Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Joy of Simplifying and Letting Go

Do you feel like there is too much to do, and not enough time to do it? Do you feel overwhelmed, like you don't have enough time or space in your life?

Maybe you need to simplify. Maybe you need to let go.

A shaping principle of my life is this: identify the "main things," and put those in first. In other words, determine what is most important to you. Your family relationships? Your faith? Your job? A particular project? Learning a new skill? Put those main things into your life, and fit the smaller, less important things around those. 

There may be things that are on your To Do List that you may need to let go. Because guess what? We don't have unlimited time and energy. We have particular units of time (days, weeks, months), and therefore have to choose how we spend that time. 

Last week I did a thorough overhaul of my clothes closet and dresser. I emptied both out completely, and began a process of deciding what to keep and what to let go. I kept only what gave me a sense of joy - clothes that I actually wear, clothes that I truly enjoy. In the end, I had two garbage bags filled with stuff that I gave away. The result was a closet and dresser that were simplified, decluttered, and only contained things worth keeping. 

"Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest." - Marie Kondo

I believe that same process can be helpful as we think about our tasks and responsibilities. Let's be thoughtful about what we make time for.

There are all sorts of obligations and errands to do. There is an endless barrage of information, articles, TV shows, and emails that could fill our time. If we're not mindful, those things could completely overwhelm us and rob us of tending to what really matters.

Each day I have the capacity to do a particular amount of tasks. Today, for instance, my main things are: make a big batch of chili, do 30 minutes of yoga, do work email, write a blog post.

Those are on my To Do List. There are other things that I hope I can do, but may need to let them go (at least for now). For those items, I put them on a Maybe To Do List or a Do Not Do List. These two lists only exist in my mind, but perhaps I really should write them down as a practice of mindfulness. In any case, I need to let go of things that won't realistically fit into my day. These include take a nap (Maybe To Do...it sounds lovely), read all the articles in Feedly (Do Not Do. In fact, I'd love to declutter Feedly by unsubscribing from a bunch of things), clean the fridge (Maybe To Do...because really, who cares?).

For me, simplifying and letting go is a necessary practice. It allows me to be truly present to what is most important, to experience life with joy and freedom, and to be a good steward of my time and energy.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Slow Cooker Chinese Chicken

Whew, it's been a full week. Aaron started 1st grade, while Alex began preschool. Hallelujah! We also celebrated Alex's 3rd birthday at the beach during the weekend.

So now we find ourselves in a new fall routine of school, home lunches, and afternoons at the park. In the mornings when both kids are at school, I hang out with 5-month old Aria. We tidy the house, run errands, and maybe grab a latte from Starbucks. While the baby naps, I catch up on writing or reading.

If I'm proactive, I plan our dinners for the week. It's a loose plan, with flexibility to allow for leftovers from our weekly community dinners and family potlucks. Currently, I've been cooking lots of quick prep, large quantity meals that yield leftovers for several days.

This slow cooker Chinese chicken is super easy and delicious. It has just the right amount of sweet and savory, with a slight heat. You coat the chicken with cornstarch and seasoning, mix together a simple sauce, and cook on low for 4 hours. Boom - a great, crowd-pleasing meal.

Slow Cooker Chinese Chicken
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2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 tablespoons hoisin sauce
4 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

In a small bowl, mix together cornstarch, salt, garlic powder, and pepper. Pour mixture into a large ziplock bag. Add chicken pieces. Seal and shake to coat the chicken.

In a bowl, combine all remaining ingredients, and whisk to combine. Add half to the crockpot along with the chicken. Cook on low for 4 hours.

Before serving, add remaining sauce to the crockpot. Serve over rice. Serves 4.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Happy 3rd Birthday, Alexandra

I write letters to my children on their birthdays. Here is last year's letter to Alex.

Happy birthday, Alex! You are three, officially a "big girl," according to you.

As I write this, you are currently skipping around the living room with a balloon tied to a ribbon, joyously shouting, "I'm flying a kite!" with your cave-woman curls bouncing around your face. Such is the energy and imagination of a three-year old.

This spring you were usurped by Aria from your Youngest Child throne. It was a brutal few months of extra meltdowns and pick-me-uuuuup's, but we made our way through it. I think you're now used to being the middle child. You are affectionate with baby Aria. And though you and Aaron get into conflicts many times a day, you are quick to apologize and forgive.

You just started attending preschool, which you jumped into with excitement. You're in the "Turtles" class, and your teachers say you enjoy helping with cleanup and playing with play dough. That's how you often approach life - with confidence and fervor.

Every day with you involves the full spectrum of emotion, leading to us dubbing you "Mount Vesuvius" (you never know when it'll erupt) and "Jekyll and Hyde." You can go from sweet and affectionate to horribly grouchy, which makes life with you never dull.

You are our little extrovert, constantly narrating long paragraphs. Thrown into normal conversation are your hilarious Alex-isms:

Yestertime - yesterday, last time, or any past moment
Cough you - what you say instead of "bless you" when someone coughs
"Ff" instead of "sp" - fippers (slippers), fart (smart), fuh-pive (surprise)
Mapkin - napkin

You love bathtime, eating quesadillas, art classes, yelling "fuh-pive!" when Daddy walks in the door, singing the Alphabet Song, going to Costco, wearing your Minnie Mouse pajamas, playing at the beach, and pretending to be a kitty.

I love you a lot, all the time.

Your Mommy