Tuesday, December 22, 2015

How Run DMC and My Favorite Author Help Me #staymerry

My tweet today says it all-   #balance #HolidayAreComing #staymerry

I call it spinning plates, others call it the juggle. No matter what you call it if you are a mom whose family celebrates Christmas and it is 2 days, 12 hours and 20 seconds (as of this writing) until Christmas you are most likely doing more than one thing at a time, spinning plates, juggling, etc or you are paralyzed by all there is to do.
You may be somewhere in between but I know you get the picture.

And then the text comes in - "mom I need insert food item here & insert drink here for the insert name of  party tomorrow. they told us last minute nothing i could do about telling you earlier"

We were past this type of fire drill request for a while but now that my youngest daughter is busier with school and sports the last minute requests and emergencies are again part of the equation.

Here are a few tips to #staymerry

  •  Lists are your friend. Lock your phone so prying eyes do not see said lists but make them and check them 10 times. Twice just won't do it, at least for me with my executive function on overload this time of year. 
  • Don't forget to eat & stay hydrated. You are so busy planning meals and celebrations full of yummy food and drink that you may forget that you still need meals TODAY. If all else fails eat the lunch your son forgot to bring to school that is still on the counter. 
  • Remember to check your calendar. It happens to me once or twice a year that I will show up somewhere at the wrong time or on the wrong day and it is all the more likely to happen around the holidays. You are out of your usual routine and the days can get mixed up when there's a holiday on a weekday.
  • Ask for help. Spouses, kids, guests, they are all potential helpers. Don't be afraid to ask and don't be so controlling that you can't ask. I got over that years ago. (I think, I'll double check with my family to make sure that statement is accurate) 
  • This tip came from author Gretchen Rubin - "Act the way you want to feel." Have a headache? Feeling a bit grouchy? Take some advil, watch a funny video or listen to Run DMC's Christmas in Hollis Here you go, I'll even give you a link so you can do it right now YouTubeChristmasInHollis  Then put a smile on your face. Trust me it works.
  • Last but not least, get as much done as you can and by the time 3:00 PM on the 24th rolls around then let it all go and enjoy your holiday.
Merry Christmas to all who celebrate. Best wishes for the new year to one and all. 
Oh and if you'd like follow me on twitter @wendyenglish

2016 here we come!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Wendy's Top 5 Holiday Flicks

There's nothing better this time of year than settling in to watch a holiday movie. Here are my favorites that I can watch over and over -

5. #5 is a tie between Charlie Brown Christmas, which is my teenage sons favorite of the season and Home Alone, my teenage daughters fav.

4. A Christmas Story -  The Bumpus hounds stealing the turkey right off the table is one of the most memorable scenes and having had 2 dogs plus a visiting cousin dog last Christmas I can relate to the craziness of the holiday with hounds.

3. Planes, Trains and Automobiles - Who wouldn't love the endearing Dell Griffin playes by one of the funniest actors of all time, John Candy? The theme of coming home for the holidays is a classic and the hilarious situations that John Candy and Steve Martin's characters find themselves in keep me laughing no matter how many times I have watched the movie (which is a lot!).

2. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - It is hard to choose a favorite part or favorite character. From Aunt Edna to Clark and Uncle Eddie the characters and story lines are all a crack up. I have laughed so hard at some parts that I miss what happens next giving me a great excuse to watch the movie again.

1. My #1 favorite holiday move of all time is Love Actually. Warning, there is some nudity so be careful who you watch with. Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson and Colin Firth in different holiday, romantic plotlines that are spoofs on romcoms is just the thing to get me in the holiday spirit. Add Rowan Atkinson and lots of Brittish accents and slang making this a flick I can watch year after year. The upbeat soundtrack adds even more to the fun.

It would be great for a new breakout, holiday movie to hit the screens. Until then I'll keep watching my hitlist.

What are your favorite movies this time of year? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

My best, Wendy

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

3 Things I Learned From My 2015 "Smart" Year

"The days are long but the years are short." - Gretchen Rubin

Everyone I come across is saying it - "Where did the year go?" "How can the holidays be here again already?"

