A Family Bucket List Achievement: Trying Middle Eastern Food

9862595676_c36be86bba_zIt was a chilly December night, but the place was already packed when we arrived with friends. We scrambled to grab two tables as diners cleared their trays to leave. Then our families made our way up to the front counter. Servers behind glass-topped stations took our orders.

The chicken shawarma pita caught my attention and that of our eldest daughter.  My middle daughter zoomed in on lentil soup. And my youngest boldly ordered a falafel and basmati rice bowl. Add an order of fries with garlic sauce alongside a pita and my husband was happy.

My dad talks about how when he was growing up he ate a limited variety of foods. My grandmother often cooked Carpatho-Rusyn and Polish foods and basic meat-and-potato meals. By the time he married my mom he had never eaten Chinese food or even pizza.

My gastronomic upbringing was another story. With two Korean sisters by adoption, my family frequently ate Korean dishes. I hadn’t considered this an adventurous lifestyle until the recent increase in the popularity of sushi. My response: eat sushi? No thanks! That is, until I realized that one of my favorite Korean dishes (kimbap) is actually sushi.

My family also cooked Mexican, Italian and even French crepes at home. My parents encouraged us to keep an open mind when it came to food by exposing my siblings and I to a wide variety of dishes and flavors.

In our home now we have attempted the same. But you know how it goes – you settle into a routine. Your menu tends to rotate around a standard list of recipes. When you go out to eat you stick to your favorite restaurants. Not that there’s anything wrong with this. Unless your goal is to foster an openness to new food experiences in your kids.

Which is why our family bucket list includes certain restaurants and types of foods. Last year one of our goals was to introduce our kids to Middle Eastern foods. I can’t say my husband and I have eaten much of it ourselves, so we welcomed this challenge for our own benefit too.

Enter Naf Naf Grill. It took us until the last week of December to reach this bucket list goal, but through the prompting of friends, we ventured out to this promising local restaurant chain. Think Chipotle with Middle Eastern food. Pitas, shawarma, tahini sauce, basmati rice and more in a build-your-own meal style.

We had a great time! Naf Naf served up interesting flavors and hearty portions. I had to force myself to slow down and save some of my pita for later. Our family traded tastes around so that we could sample some of everything. And everyone agreed that Naf Naf should go on our list of regular restaurants.

I would call that a success! Next up on our family food bucket list: Korean food. My kids really need to try kimbap.

Photo credit: “Naf Naf Grill” by the Shifted Librarian on Flickr via CC License


Winter Tips for Moms & Dads

Ah, January. I love how it’s already becoming evident that the days are lengthening. We may have months of gloom and chill left before spring, but the shortest days of the year are past! Knowing that cabin fever tends to take hold this time of year, why not plan for something new in the next few weeks: a new game, new food, new activity? Shaking free of the monotony is key to surviving the winter doldrums.

1501SIParentIf you’re looking for more tips and encouragement especially for moms and dads,  check out the topics below from my articles published in this month’s issues of parenting magazines:

Mommy Has Another Name   We relish hearing our child call us “Mommy” for the first time. But the thousandth time? We’re not only excused for being tired of hearing it, we’re also liable to have forgotten we ever had an identity outside of being a mom. In this month’s issue of Staten Island Parent I share stories and tips from moms on how to reconnect with yourself as an individual.

This is the Year   Has your family mapped out your goals for what you want to see, do, & be this year yet? Have you helped your kids set personal goals? It can be a pretty cool experience for them to set & then reach goals. Make it fun (& more successful) using the four words, “This is the Year.” Learn more in this month’s issue of Treasure Coast Parenting.

Soul Support: 4 Ways to Feed Your Spirit   Caring for ourselves sometimes requires tuning in to what moves us, soothes us, grounds us. This article shares four different methods for feeding your spirit. Learn how they might play a role for you – especially if you struggle with seasonal blues. Read it in Central Penn Parent.

