Lessons Learned from my Mother

My mother has been a constant inspiration in my life.  She is kind, compassionate, realistic, assertive, composed and self-assured.  She is, by all I believe in, the wiser person I know. The use of “common sense” has always been her go-to-solution to all and every problem or situation and it is my goal to pass the “common sense” approach to my kids.

She has gone through the loss of her son, which is a pain that as I have learned, never goes away.   She has worked hard “38 consecutive years” as she says it, climbing up the professional ladder without holding back, always with loyalty, professionalism, honesty, and integrity. She has been, is and will be my idol. My go-to-person when self-doubt, fear, pessimism, and doubt snicks in my heart.

Through the years, I have seen her suffer, adapt, change, dream, conquering happiness and peace, learning over and over to enjoy life, be loving and caring (and patient) to my dad, and be 100% available to my needs and wants.  

After going through my own self-improvement program and in my pursuit to understand my life purpose, I have come to realize that she is not perfect, however, that realization just made me love her more since although she has her own challenging shortcomings, she has managed to be stronger than anyone I know.  She has taught me life lessons that today I am sharing with you:

  1. Balance it out.  My mother would always tell me to balance it out.  Put the positive on one side and the negative on the other and make decisions based on the outcome.  From professional decisions, to love, to friendship, to education, it can all be put in the balance and decisions are made knowing the positives and negatives of each possibility.
  2. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes: Before judging try your best to put yourself in their shoes.  We don’t know what that person has gone through, we don’t know the whole story. Kindness and compassion should be your first impressions instead of baseless judgment.
  3. Be strong.  My mother is a stoic person. She is the embodiment of what a strong mind and a generous heart and profound faith can do together.  Even when I have gone through my good share of very low moments she has been compassionate but very clear… you are strong, you are mighty, you are a force, you are what you need to be to overcome anything.
  4. Got to be humble.  We are no better than the person next to us.  What we own and what we do for a living says nothing about who we are.  Be humble and treat everyone with kindness and compassion. Always smile, always shake hands, always exchange kind words, treat everyone (including those that are clearly making the statement that they have more than you) with respect and kindness.  
  5. Honesty goes a long way.  She always believes she was sufficiently smart to get to where she was professionally when she retired, however, she was always very honest when she would say that along the way she met people far more qualified than her, but that it was her honesty and integrity that made her a solid candidate for every promotion she accomplished while working.  If you don’t have integrity in the workplace, people will see through it. You can always be trained in the job, but integrity is what you bring with you.

At any time of my day, during a good moment or a low moment, I remember my mom and imagine how she would react, or what would she chose, or how she would handle the situation I am in, and by following her example, I have been able to move forward and in the positive direction.  I am grateful to her. I am grateful for her heart and her soul. I am grateful for her love. I am grateful for her lessons.

Mom and me

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Tips for your Morning Routine that works!

Mornings can be tough… The eternal juggling of managing people, pets, and oneself so early in the morning can be quite overwhelming. I remember getting out of the house and sitting in my car thinking… I’m ready to call it a day, and I still have to go to work!! With time, I started to pay more attention to our routine , and with practice my family and I were able to make it work. Of course it is still hectic, but not as chaotic as before. It has a flow that we have gotten used to as a family, and when I get into my car to go to work I can catch myself smiling, choosing a new podcast for the drive with a sense of accomplishment.

So what are my tips? I’ll share them with you and hopefully it will give you focus during those early hours of the morning.

