Three Surefire Steps to Get Unstuck

jump!

If you’re feeling stuck, might as well jump!

Isn’t feeling stuck the worst?

I’ve been in a little rut of late — while I can picture myself flying, making gigantic leaps forward, in reality I can’t shake the feeling that I’m wading through glue.

This kind of things happens, when “diversions” like the daily grind, shifting schedules (youth sports, anyone?), and a whole host of external influences demand your presence, NOW, on the gerbil wheel of duty, responsibility, and obligation. As the days wear on and that thing keeps on churning, you can easily get stuck in the deep groove it makes; stranded on the edge of a depressing abyss where on the other side — and seemingly out of reach — are your creative commitment, personal goals, and artistic vision.

The good thing is about being stuck is that it’s not blocked; stuck is temporary, and even if part of you feels like it can’t go one more step, the other part of you can shimmy, pivot, and wriggle your way into freedom.

Just like that.

And the thing is all you need is a few baby steps to unstick your bitch’in self. It’s as easy as…

1) Change Your Scenery: I sat starting at a blank computer screen for two hours the day I started this post, with not one damn thought about what I could possibly write about. Lucky for me, I have a weekly mastermind group with my BBF — and yes, it’s just two of us — but that’s all the energy you need. I spent about a half hour at her house, and the goal I focused on was writing a kick ass post this week. In the calm of her living room, with the benefit of her perspective and insight, I recognized that my struggle today was universal and worth riffing on. The next morning instead of rolling around in my jammies and trying to get my mojo to rise, I showered, dressed, and headed out early to a coffee shop. All around me people were discussing big plans, interesting ideas (not that I was listening, but c’mon, how do you ignore someone with pink hair who’s gesticulating wildly?), and a zillion other topics. Who the hell knows — the buzz, caffeinated and otherwise, the inevitable coffee house jazz, and the energy popped the cork on my creative juice and got this here post a-flowin’.

2) Take Stock, Then Fake It Till You Make IT: The thing about being stuck is that you THINK you’ve never been here before. But we all have. There’s beauty in the c0nsistencies of life, and then there’s the flip side of familiarity: lethargy. So pull out the photo books, drag out your journals, pop online to your blog (which is what I did =), and look at all the crazy ass amazing shit you’ve done. If you’re lucky, you’ll land somewhere that will remind you of the last time that you were in a rut… and then somehow managed to break free and get back on track. In my case, I looked back at posts I’d written that I felt like I pulled out of my ass… and they weren’t half bad. The end result is never the point, anyways; it’s the path. Holding onto that creative space — actually, clinging to it for dear life — is the whole damn point. The ideal is to be authentic; the reality is sometimes you just have to bullshit your way through the sticky parts to get to the other side. In a super meta-moment, I’ll be honest and say this post is just that. But you know what? It’s all flowing now, and my fingers are struggling to keep up with my brain. That’s what I’m talkin’ about!

3) Now, Make a Commitment and JUMP!: And don’t tell me you’re not ready. Who gives a shit about ready? Now is the time to pick one thing that you know will move you forward and do it. In my case, my feelings of being stuck have been centered around my blog. Exactly three years ago, this blog was started because I wanted more than anything to be a published author, but I didn’t know how to get there. The answer was totally simple: just write, and use the publishing tools that anyone can access (i.e., a blog), and voila!  It is done. Some of my bigger dreams still loom — getting the novels I’ve written out there and finishing a musical that’s in progress are the two biggies. But smaller ones along the way, including writing creatively for a living (and if you’d like to read some of my musings on art and The Walking Dead, check out this and this, and also this hot-off-the-presses fan art salute to Mad Men), are happening for reals. One of my double secret surefire strategies to getting unstuck is to make tangible commitments to achieving your goals. In my case, the two best ways to ensure productivity is by making significant investments of time, and also, of money: For the last few weeks, I’ve been cock-blocking my creative rut by working on a redesign of this here blog, which will hopefully be ready for prime time next week. And I’m joining a writer’s group, too. That’s something that in my past has been a true test to me, but I also know it’s a kick ass way to stay accountable — in fact, it’s clearly the kick in the ass I really need. Because once the baby steps are done, it’s time to jump, and take a risk to propel you up and out of that damn rut!