Let it Go: 9 Things to Stop Worrying About1501SanDiegoFamily   When you have kids, it’s hard not to worry. But sometimes it helps just to have someone tell us what’s worth fretting over and what we need to let go of. San Diego Family’s January issue features my list of 9 things that parents can give up – in order to focus on the more important concerns in their life. Like, where did that remote go?

Parenting a Perfectionist   Maybe you’re not a worrier, but one of your kids is. Chances are, that child is also a perfectionist. Learning how to best parent a child with these tendencies can be a challenge. In this article, featured in Kansas City Parent, I offer input from professionals and a mom on tips for how to work with your child when perfectionism comes into play.

That Kind of Ski Mom   Do you ever look at the moms around you and wish you could be a mom of a different stripe? Yeah, me too. In this essay I talk about how that feeling presents itself for me on the ski slopes and how I am learning to respond.

Maybe hitting the slopes, or getting your kids on skis is on your bucket list. Maybe this is the year for your family (but you’ll need to let go of worrying about your kids’ careening down a mountain). If you were a skier before kids, it could be your chance to reconnect with that former identity. And the fresh air, exhilaration of skiing, and scent of wood fire in at the lodge may be just the food your soul needs.

Whether it’s skiing or not, I hope you’ll consider checking off a winter-related bucket list goal in the next month. I hear Chicagoans have a great new ice skating ribbon to try out in Maggie Daley Park.

Happy January!



Want Your Kids to Choose Better Goals? Here’s How

Want your kids to chooseIn the movie Big Hero 6 we meet two orphaned brothers in the future city of San Fransokyo, the elder following his dreams to make the world a better place, the younger frittering away his talents as a robotics prodigy. Tadashi, the elder, wants more for his brother Hiro and challenges him to put his talents to better use.

Throughout the story we follow Hiro’s choices and his brother’s influence on the goals he sets. It’s a wonderful relationship and a great example of the power of modeling in goal setting. At one point Baymax, a robot created by Tadashi who becomes Hiro’s closest friend, reminds Hiro of his older brother’s dream. This reminder propels him in a new direction.TransformingBaymax

Like Tadashi, we can get behind our kids and encourage them to make choices that will lead them to fulfilling their bucket list dreams and living up to their potential. We should encourage them to be committed to practicing their skills at piano, or soccer, or mathematics if their dream is to reach a higher level in those activities. We need to provide them with opportunities and resources to reach their goals, like private lessons and visits to important places.

But none of that can replace the role of going after our own life longings. Like Hiro, when our kids are faced with a choice without us there to guide them, they need something to call on that enables them to step forward in the best direction. Something that prompts them to choose the best goals. They may remember our words of encouragement and instruction. But more likely they’ll recall mental pictures of us living out our dreams. And those memories of watching us take steps toward our goals (and which types of goals we went after) can make all the difference – in how they pursue their bucket list dreams and what kind of dreams they choose to focus on.

What story are you living in front of your kids? What actions are you taking that they will remember seeing? Is there a bucket list goal you’ve neglected that you need to start on now – for your sake and your kids’?

Photo Credit: “Transforming Baymax” by DisneyLifestylers on Flickr via CC License

How Enjoying the Journey Today Will Better Help You to Reach a Goal Tomorrow

The temperature reads -3 degrees on my Weather app. The flag outside the grade school behind our house whips furiously in the wind. School itself is cancelled because of “extreme cold temperatures and dangerous wind chills.”

WarmingYet I still plan on heading out to the gym today for a workout. In fact, I’m pumped about it.

It sounds crazy. How can I be excited about a workout on a day like this? And more importantly, how can you keep motivated toward your goals for 2015 when the conditions become less-than-optimal (as they certainly will at some point)?

First of all, I’m thrilled to finally have a gym membership. Joining a fitness center has been on my bucket list for a while. Signing up for membership on January 2nd was only just the start of completing that bucket list goal. Now I need to use it regularly. It helps that I love the gym I joined.

