Thursday, June 28, 2012

Maximize your summer: Do something new!

Have you ever rediscovered an old passion and realized you're a bit rusty; or maybe this summer you're wanting to pursue a new interest but you don't have much experience?

Starting something new is both challenging and motivational. When you first try something you're going to come across obstacles, hiccups, and roadblocks along the way. However, you will also start to see improvements quickly, which is very encouraging.

A little rusty? Don't let fear of the unknown prevent you from having an adventurous summer.
Just start pedaling and get going!
If you're embarking on a fitness journey, you'll likely experience sore muscles and shortness of breath. Yet after a couple of weeks your newly toned muscles will keep you flexing in the mirror when no one is looking! Those new to gardening are going to have some plants that wither and die, but the veggies that grow or flowers that bloom will seem oh so lovely. New chefs burns meals and set the smoke detector off, but a perfectly seasoned entree is worth the trial and error. And photographers know that it takes thousands of clicks to capture a priceless shot.

This summer John and I are training for our first sprint triathlon. On race day, we'll be swimming 0.47 miles (750 meters), biking 12 miles (20K), and running 3.1 miles (5K) - in that order.

I love running so I'm not training much for that aspect (though I am a bit nervous that my legs will feel like jello by the end). Instead, the swimming in open water is what I'm focusing on most. Over the years I've swum occasionally for a good workout, but this time I have one of those "cute" athletic one pieces, hot pink goggles, and a swim cap. I don't quite look like a pro swimmer yet (it's probably the hot pink goggles!), but I love the training and how good you feel after a swim.

I'll keep you updated on my triathlon journey this summer but so far so good! It's especially fun having John along for the journey as well so we can train together, such as spending a Saturday biking around Stone Mountain. Plus, John said he'll stay at my pace on race day.

To sum it all up, my challenge to you is to pursue something new this summer! Don't worry if you're a bit rusty or if it's challenging at first. View your new pursuit as an adventure and appreciate the small accomplishments along the way!

Try something new! This summer, John and I spent an afternoon kayaking (even occasionally over sharks!) in the Bahamas. 
  1. Choose something you've always wanted to do or are interested in learning more about. You'll never know if you like something if you don't try, right? The worst that will happen is you can cross something off your list of potential interests... The best: You discover a whole new side of you!
  2. Make it fun! For example, do a race somewhere you've always wanted to visit. This summer, my first 10K was in Boulder.
  3. Get your friends involved. Doing something with friends will keep you motivated when you experience the small setbacks. Plus, you can socialize and develop new strengths all at once!
  4. Expect some setbacks, but don't let them deter you from your goal. Instead, recognize your new pursuit as a journey and remember that scaling the mountains will swell your success.
Now that I've told you about my fitness goals this summer, I'd love to hear from you. What are you rediscovering or trying your hand at this summer? How do you stay motivated? Best of luck!

Monday, June 25, 2012

What big "L" leaders need is small "l" leadership

Think of your average daily routine. 

Now count how many interactions you have with others - from passing people in the car, to ordering your soy latte, greeting the receptionist at work, picking your children up from school, sweating in Spin class... not to mention all of the meetings via phone calls, emails, Skype, or in the office. It's quickly easy to lose track. 

Just choose a handful of those interactions and imagine all of the opportunities for you to be a leader.

You're probably primarily thinking about interactions where you have an "official" leadership role as boss, manager, co-worker, parent, Sunday School teacher, or club sport coach. But I want you to consider that leadership is primarily influencing others, and this can occur in any sphere of influence.

What interactions do you have with others every day?
How could these be opportunities for leadership?
Drew Dudley in his powerful TED Talk "Everyday Leadership" argues that we "over-elevate leadership" because if we consider leadership to be beyond us, then it gives us an excuse not to expect it. He continues on to tell a story about the biggest impact he has ever had on someone was a moment that he doesn't even remember, even after the person thanked him for it years later.

Great leaders of organizations know that to enact lasting change, they must model the behavior they want their employees to follow. Douglas Smith in Taking Charge of Change says that you must practice leadership based on the courage to live the change that you want to bring about, which sounds extremely similar to Gandhi's saying, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

People imitate the behavior they see, and this is true whether you are a big "L" or small "l" leader. The daily interactions you have with others are opportunities for you to show grace, humility, sacrifice, kindness, and hope. Furthermore, big "L" leaders - those in positions of formal leadership roles - can only influence to the extent that they act in small "l" ways every day. As Jon Gordon says, "The best make everyone around them better." The greatest leaders spend time growing up other leaders, and they seek out ways to help others be their best. 