  1. Get Up Early: IT IS IMPORTANT! Waking up thinking that you are already late is THE MAIN INGREDIENT for a recipe for disaster. Waking up early helps with my sanity. There are several ways I use this “extra” time; for example I do exercise (yoga, HIIT workout, or a treadmill walk/run), meditation, check calendars (mine and my family’s), check my social media (Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook), or read a self-help book. You can use this extra time for anything that is personal, or use it to do stuff that you don’t have enough time to do during the day.
  2. Pick your clothes (and your kid’s clothes) the night before: I pick my clothes the night before, including shoes and jewelry. I even make the decision on how my hair and make-up will be. I make it to where there’s NO decision to make in the morning. My kids have to pick their clothes too. Their shirt, pants, socks and underwear are ALL picked up the night before.
  3. Pre-prep the lunches: I prepare three lunches( for my two kids and my husbands). I make all the sandwiches and put them in the fridge the night before. In the morning I just put all the items together in their lunch boxes. I doubled the time I have in the mornings just by doing this simple night-before prep.
  4. Decide what you will eat for breakfast the night before: Just like the lunches, we know exactly what the breakfast will be. We usually choose either oatmeal, veggie/fruit smoothies, or energy bars. Just something simple we can prep the night before.
  5. Make the beds: It sounds like something that would be at the bottom of your to-do list, but it adds a sense of accomplishment once it is done. Not to mention that when you get back to your house after a long day and you see your bed done, it’s inviting and relaxing.
  6. Go to bed early: Studies show that the average person should be sleeping 6.5 to 7 hours every night. So if I wake up at 4:30 am I would go to bed at 10:00 pm. I do put the kids to bed by 8:00 to get time to reorganize the house, prep lunches and breakfasts, take long showers and do some reading or blogging.

Not every morning will be perfect , and we know it. A spilled glass of water, a grumpy/sick kid in the morning, even we can wake up on the wrong side of the bed sometimes, but when we put the organization into it, even the bad mornings become manageable, and most importantly LESS STRESSED!

Sometimes I do think that one day when my kids have gone to college, I will look back and see all those morning with gratitude. Each one of your mornings are a segment of your life timeline and should be enjoyed to the max. Maybe one day it’ll be just me and my husband waking up to a cup of coffee and those moments will surely be cherished and remembered.

The Power of Daily Goals

A few months ago I completed a self-improvement challenge and one of the new habits that I decided to adapt to my daily routine was having 1 to 3 daily goals.  I would write down the goals in the morning and kept them on my mind as my day unfolded and reflect on them at bedtime.

The goals are to be simple and attainable.  From working out to drinking more water, to listening to a new podcast, to limit time spent watching youtube, to have a conversation with my husband after we put the kids to sleep.  The idea is to feel in control of your actions, of your decisions and to make things happen.

I invited my husband to join me for the daily goals and he happily accepted, so we both, while getting ready or making breakfast will take the time to out loud say our goals of the day.  Then we invited the kiddos… and it has been a wonderful decision.

We all as individuals see and perceive things differently. I work as a marine engineer for the maritime industry and have been doing so for about 14 years, my husband has a contract to do home health so his industry is wellness and performance.  Then we have our 12 and 9-year-old whos live is mainly school, soccer (younger one) and running (oldest one), and home. So, the 3 daily goals are as different as they are surprising.

For me, my daily goals can look like: 

  • Taking a walk during lunch break
  • Drinking 6 glasses or more of water during working hours
  • Acknowledge a coworker (ask them how they are doing and do small talk)
  • Listen to a podcast while driving
  • Limit sugar intake / do fasting in the morning
  • Take a moment to write on my journal or working on my blog
  • Workout (in the morning or afternoon)
  • Have a smile when coming home after work

For my husband, they usually look like:

  • Try to rest when I come back from work
  • Have a healthy snack when I come back from work
  • Finish my water bottle during working hours
  • Have at least 1-hour work out (on gym days) which means less chatting more sweating
  • Call my wife mid-morning
  • Listen to a new podcast while driving
  • Be nice and offer any additional help to my patients
  • Stop by my mom house to say hi on my way home
  • Cheer for my son while at soccer practice
  • Have a 15-minute chat with my oldest son right before he goes to bed

For my two kiddos, the goals are usually:

  • Eat all my lunch in the lunch hour
  • Say thank you at least 10 times during the day
  • Be helpful with the teacher
  • Sit in lunchtime next to someone I don’t know that much
  • Do my homework as soon as I come from school
  • Tell my dad and mom a joke after school
  • Read 10 pages of the book I am reading
  • Give my brother three hugs during the day

We always try to discuss how we did with the daily goals, what we accomplished and we did not.  With the time I noted that we are all more open to trying new things, to set the bar higher as we accomplish these goals and also to be accountable when we don’t reach them. We are more self-assured and more confident and most importantly we are doing our best, personally and collectively to improve ourselves, to be better with ourselves and those around us.

