The Power of a Morning Playlist

I’m not the most tech-savvy person when it comes to using fancy music apps like Pandora or Spotify. The extent of my music customization has traditionally been to simply change the radio station when the sound coming out was no longer bearable, or the commercials didn’t have an end in sight. It wasn’t until recently, though, that I realized how invigorating a hand-picked playlist was to my morning drive — and how it helped set the tone for a fabulous day ahead.sunrise2

I only came to this happy epiphany, however, when the music (ironically) wasn’t there. Here’s how things went down.

I used to drive my kids to school on a regular basis, and the car atmosphere would be filled with conversation about the day’s events. It was typically a who-needed-to-be-where-and-at-what-time discussion to ensure everyone in the family was in the loop — the ultimate goal being to orchestrate all carpools ceremoniously convening in the driveway around the same time so we could all eat dinner together.

As the kids got older, though, this logistics discussion didn’t take very long, and I soon found the sounds in my car being replaced with musical stylings. What started out as music playing from my mom-approved radio station, soon turned into whoever was sitting in the passenger seat plugging their phone into the USB port in the front console, setting the radio to USB mode (who knew that feature was even there?!) and listening to, gasp, teenager-selected music. Very loud teenager-selected music, mind you.

I finally embraced this evolution, and soon found myself rocking out to the tunes as well — to sounds we dubbed as the motivational one to get you jazzed before that test-from-hell, or that edgier song to help prepare for bully Mildred giving you “the stare down” as she did every morning while walking to PE class, or the soothing number to calm everyone down from the “oh crap, my alarm clock didn’t go off and we have seven minutes to get to school” episode we had just peeled away from back at the house.

But I digress.

My kids soon began driving themselves to school which meant I was no longer subjected to these musical interludes. And guess what? I missed them. The radio just didn’t sing to me anymore. It was clear that I needed my own playlist, because listening to the right music on my morning drive had become a happy habit.

While I didn’t need a song to get me jazzed for a math-test-from-hell, I definitely benefited from some upbeat momentum in preparation for a challenging meeting, that flu shot I’d been putting off due to my serious distaste for needles, or…fill in your blank here.

My morning drive is now something I look forward to, traffic aside, and an opportunity to be energized by sounds I enjoy while tackling my day. It makes me happy to know that my kids (and husband!) do the same, and it’s fun when we find ourselves back together in the car again for family outings and can share our latest song discoveries.

My hope is that you feel inspired to create an energizing morning playlist of your own to get you going this week (or update one you may already have since you’re probably way tech savvier than I am and have had playlists on your phone for years!)  Regardless, I’ve listed a few of our family faves below to get you moving in the right direction.  And if classical music or heavy metal are your cup of tea instead, so be it!  It’s all about finding what sounds help you feel positive in the morning, and getting yourself motivated for the rest of your day.

So what’s on your playlist?  I’d love to hear what works for you.  In the meantime, check out this sampling (one song recommended from each of my family members), in no particular order:

#1 – “Kids” by OneRepublic
#2 – “Kill A Word” by Eric Church
#3 – “Like a Match” by TobyMac
#4 – “She (For Liz)” by Parachute

Here’s to a new (or updated) happy habit in your life!

Scrapbook Guilt

Happy July! Congratulations. You have successfully survived the first half of 2016. Don’t worry, I’m not checking in on how your New Year’s resolutions are progressing – or aren’t. My intention is simply to share my surprise realization that this year is half over, and how thankful I am for my teen’s idea back in January to place a Memory Jar in our living room. Before expanding on that fun novelty, though, I have a deep, dark secret to share.Memory Jar

I used to be completely caught up on my family’s scrapbooks. Yes, I mean 100% fully caught up on documenting every child milestone, family vacation, outing to a show or sporting event, etc. You name it, it was in the scrapbook. I blame the digital camera on my falling behind. In the olden days (thinking waaaaaaay back to 2002 here when I’d actually get film developed at a local store), I couldn’t wait to get the prints back a few days later to re-live the fun moments. I’d quickly get busy sorting photos and memorabilia, and designing page layouts. We’re talking cute stickers, colored paper designs that perfectly matched the season or theme of photos, beautiful cloth albums with page protectors, etc. Ugh. I’m getting a guilt-induced pang right now just thinking about how long it’s been since creating my last old-style scrapbook page, and how the extent of my creativity now ends with what I choose to label the file folder on my home computer which houses our digital photos.

