Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Calming Breath

It's been far too long since I've last posted to my blog. Like most people, I've been a bit overwhelmed by my To Do list lately. When we're stressed out, our breath is much more shallow. Breathing more deeply is calming, so I am sharing one of my favorite breathing techniques that I use to settle and re-center myself.

Find somewhere quiet to stand or sit for a few minutes. Your car works just fine if you're in the middle of a busy day. (I've done this standing in a Ladies Room stall!)Place one hand one your belly and one hand over your heart. Breathe in and out through your nose. Allow your belly to expand fully with each inhale. Count how long it takes you to inhale. See if you can balance your breath by matching the length of your inhale and exhale. (So if it takes you 5 counts to inhale, it should take you 5 counts to exhale as well.)

Once you've made your inhales and exhales even, begin to extend your exhales so that they last 2 counts longer than your inhale (For example: 5 counts to inhale and 7 counts to exhale). Extending your exhale has a calming effect on your body and mind. Concentrate on your breath for a few minutes, continuing to extend your exhale for 2 counts longer than your inhale. When you feel ready, go back to your day. Ideally, you can maintain that sense of calm and take it with you throughout the rest of the day.

This is also a great breathing technique to try if you're having trouble decompressing at the end of the day. Happy calm breathing!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Give-away "Wating Period" - How To De-Clutter with a Pack Rat

My daughter is a pack rat. She doesn’t like to part with anything. Two years ago, I only convinced her to let me throw out her threadbare favorite bathing suit after agreeing to take a photograph of it. (So she’d always have something to remember it by!)

Obviously, this presents a challenge when it comes time to get rid of unwanted toys, clothes and stuffed animals. I just can’t do it with her around – we never get anywhere. The forgotten stuffed animal hidden on the top shelf suddenly becomes her favorite when I suggest we pass it along to her cousins or donate it to charity.

My only option is to clean out her room when she isn’t around. However, I always imagine the ensuing drama (and my guilty conscience) if she realizes something is missing.

My solution is a “waiting period” before tossing or giving things away. I put unwanted items in garbage bags labeled “trash”, “donate”, etc. These bags go into the attic for a couple of months until I’m sure nothing will be missed. After that, they’re passed on to the appropriate parties.

You know what? In the years I’ve cleaned out on the q.t, my kids have never missed a single thing I’ve gotten rid of. Oh well. At least the clutter is still gone and I feel a little bit better about being sneaky.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Kale Your Kids Might Actually Eat

That’s right, I said, “KALE”. True, the dark green, leafy veggie isn’t the most appealing to young palates (or mature palates for that matter), but try this recipe and see if you can’t make them think they’re eating green chips!

Kale Crisps:
  1. Preheat oven to 200°.
  2. Trim stems from kale leaves.
  3. Rinse kale with water or use veggie wash and rinse well.
  4. Pat kale dry or use a salad spinner.
  5. Place kale in a large bowl and drizzle with 1 – 2 tablespoons of olive oil*. Toss to coat.
  6. Arrange kale in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  7. Sprinkle with sea salt.
  8. Place kale on center rack of oven. After one hour check to see if kale is crisp. If not, rearrange/flip kale placing the softer pieces around the edges of the baking sheet. Return kale to oven and continue to check occasionally for crispness. (It usually takes 1 ½ to 2 hours for the kale to get crispy.)
*I usually toss the kale with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. As the kale dries, the vinegar becomes sweeter. You can also add garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, chili powder or any other seasoning that appeals to you.

If the experiment fails - as some experiments do - you can always crumble up the crisps and sprinkle them on a salad or into another dish. I have one kid who loves these and one who's no so crazy about them. Hey, batting 500's not so bad! Enjoy.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Homemade Granite Cleaner

I'm one of those people who cleans most of our home with a spray bottle filled with white vinegar and water. I started doing this when my kids were little because I was worried about using chemicals around them and on things they might touch or put in their mouths.

One of the things that sold me on our new home two and a half years ago was the kitchen. It has lots of space and great granite counter tops. I knew nothing about caring for granite and was bummed to learn that the acid in my go-to vinegar-and-water combo could damage the granite and that plain dish soap makes granite dull over time. Out I went to the nearest we-sell-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink store, only to return empty-handed. I couldn’t spend so much money a product I’d use every day and the amount of chemicals sort of freaked me out.

