Moving my blog…

seb-new2Hey! I finally upped my internet game with a new, more comprehensive site.  It’s definitely a work in progress, but I’ll be posting over on Squarespace from now on. If you’re an email follower, I’m transferring over your information and hopefully the process is seamless (like you won’t have to sign up again or anything).

 

FIND ME HERE

 

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Why We Need to Talk About Making a Murderer

making-a-murderer-1200x713The other night I stayed up late to finish watching the Netflix phenomenon, Making a Murderer. It was after 11:30 PM but I pulled myself out of bed and started a hot shower, compelled to literally wash off the sadness, disgust and disappointment that covered me after watching all ten episodes in three days.

SPOILER ALERT

I’m diving in deep so stop yourself now if you plan to watch it and process your emotions unfettered. The documentary series, if you haven’t figured it out yet, chronicles the Avery family in the small town of Manitowoc, Wisconsin over the span of 30 plus years. In a nutshell, Steven Avery is wrongly convicted of a sexual assault in 1985, and kept in prison for 18 years until he could prove his innocence with DNA evidence. This incident prompted a special task force by the Wisconsin Department of Justice to look into Manitowoc County Sheriff’s officials and prosecutors involved in securing Avery’s wrongful conviction. Nothing was found. New legislation was proposed and finally, a $36M lawsuit from Steven against Manitowoc County.

News Flash: Don’t piss off Manitowoc County. Because (it appears) that what the Sherriff’s Department does next, in handling the disappearance of a local woman, is truly criminal*. The filmmakers behind Making a Murder outline a story that you may be familiar with (wrongly accused, crooked cops, biased defense), but they do so in a way that makes you finally comprehend the ease in which injustice occurs in our judicial system. The series carefully unpacks a framework of corruption, collusion, fear and sheer idiocy that allowed Steven Avery to be found guilty a second time, this time of murder. You realize this can (and does) happen in our country, and that race and class are obviously factors.

As much as it was painful, watching Making a Murder was fully engaging. I found myself (like many others, I’ve read) yelling at the TV, cursing the smug prosecution team, and eventually, shedding tears. The morning after watching the series finale I tried to express to my colleagues what exactly hit me so hard. Here’s how it breaks down:

  1. This story taps directly into a deep fear I hold as a mother, that my sons will stand falsely accused of a sexual assault.

  2. It is clear that our judicial system relies on the collective integrity, intelligence and compassion of all participants in a given case and that is clearly too high an expectation for us all to uphold.

  3. The assumption of innocence is necessary for our system to work, but it’s like a millennial resume—looks good on paper, but is kind of a stretch if we’re really being honest with ourselves.

 

THE VULNERABILITY OF MOTHERHOOD

First, I feel enormous empathy for Dolores, Steven’s Mom. This whole Avery issue taps one of my core fears: that one of my sons will be wrongly accused of a sexual assault. The past few years have brought an incredible amount of awareness to the occurrence and prevention of campus sexual assaults and an increasing awareness of how to raise boys.

As an early 90s Women (Gender) Studies major and former undergrad resident advisor, I’m well acquainted with the issues, and value the open discussion and education. The waters of sex and communication combined with drugs and alcohol are murky at best. I get it. I was there once too. But it feels like everything right now is so much more fragile, so tenuous.

Raising young men in a time where we are trying desperately to get rid of the grey area, I have begun to harbor a fear that they will get mixed up in a bad situation, and be wrongly accused. To be clear, I know that thousands of assaults are never accounted for, and their perpetrators never punished, let alone accused. This too is tragic. It doesn’t matter that I think my sweet boys would be incapable of something like this (God forbid, we try our best as parents) but truly, it appears that ACCUSATION IS DAMAGE ENOUGH.

Finally, let’s not forget about Brendan Dassey. Watching those brutal interrogation scenes, which were without question a sick form of psychological abuse, had me in tears and left me angry and disgusted. It was not just one detective who abused his power, using totally inappropriate techniques, but it seemed every single person in this case —from his court appointed attorney, to his defense investigator, to the detectives, to the prosecutor—was shady, unethical and vile. I feel for Brendan’s mother—razed by the system and robbed of her 16 year old son. Absolutely heartbreaking.

