Monday, July 25, 2011

Storm King Getaway

Have you heard of Storm King? I knew nothing of it before coming across these gorgeous photos (click that link! you won't be disappointed) on the blog Sweet Fine Day and I'm now dying to go. Anybody up for a late summer getaway? The incredible sculpture park is located in the lower Hudson Valley of New York. Can you imagine a better way to spend an afternoon than wandering the 500 acres with picnic treats in tow, cartwheeling your way across the rolling hills as you admire one sculpture after another?!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Achieving Laser-Like Focus

Since I started working from home full-time and searching for a job in my new city, focus has become more important to me than ever. There no longer seem to be enough hours in the day to accomplish everything I want and still maintain a moderate level of sanity. As an avid list maker it seems easy enough to get all the to dos on paper, but it is also easy to become overwhelmed with the possibilities and wind up dabbling in a bit of everything... and accomplishing a whole lot of nothing. So here are a few tips I've picked up in my quest to achieve laser-like focus:

Remove the excess - First, make a list of all of the activities and commitments that fill your time in any given week. Include everything you can think of, from guilty pleasure TV shows to belly dancing classes to your daily coffee shop trip, you name it. Then, get those items off your plate that are not necessary and are not getting you closer to your goal. Less items on your list not only means fewer commitments vying for your time but also fewer potential distractions. Skipping that book club you're not so interested in, opting for clean bare nails over regular painting, quitting mindless TV watching, and generally learning to say "no" can serve you well when life is calling for your full attention. Remember, this does not mean you have to give these things up forever, just until your need for such a high level of focus has diminished.

Minimize that which can't be removed - Or... that which you're not quite willing to remove. I love reading blogs and listening to podcasts but minimizing the list of those I follow frees up time and energy for more pressing matters. Even if your not willing to remove an activity from your life fully, cutting back can make a big difference when you need to get down to business.

Set a schedule - Falling into a regular, predictable schedule can have a lot of benefits. No, it may not be the most exciting way to live, but when you hit a period of your life that calls for focus, routine is your friend. Whatever schedule you find that works for you, it should ensure ample sleep (no one can focus and yawn at the same time, 7-8 hours is best), consistent meal times (again, no one can focus while hungry or poorly nourished), daily exercise (releasing pent-up energy makes mental focus much easier), and plenty of time for uninterrupted focusing. After a couple of weeks, your schedule will start to become second nature - and just as regular physical exertion becomes easier when practiced every day, mental focus becomes easier when your brain is used to kicking into high gear at the same time each day.

Work in sprints - It can be taxing to focus fully on just one task at a time, especially for an extended period. Instead, prevent yourself from becoming burnt out by working in sprints. First, break your goals for the day into manageable tasks. Then, assign a realistic time-frame to each task. If any one of these tasks will take longer than 15 minutes to complete, try and break it down further. The idea here is that it is much easier to focus, completely uninterrupted, when we know we will be finished with the task at hand in a short period of time. Once your list for the day is chopped into manageable 15 minute chunks, get started! Take a short break after every couple of tasks to stretch your muscles or enjoy a little breathing meditation (i.e. an activity that won't completely suck you in to the point that you can't regain your focus and start working again).

Recharge - When it comes time to recharge, pursue your down time with the same level of focus you bring to your work. That means... no worrying about tomorrow's to-dos as you unwind, no working while you are eating, no emailing as you talk to your spouse, no re-living that conversation from work while you shower. Instead, bring your full attention to the present moment. Let go of the work you have completed; you gave it your full focus so there is nothing to regret and now it is time to move forward.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Lazy Sunday: Slow Walk

Lazy Sunday: Slow Walk

I love walking, and city living means doing lots of it. Usually, however, walking in the city involves some combination of a quick clip, blaring headphones, a destination, and a deadline. But instead, this weekend I've embraced* the art of walking slowly.

At a slower pace, deeper, fuller breathing comes naturally and continually focusing on slowing your steps begins to slow your mind chatter too. Headphone free, it's easy to tune into your surroundings and feel more present, more connected. Without a set destination, you have the freedom to explore a new neighborhood, peak at that garden smiling at you from around the corner, or head down your favorite street "just because". No time constraints means you can go as slowly as you can stand, and not worry about what's to come next. So pop on a breezy outfit - a paper thin tunic and super soft shorts perhaps - and go for a nice, slow, walk.

*Well... I didn't intentionally embrace it so much as become aware of the benefits of slow walking when I wore a pair of not too comfy shoes that forced me to walk super slow and forgot my headphones at home, but regardless.