It is so easy to let days, months and even years slip by barely noticing. I am thinking that it must be a mid-life thing to finally take notice of this phenomenon. Or I am just really slow to catch on.

I am now in a place where I get it. Time flies by. The things that are important today will be distant memories soon, if we even think about them at all. Last year on New Years Day my husband and I made a list for our "Smart Year 2015". It was long.

Two sheets of 8 1/2 X 11 printer paper taped together vertically with a colorful magic marker list of all of the things we were going to tackle in the new year. I don't have the document itself handy but I will tell you that it hung on our closet door and then on a kitchen cabinet for periods of time in 2015.

Although we made the list together and were enthusiastic at the time we were writing it (over a bacon & egg New Years Day breakfast) that list became a source of true conflict between us.

On it were things like date night, the 52 week saving plan, Sunday outings with our kids with each child getting a turn at picking the activity and more. I think we included eating right and exercise. Sounds great doesn't it? While we both would agree that all of the "Smart" things on the list were worthwhile the list created arguments and strife. It took a lot of soul searching and research to figure out why. Many lessons were learned. Here are the top three -

#1 - Don't take on more than you can realistically handle. The "Smart Year"  list was too long. Taking on one thing at a time would have been the truly "Smart" way to tackle saving money, spending more quality time together and eating right and exercising. Some of the goals could be paired together and later in the year without even knowing it we did that by joining a walking group. That group paired together date night that was not going out to eat, exercise and saving money (it was 5 bucks to join!) Pairing is a strategy I learned about in my 21 Day De-Clutter Challenge. Read more about the De-Clutter Challenge here - 21 Days To Less Clutter

#2 - Time it right. Only YOU know when you are ready to tackly big goals. Although all of the ideas sounded great in theory to both my husband and I we had differing levels of commitment to each of the "Smart" goals. The start of a new year may feel like a great time to embark on a journey of self improvement and resolutions if you are not ready it is not the best time. Resolutions and goals can be started at any time
Some goals are best worked on together, others are better individual goals. My guy was not ready for the eating right portion of the "Smart" year.
As of this writing though he is about 10 days in to a 21 day period of eating clean. Lots of veggies and lean meat, no gluten,  dairy or alchohol. We are thinking he may have a gluten allergy and he has always been sensitive to dairy products. Because he is feeling so good he is very committed to the 21 days of eating clean.

#3 - Prepare to succeed. A big reason we did not succeed with the "Smart Year" is that we needed to learn some things. Read a book written by an expert, take a class or talk with someone who has successfully done what you want to do.  Another one of the more important lessons learned by our "Smart Year" experiment gone wrong is to take big goals and break them down in to small steps. How do you eat an elephant? A bite at a time.
That seems to be theme of mine since it was the title of a previous post -
Does eating elephant bite at time work?

For 2016 one of my goals is to keep posting. Hold me to it!

As always thanks for checking in and I'd love to hear any comments and feedback.

My best, Wendy

Monday, December 7, 2015

December Challenge

My advent wreath
Here I go again - Challenges for a happier life.

Doing the things you want to do, need to do, know are good for you and you feel better (or even feel awesome when you do them) comes naturally for some people. 
For others, like me, we get stuck in ruts, develop bad habits and forget or neglect the things that bring health and happiness.

Through my series of personal challenges that I started back in April I learned that I am better at sticking with good habits when a few key things are in place. 

Number one on the list of key things that help me stick to a habit I need is a defined time frame. A month, 21 days ... it helps me to have a defined period of time for the challenge. During that time I am able to evaluate whether or not the activity is worthwhile and whether or not it delivers the results I am looking for. For example the task of de-cluttering a family home can seem daunting but breaking it down in to 21 tasks over 21 days makes it less so.

Second on the list of  key elements to a challenge for me that helps me stick to the challenge is having a buddy. Doing things with others automatically makes it more fun and provides accountability. A buddy can bring needed energy. You can cheer one another on when needed and vent about the ups and downs faced in the challenge.

