CiaoMom

About Ciao Mom

Hello there, and welcome to my personal website. This is a website that is written by a mom, who has lived through a lot. I am a cancer survivor, mother, retired teacher, triathlete, and all around go-getter. And my website features all of my musings and the different things that I have encountered in my life. You can read all about what I have written through my various posts. Those posts are also arranged by different categories. So if you want to read about my health tips, just head on over to my website’s health section. The website is organized neatly into different sections, to make it easier for my website’s readers to navigate around.

You can find inspirational posts, stories and other content on my website. So if you want to grow a little bit every day, you can go on the same journey I am going through. Life is full of surprises and little adventures. And you can read about my little adventures as well. You can look through all of the old posts that I have on this website, to be able to read through all of the past adventures that I have gone through. My travels, lessons, and so much more are all on my blog posts. I promise that you can learn something if you just take the time to read through my blog.

Growing together

Ciao mom in a nutshell

My website is all about the different things I can teach to other people. I write about my life, productivity, health tips, and a whole range of other topics as well. You can look through these individual website categories to read what I have personally learned through my life. My inspirations are numerous, and I want to share what inspires me, to my readers. And I hope by reading through my website, you can learn to get inspired too!

My family is one of the most important things in my life. And being a mother has taught me a lot about caring for a full family. You can read about my cooking, homemaking, and child-rearing tips and guides on my website. I try to cover a wide range of different topics as it relates to family life. So there are a lot of parenting tips, baby guides, cooking guides, and a whole lot more on my website.

Family life

My life

I also try to write about my personal life as well. So I try to include the details about what I have been doing day to day. This is a personal blog in addition to a website, after all. So all of my readers can read about what I have been doing lately. I try to write about my day job, what movies I have seen, books I have read, etc. And on all of my posts, I try to include a little inspirational content for my readers to get a benefit out of!

Since I am a cancer survivor, I am much more conscious about my own personal health. Ever since I beat back cancer in my life, I have become much more proactive about taking better care of my health. I am a mother, and I want to be there for my children as they grow older. So I try to take care of my health as much as possible. I also try to spread health awareness to anyone that takes the time to read through my blog. So I try to share tips and guides on how to take better care of your personal health.

Yoga, dieting, sleeping habits, nutrition, and many other health topics will be covered by my blog. All of the readers, who come to my website, will learn a thing or two, about taking better care of their health. There are a lot more in-depth guides on health on my website. We’ll also cover various cooking techniques, from grilling, to baking, to cooking with a sous vide machine.

Health and fitness tips

Productivity

I am a retired teacher, and throughout my career in education, I have learned quite a few things about maximizing personal productivity. And I share all of those tips to help everyone do more in their lives. By sharing my posts on productivity, I hope to spread more productive habits among my readers. And to that end, I try and write about tips and guides on how to be more personally productive in life. I also try to live as an example to my readers as well. So this will means that I also try to practically follow the productivity tips on my website. I am still learning about personal productivity, so there is a lot more to write about the subject.

Doing more is a personal mantra of my mine. And doing more in life requires more than just being busy. It takes inspiration to also increase personal productivity. So I hope to feed your personal inspiration. I try to lead as much of a positive life that I can. And I share that positivity with all of my readers. My posts are all positive, and I want to inspire the readers who read my website. So I try to share some of the best stories and moments of my life!

There is a lot more that you can find on my website, so just browse through my archive if you would like to read more about me. There are a lot of old posts on the archive of my website, which you can read through at your own convenience. So be sure to check out what I have written in the past to see what else I have been up to. This website has been on the internet for several years now, so there is sure to be something that you can read on my post’s archive if you look hard enough.

There is a newsletter subscription for my website. Consider signing up for my newsletter to get regular updates on the newest content that can be found on my website. If you sign up for my newsletter, you will get regular email updates on any new content that has been posted onto my website. So if you want to read the latest posts that I have written, you can do so if you sign up for my website’s newsletter. By signing up for my blog’s newsletter you will also be supporting me since I can directly reach you by email!

4 benefits of using sous vide machine a family kitchen

Cooking for a family is difficult, as any person should know. And that fact is even truer for a larger family. There is a lot of preparation to go through whenever you are cooking for any large meal. And the pressure can even increase when you are trying to cook for a special meal, such as the holidays or a family get-together. However, one piece of cooking equipment can really help you prepare your dishes much faster. If you want to cook meat the sous vide style, you should be using the best sous vide machine. Having this kind of machine in your family kitchen can be beneficial in the following ways.

  1. Faster preparation

Usually preparing any kind of meat for a recipe can take a really long time. There is just a lot to do whenever you want meat in a recipe to taste good. With the use of this machine, a lot of that preparation time can be speeded up. You just have to put the meat and its sauce in a plastic bag and let the machine handle the rest of the preparation.

  1. More convenience

Using these kinds of machines is actually really convenient. You will only need to set a timer, and then add the piece of meat. You then just have to wait until the timer is up, and you can get the meat out and it will be ready for further cooking or even consumption!

  1. Better tasting food

Any kind of meat that you prepare using the proper cooking machine is going to end up tasting much better. The meat will be tenderized in its own juices, so it will ensure a juicier and more flavorful piece of meat. And since the meat will be sealed in a vacuum, it will also end up really soft. In fact, if cooked right it will end up butter soft in the mouth!

  1. Versatility

You can use this kind of cooking machine to prepare any kind of meat dish. If you want, you could use it to prepare everything from pork to poultry. You may even use a vacuum-sealed cooking method for fish dishes as well. And every time that you use it on any kind of meat dish, the meat will come out tasting juicier and be so much softer to chew on.

  1. Easier to cook sous vide style

The sous vide style of cooking, when translated from French, literally means vacuum-sealed cooking. And while that may sound fancy, it is not all that different from normal cooking at all! You can also have that same method of cooking at home if you have got a machine that can do the sous vide style of cooking.

This kind of cooking machine is not only for professional kitchen restaurants. Any cook in their own family home kitchen will be able to benefit from cooking it. You will have a much easier time preparing for any kind of family meal if you have got this piece of cooking equipment in your own kitchen. And even if you are not a cooking enthusiast or a seasoned chef, you will still be able to get a lot of use out of this kind of cooking machine. There have been a lot of people who have successfully cooked steak and even fish dishes with just the use of this cooking equipment. So you can expect to get a lot of delicious dishes with this kind of cooking equipment.

Setting {SMART} Goals

setting smart goals

Have you ever felt like your brain had so many ideas swirling around at the same time that you were afraid it might actually explode?

That is me. Today. Yesterday. For the last few weeks. I suppose it comes with the territory of being at home, “recovering.”  It is something that I cannot seem to turn off, no matter how times I try to distract myself with attempting to draw images that no one will recognize in Draw Something.

The fact of the matter is that all this thinking, while productive and exciting… is also exhausting. Every new idea that I have, leads to ten more new ideas.  I cannot tell you how many new Evernote “notes” I have created in the last few days. Rocket and I have even started talking about me adding a “parking lot” to one of the walls in my new office so that I can go back to some of the ideas with the help of visual reminders.

Some of these ideas are quick and easy. A post topic. A item that needs to be added to a “to-do” list. Ordering coffee (oops, I still need to do that!). Others are more complex and require more reflection. Things that involve soliciting feedback from others, ideas that need to percolate and be shelved until just the right moment (or a better moment than right NOW). Ideas big and small. Complicated and not.

The more I think of ideas, the more I realize that my ideas are only as good as the actions that accompany them. I am not one that likes to see great ideas, or even potentially good ideas, fall to the wayside because I could not follow through. Which is why, the more my brain has been overrun the last few weeks, the more I have thought about using SMART goals to turn these ideas and dreams into reality.

If you are not familiar with SMART goals, they are goals, written with a very specific format that is intended to take conceptual ideas into very specific realities. SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time Bound. This acronym is a tool that is used world wide by professionals, executives, and even in schools to help both teachers set goals for their instruction and for students to set their own personal academic goals.  The idea is that when you lay out a plan, that is action oriented, that used in process measures to track results, and that is bound by a timeline…that those lofty dreams scribbled on a post-it note (or into an Eevernote file) are more likely to become reality.

I have written many a professional SMART goal over my twelve years in the classroom, but somehow have never written any for my the rest of my life. Which as goal oriented as I have always been, is a bit surprising when I think about it. But that is about to change. Because I know that in order to turn my dreams into realities, there must be concrete steps, realistic time frames, and actions….lots of actions.

So I will start. I will dig out the templates that I have used with students. I will tweak them to make them work for me. And I will start writing. One at a time, thinking through each step. How will I measure the goal? What resources will I need to achieve my goal? What will it look like when it is successful? I will even try to think through some of the stumbling blocks that will undoubtedly spring up here or there. And then, bit by bit, I will take responsibility for my ideas with actions.

Writing SMART goals and putting them into action are a journey. Sometimes easy, sometimes hard. Sometimes you realize that although you may not have achieve the goal you SET out to achieve, other successes have emerged.  Like planting a seed in the garden, you nurture your goal, completing tasks and actions designed to make it bloom. You cannot account for the thunderstorms that blow the buds off the plants, or the scorching heat burns through the petals even though you watered it in the morning.  And while I am tempted to say, it is “enough” to do your best and keep your chin up, when it comes to achieving your dreams, being enough can be an elusive endeavor.  My efforts will only be enough if I do my very best to follow through on the actions that I set out, AND if I remain flexible enough to know when I need to revise or think outside the box.

Or maybe, at least in the first step of this journey, being enough means allowing myself the time, the space, and the creativity to cultivate these dreams so that I can turn them into action oriented SMART goals.

Glamping for the Non Camper

Glamping for the Non Camper

A personal defnition of travel:

Exploring a new place (or an old one) in search of adventure, relaxation, pampering, good food, good wine.  Should also include getting lost at least once.

Usual accommodation preferences include hotels, resorts, apartments, or boats. The nicer and more luxurious the better.

(Yes, I am well aware that I am a brat- I am just being honest).

So when I learned about glamping last year for the first time…a glamorous type of camping, my ears perked up.  The truth is that I have been camping twice in my life. Once as a brownie (that camping trip was the end of my participation in Brownies by the way) and a second time at the end of my senior year in high school (that camping trip involved vodka…shhhh). Suffice it to say, I am not a camper.  But glamorous camping? With a bed? In a tent or cabin? With running water? Maybe just maybe.

Except that all of a sudden, earlier this fall, an opportunity to try glamping first hand, appeared.  In Southern California no less. A trip designed to give us quality time driving some our favorite Toyota vehicles, with friends, where we would be cruising along the Pacific Coast Highway, a chance to kayak off the coast, and a chance to GLAMP.

El Capitan Canyon is no stranger to new Glampers. The Real Housewives of Orange County tried their hand at glamping during their last season. (I somehow doubt though that the Real Housewives “ooh’ed and ah’ed” over the wifi like a large group of bloggers did upon arrival.)

Ready. Set. Fitness

Ready. Set. Fitness

Have you ever been looking forward to something so very much that you started a count down to prepare for it’s arrival?

That is how I feel, as I sit here, with one week left until my medical ALL CLEAR to resume exercise after my hysterectomy in March.

I am one week until my body can resume full activity, working out, sweating, feeling the rush of endorphins and confidence that comes from a great workout.

Ready.

Set.

Fitness!

Except of course that it is not going to work that way. After six weeks of NO activity other than the walk around the neighborhood and the day to day activity that comes from working and running errands, my body is not going to be able to jump back into exercising all of a sudden. Or at least, it will not be able to if I want to avoid injuries.

The truth is that I am just a bit fearful of starting to exercise again. Of wanting so desperately to feel strong, to feel fit, and yet, failing. Failing because my body is not up to what I would like it to do. Failing because I let excuses get in the way.

That might sound crazy. But the pressure to get back into fitness after this six week hiatus feels extremely high. So high that I know how easy it would be to sink into frustration at not getting there fast enough. It is all within my control this time. It is up to me. Only me.