LIBERTY + JUSTICE FOR ALL

My second major takeaway: our judicial system relies on the collective integrity, intelligence and compassion of all participants in a given case is clearly too high an expectation for our country to consistently uphold. In the Avery case(s) we see countless instances of corruption, collusion and stupidity. But really, it wouldn’t take more than just ONE person to destroy the values we suggest to hold so dearly.

Seven of the jurors thought Steven Avery was innocent, prior to the final conviction? I have to believe that either the jury truly did not understand their directive, which is another system fail, or again, there was corruption. How many times have you boasted that you “got out of jury duty”? WHO DO YOU THINK IS LEFT SITTING ON THAT BENCH?

What group of people would you want judging your son or daughter, or you, should you be in such a horrible position? I doubt I would be judged by a jury of my peers, since most of us never volunteer to serve. I get that we’re busy, that we don’t get paid for it, and it’s a total drag. But serving on a jury is not only one of our highest privileges (part of both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights), but it’s critical to the democratic process.

Making a Murderer brings to question false confessions, plea bargains and other ways in which our judicial process promotes falsely admitting guilt to evade deeper, possibly unjust punishment. What our system doesn’t seem to value or promote is seeking truth.

PRESUMED INNOCENT GUILTY

Finally, let’s not forget that the presumption of innocence went out the window in this case. Throughout the Avery story, the assumption of guilt led the majority of decisions. How many times have we seen this scenario played out? Every night on the news it seems. We don’t like the color of that person’s skin? We don’t believe in their god? Well, they must be guilty of this crime. We jump to guilty. We assume. We accuse. We judge. We do this everyday, whether we’re on a jury or not.

Forget evidence, ignore civil liberties. Most often we see this as racial bias, but for the Avery family, there was a clear and consistent class bias. In the global Rule of Law Index based on an annual survey by the World Justice Project, the U.S. consistently ranks low among wealthy, developed countries (currently 19th). According to the Chief Research Officer, this is primarily due to unequal access to justice based on race and class. The divide is great, and the result is unfair.

If liberty and justice are staunch values of our country, yet we cannot consistently uphold these core tenets, then what DO we stand for? How will we make systemic change, with issues that are embedded so deeply in our culture and our psyche?

Ugh.

Let’s close this heavy essay by acknowledging that over the past few days we all went back to work and school, Mercury was in retrograde, and San Diego suffered balls out extreme weather thanks to El Nino.

Hug someone and stay warm, okay?

xoxo

 

*

I extend heartfelt sympathy for the original victims of the crimes represented in Making a Murderer. More than anything, they too experienced a grave injustice, by not receiving the thorough investigative attention they deserved.

 

When Your Body Fails You

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The Back Story

The best part of having a sciatic nerve injury is being able to joke about having a (literal) pain in your ass. You can even take a metaphorical approach, and attribute your ass’ angst to another individual (your spouse! your mother! your kids!) or perhaps something less personal, like the clients who all seem to want meetings the week of Thanksgiving or the way parents clusterfuck handle afternoon pick up at the middle school.

After aggressively defending the backline in a parents v. kids soccer game, I pulled my right glute muscle. Not to be beaten, I promptly continued my regular running/CrossFit regimen with ample amounts of stretching. I’m not too old for this! I even pushed myself to PR my 295# deadlift. Perhaps it was in that heartbreaking moment of triumph and humility (where I thought I lifted 300# only to recount it at 295#) that I achieved my bulging disc.

IMG_1034The Treatment

Finally after five weeks of “pushing through” my pain with exercise, stretching, acupuncture, and even a visit to a massage therapist/soft tissue expert who treats world-class athletes like Samantha Briggs, I went to the doctor. And she looked exactly like Dr. Mindy Lahiri. My self-diagnosed condition of Piriformis Syndrome seemed right on, and she prescribed ibuprofen around the clock with regular doses of physical therapy.