De-constructed Dinner: an easy, quick, simple, and delicious solution to an un planned dinner

Sometimes, even when you have a weekly meal planner, dinner improvisation happens…  for example, last weekend my husband’s best friend came for the weekend to be with him for my husband’s birthday and after a full weekend of soccer games, late-night talks and dinners out, I found myself on Sunday afternoon without a meal plan and with no time to go to the supermarket, so Monday rolled over and I found myself in the improvisation mode.  I have been there before and when it usually happens, I have a to-go-meal that never fails: The deconstructed dinner.

What are the ingredients? Go to the pantry and open your fridge to find out… that’s right, the intention is to use ingredients that you already have.

In the picture is a clear sample of what I am talking about.  For example that Monday, I had a bag of frozen organic edamame, a can of each organic corn and chickpeas, a ripe avocado and a mixture of organic rice (black rice, quinoa, white rice, and bulgur). 

I cook each “main” ingredient with different spices.  For example, the edamame was cooked with paprika, salt, and pepper, the chickpeas were cooked with turmeric, cumin and cayenne pepper, and the corn with butter, salt, and paprika.  Each ingredient bringing a different flavor to the plate. I usually serve it in a bowl, with rice in the middle and the other ingredients around it. A boiled or fried egg is a nice addition on top with a splash of hot sauce.

I have used virtually every ingredient found in my pantry, fridge or freezer during this unplanned meals, including kale, broccoli, cauliflower, lentils, black beans (or any kind of beans), carrots, tofu, and chicken to mention a few.  The intention is that you can use anything you have and make it healthy, quick, easy and delicious.

The power of true friendship… looking into my memories

Memory Lane…

I grew up with a fantastic group of friends.  Some of them are part of my life since I was 5 years old (really we met in kindergarten!).  Others were added to the circle as we grew up, however, we, all together, go back since we were 12 years old.

We are now older, we would think smarter, definitely more experienced, we want to believe wiser.  We have stuck together through 25 years of friendship where marriage, divorce, kids, distance, and loss has happened.  But we are us, uniquely us, we encourage each other, we help each other, we give each other company, we complain about everyone and everything and we, sometimes, don’t see eye to eye (at all).  I am a very fortunate and grateful person for having them in my life.

I have personally a great story about what friendship is all about, what my friends have taught me with their actions.  I was 17 years old when I had a bad car accident. I broke my neck (C5) and back (L2 through L5), which meant I was so very fortunate to be able to tell the story, even more of fully recovering from it.  The recovery took months and one constant through all those months were my friends. They took turns coming to visit me, they learned how to help me with changing clothes or with shower and bathroom duties, they helped eat when I was not able, learned to clean my wounds (I had the halo), and most importantly where constant emotional support.

We were young, just graduated from high school, we had boyfriends and we liked to party. We were wild in our own way.  We were good kiddos that truly enjoyed going out and living life and so for the next few months, we held parties at my house so that I could be present, they slept in my house so that my parents could leave for the weekend to attend other commitments, they took me to therapy when needed and wherein the house the moment I would feel down and in pain. They were my rock.

I am so grateful for my friends for what the did during one of the most painful times in my life. I am grateful for their company, support, encouragement, compassion, and kindness.  My love for them has only grown stronger as the last 25 years have passed and we remain as close as ever. Even though I chose to leave Panama and come to live in the US and therefore my life took a different route than theirs back home, we talk every day through Whatsapp and phone, always fully invested in each other lives.  Always. That is what I call best friends forever (all 13 of them).