Why guilt, you ask? The guilt pang comes from knowing how much my family loves their now outdated scrapbook collection. I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen my teens pull down their beautiful baby books from the shelf to capture and post the perfect TBT image on social media, or to show their friends what they used to look like at a certain age. They are lovely scrapbooks, indeed. But what hit me recently is this – although I greatly value those scrapbooks, it’s the fun memories we house in our brains of past events that matter most – our internal file folder system, as I like to call it.

So getting back to that Memory Jar in my living room. The actual jar is pictured above and is already brimming with completed sheets (we may need to transfer to a bigger jar before the year ends! A nice problem, I’d say). It was so simple to create – just a jar, blank sheets of paper and a pen placed nearby. Our plan is to read them all on New Year’s Eve and remember together how 2016 went down. And the best part? It didn’t take hours to create, and it won’t just include my perspective about the year (as our scrapbooks would). Everyone in my family will have contributed to the sharing of memories.

Although a jar of memories is not the most formal documented account of my family’s existence, it is more fun than only having a computer filled with idle photos, a Facebook feed that can’t be passed down from generation to generation, and eliminates my scrapbook guilt. Heck, I may even line up all the little memory papers and take a photo of them for later printing and taping into a 2016 scrapbook!

Yes, congratulations are in order if you’ve found time this year to work on your scrapbooks. You truly rock. But if not, you still rock, and there’s still time to kick it up a notch this year in the memory-making department by creating a “Second Half of 2016 Memory Jar.” It just takes a few minutes.

So get back out there and enjoy making memories with your family this summer and throughout the year. I know one day I will find time to get caught up on my family’s scrapbooks (perhaps when the kids have gone off to college? or when I’m a grandmother and want to show my grandkids how cute their parents were? Who knows!) But for now, I’m going to enjoy every moment with them instead of documenting them.

Here’s to making memories!

A Peek Inside My Trader Joe’s Bag

I wish I could buy Trader Joe’s stock but I can’t. They know how unique and fabulous they are and want to keep it that way by staying privately held. Sigh. In the meantime, I shall just continue to be their number one fan instead of a shareholder.IMG_6945

I’ve never met another person who loves their neighborhood TJ’s as much as I do. It’s the greatest grocery store around. Over the past 20+ years, I’ve discovered items there that other grocery chains just can’t seem to compete with, be it on flavor, price or overall fabulousness (I’m having a silent moment of gratitude right now that a zombie apocalypse is not a real thing, as I don’t know what I’d do if I could no longer safely enter my TJ’s store).

Friends and family frequently ask me what’s worthwhile to purchase there and I’m always happy to talk TJ’s. I admit, though, it was once a challenge to know what to look for without the mainstream brands guiding my way. But have no fear. I’m happy to save you time and effort this week by sharing my Top Thirteen – a list of my 13 favorite products (in no particular order).

I hope this helps make your shopping trip a bit more pleasant this week, and you even more popular in your family’s eyes! Drumroll please….

Best Easy-to-Pack SnackIMG_6930

This Trek Mix bag of 10 individual snack packs is a family favorite. Whether it be an easy snack that makes it through airport security in your purse without incident, saves your child from starvation upon discovery at the bottom of their swim team bag, or cures your hunger pangs while (gasp) actually walking on a trail, this trail mix medley of almonds, cashews and chocolate ROCKS!

Fresh VeggiesIMG_6932

There is no more cost-effective bag of fabulously fresh organic baby spinach I’ve been able to find. I put spinach leaves in everything, including sandwiches, enchiladas and pasta dishes. And the deliciously fresh bag of english peas will make your dishes look and taste as if a professional chef made them (yes, peas can be that amazing). So chef away!

Easy-to-Transport FruitsIMG_6926

These items are awesome fruits that transport well. The bag of dried pineapple pieces frequently finds its way in my car for a quick snack in between activities, and the value sized bag filled with small organic apples are always found to be crunchy and delicious – just toss into lunch or work bags and move on. As for the bananas…they’re just 19 cents each at my local TJ’s! How can anyone not think this convenience snack from nature isn’t the bomb?

Easy LunchesIMG_6937

The selection of refrigerated convenience meals at TJ’s is to-die-for.  There are quite a few salads I love, and I’ve tried many. My all-time favorite is this Five Spice Chicken and Asian Style Noodle Salad. What’s yours? The Turkey Chili with Beans is also a favorite easy meal, which tastes great either at home right off the stovetop or while on the road in a thermos.

