Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year

As the year draws to a close, and we celebrate another year gone by, I wish you all joy during this next year.
Last year, a friend shared this  post about 30 things you can do for yourself this year, and I think it's worth sharing for the beginning of 2013.

  1. Start spending time with the right people. – These are the people you enjoy, who love and appreciate you, and who encourage you to improve in healthy and exciting ways.  They are the ones who make you feel more alive, and not only embrace who you are now, but also embrace and embody who you want to be, unconditionally.
  2. Start facing your problems head on. – It isn’t your problems that define you, but how you react to them and recover from them.  Problems will not disappear unless you take action.  Do what you can, when you can, and acknowledge what you’ve done.  It’s all about taking baby steps in the right direction, inch by inch.  These inches count, they add up to yards and miles in the long run.
  3. Start being honest with yourself about everything. – Be honest about what’s right, as well as what needs to be changed.  Be honest about what you want to achieve and who you want to become.  Be honest with every aspect of your life, always.  Because you are the one person you can forever count on.  Search your soul, for the truth, so that you truly know who you are.  Once you do, you’ll have a better understanding of where you are now and how you got here, and you’ll be better equipped to identify where you want to go and how to get there.  Read The Road Less Traveled
  4. Start making your own happiness a priority. – Your needs matter.  If you don’t value yourself, look out for yourself, and stick up for yourself, you’re sabotaging yourself.  Remember, it IS possible to take care of your own needs while simultaneously caring for those around you.  And once your needs are met, you will likely be far more capable of helping those who need you most.
  5. Start being yourself, genuinely and proudly. – Trying to be anyone else is a waste of the person you are.  Be yourself.  Embrace that individual inside you that has ideas, strengths and beauty like no one else.  Be the person you know yourself to be – the best version of you – on your terms.  Above all, be true to YOU, and if you cannot put your heart in it, take yourself out of it.
  6. Start noticing and living in the present. – Right now is a miracle.  Right now is the only moment guaranteed to you.  Right now is life.  So stop thinking about how great things will be in the future.  Stop dwelling on what did or didn’t happen in the past.  Learn to be in the ‘here and now’ and experience life as it’s happening.  Appreciate the world for the beauty that it holds, right now.
  7. Start valuing the lessons your mistakes teach you. – Mistakes are okay; they’re the stepping stones of progress.  If you’re not failing from time to time, you’re not trying hard enough and you’re not learning.  Take risks, stumble, fall, and then get up and try again.  Appreciate that you are pushing yourself, learning, growing and improving.  Significant achievements are almost invariably realized at the end of a long road of failures.  One of the ‘mistakes’ you fear might just be the link to your greatest achievement yet.
  8. Start being more polite to yourself. – If you had a friend who spoke to you in the same way that you sometimes speak to yourself, how long would you allow that person to be your friend?  The way you treat yourself sets the standard for others.  You must love who you are or no one else will.
  9. Start enjoying the things you already have. – The problem with many of us is that we think we’ll be happy when we reach a certain level in life – a level we see others operating at – your boss with her corner office, that friend of a friend who owns a mansion on the beach, etc.  Unfortunately, it takes awhile before you get there, and when you get there you’ll likely have a new destination in mind.  You’ll end up spending your whole life working toward something new without ever stopping to enjoy the things you have now.  So take a quiet moment every morning when you first awake to appreciate where you are and what you already have.
  10. Start creating your own happiness. – If you are waiting for someone else to make you happy, you’re missing out.  Smile because you can.  Choose happiness.  Be the change you want to see in the world.  Be happy with who you are now, and let your positivity inspire your journey into tomorrow.  Happiness is often found when and where you decide to seek it.  If you look for happiness within the opportunities you have, you will eventually find it.  But if you constantly look for something else, unfortunately, you’ll find that too.  Read Stumbling on Happiness
  11. Start giving your ideas and dreams a chance. – In life, it’s rarely about getting a chance; it’s about taking a chance.  You’ll never be 100% sure it will work, but you can always be 100% sure doing nothing won’t work.  Most of the time you just have to go for it!  And no matter how it turns out, it always ends up just the way it should be.  Either you succeed or you learn something.  Win-Win.
  12. Start believing that you’re ready for the next step. – You are ready!  Think about it.  You have everything you need right now to take the next small, realistic step forward.  So embrace the opportunities that come your way, and accept the challenges – they’re gifts that will help you to grow.
  13. Start entering new relationships for the right reasons. – Enter new relationships with dependable, honest people who reflect the person you are and the person you want to be.  Choose friends you are proud to know, people you admire, who show you love and respect – people who reciprocate your kindness and commitment.  And pay attention to what people do, because a person’s actions are much more important than their words or how others represent them.
  14. Start giving new people you meet a chance. – It sounds harsh, but you cannot keep every friend you’ve ever made.  People and priorities change.  As some relationships fade others will grow.  Appreciate the possibility of new relationships as you naturally let go of old ones that no longer work.  Trust your judgment.  Embrace new relationships, knowing that you are entering into unfamiliar territory.  Be ready to learn, be ready for a challenge, and be ready to meet someone that might just change your life forever.
  15. Start competing against an earlier version of yourself. – Be inspired by others, appreciate others, learn from others, but know that competing against them is a waste of time.  You are in competition with one person and one person only – yourself.  You are competing to be the best you can be.  Aim to break your own personal records.
