Giving Yourself a Break

Do you ever find yourself carried away? By emotions, by life, by the hectic schedule or seemingly endless incoming emails? It’s easy to get so wrapped up in what we, “need,” to do that we completely miss the things that we want to do in life. Today I want to encourage you to give yourself a break. Release the need to be productive and to hold yourself accountable for obligations.

For example, two years ago I joined a writer’s seminar virtually. I have yet to organize my notes. Perhaps this is not the priority I need to give my attention and energy towards. If I haven’t done it in two years, chances are I can let it go. There’s lots of guidance on how to prioritize our time, our tasks, etc. But so often that time gets eaten up by small things that are meaningless. And worse than that we are consumed by tasks that are merely distractions from those moments, people, places, and opportunities that we truly love. 

Today I want only to share a question. What if we paused and allowed ourselves the freedom, the space, and the openness to explore our interests, expand our horizons? Instead of pushing for one more email reply, one more item checked off the list, or one more task completed. What if we considered what fuels us? Thought about what brings us joy? Considered what feels like happiness to you? How does that look, feel, taste, smell, sound? 

In this post there is no wisdom, there is only the questions above and my ardent hope you give yourself a break and the time to explore them.

Slowing Down With Lavender Shortbread Cookies

In honor of slowing down, today I’m sharing my recipe for lavender shortbread cookies. We’re all tired and I thought a little cookie could go a long way towards brightening someone else’s day. As snow falls outside the windows and I am once again reminded of my deep gratitude for cozy blankets, and thick socks.

This time of year is always a wonderful opportunity for reflection and hygge. As I cuddle up to write, under my warm blanket I find myself seeking ways in which to share this feeling with all of you – and I can think of no better way than to share a delicious cookie recipe. It comes from the creative geniuses at Hedgebrook, a writing community devoted to Women Authoring Change. If you haven’t seen their work before, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I’ve taken several of their online courses over the past few years and always find them valuable and enriching – this cookie recipe is much the same. 

When it’s cold outside I don’t need excuse to crank up the oven and fill the house with the cozy and homey smells of dinner and dessert baking. And since I cannot deliver these cookies to you myself, I want to share how I did it so that you may enjoy them too. 

Winter is a wonderful season of rest and renewal, I hope you let its goodness soak into you and nourish you deeply. Here in the midwest we don’t corner the market on hygge living but we do make an art of thriving in adverse conditions. It’s not always easy to stay joyful after a weeklong streak of dark days or heavy snowfall but having a hot chocolate, a fire, and a good book to cuddle up with always works wonders to lift my mood. I hope these cookies are just the ticket to help you slow down and savor the delights of the season. 

Rest, recover, take your time, and give yourself the gift of ease, you don’t even need to crack an egg. Sending you warm thoughts and wishes this winter! – M

Lavender Shortbread

2 Cups Flour (All Purpose)

1/4 teaspoon coarse salt (I used pink to add color)

1/2 pound (two sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature

1/2 Cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon culinary lavender buds (I used some I had dried from our garden last summer – more on that here)

Sift flour and coarse salt together into a small bowl and set aside.

Beat butter on medium speed in an electric mixer (I used our Kitchen-Aid) for 3 to 5 minutes.

Add sugar, vanilla, and lavender buds continuing to beat for an additional 2 minutes. The mixture will lighten in color.

Add flour and salt mixture and combine on low speed until flour is just incorporated and dough sticks together when it is squeezed between fingers. Don’t forget to scrape down the sides of your mixing bowl and incorporate the grainy bits at the bottom.

On a sheet of wax paper, pat and form the dough into a log – about 12 – 14 inches long and 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. If you prefer square or rectangular cookies flatten the sides as you roll it up in the wax paper. 

Chill in the fridge until firm, at least 1 hour. (I took a reading break.)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove the wax paper from the dough and slice the log into 1/4 inch thick slices. Lay cookies onto backing sheets (you can line the sheets with parchment paper, I forgot and they turned out fine).  Bake until firm 17 to 20 minutes. Cool completely on wire racks. May be stored in an airtight container for 3 to 4 weeks.