So if you see me at a local coffee shop, typing frantically, just know what I’m really doing is taking a leap of faith. Even little hops are a jump, and when you achieve lift off, guess what? You’re officially unstuck.

How to Celebrate Every Day Without Really Trying

cake

Celebrate every Bitch’in day!

In the last couple of weeks, I have been a celebration jet setter. I’ve been to a bat mitzvah, a milestone birthday party, and a wedding vow renewal.

In between those big ass celebrations, there have been several smaller local ones. Even my Facebook timeline has been exploding every single day with invitations to wish somebody a happy birthday.

The curmudgeon in me had a minute before this festive month of March started in earnest. There’s been a lot of present shopping, with loads more to come. There were plane tickets to purchase, hotel rooms to book, dog sitters to hire, schedules to be shuffled, work days to be taken off, clothes to be dry cleaned, panty hose (!!) to be purchased, and all of that required time, money, and super human planning.

Getting prepared for the onslaught of festivities was busy, to say the least, and so to keep my focus, I wouldn’t miss it for the world became my mantra.

And so, I haven’t. And a few funny things happened on the way to each party…

The grind slipped away.

The scenery changed in dramatic and exciting ways. (Don’t hate me East Coasters but it’s been a heat wave in the West, AND a drought, so snow was amazing!)

I laughed, cried, and danced my ass off.

I ate a shitload of cake of all varieties: white cake with marzipan, decadent mousse, red velvet, and a brownie with chocolate sauce and ice cream on top. (I like to put brownies in the cake category because dense and fudgy is my definition of a good time). (Oh, and Paleo WHAT?)

I paused for reflection — real, deep, sweet — about each person that was being celebrated.

With each pause, in each moment, at all the festivities, love filled up the spaces and was the double secret special guest star at each event.

OK, maybe not so secret.

The preciousness of each event was balanced by backstories that preceded some of the beautiful events. For example, I’d made the same trip to the East Coast months earlier to stand with my BBF, the bat mitzvah girl’s mother, when she lost her father.

Of course he was one to live life to his fullest, and even wrote his own obituary. And it wasn’t an outline of the day-to-day; it was all about the far-flung places he travelled, the fulfilling aspects and major accomplishments of the work he did, and above all, the people he loved.

At the vow renewal — the second one I’ve attended for this coupla BBFs — as I stood at the side of the bride, I caught the eye of the groom as he looked at the wife. The intensity of his pure, unadulterated love for her literally took my breath away.

This from a man who had his own terrifying run-in with a serious illness this past year. You’d think that might have something to do with the whole renewal thing, but this was actually the fifth time the pair have said these vows. It’s their ritual — not a Liz Taylor-esque affectation — and it’s amazing to bear witness to their commitment.

The officiant spoke about how the pair celebrates their love twice each month in overt ways — with cards and flowers. Since we’re next-door neighbors, I see how my BBFs don’t even wait for special days to take connect with one and other.

Because pausing for a clear, kind, loving connection is its own kind of celebration. But in the rush of life, it’s so easy to blow off taking those moments to well, b in the moment.

Don’t postpone joy, a BBF once told me — it was the words she lived by in her own beautiful, albeit truncated life. She also advocated qualifying relationships on the basis of celebration — as in find someone who does the deed for you and with you, every single day.

I thought about that advice earlier this year when I made JOY the first of my three-word mantra for 2015. It’s the first word in all of my passwords. This is one way to celebrate without really trying.

Here are a few more I thought of to keep the good vibes flowing and the party continuing:

– Light candles.

– Think about one thing you’re grateful for every day. Bonus points if it’s a person or animal, and you remember to tell him/her that.

– Eat cake, or at least something sweet, at least once a day.

– Make a wish and exhale, hard. It’s a good way to set your intentions.

– Use the word “happy” as much as possible.

– Treat yourself to a present — it can be as simple as a latte instead of a plain old drip coffee in the morning.

