Tuesday, February 28, 2012

When life gives you mud puddles...

I’ve been in Orlando two times this February (once for the Chick-fil-A seminar and once to help my mom put on a Women of Compassion forum for Florida Baptist Children's Homes). Somewhere in there, John and I spent time with his granddad, who generously gave us a new - and very nice! - Nikon camera. 

When we were back in Atlanta, I spent an afternoon outside experimenting with the camera, while John was plugging away at Turbo Tax (sorry John!). It was a gray day, and at first I was bummed because bright skies make for more brilliant pictures.

However, I came to see the beauty in the mud puddle, and as I began snapping pictures I noticed the reflection in the murky waters. Above me towered big, leafy branches of a tree. (See pictures below.) 

I thought what a beautiful image it portrayed that while we're looking down into the muddy mess of life, magnificence is above for us to gaze on instead.  

At the Women of Compassion conference that my mom chairs, I saw firsthand how abused, neglected, and abandoned children saw a hope beyond their reality. (Women of Compassion is made up of women who support Florida Baptist Children's Homes and are passionate about praying for, financially supporting, and helping abused, neglected, and orphaned children.) 

At the conference, we shared a meal with the 19 girls who live at the Lakeland campus of the children's homes. We met house moms who have dedicated their lives to raising these children. Their passion and devotion for the children in their home was very evident in the way they loved them and all called each other "family." We heard a touching story of redemption from an abused and abandoned teenage girl who had been adopted from the children's home. Her name was Mercy. 

Story after story was told of changing your perspective on life to one of hope. 

So when life gives you mud puddles, look beyond it to the reflection that is above. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

What defines you?

At Element3sixty, our purpose is represented through our logo, shown below.

What do you see?
Hint: Look at the white space.

The blue image shaped liked a puzzle piece shows how schools define students by a predetermined shape they must fit into: the right combination of SAT scores, grades, and GPA. Yet Element3sixty is about the whole student, the 360 degrees view. 

Look at the white space that surrounds the logo, and what do you see? The creativity that is required to see the "E" and the "3" in the white space is the type of thinking that the school system often does not encourage. Instead, there is a standardized, "correct" way to solve problems and develop the "right" solution. 

What defines you?

Schools often tell us that grades, GPA, and SAT scores define our worth as a student. Work communicates that P&L statements, average sales, and the amount of our yearly bonus determines our level of business success.

Alain de Botton in "Religion for Everyone" states:
"Insofar as modern society ever promises us access to a community, it is one centered on the worship of professional success. We sense that we are brushing up against its gates when the first question we are asked at a party is 'What do you do?,' our answer to which will determine whether we are warmly welcomed or conclusively abandoned. In these competitive, pseudo-communal gatherings, only a few sides of us count as currency with which to buy the goodwill of strangers. What matters above all is what is on our business cards." 
The real question should be perhaps, what do you let define you? 

At Element3sixty, we believe that everyone has a purpose. When you discover where your strengths, passions, and values intersect, you operate in your element. This discovery isn't just for students. We challenge everyone to uncover how they can add value for others by operating in their element.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Authentic Leader

This week, John and I have been at Chick-fil-A's annual seminar for operators and home office staff. We heard from incredible speakers, had a surprise concert from Martina McBride, and were treated to a romantic evening of dinner and dancing on Valentine's Day.

It was definitely a "remark"able experience, as Chick-fil-A likes to call it.

Yet one of my favorite times during the event was hearing Marcus Buckingham speak. I love his passion for uncovering and developing others' strengths. Rather than focus on fixing weaknesses, which you can only improve upon so much, he challenges leaders to focus on developing their team's and their own personal strengths. Strengths are where the opportunity presents itself for major growth.

Buckingham ended his talk by stating that authenticity is the most valuable tool a leader has. He urged us to take what is unique about us a a leader (for instance- your influence, your pioneering spirit, your energy) and make it useful.

