When all else fails, get the heck out of dodge

“A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you have been taking.” – Earl Wilson

 

What’s your last resort when you are in need of a break?  How about a little vacation–preferably somewhere sunny and warm after over 100 inches of snow in the last month

The miracle of this mini 5-day family-filled vacation for this workaholic is the fact that at this very moment, all real connections to work are approximately 2,000 miles north in my home office.  Goodbye laptop, goodbye daily status meetings, goodbye babysitting and hello freedom.

Sometimes no matter how you try and put a bandaid on the stresses of work, the only way to really hit the reset button–or sometimes feels like the panic button–is to pack your bags and get the heck out of dodge.  Out of sight, out of mind–out of luck unless you can truly unplug from the constant borage of emails, phone calls, meetings and multitasking.

Setting boundaries with bosses, coworkers and even loved ones may feel a little awkward for some workaholics and control freaks–like yours truly–but something as small as an out of office reply for your work email can help those needy worker bees self soothe in your absence but can also put your mind at rest.  I liken my out of office reply to a formal disclaimer—“expect delays” or even “I will return all emails upon my return” are glorious phrases that can send a clear signal to most professionals and while they may be envious, ultimately we all recognize the importance of a vacation.

The other key to cutting the cord with work–back up plans–while we all know we are entitled to utilize our allotted vacation time, sometimes it can be hard to imagine our team members providing guidance in our absence.  The truth- with so much red tape at work, the obvious fact you must realize: nothing will burn to the ground and people will survive.

My challenge over the last few months at a new company has been consistency and structure and somehow I felt this pit feeling in my stomach at the very thought of asking for time off, but the company survived pre-April and can certainly survive sans April for 3 working days. Luckily, I have a very supportive boss who recognizes that burn out is a real possibility without ample breaks from the organized chaos–and after working 80 hour weeks for several months while trying to balance a personal life, my burn out point was becoming visible on the near horizon.

If you are also a workaholic, do you have enough self awareness to identify the factors that contribute to or can see your burn out point?  A serious question you have to ask yourself before you come home one night from work and binge on ice cream, wine or chocolate and wake up feeling completely unrested and restless.

So you’re at the same juncture of being burnt out–now what?

Well luckily the Internet is full of wonderful outlets for vacation planning and deals, in addition to stay-cation ideas:

1. Cheap Carribean — yes I realize this sounds like an Internet scam, but after hearing stories from close friends who have taken the leap, I’m a believer (Website)

2. Trip Advisor– my vacation website staple for things from restaurants to the real scoop on hotels in every locale under the sun.  It may even be a great resource for stay-cation ideas in and around your area–new neighborhood gems pop up everyday

3. Why not try a blog for additional ideas?  Beats the office on WordPress is one of my favorites and why notj just take a look right? (Beats the Office website)

So let’s do this–I’m off to Florida for some family time and rest from my professional life–what are you waiting for?

In the words of Winnie the Pooh– TTFN

Sunday- The Day for You

Today is Sunday, a day reserved for relaxation and a reset from the preceding week– it’s also the perfect opportunity to spend some time focusing on you. When life gets hectic, it is nice to do something for yourself, even if it’s only 1 hour running out to get a manicure or facial—and it is no surprise that taking care of yourself is one of the most important rituals you can embrace in an effort to rebalance.

This week’s distress tactic: Facial — Something I have devoted myself religiously to every 6 weeks for the last 2 years that not only helps me distress but also help me look my best—especially important for someone who has battled acne since the age of 12.

Facials date back as early as 100 A.D. when the Romans used ancient mud baths to condition their skin, and humans have been partaking in this practice ever since because let’s face it—who doesn’t love the feeling of fresh, hydrated and smooth-feeling skin?  And this ritual certainly transcends genders- men and woman alike stand to benefit from treating their faces to a little TLC.

I have found an incredible aesthetician outside of Boston, who is a friendly and knowledgeable individual I look forward to seeing every 6 weeks to cure my skin’s woes and learn knew skin treatment tricks.  But for those workaholics out there with limited white space on your calendar, no need to fear–there are many at-home, quick remedies to pamper yourself if getting out for a scheduled facial just won’t work for your schedule.