Treasure your friends, no matter where they are, no matter how different their lives look from you now, friendship is an infinite source of power and encouragement, but it needs to be nurtured, you need to pay attention to it, you need to be present and provide as much time as you can.  Call them, talk to them, listen to them, tell them how much their friendship means to you. Always.

7 Ways to reduce plastic use at home

About three years ago we consciously started to reduce the use of plastic in our home.   It has been a lengthy process, but in the pursuit to be more environmentally conscious and creating a sense of social consciousness in our kids we have come a long way.  Here are the ways we have reduced the use of plastic in our home.

  1. No more plastic straws:  This was a big one as we used to buy them regularly since we drink a lot of shakes (for the morning, lunch and sometimes dinner).  So we bought a pack of 4 stainless steel straws and we loved them. We got them about three years ago in amazon and I believe they are now available in most places.  Nowadays you can find silicon straws, glass straws, bamboo straws, and stainless steel straws and they come with their own cleaning brush so cleaning them is no problem.
  2. No more Ziploc bags (sandwich, or snack bags):  I do pack a school snack to both of my kids and I would usually put the pretzels or check mix or granola in a Ziploc bag.   Last year, before the school started I bought reusable silicone food storage bags and have been a game-changer. My sons actually prefer silicone food storage bags than the plastic counterpart.  I bought them in amazon and paid 13.99 for six quart-size bags which were actually bigger than expected. For what I have read the bags have an expiration date but so far they are still looking great. 
  3. Purchase food, like rice, pasta, and grains in bulk:   This is truly a double winner as you will actually save money when you buy in bulk.  I have glass containers at home where we store the rice, pasta, and grains. Whole foods have a great selection of grains in bulk where you find a variety of rice and beans, as well as granola and nuts.  
  4. No more plasticware at home:  I would always have plastic plates and plastic silverware at home for “emergency”.  About a year ago I stop buying them and use only the regular glass plates and stainless steel silverware. Yes, it may take longer to clean but I got used to it quite fast.  Additionally, although silverware may be cheap at the market, plastic plates are not and I have saved quite a bit in the last year by taking them out of the shopping list.
  5. Make your own cleaning products:  For the last three years we have made our own cleaning products and this has helped to reduce the plastic container that we would usually buy when buying these products.  We have one with vinegar-water and another one with alcohol-water and with these two we are able to keep the house clean, smelling fresh and disinfected.
  6. No more plastic scrubbers and synthetic sponges:  We started using natural cleaning cloths for cleaning around the house and the dishes.  It may take a bit to get used to it but now I love it more than the previous counterpart.  Additionally, this is another change that allows you to save money as well.
  7. Be conscious! Nowadays there is a lot of progress towards reducing the use of plastics and many companies from cosmetics to food to home goods are doing the best to reduce the use of plastic.  When buying products (makeup, detergents, soaps, lotions, etc) chose the one with the plastic alternative, from recyclable packaging to glass, if you have an option chose to be environmentally friendly, chose plastic-free and recyclable packaging. 

Weekly Book Review by Mari

We have a soccer player in the family (my 9-year-old son) and for years soccer has maintained a very important place in our lives.  As a family and individually we love the sport. My dad recommended this book, he brought the book from Panama for me to read it. He spoke highly of the book and its author and I was pleased to agree with him. It is my first book written by Argentine novelist Eduardo Sacheri and I have lined up already a few more books including The secrets in their eyes which was turned into the same-name film and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 2010.

The story centers on four friends and their never-ending passion for soccer.  After Alejandro “Mono” dies of cancer, the remaining three friends (Fernando, Russo and Mauricio) work towards securing that Alejandro’s daughter is economically taken care of.   However after Alejandro invests all his money in a promising soccer player that slowly falls behind reaching the full potential, the friends get into a complicated, funny, and at times heart-breaking plan to make sure Alejandro’s investment returns the needed profit.

The book is as funny as it is touching, is a declaration of friendship and family that is rooted in love, devotion, and loyalty.  It is the story of a friendship rooted in childhood that grows stronger as their lives take different roads maintaining in common their strong bond and the passion of soccer.  If you love soccer and believe in the power of friendship, I recommend this book.