– Pull on a pair of pantyhose, then immediately take them off. Enjoy that sense of freedom and comfort when you’re hose-less.

– Tell someone you love him/her. Because that’s the whole point of celebrating, isn’t it?

So if you see me lifting a glass of champagne, and it’s only Tuesday, just know that the celebration continues — and I’m bringing the good times, and the laughter too. Now, can I get a YAHOO?

5 Bitch’in 15 Minute Meals for Busy People

15 minutes till dinner!

15 minutes till dinner!

This morning I woke up faced with a giant quandary: I didn’t have a kick ass idea for this week’s post, and also I needed to get started making dinner… lunch… and breakfast.

And then it hit me: what kind of a maniac makes dinner at the same time as breakfast and lunch? The answer is me… you… and all of us. After all, there are only so many precooked chickens one can eat before sprouting feathers, and ordering in adds up.

In the great buffet of life, capturing and cooking food is a heaping portion of angst served up daily on our collective and overflowing mental plates. Today we want things healthy but quick, easy but complex — and it all feels so oxymoronic… emphasis on moronic. And it explains why we’re all prone to have massive existential crises while in line at Trader Joe’s.

So what’s a bitch’in Betty Crocker to do?

First off, you fill your kitchen with cheap yet time-cutting tools:

– A mini- prep food processor (you can find ‘em in cute colors for $40 or less)

– A garlic press

– A crockpot

– If you really don’t give a shit about the environment, get pre-prepped food like salad in a bag, peeled garlic and/or chopped, pre-chopped veggies, etc. (For the record, I try to ignore the siren song of these wasteful, over packaged items, but some weeks it’s too damn hard and I find myself tossing together a Caesar Salad in 3 seconds flat.)

Next, fill your mental pantry with the following fresh, 15-minute meals — it’s a week of time-cutting dinners that’ll spice up your life! Unless otherwise indicated, these recipes serve four people or three kinda hungry people or two totally starving people.

1) Awesome Artichoke Chicken

Ingredients
1 to 1 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken (make it one good sized breast per person), cut into chunks
1 12 oz. jar of marinated artichokes — keep the juice, chop the artichokes a little bit
1 onion, chopped (use your mini-prep – saves a ton of time and tears!)
1 box of white button mushrooms (even faster if you buy ‘em sliced)
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 lemon, juiced and zested a bitty bit
White wine (a cup for the recipe, and more for you)
2 tbsp. olive oil (optional)
Salt and pepper or lemon pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese (optional)

Serve with: Pasta, rice, or cooked spaghetti squash, whichever you prefer — you’ll prepare while you are making the artichoke chicken (Here’s a relatively fast way to prepare spaghetti squash in the microwave — 10-12 minutes to cook, plus 10 minutes to rest. Slightly out of my 15 minute range but faster than roasting.)

Directions
Pour the juice from the marinated artichokes into a large saucepan, and add the extra olive oil if you’d like.
Add the minced garlic, and sauté  over medium heat for a minute or so.
Throw in the onions and the mushrooms, and cook for about five minutes, so they are nice and soft, but not brown.
Add the chicken, and cook until it’s almost fully done.
Just as the chicken is finishing cooking, add the cup of white wine, the juice of a full lemon, a little zest from the lemon if you’re feeling extra culinary, and salt and pepper or lemon pepper to taste.
Let that simmer for a couple of minutes, so the sauce thickens slightly.
Add the artichokes last, tossing the whole shebang just enough to warm the chokes.
Try hard not to eat most of the food out of the pan before you serve the peeps – it’s not easy cuz this is so yummy!

Morning prep hint: If you want to get a jump on the prep work, you can always cut up the veggies and the chicken and store in the fridge till you get home from work.