Some of the helpful tricks my aesthetician has gifted to me:

1. Miracle at-home mask – whole milk plain yogurt + Aveeno oatmeal bath packet (1/2 a packet)—this mask is great for clarifying and hydrating, something most of us in colder climates this winter could use.  Simply mix 6 oz of whole milk plain yogurt and a 1/2 a packet of the MaskAveeno oatmeal bath, or substitute with just oatmeal.  Apply liberally over your entire face, being sure to keep mask away from your eyes, and let set up for 15 minutes.  Rinse with warm water and apply a light moisturizer.

Some sites with some delectable at-home mask ideas:

Real Simple At-Home Mask Ideas
Whole Living At-Home Mask Ideas

2. Coconut oil – most people know how multifaceted this little gem is, everything from hydrating your cuticles, to oil pulling, to removing make-up.  I keep a small jar of coconut oil in my nightstand and apply it to my cuticles most nights and even use it as a hydrating foot lotion, especially during these chiller months.  This wonder oil can also create an improved and smoother shave if applied to your legs before and after shaving, and can even prevent ingrown hairs, as coconut oil also carries antibacterial properties.

Here are some sites that outline the benefits of coconut oil:
Health.com
Organic Facts.net

3. Suki Concentrated Skin Toner—this product has literally changed my skin—after being plagued with troublesome skin, dating back to 12 years old, I finally found a product that has quite literally changed the texture and evenness of my skin. And the most important rule my aesthetician and this toner taught me—hydration is the best way to combat an oily complexion.  I apply the concentrated skin toner 2x a day after cleansing my skin.Suki Toner

The Suki line of products are generally found at many spas and can also be found on Amazon—one word of caution is pursuing the Amazon route—make sure you are purchasing from Suki (seller)

A good starter kit can be found on Amazon here: Suki Starter Kit

Still looking for some additional ways to pamper yourself at home?  Here are some of the books I have sought out for additional ideas/inspiration/tricks:

1. Skintervention – by Scott-Vincent Borba
The book can be found on Amazon here: Skintervention

SkinterventionThis book is an easy read and encompasses a holistic approach to obtaining and maintaining beautiful skin—from the foods you eat, to the vitamins/supplements you take to even at-home remedies for an all-natural and cost effective

2. The Skin Type Solution—by Leslie Baumann
The book can be found on Amazon here: The Skin Type Solution

Skin Type SolutionA similar holistic approach to managing better skin, including managing your diet and reading labels of products in order to properly tailor to your specific skin-type needs

Not Your Momma’s Oatmeal

Another day, another snow storm—this New England winter does not seem to be lightening up on us anytime soon. Over the past several weeks, we have become accustomed to hunkering down at home during each storm—which means forging for breakfast on your own.

After seeing this week’s snowfall forecast, it became apparent there was a need for a warm, filing and nutritious breakfast—somehow I rationalized that a great breakfast would provide enough motivation to start shoveling at dawn–that’s for another blog post.

I spent an hour or two cruising through my usual inspirational websites—from Foodgawker.com to Food & Wine—and finally stumbled upon something deceivingly simplistic—overnight oatmeal. Now I have never been a huge fan of oatmeal—there’s always been a somewhat lackluster allure for this breakfast staple, but perhaps this recipe was enough to make me a believer.

Oatmeal ItemsPreparation took about 5 minutes to assemble, pour and shake—then into the refrigerator it went. When we woke up to another 14 inches of snow on Sunday morning, we simply took the jars of oatmeal out and popped them (sans the metal tops) into the microwave for a few minutes—and voila, a tasty oatmeal concoction and the hint of lemon, combined with the cinnamon and brown sugar blended perfectly–and was anything but simplistic tasting.

Food & Wine made me a believer when it comes to oatmeal and this breakfast idea will come in handy for the additional storms forecasted this week.  The cooler version of this recipe (everything sans the microwave) will taste refreshing when the warm weather eventually returns to New England—which might be June at this rate.

For those interested in a tasty, quick and hearty breakfast here’s the recipe:

Overnight Oatmeal (as adapted from Food & Wine)
Ingredients:
½ cup steel cut oats
¾ cup milk
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon of vanilla extract
½ cup of blueberries, or any berries you have on hand (fresh or frozen)
3 tablespoons brown sugar

Combine all ingredients in a glass jar—I used a glass mason jar—shake the jar and place in the refrigerator for 6 hours to overnight. Top with some slivered almonds, real maple syrup or additional brown sugar and enjoy!