Lastly, blogging or writing about the challenge I am doing always seems to help me stick to it. What gets written down gets done. I have heard that statement said many times in different ways and I find it to be true.

So what is on tap for December? My challenge for a happier life for December is going to church service every week of Lent. As of this writing I have 2 down and 2 to go. Why this challenge? I have found that I am not making the time for church, even though it is something that I love. Hopefully my dedication to going in the month of December will get me in a great frame of mind for the Christmas holiday. 

Truth be told there are 2 other things I put on my "challenge" list for December and I have not faithfully been doing the other 2. What were they? Meditating for 10 minutes a day 10 days in a row (I got as far as day 2) and walking at least 20 minutes each day. It is only December 7th so as I am writing this I am resolving to get those 2 additional challenges back on my to-do list.

What things do you wish you had the time for or would you like to make the time for that you think would improve your life? Would a challenge like this help you fit it in? I'd love to hear from you in the coments.

All my best, Wendy

Monday, November 23, 2015

Almost Time to Celebrate - Day 18 of the De-Clutter Challenge

It's not time to celebrate yet but I am looking forward to it. Thanksgiving is almost here and it has been a great time to take on a De-Clutter Challenge. It is Day 18 & Day 21 will fall on Black Friday.

My closet is looking better, my cabinets are looking better and I feel somewhat better about the state of affairs of my home & office than I did when I started.

What have I learned so far? De-Cluttering is as much a state of mind as it is a task. At the reccomendation of several friends I checked out Marie Kondo's book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up and her Kon Marie method of De-Cluttering.
Marie instructs you to ask yourself - 'Does this item bring me joy?'
If the answer is 'no' then out it goes.
That way of thinking helped me purge items I have been hanging on to for a long time for reasons unkown.

A tip from Gretchen Rubin is to prepare for a move or just pretend to prepare for a move. This is excellent advice. One tends to be far more selective with what to keep and what to throw away when considering what to pack up and move to a new location.

At my office when cleaning a closet I found some items that could be considered ancient artifacts. A policy manual from 1985 is no longer needed but it did make for some interesting reading!

Wish me luck in my last days of this challenge. Considering what my next challenge will consist of. Any ideas?

All my best, Wendy

Monday, November 9, 2015

21 Day De-Clutter Challenge, It's On

21 Day De-Clutter Challenge

Today is Day 5 of my 21 day challenge.  I put the word out looking for Friends to join me in getting de-cluttered in time for the holidays. There are now 12 of us working at this and I thought I'd recap how it has been going for me so far.

Techniques I have tried:

Fix broken windows - Author Gretchen Rubin on broken windows "The “broken windows theory” of policing holds that when a community tolerates minor examples of disorder and petty crime, such as broken windows, graffiti, turnstile-jumping, or drinking in public, people are more likely to commit more serious crimes.
As a law-enforcement theory, it’s controversial, but whether or not it’s true on a city-wide level, I think it’s true on a personal level."
In an effort to de-clutter clearing up your own broken windows is a great exercise. Examples of broken windows would be unsorted mail, messy counters, burned out light bulbs. One of my broken windows was a torn ironing board cover.Taking some of my husbands clothes that were in need of repair to the tailor was another broken window that it felt great to fix. Used up, broken items clutter up our lives. Fixing broken windows can mean repairing or tossing out those items so they no longer clutter up your world.

Purge Paperwork - Paper so quickly and easily can take over our counters, desks, wallets and purses. Using some simple rules of thumb to decide if a paper, receipt, booklet or flyer is needed and then tossing out or shredding what is not needed can be a task but once done feels great. So much information is now online there is much less of a need to keep hard copies of things like bank statements, owners manuals, etc. Cleaning out a cabinet where I had stashed the pile that had accumulated on my counter this past Saturday didn't take long and I found some important paperwork and filed it in a place where I'll be able to find it when it's needed. In my book that's a win-win. Less clutter now, less stress later when I need important paperwork.

These next 2 techniques are great for busy lives or reluctant de-clutterers because they are so simple.

