You HAVE Got to Try This!

Seriously. No, I’m not selling something.

I made THE BEST dinner tonight. It was so good, that it will be a regular weekly meal in our house.

A group of friends are doing a Whole30 month (eating only whole foods for 30 days, eliminating sugary processed foods.) I did a Whole30 month last December and liked it for the most part, although I’m not a huge fan in general of eliminating entire food groups. (Whole30 eliminates legumes and dairy, but adds them back in during a reintroduction phase at the end.)

Alicia, a trainer friend of mine, messaged me and asked if I had the cookbook, and to try the Romesco Shrimp. She said it was really good. Sadly, I don’t do shellfish (it’s a texture thing for me) but she thought chicken would work well, too. Eager to try something new and after reviewing the necessary ingredients, I had most all of them on hand. Why not? I’m almost sick of salad and hard boiled eggs at this point anyway.

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Here’s the recipe for the Whole30 Romesco sauce, which would be awesome over fish, or grilled chicken, too!

Romesco Sauce via Whole30:

2 tablespoons cooking fat (I used avocado oil)
½ cup almonds, chopped
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon paprika
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1½ teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

MELT the cooking fat in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the fat is hot, add the almonds and toast for 3 minutes, stirring often. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the chili powder and paprika and cook until the flavors open up, about 30 seconds. Finally, add the tomatoes, mix into the ingredients, and cook, stirring to bring up the tasty bits from the bottom of the pan, until the tomatoes are warmed through, about 2 minutes.

TRANSFER the sauce mixture to a food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend on low speed until the sauce is smooth, then pour into a serving dish or glass storage container.

ALLOW to cool before refrigerating; the sauce will keep for up to 5 days.

Here’s the link for the shrimp version. Below is how I tweaked it!

3 medium zucchini (about 4 cups of “noodles”)
2 tablespoons cooking fat
¼ onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 chicken breasts, sliced into strips
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons chopped fresh
parsley leaves
Romesco Sauce (see above)

Instead of peeling the zucchini first as in the original recipe, I just wash up the veggies really well and use a spiralizer. (Confession: I like to spiralize EVERYTHING! It makes it fun, the kids think everything is noodles and will actually eat them! And, yeah – it kind of looks like curly hair so I’m in!) I have a little hand spiralizer that I picked up at our local grocery for about 6 bucks, and it’s pictured in the little slideshow.

MELT the cooking fat in a large skillet over medium heat, swirling to coat the bottom of the pan. When the fat is hot, add the onion and cook, stirring, until translucent, about 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the chicken, toss to coat with the onion and garlic, and cook stirring, for 2-3 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Transfer to a serving bowl.

The original recipe also called for steaming or boiling the zoodles, but I find sautéing them in a bit of avocado oil with salt and pepper worked just fine. If you choose to boil them, simply drain the “zoodles” when they are al dente and transfer to a serving dish or individual plates. SPRINKLE the chicken with the parsley, toss, and spoon over the zoodles. Spoon the Romesco Sauce over the chicken and zucchini and serve!

If I had had more room in my stomach, I would have eaten more. I would swim in a vat of this stuff and eat my way out! It was seriously that good. Oddly enough, the sauce has an almost parmesan flavor and texture – it fooled my mouth into thinking there was cheese of some kind involved. So good!

It’s the kind of good that as I sit here drooling thinking about my dinner, I’m so excited for lunch when I plan on eating more!!!

Bon appetit!

The Power of a Single Word

Today’s prompt conjures 2 things; a fond memory shared with an old co-worker from days working in the training department of a bank, and great irritation at anyone who uses the word.

Before figuring out what to be when I grew up, I worked many jobs, but all of them had a common thread: teaching. I was either elected to train new employees on the register procedures working retail, showing the ropes waiting tables, and eventually after a few years as a bank teller and an assistant branch manager, I was hired as a teller trainer. At the bank, the training department had a bank classroom, complete with online customers, cash drawers with monopoly money and actual hands-on transactions. Newly hired tellers completed a series of classes to earn their way to a pay raise. The first week of employment was spent at headquarters in our mock bank, preparing them well for  real live customers.

One of the first, and probably most important lessons I learned in that job was from my mentor, who we’ll call J. She was (and is) awesome at her job. J made new hires feel comfortable and welcome, had a giving nature and a fun sense of humor. We hit it off right away and it’s one of the best working relationships I’ve ever had. J detested the word obvious. Obvious, especially when spoken to a student, conveys arrogant superiority. “Duh. It’s so obvious. How could you not know that?” It’s the mark of a bad instructor, regardless of subject or industry. While in the classroom setting, we never seriously used the word, but in our office, preparing for upcoming courses – we would often use the word jokingly, or see how many times we could use it in conversation. It became a silly inside joke that we found hilarious.