  16. Start cheering for other people’s victories. – Start noticing what you like about others and tell them.  Having an appreciation for how amazing the people around you are leads to good places – productive, fulfilling, peaceful places.  So be happy for those who are making progress.  Cheer for their victories.  Be thankful for their blessings, openly.  What goes around comes around, and sooner or later the people you’re cheering for will start cheering for you.
  17. Start looking for the silver lining in tough situations. – When things are hard, and you feel down, take a few deep breaths and look for the silver lining – the small glimmers of hope.  Remind yourself that you can and will grow stronger from these hard times.  And remain conscious of your blessings and victories – all the things in your life that are right.  Focus on what you have, not on what you haven’t.
  18. Start forgiving yourself and others. – We’ve all been hurt by our own decisions and by others.  And while the pain of these experiences is normal, sometimes it lingers for too long.  We relive the pain over and over and have a hard time letting go.  Forgiveness is the remedy.  It doesn’t mean you’re erasing the past, or forgetting what happened.  It means you’re letting go of the resentment and pain, and instead choosing to learn from the incident and move on with your life.
  19. Start helping those around you. – Care about people.  Guide them if you know a better way.  The more you help others, the more they will want to help you.  Love and kindness begets love and kindness.  And so on and so forth.
  20. Start listening to your own inner voice. – If it helps, discuss your ideas with those closest to you, but give yourself enough room to follow your own intuition.  Be true to yourself.  Say what you need to say.  Do what you know in your heart is right.
  21. Start being attentive to your stress level and take short breaks. – Slow down.  Breathe.  Give yourself permission to pause, regroup and move forward with clarity and purpose.  When you’re at your busiest, a brief recess can rejuvenate your mind and increase your productivity.  These short breaks will help you regain your sanity and reflect on your recent actions so you can be sure they’re in line with your goals.
  22. Start noticing the beauty of small moments. – Instead of waiting for the big things to happen – marriage, kids, big promotion, winning the lottery – find happiness in the small things that happen every day.  Little things like having a quiet cup of coffee in the early morning, or the delicious taste and smell of a homemade meal, or the pleasure of sharing something you enjoy with someone else, or holding hands with your partner.  Noticing these small pleasures on a daily basis makes a big difference in the quality of your life.
  23. Start accepting things when they are less than perfect. – Remember, ‘perfect’ is the enemy of ‘good.’  One of the biggest challenges for people who want to improve themselves and improve the world is learning to accept things as they are.  Sometimes it’s better to accept and appreciate the world as it is, and people as they are, rather than to trying to make everything and everyone conform to an impossible ideal.  No, you shouldn’t accept a life of mediocrity, but learn to love and value things when they are less than perfect.
  24. Start working toward your goals every single day. – Remember, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.  Whatever it is you dream about, start taking small, logical steps every day to make it happen.  Get out there and DO something!  The harder you work the luckier you will become.  While many of us decide at some point during the course of our lives that we want to answer our calling, only an astute few of us actually work on it.  By ‘working on it,’ I mean consistently devoting oneself to the end result.  Read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
  25. Start being more open about how you feel. – If you’re hurting, give yourself the necessary space and time to hurt, but be open about it.  Talk to those closest to you.  Tell them the truth about how you feel.  Let them listen.  The simple act of getting things off your chest and into the open is your first step toward feeling good again.
  26. Start taking full accountability for your own life. – Own your choices and mistakes, and be willing to take the necessary steps to improve upon them.  Either you take accountability for your life or someone else will.  And when they do, you’ll become a slave to their ideas and dreams instead of a pioneer of your own.  You are the only one who can directly control the outcome of your life.  And no, it won’t always be easy.  Every person has a stack of obstacles in front of them.  But you must take accountability for your situation and overcome these obstacles.  Choosing not to is choosing a lifetime of mere existence.
  27. Start actively nurturing your most important relationships. – Bring real, honest joy into your life and the lives of those you love by simply telling them how much they mean to you on a regular basis.  You can’t be everything to everyone, but you can be everything to a few people.  Decide who these people are in your life and treat them like royalty.  Remember, you don’t need a certain number of friends, just a number of friends you can be certain of.
  28. Start concentrating on the things you can control. – You can’t change everything, but you can always change something.  Wasting your time, talent and emotional energy on things that are beyond your control is a recipe for frustration, misery and stagnation.  Invest your energy in the things you can control, and act on them now.
  29. Start focusing on the possibility of positive outcomes. – The mind must believe it CAN do something before it is capable of actually doing it.  The way to overcome negative thoughts and destructive emotions is to develop opposing, positive emotions that are stronger and more powerful.  Listen to your self-talk and replace negative thoughts with positive ones.  Regardless of how a situation seems, focus on what you DO WANT to happen, and then take the next positive step forward.  No, you can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can control how you react to things.  Everyone’s life has positive and negative aspects – whether or not you’re happy and successful in the long run depends greatly on which aspects you focus on.  Read The How of Happiness
  30. Start noticing how wealthy you are right now. – Henry David Thoreau once said, “Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.”  Even when times are tough, it’s always important to keep things in perspective.  You didn’t go to sleep hungry last night.  You didn’t go to sleep outside.  You had a choice of what clothes to wear this morning.  You hardly broke a sweat today.  You didn’t spend a minute in fear.  You have access to clean drinking water.  You have access to medical care.  You have access to the Internet.  You can read.  Some might say you are incredibly wealthy, so remember to be grateful for all the things you do have.