What makes this gym so appealing (besides the fact that it has an attached garage parking so I can avoid the weather) are the options I have for switching up my workouts. They have cardio machines, easy-to-use strength training equipment, a lap pool, and fitness classes (Pilates!). In the past I’ve burnt out on doing the same thing over and over, so the opportunity to mix things up makes me want to keep going.

But here’s the real reason I’m keyed up about going out in the arctic temps to work out: a visit to the gym is today’s step toward a long-term goal.

You see, it is also on my bucket list to order a cute retro dress from eShakti. There is only one problem: my measurements don’t match up with their sizes. I need to lose a few inches from my midsection for one of their dresses to fit me well. And I have an invitation to a wedding in late June that makes the perfect deadline for fitting into my dream dress.

This is what goal-setting experts call a “SMART” goal: Specific (eShakti-dress-ready body), Measurable (the size chart measurements for my goal size), Achievable (umm…it seems like a reasonable goal to me), Results-focused (that dress again), and Time-bound (June 27th wedding).

There is only one problem with SMART goals - researchers have found that focusing on outcome alone does not guarantee success. Starting by focusing on the process first (in my case, working out 3-5 times per week), then shifting to focusing on the outcome (smaller dress size) appears to produce greater success than just focusing on the results alone.

As I advocate in Family Bucket Lists, a life of adventure means enjoying the journey and not just the destination. In other words, focus on what is in front of you. Do today’s work. Enjoy today’s challenges and rewards.

For me, there are 30 minutes on the elliptical (watching HDTV, which we don’t get at home) to look forward to today. And that’s worth a short drive in the cold.

What bucket list goal do you hope to accomplish this year? Have you thought about what steps you’ll need to take to get there and how you can enjoy the process of making that dream come true?
Photo credit: “Warming Up By Mid-Morning” by Karina Douglas on Flickr via CC License

Holiday Helps for Harried Moms

It’s the most exhausting time of year! For moms the duties of kid schlepping, meal cooking, and overall household management, are joined by holiday baking, gift buying, card sending, and party coordinating. Put it all together and you end up with many mothers who are barely surviving. I’m right there with them!

1412SanDiegoFamWhy does it end up this way for so many of us so often? I believe it’s because in the midst of all the chaos there is also much joy and satisfaction to be had. Even just checking off tasks accomplished from our lists can be fulfilling because we know we’re playing an important role in our families.

But in case satisfaction is proving elusive for you this year, here are some hints and tips from my articles published in regional parenting magazines to help you navigate challenges like gift wrapping and sickness, as well as some encouragement for your new year.

Good-Looking Gifts That Are Good For the Planet

My new article, “Earth-Friendly Gift Wrap Alternatives,” offers ideas on how to make use of bags, tins, and other materials you have around the house to disguise your gifts this Christmas, along with some history behind gift-wrapping traditions. Check it out in the December issue of San Diego Family.

Sickness Plus a Holiday Can Still Equal Celebration

None of us plans to be sick during the holidays, but it happens more often than we like. The good news is that  sickness of any kind doesn’t have to derail the festivities entirely. In this month’s issue of Connecticut Parent I share insight from experts and moms who’ve been there on how you can adapt the celebration around a sickness – whether it be a garden-variety flu, a hospitalization, or a life-threatening condition.

Plan for a Bright 20151412AugustaFam

Forget the New Year’s resolutions. There’s a reason many people don’t like them: they don’t work. Instead, why not count down to 2015 with a list of things you can look forward to, or that can make life better, in the new year. Plan out 10 date nights, list 9 friends you will get together with, and so on. My article in this month’s issue of Augusta Family, “A New Year’s Countdown That Will Have You Looking Up,” offers 10 idea-starters for listing out what you want 2015 to look like. After all, it’s not too soon to be mapping out the next twelve months of your family’s bucket list aspirations!

My Favorite Things

Don’t you love it when you find a product or a system or a tool that improves your life? Maybe it simplifies a task. Or it saves you money. Or it brings beauty to your surroundings. Or all of the above. Well, those same qualities also make for good gifts. And since we can always use more ideas for holiday gifts, I thought I would share some of my favorite things that have made my life better in one way or another.