The next four weeks included:

6 Messages/calls to Dr. and PT about worsening stabbing pain and frequent numbness

2 Attempts to secure Diclofenac (stronger NSAID) from pharmacy in Tijuana

5 Prescriptions: (Tramadol, Vicodin, Valium, Gabapentin, Diclofenac)

14+ Appointments: Chiropractor, Acupuncturist, Doctor, Physical Therapy, Urgent Care, Emergency Room, Neurosurgeon

4 Pleas for MRIs: two from myself, one from PT and a final request for an expedited MRI from my ER Doc

After that resorted I to a 24/7 cocktail of Vicodin and naproxen sodium. Not the most holistic of treatments, but it was the only way to get by until meeting with a neurosurgeon nearly three months after my initial injury (yes it was likely the hyper-extending-goal defending-boot that did this). After reviewing the MRI together, I decided to have surgery (a microdiscectomy) the following week.

NEWSFLASH: Surgery means you are in a hospital, and in this case, you are kept overnight and by the way, afterwards you will not really be able to function like the superstar you think you are a normal working mom (even if you can walk) for some time. Which is super hard before Christmas. Huge props to my tribe who brought me an amazing care package and dropped off dinners. I’ve summarized the goodness here, and added a few extra items I found particularly helpful from hospital to recuperation.

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The Perfect Surgery Care Package:

  • A variety of magazines (especially the gossipy ones or the meaty ones they won’t buy for themselves but love, like-Harvard Business Review, luxe Euro fashion mags, literary quarterlies, Net a Porter, Lucky Peach, Domino)
  • Tea (herbal, calming and especially: Smooth Move-a natural laxative to help counter your high narcotic intake)
  • Dark chocolate (treat yo self)
  • Energy bars (GoMacro, GoodOnYa, Green Superfood because even making yourself a snack seems like epic effort)
  • Lip Balm*
  • Muscle Lotion or Hand Lotion*
  • Essential Oil Blend (for stress, anxiety, transition, healing)*
  • A lovely scented candle
  • Slipper socks
  • Sweatshirt dress (especially for back surgery-avoiding waist bands was key)
  • Inspirational notes, cards, mini posters (I tacked them up next to my bed, at home)
  • Hydro Flask (keeps beverages cold or hot and with the straw lid it doesn’t spill while you’re in bed)
  • Tray (okay, I’m spoiled here, but I like a little flat surface for my phone, remotes,  pens, and earbuds)
  • Books
  • Puzzles
  • Eye Mask*
  • Headphones*
  • Heating pad
  • Dinner Drop Off (roasted chicken, soup, comfort foods)

*These items are extra helpful for the hospital stay, as well as your rejuve. I was so glad I had my headphones, music and eye mask in my noisy, brightly lit, shared hospital room.

The Result

Fast forward three weeks and I’m walking on air (with just a slight limp), my face isn’t scrunched with pain, my eyes are bright. I’ve gone more than 24 hours without one of my little pills, and while I’m not running-lifting-jumping, I am hopeful.

I miss CrossFit terribly, and don’t know if that’s still going to be my jam when this is all said and done. Maybe I transition to Pilates or try Aqua Zumba. No matter how strong and determined we are—there is still this little thing called “aging”. I don’t say this with defeat—but with awareness. I’m soft right now, and feel how just three months have weakened the hard work I’ve accomplished over the past few years.

At the time I was injured, I felt strong. I WAS strong. But that’s a simple statement. We are complex beings that house dynamic components. While we are capable of incredible feats, we are not invincible. I valued my body for its strength, but little else. I consistently fail myself  in attitude, and this experience has forced me to be more accepting of my body in all of its forms and functions—to treat it gently, with respect and reverence.

xo

My Top 5 Go-To Dinners: Episode 1

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As much as I love going out for juicy bacon cheeseburgers, braised Brussels sprouts and sushi, we really don’t eat out very much. Most weeks I plan the weekly menu and aim for as a many family dinners as possible. With an increase in evening sports practices, it’s a challenge but not a deal breaker.

Since I’ve been running our kitchen this way for some time, I’ve got a few standards up my sleeve that seem to please the man-boys in my life. By popular demand (you know who you are), here are my answers to: “What are your go-to dinners?”