Christmas Reflections

In preparing for Christmas and this New Year – I have been so focused on where I want to be, my goals and aspirations, that I haven’t appreciated that where I am is pretty amazing. This time of year always inspires Christmas reflections and gratitude. Everything I have this year was once a dream, everything from writing this note, to where I am physically. I feel a debt of gratitude and recognition of what we have been able to build in the last twelve months. We have accomplished a lot this year. But before rushing to list those things I want to be present. Being here in whatever this suspended time of the year is for all of us.

The time and space after the build up to Christmas, the lull, and almost comatose vegging out of the week between Christmas and New Years. There is no need to purchase anything, we are dining on left-overs. We are hungover from all of the traditional social interactions and family gossip. Thinking about the year to come or not thinking at all. Watching too many Hallmark movies and just being still. What an absolute gift to ourselves. It is a joy to be able to rest and to feel no obligation to instruct, guide, or lead. We are simply present and maybe only vaguely aware – the days blend together and all of it melds peacefully into one restive blob. 

This year I am grateful for our first year in our new home, I’m grateful for health, and I’m grateful for rest. I’m grateful that my family is here around me. I’m grateful we have each other and that we are able to celebrate the holidays together. Grateful for quiet afternoons, naps, and ease. I am grateful to myself for taking this time and not pressuring myself to be productive. 

I am so grateful for relaxing family nights and the joy of sharing a family meal. I am glad for what we have and what we share. Every night this week we have prepared a meal from scratch. Some meals are more ornate and involved than others. But most are simple family recipes that are our own traditions. “Oh Christmas Bahn Mi,” and Grandma’s Chicken Parmesan.

These are delicious and filling meals that not only satisfy our need for dinner but will also make enough to freeze. This is a gift we give ourselves. Before we are in that zone of too much presents, food, and dessert we cook. That way when all we are seeking is a Christmas carrot – there will still be food prepared that requires no effort. We simply warm it up and we are nourished and satisfied. What a gift this time is to rest, relax and deeply nourish ourselves and our families. 

We often spoil each other with gifts and treats. When really, the gift we all want is to watch an old movie, to rest and relax together. We want to be our honest and unguarded selves. Our only goal is to luxuriate in the slower pace and feel no obligation to rush, attend to, or show up for anyone or anything else. Just to simply be peaceful, easy, and home. 

And maybe that’s what I’m writing about after all. These Christmas reflections are about finding home where ever we are and with whomever we choose. The creation of safety, peace, and security. The gift of protection, honesty, new traditions and old melding into the creation of home. We are grateful for building a life and space where everyone is loved and accepted exactly as they are and loved.

We are all so deeply loved and I don’t know what to call it. This may not even have a name but it feels safe, cozy, hygge, health, love, warmth, ease, peace, and tenderness. Whatever the German word for this is, I feel it deep in my soul. I am content and I am happy. This is all I’ve been looking for all my life, and here I have it. More than anything I hope you do too. Here in this virtual living room I hope you feel it. You are all so welcome here, I love you, I’m glad you came, let’s watch another movie.

Pouring from an Empty Cup

When life feels hectic and as if the momentum to move forward is not surging as we would like. Or if at times it feels as if I am rushing while the world itself seems to be in slow motion. It reminds me that caring for myself is necessary – and warranted. That is why I take the following five simple steps to taking better care of myself.

Five Simple Ways to take better care of yourself. 

  1. Drink water – Dehydration is not only terrible for our skin and mood but it also can lead to ill health and lightheadedness. Taking time to be sure we’re drinking enough water and giving our bodies what they need is important.
  2. Focus internally – this can be done with meditation, yoga, or a few deep breaths. Whatever comes next will come, the only way we can meet challenges is by being and staying grounded in ourselves. 
  3. Get active – take a walk or do some light stretching. Any movement will do but getting into our bodies is the best way to know what we need next.
  4. Rest – It may be a quick nap, a break from calls so you can focus on a single task at a time, or maybe a day off. Recovery is the only way to heal and be fully healthful. Taking a break for rest is necessary and important.
  5. Be gentle – Whether we are dealing with someone else or ourselves, being kind and gentle makes us strong. We want to be the kindest person in the room – not the loudest. Therefore let that kindness begin at home and in your own head and heart.