On the flip side, leaders exemplify humility, they notice others, and intentionally thank them for their contributions. 

Has someone made an impact on your life - in big or small ways - that you haven't thanked them for yet? Are there small, everyday opportunities for you to be for others?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Fruit of the Angels" Recipes

Do you know what Christopher Columbus was referring to when he ate "fruit of the angels"? 

He was talking about the tropical, sweet, buttery fruit papaya. I had never bought a papaya until this summer when I saw they were at the peak of their season. I decided to experiment with using the fruit as an addition to a salsa I typically make. And the result was delicious because of an unexpected sweetness. 

To select the right papaya from the store, look for one that has patches of yellow. If the papaya is green it won't ripen properly. Leave the papaya at room temperature for a few days and when it turns to a reddish-orange color it's ready to eat.

When the fruit is ripe, cut is open lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Though the seeds are edible, they are bitter. You can then either scoop out the flesh and eat it like a melon, or first peel the skin then cut it into cubes to use in a dish.

Papaya Salsa

Combine chopped red onion, chopped red pepper, black beans, and chopped papaya. Zest half of a lime and squirt lime juice over the mixture and toss to coat. If you like some heat, you can add a diced jalapeno as well. This salsa goes great over a grilled white fish, and is perfect for summer.

Papaya salsa over grilled fish with sides of couscous, sauteed brussels sprouts, and grilled corn.

I didn't use the entire papaya for the salsa, so I froze the rest in slices. The next morning I added a couple frozen slices to my smoothie for added sweetener - yum!

Papaya Smoothie

Combine half frozen banana, 2 slices frozen papaya, 2 frozen strawberries, 1 scoop vanilla soy protein powder, and almond milk in the blender. Blend until smooth and creamy. This would also make a wonderful, refreshing summer afternoon snack!

Papaya smoothie for breakfast, with my "signature" English muffin topped with peanut butter, honey, and blueberries

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The story behind the story

Have you ever been hesitant to share something about yourself, afraid it will reveal an unflattering portrait of your true self?

Now think to a time when you appreciated someone or something more than you would have had you not know the history, the struggles, the full story. Maybe it's your favorite work of art and the knowledge you have of the artist's intention behind the design. Or the compassion you feel for your neighbor with an ill family member. Or the constancy of love for your best friend despite what presents itself because you've seen the ups and downs.

Then why are we so hesitant to share our full self and present the real story? I've written about the case for vulnerability before, and I've seen in my own marriage how vulnerability and honesty allow us to love each other more fully. Like the new house that John and I are renovating, we're being stripped down to the studs and seeing each other to the core. And it's a beautiful process.

New house in progress! 

If we had bought our house newly renovated with freshly painted walls, shiny granite, and brand new siding, I would have thought it was charming and perfect. I would have thought the house's history was interesting. But I would not have fully appreciated its transformation. I would not look at the original wood floors and actually see where it came from and its history.

Instead, by watching dry wall be installed and colorful tile put up in the bathrooms, I recognize that to value the beauty in renewal, you must know the ugly parts too.

In marriage, I am able to love John so much more because I know the depths of his heart, because I know his story. In Atlanta, we have made close friends because we've shared our stories with one another - trials, heartbreak, triumphs, hope.

So often society tells us to first get our act together, present ourselves in the best light, and only then can we step out and be liked and accepted. But think about your closest relationships. My guess is that they are the ones that know your full story - and you know theirs - and you love each other because of it.

My hope is that by letting others see the story behind the story that we can enter into more meaningful friendships and relationships. And in doing so, we will appreciate the beautiful transformation that is taking place in each other's hearts every day.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Strong Families Matter

That's our premise behind the Element3sixty interns dedicating their summer to put on Family Nights. Whatever a particular family structure looks like, the strength of it is what matters. I love working in an environment that is committed to building up students and their families.

Dad and me on the boat

In such a connected world socially and technologically, it's interesting to see society yearning for community relationships. A Wall Street Journal article last week discussed a new trend of taking down fences and sharing one large backyard with neighbors.

Since it's not likely to come across a village in urban or suburban America, how do you get a village to raise a child? How do you help build or contribute to a community that will support you in making and keeping your family strong?

At Element3sixty, we are hoping that our Family Nights will do just that through an experience we're calling "edu-tainment" or educational entertainment. We are bringing families together to learn about important lessons, like everyday leadership, giving back, and interacting with difficult cultures, but in a fun, interactive context.

Families grow stronger by going through experiences together and supporting one another. Remember those family road trips?