While the knowledge that it is up to me should get my motors running and make me feel in control. It doesn’t. It instead reminds me of the times in the past when I have not met my fitness goals. When I have failed myself in training or at a race.

Friends have told me that I have inspired them to start running. Others have appreciated my honesty with my ups and downs telling me they have learned from my reflections. But me? It is hard to take your own advice sometimes. It is hard to see myself in my words, knowing that I need to let go of all that was.

The fact of the matter is that this was not just a six week fitness hiatus. I have been out of fitness commission really since last September. I have dabbled here and there, but my habits were off. My consistency wavered. I talked a great game of letting go of the runner that I used to be, of the distances that used to feel easy.  I have talked of secret weapons and tricks to get back on track.

But I have not taken my own advice. Or maybe, it is that I have not BELIEVED in my own advice.

Whatever the case, as I mentally prepare for the green light to flash, signaling my medical permission to start again, I feel something happening. I feel an energy brewing. Much like I felt when I decided to train for my first marathon in 2001 at a time when I could barely run three miles. Much like I decided to train for a triathlon after having spent twelve years being afraid of riding my bike.

Whatever it is, I am not about to let it go to waste. Yes, it is going to be hard to get back into a fitness routine. Yes, my body is going to behave differently and progress will be slow. Yes, I am going to have bad days where I wonder if it is all worth it.  But….there will be good days too. More and more of them as I keep going.

I read a great expression today on a friend’s site, as she shared her experience of competing in a Tough Mudder.

And I realized…she is right. No matter what personal obstacle course we are on. Whether we are starting over or starting anew. The past does not matter.

Come back tomorrow to see how I lay out my five step plan to ease my body back into fitness after my surgery. Because today? Today is all about building my mental strength. Forgiving my body for not being what is was and moving on. Moving on to a new body. A stronger me.

My Five Step Plan to Fitness After Surgery

My Five Step Plan to Fitness After Surgery

Five weeks of recovery. One week left until the words ALL CLEAR appear on my phone’s calendar. Words that symbolize the return to regular life. Words that represent my victorious return to a life of fitness.

Except of course that after six weeks off from any real exercise, my body is not ready for a victorious return. My brain is getting there, slowly. But my body needs a plan. It needs steps to make sure that my return to fitness is one that lasts for the LONG HAUL.

So I am coming up with a plan. A plan that will ease me back into starting to exercise after recovering from surgery. A five step plan.

Step 1. Set Realistic Expectations.

I would LOVE to feel proud and exhilarated after a great run or fabulous bike ride on one of my favorite trails. So instead of attempting to ease into one of my favorite spots, I am going to consider getting back to my old workout haunts as my reward. In a month. Yes, you read correctly. I am giving myself one month. That is not to say I am not going to push myself. but I know that I need to work up to running three miles. And I want to do it well. Because after three miles? Come more miles.

Step 2. Create Habits.

After this long hiatus, I know that I need to retrain not just my muscles, but my mind to get up early in the morning to exercise or find time to squeeze in a workout in the evening if the day got away from me. My brain needs to be taught again, that despite the excuses that might line the path to getting things done, it is worth it in the long run.

Step 3. Formulate a Training Plan.

A real plan. Not just a “lets see what I can do today” plan. It needs to be systematic, well thought out, consistent, and purposeful.

The good news about formulating a plan is that there are MANY resources out there for every possible running distance, triathlon, or other endurance event. One of my favorite new finds is Train Like a Mother: How to Get Across Any Finish Line- and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea.  Granted. I am biased. I think the world of Sarah and Dimity. For good reason. After reading their first book Run Like a Mother, I grew to love their quick witted conversational style, their authenticity, and their very real passion for running. Their latest book was exactly what I needed right now. They reminded me of the fact that no matter how many marathons, half marathons, or triathlons that I have competed in the past, as Dimity says, “…there are no savings accounts in running.” If we want to make our goal a long term one, we need to train, responsibly, with a clear purpose and goals that lie just beyond what is comfortable. The book is an easy to read mix of personal stories by every day mother runners AND novice and experienced training plans for all types of distances from 5k to marathon.

My one month plan is to start walking on the treadmill, building up to add short bursts of running, leading eventually to longer bursts. There will be rest days. Three to four days during the first week, building to six days per week by the fourth week. I am still thinking about what my long term goal is…so my training plan you might say is still a work in progress.

Step 4: Find Motivating Workouts

I am lucky to have a workout room in my house, with a treadmill, a bicycle trainer, free weights, and a television and DVD player. Plus, in our family room we have both a Wii and an xBox. I have been setting shows to DVR so that I have PLENTY of things to watch while on the treadmill, and I am excited to finally get to use my Physique 57 barre style workout DVDs.  The first month is going to be about building my base, slowly and safely.

Step 5: Be Patient. Be Flexible. Be Determined

I have NEVER started at what feels like ground zero before. Or maybe I have. Presumably after my bone marrow transplant, in 1998, I started from scratch. But that was a LONG time ago. I am heavier now, and older. I need to be mentally strong enough to push myself and ignore the voices of doubt, but smart enough to listen to my body when it has had enough.

 Five steps. One month. I am ready. Are you?

Guest Post: A Tired Woman’s Guide to Passionate Sex

Guest Post: A Tired Woman’s Guide to Passionate Sex

Yes…that really is our topic today.  Dr. Lau­rie Mintz is here on C.Mom today to shed light on some­thing that is um.…important.  Rela­tion­ships and mar­riages are hard in gen­eral, but even more so when inti­macy takes a nose dive. And in my case at least, I am the first one to admit that I fall prey to the being tired, want­ing to go to bed early, line of excuses. They are not excuses.…they are true state­ments. But I know that some­times we have to take one for the team… I am just not always very good at that. :)

And so.….without fur­ther ado…an expert, Dr. Lau­rie Mintz.…on how to spice things up.

A TIRED MAMA’S GUIDE TO PASSIONATE SEX: 6 Sexy Guide­lines to Try Today!

Remem­ber the days when you and your hus­band couldn’t keep your hands off each other? If it’s a dis­tant mem­ory for you and you are too tired to care, you are not alone!
“Honey, I’m too tired” may sound like just another excuse—but for mil­lions of Amer­i­can women, it’s sim­ply the truth. They may set­tle for no sex at all or the oblig­a­tory “I’d bet­ter do this for my mar­riage” sex—often to the detri­ment of their rela­tion­ships. In her new book, A Tired Woman’s Guide To Pas­sion­ate Sex, which research has proven to be effec­tive in increas­ing desire and arousal, Dr. Lau­rie B. Mintz shows women how to bring their libido back to life—and put the pas­sion back into their lives.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is the bed-rock to make your bed rock: One of my first steps when coun­sel­ing cou­ples, about sex or any other issue, is to teach them the prin­ci­ples and strate­gies of effec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion. In more than twenty years of coun­sel­ing, I can’t think of a client I’ve worked with whose com­mu­ni­ca­tion style has not either con­tributed to their prob­lems, been part of their recov­ery, or both. Most peo­ple in our cul­ture have never been explic­itly taught use­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills and those who have often forgo such skills when tight on time, exhausted, or upset. The abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate effec­tively, par­tic­u­larly when hurt or angry, is an uncom­mon skill, but the key to rela­tion­ship inti­macy. Entire books have been writ­ten on com­mu­ni­ca­tions skills, and I have a chap­ter ded­i­cated to this in my book. One of the most impor­tant tips is to not expect your part­ner to mind-read – about sex or any other issue. Instead, state your needs clearly, lead­ing your sen­tences with the word “I.” Another essen­tial tip is to not ask ques­tions that aren’t ques­tions When a desire is posed as a ques­tion, one of two things often hap­pens:1. the receiver doesn’t real­ize it isn’t a real ques­tion and pro­vides an answer which is not sat­is­fac­tory to the asker; or
2. the receiver becomes defen­sive. Let’s pre­tend that Alice her hus­band, Mar­tin, “Are you work­ing late tonight?” If Mar­tin thinks this is a gen­uine ques­tion, his answer might be, “Yes, I’m work­ing late and will be home around 9:00 p.m.” He would then feel blind­sided when Alice bites into him with “I hate how you are never home at night!” In this case, Mar­tin inno­cently answered what he thought was a true ques­tion. In the sec­ond sce­nario Mar­tin might reply not to the ques­tion but to what he per­ceives as an accu­sa­tion. Martin’s defen­sive answer might be, “I can’t help it that I have to work late! I am under a lot of pres­sure and you’re mak­ing it worse!” Cer­tainly, in either case, ask­ing a non-question ends in neg­a­tiv­ity. This is true when the ques­tion is sex­ual as well. Think about a woman pos­ing the ques­tion, “Do you feel like hav­ing sex tonight?” This non-question can have many pos­si­ble mean­ings. It can even mean one thing one time and some­thing totally dif­fer­ent another time! This ques­tion could mean “I hope you aren’t horny, because I would love to just cud­dle tonight”or “I’m horny and want to have sex”. Clearly, the ques­tion “Do you want to have sex?” can mean many dif­fer­ent things because it isn’t a sin­cere ques­tion. For one week, try to not ask ques­tions that aren’t really ques­tions and ask your part­ner to do the same. I think you will be pleas­antly surprised.

Ask your hus­band to engage in more chore-play: Research has con­firmed what women already are keenly aware of: Women whose hus­bands do their share around the house are hap­pier and more desirous of sex. Women need to make this abun­dantly clear to their spouses. Remem­ber­ing the impor­tance of com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills, don’t ask “Will you do the dishes?” and instead explain clearly your need for your part­ner to do more around the house. Make it clear that you are likely to feel more sex­ual if, while you are doing the din­ner dishes, he grabs a dish towel instead of your breasts.

Your most impor­tant sex organ is between your ears, not your legs: Likely the rea­son that chore-play works so well is because it gives women more time to relax – some­thing research finds is nec­es­sary for women’s sex­ual arousal. Sci­en­tists scanned the brains of a small group of men and women while they were being stim­u­lated by their part­ners and found that for the women (but not men), the part of the brain respon­si­ble for anx­i­ety shuts down as they become aroused. These find­ings also explain why it’s impos­si­ble to have an orgasm while think­ing about your unfolded laun­dry or unre­turned emails, some­thing research also shows women do more often than men. Learn­ing the prin­ci­ples of mind­ful­ness – stay­ing in a com­plete present focus – can help women deal with dis­tractibil­ity dur­ing sex. It is help­ful for women to learn to turn their busy brains off dur­ing sex, and instead allow them­selves to fully immerse in their bod­ily sen­sa­tions. An equally impor­tant way that women can har­ness the power of the sex organ between their ears is to think about sex dur­ing the day. Tune into the sen­su­al­ity and sex­u­al­ity around you. Take it a step fur­ther by stop­ping what you are doing a few times a day and think about sex. In short, use the sex organ between your ears by think­ing about sex when you aren’t able to have it (e.g., in the midst of the work day or mak­ing lunch for your kids) and turn off your brain when you are hav­ing sex to revel in the fab­u­lous sen­sa­tions in your body.

Night time is not the right time: Count­less women tell me that when they get in bed at night, the last thing on their mind is sex. They just want to go to sleep. There is inter­est­ing evi­dence that testos­terone, which is par­tially respon­si­ble for our sex drive, is at its low­est at night. Between exhaus­tion and decreased testos­terone, bed­time is not the ideal time for many women to have sex. As noted by my friend Jean, “It’s hard to find time alone with kids run­ning around, but that’s a prob­lem because the only time we have is too late at night for me.” To get around this, one cou­ple I know sets their alarm an hour early every Fri­day morn­ing. Another has arranged rides for their son to his weekly Boy Scout troop meet­ing, giv­ing them an hour and a half at home each Mon­day after din­ner. Let go of the myth that bed­time is the “right” time for sex, and instead, embrace the notion that the right time is when it works for you and your partner.