1 minute rule - Do any little task that you might have otherwise put off. Hang up a coat, put away shoes, close the door, put the bread back in the pantry... Use the mantra do it now!
The 1 minute rule is great for your car. Throw out trash, empty the trunk, check to see if you have an umbrella and an ice scraper. Removing what you don't need from the car and checking to see that you have what you do need are great things to be doing as we head toward winter. 

Pairing - When using the pairing technique the idea is to take care of a de-clutter task as you go about your day. For example when you head to the kitchen take the empty coffee cups with you. Going out? Take the trash to the barrel you are walking by anyway. This was an easy way to start the challenge and is a great habit to get into or to reintroduce.

What are your tips for creating and maintaining a clutter free home and office? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

All my best, Wendy

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

21 Days To Less Clutter?

I hope so! I've mentioned in other posts that I am loving the author Gretchen Rubin. If you are someone (like me) who responds well to a personal challenge or are interested in forming better habits she has really studied this stuff.

I learned in my October Challenges for a Happier Life that when challenging myself with even the smallest things I am more likely to do it if I set the challenge and chronicle it.

Thanksgiving will be here before we know it and so it is just 2 days later than I planned (wanted to start November 1st) that I am starting a 21 Day De-Clutter Challenge.
What does that mean? I am still figuring it out.
Benefits - a clutter free home (obviously), less stress (I have heard that a clutter free environment contributes to stress reduction) & a home that is ready for company in time for the holidays without trying to get it all done last minute.

I think I'll even buy my turkey and put it in the freezer this week. I bet there are many of you who are shopping for gifts already but I just can't bring myself to do that yet. Enjoying each season and not rushing to quickly in to the next is more my style.
What are you doing to get ready for the upcoming holidays? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

All my best, Wendy

Friday, October 30, 2015

Does Eating an Elephant a Bite At a Time Work?

October Challenges For a Happier Life - Do Small Changes Make a Difference?

Fall is truly in full swing and it is hard to believe the end of October has arrived. What comes along with that is Halloween tomorrow and in my neck of the woods we 'Fall Back' for daylight savings time.

My October Challenge is coming to an end and it's time to look back and see how it went. To start the month the idea was to post on this blog every day during the week. Since this is my 9th post I guess that did not end up happening. I don't see this as a failure though, I blogged more than I had been before and I am happy with how this blog is shaping up.
October Challenge Conclusion #1 - Even if things do not go exactly as planned there are still quantifiable benefits to trying.

The Making Home a Haven challenge has been simple and I found that it has helped me have a positive mindset at home. Creating an atmosphere of peace and fun is never a bad idea for a family! The one part of Making Home a Haven that I didn't get to was playing a board game as a family. When I mentioned this to my husband Sean he said "that's because they should really be called bored  games." He did agree to play along and I am pulling out the game of Clue that I purchased over the summer but that has never been used for us to play together this weekend.
October Challenge Conclusion #2 - Everything is better with a positive attitude.

I am obsessed with a new author, Gretchen Rubin. She wrote The Happiness Project, Better Than Before and she has a new book coming out soon. The first thing Gretchen does in her happiness project is add in to her life activities that will boost her energy. I have tried to do that same thing .
My goal has been to fit in walking as often as I am able and it has been working. Hopping on the treadmill at home for 20-30 minutes and getting outside when the weather is good, like it is today. Using the treadmill at home (a treadmill I have owned for at least 10 years) has been great. Exercising used to feel like such an event and for a busy, time challenged working mom it allows me to fit in some exercise that I would not have otherwise fit in. Heading to the basement treadmill requires no travel time, no special outfit and you don't even need to brush your hair if you don't want to because lets face it who is going to see you? The dog? She doesn't mind, she told me :)
Cutting back on alcohol and adding more fruits and vegetable in to my life (and the life of my family) has also contributed to increasing my energy level.
October Challenge Conclusion #3 - Being conscious about finding ways to boost your energy that does not include drinking more coffee works.