2) Bitch’in Beef Stew (Crockpot): Note: This recipe actually cooks for 8 hours or so, which is of course outside of the 15 mins. But it only takes 15 minutes to prepare in the morning AND you have the benefit of coming home to an old fashioned home-cooked meal! It serves 4 people, but if you want more cuz you’re serving more people or want to freeze some to get two meals out of this, then just double the recipe

Ingredients
2 lbs. or as many lbs. as there is in one package of stew meat
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
A few tbsp. olive oil cup olive oil
1 large onion, diced (if you like onions a lot, which I do, you can do 2 onions) (use your mini-prep!)
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
1 small bag red potatoes, cut in halves or thirds, depending on the size of the potatoes (approx. 1 lb.)
Half a bag of baby carrots, more if you’re super into carrots
2 cups beef broth
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
Half of a bag of frozen peas, thawed

Serve with crusty bread to mop up that Bitch’in Beef Stew sauce if you’re fancy!

Directions
Coat the beef in the flour.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meat and brown it on both sides (approx. 5-7 mins.). Transfer to your crockpot.
Throw the onions in the pan, and cook over medium heat until they’re soft, around five minutes. Toss in the tomato paste and stir until the onions are coated; add the tomato/onion mixture to the crockpot.
Pour the wine into the skillet and scrape up any flour that’s stuck to the pan; throw it in the crockpot. (If you don’t have wine, just use more broth.
Add the potatoes, carrots, broth, salt, thyme, and bay leaf all in your now nearly full crockpot!
Cover and cook on low heat for 7 1/2 hours, or on high for 4 hours.
About 10 minutes before serving, add the peas and heat through.

3) To Die for Shrimp Scampi

Ingredients
1 1/2 pounds peeled, cleaned, and deveined medium shrimp, rinsed, drained and patted dry (Trader Joe’s sells a nice bag of frozen shrimp that you can defrost in the fridge all day or defrost quickly under cold water before you toss them in the pan)
1/4 cup olive oil (If you like your scampi more buttery, you can use a couple tbsp. unsalted butter and a couple tbsp. olive oil)
A half dozen garlic cloves, minced
3 or 4 lemons, juiced and maybe zested a bit
White wine (a cup for the recipe, and more for you)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, or a couple of tbsp. dried parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or more if you’re a spicy bitch
Kosher salt (to taste, up to a tbsp.) and pepper or lemon pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese (optional — I clearly just like to throw cheese on everything I possibly can)

Serve with: Angel hair pasta, rice, or cooked spaghetti squash, whichever you prefer — just like Awesome Artichoke Chicken. Cook the starch while you’re making the scampi. You can do it — you multitask like a mo’fo’, don’t kid yourself.

Directions
Warm the olive oil (medium heat) in the pan, and add the minced garlic.
Before the garlic browns, toss in the shrimp.
Cook for about five minutes, so the shrimp turns pink.
Turn the heat to low, and add the lemon juice, lemon zest (if you felt like zesting), the white wine, red pepper, salt, and pepper or lemon pepper. Let the sauce warm up, but don’t over cook the shrimp. Nobody enjoys rubbery shrimp!
If you’re serving this with pasta or spaghetti squash, I’d recommend tossing it in the pan with the scampi and mixing it up real good. YUMMMMMMM!

4) Terrific Turkey Fajitas

Ingredients
1 1/2 lbs. uncooked turkey breast, sliced in strips
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1 lime, juiced
2 tbsp. + 2 tsp. canola oil (or whatever oil you have – olive is fine, too)
2 large onions, thinly sliced
2-4 green and red peppers, sliced
8 small flour tortillas
Salt and pepper to taste
Shredded lettuce
Sour cream or plain yogurt (I like greek yogurt)
Salsa
Guacamole or sliced avocados if you don’t feel like making guac (you can always buy the guac, too)

I’d serve this with brown rice and black beans on the side if you want a heartier meal. Or just the fajitas for a nice light supper!