Resolutions are only as good as our intentions to keep them; I wish you a year filled with joy, the love of family and friends and healthy eating! 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Sacred Ground

Our family spent Christmas together in Woodbury, CT about 15 miles from Newtown, CT.   On Christmas Day, my son and I drove to Newtown, CT to lay a memorial for those lost in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  The outpouring of support, and the reverence of the people viewing the memorials, was heartbreaking and inspiring, all at the same time.  It was hard to describe the scene, even the photos don't do this justice.  

 Memorials from all over the world were laid at this corner in the middle of town.  Spanning all 4 corners, it was overwhelming at times to read the tributes. 

 This was over 2000 tweets from teens around the country. 

What struck me the most, is that I now know the names of all those who were lost, as if they were family--I've heard their names so many times over the past week, and reading these tributes made them even more real.  My son and I wondered what would become of the sheer volume of these notes, candles, stuffed animals and cards, and the town will have them gathered and processed into soil that will serve in the foundation of a future permanent memorial.  These tributes will become sacred ground.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

American Gothic House Apple Pie

In my last post I talked about my friend Beth Howard who was driving this RV (which she calls The Beast) across the country towards to New Jersey to bake pies for the residents and first responders in Newtown, CT.  Beth got to her friends' house in New Jersey where pie baking was already taking place.  It's amazing how social media fueled this journey. 
                       Peter Melick, of Melick orchards, donated 150 pounds of apples---what a guy!
Pie uniting people to help deal with the unthinkable
Beth's volunteers are amazing
This group put the initials of each lost angel on the pies
Pies loaded into The Beast

Beth's signature is Apple Pie, and that's what the volunteers were baking for Newtown.  I thought I'd share her recipe for Apple Pie and hope you all will pray for Beth and her crews as they bake and try to help heal the residents in Newtown.  