You can’t go from being an ice cube to boil­ing water: We are born with the need for skin-to-skin con­tact. Stud­ies con­ducted in orphan­ages and hos­pi­tals reveal that infants who aren’t touched lose weight, become ill and even die. On the other hand, pre­ma­ture babies who are pro­vided with touch gain weight faster, cry less, and have improved pulse and res­pi­ra­tion rates. Your sex drive mir­rors these find­ings. With­out touch, your sex drive shriv­els and dies. Con­versely, lov­ing, sex­ual, and affec­tion­ate touch can all help to reju­ve­nate your libido. Rarely will a tired mom ini­ti­ate sex or respond with ready pas­sion to a spouse’s advances if there has not been con­nected touch­ing through­out the day and week. As stated by Nadine, my seventy-five-year-old friend who has had a sat­is­fy­ing sex life over the course of her fifty-five-year mar­riage, “You need to be defrosted. If you haven’t been touched all day and go to bed at night, you’re an ice cube. It’s hard to go from an ice cube to boil­ing water. Being touched dur­ing the day warms you up.” But, just any touch won’t do. Some touch warms you up and some touch frosts you fur­ther. For touch of the melt­ing vari­ety, I rec­om­mend that cou­ples touch each other affec­tion­ately three times a day. I also rec­om­mend the same amount of sex­u­ally provoca­tive touch – tit­il­lat­ing, insin­u­at­ing touch at a time and place that sex is impos­si­ble. Remem­ber that car in your parent’s dri­ve­way – the touch cer­tainly wasn’t going to end in sex, but it sure was excit­ing. Rekin­dle that feeling.

Men are microwaves and women are crock-pots: When a woman laments that she gets lit­tle sex­ual sat­is­fac­tion, the prob­lem often not enough fore­play and instead, too much focus on the goal of inter­course. Dur­ing inter­course, the cli­toris is only indi­rectly stim­u­lated and this is why only a minor­ity of women orgasm through pen­e­tra­tion alone. In order for a woman to reach orgasm, she gen­er­ally must have her cli­toris in con­tact with some­thing and it must be stim­u­lated. How much stim­u­la­tion? There is great vari­abil­ity among women. Like­wise, an indi­vid­ual woman her­self will vary, depend­ing on many things. Among these are her level of exhaus­tion and her abil­ity to turn off her busy brain. Still, aver­ages are inter­est­ing. On aver­age, men take four min­utes to reach orgasm, once they begin inter­course. Women take some­where around eleven min­utes and this is not eleven min­utes of inter­course. It is eleven min­utes of stim­u­la­tion. Not all women know this. Even fewer men seem to know this. What’s more, women often don’t tell men this. Women don’t always tell their part­ners that they need time to get aroused or how to arouse them. This takes us right back to the first tip. The most impor­tant advice for sex­ual sat­is­fac­tion is to know what you like and to com­mu­ni­cate this to your part­ner. This means that if you, like many women, are a slow cooker – tell your part­ner about your slow cook­ing time and the ingre­di­ents you need to turn up the heat.

Dr. Mintz is a tired woman who has regained her once-lost pas­sion and a psy­chol­o­gist with more than fif­teen years of expe­ri­ence help­ing count­less women do the same. She has a PhD in psy­chol­ogy and is a licensed psy­chol­o­gist with a wealth of expe­ri­ence coun­sel­ing women and cou­ples. Thanks to fol­low­ing her own advice, she enjoys a pas­sion­ate and sat­is­fy­ing sex­ual rela­tion­ship with her hus­band of twenty-two years. She lives in Colum­bia, Mis­souri.

—–

Um…so ok…I have some things to work on.  Prob­a­bly my grumpy-ness not a big help in this depart­ment. The whole chore play idea?  Inter­est­ing.  Rocket already does a lot of chores…  Oops. The night­time piece though…yes, yes, and yes.  I want to sleep at night. Though ok, I want to work­out or get ready for work first thing in the am. So Rocket can’t really win around our house.

What about you all?  Any­one else in the “needs work” group?

Learning from Other Runners

Running Tips and Inspiration

Runners like to give advice almost as much as moms do.  New runners, veteran runners, fast runners, injured runners, we can always learn something from a fellow runner. There are strategies and techniques to improve our form, get faster, recover from injury…advice is vast and never in short supply.

I suppose that is the beauty of running. Each run is a new chance to use what we have learned to relax, to improve, to speed up, or maybe to strengthen our endurance.

As a runner of eleven years I suppose that I qualify as a veteran, except that as I refocus and recommit to a running “reboot” where I no longer rely on what I have been able to do in the past, I am trying to start over.  Which means being open to learning, wanting to absorb all the wisdom from experts, feeling the excitement of the effort like it is the first time. So when I had the chance to learn from Runners World editors, coaches, running columnists, Olympians, and inspirational athletes during the Runners World Half Marathon, I sat on the edge of my seat, soaking it all in, feeling the buzz from an extended runners high brought on by morsels, tidbits, and personal experiences.

Running Tips and Inspiration

Accountability

A key to running is having a training partner that keeps you accountable and helps push you to dig deep every day says  Shalane Flanigan, Three time Olympian and American record holder in the 3000, 5000, and 10,000 meters.

Nutrition

Marc Parent, The Newbie Chronicles columnist at Runners World.describes his entry into running as taking a “fork in the road.”  He did not want to be one of the many that said “I used to run.”  One of Marc’s major realizations was that “running is not a license to eat.”

Mental Toughness

Jen Van Allen, Special Project Editor Runners World, Author of The Runners World Big Book of Marathon and Half Marathon Training.said several things that stuck out to me.  Jen believes that running is about “what is on your mind and in your stomach.” The hardest part of that is the hour before you run. (You know that hour right? The one where you talk yourself in and out of running for whatever reason?). Jen’s solution is to “Make an excuse or make it happen.”  The other thing that Jen said about running is that “it should feel like happy hour.”  It should help you find that happy place where you are feeling good and want to keep going.

I stumbled upon something today…something that represents my entry into running.

That thing was the finisher medal to a race that according to my doctor’s, I was never supposed to be able to run.  Holding the 2001 Marine Corps Marathon medal, that represents my first marathon, all 5 hours 38 minutes and 44 seconds of it, I realize that I have a chance. A chance to take these running tips, and apply them in real time, in my running reboot, to keep me focused and centered on the big goal: returning to the marathon in 2013.

What about you? What advice or inspiration have you heard recently, on any topic, that has stuck with you?

Celebrating Heart of Haiti

Celebrating Heart of Haiti

Last week I had the honor and joy to attend an event in Washington DC that made my heart sing.  It made my heart sing because not because I was getting out on the town, but because I was going to celebrate and support a cause and effort that I hold very close to my heart.

That effort is the Heart of Haiti.

I was introduced to Heart of Haiti  earlier this year. It is a trade program whose mission and work touches me on every level. I bought several Heart pendant necklaces for Principessa’s teachers end of the year gifts last May.

Founded by Willa Shalit’s Fair Winds Trading, in partnership with Macy’s and in collaboration with the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, Heart of Haiti offers opportunities for local artisans so use their craft, their art, and their skill, to help create positive change in their ravaged homeland.  A homeland who experienced a  7.0 magnitude  earthquake forever changing the landscape and lives of the people who lived on this Caribbean island.

The collection brings the spirit and creativity of the artists into handcrafted vases, picture frames, sculptures, bowls, and pendants. Artisans use income from the proceed of their sales to pay for their homes, school fees, and clothing for their families.  Purchasing one of these works of art gives back to the artisan to directly support their family.  These one of a kind masterpieces carry on the tradition of Haitian culture and history and help restore dignity and pride in local artisans and families.

We had the opportunity to meet one of the artisans, Pascale Faublas, who shared the story of her work, the heart of her fellow artisans, and the soul of the hands that individually craft each one of the pieces.

We had the opportunity to shop the collection and to taste delicious Haitian inspired foods.  I may have even purchased a large quantity (as in, I could have used a basket to hold them all) of sun AND heart pendants, for more teachers and loved ones.

The event was truly a celebration of the work and spirit of the artisans. A celebration of a trade program that I can only hope will continue to bring positive change in the lives of many Haitian families.

Working Towards Self Sufficiency in Haiti

Working Towards Self Sufficiency in Haiti

“How was your trip? Was it so hard? Was it sad?”

The amount of times that I have been asked this question upon my return from Haiti are too many to count. I understand the question. I understand the reason for the question.  We see images in the media all the time depicting the tragedy of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the lives of families destroyed, the intense level of poverty and chaos.

I get it.

But my answer, without any pause or hesitation, is “No, actually it was remarkable.  It was a lesson in resiliency and hope unlike any that I have seen before.”

Photo credit, J/P HRO, Keziah Jean

There is AMAZING work being done in Haiti, to build capacity, to create sustainable progress, to foster self sufficiency.  During our trip, we were lucky enough to be invited to visit the J/P Haitian Relief Organization (J/P HRO) camp in Petionville. A camp that has turned a once golf course into a place of healing, a place of nurturing potential.  A safe place that people can call home until they are ready to stand on their feet again.

This Haitian relief organization works towards one goal. And one goal only. Returning residents to their neighborhoods and community with skills, with education, with health, and with the knowledge that they are part of an interdependent community.

J/P HRO runs it’s own school for almost 500 children.  It has 2 medical clinics in the neighborhoods bordering camp.  where it has helped women give birth to over one thousand babies and help heal hundreds of thousands more sick Haitians. It has a livelihood program and Community House that provides small business training and vocational training. It has a relocation program that helps residents move back into the community! J/P HRO has been responsible for rubble removal and for redevelopment. But beyond all of the programs that are in place, walking into the camp, you know you are in a special place.

The fascinating (and wonderful) thing about this camp is that it is built out of emergency response but has evolved into a transitional community.  Residents are not given handouts. Instead, residents of the camp J/P HRO manages, buy and sell goods from each other, creating a culture of self sufficiency instead of dependence.  We saw examples of this as we walked through the camp.  Painters with beautiful pieces of art for sale, a group of residents called the Hands Together Cooperative that have come together to make beaded jewelry from recycled materials, small tables set up with food items.  There is even a little restaurant called “Mammy’s” where people can come together.

Walking through the camp I was struck by so much. By the faces of the boys playing soccer in an open area. By the children who said “Bon Soir” as we walked by. By the fact that the camp volunteers and staff are truly members of this community, embedded in the daily lives of the residents, knowing everyone by name. By the fact that we saw a large open space where tents once stood, symbolizing relocation and progress being made, row by row.

Then there was Stephalo Bijouterie.  I am not even sure that words can adequately describe the impact of meeting Stephanie, one of the three girls that make up this group of young women, striving to be entrepreneurs so that they can pay for college. Speaking with the help of a translator, and my broken French, the passion and drive in this young woman’s eyes told the only store I needed to hear that day.  The story of survival. The story of a dream. The story of taking charge of your own life, regardless of the barriers that stand in your way.  They even have business cards that read “Pour une Haiti meillure et prospere.” (For a better and prosperous Haiti)

So no, visiting Haiti was not a sad trip.  Intense yes. Remarkable yes. Life changing yes. But sad, no.

Visiting places like J/P HRO was magical. Certainly there are people whose stories are ones of sorrow and tragedy. Certainly there is evidence in the country still of the destruction created by the earthquake.

But the story of hope, of resiliency, of working towards a better tomorrow?

That is the my take away.

A California Road Trip Along the PCH

A California Road Trip Along the PCH

Television programs like the Real Housewives, Beverly Hills 90210, CHIPS, The Practice create images in our minds of driving up and down the California coast along the Pacific Coast Highway (affectionately called the PCH by locals).   Images like hair flowing in the breeze, surfers, stunning views, and a taste of the dolce vita. Idyllic locations like Santa Monica, Malibu, and Santa Barbara were the things of fairy tales or Hollywood movie or television instead of places where I would actually find myself driving….until recently.