StarbucksReusableStarbucks Reusable Cup ($1 at select Starbucks stores) - Okay, so it’s just a plastic cup. But for me it is the right shape and size: big enough for a Starbucks grande and tall, not wide, so that your drink doesn’t cool too fast (my beef with half of the mugs in my cupboard). It has a lid with a sip spout. And besides only costing a dollar, it also gets you ten cents off your drink, hot or cold, when you use it at Starbucks. Plus it keeps more disposable cups from ending up in landfills. What’s not to like?

Tosca Lee’sHavahCover books – When I read her book, Havah, a reimagining of the life of Eve, expanded from the accounts in the Bible, I was hooked! It changed and expanded my thoughts on a very familiar story. And the storytelling itself is just breathtaking. Similarly her book Iscariot, about the infamous traitor, was well-crafted and not at all predictable. For those who aren’t big on historical fiction, check out her more contemporary book, Demon: A Memoir or The Books of Mortals series, a collaboration with Ted Dekker. I’m hoping to get her latest book Sheba, for Christmas this year!

PSCalPaper Source Wall Art Calendar
($29.95) – It’s a calendar and it is art. Don’t expect to write on this calendar. But do expect to use it. Mine hangs above my desk and brings me smiles every day. It’s a treat to flip the page each month and see what new image will grace my wall. Then, and this is my favorite part, when the year ends you turn each page over and cut it up. Note cards, pill boxes, file folders and more are printed on the back sides of each month. Simply cut along the lines (and fold, if necessary) and use. Those gorgeous images find new life when you use them on or as packages. Just yesterday I dug out my 2013 calendar to cut out a file folder. The 100% recycled pages are sturdy enough to double as templates for creating your own boxes and cards out of other materials too. It is worth every penny and makes an awesome gift!

Papermate InkJoy 100 Pens Inkjoy(approx. $.50 each) – Who doesn’t love a good pen? I fell in love with Inkjoy pens after picking them up during back-to-school shopping a year ago. They come in lots of colors, which I find fun. And they write so smoothly without scratching at the paper. One drawback – they do tend to bleed. But I’ve come to expect that from any inexpensive pen. A pack of these in multiple colors makes a great stocking stuffer.

2015OrgCoverMy Weekly Planner ($14.99) – I owe it to a friend for creating the original format that got me hooked on this two-page weekly planner. It allows me to capture on paper all of my daily to-do’s, from household tasks to volunteer duties to work responsibilities and even meal planning. I tell my family, if it doesn’t get on the list, it probably won’t happenMyOrg. I sit down every morning and fill out my lists. If I know I won’t get to something that day, I write it down on a later date. Then as I complete tasks I highlight them (see that picture to the right?), so I can easily see what is left to do. And since I’m an office supply junkie, I use a different colored highlighter every day. (See below for the winner of a coil-bound copy of the 2015 edition).

These are just a handful of the things that make me happy and brighten my day in one way or another. I’m an advocate for sharing about products that work well and make life better. So please add your recommendations in the comments below.

And now, for the winner of the 2015 Bucket List Mom Organizer Challenge: Katie H.!

Lulu is offering an extra 25% off the coil-bound paperback edition, if you want to get your own copy or buy one for a friend. Just use the code KTP4 through Dec. 25th (one coupon per Lulu.com account).


The November List

The November ListI was talking last night with a longtime friend when she mentioned her “November List.

“What’s your November List?” I asked.

She explained that for years she has kept a list of things which would usually  get done in December, but felt too much like chores and marred the month. She made a point of tackling them in November instead, which left her more time and more peace in December.

When I spoke with her, she and her husband had spent the day completing most of their Christmas shopping – one item checked off the November List. Other things on her November List include getting the holiday card photo taken and putting up outdoor Christmas lights (before it gets too cold out).

Are you as blown away by the brilliance of this as I am?