It's February, yet our apartment is surrounded by green. Among the overgrown bushes, one pink flower has blossomed. To me, this is a picture of authenticity- blooming at all times and sharing the gifts you have to offer. Pink beauty against gray, winter skies. 

Buckingham found that the majority of the US population would prefer to fix their weaknesses, with only 45% (and only 29% of Generation Y) focusing on enhancing their strengths.

Sometimes the harder choice is not to "fix" yourself but to allow yourself to be embraced for your strengths. Building on your strengths will allow you to give of yourself more and become a better leader because you'll be authentically living from who you truly are. 

First, discover your strengths. Then, live them out. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

It's not all about "I"

Adolescents and college students today are 40% less empathetic than 10 years ago.

Why is this a matter for concern?

Consider this: When the Boomers retire, there will not be enough workers from Generation X (born 1965-1983) to fill all of the leadership positions. As a result, the Generation Y employees will be pushed into management positions, ready or not. 

And leadership requires soft skills, like empathy. 

Vanderbilt University undergraduate graduation
I recently attended a Growing Leaders conference for Super Intendants across the state of Georgia to learn the ins and ons of this generation of students. Tim Elmore, president of Growing Leaders, calls this generation the iY generation. These students were born after 1990, in the second half of the Y generation. They grew up with iTunes, iPads, iPhones and learned along that way that everything is about "I." 

As a result of access to endless information on the web and a growing emphasis on the self, these iY students are becoming less and less compassionate for those in need. 

This lack of empathy will become a huge problem when these adolescents become leaders of organizations in the future. The best leaders recognize that they are only leaders if they are followed. And so they desire to connect with their followers, understand what drives them and what their passions are, and ultimately to empathize with and meet them where they are. 

A perfect example of an empathetic leader is Coach John Wooden, who twice refused a post-season invitation to the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball (NAIB) national play-offs. Why? Because Clarence Walker, an African-American guard on his team, would not be allowed to attend. (It was 1947.) Wooden viewed all of his players as family (even those who sat the bench). 

In his blog post, Michael Lee Stallard concludes the story beautifully: 
"Wooden reflected 'virtuous leadership' that made his players and fans feel connected to him both rationally (for his skill as a coach) and emotionally (for his virtues of respect, fairness, empathy and humility). If American leaders become intentional about developing these and other virtues in themselves, the leaders and the people they lead, 90 percent of people in the American workplace would be doing the right things and giving their best efforts rather than the 10 percent who are today."

Friday, February 10, 2012

Hail the Kale

John's saying this week has been "Hail the kale!" Seems fitting don't you think?

This week of experimenting with kale has been a fun challenge to see just how many things I can put kale into. The verdict on a week of kale is that I'll definitely be buying more of it, especially since John and I both love the kale chips and the sauteed kale recipe that I include below.

So to cap off a week of kale here are three easy ways to incorporate kale into your dinners:

Kale, Mushroom, and Onion over Chicken

1. Season chicken breasts with pepper and dried thyme. Grill.
2. Heat olive oil in a skillet and add sliced onion. Caramelize over low heat for about 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
3. Increase heat to medium. Add sliced portobello mushrooms, pressed garlic (about 1 1/2 cloves for two people), and torn kale (with stems removed). Sprinkle with dried basil and cayenne pepper. Cook until kale has wilted.
4. Serve with sauteed broccoli rabe, topped with lemon zest and ground pepper, and a side of roasted rosemary red potatoes.  

Sauteed Broccoli and Kale 

1. Heat olive oil in a skilled. Add diced onions and garlic, and saute for a few minutes. 
2. Add broccoli florets and torn kale with stems removed.
3. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes or until broccoli and kale are crisp tender. 
4. Season with lemon juice and ground pepper.