After-School Snacks

When the kids come home from school starving, these tasty pigs-in-a-blanket heat up quickly in the toaster oven, and taste great either dipped in ketchup, mustard or your favorite BBQ sauce. And, in my humble opinion, this mango yogurt is beyond delicious.  Snack on!

Great Playdate/Study Group TreatsIMG_6928

For any parent out there who has received the last-minute call from a child saying the playdate or study group is headed over to your house – these two items are the tried and true treats I keep on hand in my freezer/pantry. Kids always love the ice cream sandwiches (they taste like you just stopped off at that cool ice cream sandwich place that recently opened downtown), and the warm blondie bars (just 30 minutes in the oven) can turn any study session into a fun time.

A Unique BreadIMG_6931

These pretzel bagels make the best sandwiches, especially salami. Just toast, smother in mustard and add your favorite salami and toppings. Delish!

So there you have it. I hope you find these items as fabulous as I do.

But alas, I know many of you are wondering – there must be something about Trader Joe’s I don’t love. Well, yes, actually there is. The only negative I can think of about TJ’s is their parking lot – it bites. It’s so hectic during rush hour times (especially around noon on weekends) that it sometimes seems as if that zombie apocalypse has indeed taken place.  I’m afraid Mildred from your book club can frequently be seen scratching your new car door after parking too close, retrieving her runaway cart from the fresh dent in your bumper, and jettisoning away without leaving behind a courtesy note. But rest assured – karma will handle all that. In the meantime, my advice is to simply park on the outskirts of the lot and enjoy some exercise while walking the extra distance to the store entrance. Your cardiologist will thank you.

Happy shopping, my friends, and let me know if you have other equally fabulous items to share. I’d love to hear from you! Perhaps I’ve missed something along the way?

Your Lane Awaits

You know who she is but don’t give her much thought. The others seem to garner more attention, while she’s pushed out of the limelight. She has lots going for her yet a smaller following, in the grand scheme of things. Stylish retailers such as Lululemon even appear to favor her step sisters – yoga and running – designing hundreds of glamorous ensembles for them but so feOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAw for her. Well, she just doesn’t deserve that kind of disrespect. That’s right, it’s high time she got the fan base she deserves in the exercise world.

Say hello to lap swimming!

I know, I know, swimming pools are something many prefer to just linger around while socializing with friends, take a dip in to cool off during warmer months, or enjoy along with a healthy dose of natural light and vitamin D. Heck, the last time your body may have entered a swimming pool for exercise could’ve dated as far back as that swim unit in PE class. But that’s okay. I was never on a swim team in my younger days but have discovered as an adult that swimming laps makes me incredibly happy. I love swimming for exercise and want to share it with others who have either asked me for more details about how to get started, or who haven’t considered lap swimming as an exercise option in years. So yes, what I’m proposing here is good old-fashioned lap swimming to help get or keep you in shape, or simply to mix up your regular exercise routine. And there’s no better time than spring season to begin.

Yes, I understand. You prefer to (fill in the blank here) for exercise. But even the most dedicated athletes enjoy cross-training (or so I’m told). So why not visit your local swim hole and give lap swimming a test drive? I’ve even simplified the process for you below. You’ll find my quick tips to get started, assuming you know how to swim and your doctor says it’s ok to try. Just please promise me one thing. Don’t be that annoying person at the pool, like Mildred from your book club, who does it all wrong.

Step #1 – Pick your pool
Decide which pool you’d like to visit. Have one in your backyard? Unless it’s a very large rectangular pool, the constant back-and-forth around kidney-shaped curves will drive you mad and cause you to instantly curse my name so please select a pool elsewhere. If you’re lucky enough to belong to a club featuring a pool with a lap lane, go for it since you’re already paying monthly dues and should maximize your sunk costs (no pun intended). Another option is to search “lap swim” on the Internet and up should pop a list of local community swimming pools. Many have pre-established adult lap swim hours so simply research your desired location/their fee policy (most offer a drop-in rate or a lower cost multi-swim punch pass) and pencil in a day on your calendar to start.

Step #2 – Get your stuff ready

Bathing suit – wear one. Ladies, please do not choose a skirted swimsuit bottom like Mildred or you will experience something called drag and feel as if you’re swimming with a 5-pound brick. And gentlemen, please do not swim in your underpants. An actual article of clothing called a swimsuit is required (unfortunately, experience has given me reason to clarify this).

Goggles – your eyes could become irritated by the water without them, and you will want to see the edge of the pool clearly during a fast approach while trying to outrace the 70-year-old swimming way faster than you in the next lane. These older swimmers are my exercise idols.