Super Easy Dinner #1

Build Your Own Bowl

  • Cooked Grains (white rice, brown rice, quinoa, bulgar, or any combination thereof)
  • Protein (shredded rotisserie chicken, carnitas, grilled chicken, tofu, hangar steak, ground turkey and pork, beans)
  • Veggies (shredded zucchini and carrots, torn spinach, diced red pepper, salsa, cilantro, tomatoes, cucumber, sliced radish, scallions, steamed broccoli, anything!)
  • Bonus (avocado, shredded cheese, fried egg, Greek yogurt, sour cream, salsa, Magic Sauce)

Grain + Protein + Veggie + Bonus

Optional: Pick a theme.

Is it a deconstructed burrito? Use leftover shredded pork or a rotisserie chicken. Offer black beans, flavor your rice with cumin and smoked paprika, and have avocado, chopped tomatoes, fresh cilantro and salsa for a topping. I make my black beans by draining a couple cans of beans, putting them in a glass bowl with some salt and cumin, and microwaving for like 3-4 minutes. Stir and DONE.

Going Korean style with BiBimBap? Whisk together soy or tamari sauce (start with a half cup), add a tablespoon brown sugar/honey/agave, clove or two of minced garlic, lots of grated fresh ginger, splash of sriracha and a T of sesame oil. Pan fry your ground turkey and pork, then simmer for a couple minutes with (most of the) marinade. For the bowl start with rice, add the meat, and top with veggies (ideas, see above), scallions, extra sauce and an over-easy fried egg. Fancy recipe found here.

The Barrio Bowl is my riff on a fave menu item from Barrio Star, in San Diego. It’s a power combo of brown rice and quinoa, black beans, heaps of sautéed greens (spinach, kale, etc) and a cilantro lime oil drizzle. And while I can’t quite replicate their amazing dressing, I do love Magic Sauce from Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks.

P.S. This is a super winner for the nights you host their hungry friends for dinner…affordable and custom for picky eaters.

When You Find Your Tribe

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yours is the light by which my spirit’s born:
yours is the darkness of my soul’s return
–you are my sun,my moon,and all my stars

 -e.e. cummings

In celebration of our super blood moon…gather around a fire, anchor your soul to the earth and let your worries out with the waves.

Under a sky full of stars and a bright crescent moon they gathered on the beach after dusk, stoked the fire and shared their stories. Trials, heartache, lessons. Was it the lunar cycle or their age? No matter, it’s obvious these women are in the thick of it. Being in the thick of it doesn’t leave much time for introspection or grace or forgiveness. But they make time for THIS each month—to spark their intellect and seek self-truth, collectively.

The fire ring is always a special night. Around the circle they opened their hearts and overruled their heads, writing down their fears their mistakes their ugliness their anxieties—anything they ached to LET GO. And they did. They burned the very words that weigh them down, and force them to slog through each day wearing waterlogged boots in sticky black mud. Inhaling the smoke of sweet sage, they watched the papers burn and finally gave a deep exhale. Cue the shooting star…

As the moon set over the ocean they wove themselves into a web of cerulean wool–creating a giant truss to honor their connectedness, and leaving a token on their wrists (encircled 11 times, once for each member of the group). The sky was a deep ink by then, punctured delicately by millions of stars nearly crowding the constellations.

Eight silhouettes on a quiet beach, watching the whitecaps of waves pulse against the milky way and lap at the shore—an insistent invitation to the sea. They gratefully (and some quite bravely) obliged, peeling off their layers for salty nightswimming and starlit shimmying. Later, they dried themselves by the fire and passed around the last of the Prosecco, soaking up summer and the solace of their tribe.

How Magic Breeds Innovation

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There’s a sweet spot in adolescence when children take great pride in new responsibility and unraveling life’s bigger puzzles, at the same time expressing pure delight believing the fantastic notions we’ve created especially for their pleasure. Like Santa Claus. Teleportation. Invisibility cloaks. Magic.

A few years ago I wrote a Motherhood Manifesto—a set of beliefs that guide my parenting. It hangs above our breakfast nook, as a daily reminder of my core values. At the top of the list lies “Believe in Magic.” All too often I hear stories of parents (and even some children) who have found it necessary to dispel an individual’s belief in such far-fetched ideas.