Two things stand out about what makes her November List so powerful: it requires self-awareness and a recognition of what doesn’t work in life, and it intentionally paves a new path. Many times we assume a helpless stance toward the stressors in life, particularly during the holidays. Come December we may complain about how much more shopping we need to do (when the stores are all crowded), or how much more baking we have left to finish. It may feel good to vent about it at the time, but it does nothing to make life any better. The November List does make life better, without denying that certain “chores” must happen for the holidays to meet our expectations.

What the November List does for the holidays, the right weekly planner does for the rest of the year. Running a household with children (of any age) requires the coordination of many moving parts. And without a system of organization, things can quickly crumble. I know, because I live it. I found that having a place to track all of my responsibilities and appointments in one location has made me more effective and relaxed. I am able to get the “chores” out of the way and have time for enjoying myself. It allows me to live more intentionally and conquer my goals, instead of being conquered by stress.

For the past five or so years I have used a two-page 8.5″ x 11″ weekly planner. When the original version of this planner (designed by my friend Emily Neal) went out of print, I created my own and have been printing and binding my own version for the past three years.

This year I added inspirational quotes and life goal prompts, along with the My Bucket List Goals chart and the Family Bucket List worksheet to make a Bucket List Moms 2015 Organizer. And I am making it available to all moms because I believe so strongly in the difference it can make in helping us be more competent, fulfilled mothers and household managers. You can buy a coil-bound, glossy-covered paperback version for 2015. Or purchase a digital download to print your own.

I know it can be difficult to tell whether a planner will work for you, so I have created a two-month sample version for November and December 2014 that you can test out. And I am issuing a challenge for those of you who do try it: provide me with your feedback using this survey, and on November 30th I will select a random winner from the submitted surveys to receive a free paperback copy of the 2015 organizer.

In the meantime, I’m going to go write my own November List. How about you?

Costumes, Bucket Lists & Your Future: A World of Pure Imagination

Costumes, Bucket Lists, & Your FutureThis week I am putting the finishing touches on my daughter’s Halloween costume. None too soon, I know! She is dressing as her favorite movie character: Arwen Undomiel from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Can I say that I’m a bit jealous? I wouldn’t mind having my own elf princess costume (complete with pointy ears).

It sounds odd for a grown-up to be admitting that in essence she still likes to play pretend, to dress up as a different person. And maybe I am odd. But I’m not alone. In fact, our culture reveres people who convincingly pretend to be someone else. We call them actors. We also enjoy interacting with them in the realm of first-person historical interpreters at places like Colonial Williamsburg and Renaissance Faires. At Disney World they’re called cast members or performers. And of course we can’t forget the attendees of gatherings like Comic Con.

There is something inside many of us that longs to inhabit a different world, a different life. We aren’t so keen on living out the story we’re in. Or maybe we’ve just grown bored of it. We want to write a different role for ourselves.

Kids play pretend and invent roles for themselves to test out their world and explore options. They are full of expectation and possibility.

But as adults, we think we have closed doors on plotlines for ourselves. We decide we are stuck on the path we’ve taken. Which is too bad. Because as long as we’re living, aren’t there still many possibilities for how our life will go? Sure, some options may be lost to us. But we mistakenly stick with things that aren’t entirely working for us because we’ve lost the ability to imagine other possibilities.

Neuroimaging has shown that as we age, the center of cognitive gravity tends to shift from the imaginative right brain to the logical left brain… At some point, most of us stop living out of imagination and start living out of memory. Instead of creating the future, we start repeating the past. Instead of living by faith, we live by logic. ~ Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker

Don’t neglect your imagination. Go ahead and entertain answers to questions like: if you could be or do anything, what would you choose? Then dare to answer the question of what it would take to reach that dream. Pretend for just one moment that you were actually going to step out on that other path. What would it look like?

I find as I dream of how I wish to spend life and think through step-by-step what that would look like, I start to find ways of making those steps happen. Imagination becomes reality.