Swim cap – helps to keep your hair and goggles in place as you swim. But please don’t be like Mildred and arrive at the pool already wearing your swim cap – tragically uncool.

Waterproof sunscreen – apply this before going to the pool so it has time to absorb; no one wants to be in the same pool with Mildred after she’s just slathered on a goopy white sunscreen seconds before pool entry.

Waterproof bag – to help neatly transport your stuff to/from the pool so you don’t look like a pack mule

Towel – self-explanatory

Pool shoes – flips flops are my favorite

Water bottle – for hydration in between laps, as needed

Earplugs or nose clip – for those who don’t enjoy the feeling of water channeling through their facial orifices. And a special note about ear plugs: make sure they are waterproof. If you mistakenly use the soft, squishy foam kind Mildred recommended, the water will quickly absorb right through and you’ll feel like a very unhappy cat commencing bath time.

Optional – kickboard (most public pools I’ve visited have a stash of these for patrons to borrow but you may prefer to bring your own); swim fins (to help yourself go faster next to that 70-year old who will still be swimming faster than you), and a combination lock (if lockers are available to store items).

Step #3 – Have a positive attitude
The first time you lap swim, choose whatever stroke(s) you’d like for however long you’re comfortable. Freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly, dog paddle, sidestroke—it’s all game! Don’t worry about what others think; they’re not watching you and could really care less about what you’re doing (except the lifeguard, who will hopefully notice if you’re in trouble).

Be prepared to share your lane if the pool gets crowded. Be courteous and stay on your own side. Just promise me you won’t pull a Mildred and bring negative energy to the pool. For example, it’s not okay to say no to someone who wants to share your lane, do your widest breaststroke kick in a shared lane with a person trying to swim next to you, or ask the sweet 16-year-old lifeguard to call the cops on the man wearing his tighty-whities for an indecent exposure citation (he will figure out what to wear next time after one of the guys in the locker room tells him to get it together).

Step #4 – Enjoy the benefits
Lap swimming certainly isn’t easy, but I’ve found it to be a great way to stay fit, clear the cobwebs out and think more clearly/positively about my day, get fresh air (if visiting an outdoor pool), and socialize with friends who also lap swim.

I hope you have as much fun as I do with lap swimming, or that mixing up your regular exercise routine with pool time is something that will bring you great joy. So let’s hear it for that step sister of exercise – she really is quite a beauty!

Strive for the B+ Lifestyle

I have written a giant B+ on the chalkboard in my kitchen. That’s all it says. The family seems to enjoy it, the dog is intrigued, the dishwasher repairman must be wondering what the heck goes on around here, and visitors ask what kind of parent I am for promoting B level achievements — that is, until they understand how to pronounce the sign correctly: be positive.B+

After reading Attitude is Everything, you may have experienced one of three things: nodding your head in agreement since it sounded logical, feeling an internal sense of enlightenment, or absolutely nothing since this may not resonate with you just yet. But trust me, one day you will realize how such a simple concept — making a conscious effort to have a positive attitude — holds so much.

“But I have a crappy attitude!” you may be thinking, grasping your screen with both hands and shaking it aggressively. “How can I get a more positive attitude?” your thought process continues. Ok, first release your screen (you really need to stop that, you know) and proceed with the following tips that work for me.

1.) Surround yourself with those who bring positive value to your life. You know, the people who make you feel happy after having spent time with them? Well, spend more time with them.

2.) Figure out what makes you laugh and do it often. When you laugh, you’re on your way to having tons of natural dopamine surfing around in your brain and a happier overall feeling. And the best news of all? Laughter is free. Whoever or whatever makes you laugh is what’s prescribed here because the happier you physically feel, the more positive attitude you’ll have.

So what makes you laugh? That’s your homework assignment for the day.

Read a great book penned by your favorite comedian, call that funny friend or cousin whose stories always give you a stomach laugh (when you laugh so hard your stomach hurts, you can’t breathe for a moment, and if you just drank something you’ve spit it all over whatever was in front of you). You could even walk slowly by your cat hiding under the couch so he can triumphantly attack your foot with his paw, or pull an innocent prank on your co-worker by putting tape across the bottom of his computer mouse….the list is endless!

One thing I love is to watch the opening monologue of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon @FallonTonight before going to bed instead of the news. The news is just such a downer. No one should have depressing headlines be the last thing their brains process before falling asleep. Go ahead and peruse the news during the day so you’re an informed citizen, but leave that stuff out of your evening routine.