I loved working with J. But, as with any military family, PCS season eventually came and we moved out of state. We may have moved, but the lessons of my year working with her stuck with me. Now as a personal trainer, it’s still a word I hate hearing.

“It’s so obvious! Cut out junk food and you’ll lose weight!”

Really? Have you seen the ridiculous amount of CONFLICTING CRAP there is available surrounding health, fitness and weight loss? It is quite the opposite.  If it was so obvious – we wouldn’t have the health problems, including type II diabetes, and other obesity-related diseases we are currently facing. Despite advertisements for every diet pill, shake, saran wrap wraps and every other b.s. program out there claiming miraculous results with little effort, the truth is it’s slow, and often hard. It’s a process. It’s a lifetime of changing old habits and incorporating new ones.

If you grow up in one place never knowing what else is out there, that there are different ways of living and eating, you don’t know what you don’t know. If living where there are 18 fast food restaurants in a 2-mile radius has taught me anything, it’s this: things are not obvious if they are not pointed out. If you’ve never picked up a dumbbell a day in your life, it’s not intuitive. It’s not obvious. As instructors, as teachers, as professionals responsible for leading others, it’s obviously time for obvious to leave our vocabularies!

Independence

School’s back in session, the sun is shining, and I have time! Time to read, write and play with my 3 dog babes! School started this week and it is the first year that our minions are riding the bus.

Facebook abounds with mothers (and mockers) with tears in their eyes sending off precious bundles that just yesterday were babes. I particularly like this one:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/embed/video/1322461.html

I like it because it pretty accurately depicts how most of us felt and or now feel.

Standing at the bus stop the first morning this year, I got the familiar catch in my throat. It was nothing like that first day, the first year, the oldest kid – I remember feeling pretty nervous, sad, and anxious for him to get home. I just wanted to know that he was okay, that it was a good day. I called to them both, “Have a great day!” with camera positioned and ready to snap a quick ‘getting-on-the-bus’ picture. This is what I got:

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1st Day of 1st and 2nd Grade!

There were no tearful last-minute run back and hug mom moments, not even a goodbye! They didn’t even turn back around! And you know what? I was actually pretty glad. I’m glad because I’m so happy they are confidently heading into school and excited for their days. This phase is pretty awesome. Because really, isn’t that what mothering is all about? We work each day to slowly work ourselves out of a job – so they are independent, functional adult human beings who are capable of going after life.

Day 2 of school and we miss the bus.

So much for having my “mom shit” together.

We flip a u-turn and head to the other bus stop and wait. The bus arrives and another dad comes running down the street, flush-faced daughter in tow, backpack swinging wildly as she races to keep up with her dad. I ask the driver to wait for one more. The kids all get on and the dad and I share a knowing smile.

“Nothing like starting your day with an adrenaline rush!”

I agree and laugh. “Almost better than coffee! Here’s to another great school year!” I raise my coffee cup to him and head off back home. I walk the dogs, I pick up the house. I do some doggie school homework. I do some writing. I look at my watch and realize I have about 10 minutes until I need to head down to the bus stop and pick up the kids. I get into what I’m doing. I look back at the clock and realize I’m 5 minutes late.

In the space of 30 seconds, I panic slightly and ask myself rapid-fire: “Do they know how to get home? Will they look for traffic? What if someone grabs them? Will the bus driver not let them off if I’m not standing there? Where will I go to pick them up? Didn’t someone say there are convicted felons registered here? What if they fell asleep on the bus again and the driver forgets it’s their stop and what ifwhatifwhatifwhatif…….”

Breathe. I hastily dash out the door and make it to the end of our block. I see their little heads bobbing as they walk proudly in a single file line on the narrow part of our road that has no side walks. They make it to the corner. They both stop, they look for traffic. The cars wave them across and they make their way to me on the sidewalk. I grin and Hannah swaggers up, chest puffed out, “MOM! WE WALKED HOME BY OURSELVES! I’m SUCH a BIG first grader!”

“Mom, I had us walk single file like you do when there is no sidewalk,” Jake reports, in his usual just-the-facts-ma’am style.

Then they both beg me to stay home the next day so they could walk ALL the way home by themselves. I exhale. I make no mention of the fact that I was late, or having a slight heart attack; that this was all part of my master-mom-plan to give them a little more independence. I take another deep breath.

‘NO!’ I wanted to scream. ‘You were JUST MY BABIES IN DIAPERS yesterday! What are you thinking? Are you crazy? NO you cannot walk 2 blocks by yourself! Someone will call CPS because I’m a neglectful mother!’

But I say none of that. I shut up my helicopter-mom alter ego and simply say, “Perhaps I can just meet you on our corner for now. Then see how it goes.” They think that’s a brilliant plan. While we are eager for growth and responsibility, perhaps just for a bit they can move into independence with baby steps. At least for their mom’s sake.

