Cleaning and Scrubbing...

 2011-12-29

When I was a little girl, my mother had a picture frame hanging in her bedroom with a particular saying that I absolutely loved.  When Roland was born, I asked her if she still had it; she searched the house and was unable to find it.  This Christmas, I was completely surprised when she presented it to me!


As I thought about the saying as a new mother, it helped to ground me, and realize that being perfect or attempting to be perfect at everything wasn't necessarily my most important task - learning to slow down and cherish the special moments in life with my new family was.  I now have a visual daily reminder for when life gets chaotic and the small things start to take over.




I hope you enjoy this saying as much as I do!

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Left Neglected - Book Review

 2011-12-27

Left NeglectedLeft Neglected by Lisa Genova

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This book is an A+. I found out about the book from my friend Kellie and after our discussion, was anxious to read for many reasons. Through personal experiences, I have always had a keen interest in neurological disorders and how they shape and impact our lives. Additionally, the main character Sarah Nickerson portrayed a woman that I could see in my future; but did I want that woman in my future?



Sarah is a corporate executive for a HR recruiting firm and is driven by success. She has three children, and a husband who is equally driven. It is immediately apparent that their careers shape their lives and I found myself instantly judging the family for their particular lifestyle. Mornings are overcome with blackberries and emails, they drop the kids off for school, daycare, or with the nannie; work continues throughout the day and into the evening hours. A quick dinner with the family at 6 and then its back to the grind. Their nanny plays a huge role into the development of the children and unfortunately, their son Charlie is suffering from ADHD, which goes unnoticed for quite some time.



Their lives suddenly change when Sarah is in an accident and finds herself suffering from Left Neglect - a neurological disorder where the brain fails to recognize the left side of the body. Imagine a world where you don't know or can't feel your left arm, leg, can't read words on the left side of the page.



There are many themes throughout the book that could have been more developed. For example, Sarah's relationship with her mother as well as the focus on Charlie and his ADHD. Nonetheless, I found myself contemplating the life of Sarah and questioning myself on if that was the life I wanted. Through numerous avenues, I have been exposed to the challenge of 'finding your passion' and there was a particular passage that caught my attention:



Ever since business school, I've had my head down, barreling a thousand miles an hour, wearing the flesh of each day down to the bone, pointed down one road toward a single goal. A successful life. And not just run-of-the-mill success. The kind of success that my fellow elite classmates would envy, the kind that my professors would cart out to future students as a shining example of achievement, the kind that even the exceptionally prosperous citizens of Welmont would aspire to, the kind that Bob (her husband) would be proud of. The kind of visibly successful life that would in every way be the exact opposite of the broken, shameful life of my childhood.



For that passage, I am grateful. Up to this point, I have been trying to define a successful life, and have struggled quite like Sarah; I do feel that I'm closer or rather, more exposed to the world around me to help shape and define what success means to me. Like Sarah, I'm wondering if I am defining success through the lens of my peers, rather than through my own personal lens. I don't believe this is something that can be answered instantaneously, but rather through deep thought and over a period of time.





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Blue Ribbon Blog Award

As a blogger, I often wonder if my blog posts are relevant, interesting and provide meaningful information to my readers.  I love the comments my readers leave and use that as reassurance that the posts are interesting and appeal to others.  I was pleasantly surprised and excited when Katie from 'Mommy with a Selective Memory' selected my post on "Picky Eater? Perhaps Not." as runner up in the Blue Ribbon Blog Award!

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I started this blog with the intent of eventually expanding on and compiling my blogs into a book for Roland so he can gain insight into the transition between 'Husband and Wife' to the start of a family all while balancing work and life at the same time. Thanks for the motivation, Katie!!



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Merry Christmas!

 2011-12-25

Today was a special day in our family history; it was the first Christmas we spent together as a family in New Jersey.


The hubby and I grew up in western PA and spent every Christmas for the past 29+ years back in good old Indiana, PA (for you trivia lovers - it is the Christmas Tree capital of the world!) We've been in New Jersey since 2003 and typically, every Christmas goes something like this...

We usually make the 6 hour trip back to PA a few days before Christmas, spend Christmas Eve with my family enjoying a delicious home-cooked meal featuring seafood - shrimp, scallops, and my favorite, crab legs! After what is typically a long, long night, we get up early Christmas morning, open some presents and head over to the Hubby's family - an afternoon at Miss Amy's house.  It is a very fun, but hectic few days as we reminisce over years past (ah-hem Roger's 12 hour turkey) and find ourselves with only a few days to catch our breath before the new year starts.