Kale, Mushroom, and White Bean Pasta- Recipe from Whole Foods

Serves 6
2 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, divided 
1 large white onion, chopped 
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped 
1/2 cup Marsala or red wine 
4 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary 
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme 
12 ounces fresh mushrooms, button or wild or a mixture of both, trimmed and thinly sliced 
2 teaspoons reduced-sodium tamari 
2 tablespoons whole spelt or whole wheat flour 
4 tablespoons nutritional yeast 
1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added Great Northern or other white beans, rinsed and drained
1 pound (1 to 2 bunches) dark leafy greens, such as collards, kale or mustard greens, tough stems removed and leaves thinly sliced 
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
My additions: Whole wheat pasta and grilled chicken cut into bite-sized pieces* 


1. Bring 3/4 cup broth to a simmer in a large high-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook 7 to 8 minutes or until tender. Stir in wine, rosemary and thyme and cook about 2 minutes or until wine evaporates. Add mushrooms and reduce heat to medium, cover and cook 5 minutes or until mushrooms release their liquid and begin to become tender, stirring once. Stir in remaining 1 3/4 cups broth and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together tamari, flour, nutritional yeast and 2 to 3 tablespoons of the hot broth to make a thick paste. Whisk paste into the simmering broth mixture, stirring constantly. Bring back to a simmer and cook 1 minute, whisking constantly. Stir in beans and greens, in batches if needed, cover and cook 5 minutes or until greens are wilted and heated through, stirring once. Stir in black pepper.
2. *Stir in grilled, chopped chicken and serve over whole wheat pasta.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

An adventurous start to the morning

I'll admit, the recipe for day three of a week of kale requires a bit of an adventurous spirit. In the morning, the last thing most people want to do is (1) take time assembling breakfast and (2) experimenting.

However, give a kale smoothie a try.

Both preparing breakfast and taking a small risk will start your day off with a positive note. First of all, the preparation is worth the effort, and I have personal proof to back this up.

John and I used to eat cereal for breakfast before clean eating week began. Cereal never kept us full until lunch. And not only is eating 2 bowls of cereal (so we're actually full) too carb-rich that you feel sleepy an hour after breakfast, but it also depletes the cereal supply rather fast (and cereal can get expensive!).

So, clean eating breakfasts began and have been such an improvement to our breakfast routine. John now rotates between some combination of scrambled eggs, an English muffin or toast, yogurt, and/or a smoothie. (No more chocolate and whipped cream covered waffles like in college!) And me? I stick to either a smoothie with an English muffin, a bowl of fruit and yogurt with an English muffin, or oatmeal with peanut butter and fruit. The result? No grumbling bellies during our pre-lunch meetings.

So today's recipe is inspired by our love of smoothies. And here's where the adventure comes into play. I've already touted the amazingness of kale, so why not start your day with all of these vitamins? If you'd prefer to keep green to environmental efforts rather than smoothies, I understand. But this smoothie, though "green," is so creamy you'd never know it had kale in it.

Avocado Smoothie
Blend together:
3/4 cup cup unsweetened almond milk
1/2 cup kale (torn into pieces and stems removed)
1/2 frozen avocado
1/2 frozen banana
1 Tbsp. flaxseed
1 scoop vanilla protein powder

And as a side note,  if you're excuse is being too rushed in the morning to make a smoothie, then you need a Magic Bullet. We love ours and can't imagine smoothie-making without it. Cleanup is so easy (only the blade needs washing), and it allows us to customize our smoothies (i.e. I use almond milk) since  each personal cup attaches to the blade. And to really speed the process up, get the ingredients assembled in the cup the night before and stick it in the fridge. Simply add the frozen fruit and blend in the morning. Plus, you can take a smoothie to go!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Pile on the kale please... Day 2 of a week of kale

Looking for a protein-rich, fiber-full breakfast or lunch to keep you full for the day? Or just really craving breakfast for dinner? ...no need to be ashamed, this meal will satisfy breakfast cravings and put a meal on the table in 10 minutes- can't get better than that, can it?! 