Another thing to leave out of your evening routine is social media, especially if you suffer from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). This is apparently a real thing! It’s defined by Urban Dictionary as, “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.” So if you really care that Mildred from your book club may be throwing a beach party you weren’t invited to and, heaven forbid, will be posting ocean-front photos you aren’t included in for all the world to notice, then stop scrolling through your feed on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. before bedtime because it will just make you sad. Seriously, how the heck are you supposed to wake up happy when you just cried yourself to sleep?! Mildred probably got a wicked sunburn that day at the beach, anyway.

But I digress about Mildred.  I’m no psychologist, but can tell you that switching from night time news to humor before catching some Zs has made a notable difference in my mood the following morning. And if I wake up in a good mood, I’m more inclined to have a positive attitude that day.

The more detailed answer to what gets me laughing is actually Jimmy Fallon @jimmyfallon with a side of Saturday Night Live @nbcsnl. Those things get my dopamine flowing. I love to laugh. And I’ve finally figured out that laughing is my runner’s high. And bonus! I get those benefits without actually having to run. I much prefer swimming, but that nugget shall unfold in a later blog. And how fabulous that Jimmy is on Monday-Friday, with SNL on Saturdays!? Great, except what to get me laughing on Sundays? I have a solution for that too. It’s called DVRing past episodes I may have missed during the week, or one of the many other comedy shows out there.

So get yourself laughing soon!  Then tell us, what works for you?  We might like to give it a try too.

Attitude is Everything

There is a happiness conspiracy afoot and I’m starting to get concerned. Messages of happiness have been pummeling me from all directions. It’s barely noon and I’ve already seen happy-faced emojis sprinkled throughout my incoming text messages, a “Life is Good” bumper sticker on the car in front of me at school drop off, inspirational quotes in my Facebook feed from fabulously happy websites, and a talking piece of pottery telling me to be happy. Well, that last one isn’t entirely accurate. My daughter gave me this potterylovely little decorative dish for my birthday. It’s designed to hold odds and ends, and the words “be happy” are painted on the bottom (of which which I was reminded this morning after picking up the earrings it was happily holding for me).

Don’t get me wrong; these messages of happiness are most welcome. I certainly prefer them to the alternative: receiving devil-faced emoji-filled text messages, seeing abused puppy photos posted on social media or an Anarchy bumper sticker plastered on the back of a car weaving in and out of traffic and barely missing a pack of third graders biking to school. I appreciate posts and encounters with bright and happy images, and beautiful scenes of nature just as much as the next person. But what seems to be missing along with all those happy images and inspirations is the instruction manual on how to reach that happy state. Are seeing the positive images alone supposed to make one happy? Is it simply all about expressing gratitude? Or can one just “be happy” as my pottery implies? Well, I don’t believe you can feign happiness for very long, nor believe it’s healthy to try. So I’m going to let you in on my little secret about how to go about being happy — yes, I’d like to help the happiness conspiracy out there complete its mission.

It’s all about attitude.

Thirteen years ago, I came across a quote photocopied on a sunny yellow sheet of paper. The quote was titled, Attitude, and was accredited to a man named Charles R. Swindoll (don’t worry, I didn’t know who that was either.) My husband and I decided to tack it up on the wall in our home office because it seemed like a positive message to have on the wall of a young family (as an aside, I like to hang up bits and pieces of fun finds in my home). It wouldn’t be until years later, though, that I’d realize just how spot on that darn quote was and what a profound impact it would ultimately have in my daily life.

“What the heck did the quote say?!” I can hear you screaming at your screen while giving it a good shake. Well, wait no further. It read like this…

Attitude
“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company…a church….a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.”

Booyah! I challenge you to wake up each morning with that reminder emblazoned on your coffee mug and not have a better day. Actually, scratch that. It would have to be one very large coffee mug to fit that entire quote and I’m not so sure said container of coffee is particularly healthy. So how about we just go with one simple thing printed on your average-sized coffee mug instead: B+. Did you catch that? The plus sign after the letter B? No, no — it’s not the grade I received on every math test in high school. It’s a simple message to be read as follows: be positive. And when you’re taking a sip from that emblazoned mug, everyone in your home will see it and benefit from the message too.

Make the choice right now to react in a more positive way to situations in your life. Your attitude is the one thing you actually have control over. You can either get through your day with a positive one or a crappy one. The choice is yours. I hope you choose the former and make yourself, those around you, and the pottery gods a happier bunch. I truly believe that if you want happiness in life, having a positive attitude is what helps you get there. So what do you say?