Reclaiming this space and the journey

Photo cred: Alex Krivec

Maybe it is being in my thirties or having two kids instead of one or the postpartum anxiety, but I’ve reached this feeling of having stalled out. That feeling where you’ve accomplished all of the really cool things in your life. That new experiences are a thing of the past. That you are to old to try something different, challenge yourself, and face down insecurities.

It is way to early in life for that!

So I am embarking on a journey to fully embrace what I started this blog for, hopefully gain a little of my swagger back (who am I kidding I never had swagger, I’d twist my ankle), and find not only peace but growth in this new season of life.

When I started the blog I was transitioning into motherhood and out of what I thought was going to be a long term career in travel. I started this blog as a way to stay accountable to my goal of keeping my eyes open to the world and  embracing exploration. We spend so much time online and shuffling from place to place we miss the adventure that lives in each day. I started this blog to eat, travel, and meet amazing people and build my own adventure.

I want to continue to grow, learn, and challenge myself. I want to finish life saying I really lived it and provide lots of amazing memories for my children. I want to try new things – things that scare me, that make me anxious, that force me to face down insecurities and unrealistic fears of failure.

I want to meet new people – yes me, a hardcore introvert with anxiety (legit I take meds for that) want to meet people. I want to connect with people following their passions and writing their own story of life. I want to be inspired by their creativity, joy, and ability to face down their own fears.

And of course I want to eat and travel to experience new flavors, see new places, and meet new people.

So, I’m reclaiming that challenge and I’m sharing the journey as a way to stay accountable, provide a journal for my kids to look back on, and, hopefully, inspire some of you to do take on a new challenge, explore a new place, or meet some new people.

Here we go!

 

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Lemon Muffins and Postpartum

What do lemon muffins have to do with postpartum? In this case a whole lot. Just like writing these words has everything to do with the journey forward.

You see, after finding out we were expecting our second child we knew we would be done building our family. My last pregnancy. An opportunity to enjoy the experience.

I also knew post-baby life would be different than the first go around, but I had no idea just how different. After the birth of our first child it wasn’t all rainbows and flowers, but it was nothing like the past several months.

The constant gnawing anxiety with no apparent source. Doubt and self-defeating thoughts that cloud the brain. Fake smiles and disinterest in everything that once fueled my life. At first, I chalked it up to having a second preemie and the stress of being in the NICU. Then it was the lack of sleep and returning to work full time. The constant juggling of home, work, an active five-year-old, and a not so active infant.

Taking a deep breath before going into work. Another as I arrived home. One as the rest of the family pulls into the garage . . . and on and on throughout everything that was small and mundane.

However, after months of reassuring myself that it would all pass I realized I couldn’t live like this anymore – and I don’t have to! Asking for help is never easy, but some things you just can’t do alone. So I’ve asked for help, I’m taking steps, and I’m speaking about it because I know I am not alone.

Lemon muffins

And these lemon muffins (and these words) are part of the first step to bringing a little sunshine into my life. Even though right now I must force myself to bake and write – two things that always just came naturally – I believe that with work and professional help I will get back to the lighthearted mom I know I am.

Were these muffins the answer? No, but they were a small step in the right direction. An opportunity to get back to a beloved activity and even better was seeing the smiles on my little ones faces when they got to have them for breakfast. So, for now we will enjoy our little clouds of lemony sunshine and hold each other tight.

I hope you enjoy these lemon muffins with your family and friends and find the sunshine you need in your life.

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5 Lessons learned from an elderly neighbor

We all have “older” people in our lives. People we look up to and who if we pay close enough attention have some valuable lessons to share. My grandmother has always been one of those people for me. She is a spry, brutally honest firecracker well into her 80s. The thing is, I will always remember her as the younger woman who helped raise me. Living several states away I don’t get to see her very often so the lessons she continues to teach me to this day are less glaringly obvious than the ones learned from those closest to me.

In my early twenties I worked in a long-term care facility, which was a daily reminder of the fragility of the mind and body. After moving on from that job, I found myself surrounded by much younger people which is usually the case. You find young families congregated together in neighborhoods, workplaces, and social circles. I had begun to lose sight of some of the lessons of those older and wiser than I.

Then we moved into an established neighborhood with a mix of ages, styles, and interests. We found ourselves sharing a fence and swapping stories with a soft spoken, but wise elderly gentleman. To be honest, it has been a blessing to be raising our family with a reminder of what life holds for us living nearby.