This year, we decided to spend Christmas in NJ since Roland is somewhat aware of Christmas and Santa Claus.  I must say, this had to be the most relaxing Christmas we've ever had and quite memorable too!


Roland woke up around 7:00 this morning and spent the next 1 hour and 45 minutes carefully opening up his Christmas presents.



We enjoyed a beautiful Christmas breakfast (recipe to follow), delicious ham dinner all while spending the day in our Christmas PJs! It was fabulous!


You often hear that 'marriage is the beautiful blending of two lives'; while I believe that to be true, sharing a child has made me appreciate even more the wonderful relationship that I share with the hubby.  As we were wrapping gifts last night, we talked about our favorite Christmas memories we had as children and decided which traditions we would carry over with our family - for example, each child will get a solid color wrapping paper with bows (his favorite) and the stockings will hang in their regular spot, rather than end up under the tree (my favorite).

I did miss seeing our family today and spending the day with them, but I thoroughly enjoyed making our own memories!

Merry Christmas!!

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Rollie's Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookies Anthesis

 2011-12-21

I started off today completely excited that we were about to bake THE NEIMAN MARCUS CHOCOLATE CHIP cookies.  I've heard so much about them and was completely confident that our baking skills were up to the challenge.

My father-in-law 'Rollie' gave us the recipe last night and I did a quick google search to ensure that we had everything we needed.  To my surprise, I was comparing two totally different cookie recipes!  Turns out, Rollie's recipe wasn't even close to the Neiman Marcus recipe! A bit upset, I figured that we might as well bake them since we had all the ingredients...and boy am I glad we did! These just might be THE BEST chocolate chip cookies I've ever had!



Ingredients

  • 2 cups butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 4 cups flour
  • 5 cups blended oatmeal
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 24 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 8 oz Hershey bar grated (we actually used 2 regular sized 4.4 oz Hershey bars)
  • 3 cups chopped nuts (optional, we did not include)
Directions
  • Measure oatmeal and blend to fine powder

  • Cream butter and both sugars.  Add eggs and vanilla.
  • Combine flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda and sift to combine ingredients.  
  • Combine oatmeal and flour mixture to sugar mixture

  • Add chocolate chips, grated Hershey bar and nuts. 
  • Roll into ping-pong size balls and place 2" apart on cookie sheet




  • Bake at 375 for 10 minutes (please note this depends on your oven; we baked for 15 minutes)
  • Rollie said it makes 10 dozen, we got 86 cookies (a little over 7 dozen)


Notes: The quantity of dough near the end of the mixing process is entirely too much for my standard Kitchen Aid mixer.  We had to get creative mixing in the last bit of the oatmeal by separating the batter into two manageable batches and then combining at the end to add in the chocolate.  We later found out that the recipe can be cut in half to manage the batter!!



Now, I think it's time to make the Neiman Marcus recipe and compare!!





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Rollie's Christmas Sugar Cookies

 2011-12-16

This past weekend, the Hubby and I were preparing for my friend's annual Christmas Cookie Exchange.  Typically, we make 'Eggnog Thumbprints' but this year, we decided to switch to an old favorite...Rollie's Famous (my father-in-law) Christmas Sugar Cookies.

The recipe is easy, just mix up a quick batch, let it rest in the fridge for a few hours, put the kiddo's to bed, pour a glass of wine, roll out the dough and start cutting!


Sugar Cookie Recipe

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 5 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
In a large bowl, combine sugar, sour cream, eggs, butter and shortening.  Beat at medium speed until light and fluffy.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and gently tap through a sifter to remove lumps from flour and combine the ingredients.  Add the flour mixture to butter mixture, add almond extracts, vanilla and salt.  

Beat at low speed until soft dough.  Divide dough into 4 quarters, cover in plastic wrap and place in fridge for at least one hour.  (You want to work small portions of the dough to ensure that the dough stays cold.) 

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Starting with one quarter, roll out the dough on a well floured surface to 1/4 inch thick.  Using 3" cookie cutter, cut desired shapes into dough and place on cookie sheet 2" apart and bake ~10 minutes until lightly golden brown...

Keep in mind, my father-in-law's recipe indicates you should bake for 6-8 minutes...we baked for 16. 

Let the cookies cool and then begin the icing process! 