A day in the life of a California road trip

Imagine being in the car for two hours with some of your closest friends, equipped with the latest technology and gadget friendly dashboard, surrounded by the comforts of a tank-like vehicle, (a Toyota Sequoia) that actually drives like a luxury sedan.  Better yet, imagine yourself driving north from Santa Monica to Santa Barbara, through Malibu and along the incredibly scenic Pacific Coast Highway. Put it all together…and you have road trip perfection.

Before you go though, you will need a few things.

You will need a  good night of rest prior to your trip. 

The Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel is located next to the beach (in fact they have a screen unlike anything I have ever seen that shows the beach in real time right behind the registration desk so that you don’t forget!) and is a few steps away from the Santa Monica pier. Although I did not have time to indulge in their spa, they have a eucalyptus infused steam room which makes me happy and relaxed just thinking about it.

An automobile that can withstand anything.

Although getting great gas mileage while being comfortable in a Toyota Prius is a logical and eco friendly choice, splurging for size in a Toyota Sequoia was worth it. You know… just in case we wanted to take a spin up a mountain or on the beach (no, we did not do anything of the sort! But it was nice to know that “we could.”)

You will need a lot of space. 

Because lets be honest, a girls trip involves luggage, lots of it (shoes, computers, tablets, chargers…you know, the essentials). Also? The large cargo space is perfect for taking “me time” and meditation. It is California after all.

You will need technology.

As if you did not come prepared with enough of your own gadgets, in car technology and navigation is essential when road tripping. The Sequoia was equipped with Entune dashboard that looks like it could be an operations center for a major city. Major bonus…USB ports to charge your personal devices.

You will need scenic vistas.

Like Malibu…

Or like the view from the pier in Santa Barbara…

You will need sustenance and fuel.

Like oysters or fish tacos at the Harbor Restaurant on the Santa Barbara pier.

Combine all of these together, and you have yourself a perfect California road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway that, if you are lucky, you will never forget.

Fostering Confidence in Our Kids

Fostering Confidence in Our Kids

Reading, writing, and math are three things that parents and teachers have always looked at as indicators of success in schools.

But I have three other things that as far as I am concerned, may be even more important than if you have memorized your math facts or can write a perfect essay.

Confidence. Self esteem. A strong sense of self.

You might say that these three things are redundant. You might wonder why problem solving and creativity, some of my favorite topics are not what I consider to be the keys to school success. The truth is that if you are not confident you are less likely to take risks when it comes to problem solving or thinking outside the proverbial box to show creativity. If you are afraid to stand up for yourself or are easily swayed when someone else offers a suggestion that others think is better than yours, you are not likely to demonstrate the depth of creative ideas that are swirling around your head.

After twelve years,  I know the importance of confidence, self esteem and a strong sense of self even though I am not in the classroom myself today to welcome new students to a new year of learning, inquiry, and reflection.  But also? As a mom to a daughter whose confidence and self esteem sometimes play second fiddle to the voices of insecurity….I have never been so sure about these three, seemingly simple characteristics as the key to academic success in school and more importantly, in life.

The trick is….how do we foster confidence in our children? Especially if you are like me, not exactly the poster child of self confidence every single day?

The only answer that I can even begin to come up with is by being a role model with our own behavior AND encouraging our children in very concrete ways.  As people we take in feedback across settings, through verbal and non verbal cues.  We read body language, we hear the words that are used to describe our actions, efforts, and even behavior.

Strategies to foster confidence in children

It is not enough to say “That is great” when you are looking through a child’s school work. Providing concrete feedback like “I noticed you used descriptive sentences” or “I noticed that you capitalized at the beginning of each sentence” or even “I noticed that you used a lot of color in your picture” provide specific reinforcement. While we always want someone to “like” our work, the reality is that in life, not everyone is going to like everything we do. So starting children off with a foundation of confidence NOT built on what others like or dislike will help foster their inner sense of confidence and pride in their work.

As independent as our children want to be, they still need us.  Reminders that we are there and that we care, with a special lunchbox note or card hidden in their backpack can go a long way to helping our children remember that we are rooting for them. Our first day of school started off with a card left on my daughter’s bedside table so that she would see it when she woke up and of course a lunch box note to find when she sits down in the crowded and noisy cafeteria later today.

Reflecting on the good things is an important tool for life.  Instead of coming home off the bus ready to list the who did what and what went wrong during the day, my daughter knows that when she gets off the bus, I am going to ask her to tell me two good things about her day. We can get to the frustrating things later, but helping her notice the sometimes small successes can help later when we do talk about anything that might have been frustrating.

Setting goals helps guide efforts and show progress.  Children (and adults) often feel like they have to do everything well all at once.  Asking a child to set a goal can help them focus their efforts and allow them to see themselves grow as they work to achieve that goal. Setting a goal also encourages conversations about what might make that goal difficult, so that a child can think through the steps they will need to take to show progress.  Also? While we as parents have goals for our children, it is important to find out what they want to improve or work towards.  My daughter’s two goals are to learn more vocabulary words so that she can understand what she reads better, and to become a more detailed writer (I swear that I did not influence her in creating that goal!). Now,  I can weave specific feedback into conversations to help encourage her attempts to achieve her goals and foster her interests in concrete ways instead of just telling her, for example, that she needs to “write more.”

Fostering confidence in our children will help them not just in school as they speak in front of their classmates or demonstrate their knowledge to their teachers.  Confidence, self esteem, and a strong sense of self will prepare them for real life…the real life that is for better or worse, just a few blinks away.  I cannot even imagine how my own life would be different if I had developed a stronger sense of self confidence or self esteem when I was  younger.  But more than anything else, I know that to help my daughter develop these three traits, I need to model them myself and show her the importance so that hears it, sees it, and believes in the importance.

What about you? What do you see as the keys to fostering confidence in our children or in ourselves?

And Now What?

And Now What?

Telling the story. Living life one moment at a time. That is what I say when I am asked what I write about here on Ciao Mom.

Except that I have realized lately that I seem to be telling a very different story from the one that I started to tell almost three years ago. Back then the story was about getting remarried and lots and lots of parenting. Principessa this, Principessa that. A little fitness thrown in here and there, but mostly, mom-mommy-parenting stuff.

Which of course is not what I am writing about anymore. Or at least, not primarily. Which begs the question…is Ciao Mom even the appropriate name of this space? Have I transitioned away from the MOM content so much that I need a new name? And the best question…does it really even matter?

People talk of the importance of having a niche. Which of course is driven by your content. But the truth is that I have struggled over the last three years to define my blogging niche. I never did fit neatly into mom blogger. Nor did I fit nicely into fitness blogger. Or travel blogger. Or cause blogger.

And again…does it really even matter?

I think about where I am heading. Looking back at my editorial calendar I realize that my focus is non existent. Travel, fitness, great causes, cars, food, technology, career, social media, and a sprinkle of parenting makes me NICHE-Less. There are topics that I am really very knowledgeable about. Topics that you might even say that I am considered an expert and leader…like education, best practices in instruction, or even fostering reflective conversations through coaching that I do not even write about, because well, I don’t. But I think about it. About whether or not I should.

Which is of course why, in large part, I am trying to find my WHY. But the question remains…is a more narrow focus better? Or is writing whatever you are passionate about enough?

Or again, does it matter?

Clearly there is a transition happening. In my writing. In my career. In my mind.  A transition that I have probably not even fully understood. But it strikes me that there are probably a great many opinions out there about this topic…this idea of niche or no niche. Focus or lack there of.

So…what do you think? Is one better than the other? Does it matter? Chime in with your opinion.

Getting Back on Track with Weight Watchers

Getting Back on Track with Weight Watchers

One foot in front of the other.

Heading toward a door.  A door that once you open it, just feels right.

The door was the door into a Weight Watchers meeting.

A new start. A new beginning.

Once upon a time I achieved Weight Watchers Lifetime status, weighing in at my lowest weight since early high school.  As in once upon a… 2007.

Since then, my weight has fluctuated, heading steadily up and up and up. Until, recently.  When I realized that I was at my heaviest non pregnancy weight, and I said, enough is enough.

Going back to a meeting for the first time is a bit scary. Lets be honest. With a tail between my legs, I took off my watch, my shoes, my sweatshirt, and even my glasses to try to save myself from that extra ounce on the scale.

Knowing that I had stayed away because I thought “I could do it.”

After all, I had done “it” before. I had lost all the weight.  The kitchen scale even has it’s own place in our kitchen….inside a drawer. I had not weighed or monitored my portions in well…a long time.

Until now. Because I know better.

Despite eating a relatively healthy diet, high in vegetables and fruit, I has lost touch with what I knew. Portions. Tracking. Being accountable for even the smallest bite that goes into my mouth.

There is of course a huge fitness component for me.  While I can lose weight by just keeping track of my Points Plus, I lose the most weight, and feel the healthiest, when my fitness level is high.

So it is with great joy that I share that in my first week back on plan with Weight Watchers, I lost 3.8 pounds. And in case you are wondering, 3.8 is nothing to scoff at.  I could feel the difference….even if just emotionally.

I know better than to think that I will pull such big numbers on the scale each week.I am not at the Biggest Loser Ranch. I am home, working full time, traveling to Haiti, trying to fit in at least three (eventually leading to five) workouts every week.  But for today, for this week. 3.8 was just what I needed.

Even if it means saving my points during the day for that glass of wine at night. Even if it means giving myself a bit more leniency on Saturday. Jennifer Hudson may be the face of Weight Watchers, but the soul? The heart? Those are within each member as they walk through that door.

Because that door is a reminder.

It reminds me that it is possible. It will happen.

A Path Not Taken

A Path Not Taken

A lifetime in Italy. Living, working. Continuing the streak of back and forth across the pond adventures that my family has taken over the years.

That is the life that I thought I was going to have when I graduated from college. Moving to Florence, Italy for one year was just the beginning. It would be the launching point to a life that I believed was my best fit. On Italian soil, where I felt the most “me.”

Forever turned out to be only one year long. Which of course, is not really forever.

My lifetime back in Italy turned out to be one year spent in Florence, working as a study abroad liaison for a United States college program.  A year that came to an end because of a boy. Because of love. Because of a new dream for forever.

Instead of continuing to start each day with a caffe’ at the local bar, my path was diverted to the streets of Washington DC. The path that I had so desperately wanted, close to my Italian friends in Venice, quickly became the path that was discarded for a shinier and more exciting path.

The truth is that I am a believer in the idea that things happen for a reason. As it turns out, my decision to change my path led me back to a place where I would soon after be diagnosed and then treated for the cancer that had probably already been growing in my body. My change in path put me in a place where my cancer would eventually lead me to train and run a marathon, which would in turn lead me to meeting the man that would become Principessa’s dad.  I could keep going with the consequences that I can connect to that original first change in path.

Instead, I find myself sitting in a kitchen, in Venice, after having spent two weeks exploring Tuscany and the Dolomite mountain range. With my daughter. With my new husband. With my parents. Having just changed my career path pretty significantly. Wanting to change my fitness path. Wondering where my personal path will take me ten years from now.

A path. Many paths. A path that starts with the idea of Live.Do.Grow. A path that will have forks in the road. Speed bumps. On ramps and off ramps. There may be u-turns or shortcuts. But in the end, only time will tell.

What about you? What path did you not take? How has it made you who you are today?

Finding Beauty in Haiti

Finding Beauty in Haiti

Sheer beauty. Beauty is a subjective quality. It can be elusive for some. Abundant for others. I feel lucky to have found such vivid examples of beauty during my trip to Haiti.

Beauty in artistry.

Beadwork pillows made by the hands of artists at Jean Baptiste’s atelier in Croix-des-Bouquets

Beauty in the landscapes.

Traveling through the mountains from Port-au-Prince to Jacmel

Beauty in people.

Meeting Leissa, a smart six year old school girl who likes math.

Beauty.

That is what I found in Haiti.

What beauty have you found lately?