If I listen to every short conversation we share I’m sure I could fill a whole book with insights and gems of advice, but I’ve taken away a few precious nuggets I’d like to share with you.

GG and Olivia1. Do everything you want to do while you can still do it. We all make excuses for why we don’t get to that one item on our list, but we won’t be able to do everything forever.

2. Take joy in the physical labor – even the mundane and dirty – because one day you will be watching others doing these things and wishing only that you could be doing them too.

3. In the rush to get things done, don’t forget the precious moments with family, friends, and by yourself. Children don’t stay small and we won’t be on this Earth forever, so grab hold of those simple kisses, hugs, and laughs. Hold them tight and close to your heart.

4. Find something you love to do that you can do for years. It doesn’t matter what it is, but it will keep you active and engaged and sometimes that is the only thing that keeps you going.

5. Don’t close yourself off. Family, friends, and neighbors will come and go. The main thing to remember is that there are new people who will come into your life all the time and you have to be open to accepting and enjoying that. The pain of loss is strong, but the joy of companionship is stronger.

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Weekly randomness: bouncy house, zombies, and wanderlust

SleepThis picture pretty much sums up how I have felt all week. On a typical week I am rushing between family time, work, and school which can leave anyone feeling a little drained, but this past week was our daughter’s third birthday and we wanted to make it extra special. So we threw a special bash and invited friends and family to our house, which equals deep cleaning, a late night arrival by family from Illinois, and lots of extra little errands to run.

All of that work and loss of sleep was well worth it though.

Olivia jumpsgiftscakeOlivia loves to jump or as she says “jump, boing, hop” so we rented a bouncy house for everyone to enjoy. We highly recommend Twin Cities Inflatables.

What birthday party is complete without a birthday cake? I searched all over for a local bakery to get our cake from and landed on Taste of Love bakery. Marie at Taste of Love did a fantastic job on our Doc McStuffins cake. A delicious and beautiful double layer chocolate cake covered in pink buttercream with smooth buttercream separating the two cake layers. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. If you get the chance, check out the cupcakes, cinnamon rolls, and other goodies from this local gem.

Of course, my mind never stopped running full throttle this past week so I still found lots of things to check out and share with everyone 🙂

zombies runningNeed motivation to keep the pace up when you’re running? There is a new app that taps into our basic instinct to fight or flee when in danger. Zombies, run! mixes gaming with exercise and definitely gets your heart beating faster during a work out. The app sets the stage during your workout with a story that you are out to get supplies in a world overrun by zombies. Your music playlist still plays, but every once in a while you get a message that a zombie is gaining on you and then you get a beeping sound that increases in frequency as the zombie gets closer. I didn’t think it would affect pace – it is fake after all – but without even realizing it the pace increased to get away from the zombies. So if we ever have a zombie apocalypse I guess I will be well trained for the supply runs.

EAT! Vancouver

EAT! Vancouver Food and Cooking Festival Pastry Tasting and Panel Discussion.

As part of my economics class I am working on a group project for business travel. All this talk about hotels and airlines is making my wanderlust kick into hyperdrive. So of course I’ve been looking at places to go, people to meet, and foods to try. And I stumbled across EAT! Vancouver Food and Cooking Festival. Definitely going on the list!

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Girls’ day out – toddler style

I’ve never been great at relaxing and although I’ve had many wonderful female friends in my life, I’ve never gotten the girls’ day concept. I will admit I occasionally get jealous of the posts about girlfriends grabbing coffee and heading to the salon or shopping and treating themselves to a little something.

Maybe, that is why I decided to start small – literally. Olivia had a day off school and I had a day off work so instead of just hanging around the house like we normally do I decided to plan a girls’ day out on the town. Of course, I had to keep little hands and interests appeased so there would be no salon stop. But, we would still have a coffee stop, shopping, and lots of treating ourselves to a good time.

If you ask Olivia where she wants to go in the morning, the answer will most likely be Caribou. We aren’t really sure where the preference or brainwashing came from, but she does have good taste. So that is where we started our day together. Sitting at a table with my iced coffee, her strawberry banana smoothie, and crumbs from a apple cinnamon muffin making their way across every available surface.Caribou coffee

The second place Olivia is sure to tell you she wants to go is Target. What can I say, we live in Minnesota? The kid talks about Target all the time, can spot a Target from miles away, and really should be in one of their ads. This is sort of the perfect place to wander on a girls’ day . . . we played with toys, found some cute spring outfits, ate a rice krispy treat, and found some new snacks (we are both grazers).