Sugar Cookie Recipe

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 3-4 tbsp milk
  • food coloring (optional)
In a large bowl, combine buter, shortening, vanilla and beat until creamy.  Add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, and beat at low speed until well blended.  Add milk, and beat on medium speed until fluffy.  

HOPE YOU ENJOY THE COOKIES!! 

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A Three Part Journey. Part 3: Lessons Learned

 2011-12-06

A short note:  As I was contemplating writing this post, I realized that there was a strong possibility that the post could end up being quite lengthly.  As a result, I decided to tell this story in three parts: 
1. The Ego - provides background information on a struggle I recently faced at work.  
2. It's Complicated - a realization that we are human, and being human, stress can affect us in many ways 
3. Lessons Learned - summary of what I learned from the struggle


First, let's start with lessons learned from 'The Ego.'  


The night after I had the bizarre conversation with my mentor, I was telling my husband the story of what happened.  He encouraged me to just let it go, "It's just a saying, you're looking too much in to it."  Being the analytical person I am, I couldn't just let it go.  


I started thinking, "Ego, what would prompt him to say Ego?"  Coincidentally, a few days before the conversation with my mentor, I was flipping through channels on the TV and stopped on OWN, where Oprah was talking about the ego (bizarre, right).  She categorized an ego as one's association with material items, titles, status, etc.  Thinking back to her statement, coupled with my puzzling question, I started to ponder...


- Ah-ha 1: I recently gave a presentation where I introduced myself as VP of our local Society of Women Engineers chapter - the presentation was a dry run for my seminar at our National Conference, so naturally, I would introduce myself with my affiliation with SWE.  Now, how could my association with SWE be mis-intrepreted?  Basically, a lack of understanding for why I am involved.  When I graduated 'high-school', I was certain that an engineer drove a train.  I had no clue the vast nature of the engineering field and was gradually exposed to it through my higher education.  SWE has provided me with so many opportunities and has inspired me in many ways.  I feel that it is now time for me to give back, to introduce young girls to the field (young girls who may be confused about engineering), and to do my part in trying to make sure our country can reverse our decline in math and science national rankings. 


- Ah-ha 2: I've created and presented numerous presentations discussing 'Negotiation Strategies for Women', 'The Diary of a Working Mother', and 'Benefits of Engineering Rotation Programs.'  In every instance, I was faced with a difficult situation, a situation I didn't understand and immediately realized that there may be others at my level who are in similar situations.  That realization prompted me to put together my knowledge into a seminar and share my knowledge with others.  In every instance, I caveat that I am not a professional negotiator, or a registered psychologist.  I'm just little ole' me sharing my lessons learned with whomever is interested in listening.  As I was waiting for my MRI last week, I picked up and read the article in The Oprah Magazine that referenced Maya Angelou's quote 'When You Learn, Teach."  And I realized that is exactly what I do...I don't wait until I'm a dominant force in the particular field, I share knowledge as I go.  


Now let's assess 'It's Complicated': 


- Ah-ha 3: The combination of my work responsibilities and my extra curricular activities definitely heightens my stress level and I'm more aware of it now than I was before thanks to the migraine.  I've come to the realization that there are things in life that you have to do, and things in life that you want to do.  If you can minimize the gap between the two...essentially, if you are fortunate enough to find your passion, you no longer have a gap.  Your 'have to do' will become your 'want to do'.  


- Ah-ha 4: I am not perfect, I am not invincible and I am not exempt from stress.  Stress effects everyone and I'm grateful for this experience, realizing that I need an effective way to manage stress so that it doesn't impact my future plans with my family.  


- Ah-ha 5: Passion is good, but don't be too passionate.  Recently at work, I was given feedback to 'not take things so personally.'  Initially I thought, 'How is this possible? How can I not take this personally? I spend 40+ hours a week at my job, it defines me as a person.  I spend more time at work than I do with my family, so how do you not take it personally?'.  I don't have an answer to this, but I am making an effort to work through it.  At the end of the day, people are just trying to get the job done in the best way they know how.  I'll keep you posted as I learn more about this one...I think this one is an ongoing process.  If anyone has any advice on this subject, please chime in! 


As far as the customer goes, I really have no hard feelings against them.  And in fact, I'm grateful for the experience.  I've learned a tremendous amount about myself as a person over the last year.  And in an effort to 'not take things too personally', I realize that there may be circumstances on their end that cause them to act or react the way they do.  I have no control over that, so all I can do is to do my best.  