American Gothic House Apple Pie

For the Crust

2 ½ c. flour (but have at least 3 ½ cups on hand, as you'll need extra flour to roll dough and thicken filling)
½ c. vegetable shortening
½ c. butter
Dash of salt
Ice water (fill one cup, but use only enough to moisten dough)

1. In a large bowl, work the butter and shortening into the flour with your hands until you see marble-size lumps form.
2. Pour in ice water a little at a time, sort of “fluffing” the flour to mix in liquid. When the dough feels moist, do a “squeeze test” and if it holds together you’re done. Your dough should feel tacky, but not wet. (Do not overwork the dough! It takes very little time and you’ll be tempted to keep touching it, but don’t!)
3. Divide the dough in 2 balls. Form each ball into a disk shape. Roll flat and thin to fit your pie dish.
4. Sprinkle flour under and on top of your dough to keep it from sticking to your rolling surface.
5. Trim excess dough around the edges with scissors so that it is about 1 inch wider than the dish edge.

For the Filling

7 large Granny Smith apples, depending on size of apples and size of pie dish  
2 teaspoon cinnamon (or more, depending on how much you like)
¾ c. sugar       
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter (to put on top of apples before covering with top crust)
4 Tbsp. flour    
1 beaten egg (to brush top crust before putting in oven)
Dash of salt
1.      Lay the prepared bottom crust into the pie dish. Slice half of the peeled apples directly into the pie, arranging and pressing them into the dish to remove extra space between slices.
2.      Cover with half of your other ingredients (sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt), then slice the remaining apples, and cover with second half of ingredients. Add dollop of butter.
3.      Cover with top crust and crimp edges, then brush with the beaten egg (this gives the pie a nice golden brown shine). Use a knife to poke vent holes in the top crust (get creative here with a unique pattern if you want).
4.      Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes.
5.      Turn oven down to 375 degrees and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes or so, until juice bubbles. Poke with a knife to make sure apples have softened. Do not over bake or apples will turn mushy.

Beth says that since life is messy, your pie doesn't have to be perfect --Someone wrote on Beth's Facebook page, "maybe compassion is as American as apple pie"---I am praying that is true. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Visions of Sugar Plums

Today was a full on explosion of butter, sugar, nuts, and chocolate here at Chez Phillips.  We are leaving on Thursday for the East Coast and a family Christmas in Connecticut so I will be delivering tomorrow to friends and colleagues. 
These are Cranberry Bliss Bars---you have probably had something similar at Starbucks, but theirs usually have a wet texture, since they seem like they were frozen, and then defrosted.  My recipe is simple, and a very close clone---I actually like these better! 

Cranberry Bliss Bars

Makes about 40

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon orange oil or 2 teaspoons orange extract
2 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 3/4 cup unsweetened dried cranberries
1 3/4 cup white chocolate chips or white chocolate chopped into chunks

1.      Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line a 15 x 10-inch jelly roll pan with a silicone liner, aluminum foil, or parchment paper.  If you are using foil or parchment, coat it with nonstick cooking spray.
2.      To make the bars, in a large bowl, using with an electric mixer, beat together the butter, brown and granulated sugars, eggs, and orange oil in a large bowl  until combined.
3.      Add the flour, baking powder, and spices and beat until the flour begins to blend into the batter, 45 seconds to 1 minute. 
4.      Add 3/4 cup of the cranberries and 3/4 cup of the chips, stirring just to blend and being careful not to over mix.
5.      Spread in the prepared pan and bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs adhering to it, 15 to 17 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool completely in the pan on a rack. 

Creamy Orange-and-White Chocolate Frosting

One 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/2  cup unsalted butter
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon orange oil or 1 teaspoon orange extract

1.      To make the frosting,  in a large bowl, using an electric mixer, or in a food processor, cream together the cream cheese and the butter in a large bowl until fluffy, or process them in a food processor. 
2.      Add the confectioners’ sugar and orange oil and beat or process until spreading the frosting reaches a spreadable consistency. Then spread it evenly over the cooled bars.

Garnishes and Drizzles

1/4 cup unsweetened dried cranberries
1/4 cup white chocolate chips
8 ounces white chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1.      Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup of cranberries and white chocolate chips.
2.      In To make the drizzle, in the top of a double boiler set over simmering water, melt the chopped white chocolate with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, stirring until smooth. 
3.      Drizzle over the frosting in a decorative pattern.
4.      Do-Ahead: At this point, you can cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 6 weeks. 

It's been a long day, I'll be back later in the week with more, until then, enjoy your week, and hug your loved ones close.