The Grow Method

Fostering a Sustainable Food Culture with the Oxfam Grow Method

Do you remember when you were young and your parents told you that you had to eat everything on your plate so that food would not be wasted? I do. I remember it, and have probably used the same argument with my daughter over the years to get her to eat her meals. The idea though, of not wasting food, is more than just of teaching our children to eat well.

The issue of sustainability in food is about feeding your family AND making sure that there is enough food for the world’s population. Because here is the reality: Almost one billion of the world’s population goes to bed hungry each night. Not because of scarcity of food, but because our agricultural and societal systems are using resources at a rapid rate that will destroy the natural resources that we need.

That is where  the Oxfam Grow Method comes in. A “culinary revolution” the Grow Method helps us learn how our food choices impact the global food supply and how our actions can help promote sustainability.

The ideas are simple really. Most are things that many of us already do. My biggest take away was the intention behind the process and the specific and concrete ways that small steps can lead to dramatic changes for the future of food.

Steps like:

  • Planning meals to help waste less food
  • Storing your food in the refrigerator to prevent spoiling
  • Cooking with leftovers
  • Buying local from farmers
  • Saving energy while cooking by covering your pan with a lid
  • Buying food that is in season and eating more local in season food
  • Eating more vegetables and less meat or dairy

World Food Day is tomorrow, October 16th.  Each of us can help feed the planet that will reach nine billion people by 2050, and empower people living in less developed nations to earn a living, feed their families, and thrive..  There are so many ways each of can get involved.

Oxfam has developed a Discussion guide that is perfect to help you talk about the Grow Method with your children.

You can find recipes and techniques that were developed with the Grow Method in mind on Pinterest. (Two of my favorites are freezing herbs in olive oil and  a purple kale salad with creamy apricot ginger dressing, apples, and walnuts).

Like with anything, the important thing is to get involved. The great thing about the Grow Method is that you can get involved in the comfort of your own kitchen and house, just by being intentional and making a few simple changes.

So the question is…how is what you already do at home aligned with the Grow Method or what is one thing you can do today that is aligned with this goal of sustainable food for the global population?

4 benefits of using sous vide machine a family kitchen

Cooking for a family is difficult, as any person should know. And that fact is even truer for a larger family. There is a lot of preparation to go through whenever you are cooking for any large meal. And the pressure can even increase when you are trying to cook for a special meal, such as the holidays or a family get-together. However, one piece of cooking equipment can really help you prepare your dishes much faster. If you want to cook meat the sous vide style, you should be using the best sous vide machine. Having this kind of machine in your family kitchen can be beneficial in the following ways.

  1. Faster preparation

Usually preparing any kind of meat for a recipe can take a really long time. There is just a lot to do whenever you want meat in a recipe to taste good. With the use of this machine, a lot of that preparation time can be speeded up. You just have to put the meat and its sauce in a plastic bag and let the machine handle the rest of the preparation.

  1. More convenience

Using these kinds of machines is actually really convenient. You will only need to set a timer, and then add the piece of meat. You then just have to wait until the timer is up, and you can get the meat out and it will be ready for further cooking or even consumption!

  1. Better tasting food

Any kind of meat that you prepare using the proper cooking machine is going to end up tasting much better. The meat will be tenderized in its own juices, so it will ensure a juicier and more flavorful piece of meat. And since the meat will be sealed in a vacuum, it will also end up really soft. In fact, if cooked right it will end up butter soft in the mouth!

  1. Versatility

You can use this kind of cooking machine to prepare any kind of meat dish. If you want, you could use it to prepare everything from pork to poultry. You may even use a vacuum-sealed cooking method for fish dishes as well. And every time that you use it on any kind of meat dish, the meat will come out tasting juicier and be so much softer to chew on.

  1. Easier to cook sous vide style

The sous vide style of cooking, when translated from French, literally means vacuum-sealed cooking. And while that may sound fancy, it is not all that different from normal cooking at all! You can also have that same method of cooking at home if you have got a machine that can do the sous vide style of cooking.

This kind of cooking machine is not only for professional kitchen restaurants. Any cook in their own family home kitchen will be able to benefit from cooking it. You will have a much easier time preparing for any kind of family meal if you have got this piece of cooking equipment in your own kitchen. And even if you are not a cooking enthusiast or a seasoned chef, you will still be able to get a lot of use out of this kind of cooking machine. There have been a lot of people who have successfully cooked steak and even fish dishes with just the use of this cooking equipment. So you can expect to get a lot of delicious dishes with this kind of cooking equipment.

Setting {SMART} Goals

setting smart goals

Have you ever felt like your brain had so many ideas swirling around at the same time that you were afraid it might actually explode?

That is me. Today. Yesterday. For the last few weeks. I suppose it comes with the territory of being at home, “recovering.”  It is something that I cannot seem to turn off, no matter how times I try to distract myself with attempting to draw images that no one will recognize in Draw Something.

The fact of the matter is that all this thinking, while productive and exciting… is also exhausting. Every new idea that I have, leads to ten more new ideas.  I cannot tell you how many new Evernote “notes” I have created in the last few days. Rocket and I have even started talking about me adding a “parking lot” to one of the walls in my new office so that I can go back to some of the ideas with the help of visual reminders.

Some of these ideas are quick and easy. A post topic. A item that needs to be added to a “to-do” list. Ordering coffee (oops, I still need to do that!). Others are more complex and require more reflection. Things that involve soliciting feedback from others, ideas that need to percolate and be shelved until just the right moment (or a better moment than right NOW). Ideas big and small. Complicated and not.

The more I think of ideas, the more I realize that my ideas are only as good as the actions that accompany them. I am not one that likes to see great ideas, or even potentially good ideas, fall to the wayside because I could not follow through. Which is why, the more my brain has been overrun the last few weeks, the more I have thought about using SMART goals to turn these ideas and dreams into reality.

If you are not familiar with SMART goals, they are goals, written with a very specific format that is intended to take conceptual ideas into very specific realities. SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time Bound. This acronym is a tool that is used world wide by professionals, executives, and even in schools to help both teachers set goals for their instruction and for students to set their own personal academic goals.  The idea is that when you lay out a plan, that is action oriented, that used in process measures to track results, and that is bound by a timeline…that those lofty dreams scribbled on a post-it note (or into an Eevernote file) are more likely to become reality.

I have written many a professional SMART goal over my twelve years in the classroom, but somehow have never written any for my the rest of my life. Which as goal oriented as I have always been, is a bit surprising when I think about it. But that is about to change. Because I know that in order to turn my dreams into realities, there must be concrete steps, realistic time frames, and actions….lots of actions.

So I will start. I will dig out the templates that I have used with students. I will tweak them to make them work for me. And I will start writing. One at a time, thinking through each step. How will I measure the goal? What resources will I need to achieve my goal? What will it look like when it is successful? I will even try to think through some of the stumbling blocks that will undoubtedly spring up here or there. And then, bit by bit, I will take responsibility for my ideas with actions.

Writing SMART goals and putting them into action are a journey. Sometimes easy, sometimes hard. Sometimes you realize that although you may not have achieve the goal you SET out to achieve, other successes have emerged.  Like planting a seed in the garden, you nurture your goal, completing tasks and actions designed to make it bloom. You cannot account for the thunderstorms that blow the buds off the plants, or the scorching heat burns through the petals even though you watered it in the morning.  And while I am tempted to say, it is “enough” to do your best and keep your chin up, when it comes to achieving your dreams, being enough can be an elusive endeavor.  My efforts will only be enough if I do my very best to follow through on the actions that I set out, AND if I remain flexible enough to know when I need to revise or think outside the box.

Or maybe, at least in the first step of this journey, being enough means allowing myself the time, the space, and the creativity to cultivate these dreams so that I can turn them into action oriented SMART goals.

Glamping for the Non Camper

Glamping for the Non Camper

A personal defnition of travel:

Exploring a new place (or an old one) in search of adventure, relaxation, pampering, good food, good wine.  Should also include getting lost at least once.

Usual accommodation preferences include hotels, resorts, apartments, or boats. The nicer and more luxurious the better.

(Yes, I am well aware that I am a brat- I am just being honest).

So when I learned about glamping last year for the first time…a glamorous type of camping, my ears perked up.  The truth is that I have been camping twice in my life. Once as a brownie (that camping trip was the end of my participation in Brownies by the way) and a second time at the end of my senior year in high school (that camping trip involved vodka…shhhh). Suffice it to say, I am not a camper.  But glamorous camping? With a bed? In a tent or cabin? With running water? Maybe just maybe.

Except that all of a sudden, earlier this fall, an opportunity to try glamping first hand, appeared.  In Southern California no less. A trip designed to give us quality time driving some our favorite Toyota vehicles, with friends, where we would be cruising along the Pacific Coast Highway, a chance to kayak off the coast, and a chance to GLAMP.

El Capitan Canyon is no stranger to new Glampers. The Real Housewives of Orange County tried their hand at glamping during their last season. (I somehow doubt though that the Real Housewives “ooh’ed and ah’ed” over the wifi like a large group of bloggers did upon arrival.)

Ready. Set. Fitness

Ready. Set. Fitness

Have you ever been looking forward to something so very much that you started a count down to prepare for it’s arrival?

That is how I feel, as I sit here, with one week left until my medical ALL CLEAR to resume exercise after my hysterectomy in March.

I am one week until my body can resume full activity, working out, sweating, feeling the rush of endorphins and confidence that comes from a great workout.

Ready.

Set.

Fitness!

Except of course that it is not going to work that way. After six weeks of NO activity other than the walk around the neighborhood and the day to day activity that comes from working and running errands, my body is not going to be able to jump back into exercising all of a sudden. Or at least, it will not be able to if I want to avoid injuries.

The truth is that I am just a bit fearful of starting to exercise again. Of wanting so desperately to feel strong, to feel fit, and yet, failing. Failing because my body is not up to what I would like it to do. Failing because I let excuses get in the way.

That might sound crazy. But the pressure to get back into fitness after this six week hiatus feels extremely high. So high that I know how easy it would be to sink into frustration at not getting there fast enough. It is all within my control this time. It is up to me. Only me.

While the knowledge that it is up to me should get my motors running and make me feel in control. It doesn’t. It instead reminds me of the times in the past when I have not met my fitness goals. When I have failed myself in training or at a race.

Friends have told me that I have inspired them to start running. Others have appreciated my honesty with my ups and downs telling me they have learned from my reflections. But me? It is hard to take your own advice sometimes. It is hard to see myself in my words, knowing that I need to let go of all that was.

The fact of the matter is that this was not just a six week fitness hiatus. I have been out of fitness commission really since last September. I have dabbled here and there, but my habits were off. My consistency wavered. I talked a great game of letting go of the runner that I used to be, of the distances that used to feel easy.  I have talked of secret weapons and tricks to get back on track.

But I have not taken my own advice. Or maybe, it is that I have not BELIEVED in my own advice.

Whatever the case, as I mentally prepare for the green light to flash, signaling my medical permission to start again, I feel something happening. I feel an energy brewing. Much like I felt when I decided to train for my first marathon in 2001 at a time when I could barely run three miles. Much like I decided to train for a triathlon after having spent twelve years being afraid of riding my bike.

Whatever it is, I am not about to let it go to waste. Yes, it is going to be hard to get back into a fitness routine. Yes, my body is going to behave differently and progress will be slow. Yes, I am going to have bad days where I wonder if it is all worth it.  But….there will be good days too. More and more of them as I keep going.

I read a great expression today on a friend’s site, as she shared her experience of competing in a Tough Mudder.

And I realized…she is right. No matter what personal obstacle course we are on. Whether we are starting over or starting anew. The past does not matter.

Come back tomorrow to see how I lay out my five step plan to ease my body back into fitness after my surgery. Because today? Today is all about building my mental strength. Forgiving my body for not being what is was and moving on. Moving on to a new body. A stronger me.

My Five Step Plan to Fitness After Surgery

My Five Step Plan to Fitness After Surgery

Five weeks of recovery. One week left until the words ALL CLEAR appear on my phone’s calendar. Words that symbolize the return to regular life. Words that represent my victorious return to a life of fitness.