The place I was most excited for was the Stages Theatre in Hopkins. I had been looking for a fun show to take Olivia to, but I’m not sure she would sit through a movie in the movie theater and the Children’s theater can be so expensive (come on she is three years old and we are watching a weekday production of a children’s book!). So when I found out Stages Theatre Company puts on shows for children that bring their favorite children’s books and fairytales to life and it only costs $16.00 per person ­- I was sold. I had never been to downtown Hopkins, but it is a traditional little downtown with free public parking so win-win all around. The small theater is perfect for a group of fidgety kids. Comfy seats, booster seats provided, nothing is to far from the stage, and the length of the show is long enough to test their ability to sit still, but not so long that you need a cranky child intermission. For Olivia’s first ever theater visit we saw Goodnight Moon. The show was a cute rendition with talented acting, wonderful lights and sound effects, and a colorful set that kept our eyes glued to the stage.

Stages ThreatreAfter watching the bunny refuse bedtime and have a few adventures we were off to continue girls’ day. It was lunch time and both of our tummies were calling so we headed to a new spot – PizzaRev. I had never even heard of the place, but it was a tasty spot to stumble upon. A build your own pizza joint with a variety of topping options and a wonderful crackery thin crust. I let Olivia pick the toppings and we, of course, ended up with pepperoni, but surprisingly we also finished the pie off with mushrooms, black olives, and spinach. The pizza was great for sharing with a little one or you could easily have your own. All done in 15 minutes tasting fantastic it was a great find for when you have a hungry toddler in tow.Pizza Rev

After a second stop at Target (because why would we buy everything we need in one visit!) we finally headed home exhausted, but so happy. I think I get the appeal of the girls’ day now. I know for sure I’ll be doing more with Olivia and I can’t wait to see what new places we find as she gets older.

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Roasted butternut squash and quinoa salad

I can remember Christmas day at my grand parents house with all four of my dad’s siblings there with their families. More than a dozen of us crammed into a little farmhouse, but having a great time.

The meal was the main event – okay, besides the presents. We would have turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, broccoli rice bake, rolls, and much more. The drinks and conversation would flow and there seemed to be a glow coming from the house.

I still remember the cookies, pies, and homemade chex mix being pulled out; as if we needed more food to sustain the long evening ahead of us. My brother and I use to sit under the large wooden table and listen to the stories and laughter as the adults reminisced about days long past.

Recently I had a holiday potluck at my new office and there was something about that table full of varied foods, the stories and the laughter that took me back to the farm. I am thankful I have had both those opportunities and grateful that I have a new group of people to get close to. And this time I don’t have to sit under the table.

The recipe that follows ended up being the perfect dish for our holiday potluck. Easy to share, colorful, a little crunchy and a little surprising – reminds me of my extended family and all their stories.

Roasted butternut squash and quinoa salad

Butternut Squash salad

Serves 4-6 as main course or 8-12 as side dish

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries (I prefer the low sugar version)
  • 3/4 cup baby spinach
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp honey or agave
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Butternut squash, peeled and diced
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cups quinoa, cooked
  • 1 8oz microwave package of farro, cooked

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Toss diced squash with 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1/2 tsp salt. Spread on a greased baking sheet.

Roast the squash for 15-20 minutes or until tender and golden brown.

While the squash is in the oven, heat 1/2 Tbsp olive oil in a small saute pan over medium/high heat. Saute the onion slices for 2 minutes then reduce the heat to medium and continue to saute for another 5-6 minutes, until onion is caramelized.

Once the squash is done place the lemon juice, honey, 1 Tbsp olive oil, and a pinch of salt in a large bowl and whisk.

Add the butternut squash, onions, quinoa, farro, spinach, and cranberries to the bowl. Toss with the dressing until well coated.

We added feta and some chopped almonds when enjoying it as the main dish, but it also goes well as a side dish with fish and other simply prepared meats.

Enjoy with good friends and family 🙂

 

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The power of a mouse

When we found out we were going to be parents one of the first things I told Nick was that I don’t want to stop traveling. I love to travel and experience new places so for my own sanity and happiness I knew I wanted to keep traveling, but more importantly I wanted our child to be a global citizen. I wanted them to understand and accept different cultures and even embrace the good (and tasty) things from around the world.