After doing a little research, I learned that I could make my own granite cleaner – cheap!!! Here’s how: fill a small spray bottle half-way with rubbing alcohol, add 3-4 drops of liquid dish soap and fill the rest of the bottle with water. Shake and you’re ready to clean. Of course, you should be careful around open flames and remember to label the bottle since it looks like plain water. (In other words, use common sense.)
I’ve been using this mixture for almost three years and the granite’s still shiny!
Look at that reflection!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Easy Monday Meditation

The benefits of meditating on a regular basis are well documented.  If you’re interested in learning more about meditation research and what it has shown, take a look at the links below. If you’re interested in learning how to do a simple meditation, read on!

Lots of people are under the impression that meditation is clearing your mind of all thought. Your mind’s job, however, is to think. Asking your mind not to think is like asking your lungs not to breathe or your heart not to beat.
As opposed to clearing your mind, meditation is the practice of focusing your mind on one thing – your breath, a sound, an image, a sensation, a word or phrase.

A Simple Meditation:
  1. Find a calm place to sit or lie comfortably – in a chair, or on the floor.
  2. Close your eyes and breathe in and out through your nose.
  3. Notice the details of your breath: the sound, the sensation, the rise and fall of your belly and chest, the coolness of your breath as you inhale and its warmth as you exhale.
  4. Pick one of the details you’ve noticed and focus on it.
  5. If as you’re breathing, you notice that your mind is beginning to wander to other thoughts, gently bring your attention back to your breath. (This process of noticing your mind wandering and returning it to what you choose to focus on is the key to meditating.)
  6. Continue for 5 – 15 minutes or as long as you feel comfortable.
  7. Enjoy the calm. Try to carry it with you through the rest of your day.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sly CD Storage

Now that you’ve loaded all of your favorite music onto your computer or portable music player, what do you do with all of the CDs you’ve collected since the mid-1980s*? You can’t just toss them – heaven forbid your computer crashes and you need to load them again!

Try these CD/DVD storage shelves from Ikea (pictured below). At $5.99 a pop, you can’t beat the value. They’re incredibly sturdy (made of steel) and slim enough to hang pretty much anywhere. We have 6 of these hanging inches from the ceiling in our daughter’s closet. Our CDs are still easy to get to when we want them, but no longer taking up the limited storage we have in our entertainment unit.

2 of Ikea's Lerber CD/DVD wall shelves holding part our oh-so-eclectic CD collection!

*By the way, in 1984 Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” was the first music CD available in the United States, but Billy Joel’s “52nd Street” was released two years earlier in Japan.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Reuse, Reduce, FREEcycle

Freecycle is a not-for-profit network of grassroots groups whose goal is to keep usable items out of landfills by passing them onto (or receiving them from) others in your community. I've found it to be a great resource for getting rid of unwanted, but still usable stuff. True, my first choice is usually a local charity, but charities can't or won't take everything - particularly large furniture and appliances.

To use Freecycle, head over to their site and search to see if there’s a group in your area. With over 5,000 groups worldwide, chances are there is one!

Once you find and join your local Freecycle group, you can post messages offering (or asking for items). When you offer an item, other Freecyclers respond to your post – usually telling you why they want or need what you have to offer. (See the sample below.) You choose who gets your item, and arrange for a pick up date and time. Most of the time, you just leave the item in a bag or box somewhere outside your home.

Sample of Freecycle Posts
One of the best things about Freecycle is that it is the Takers responsibility to move heavy stuff. (It’s always nice to state in your post when someone’s going to need extra manpower.) For example our old entertainment center was beautiful, but became obsolete once we got a flat screen T.V. The thing weighed a ton and we had no idea how we were going to move it out of the house. The Freecycler who took the entertainment center brought a truck and 3 teenagers to move it. We were happy that it was out of our house and they were thrilled to have an entertainment center for their son’s room – a definite win-win!

I have been using Freecycle for over three years and have never had a bad experience. Most people pick up when they say they’re going to and often send a ‘thank you’ email. Of course, you should use common sense when it comes to safety. Anytime a pick-up has involved a person entering our home, I’ve always made sure someone else is home with me.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that we’ve scored some pretty great stuff on Freecycle as well, including never-opened stainless steel silverware, in-line skates - complete with a set of pads and… the drum roll please… a trampoline! (After all, what’s a better example of simple than getting stuff for free?)

My Kids Enjoying our Free Trampoline!