, Gilt, Jcrew, Cole Haan, etc. with the whole notion out of site, out of mind–in addition to the fact that buying under duress with a countdown ticking away in the upper right-hand corner, stresses many of us out and often leads to impulse buys for impractical and unnecessary items.

2. No Starbucks/Take Out — I’m positive that the wonderful folks at the Starbucks around the corner will still remember my morning staple when I eventually return–although this may be the hardest one of them all, especially with a hectic month ahead at work. A lack of coffee-house prepared happiness may prove whether I really have the stamina to stick with the challenge…

3. Bills/Emergencies Do Not Count (i.e. car payments, cell phone–although I’d love nothing more than to toss it out for a month, etc.)

4. Previously Scheduled Events Do Not Count (i.e. my Mother’s birthday on Jan. 18th–I can easily say that my days of gifting homemade macaroni necklaces elapsed nearly 20 years ago…)

5. Basic Necessities Do Not Count (i.e. groceries, gas, etc.) –although that does not mean I cannot make a more concerted effort to reduce waste, by planning the week’s meals ahead of time, and stockpiling the small pantry. I have already found that a simple grocery list goes a long way to minimizing last-minute and unneeded grocery store finds.

Invitation to the Challenge
So like any civilized event, I must extend an invitation and welcome anyone also inspired or in need of a good ol’ fashioned cleanse:
Timing:The challenge will start on January 5th and end February 5th
Activities: I will provide weekly updates on willpower, progress, tips and successes
Party Favors (because every great cleanse must contain elementary rewards for those who make the sacrifices): Each week I will find a small outlet to reward myself –maybe a Starbucks latte or a manicure–so long as I do not unwind the savings success from the week(s) prior
RSVPs/Comments: Any words of advice/pointers/questions/comments/concerns are strongly encouraged throughout–simply leave a comment on this page or the weekly updates that follow

Let the adventure begin! Guests and spectators of all kinds are welcome on this month-long journey!

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