A challenge that I implemented during the month was one relating to more healthy eating. My attempt at blogging about food made me realize that I am not an enthusiastic cook. It also underlined the fact that while I love that my husband is a willing cook when he is in charge of meals there are not enough of the fruits and veggies from the 4 food groups included. This past week I've challenged myself to include 2 different fruits and 2 different vegetables in my eating each day. Today is the last day and the photo below is what we got left to choose from (my family did join me in this challenge).
October Challenge Conclusion #4 - Variety can make a big difference when it comes to trying to eat right. A carry over challenge for November will be an attempt to try even more of a variety of fruits and more importantly veggies.

October is ending on a high note and I learned on final thing from my Challenges for a Happier Life.
October Challenge Conclusion #5 - I love challenges! They make the mundane much more interesting and satisfying.

Wishing you all my best, Wendy

Fruit IS my friend & the candle is still burning

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Fruits & Veggies Are Not My Friend

October Challenges For a Happier Life

One thing I know for sure from being more concious about eating at home this month is that I do not eat enough fruits and vegatables.
As the mom I set the example for my family and as a result my family does not eat enough from the fruits and veggies part of the food groups.

Fruits and veggies are not in my life enough to be counted as friends but I'd like to change that.

This weeks challenge, in addition to eating at home, will be to each a different fruit and a different vegeatable each day Monday through Friday. It shouldn't be hard right? Follow along to see how we do!

Wishing you all my best, Wendy

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

New England Fall Favorite - Apple Pie

We now interupt this October Challenges for a Happier Life with ... Life!

I am keeping the goals I had at the front of my mind and it has not been perfect (haven't posted in a while ...) but it's all good.

Read about my plan for the month here mymiddletonchronicles.blogspot.comoctoberherewecomechallengesfor

 Nothing makes a house smell better and feel cozier than the smell of baking apples and cinnamon and I baked a scrumptious one this past weekend.

Pies are a dessert that I normally would only make for a holiday so it made the weekend feel special.
What is your favorite holiday dessert? I'd love some ideas for the upcoming holiday menus.

Wishing you all my best, Wendy

On the way to the oven

Ta da!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Is Your Candle Burned Out?

Mine is! It's only mid-October and my candle that I purchased to make my home a haven is burned out. My schedule is full too and I am feeling like there is some symbolism there.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Telling Myself What I Want To Hear?

Not perfect, but real.
Fake it 'til you make it?

So many people find joy in creating meals. As a mom it can feel like a chore. The challenge of cooking at home more will only be enjoyable if I work on making it enjoyable. I'm excited to search out new recipes and to make some old favorites.

I just read that last sentence back and have to say I think I just told a fib. Actually, I know I just outright lied. I'm not excited ...

Cooking does often feel like a chore. The cooking I do get excited about is a holiday meal. I love having family visit and sharing a holiday feast with them. My husband and I always look forward to hosting.

Growing up my mom did 100% of the cooking. My hard working dad worked very long hours and for the first half of my childhood my mom was a stay at home mom so they fell in to the traditional roles of mom doing the cooking. I have to say she really did take pride in cooking healthy meals for us and still does that in her home today. So what's wrong with me? I think I just fell in to the trap of how easy it is to eat out and to get take out.

My candle is still going, it truly is making home a haven. Just that simple act of lighting it and saying a prayer for peace in my home has brought some peace. Read about my octoberchallengesforahappierlife here.

What can I do to make the chore of cooking more enjoyable? This is where my creativity needs to kick in. What should I do? Have theme nights? Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Whatever Wednesdays and so on. That could be fun. What do you do to make the chore of cooking more enjoyable? I'd love to hear your comments and suggestions.

Wishing you all my best, Wendy

Friday, October 2, 2015

Memories For a Chilly Day

October in New England
The most beloved family dish as reported by my family, Omi dish. A concoction of egg noodles, scrambled eggs and ham. On a day like this rainy October day in New England it sounds heavenly. True comfort food. As I type it is grey, rainy and a chilly 50 degrees. After the drought of a summer we just had this weather is a bit of a shock.
Does anyone even know where their jackets, rain boots and umbrellas are?