When I was in seventh grade, my family and I went on a road trip from Orlando to Toronto. Music sharing and downloading sites had just become popular, and before we left I spent an entire day downloading Dad's choice of CD for the trip. (Remember how it used to take hours just to download one CD worth of songs?) So we listened to Sting nonstop to Toronto. I don't remember all of our stops along the way, but I do remember bonding over the adventure, stopping at Gettysburg, touring Toronto, and, yes, rocking out to Sting with my family.

Cooking together is always a great family bonding experience!
Last Thanksgiving, John and I made pizza for the family with my sisters-in-law, Amy and Emma.

Similarly, communities grow stronger by living life together and sharing common experiences. It's not just living next door but seeking each other out to experience small, daily triumphs and failures together. For instance, two families who live in our neighborhood recently bought baby chicks together so they can both share the eggs.

What can you do to initiate connecting your family to another in your neighborhood? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comment section below!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Intentional Truth: Set free in marriage

One of the most quoted phrases is "the truth will set you free." As an American culture, we long for authenticity and hold high the value of freedom of speech.

Yet when it comes to fully knowing the truth about our own failures and shortcomings we prefer sugar-coated honesty. And oftentimes this is how we present the truth to others as well.

However, during the last eight months of marriage, I have learned that intentional truth-telling is essential for building a strong relationship. By this, I am not implying that you are to tell your significant other the truth harshly, to make yourself appear better, or to guilt-trip them. Speaking the truth in love means humbly addressing the other person and being vulnerable yourself.

John and me in North Carolina
Since we have only been married less than a year, John and I are obviously still new at this. However, a week ago we intentionally set aside the weekend, drove 2 hours to North Carolina, and had a mini marriage retreat for the two of us.

During the weekend, aside from relaxing, making s'mores, and being outside, we sat down together and answered eight questions. John wrote out the questions ahead of time and we both thought about them individually before discussing them together.

These are the questions we answered together:

  1. How have the first 8 months of marriage compared with what you dreamed about or envisioned?
  2. What are some of the things we need to acknowledge our thankfulness for in our first months of marriage?
  3. What do you want to get better at as a wife or husband?
  4. What do we want to get better at as a couple?
  5. What are some of the dreams that you have as an individual? How can I help you reach them?
  6. What are some of our dreams as a couple? How can we seek after them and surround ourselves with the right people?
  7. What are some of our greatest blindspots as a couple? 
  8. In what ways do you feel like you've grown since we've gotten married? 

As you can see, seeking to tell the truth is not just about uncovering your weaknesses. It's also about proclaiming your greatest hopes and dreams, and allowing another person to share in them. Because John and I are both committed to growing together as a couple and supporting individual God-given dreams, it set us free to intentionally speak truth into one another. This is a practice we want to continue doing every year, and I invite you to do the same.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Feed a Summer Crowd: Enchilada Soup

After traveling a lot in May, this month John and I want to be intentional about inviting people over for dinner. An easy go-to meal, especially in the summer, is grilling out. We love to grill salmon, chicken, and burgers, and we have a few favorite rubs for each of these to add some spice and flavor.

However, grilling out multiple times a week isn't always economical if you're feeding a crowd. One night last week, I wanted to utilize my slow cooker to make a big dinner. But most of my slow cooker recipes are more suited for a hearty winter meal rather than a summer get-together with friends. And then I discovered crock pot chicken enchilada soup.

Enchilada Soup:
Inspired by Skinnytaste, but the recipe below reflects my personal preferences

The bright green toppings even make the soup look summery! 
Serves 6- If you would like it to serve more, double the beans and tomatoes, and add 1 more cup broth
2 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup mushrooms
3 cups low sodium fat-free chicken broth
8 oz can tomato sauce
2 tsp jalapeno sauce
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (plus more for garnish)
15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
15 oz can diced tomatoes
2 cups frozen corn
2 jalapenos, chopped (with seeds if you want it spicy)
1 red pepper, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp dried basil
2 8 oz skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup green onions for topping
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheesed for topping (optional)
Fat free sour cream (optional)
1 avocado, sliced for garnish

1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until soft, 3-4 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook 2 minutes.
2. Slowly add the chicken broth, tomato sauce and jalapeno sauce and bring to a boil. Add cilantro and remove from heat. Pour into slow cooker.
3. Add drained beans, diced tomatoes, corn, jalapenos, red pepper, cumin, and basil to the slow cooker and stir. Add the chicken breasts; cover and cook on low heat for 4-6 hours.
4. Remove chicken and shred with two forks. Add chicken back into the soup. 
5. Serve in bowls and top with whatever toppings you like, including fat free sour cream, cheese, scallions, cilantro, and avocado. 