What steps do you take to take better care of yourself? What gifts of love do you give yourself when you feel as if you’re wearing thin?

Fall Rhythms + Natural Momentum

As we come to fall the natural rhythm of life is slowing down. The leaves are falling from the tree tops, squirrels and frantically harvesting and burying acorns and nuts for the long winter months. And it seems like around me the world is speeding up. School has started, we must gear up for the holidays. We have duties, obligations, and responsibilities. It is a lot and it is enough. I recently watched a Ted Talk, by Dr. Darria Long, on triaging your life.

The presentation was mainly about facing our challenges from a place of quiet confidence rather than angst or haste. In an emergency room minutes stretch and instead of reacting quickly what is called for is calm and intentional decision making. When I sprint from task to task attempting to get things done I find myself stretched thin. I get frustrated because as I move quickly – sending out a text – replies are pouring in before I can move on to the next task. Before you know an item that should only take a couple minutes has taken fifteen or twenty. Which leaves me scrambling to make up that time later. 

However, when I prioritize and move slowly I am not less productive. I am more intentional. I recently added the ability to subscribe to this blog – spoiler, I was my first subscriber. If you haven’t yet, please subscribe! As I viewed my post via email I noticed how longwinded I have a tendency to be. Writing out the same explanation several different ways. And while it is helpful to see different examples sometimes less is more. My point is better made with a few well written sentences than in paragraphs devoted to the same idea. 

This realization is hard won. I had to learn it before I could improve upon it. And as I write and learn, I promise this blog and all of my work will continue to improve. A big part of that growth is taking the time to rest and recover. The year is winding down and we are all preparing for winter. This next season reminds us that nothing blooms all year. We all need time to relax. 

And as our to do lists stretch longer I hope you’ll take the time to assess and consider what is important to you. What do you truly want to do and be a part of? There are so many opportunities for distraction. I hope you choose to take this fall as a change of your own season, an opportunity to move more intentionally and slowly, not only to be more impactful and effective in your work. But also because we are all worthy and deserving of rest. We do not need to be forever achieving or completing tasks to have value. Simply being is enough. Our value is intrinsic, it is not tangled up with our productivity. Let’s remember that and honor our natural rhythm, take it slow this fall. 

How to Rebound from Disappointment

Today I am eating shortbread cookies from the Honolulu cookie company as I rebound from disappointment. The cookies are shaped like pineapples, dipped in white chocolate and coconut flakes. They are dainty and light, possibly the best cookies I have ever had. They are from a place that I have never been but long to visit. These cookies taste like sunshine, island breezes, bright flowers, crystal blue waters, and fresh air. They are the essence of escapism, made sweeter by the fact that they are a gift from someone who loves me and was thinking of me on their last trip to Hawaii. These are all joyful notes that are serving to put me into a better frame of mind. 

Today I will also purchase a couple of items that I have saved up for but have yet to buy. They are sitting in my cart and now is the moment. I need some joy and something happy to look forward to. I am going to give myself the gift of cozy winter gear and new drapes. These aren’t huge investments but they are investments in my own joy and happiness, both worthy and important. Whenever I face rejection I remind myself that my success or failure is not tied to my personal value or self.

I also hug my family extra tight and remind myself that some things have nothing to do with me. It helps to remind myself that the universe always has my best interest in mind. That which is meant for me I can’t screw up or loose. And those things not meant for me will pass me by, that is the nature of things. I just have to trust that this opportunity was not meant for me right now and that’s ok. 

I am learning to let go. Even though I am disappointed, I get to cuddle my kiddos, eat a good dinner, and get some rest. Today was a hard day but tomorrow will be better. I will get through this just as I have successfully gotten through every challenge I have faced up until now. I’ve got this, even if it doesn’t feel like it. I am going to fake it until I believe it. And even though today was hard, tomorrow will be easier. I just know it.

How do you rebound from disappointment? How are you more gentle or generous to yourself?

Thursdaying: Holding Space For Ourselves

I am holding space for myself today. Usually the request to hold space is for someone else. An opportunity to communicate our care or let someone know we are thinking of them. I find it easy to hold space for others but rarely take the time to nurture and focus on myself. Therefore when I sense a feeling of risk or fear as I consider moving toward my goals, or plans, it catches my attention. That awareness reminds me I need to take some time to hold space and look inward. The time I use is what I call, “Thursdaying.”