Affirmations to start your day the best way

An affirmation can be defined as the practice of positive thinking and self-empowerment—fostering a belief that “a positive mental attitude supported by affirmations will achieve success in anything.” For years I kept hearing about affirmation and the powerful transformations that can cause in our emotional state, however, I was very skeptical and did not trust the power that a sentence could have in my life.

One day, following the guidance of a self-help book, I tried and I was taken aback with the impact it made in my day. Since then I have constantly changed my affirmation to match my state of mind or my goals, and I have also divided them doing morning affirmations and bedtime affirmations.

I have been doing the below affirmation for 30 days and the results have been great with the way my day goes on. I am enthusiastic and positive, I am kind and open-hearted, I am fearless and self-assured.

Below I am sharing my affirmations, but there are tons of them in the internet, Pinterest or Instagram. Find the ones that call your name.

Appreciating SOLO Time

Self-discovery is a journey

When I look back I have always being a loner… I like spending time by myself and with myself.  Always had. At times friends and boyfriends would complain about me being reclused and moody, and I always admitted to it, never fought it or felt insulted. It was true, I could recluse myself into solitary to study, to soothe my mind, to nurture my soul. I just need time alone.

I have always been surprised how after 20 years of leaving my home country, my friends (my closest friends) are the ones I have back in Panama.  Those amazing 13 women were, are and will be one of the best gifts life has given me, and thanks to WhatsApp we are constantly chatting, giving advice, reprimanding, complaining, encouraging and congratulating each other.  Of course, I have made friends since coming to the U, but 20 years later there are just about 5 people that have been close enough to call them a friend.

When I turned 35, there was a major shift in me. I started reading self-improvement books, marriage books, communication books, mindfulness books and with this new information I was learning, I became aware that me being a loner was a trait of my personality and most importantly I learned to embrace it.

So what are the things that I enjoy doing all by myself? Here are a few of them:

Watching a movie: I work next to a movie theater and ever so often I try to treat myself for an early afternoon movie on Fridays.  Maybe it happens once every two or three months but when there is a movie (especially a rom-com girly movie) I go in, popcorn in hand, and have a blast all by myself.

Having a meal in restaurants:  I know it’s not easy to see people eating by themselves, but what if that person is choosing to be alone?  In my case, there have been so many times in which I have been eating by myself, in a nice place, watching people walk by or just observing the restaurant.  I remember when I was in college I would go to this cafe for lunch and sit by the window just watching people walk by, I enjoyed the meal, the view, and the loneliness.

Traveling:  Walking into an airport is instant relaxation for me.  I like going to the airport at least 2-hours before my flight and sit in a food court or Starbucks and watching people walk by.  Also been by myself in a long flight (8 or more hours) is therapy to me.  Watching movies, reading, writing, or just plainly thinking, enjoying the constraint of not been able to go anywhere for the next 10 hours. Princeless.

It is my experience, now at 39 years old, that taking the time to get to know yourself better is pivotal in our continuous self-improvement.  We need to decipher ourselves and embrace our own thoughts. We are all different and when I am walking in a mall and I pass by a group of friends, I smile… my lonely trip is their group trip… and we are equally enjoying it.

Easy and Delicious Fried Rice Recipe

Cooking Fried Rice has been a staple in my home for quite some time.  The main ingredients (as per the recipe below) always remain the same, however, sometimes I add Kimchi (my husband is Korean) when we have it in the house.  We usually keep it meatless but you can definitely add cubed ham or spam if you prefer it with meat.

Below is the recipe, is simple and takes about 30 from prep to completion.

We usually cook this for dinner on Fridays (who wants to cook after a full week ah?) or Sundays. It is easy, fast, delicious and minimum ingredients. Also this recipe works great with left over rice which is a plus when trying to recreate a meal with leftovers. I promise this is better than Take Out Fried Rice!

For the love of cooking…