 

I’m Sorry – A Letter to My Kids

I’m sorry. I’m truly very sorry.

I have gotten plenty of things wrong in your short lives, and there will be plenty more I will likely handle badly. This one is going to hurt.

I’m taking away your screens.

Permanently.

I know. I’ve threatened before when you couldn’t keep yourself together when I’ve said, “Times up!” Then I gave in, or we went on a long drive,  I “just needed a minute to myself” or any number of other excuses. I was lazy, and I’m sorry for that. It was far easier to hand you a tablet and let you play so I could get some work done, or to have quiet, or both. But I’ve done you a HUGE disservice. You see, you do not know how to be bored. You don’t know how to wait. You do not know how to let me have an adult conversation without interrupting.

None of that is your fault. It’s mine. I’m the parent and I should’ve done better. Technology is a WONDERFUL thing – and for some families it totally works and it’s awesome. For us, however, I will be a far better parent to you both and you will be better mannered, more functional adults if we leave the tablet behind.

I had it confused for a bit. I struggled with finding a balance  – many times – since these tablets were purchased. As you’ve grown, and your friends have them, it’s just become more and more of an issue of an inability to self regulate. You are both on the verge of needing computers for school work (you’ll use mine for a while). These toys are simply not necessary. I kept thinking that if I had it to do all over again, there are two things I would never have purchased: the dang Elf on the Shelf and the iPads. (Don’t get me started on the holiday tradition of hiding the elf in a new place every morning in addition to the already busy season!)

If I wouldn’t do it again though, why do we still have them? Honestly? Because it’s easier then going through what we are now. The transition to life without video games is not for the weak! I know this will be hard, for ALL of us, but here are a few things I know you will gain in the long run – and the end game is what I have to keep in mind because that’s my job.

*Better manners, fewer meltdowns and tantrums.

*The ability to be bored, and be okay with it.

*Long drives where you actually LOOK at the world around you. (Even if it’s south Texas and flat!)

*More outside time – especially as we move into fall and winter! Nature is a MUST – for all of us.

*More games, relearning co-operation and give and take. You know these things, you have the skills, but we are going to get better with fewer meltdowns.

*Better sleep. Science has proven this repeatedly. Less screen time, especially close to bedtime, equals more restful sleep. More restful sleep means more functional during the day and better prepared for learning and growing.

*More Creativity! You are both inventive and incredibly creative when forced to be. You make up games and play so well together. The whininess subsides, you handle life better.

*Better parents. Nope – you don’t get to trade us in, but  I will be a far more creative parent when my go-to bargaining chip is not the iPad. I’m tired of it, and if you are honest with yourselves, I think you are, too.

There are many more benefits in the long run, some that I’ve noticed even in this first day screen-less. It will be bumpy, to be sure.

I’m also sure that this is the exact right thing for our family. I’m sorry I didn’t get here sooner. My dream for you; to be creative, insightful, helpful, kind, co-operative, self-sufficient and well-adjusted adults, simply won’t happen with your face stuck to a screen. It just won’t.

I love you too much to let that happen.

Complicated Risk

BAM!

The sudden crack of the window next to my computer sounded like the thud of an errant ball lobbed in the wrong direction and as soon as it did, I ducked, certain I was about to be covered in shards.

When the raining glass never fell, I opened my blinds to figure out what the heck had slammed so hard. There lay a bird in the grass, blinking slowly, stunned.

I took a deep breath and watched.

Early this morning at church (and for as long as I can remember) our pastor discussed getting involved. “Become a part of the community,” they invite, week after week. They have this picture of the church logo at the front of the sanctuary, but it’s all puzzle pieces. Various names have been written on a few – a visual of people volunteering time and talents for the community at large.

I’ve often contemplated volunteering, not just here, but at many of the churches we’ve attended in various duty stations. Some I have, others I haven’t. We’ve done children’s church, nursery care, and hosted small groups. Looking at our last year here, I’ve been telling myself, “We only have one year. Why bother now?” I also work at a gym. I know in my bones that working in this field is what I’m meant to do. It’s a way to serve others, help, and contribute something positive. I know the positive impact that health and fitness has had in my life, as well as my family’s – how could I not pay that forward?

We all have a tendency to complicate these things when we are afraid of being told no, or of what we perceive as failing. It has been put to me (in numerous ways, as will happen) that “I have a year left. What am I going to do with that year?” If the invitation presents itself, what will I do with it? Will I say no? My introverted self would like that. No risk, but no reward, either.

Towards the end of today’s sermon, the pastor takes two of the puzzle pieces out of the easel and throws them in two directions. One flies in one direction, the other flies in front of my seat. Usually when I hear people talking about “God saying” this or that, I cringe. It always sounds “churchy” to me. How the heck do you know what God is saying?