Maybe that is why the traditional family vacation spots never came up. Not that I had discounted them as a possibility, but they certainly weren’t at the top of my list. That is why when we took a recent trip to Disney World I was amazed I hadn’t given the idea more credence and I was glad we made the trip.

Disney Hollywood Studios 2014

Sad that next year the hat will be no more. Glad we got one last picture with it!

Watching Olivia and all the other kids run around smiling and excited (except during the afternoon crash) I realized that Disney is a great place to take a child if you want them to be curious, creative, and engaged. This is an environment they feel comfortable being curious in because they understand the characters and places. We have taken Olivia on several trips without anything this child focused on the agenda – Mexico, San Diego, St Louis – and she has done well, but this was something completely different for all of us. She knows who Mickey Mouse is, she was excited to see the castle, and she even got introduced to a few new characters.Meeting Pluto at Disney World

In fact, she met more than just new characters. We met people from around the globe because Mickey transcends barriers. During our few days there we heard languages and accents from all over the map and even chatted with people from Brazil, Norway, Ireland, and Guatemala, all without entering Epcot’s World Showcase. We had an amazing waitress from Vietnam give us a tablecloth to cover Olivia as she napped through lunch at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant and watched a candy maker from Germany create amazing chocolate covered caramel apples only twenty minutes later. True she wasn’t getting a lesson in other cultures, but maybe she was learning another important lesson – that we aren’t as different as an accent or name may make us seem. Disney world kindness

Mickey caramel chocolate applesThat sense of familiarity is another thing that made this trip to Disney so special. My husband and I were there ten years ago on a trip during college and long before us my parents and in-laws had been. Many rides and attractions had changed, but many had stayed the same and as we waited in line or wandered past a site the memories that came back and were shared with Olivia were something special. It is comforting to know that family and friends have experienced what we are experiencing and that maybe one day Olivia will bring her own kids here to see Mickey Mouse and remember when she stood with us in this exact spot watching fireworks above the castle.

We all want our children to believe that if they truly want something and they work hard enough for it they will succeed. Walt Disney is one of the greatest examples of that and his belief in the power of imagination and a mouse has brought joy to so many other people. Disney reminds all of us that growing up doesn’t mean shedding the creativity and magic of childhood. We should carry these gifts with us and exercise them daily so it isn’t magic for just a few short years, but magic for a whole life.Chip and Dale meet Olivia

What travel is always about for us is introducing all of us to new experiences, places, and people and we accomplished that in a very special way thanks to the power of a mouse.

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Producer Storytime: Butter Me Up!

If there was a Peanut Butter Anonymous group I would be in the running for their most prominent member. In fact, my biggest fear when my daughter started eating solids wasn’t choking or getting spit up on. No, it was that she was going to have a severe peanut allergy and I would never be able to have my creamy crunchy delight again.

Butter me up with a spoon

Thankfully she isn’t allergic to it so my morning ritual can continue. This love for peanut butter (and nut butters in general) is probably what gets me giddy when I see a new brand or variety. I moved on from the sugary junk of my early years to the real nut butters a long time ago . . . those college years when to our parents’ chagrin everything old is put into question. What still gets my tummy growling is finding small batch spreads, interesting flavors (not loaded with unexplainable ingredients), and new ways to enjoy it.

That is why when I saw the Butter Me Up! tent at the Des Moines farmer’s market on a recent trip I had to sample and purchase some of the good stuff. After coming home and having Olivia beg for it by the spoonful – she literally walked around the house eating just a spoon of it (definitely no nut allergy!) – I decided I had to know more about who lovingly made this for my family to enjoy.

That question led me to Butter Me Up! owner Tracey Norman – a mother, nurse, and now nut butter expert. a spoonful of peanut butter
Like many of us Tracey wants to make sure her family gets the best food that she can provide so after searching for fresh ground nut butters in her corner of Iowa and coming up empty handed she decided she could do it better. So in June 2013 she launched Butter Me Up! at a farmer’s market in Cedar Rapids, Iowa with two flavors – Honey Roasted Peanut Butter and Almond Butter. We peanut butter lovers are wide spread and obviously loyal because Tracey has grown her company to produce eight flavors available at local farmer’s markets, food co-ops, grocery stores and will hopefully soon be expanding outside of Iowa for all of us to enjoy. Even with all of this growth the nut butters are made with love and care for a product we can all feel comfortable giving to even our smallest family members.