Directions
Turn the oven on to broil OR heat up the grill.
Rub the turkey with the cumin and coriander and put it in a shallow glass bowl (not aluminum). Add the lime juice and 2 tsp. oil, and turn the turkey pieces until they are well coated. Let sit for 5 minutes or so.
Put the 2 tbsp. oil in a large saucepan, and add the onions and peppers (medium heat0. Stir occasionally, as you cook the veggies until caramelized, about 10-12 minutes.
While the veggies are cooking, either toss the turkey pieces on the grill and cook (about 5-8 minutes) OR put them in the oven under the broiler for 2-3 minutes. Flip the strips over and broil for another minute or two.
When the turkey is done, heat the tortillas however you like to heat tortillas – put in foil and pop in the oven for 5 or 10 minutes, heat in the microwave, or warm on your stovetop (with a pan or not — I’ve seen it done lots of ways)

To serve, put a few turkey strips and some of the caramelized peppers and onions on each tortilla — everyone can add their own lettuce, salsa, guac, and sour cream or yogurt. Delish!

5) Kick Ass Curry - This one requires Trader Joe’s Curry Simmer Sauce or a like one from the India section in your local grocery story. Also, you can make this dish with or without meat. If you go full-on veggie, I’d recommend adding some other vegetables like cut up zucchini or carrots, whatever you dig. There are other suggestions on the TJ’s Curry Simmer Sauce bottle that sound good, but I’ve not made yet.

Ingredients
I jar Trader Joe’s Curry Simmer Sauce
I lb. boneless chicken, cut in chunks OR 1 1/2 lbs. bone-in chicken (optional)
1 cup water
1 onion, chopped
1 tbsp canola or olive oil
I head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 can of chickpeas, liquid drained
Fresh cilantro (if it’s easy and you enjoy cilantro)

Serve with: Basmati rice and if you’re feeling fancy, naan. Trader Joe’s has amazing garlic naan in the frozen section that’s so good, you might just eat the whole bag yourself. Not that I’ve ever done that…

Directions
Heat oil in a large skillet on medium heat, and add the onions.  If you are adding other veggies like zucchini or carrots, add now as well. Sauté for a few minutes until soft.
Empty jar of Curry Simmer Sauce and cup of water into a large skillet.
Add in the chicken (if you’re using) and cauliflower.
Cover and simmer on medium heat for 10-15 mins. until everything’s cooked through and tender. Stir occasionally.
Just before it’s all done, maybe 12 minutes in, add in the chickpeas. That adds a little special something to the texture, if not the flavor.

So if you see me sipping some wine, tasting a little Kick Ass Curry, and kicking back, just know I got this 15-minute meal thing down to a science. Hope you enjoy these quick recipes for Busy (BIS-y) people!

Since When Do Parents Need to Know Everything?

When you know everything

What it abooks like when you “know everything”

I’ll never forget the moment when my husband and I decided that it was time to leave our sweet little urban life in Park Slope, Brooklyn behind for what we assumed would be the relative ease of the suburbs.

My son was about six months old, and through chit-chat with my mommy group friends, I realized that if my kid was going to amount to anything in this lifetime, I’d better get him on the right list for the right preschool, which in turn would lead him to the right elementary school, the right middle school, the right high school, and you guessed it — the right college.

This was no easy task. I’d already missed the pre-birth window to get my son on a list for preschool, and so my options were already limited. A few months later, I finally got him in to a nursery school — but it definitely wasn’t the one all the cool cats were at.

That preschool wake-up call was a swift kick in the parenting nuts. We had had been too naive to check the school district before we bought our apartment, so our elementary school was the one that had a chain link fence around it and metal detectors inside of it. Private school was another route my mommy friends were discussing, but paying for Kindergarten at a rate I thought was reserved for college made no sense to me. (As if this were even an option! Had we really wanted in, the kid would’ve had to have done his pre-admission interview in utero.)

Overwhelmed by the amount of homework it was clear we’d have to do so as not to screw up our children academically speaking, my husband and I decided that a move would change everything. We had some Brady-ass shit clouding our minds as we assumed that once we hit the ‘burbs, it would be smooth sailing.

Initially, our theory seemed to pan out. In our new town, we were able to get our kids into the desirable co-op preschool relatively easily, although there was a bit of competition for that, too. The catch was that parents had to get involved by volunteering to help in the school, attending parenting classes, and participating in fundraising. The people who phoned it in were ostracized; so I learned pretty quickly to put a smile on my mug as I scrubbed tiny toilets, traded recipes for healthy snacks, and learned all the many ways I could be a better parent.