For a warmer version—take metal top off of mason jar and place in the microwave for 1.5 – 2 minutes.

Note: In terms of milk, I have used both dairy and almond milks, both have worked great.

Oatmeal

Cozy Couple’s Carb-Free Dinner

SteakWhile our house tends to be divided on the frequency of carbs in our dinner schedule, I found a way to sneak in a hearty, warm and satisfying dinner without the usual pasta or bread. I am by no means on the anti-carb bandwagon; however, I think we need to scale back on our consumption of these delectable items from time to time—especially with a trip to Florida in the near future.

What really makes this meal so appealing is just how quickly it can all be pulled together—great for those hectic weeknights or even a Valentine’s Day dinner plagued by shoveling and frigid temperatures.

Some items you should already have or run out to purchase:
Meat thermometer Meat thermometer—and trust me when I say, this is one of the key tools in my entire kitchen and not just for cooking meat. After last week’s baking class, I learned it is even useful for gauging the perfect doneness of breads (an optimal 200 degrees F for perfect bread). Here’s a link to the one purchased on Amazon that I swear by: Meat Thermometer on Amazon

Oven thermometerOven thermometer—if nothing more, this $10 item will provide at least a few hours of entertainment when you finally fire up your oven and see just how inaccurate it may actually be—our 2-year-old oven is approximately 8 degrees F off (up to 350 degrees F) and then 12 degrees off ( >350 degrees F). This gadget may solve a number of baking-related frustrations. Here’s a link to the one I purchased on Amazon (but available locally at your Bed Bath and Beyond, etc.): Oven Thermometer on Amazon

For a cozy carb-free couple’s dinner, simply follow these relatively simple steps:

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: Approx. 20 minutes

Ingredients:
For the Steaks
• 2 8-oz filet mignon steaks
• 2 tablespoons of olive oil
• 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
• 2 tablespoons of fresh thyme, finely chopped
• Salt and pepper

For the Red Wine Reduction
• 1/2 cup of beef broth
• 1 cup of red wine—preferably cabernet sauvignon
• 1 cup of baby bella mushrooms—be sure to dust off any dirt
• 1 tablespoon of butter
• Salt and pepper

For the Broccoli Side
• 2 cups of broccoli, washed and cut into bite-sized pieces
• 2 tablespoons of butter
• Salt and pepper

Remove steaks from the refrigerator and marinate with plenty of salt and pepper on both sides. Leave marinated steaks on the counter for 30 minutes. Allowing the steak to come to room temperature will provide a better sear.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees

In an oven-safe pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium-high heat. Place the steaks on the heated pan for 3-4 minutes – do not touch the steaks or even take a peek. After 3-4 minutes, flip the steaks over and wait another 3-4 minutes, being careful not to move them on the pan.

Remove steaks from stovetop and place oven-safe pan in the oven—set the timer for 5-8 minutes and check the steaks’ temperature periodically. Timing will depend on the desired level of doneness via a meat thermometer. Here are the approximate temperatures/doneness:
• Rare – 123 degrees F
• Medium Rare – 130 degrees F
• Medium – 137 degrees F
• Medium Well – 150 degrees F
• Well – 160 degrees F

After steaks reach desired temperature, remove from oven and let rest covered loosely by tinfoil for 10 minutes.

While the steaks are searing, heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a nonstick fry pan on medium heat. Place a baby bella mushrooms in and coat in butter –stirring for 1-2 minutes. Add the beef broth and red wine. Turn the heat up to medium high and let the mixture reduce by ½–approximately 10 minutes.

Fill medium saucepan with 1 cup of water and drop bite-sized broccoli in. Heat pan over medium heat until steamed—about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add butter, salt and pepper.

Assemble steak with wine reduction and broccoli on plate and serve with remaining cabernet sauvignon.

Obligatory Ode to St. Valentine

As we approach a holiday embracing love, is it not fitting to dedicate this evening’s post to just that (and more)—love and gratitude.  Over the last few weeks, I have been fascinated by the power of gratitude and cannot help but think its byproduct, on many levels, must be love.