A big thank you to Oprah on this one, too! An unbelievable teacher with amazing insight.  

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A Three Part Journey. Part 2: It's Complicated

 2011-12-03

A short note:  As I was contemplating writing this post, I realized that there was a strong possibility that the post could end up being quite lengthly.  As a result, I decided to tell this story in three parts:
1. The Ego - provides background information on a struggle I recently faced at work. 
2. It's Complicated - a realization that we are human, and being human, stress can affect us in many ways 
3. Lessons Learned - summary of what I learned from the struggle

Hope you enjoy :)

Part 1 set the foundation for the frustrating work situation I was experiencing.  As you'll read in 'Lessons Learned', I'm actually grateful for having to go through that entire experience.  At the same time, I was extremely lucky to be offered a position on another technology development effort and the plan was for me to transition my original role on to one of our younger PMs.  Everyone decided that it would be best to wait to transition that role until our customer situation was in a better position.

The delay of the transition meant continued additional work on top of my already crazy work load.  It also meant that I would be putting more stress on myself - stress that wasn't necessary.  I try to keep a very conscious effort on my work time vs. home time, almost to the point where I lose sight of what I am actually trying to accomplish.

In a typical day, we get up around 5:30 am, eat breakfast and get out the door by 7:00.  By the time drop off occurs, or if we have any morning delays, I usually make it to work between 7:30 and 8:00.  Days filled with meetings leave little time to actually get work done and I'm usually on pick-up duty which means that I need to leave work around 4:30 pm.  By the time we get home, prepare/eat dinner, prepare tomorrow's daycare food, play with Roland and put him to bed, it's close to 8:00 and yes, I'm exhausted. Needless to say, the last thing I feel like doing is logging on to do work at 9:00 at night.  At the same time, my pre-baby work ethic kicks in and I feel guilty about not logging on to do work.  If I could just finish this one report, or review that one financial report.  It's a 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' type feeling.  It is a struggle to know when to say enough is enough.  Again, in an ideal world, you would have unlimited time, be able to perfect every report before it goes 'prime time', but...we don't live in an ideal world, so I'm learning to say 'good enough' and go with it.

Until this point in my life, I thought I was invincible.  I would often hear of other people suffering from 'stress-related' or 'stress-induced' illnesses, but I never thought that would happen to me.  Well...

The hubby had jury-duty in a neighboring town, so we all jumped in the car to map out his route.  I was driving and I looked up in the sky and saw a plane which had an extremely bright light.  Instantly I experienced a pain in my eye and then, something just wasn't right.  But what was it?  There's a car in front of me, a car in the right lane but I didn't really notice anything to my left.  We were stopped at a traffic light and there was a construction vehicle one car ahead and to the right with a sign on the door.  "Hey Ro, what does that sign say on his car?"

In an instant, I was immediately frightened.  I couldn't see anything out of my left eye.  I carefully worked my way to the right lane and pulled off the road so we could switch drivers.  My vision started to come back, however I could see an arch shaped illusion in my left eye that started at the bottom of my field of view and worked its way to the top.  When my eye-sight was back to normal (after ~10 minutes) and I got a numbing sensation down my left arm where my thumb and pointer finger went numb.

An hour later, I experienced the most excruciating, horrendous pain in my head.  Yes, I was experiencing my first migraine.  Slightly paranoid from the loss of vision and numbness, we decided to call our friend to watch Roland while the hubby took me to the ER.  Four hours later, with no pain and a lot of medicine, I was released from the hospital with direct instructions to follow-up with a neurologist.

Two days later, I found myself sitting with the neurologist, describing the event in detail.  After an hour and a half in her office, paperwork for blood-work, an MRI/MRA she was ready to give the diagnosis.  "You definitely experienced a migraine, however you have what is called a 'hemiplegic' or complicated migraine. Basically, it's a migraine where you experience stroke-like symptoms with sensory and/or loss of muscles." 


The good news was that all of my symptoms made perfect sense...the blood vessels constricted, stopping the blood flow to the back of my brain causing me to lose vision in my left eye.  When the blood vessels opened, there was a surge of blood, hence the rainbow shaped illusion I saw in my field of view.

The bad news...no wine, no chocolate, no coffee...no stress (ok, so perhaps not 100% bad news).  She was convinced that stress played a big part in the migraine.  Knock on wood, I haven't had a repeat in three weeks, but I have realized how much self induced stress I put on myself.

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