Except of course that after six weeks off from any real exercise, my body is not ready for a victorious return. My brain is getting there, slowly. But my body needs a plan. It needs steps to make sure that my return to fitness is one that lasts for the LONG HAUL.

So I am coming up with a plan. A plan that will ease me back into starting to exercise after recovering from surgery. A five step plan.

Step 1. Set Realistic Expectations.

I would LOVE to feel proud and exhilarated after a great run or fabulous bike ride on one of my favorite trails. So instead of attempting to ease into one of my favorite spots, I am going to consider getting back to my old workout haunts as my reward. In a month. Yes, you read correctly. I am giving myself one month. That is not to say I am not going to push myself. but I know that I need to work up to running three miles. And I want to do it well. Because after three miles? Come more miles.

Step 2. Create Habits.

After this long hiatus, I know that I need to retrain not just my muscles, but my mind to get up early in the morning to exercise or find time to squeeze in a workout in the evening if the day got away from me. My brain needs to be taught again, that despite the excuses that might line the path to getting things done, it is worth it in the long run.

Step 3. Formulate a Training Plan.

A real plan. Not just a “lets see what I can do today” plan. It needs to be systematic, well thought out, consistent, and purposeful.

The good news about formulating a plan is that there are MANY resources out there for every possible running distance, triathlon, or other endurance event. One of my favorite new finds is Train Like a Mother: How to Get Across Any Finish Line- and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea.  Granted. I am biased. I think the world of Sarah and Dimity. For good reason. After reading their first book Run Like a Mother, I grew to love their quick witted conversational style, their authenticity, and their very real passion for running. Their latest book was exactly what I needed right now. They reminded me of the fact that no matter how many marathons, half marathons, or triathlons that I have competed in the past, as Dimity says, “…there are no savings accounts in running.” If we want to make our goal a long term one, we need to train, responsibly, with a clear purpose and goals that lie just beyond what is comfortable. The book is an easy to read mix of personal stories by every day mother runners AND novice and experienced training plans for all types of distances from 5k to marathon.

My one month plan is to start walking on the treadmill, building up to add short bursts of running, leading eventually to longer bursts. There will be rest days. Three to four days during the first week, building to six days per week by the fourth week. I am still thinking about what my long term goal is…so my training plan you might say is still a work in progress.

Step 4: Find Motivating Workouts

I am lucky to have a workout room in my house, with a treadmill, a bicycle trainer, free weights, and a television and DVD player. Plus, in our family room we have both a Wii and an xBox. I have been setting shows to DVR so that I have PLENTY of things to watch while on the treadmill, and I am excited to finally get to use my Physique 57 barre style workout DVDs.  The first month is going to be about building my base, slowly and safely.

Step 5: Be Patient. Be Flexible. Be Determined

I have NEVER started at what feels like ground zero before. Or maybe I have. Presumably after my bone marrow transplant, in 1998, I started from scratch. But that was a LONG time ago. I am heavier now, and older. I need to be mentally strong enough to push myself and ignore the voices of doubt, but smart enough to listen to my body when it has had enough.

 Five steps. One month. I am ready. Are you?

Guest Post: A Tired Woman’s Guide to Passionate Sex

Guest Post: A Tired Woman’s Guide to Passionate Sex

Yes…that really is our topic today.  Dr. Lau­rie Mintz is here on C.Mom today to shed light on some­thing that is um.…important.  Rela­tion­ships and mar­riages are hard in gen­eral, but even more so when inti­macy takes a nose dive. And in my case at least, I am the first one to admit that I fall prey to the being tired, want­ing to go to bed early, line of excuses. They are not excuses.…they are true state­ments. But I know that some­times we have to take one for the team… I am just not always very good at that. :)

And so.….without fur­ther ado…an expert, Dr. Lau­rie Mintz.…on how to spice things up.

A TIRED MAMA’S GUIDE TO PASSIONATE SEX: 6 Sexy Guide­lines to Try Today!

Remem­ber the days when you and your hus­band couldn’t keep your hands off each other? If it’s a dis­tant mem­ory for you and you are too tired to care, you are not alone!
“Honey, I’m too tired” may sound like just another excuse—but for mil­lions of Amer­i­can women, it’s sim­ply the truth. They may set­tle for no sex at all or the oblig­a­tory “I’d bet­ter do this for my mar­riage” sex—often to the detri­ment of their rela­tion­ships. In her new book, A Tired Woman’s Guide To Pas­sion­ate Sex, which research has proven to be effec­tive in increas­ing desire and arousal, Dr. Lau­rie B. Mintz shows women how to bring their libido back to life—and put the pas­sion back into their lives.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is the bed-rock to make your bed rock: One of my first steps when coun­sel­ing cou­ples, about sex or any other issue, is to teach them the prin­ci­ples and strate­gies of effec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion. In more than twenty years of coun­sel­ing, I can’t think of a client I’ve worked with whose com­mu­ni­ca­tion style has not either con­tributed to their prob­lems, been part of their recov­ery, or both. Most peo­ple in our cul­ture have never been explic­itly taught use­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills and those who have often forgo such skills when tight on time, exhausted, or upset. The abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate effec­tively, par­tic­u­larly when hurt or angry, is an uncom­mon skill, but the key to rela­tion­ship inti­macy. Entire books have been writ­ten on com­mu­ni­ca­tions skills, and I have a chap­ter ded­i­cated to this in my book. One of the most impor­tant tips is to not expect your part­ner to mind-read – about sex or any other issue. Instead, state your needs clearly, lead­ing your sen­tences with the word “I.” Another essen­tial tip is to not ask ques­tions that aren’t ques­tions When a desire is posed as a ques­tion, one of two things often hap­pens:1. the receiver doesn’t real­ize it isn’t a real ques­tion and pro­vides an answer which is not sat­is­fac­tory to the asker; or
2. the receiver becomes defen­sive. Let’s pre­tend that Alice her hus­band, Mar­tin, “Are you work­ing late tonight?” If Mar­tin thinks this is a gen­uine ques­tion, his answer might be, “Yes, I’m work­ing late and will be home around 9:00 p.m.” He would then feel blind­sided when Alice bites into him with “I hate how you are never home at night!” In this case, Mar­tin inno­cently answered what he thought was a true ques­tion. In the sec­ond sce­nario Mar­tin might reply not to the ques­tion but to what he per­ceives as an accu­sa­tion. Martin’s defen­sive answer might be, “I can’t help it that I have to work late! I am under a lot of pres­sure and you’re mak­ing it worse!” Cer­tainly, in either case, ask­ing a non-question ends in neg­a­tiv­ity. This is true when the ques­tion is sex­ual as well. Think about a woman pos­ing the ques­tion, “Do you feel like hav­ing sex tonight?” This non-question can have many pos­si­ble mean­ings. It can even mean one thing one time and some­thing totally dif­fer­ent another time! This ques­tion could mean “I hope you aren’t horny, because I would love to just cud­dle tonight”or “I’m horny and want to have sex”. Clearly, the ques­tion “Do you want to have sex?” can mean many dif­fer­ent things because it isn’t a sin­cere ques­tion. For one week, try to not ask ques­tions that aren’t really ques­tions and ask your part­ner to do the same. I think you will be pleas­antly surprised.

Ask your hus­band to engage in more chore-play: Research has con­firmed what women already are keenly aware of: Women whose hus­bands do their share around the house are hap­pier and more desirous of sex. Women need to make this abun­dantly clear to their spouses. Remem­ber­ing the impor­tance of com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills, don’t ask “Will you do the dishes?” and instead explain clearly your need for your part­ner to do more around the house. Make it clear that you are likely to feel more sex­ual if, while you are doing the din­ner dishes, he grabs a dish towel instead of your breasts.

Your most impor­tant sex organ is between your ears, not your legs: Likely the rea­son that chore-play works so well is because it gives women more time to relax – some­thing research finds is nec­es­sary for women’s sex­ual arousal. Sci­en­tists scanned the brains of a small group of men and women while they were being stim­u­lated by their part­ners and found that for the women (but not men), the part of the brain respon­si­ble for anx­i­ety shuts down as they become aroused. These find­ings also explain why it’s impos­si­ble to have an orgasm while think­ing about your unfolded laun­dry or unre­turned emails, some­thing research also shows women do more often than men. Learn­ing the prin­ci­ples of mind­ful­ness – stay­ing in a com­plete present focus – can help women deal with dis­tractibil­ity dur­ing sex. It is help­ful for women to learn to turn their busy brains off dur­ing sex, and instead allow them­selves to fully immerse in their bod­ily sen­sa­tions. An equally impor­tant way that women can har­ness the power of the sex organ between their ears is to think about sex dur­ing the day. Tune into the sen­su­al­ity and sex­u­al­ity around you. Take it a step fur­ther by stop­ping what you are doing a few times a day and think about sex. In short, use the sex organ between your ears by think­ing about sex when you aren’t able to have it (e.g., in the midst of the work day or mak­ing lunch for your kids) and turn off your brain when you are hav­ing sex to revel in the fab­u­lous sen­sa­tions in your body.

Night time is not the right time: Count­less women tell me that when they get in bed at night, the last thing on their mind is sex. They just want to go to sleep. There is inter­est­ing evi­dence that testos­terone, which is par­tially respon­si­ble for our sex drive, is at its low­est at night. Between exhaus­tion and decreased testos­terone, bed­time is not the ideal time for many women to have sex. As noted by my friend Jean, “It’s hard to find time alone with kids run­ning around, but that’s a prob­lem because the only time we have is too late at night for me.” To get around this, one cou­ple I know sets their alarm an hour early every Fri­day morn­ing. Another has arranged rides for their son to his weekly Boy Scout troop meet­ing, giv­ing them an hour and a half at home each Mon­day after din­ner. Let go of the myth that bed­time is the “right” time for sex, and instead, embrace the notion that the right time is when it works for you and your partner.

You can’t go from being an ice cube to boil­ing water: We are born with the need for skin-to-skin con­tact. Stud­ies con­ducted in orphan­ages and hos­pi­tals reveal that infants who aren’t touched lose weight, become ill and even die. On the other hand, pre­ma­ture babies who are pro­vided with touch gain weight faster, cry less, and have improved pulse and res­pi­ra­tion rates. Your sex drive mir­rors these find­ings. With­out touch, your sex drive shriv­els and dies. Con­versely, lov­ing, sex­ual, and affec­tion­ate touch can all help to reju­ve­nate your libido. Rarely will a tired mom ini­ti­ate sex or respond with ready pas­sion to a spouse’s advances if there has not been con­nected touch­ing through­out the day and week. As stated by Nadine, my seventy-five-year-old friend who has had a sat­is­fy­ing sex life over the course of her fifty-five-year mar­riage, “You need to be defrosted. If you haven’t been touched all day and go to bed at night, you’re an ice cube. It’s hard to go from an ice cube to boil­ing water. Being touched dur­ing the day warms you up.” But, just any touch won’t do. Some touch warms you up and some touch frosts you fur­ther. For touch of the melt­ing vari­ety, I rec­om­mend that cou­ples touch each other affec­tion­ately three times a day. I also rec­om­mend the same amount of sex­u­ally provoca­tive touch – tit­il­lat­ing, insin­u­at­ing touch at a time and place that sex is impos­si­ble. Remem­ber that car in your parent’s dri­ve­way – the touch cer­tainly wasn’t going to end in sex, but it sure was excit­ing. Rekin­dle that feeling.