Quelle horreur! Isn’t magic the entire point of childhood? Without our imagination and faith in wild ideas, we cannot achieve greatness. Or even goodness. At least, we cannot become our best selves. To aspire, dream and achieve takes courage, optimism and belief.

Cultivating a belief in magic conditions us for a life of risk taking and resilience. We suspend reality, stretch our minds, and leap…and we are often rewarded for these actions. An eager child on Christmas morning is sweetly treated for their patience and fervent belief that Santa is indeed, real. For if they did not believe, old Saint Nick might just skip that stocking. Should the day come when our doubts outweigh our beliefs, we mourn and move on to another beautiful mystery.

Believing in magic is the ultimate exercise in optimism. My boys keep invention journals—sketch books filled with diagrams of imagined creations. Whimsical and practical, extraordinary yet ridiculous, they are unlimited by the boundaries of space, time and physics. Exactly. Where will the next great idea emerge, if not from the wide-open mind of a believer?

To consider the real possibility of teleporting or using the Jedi force inspires us to keep going, even when our own ideas fail. It may not be “proven” in daily practice (like our trusted Tooth Fairy), but if we all approached life with a WYSIWYG construct, we’d have no Apollo 11, no Picasso, no iPhone, no Harry Potter. No imagination and no innovation.

Abracadabra…

The Underbelly of Unemployment

Soaking in the aloha spirit of Kauai—our peace place.

Soaking in the aloha spirit of Kauai—our peace place.

I knew it was a sign when I lost the second draft of this post, after hours of research and soulful analysis on the impact of unemployment on families. Frustration gave way to vulnerability, as my husband pressed me to share what I had been writing about. You mean like talk about this, for real?

BACKSTORY

Rewind two years ago, when my position as a fundraiser for a high tech research institute was eliminated. I had pretty much forced myself out of the position anyway, so I picked myself up and acknowledged that a career in development was not my dream. I returned to my first love, advertising, through a freak opportunity from a friend. This came with a pay cut, loss of benefits and a fair amount risk. It also gave me flexibility, control and creativity. We survived this detour without much stress, and gave thanks that we had another income that could float this type of change.

Shortly thereafter, it became clear my husband’s company would be sold and though nothing was publicly acknowledged it seemed best for everyone to sit tight and wait for the bonus, vacation payout, and severance. Only “soon” turned into 13 months of stalled work and demoralization. By the time the official announcement came, their egos and confidence were destroyed. It was also the holidays, which is the worst time to begin a  job search but the perfect time to regroup and revive. Bike! Breathe! Brew some beer, and get ready for the next great adventure. Who wouldn’t want that?

REALITY

That was seven months ago. And now this charming R+D engineer has become Mr. Mom—hard-boiled-egg-making-champ, soccer carpooler and team manager, grocery getter and dinner salad aficionado. I love this, and embrace it. I’m forever a sunshine seeking optimist, reciting my mantra “have faith in the universe” when the going gets tough. “It’s not within my control—let it go…” And I really, really do. On paper, and in practice. But underneath it all, something has to give. Eternal optimism doesn’t change the fact that this is fucking stressful. It just is.

In the past six months my car died, the dryer crapped out, our water heater broke and a pipe burst. Truth. Who prepares for that? We chose to go to Hawaii over fixing the dryer, because we’d put it off for so long and honestly believed it would be our last chance for a family vacation before the hubs went back to work. Family first! Well, that was three months ago. We’ve got lots of time, and lots of wet laundry.

IMPACT

The stress of it? Aside from the obviously financial crush, we’ve watched our friends’ marriage destruct over the loss of a job. Research (and common sense) shows that unemployment brings on substance abuse, eating disorders, depression and anxiety. At its worst, that leads to divorce and even suicide. One study reveals that in families with married parents the risk of divorce more than doubles when a parent loses his or her job. A survey done by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, a research and policy center at Rutgers University, portrays “a shaken, traumatized people coping with serious financial and psychological effects from an economic downturn of epic proportion.” This study was done six years ago, but I’d argue that we are still feeling the ripples of this financial crisis, and that the emotional impact is the same.