Enjoy my newest rendition of egg scramble

John and I have egg scramble for dinner probably about once a week because it's a satisfyingly tasty and filling meal for nights when we're home late or headed out. 

Instead of using spinach in the eggs, I made it with kale (since it's kale week here at BeEmbraced!). Kale takes a little bit longer than spinach to cook, but use more than you think since it shrinks down in the skillet. 

Saute chopped onion and yellow pepper in a skillet lightly coated with olive oil. Add in chopped kale (with stems removed). When kale starts to wilt, add in 2 eggs (lightly beaten) and chopped avocado. Right before eggs are done, add in black beans. Garnish with freshly ground pepper and add cheese if desired.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Nutritious chips? ...the start to a week of kale

If you're up on reading food blogs, you're probably tired of hearing about kale. However, since I just discovered this awesome green a few months ago, I'm devoting this week to experimenting with new kale recipes.

Kale is considered a super food because of all of the benefits it provides: antioxidant rich, prevents cancer, lowers cholesterol, and is loaded with fiber and vitamins (A, C, K, and Calcium to name a few). (This Whole Foods article will give you the in-depth benefits.) It's in season mid-winter through early spring, so now is the perfect time to buy it and enjoy!

The first recipe that's up is baked kale chips. These have become so popular at my office that whenever someone brings them in, they are gobbled up faster than the baked goods that are around - even among the least healthy of coworkers. When coworkers who had never heard of kale before and were skeptics of anything green actually request and crave these "chips," it goes to show that you've gotta give 'em a shot!

Note: If you are bringing these chips to work, do be warned that they get stuck in your teeth very easily... Just a heads up in case you have a lunch meeting!

Baked Kale Chips, recipe from Whole Living magazine

1 bunch of kale leaves, stems removed and torn into medium bite-sized pieces (they shrink down when cooked)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Arrange one bunch of kale leaves on two baking sheets.
3. Drizzle leaves with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and toss lightly to coat.
4. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Bake until crisp.
5. Toss with lemon zest. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Pretend like it's the weekend....

I recently went to Nashville, visiting some of my best friends (shout out to Kim, Isha, Alex, and Leah!), and we went to Pfunky Griddle for all you can eat pancakes. They provide the batter (whole grain or regular) and toppings (I chose chocolate chips, bananas, and blueberries), and you cook the pancakes on the griddle at your table. (Pictures below!)

Breakfast foods are my favorite, so if I'm going to choose a meal to not eat clean, then splurging on breakfast is the way to go. Plus, eating a hearty brunch keeps you full and gives you energy for a fun-filled Saturday- like us shopping in downtown Franklin with best friends.  

Every Sunday, John makes us waffles or pancakes. Our go-to pancake recipe is from the tried and true Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook- and is the same recipe that John's mom makes and is the one that John made me years ago for dinner one night when I was sick with a cold. 

It's a tasty recipe and perfect to add blueberries, chocolate chips, bananas, or walnuts to... or enjoy plain! We make ours with almond milk instead of buttermilk and love the nutty flavor. You can also make them whole wheat by replacing the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour and substituting brown sugar for granulated sugar.

So follow Jack Johnson's advice and make banana pancakes and "pretend like it's the weekend now..."

*variations added in parenthesis in the ingredient list

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (or whole wheat flour)
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar (or packed brown sugar; if using whole wheat flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups buttermilk (or almond milk)
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
Optional: Add in 1/2 cup of frozen or fresh blueberries, 1/2 cup chocolate chips, 1/4 cup chopped nuts and/or 1/2 cup sliced banana

1. In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, use a fork to combine egg, milk, and oil. Add egg mixture all at once to flour mixture. Stir just until moistened (batter should be slightly lumpy). 

2. For standard sized pancakes, pour about 1/4 cup batter onto a hot, lightly greased griddle. Cook over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes on each side or until pancakes are golden brown.