Men are microwaves and women are crock-pots: When a woman laments that she gets lit­tle sex­ual sat­is­fac­tion, the prob­lem often not enough fore­play and instead, too much focus on the goal of inter­course. Dur­ing inter­course, the cli­toris is only indi­rectly stim­u­lated and this is why only a minor­ity of women orgasm through pen­e­tra­tion alone. In order for a woman to reach orgasm, she gen­er­ally must have her cli­toris in con­tact with some­thing and it must be stim­u­lated. How much stim­u­la­tion? There is great vari­abil­ity among women. Like­wise, an indi­vid­ual woman her­self will vary, depend­ing on many things. Among these are her level of exhaus­tion and her abil­ity to turn off her busy brain. Still, aver­ages are inter­est­ing. On aver­age, men take four min­utes to reach orgasm, once they begin inter­course. Women take some­where around eleven min­utes and this is not eleven min­utes of inter­course. It is eleven min­utes of stim­u­la­tion. Not all women know this. Even fewer men seem to know this. What’s more, women often don’t tell men this. Women don’t always tell their part­ners that they need time to get aroused or how to arouse them. This takes us right back to the first tip. The most impor­tant advice for sex­ual sat­is­fac­tion is to know what you like and to com­mu­ni­cate this to your part­ner. This means that if you, like many women, are a slow cooker – tell your part­ner about your slow cook­ing time and the ingre­di­ents you need to turn up the heat.

Dr. Mintz is a tired woman who has regained her once-lost pas­sion and a psy­chol­o­gist with more than fif­teen years of expe­ri­ence help­ing count­less women do the same. She has a PhD in psy­chol­ogy and is a licensed psy­chol­o­gist with a wealth of expe­ri­ence coun­sel­ing women and cou­ples. Thanks to fol­low­ing her own advice, she enjoys a pas­sion­ate and sat­is­fy­ing sex­ual rela­tion­ship with her hus­band of twenty-two years. She lives in Colum­bia, Mis­souri.

—–

Um…so ok…I have some things to work on.  Prob­a­bly my grumpy-ness not a big help in this depart­ment. The whole chore play idea?  Inter­est­ing.  Rocket already does a lot of chores…  Oops. The night­time piece though…yes, yes, and yes.  I want to sleep at night. Though ok, I want to work­out or get ready for work first thing in the am. So Rocket can’t really win around our house.

What about you all?  Any­one else in the “needs work” group?

Learning from Other Runners

Running Tips and Inspiration

Runners like to give advice almost as much as moms do.  New runners, veteran runners, fast runners, injured runners, we can always learn something from a fellow runner. There are strategies and techniques to improve our form, get faster, recover from injury…advice is vast and never in short supply.

I suppose that is the beauty of running. Each run is a new chance to use what we have learned to relax, to improve, to speed up, or maybe to strengthen our endurance.

As a runner of eleven years I suppose that I qualify as a veteran, except that as I refocus and recommit to a running “reboot” where I no longer rely on what I have been able to do in the past, I am trying to start over.  Which means being open to learning, wanting to absorb all the wisdom from experts, feeling the excitement of the effort like it is the first time. So when I had the chance to learn from Runners World editors, coaches, running columnists, Olympians, and inspirational athletes during the Runners World Half Marathon, I sat on the edge of my seat, soaking it all in, feeling the buzz from an extended runners high brought on by morsels, tidbits, and personal experiences.

Running Tips and Inspiration

Accountability

A key to running is having a training partner that keeps you accountable and helps push you to dig deep every day says  Shalane Flanigan, Three time Olympian and American record holder in the 3000, 5000, and 10,000 meters.

Nutrition

Marc Parent, The Newbie Chronicles columnist at Runners World.describes his entry into running as taking a “fork in the road.”  He did not want to be one of the many that said “I used to run.”  One of Marc’s major realizations was that “running is not a license to eat.”

Mental Toughness

Jen Van Allen, Special Project Editor Runners World, Author of The Runners World Big Book of Marathon and Half Marathon Training.said several things that stuck out to me.  Jen believes that running is about “what is on your mind and in your stomach.” The hardest part of that is the hour before you run. (You know that hour right? The one where you talk yourself in and out of running for whatever reason?). Jen’s solution is to “Make an excuse or make it happen.”  The other thing that Jen said about running is that “it should feel like happy hour.”  It should help you find that happy place where you are feeling good and want to keep going.

I stumbled upon something today…something that represents my entry into running.

That thing was the finisher medal to a race that according to my doctor’s, I was never supposed to be able to run.  Holding the 2001 Marine Corps Marathon medal, that represents my first marathon, all 5 hours 38 minutes and 44 seconds of it, I realize that I have a chance. A chance to take these running tips, and apply them in real time, in my running reboot, to keep me focused and centered on the big goal: returning to the marathon in 2013.

What about you? What advice or inspiration have you heard recently, on any topic, that has stuck with you?

Celebrating Heart of Haiti

Celebrating Heart of Haiti

Last week I had the honor and joy to attend an event in Washington DC that made my heart sing.  It made my heart sing because not because I was getting out on the town, but because I was going to celebrate and support a cause and effort that I hold very close to my heart.

That effort is the Heart of Haiti.

I was introduced to Heart of Haiti  earlier this year. It is a trade program whose mission and work touches me on every level. I bought several Heart pendant necklaces for Principessa’s teachers end of the year gifts last May.

Founded by Willa Shalit’s Fair Winds Trading, in partnership with Macy’s and in collaboration with the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, Heart of Haiti offers opportunities for local artisans so use their craft, their art, and their skill, to help create positive change in their ravaged homeland.  A homeland who experienced a  7.0 magnitude  earthquake forever changing the landscape and lives of the people who lived on this Caribbean island.

The collection brings the spirit and creativity of the artists into handcrafted vases, picture frames, sculptures, bowls, and pendants. Artisans use income from the proceed of their sales to pay for their homes, school fees, and clothing for their families.  Purchasing one of these works of art gives back to the artisan to directly support their family.  These one of a kind masterpieces carry on the tradition of Haitian culture and history and help restore dignity and pride in local artisans and families.

We had the opportunity to meet one of the artisans, Pascale Faublas, who shared the story of her work, the heart of her fellow artisans, and the soul of the hands that individually craft each one of the pieces.

We had the opportunity to shop the collection and to taste delicious Haitian inspired foods.  I may have even purchased a large quantity (as in, I could have used a basket to hold them all) of sun AND heart pendants, for more teachers and loved ones.

The event was truly a celebration of the work and spirit of the artisans. A celebration of a trade program that I can only hope will continue to bring positive change in the lives of many Haitian families.

Working Towards Self Sufficiency in Haiti

Working Towards Self Sufficiency in Haiti

“How was your trip? Was it so hard? Was it sad?”

The amount of times that I have been asked this question upon my return from Haiti are too many to count. I understand the question. I understand the reason for the question.  We see images in the media all the time depicting the tragedy of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the lives of families destroyed, the intense level of poverty and chaos.

I get it.

But my answer, without any pause or hesitation, is “No, actually it was remarkable.  It was a lesson in resiliency and hope unlike any that I have seen before.”

Photo credit, J/P HRO, Keziah Jean

There is AMAZING work being done in Haiti, to build capacity, to create sustainable progress, to foster self sufficiency.  During our trip, we were lucky enough to be invited to visit the J/P Haitian Relief Organization (J/P HRO) camp in Petionville. A camp that has turned a once golf course into a place of healing, a place of nurturing potential.  A safe place that people can call home until they are ready to stand on their feet again.

This Haitian relief organization works towards one goal. And one goal only. Returning residents to their neighborhoods and community with skills, with education, with health, and with the knowledge that they are part of an interdependent community.

J/P HRO runs it’s own school for almost 500 children.  It has 2 medical clinics in the neighborhoods bordering camp.  where it has helped women give birth to over one thousand babies and help heal hundreds of thousands more sick Haitians. It has a livelihood program and Community House that provides small business training and vocational training. It has a relocation program that helps residents move back into the community! J/P HRO has been responsible for rubble removal and for redevelopment. But beyond all of the programs that are in place, walking into the camp, you know you are in a special place.

The fascinating (and wonderful) thing about this camp is that it is built out of emergency response but has evolved into a transitional community.  Residents are not given handouts. Instead, residents of the camp J/P HRO manages, buy and sell goods from each other, creating a culture of self sufficiency instead of dependence.  We saw examples of this as we walked through the camp.  Painters with beautiful pieces of art for sale, a group of residents called the Hands Together Cooperative that have come together to make beaded jewelry from recycled materials, small tables set up with food items.  There is even a little restaurant called “Mammy’s” where people can come together.

Walking through the camp I was struck by so much. By the faces of the boys playing soccer in an open area. By the children who said “Bon Soir” as we walked by. By the fact that the camp volunteers and staff are truly members of this community, embedded in the daily lives of the residents, knowing everyone by name. By the fact that we saw a large open space where tents once stood, symbolizing relocation and progress being made, row by row.

Then there was Stephalo Bijouterie.  I am not even sure that words can adequately describe the impact of meeting Stephanie, one of the three girls that make up this group of young women, striving to be entrepreneurs so that they can pay for college. Speaking with the help of a translator, and my broken French, the passion and drive in this young woman’s eyes told the only store I needed to hear that day.  The story of survival. The story of a dream. The story of taking charge of your own life, regardless of the barriers that stand in your way.  They even have business cards that read “Pour une Haiti meillure et prospere.” (For a better and prosperous Haiti)

So no, visiting Haiti was not a sad trip.  Intense yes. Remarkable yes. Life changing yes. But sad, no.

Visiting places like J/P HRO was magical. Certainly there are people whose stories are ones of sorrow and tragedy. Certainly there is evidence in the country still of the destruction created by the earthquake.

But the story of hope, of resiliency, of working towards a better tomorrow?

That is the my take away.

A California Road Trip Along the PCH

A California Road Trip Along the PCH

Television programs like the Real Housewives, Beverly Hills 90210, CHIPS, The Practice create images in our minds of driving up and down the California coast along the Pacific Coast Highway (affectionately called the PCH by locals).   Images like hair flowing in the breeze, surfers, stunning views, and a taste of the dolce vita. Idyllic locations like Santa Monica, Malibu, and Santa Barbara were the things of fairy tales or Hollywood movie or television instead of places where I would actually find myself driving….until recently.

A day in the life of a California road trip

Imagine being in the car for two hours with some of your closest friends, equipped with the latest technology and gadget friendly dashboard, surrounded by the comforts of a tank-like vehicle, (a Toyota Sequoia) that actually drives like a luxury sedan.  Better yet, imagine yourself driving north from Santa Monica to Santa Barbara, through Malibu and along the incredibly scenic Pacific Coast Highway. Put it all together…and you have road trip perfection.

Before you go though, you will need a few things.

You will need a  good night of rest prior to your trip. 

The Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel is located next to the beach (in fact they have a screen unlike anything I have ever seen that shows the beach in real time right behind the registration desk so that you don’t forget!) and is a few steps away from the Santa Monica pier. Although I did not have time to indulge in their spa, they have a eucalyptus infused steam room which makes me happy and relaxed just thinking about it.

An automobile that can withstand anything.

Although getting great gas mileage while being comfortable in a Toyota Prius is a logical and eco friendly choice, splurging for size in a Toyota Sequoia was worth it. You know… just in case we wanted to take a spin up a mountain or on the beach (no, we did not do anything of the sort! But it was nice to know that “we could.”)

You will need a lot of space. 

Because lets be honest, a girls trip involves luggage, lots of it (shoes, computers, tablets, chargers…you know, the essentials). Also? The large cargo space is perfect for taking “me time” and meditation. It is California after all.

You will need technology.

As if you did not come prepared with enough of your own gadgets, in car technology and navigation is essential when road tripping. The Sequoia was equipped with Entune dashboard that looks like it could be an operations center for a major city. Major bonus…USB ports to charge your personal devices.

You will need scenic vistas.

Like Malibu…

Or like the view from the pier in Santa Barbara…

You will need sustenance and fuel.

Like oysters or fish tacos at the Harbor Restaurant on the Santa Barbara pier.

Combine all of these together, and you have yourself a perfect California road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway that, if you are lucky, you will never forget.

Fostering Confidence in Our Kids

Fostering Confidence in Our Kids

Reading, writing, and math are three things that parents and teachers have always looked at as indicators of success in schools.