I don't know if Omi invented the Omi dish. Perhaps it was passed down to her by her mother or mother in law. That is who Omi is, my mother in law. Or who she was, I should say.
Heidi English, Omi, passed away in 2009. She was relatively young and it's hard to believe she's been gone over 6 years.

The Heidi I picture when I picture her serving Omi dish would have been a young mom with 5 kids. 4 boys and a girl. That Heidi probably had no idea, just as I had no idea, how quickly her children's childhood would go by or that once gone by that her grandchildren would still be talking about and loving Omi dish.

I am making 2 meals today so my family has some good choices this weekend - Omi dish and a lasagna. Will lasagna be the dish I end up being known for? Probably not but by the end of this month of eating at home hopefully there will be one. I'll light the candle, take my time to make it right and then hope they notice the love that's inside. If not today, someday.

Read the details of my October challenges here mymiddletonchronicles.blogspot.comoctoberherewecomechallenges

Wishing you all my best, Wendy

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Beloved Family

Family & Food Go Together Like Peanut Butter & Jelly

My family, perhaps much like yours, has distinct opinions when it comes to food. I must admit that as the mom I have not always been the most enthusiastic cook. I sheepishly admit that and am looking at October and at my family challenge to eat at home all month as my chance to get creative and make some memories with my family. 

Last night sitting around the table with my family I took an informal poll to find out what their most beloved family dish is. I was not surprised to find out that it is not a dish that I cook. It did make me a little sad to hear that but truth be told, it's no ones fault but mine. 
The dish that is the family favorite is one that my husband makes and that his mom made for him. It is a dish that stretched the family dollar and fed a bunch of kids back in the day.

Omi Dish -
Egg Noodles
Scrambled Eggs
Ham Steak cut in to cubes

In my family the dish we were served when the fridge was just about bare was tuna casserole. Not a favorite of mine but I certainly do remeber it well. Apparently my dad loves it. I always wondered if he really loved it or if he was just being good natured about a meal that was not the most decadent but was what we had. 

On another note, we went out last night and selected an extra large Yankee Candle to start of Octobers Making Your Home a Haven challenge. Pumpkin Spice was the candle of choice and it felt great to splurge and buy the big one. We lit it this morning and I love what it symbolizes.

Please bless this home with peace.

The first post on this blog details the October challenges mymiddletonchronicles.blogspot.comoctoberherewecomechallenges

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

October Here We Come - Challenges For A Happier Life

I love fall, especially in New England.

The October 2015 NaBloPoMo theme is perfect for where I am in my life. The theme is DISH

My husband and I came to the conclusion we are eating out too much which we believe contributes to our expanded waist lines and low bank account balances. Will eating at home for the month of October help us with those things?

Here's the plan - we will treat ourselves and eat out twice in October and although we LOVE a nice glass of wine or a cocktail (dirty martini for me) the plan is to indulge in a drink or 3 only on Saturdays.

Any other aspiring writers out there? Want to join me as I shoot for a post a day following the theme DISH? Bloghers October NaBloPoMo has daily writing prompts you can check it out here blogher.com/letsdishnablopomosoctobertheme

The second part of the plan/challenge is to participate in the Making Your Home a Haven 6th annual Fall Challenge on the Women Living Well blog.
The challenge is easy but I envision it creating a really nice home environment for my family.
So when I say easy I really do mean easy. There's a task each week and for the first week the directive is to go buy an extra large candle and light it each day in a place that you would say is the hub of your home. Thinking that is the kitchen for me.
"Each time the candle catches your eye, say a prayer for peace in your home."
Now for the fun part - what scent candle should I go and buy. I don't know about you but I NEVER buy the extra large candle so it really will be a splurge.
For more info on the Making Your Home a Haven Fall Challenge you can check that out here womenlivingwell.org/2015/09/makingyourhomeahaven6thannualfallchallenge

I won't be posting as many links to other sites going forward but thought I'd share where my ideas came from in case you are interested. Also so I am giving credit to the cool women out there who have inspired me to take on these challenges.

Wishing you all my best. Wendy