How to Store Fresh Produce

Since moving to our new place, I have developed a weekend ritual of going to the farmers market. Surrounded by a veritable rainbow of fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs, and even homemade soaps, it's the perfect place for some kitchen inspiration. Because all the produce we buy at the market is local, organic, and ripe, it is best enjoyed as soon as possible for maximum flavor and ideal texture. Of course, you'll want your produce to stay fresh and delicious for as long as possible so nothing goes to waste. I have learned the hard way that improper produce storage can mean serious cash down the drain (or in the compost, as the case may be) and compromise your carefully planned meals. Just the other day I was so excited to make a homemade basil pasta dish and... lo and behold... I pulled the basil out of the fridge only to discover it has become a grey, shriveled shadow of it's once lush and leafy self.

So today I thought I'd share some of what I have learned about the storage of some specific food items. In fact, this is exactly what I picked up at the market this past weekend, and when I got home I did some research before properly putting away each one.

Wrap the bundle of chives in a damp paper town and place them in a plastic bag. Store in the fridge. Wash just before use.

Sugar Snap Peas
Keep these peas in an unsealed plastic bag in the fridge. Wash just before use.

Corn on the Cob
Apparently, as soon as corn is picked the sugars in the corn kernels start changing into starch. This means you will want to eat the corn as soon as possible for the sweetest flavor. If you can't eat it right away, however, leave the husks on and toss them in the fridge for up to a couple of days.

If your peaches are ripe, they can be left on their own (no bag needed) at room temperature for 3-4 days. Try to keep them spread out so each peach has some breathing room - they're less likely to get bruised or develop soft spots too quickly that way. Wash just before eating. You can also keep them in a plastic bag in the fridge if they're ripe and you prefer your peaches on the chilly side.

Rinse the cherries in a colander, leaving the stems on, then carefully pat dry with a paper towel or clean kitchen towel. Loosely pack the cherries in a bowl, and cover with a lid or plastic wrap. Store in the fridge.

Without washing the mushrooms, place them in a paper bag. You'll want to store these in a part of your fridge that is dry. I set one of our produce drawers to it's driest setting and tossed them in there. These should stay fresh for 5 days or so.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Umbrella Inspiration

Friday brought quite the afternoon storm and while my pocket-sized, cheetah-print umbrella kept me visible in the quickly flooding streets, I can't say it kept me too terribly dry on the walk to yoga. While my shoes are still perched on the air conditioner, waiting to dry out, I'm on the hunt for some new umbrella inspiration. How cute are these?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Washington, D.C.

Hello friends! Since I last dropped by these parts, my boyfriend and I moved to Washington, DC! I've started working from home full time, begun the job search for a new gig, and even had my first guest visit for a few days. It's been a very busy month since we left Boston, but here's what I've learned in short:

- When you move, unpack the kitchen first. With a functioning kitchen, you can fix meals and snacks and save tons of money by not having to eat out constantly during the week or so it takes to properly unpack everything else. Learn from our mistake; moving your stuff around all day makes you very hungry, and we spent way too much on sub-par sandwiches and salads from random restaurants in our new 'hood. You'll eat much healthier too.

- While everyone looks for something different when choosing a new abode, there's a lot to be said for location. We opted to pay a bit more to live in a spot that puts us just a few blocks from the metro, multiple grocery stores, the farmers market, a darling tea shoppe, a second hand bookstore, a yoga studio... pretty much everything a girl could need, and I couldn't be happier with our new home. I've removed the stress of having to drive from my life and my legs are feeling happy and strong from all the walking, it's a win-win!

- Job searching can be exhausting and trying for even the most patient among us. Tip for the loved ones of job seekers: please refrain from uttering that dreaded question, "Find a job yet?", even in jest. Stick with, "How is the job search going?", and prevent an awkward moment of genuine frustration and annoyance.

- It turns out making bagels from scratch isn't as tricky as one might think. Check out this tasty little basket of goodness my sister-in-law and I hand crafted.

- If you frequently work from your laptop, like I do, investing in a few additional tools can make your workspace much more comfortable and ergonomic. A laptop stand that raises your laptop up to meet your natural gaze will keep your neck comfortable after hours at your desk. I also highly recommend a wireless keyboard (I went for the Logitech solar powered model and have been very happy with it so far) and a wireless mouse to keep your workspace clutter free.

- Speaking of desks, if you're looking for an inexpensive option, check out the Ikea Vika Amon table top with the Vika Lerberg trestle legs. This set-up only cost me $40 and was very easy to assemble, you just have to put together the trestle legs and the table top balances sturdily on top -making it easy to disassemble and move. I do not, however, suggest getting lost in your new city and making it to Ikea a mere 30 minutes before closing time with no idea what you want... but that's another story.