Gratitude can manifest itself in many forms, from a simple “thank you” to a stranger holding a door to reminding a loved one how grateful you are for their love and support.   There are movements to journalize your gratitude, take gratitude walks and even write thank-you notes on a regular basis—but do they really have a lasting effect—and better yet, can they transform into something like love?

In order to pay homage to the a holiday dedicated to love and appreciation—I have sought to find ways to say thank you in a manner that did not include extravagant bouquets, elaborate date nights, or expensive gifts—but rather simple ways to find opportunities to spend more time with those I care for and remind myself what I am most grateful for each day.

The Power of Bringing People Together

This Workaholic works with a great team of extroverted characters who have lived in the shadow of long nights, complex issues and a similar level of stress over the last few weeks.  While I would love to be hailed as the boss-of-the-year and provide cash bonuses and an extra week of time off for these efforts, like others in the corporate space, I’m confined to inventing ways to energize the team and boost morale in non-monetary ways.

Valentine’s Day happens to fall at the tail end of this hectic span and what a better way to bring tired and weary folks together than a non-work task, preferably one that flexes a different set of intellectual muscles.  Disclaimer: I will say I borrowed this idea from a former company after seeing the sheer joy it created among my coworkers—the brown-paper bag Valentine’s Day mailbox.

Valentine's Day Mailbox for those who don't participate...

I know many of you are out there rolling your eyes and scoffing at the idea of reliving third-grade via these mailboxes and depositing candy/cards in them, but until you see a table full of adults overjoyed with adorning these simple bags with stickers, glitter, and paper cut-outs you won’t understand just how positive an impact it had on our team.  Altogether, a bag of red and white paper bags, stickers, glue sticks, glitter and markers, cost a mere $30 (for 15 adults)—but the sight of everyone smiling, laughing and looking relaxed was truly priceless.

The power of spending time together decorating and laughing helped our worn down team rekindle our gratitude for one another’s humor, artistic abilities, quirky jokes and presence.   I am already antsy thinking about tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day mailbox unveiling and watching everyone marvel at the candies, pencils and even dental floss in their mailboxes.  The power of bringing people together this afternoon filled this Workaholic with something a lot like joy.

The Power of Gratitude

Even despite this week’s long hours and rushed dinners, I still found 5 minutes a day to reflect on the people and experiences I am grateful for and found the effects to be surprising.  I found some interesting outlets for reinforcing your gratitude for the world around you via Deepak Chopra’s website (http://www.chopra.com/ccl/cultivate-the-healing-power-of-gratitude).  Its promises of better sleep, increased optimism and experiencing greater joy and happiness was enough to persuade this quasi-skeptic to give it a whirl—at least for a week.  Some of my daily reflections were written in a notepad on my iPhone, on piece of paper by the side of my bed, and a few consisted of only inner monologue.

Some of the things I took note of this week as part of my daily gratitude reflections—

  1. My parents: for being an amazing sounding board during a hectic and demanding week—my mom always knows how to insert a funny story into a heavy conversation to bring a breath of reality back into any situation;
  2. My dogs – I’ve said this many times before, but who else on earth gets that excited to see you every time you return home—this type of love and affection has lifted me up and kept a smile on my face each day I return home—even if it is at 12:30 am;
  3. A warm cup of tea—this has been my refuge during a busy day at work—a warm cup of lemon tea sitting by the sunny windows on our floor has provided an element of quiet to my swirling thoughts;
  4. The value of a picture—my sister and brother-in-law provide countless pictures of my niece and goddaughter that literally give me wings when the world feels so heavy. Seeing her smiling face or hearing her giggle uncontrollably reminds me to stop and treasure time;
  5. A good distraction—I am entirely grateful for the opportunity to unplug from all things work and enjoy cooking classes, coffee dates, and even funny emails—without great friends who inspire me to be a better-rounded person, I wouldn’t have taken this leap into the blog universe…

Hanley

The Proof is in the Pudding

Don’t relate to my ideas, anecdotes or experiences?  Perhaps you are a person rooted in cold hard facts to convince you—I have done a great deal of reading over the last few weeks and found many credible experts who have analyzed the scientific effects of gratitude and love.  So for the skeptics there, here are facts and science to reinforce the power of gratitude and love:

  • The Science:
    • Scientists at the National Institutes of Health have studied the effects of a hormone called oxytocin—this hormone is secreted by the brain when we are in close contact with our loved ones, including pets. In addition to producing happy thoughts, this hormone also lowers levels of those pesky stress hormones, which contribute to a host of physical aliments (i.e. high blood pressure, insomnia, etc.).  For additional details, I strongly recommend taking a read through the study here: http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2007/February/docs/01features_01.htm
  • The Benefits—research has shown those who adopt what’s referred to as an “attitude of gratitude” have:
    • The ability to cope better with stress
    • A more robust immune system and as a result, are sick less frequently
    • Build and maintain stronger relationships with loved ones
    • A better night’s sleep—just check out the 2011 study published by Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being

Regardless if your perspective on Valentine’s Day is dictated by your head or heart, I think we all can agree that the world could generally stand for some additional positively—why not start by saying thank  you?

Has the Kale Craze Passed?

fad
fad/
noun
an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the object’s qualities; a craze.
(source: google.com)

Over the last few years, the world of nutrition has seen a number of foodie fads, from quinoa to chia to kale.  While I am not always someone who runs to jump on the bandwagon for many of these trends, I thought after successfully conquering (and enjoying) quinoa and chia seeds, it seemed it was about time to explore kale.  It has been marketed as a versatile miracle veggie, claiming to pack a punch of antioxidants and iron, and something I have frequently received in my weekly CSA (and subsequently bartered away for other organic items like bok choy or dandelion greens)–I thought it was about time I got with the program and dabbled with the green miracle.

To dispel the notion that this vegetable may fall victim to the fad designation and for the skeptics out there…here are a few reasons to believe in this veggie:

1. Packed with powerful antioxidants – a few notable antioxidants to mention are carotenoids and flavonoids which many studies have shown protect against a variety of cancers;

2. Anti-inflammatory properties – if you’re not a big fan of fish, 1 cup of kale contains 10% of your daily omega-3 fatty acid requirements and many studies have found these fatty acids tackle conditions like arthritis and asthma;

3. High in Iron– I can now see why this green veggie is loved by those who aren’t too keen on beef – on a per calorie basis, kale contains more iron than beef.  This can be a great trade off for the moo-factor if you are prone to high cholesterol or at risk for type 2 diabetes;

4. Great Source of Vitamin C – as many are all too familiar during cold and flu season, vitamin C is beneficial to protecting your immune system, but can also benefit your metabolism and keep you hydrated;

5. Step aside Milk– kale is also a great source of calcium which benefits your bones and prevents osteoporosis.

The list of health benefits does in fact go on, but being human, these promises of improved and balanced health does not always motivate you to take the leap, so I set out to investigate several recipes, knowing that I may be more inclined to give it a try if it was mixed with other foods.

What I found over the last few days, is kale can be quite tasty in everything from soups to fritattas and even mac’n’cheese and after trying a few different applications, I wanted to share the findings, as kale was my feature produce to try in February–bringing it back to my New Years mission to put myself out there with produce I am not accustomed to using.

1. Adult Mac’n’Cheese Bites (as adapted from Eats Well with Others)–these were great bite-sized lunch treats after shoveling the first 6 inches of snow from this morning’s storm.  I added ground mustard and chili powder that i traditionally used in other baked macaroni and cheese dishes- it adds a little tang and depth of flavor.  There is something a little bit more grown up about this version of Mac’n’Cheese.

 

 

2. A Twist on Chicken Soup (adapted from Once a Month Mom) — this was a popular recipe in our house last week, while we were battling the flu and something we stocked up on in the freezer, since the groundhog predicted 6 more weeks of winter last week. The basic chicken soup layered with the fresh herbs is not only soothing but very aromatic–even if you do not have the flu.

 

 

3. Vitamin packed brunch or dinner – Vegetable Frittata (as adapted from Clean Eats) – I am constantly battling the clock each morning (as an early-riser workaholic) and am always on the look out for make-ahead breakfast items.  This frittata was a great item to make at the beginning of the week and portion out in tupperware to eat alongside my tea at my desk before the day’s chaos commenced. 

Bon appetite and stay warm with some of these kale-inspired recipes as yet another snow storm descends upon the Northeast! 

 

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