I’ve visualized our gorgeous future, and also one without this house and our belongings. I’ve “let it go” but also put on about 20 pounds (!). When I told my husband what I was writing about and he asked me if I was worried, I said yes. Yes, I’m worried, but hopeful. And even though he feels it’s his cross to bear, we really are in this together.

Can You Be Both Badass AND Lovable? A Lesson in Leadership from Mad Men

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Bring it on. Peggy Olson enters McCann Erickson in style.

I absolutely loved the series Mad Men—for Don Draper, the sexy but damaged antihero, the endless runway of fitted sheaths and polyester pants and the parade of highball glasses on smooth danish modern credenzas. But that’s all eye candy. It’s more than a week after the series finale and I’m still processing the arc of characters and the meat of each message.

This is only TV, right? Yes. But television is a lens we use to filter our own experiences. For many Mad Men enthusiasts the finale surprised us with its softness—to the extent that critics and enthusiasts noted the departure from typical Mad Men melancholy and smart social commentary. This was especially true for the character of Peggy Olson, often touted as the real star of the series, a ‘feminist hero’.

Knowing that, it actually made us uncomfortable to see such a saccharine finish to Peggy’s strong character arc. While I disagree with Weiner’s decision to wrap with a heavy hand (we didn’t need to see Stan and Peggy together, just cut to when he shows up at her office door), I think it’s perfect timing to show the complexities of a character like Peggy. Because WE are Peggy, and she is complicated. Her early key to career success relied on her ability to shut off her feelings, and she was often portrayed as insensitive and callous. She gained respect for her creativity and leadership, but she failed in empathy, love and connection.

I have seen this m.o. for so many women in the workplace—myself included. The tough approach may get you promoted, but are you happy at the end of the day? Are you being true to yourself? In a perfectly odd scene before the final episode Peggy shares a bottle of whiskey with Roger and dons rollerskates for a boozy last hurrah in the old office. Later she saunters into her new place of work half drunk, sunglasses on, lit cigarette dangling from her mouth, toting the explicit octopus-pleasuring-a-woman artwork. Ballsy. This is the Peggy we wanted to be see. We know that she’ll continue to push the boundaries of her superiors and colleagues, but she’s choosing to lead in HER way and not in the way she thought was prescribed for women working in a male dominated field.

Cue the finale, where colleague Stan professes his love for Peggy. What unfolded as a cliche, was simply a tool to show us how Peggy evolved: she’s smart yet smitten, strong yet vulnerable. We don’t have to decide to be one or the other—the rigid corporate rule maker or the friend boss who looks the other way. We can be somewhere in the middle, we can be both.

While this episode is set in 1970, it’s perfectly timed for today. I worked for years to construct separate work and personal personas. Attempting to cultivate half of your narrative in one space, half in another is exhausting, especially when you add social media to the mix. Peggy reached her tipping point too.

I’m not suggesting we jump into bed with coworkers or call them in the middle of an existential breakdown, I’m just suggesting that we can be a bit more flexible in our roles. I’m learning to create boundaries but not walls, set high expectations while being empathetic. I’m embracing the moments of vulnerability that allow me to become a better colleague, a better leader, a better me. And I’ll drink to that.

The Key to Happiness in Two Words

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I got the most amazing piece of advice from a friend’s mother. Judy is a mom to four beautiful, strong daughters, she’s a grandmother, a community leader and she has a great sense of humor and a deep husky voice. I asked her how she turned out such lovely women and kept her family so close. Her answer?

“I said yes, as often as possible.”

That has stayed with me, and it was especially meaningful at a time when I found myself telling the boys “NO” for no real reason. Like, “no I won’t play that game with you” or “no, I don’t want you doing xyz.” And honestly, why not? Why was I so quick to say no?  To begin, now is a time when moments of my undivided attention are critical. I understand this is fleeting, and that their indifference to me will surely break my heart one day. Number two, kids need the freedom to test and create and explore their own ideas. If it’s not truly dangerous or totally indulgent (I’m not talking about buying them stuff or letting them eat ice cream for breakfast) then I needed to start saying yes. As much as possible. Yes. This word can be SO powerful for my kids, yet I hoard it at home and let it fly with careless abandon most of the day. I fricking give it away for free at work. At their school. Everywhere it seems, but where it matters most. So I decided to switch gears… and now I pause and say yes to my kids whenever possible, and I think of Judy every time.