I grew up in a loud home. Our house was full of siblings, friends, games, television, pets, and events. There was always something happening. In the summers we would visit our friends and sometimes spend weeks at each other’s houses. It was an opportunity for each of us to see how the other half lived. Also, a great opportunity for our parents to spend time together as a couple. Our houses were noticeably cleaner upon our return and our parents well rested.

One of the gifts of these trips was staying with my mother’s best friend and my, “Mom 2.” After several days of Spice Girls music video shoots, movie screenings, and play we were all usually pretty tired. But on this morning I happened to be up early. The other kiddos were still fast asleep, and while Dad 2 stayed home, Mom 2 took me to breakfast.

On the ride over Mom 2 made the rules clear. I was welcome to come, and she loved me very much, but she was going to sit alone. She would read her book and drink her coffee. She would buy breakfast but I would sit at my own table. We were not together. No adult had ever spoken to me like this before. It felt very grown up and direct. I promptly agreed. I was confident I could comport and handle myself at a coffeehouse, “alone.” 

It was a big change for me to be left to my own devices. And so I ordered my hot chocolate and blueberry scone and picked out my table. While my drink was prepared I took my time collecting various magazines and newspapers from the racks and counters. I had not known the rules before I left and therefore needed supplies. I picked a yellow wood table and parked myself, with my back to where Mom 2 sat maybe 10 feet away from me. That morning I ate, I drank, I read – it was heaven. 

It was Thursday and yet no one interrupted me. It was just the resonant noise of an early morning coffee shop. I did not need to rush anywhere or do anything. An independent woman, for the first time in my life. It was glorious. And that memory stuck. It has stayed, nestled in my heart all my life. 

Throughout my life I have enjoyed many more days like this – after all Thursday’s come every week. However, the value and the splendor of that first morning is a gift I savor. I was recently given another free Thursday. There was nowhere I needed to be and nothing that had to be done. I was free. So I popped by a local coffee shop, bought myself a lemonade and a macaroon. I sipped, I read – a book I brought with because I learned early the wisdom of being prepared – and delighted in the experience. I savored and admired the sun through the window, the morning light on the park across the street, the ambient conversations that filled the room around me.

As I sat in peaceful comfort, I remembered the beauty of my first coffeeshop morning and texted Mom 2 and set a date for a call. I need a refresher course in honoring myself and in keeping my heart whole and my spirit free. The time was a rekindling and a reminder of my priorities. It allowed me to refocus my attention on my own goals and making my own heart sing. To do that requires Thursdaying – making time for my own delight and unexpected treats. It means trusting myself to walk alone and to find a path. Taking the time to savor the sweetness of right now because after all, it is fleeting. 

On the drive home from that first coffeeshop visit I felt elated and free. I felt like the happiest and most authentic version of myself. I felt like me. And it was wonderful. I am forever grateful to Mom 2 for being my bonus mom and for giving me the gift of time to find and honor myself exactly as I am, exactly who I am, and to celebrate regular days. After all, everyone has Thursdays. 

Rest and Recovery

Taking a break to rest. This week we booked a vacation. I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review by Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan which explains the need to rest to continue our journeys. And it struck a chord in me. We cannot keep pursuing our goals doggedly, or even reach our destinations if we do not stop for water. It’s like expecting a marathoner to make the journey without gel packs or hydration. It simply cannot be done. And so often when we want something very much – a dream, goal, or hope – we believe that the only way to reach that goal or achieve that accomplishment is by sacrificing our wellbeing. Well, I am here to tell you that simply is not true. In fact I am going to tell you the opposite is in fact true. Rest and recovery is the key to success.

To reach any destination or goal we need gas in the tank. We need to take care of ourselves so that we can continue. The strength that separates those that achieve their goals from those that just talk about them is not endurance, instead it is recovery. It is taking the time to rest, to recalibrate, revive and keep going. It is not pushing harder, faster, longer. Even the research shows that we are only capable of pushing through pain and journeying on at greater risk to ourselves and others. I watched an episode of the greatest race recently. The show followed several groups as they collaborated and worked together to reach a goal. It was powerful to watch, and moved me to tears at various points.