That’s why I’m excited to be attending the Storyline Conference this week. I have a feeling it will ignite more of my imagination. And while it may not land me my own elf princess costume, it could lead to something even better.

How about you? When was the last time you engaged your imagination?


When Super Moms Make You Feel Small

[Editor's Note: This post originally ran in 2013, and was well-received. I wanted to share it with you again to remind us all of the importance of being brave enough to be ourselves.]

I’m waiting at a stoplight when I see one again: an oval sticker on the back of a minivan that reads “26.2” (or sometimes “13.1″).

26.2Are you tired of those yet? Because I am. And not because I think those who have completed a marathon don’t deserve to boast. They do. Completing a 26.2 mile race requires significant training and determination. They have joined an elite group of distance runners.

But I don’t like how broadcasting their accomplishment like this can make the rest of us feel “less than.”

You know what I’m talking about. It’s the same way you feel when that friend posts photos of her Hawaii vacation, which comes on the heels of her business trip to France.

And these women are raising children the same ages as yours. Why am I not doing more with my life, you think. It appears your daily struggles to keep the family on track will never amount to what others are pulling off.

Yet there is a cure for this feeling of being “less than.” And it’s not called “greater than.” As soon as you find an accomplishment that puts you ahead of moms around you, someone will top it. Forget making life and motherhood a competition. The answer to “less than” is “equal.”

So you’re not Super Mom. Who cares that you haven’t finished a marathon or hosted a successful benefit or traveled the world? What aspirations do you have? Would it be equivalent to completing a marathon for you to sign up for a class at the community college that might start you on the road to that degree you’ve been considering? Would pulling together a family trip to the camp you grew up going to as a kid equal another’s Hawaii vacation?

It’s time to stop feeling less than. Take this opportunity to consider what unmet ambitions you have, or simple goals you’d like to tackle, and start moving toward making them happen. Just acknowledging which accomplishments matter to you will empower you. You’ll be free to celebrate another mom’s achievements, without having to match her. You’ll be ready to seize opportunities to do more and be more on your terms.

Because we’ve all got our own 26.2 inside of us. It’s up to us to cross that finish line.

Bucket List Living For Moms can help you get past the 26.2’s and other common bucket list pursuits that keep you feeling “less than.” It contains questions that help you tap into longings you may have ignored and former dreams you’ve let die. It enables you to create a concrete, actionable list of where you want to go in life over the next months and years. And it equips you to find the means to incorporate your list into the chaos of family life where you can start feeling successful, because you are successful (even if you’re not Super Mom).

Photo credit: 26.2 by Matt Beckwith on Flickr via CC License

Autumn Tips & Inspiration for Parents

18 Ways to Celebrate Fall – Fall is my favorite time of year – the sights, the sounds, the smells and especially the flavors. It is also a great time for trying new things since it seems like the list of possibilities this time of year is endless. In this article for San Diego Family, I list 18 options. Check it out and try one or two local versions with your family in the coming days.

Tricks for Getting Rid of Those Treats – Confess mom: how much of your kids Halloween candy do you sneak? Instead of putting on the pounds or chasing sugar-hyped kids, try one of these options for dwindling the candy haul a little faster in the October issue of Birmingham Parent.

Preventing Concussion Confusion: 6 Myths Unmasked – Do you keep a concussed child from going to sleep or not? If they don’t vomit it isn’t a concussion, right? I didn’t realize how mistaken ideas I had about concussions my daughter got one. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and this article that ran in Idaho Family.

From Crippling Threat to Family Pet – If the biggest fear your child faces this Halloween is one of dogs, then you should read my online exclusive article for Houston Family this month. I talked to experts and parents to find out what advice they have for helping a child overcome what can sometimes be a crippling fear of canines. And not just overcome, but transform (trust me, my animal-loving child was once terrified of dogs).

Comfort in Books – during my daughter’s concussion recovery I made an unexpected discovery about the power of books. Read about it in my essay published by St. Johns Parent magazine.