I chuckle at Lily Tomlin’s quote: “Why is it that when we talk to God we’re said to be praying, but when God talks to us we’re schizophrenic?”

While I have never heard God audibly speak, I do experience intuition, a gut-knowing, a without-question-clear-cut indication when I’m being urged in one direction or another. Call that what you want, God, the universe, what have you – it’s usually pretty clear. The question is always, how then do I respond?

Eric heads off to pick up the kids and hands me the puzzle piece. I promptly head to the bathroom to collect my thoughts. What if I’ve got this all wrong? Who needs a fitness instructor in the church?

Ugh. Okay, okay, fine. I’ll go.

I swallow my nerves, gather my stuff and that darn puzzle piece and wait a moment to chat with the pastor. Holding it up, “Can I chat with you for a moment about this,” I ask, voice trembling, hand shaking. “Sure!” he says as he takes the piece. Briefly explaining what I do and my passion, his eyes light up and he nods, taking down my number, asking if we can meet later this week to discuss ideas further.

*FREAKING OUT*

“I would love that,” I exhale, relieved, grateful that I’m not way off base here in thinking that perhaps fitness and the church community are not mutually exclusive.

My thoughts return to the stunned bird at the bottom of my windowpane. She’s still blinking. I watch as she continues to slowly blink her blue-rimmed eyes. A quiet, “Get up little, one. you can do this,” comes out. I want to call my kids over to watch, but hesitate, not sure if this bird is going to make it or not. I don’t want to frighten the poor thing, or have my daughter want to bring it inside, only to be heartbroken if it doesn’t survive. She gingerly stands up, waddles over to the edge of the window where I can no longer see her. I don’t know if she will make a go of it, if she’s broken a wing or a leg.

Perhaps today, right now, it’s just enough that she took a step.

Wonder

Nope. It’s not Halloween, but I am dressing up.

It’s superhero day at the gym where I work and I went as Wonder Woman!

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I do love a good costume/halloween/dress up day as evidenced by the lengths I will go to for a laugh! Exhibits A, B, and C:

As I slipped on my bright blue lycra and golden glitter headband, I marveled at just how much fitness has brought to my life. I have met some extraordinary people that I otherwise would never have crossed paths with. That in and of itself is pretty dang awesome. The costume fun is a great side benefit!

I’ve contemplated the paths not taken many times and always wind up feeling humbled, overwhelmed, and in awe by the fact that I GET to do what I love and help others find the fun in fitness. What a tremendous gift it is to be able to do what you love.

With that said, I went, taught a fun Tacky Tuesday Spin class (showtunes and soundtracks), but was the ONLY ONE who came in a superhero costume.

Go figure.

I have impulsive tendencies, I admit. When I commit – I’m all in. Why adopt 1 small dog when you can have a traveling circus of 3? Why stick a toe in the water when you can jump in cannonball style? If you’re going to have a crazy costume – own that. Rock it and ride that bike like you stole it – blue tutu and all! Ha!

Why not, indeed.

Confessions of an Introvert

I showed my husband the website. We organized the dates, arranged for time off of work, and made it happen. I was going to attend a fitness conference on the east coast. It seemed so far away when we were planning it months ago. There were 4 locations to choose from. Why not go somewhere I’ve never been?

Then as it came nearer, so did my apprehension.

I don’t know what it is that makes me this way. Being married with kids, I am so accostomed to the hubby “handling stuff”, especially when we travel. It’s been a while since I’ve traveled alone, much less to a place I’ve never been. On the flip side – I’m a military spouse so independence is something that you either have, or you get – one way or another. I’m good at independence. I can do solo stuff. I can sit in a restaruant alone and eat – no biggie. Social solo? Meh.

2 flights, rental car and a drive from Boston into Providence – I survived rush hour traffic on little sleep. I got to see Fenway park. This part of the country is breathtaking and reminds me of the green of the Pacific Northwest. Day one of the Perform Better summit and I’m loving it! All the tools, the expert presenters, the lectures (yes, I’m a nerd at heart and would love to figure out a way to be career student!) Then there are hands-on clinics. Love them, and am learning a ton – but the whole “pair up, get into groups, introduce yourself to someone you’ve never met blah, blah, nightmare, blah.” I do it. I’ve met a couple of people. It’s tolerable, but not my comfort zone at all. And then the lovely evening coctail social. I went. I had a cocktail. I left and took myself to dinner. It was delicious and the company lovely. I don’t know that I will ever be entirely comfortable in networking situations. I hated them even when I worked in banking, and not much has changed.

And that’s okay.

“Introverts dislike small talk, but we are fluent in the language of ideas and dreams.” – Michaela Chung

“Introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly.” – Susan Cain

What about you? Are you a social butterfly or a more of an introvert? What do you do to survive awkwardness?

Side note: The regional accents here are THICK! I feel like I’m having conversations with characters from Saturday Night Live!