But I have three other things that as far as I am concerned, may be even more important than if you have memorized your math facts or can write a perfect essay.

Confidence. Self esteem. A strong sense of self.

You might say that these three things are redundant. You might wonder why problem solving and creativity, some of my favorite topics are not what I consider to be the keys to school success. The truth is that if you are not confident you are less likely to take risks when it comes to problem solving or thinking outside the proverbial box to show creativity. If you are afraid to stand up for yourself or are easily swayed when someone else offers a suggestion that others think is better than yours, you are not likely to demonstrate the depth of creative ideas that are swirling around your head.

After twelve years,  I know the importance of confidence, self esteem and a strong sense of self even though I am not in the classroom myself today to welcome new students to a new year of learning, inquiry, and reflection.  But also? As a mom to a daughter whose confidence and self esteem sometimes play second fiddle to the voices of insecurity….I have never been so sure about these three, seemingly simple characteristics as the key to academic success in school and more importantly, in life.

The trick is….how do we foster confidence in our children? Especially if you are like me, not exactly the poster child of self confidence every single day?

The only answer that I can even begin to come up with is by being a role model with our own behavior AND encouraging our children in very concrete ways.  As people we take in feedback across settings, through verbal and non verbal cues.  We read body language, we hear the words that are used to describe our actions, efforts, and even behavior.

Strategies to foster confidence in children

It is not enough to say “That is great” when you are looking through a child’s school work. Providing concrete feedback like “I noticed you used descriptive sentences” or “I noticed that you capitalized at the beginning of each sentence” or even “I noticed that you used a lot of color in your picture” provide specific reinforcement. While we always want someone to “like” our work, the reality is that in life, not everyone is going to like everything we do. So starting children off with a foundation of confidence NOT built on what others like or dislike will help foster their inner sense of confidence and pride in their work.

As independent as our children want to be, they still need us.  Reminders that we are there and that we care, with a special lunchbox note or card hidden in their backpack can go a long way to helping our children remember that we are rooting for them. Our first day of school started off with a card left on my daughter’s bedside table so that she would see it when she woke up and of course a lunch box note to find when she sits down in the crowded and noisy cafeteria later today.

Reflecting on the good things is an important tool for life.  Instead of coming home off the bus ready to list the who did what and what went wrong during the day, my daughter knows that when she gets off the bus, I am going to ask her to tell me two good things about her day. We can get to the frustrating things later, but helping her notice the sometimes small successes can help later when we do talk about anything that might have been frustrating.

Setting goals helps guide efforts and show progress.  Children (and adults) often feel like they have to do everything well all at once.  Asking a child to set a goal can help them focus their efforts and allow them to see themselves grow as they work to achieve that goal. Setting a goal also encourages conversations about what might make that goal difficult, so that a child can think through the steps they will need to take to show progress.  Also? While we as parents have goals for our children, it is important to find out what they want to improve or work towards.  My daughter’s two goals are to learn more vocabulary words so that she can understand what she reads better, and to become a more detailed writer (I swear that I did not influence her in creating that goal!). Now,  I can weave specific feedback into conversations to help encourage her attempts to achieve her goals and foster her interests in concrete ways instead of just telling her, for example, that she needs to “write more.”

Fostering confidence in our children will help them not just in school as they speak in front of their classmates or demonstrate their knowledge to their teachers.  Confidence, self esteem, and a strong sense of self will prepare them for real life…the real life that is for better or worse, just a few blinks away.  I cannot even imagine how my own life would be different if I had developed a stronger sense of self confidence or self esteem when I was  younger.  But more than anything else, I know that to help my daughter develop these three traits, I need to model them myself and show her the importance so that hears it, sees it, and believes in the importance.

What about you? What do you see as the keys to fostering confidence in our children or in ourselves?

And Now What?

And Now What?

Telling the story. Living life one moment at a time. That is what I say when I am asked what I write about here on Ciao Mom.

Except that I have realized lately that I seem to be telling a very different story from the one that I started to tell almost three years ago. Back then the story was about getting remarried and lots and lots of parenting. Principessa this, Principessa that. A little fitness thrown in here and there, but mostly, mom-mommy-parenting stuff.

Which of course is not what I am writing about anymore. Or at least, not primarily. Which begs the question…is Ciao Mom even the appropriate name of this space? Have I transitioned away from the MOM content so much that I need a new name? And the best question…does it really even matter?

People talk of the importance of having a niche. Which of course is driven by your content. But the truth is that I have struggled over the last three years to define my blogging niche. I never did fit neatly into mom blogger. Nor did I fit nicely into fitness blogger. Or travel blogger. Or cause blogger.

And again…does it really even matter?

I think about where I am heading. Looking back at my editorial calendar I realize that my focus is non existent. Travel, fitness, great causes, cars, food, technology, career, social media, and a sprinkle of parenting makes me NICHE-Less. There are topics that I am really very knowledgeable about. Topics that you might even say that I am considered an expert and leader…like education, best practices in instruction, or even fostering reflective conversations through coaching that I do not even write about, because well, I don’t. But I think about it. About whether or not I should.

Which is of course why, in large part, I am trying to find my WHY. But the question remains…is a more narrow focus better? Or is writing whatever you are passionate about enough?

Or again, does it matter?

Clearly there is a transition happening. In my writing. In my career. In my mind.  A transition that I have probably not even fully understood. But it strikes me that there are probably a great many opinions out there about this topic…this idea of niche or no niche. Focus or lack there of.

So…what do you think? Is one better than the other? Does it matter? Chime in with your opinion.

Getting Back on Track with Weight Watchers

Getting Back on Track with Weight Watchers

One foot in front of the other.

Heading toward a door.  A door that once you open it, just feels right.

The door was the door into a Weight Watchers meeting.

A new start. A new beginning.

Once upon a time I achieved Weight Watchers Lifetime status, weighing in at my lowest weight since early high school.  As in once upon a… 2007.

Since then, my weight has fluctuated, heading steadily up and up and up. Until, recently.  When I realized that I was at my heaviest non pregnancy weight, and I said, enough is enough.

Going back to a meeting for the first time is a bit scary. Lets be honest. With a tail between my legs, I took off my watch, my shoes, my sweatshirt, and even my glasses to try to save myself from that extra ounce on the scale.

Knowing that I had stayed away because I thought “I could do it.”

After all, I had done “it” before. I had lost all the weight.  The kitchen scale even has it’s own place in our kitchen….inside a drawer. I had not weighed or monitored my portions in well…a long time.

Until now. Because I know better.

Despite eating a relatively healthy diet, high in vegetables and fruit, I has lost touch with what I knew. Portions. Tracking. Being accountable for even the smallest bite that goes into my mouth.

There is of course a huge fitness component for me.  While I can lose weight by just keeping track of my Points Plus, I lose the most weight, and feel the healthiest, when my fitness level is high.

So it is with great joy that I share that in my first week back on plan with Weight Watchers, I lost 3.8 pounds. And in case you are wondering, 3.8 is nothing to scoff at.  I could feel the difference….even if just emotionally.

I know better than to think that I will pull such big numbers on the scale each week.I am not at the Biggest Loser Ranch. I am home, working full time, traveling to Haiti, trying to fit in at least three (eventually leading to five) workouts every week.  But for today, for this week. 3.8 was just what I needed.

Even if it means saving my points during the day for that glass of wine at night. Even if it means giving myself a bit more leniency on Saturday. Jennifer Hudson may be the face of Weight Watchers, but the soul? The heart? Those are within each member as they walk through that door.

Because that door is a reminder.

It reminds me that it is possible. It will happen.

A Path Not Taken

A Path Not Taken

A lifetime in Italy. Living, working. Continuing the streak of back and forth across the pond adventures that my family has taken over the years.

That is the life that I thought I was going to have when I graduated from college. Moving to Florence, Italy for one year was just the beginning. It would be the launching point to a life that I believed was my best fit. On Italian soil, where I felt the most “me.”

Forever turned out to be only one year long. Which of course, is not really forever.

My lifetime back in Italy turned out to be one year spent in Florence, working as a study abroad liaison for a United States college program.  A year that came to an end because of a boy. Because of love. Because of a new dream for forever.

Instead of continuing to start each day with a caffe’ at the local bar, my path was diverted to the streets of Washington DC. The path that I had so desperately wanted, close to my Italian friends in Venice, quickly became the path that was discarded for a shinier and more exciting path.

The truth is that I am a believer in the idea that things happen for a reason. As it turns out, my decision to change my path led me back to a place where I would soon after be diagnosed and then treated for the cancer that had probably already been growing in my body. My change in path put me in a place where my cancer would eventually lead me to train and run a marathon, which would in turn lead me to meeting the man that would become Principessa’s dad.  I could keep going with the consequences that I can connect to that original first change in path.

Instead, I find myself sitting in a kitchen, in Venice, after having spent two weeks exploring Tuscany and the Dolomite mountain range. With my daughter. With my new husband. With my parents. Having just changed my career path pretty significantly. Wanting to change my fitness path. Wondering where my personal path will take me ten years from now.

A path. Many paths. A path that starts with the idea of Live.Do.Grow. A path that will have forks in the road. Speed bumps. On ramps and off ramps. There may be u-turns or shortcuts. But in the end, only time will tell.

What about you? What path did you not take? How has it made you who you are today?

Finding Beauty in Haiti

Finding Beauty in Haiti

Sheer beauty. Beauty is a subjective quality. It can be elusive for some. Abundant for others. I feel lucky to have found such vivid examples of beauty during my trip to Haiti.

Beauty in artistry.

Beadwork pillows made by the hands of artists at Jean Baptiste’s atelier in Croix-des-Bouquets

Beauty in the landscapes.

Traveling through the mountains from Port-au-Prince to Jacmel

Beauty in people.

Meeting Leissa, a smart six year old school girl who likes math.

Beauty.

That is what I found in Haiti.

What beauty have you found lately?

The Grow Method

Fostering a Sustainable Food Culture with the Oxfam Grow Method

Do you remember when you were young and your parents told you that you had to eat everything on your plate so that food would not be wasted? I do. I remember it, and have probably used the same argument with my daughter over the years to get her to eat her meals. The idea though, of not wasting food, is more than just of teaching our children to eat well.

The issue of sustainability in food is about feeding your family AND making sure that there is enough food for the world’s population. Because here is the reality: Almost one billion of the world’s population goes to bed hungry each night. Not because of scarcity of food, but because our agricultural and societal systems are using resources at a rapid rate that will destroy the natural resources that we need.

That is where  the Oxfam Grow Method comes in. A “culinary revolution” the Grow Method helps us learn how our food choices impact the global food supply and how our actions can help promote sustainability.

The ideas are simple really. Most are things that many of us already do. My biggest take away was the intention behind the process and the specific and concrete ways that small steps can lead to dramatic changes for the future of food.

Steps like:

  • Planning meals to help waste less food
  • Storing your food in the refrigerator to prevent spoiling
  • Cooking with leftovers
  • Buying local from farmers
  • Saving energy while cooking by covering your pan with a lid
  • Buying food that is in season and eating more local in season food
  • Eating more vegetables and less meat or dairy

World Food Day is tomorrow, October 16th.  Each of us can help feed the planet that will reach nine billion people by 2050, and empower people living in less developed nations to earn a living, feed their families, and thrive..  There are so many ways each of can get involved.

Oxfam has developed a Discussion guide that is perfect to help you talk about the Grow Method with your children.

You can find recipes and techniques that were developed with the Grow Method in mind on Pinterest. (Two of my favorites are freezing herbs in olive oil and  a purple kale salad with creamy apricot ginger dressing, apples, and walnuts).

Like with anything, the important thing is to get involved. The great thing about the Grow Method is that you can get involved in the comfort of your own kitchen and house, just by being intentional and making a few simple changes.

So the question is…how is what you already do at home aligned with the Grow Method or what is one thing you can do today that is aligned with this goal of sustainable food for the global population?