There was a group of ex-military and special ops athletes who were working to finish the race. They clearly believed that they were not worthy of rest as they pushed themselves to injury rather than taking a break. To the point where one of their team members was rendered completely unable to stand. Even then he was unable to quit himself. And had to have his team lead both call for medical evacuation and decide that they would not go on. Even the language this team used afterward blamed the man who was injured. Had he stopped to properly tend to his wounds they all likely could have carried on and finished the race. But their shared belief that he must push through pain likely cost them all the joy they were seeking by participating.

On the opposite end of the spectrum there was another team simply there to do something fun as a group. They also did not finish the race but their take aways were totally different. It was a team of friends who just wanted to make memories together. On a particularly difficult stretch of mountain biking one of their members went over the handlebars of his bike – likely traveling at more than 20 or 30 miles per hour. His helmet was cracked but when the call came from the medical team, his first complaint was of some missing fingernails. He was tender and in pain but sustained only topical injuries. His team refused to go on. They were simply grateful that he was not hurt more seriously. Health, rest and recovery were their priorities.

What stood out to me was that the first man faced his challenge alone. How might his story be different if his relationships with his teammates were based on more than shared ambition and intensity? Whereas the second group both made it further and left with an even deeper satisfaction – lifelong mutually supportive friendships. They chose not to go on because it was not in the best interest for the team. Their injured teammate did not suffer alone. Furthermore, they walked away more deeply connected. 

That feeling of being unable to stop for proper care, kept the first contender from accomplishing his goal. His perspective also cost him his health. What is most relevant here is that he may have done irreparable damage to his body by not pausing to rest. That refusal of rest and recovery cost him his dream of finishing the race.

Taking care of ourselves and addressing our needs is not frivolous or wasteful. In fact, it is the difference between being able to recover and continue the journey and burning ourselves out. This week we planned a vacation and even as we planned it I was envisioning photos I could share here on the blog, outfit changes, food posts, and more. But I will use this time to rest and refresh. I will use this time to recharge and unwind. This has not been an easy year. I am grateful for the reprieve and the opportunity to refill my cup and nourish myself before the next leg of my journey. 

As you now know, I highly recommend rest and recovery. Also, I cannot more highly recommend twice annual vacations and intermittent trips in between for your own sanity and recovery. Give yourself the gift of fresh water. Fill the well. Let yourself be supported and nurtured so that you may continue. You may even accomplish those incredible and ambitious goals you have set for yourself.

Gentle Self-Care Routines for Getting Out of a Funk

Every so often I get out of my routine and find myself in a funk. It happens when I get sick, or overwhelmed, and tired. It helps to remember that this happens to everyone. We go on vacation, get involved in a work or personal projects that take us off schedule, and it’s only when we find ourselves suddenly not feeling so great that we realize, we’re off our game. Next time you feel down for not taking care of yourself, instead of beating yourself up or making yourself feel worse, I hope you remember that this happens to all of us and we can always reset. We don’t have to wallow or punish ourselves we can simply take the steps we know work for us. 

I’ve pulled together a list of the things I do that help me get out of a funk and feel better. They are simple steps that shift my perspective. They help me to move towards love and care for myself instead of punishment – which never works. Have you ever punished a child and then had them feel pleased? Of course not, they’re hurt and tired and likely crying. If we truly want to change our behavior patterns we need to give more love, not less.

Hydrate

Sleep

Eat well

  • Fresh fruits, vegetables, and nourishing meals that comfort can change the way your body feels and functions. 

Moisturize

Stretch

Meditate – To learn more about how, I wrote a blog on starting your meditation practice.

Travel – or try a new restaurant, even a small shift can be exciting!

Read – for fun or information but I prefer an actual book. My phone screen can be draining.

Call a friend – Studies show that people with strong social ties have a 50% lower risk of dying.

Relax – Take frequent breaks 

Create – Sing, dance, draw for fun. Whatever you like to do make a little time in your day for it!

Laugh – Monty Python does it for me but find an old standby and let yourself laugh!

Give back 

  • It never hurts to help someone else, I often find it feels good to remember how much I have to share.

I hope the list above serves you. What other practices do you use to get yourself out of a funk?