The list was about 1,000 miles long, and soon I realized that those “What to Expect…” books that went through the toddler years were actually required reading. And there would DEFINITELY be surprise quizzes, tests, and full-on exams that would be sprung upon us unwitting parents at any time.

Another move when my kids were moving into elementary school brought us to the LA-area, and a whole new Rubik’s cube of information I was supposed to be able to snap into alignment guided by logic and perhaps sheer chutzpah. Carol Brady was replaced by Sandra Tsing Loh, who wrote about the quest for the ideal education for her kids in Mother on Fire: A True Motherf%#$@ Story About Parenting! 

Clearly it was a humor book.

Back in my corner of the world, I learned that one misstep could cost my kid dearly. For example, I was thrilled to be among the first to hear about a new K-8 school that was opening just in time for my kids to attend, and it promised a simple solution to the labyrinth of the LA Unified School District’s “choices.” Unfortunately, I checked the wrong box when filling in information about my youngest, and it then took me TWO YEARS to get her into the spanky new school that I’d managed to get her brother in from the get-go.

When it came time for high school for my oldest, I inadvertently clicked on the wrong school year that he was either in, or going to be in (I still don’t know what I did), and so there was radio silence when everyone else was admitted. It took a mad scramble and much gnashing of teeth to correct the error and get him in to his desired PUBLIC high school just in the nick of time.

This is just the short list of the many ways not knowing every f*&#&%$ thing there is to know has cost my family. So now that my son is a sophomore and college looms (ok…. who the hell am I kidding… it’s been looming since preschool), I’ve been on a quest to get as much information as humanly possible so I don’t screw this thing up, too.

So this past weekend I went to a very informative session with a fancy-schmancy standardized test prep outfit. In addition to free muffins and coffee, we were treated to a very candid, very informative, and very depressing two-hour talk about the realities of getting into college. At this point, Carol Brady would be road kill, and Sandra Tsing Loh would be (even more) apocalyptic.

As I sat there, I imagined what I’d do if I had to take the SAT today:

Lucky for me, my admission to graduate-level parenting isn’t dependent on the SAT (or ACT… word up my friends, the SAT is changing in 2016, so if you’ve got a plain ol’, non-Mensa level kid, the ACT will be much easier to prepare for. I just saved you two hours, although you get no muffin with that…)

Unlucky for me (and you!), it’s clear the next few years are going to make that primary/secondary school Rubik’s cube look like child’s play.

This is what I was thinking when, knee-deep in hour two of the college prep meeting, one of the moms in the room blurted out, “Since when do we need to know everything? My parents had no idea about the SATs, or where I applied to college, and it was fine.”

Murmurs of approval ensued, but in my head, I stood up and gave the woman a standing- O, slow clap salute.

This is something I think about all the time, when I’m killing myself to volunteer, signing my kids up for 4,000 activities, and now, trying to crack every single flippin’ angle so that my children are guaranteed the perfect life. (This is the premise of my still-developing novel, Suburban Rhapsody: “A better life. The perfect life. I was pretty sure I’d recognize it when I saw it.”)

The idea that parents need to know everything, have their fingerprints on every aspect of their kids’ lives, and be immersed and enmeshed in everything from academics to athletics to social lives is totally freakin’ nuts.

It’s also a Gen-X special — we are cynical, skeptical, and utter control freaks. And deep down, the driving force I suspect is an impulse that says if I had it to do over…

The point is we don’t have it to do over, and it’s over to the kids now. Just like us, they are the drivers of their own destiny, and if we do our jobs right, it’s about now that we should be moving into the passenger side. (But go ahead and backseat drive — I know I do!)

So if you see me snapping my parenting books shut, just know I’ve done my homework, and I’m ready for whatever comes next. I don’t know it all, but all I do know is that children grow up, go to college… or not… not because of us, but in spite of us. And that’s some A+ advice to keep in mind, my bitches, when selecting from the multiple parenting choices presented to us every single day.

Blog image: “Exploding Head,” by Keith Haring

FlyHC

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