How's that for an easy summer meal for a crowd?!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Summer Salad

When it's summertime I start craving salads. I love how refreshing and versatile they are, especially throwing in whatever fruits or veggies are in season. However, now that I'm married the trick is to make an entree salad that is substantial enough for my husband too.

Substantial but also healthy.

After much searching, I discovered a great recipe that can be considered both a salad and a filling entree. I amended the recipe to what I had in the fridge, and you too can add, subtract, and make it your own. The key principle is to layer. By this, I mean don't toss the salad if you want portion control. Instead, slice and prepare all of the toppings then pile them on individual plates so you can make one plate heartier than the other. Also, make your dressing at home (not only does it taste much fresher and more flavorful but it also won't have preservatives) and drizzle it on top. That way, you don't risk drenching the lettuce by tossing too much. The runny egg in this recipe also adds to the dressing so you don't need to add much oil. Enjoy!

Bistro Salad, original inspiration from Cooking Light

A poached egg and light bacon make this a hearty enough salad for your main entree.
Serves 4, or 2 with one hungry man in my case
3 tablespoons sliced almonds (or other nut)
4 large eggs
Cooking spray
2 bacon slices 
1 green pepper, chopped
8 cups chopped romaine lettuce
1 Bartlett pear, cored and thinly sliced
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese, optional
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar 
1 tablespoon extravirgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried basil 
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 lemon squeezed plus zest
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
4 slices bread, toasted

1. Poach 4 eggs in an egg poacher pan for 7 minutes, or to desired degree of doneness. I like my eggs a bit runny so they mix with the salad dressing when broken. (If you so not have an egg poacher, you can break one egg into each of 4 custard cups coated with cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave on high for 40 seconds or until set.) Remove eggs from cup.
2. Cook bacon in a skillet over medium-high heat until crisp; cool slightly. Crumble bacon.
3. Divide lettuce among plates and top each with nuts, bacon, green pepper, pears, and cheese.
4. Combine vinegar, oil, basil, pepper, mustard, lemon, and garlic and stir with a whisk. Drizzle over greens. 
5. Top each salad with an egg and piece of toast.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Mountain Top Experience

I haven't ever been able to answer the question Which do you prefer, the beach or the mountains, with perfect certainty. The sea, sand, and sunsets fill me with such a sense of serenity. I feel both relaxed and creative at the beach. The mountains also provide peace and restoration but in a more rejuvenating and refreshing way.

This summer, I've been blessed to experience both. After spending a week in the Bahamas, John and I spent a night in Atlanta, repacked, and headed out to Colorado. After his work event (where he oversaw Chick-fil-A providing thousands of runners with free sandwiches- including me since I ran in the BolderBoulder 10K race!), we spent the next three days exploring Colorado.

After finishing BolderBoulder 10K in 55:45!
Having never been to Colorado before, I was continually amazed at the majesty of the Rocky Mountains. We drove to the top of Pike's Peak, hiked at Seven Falls, walked the Garden of the Gods, explored Breckenridge, and hiked in Estes Park. The entire time I couldn't believe how breathtaking and huge the scenery was, with a combination of rocks, snow, trees, and wildlife - we saw a lot of deer, elk, and moose. Plus, staying with great friends, Josiah and Chelsea, made the trip all the more memorable.

However, what struck me most was hiking alongside such grandeur. The trail we hiked in Estes Park was 6 miles and very steep. Yet since we were on the edge of the mountain, to our right we had an incredible view of the Rocky Mountain National Park the entire time. The beauty certainly distracted me from the strenuous trail, and we approached the top a lot faster than I expected. Although the views along the hike were amazing, the summit was indescribable. (The picture of the summit directly above hardly does it justice.) John and I silently took it all in, unable to grasp the beauty.

It struck me that oftentimes when life is "uphill," difficult, and rocky there is still beauty right alongside you, whether it's in nature, a relationship, or faith. Sometimes, you need to take your eyes off of the trail ahead (and risk tripping or a minor fall) and look around to appreciate these gifts. Oftentimes we doubt that our chaotic days will calm down; or conversely, we think that if life is presently providing blessings then the rough patches are yet to come.

Neither of these views is accurate. Life is never perfectly straight nor is it ever completely dark. Instead, beauty and peace coexist alongside the rocky and difficult. And awe-inspiring summits, both small and grand, appear throughout the journey... sometimes when least expected.