Since receiving that advice, I’ve read two books that speak to the power of our choices: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.

At first run, Tidying Up reads like an SNL sketch—taking decluttering to such an extreme I wondered if Ms. Kondo has been clinically diagnosed with an order disorder. She’s disciplined, to say the least. Despite the fact that I won’t be unpacking my purse nightly, and taking each sacred item from its bowels, and placing them into velvet lined boxes of perfect measure, her method really does makes sense.

You would think that a lifestyle approach to organization  is about saying no to what you can live without. Big hint here, it’s not. My aha moment, was that you don’t start by having it all and reduce. You begin with nothing, and re-acquire (say YES) with intention. No to everything, then you keep only the items that truly move you. WHOA.

“Konmari,” as this method of reduction is now referred to, is actually about the art of saying YES.

I get how this is common sense for some people. I’d always approached it from the opposite point of view… “well, what can i get rid of?”. I felt a heaviness lift when everything was automatically categorized as a “toss” (or give) and I had to work to find a meaningful reason to say yes to something, to label it a “keep”.

Essentialism offers a similar philosophy, but for time and people instead of things. From McKeown, “It’s about challenging the core assumption of ‘we can have it all’ and ‘I have to do everything’ and replacing it with the pursuit of ‘the right thing, in the right way, at the right time’.” Once you have established what your priorities are—like having family dinners,  or getting paid to do the things you’re best at—then you can more easily make decisions TO DO, or NOT DO, the activities that serve your core values.

What is most important to me? What am I really good at?
How do I want to spend my time?

We are constantly fielding requests from others, and it’s our responsibility to engage in our response to these demands. While on autopilot, our instinct is often to say YES. Because we don’t know how to say no, or we don’t want to disappoint others, or perhaps because we simply can’t provide (a good enough) reason NOT TO. It’s just easier to say yes. At first. In the end, we’re stressed, we’re spread thin, we’re not happy.

The key to happiness? Say NO to something that doesn’t have great meaning or impact for you. And say YES to something that speaks to your core values and serves your higher purpose. Have you already mastered this? What’s YOUR magic word?

The New Basics: 9 Cookbooks for Family Dinners

Cookbooks

I’ve always enjoyed cooking. Baking especially. From my mid 20s into my mid thirties it was a heavy rotation on Martha Stewart and Cooking Light. Then I made baby food from scratch and took a weird turn into working parent survival mode with “dino” nuggets, broccoli and quesadillas. That was fairly short lived as we were determined to get back to the basics—whole foods and family dinners. So I was stoked when the Family Dinner “movement” came along and brought with it cookbooks geared to families trying to cook fast, healthy meals for grown ups and kids.

I first bought Time for Dinner (from former Cookie editors) and the The Family Dinner (from Laurie David, champion of the “Family Dinner Project“. Because as much as I love Martha, it was only her FOOD publication that hit the mark. Anyway, I’ve since expanded my collection to include GP’s My Father’s Daughter, NYT fave Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, Heidi Swanson’s Supernatural Cooking and Supernatural Everyday, and Andrew Weil’s True Food. Even if I’m not following the recipes strict, I refer to them all the time. I also hit up the Dinner A Love Story blog and 101 Cookbooks. And last but not least, Pinterest.

Note: We’re omnivores that fricking love bacon, homemade pancakes, and roasted veggies. That, and I’m 80/20 Paleo. So modification here is KEY.

In addition to cookbooks and blogs for meal inspiration, we use Table Topics Family Edition to spark conversation at the table. If you like that, you can find smart, probing, age appropriate questions posted via the Family Dinner Project. I also started a garden in our backyard, and the boys like to help me harvest the bounty–they eat most of it.

At the end of the day though, it’s simply about getting a decent meal on the table and having a meaningful connection with the people we love. Don’t aim for perfection, good is enough.

How do you do family dinners?

P.S. Stay tuned for my Top 5 Go-To Recipes in upcoming posts.