Butter Me Up cappuccinoAfter picking Tracey’s brain for some ideas for using her nut butters on things outside my breakfast toast I have a list of items to make after I stock up again – burgers with peanut butter, fondue, Asian sauces, and Tracey’s personal indulgence dark chocolate peanut butter melted over a banana. After getting to know a little more about Butter Me Up! and Tracey I am inspired by more than the culinary possibilities. She has grown a business she loves while being present in the lives of her young daughters and reminded me that self-investment pays off for everyone connected to you.

Although Tracey’s search for a local provider of healthy nut spreads came up empty handed she was inspired by all of the things she did find being made in her local community. I am glad I had my eyes open for small local producers when I stumbled on Butter Me Up! and I can’t wait to stock up on some more cappuccino peanut butter, dark chocolate peanut butter, cashew butter . . . oh heck, I should probably just buy one of each!

Tracey’s local restaurant recommendation: Dos Rios Cantina and Tequila Lounge . . . give the guacamole made table side a try!

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A 30 Day Challenge and coaching for life

I have to admit I am a bit of a self-help book junky. From The Secret to Happy for No Reason I’ve read them all. I never find one to grab on to, but I do find little gems to make my life better. I have a pretty amazing life – I’ve got a loving husband, a rambunctious daughter, a supportive extended family, I’ve traveled the world and have an ocean of opportunity before me. What fascinates me about this genre is the ability to learn things from others about how I might add a little joy or gratitude to those days when I’ve lost focus of how great my life is.

blogSo I’ve taken two steps in the past few weeks – one of them massive for me – that has led to me being absent from this blog. First, I’ve added another experiment from a book on self expansion. Okay so maybe that isn’t massive considering my history in this area, but I am super excited about this one. While reading The Charge by Brendon Burchard I was inspired to follow his lead and add a monthly personal challenge to my life. He has kept it going for over 15 years! Since school, work, and family life has left little time to volunteer I am hoping to fulfill that internal need by making my first monthly challenge to help out a favorite local animal rescue in a big way. Second Hand Hounds is a great group I was introduced to several years ago and have followed ever since. (I am still trying to convince my husband if we acted as foster parents for a pet awaiting adoption we wouldn’t end up with a small herd of dogs and cats.) So instead I have set a goal to get 500 cans of soft cat food in the month of July. Message me if you want to help by donating! (ashleyrobinson0412@gmail.com)

The massive step I have taken is to enlist the help of a life coach to get me refocused and loving life to the fullest while pursuing the opportunities that will lead me to the life path I want to be on. In the past I would have never asked for this sort of help. I mean if I can’t figure out my own life how is a complete stranger going to give me relevant assistance! One session in and I’m seeing the errors of my previous ways. I will be updating you all soon on call one and the activities to get me focused. The biggest lesson learned already is you can’t do all of it alone . . . including gaining your own clarity. I am in the slogs of work, school, motherhood, being a spouse, etc that I can’t see the sliver of sunlight that will lead me to the clear joy that I’m looking for. However, if I have someone to keep me on track and provide me small exercises that I would otherwise file away for later I can see where I’m headed.

Not every journey involves a suitcase, a plane ticket, or leaving your own home for that matter. So I am looking forward to taking you all along on this new journey.

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Summer Watermelon Salad

Between class, a toddler, work, and a trip to Illinois to watch my baby sister graduate high school you would think that I would be feeling quite occupied.

But summer makes me restless.

Maybe it is all those years in childhood when the summers were about freedom, adventure, and personal interests. The weather turns warm and I have a constant desire to be outdoors with my eyes wide open looking for something new to explore (even if it is a porch swing to nap on).

Now in adulthood I find myself in a grey cube with no sunlight and an obligation to stay put. Since moving past this phase in my professional life is a whole other process I focus instead on my desire to taste summer and escape for even a moment.

That is where this watermelon salad came in. I needed something that screamed summer to me and watermelon does just that. It is so juicy and hydrating on a hot day. The colors make me happy and remind me of popsicles and flowers. Don’t ask me why I don’t understand it myself.

Once I started making this simple and refreshing salad it did much more than I expected. It was more than a colorful and cool reminder of summer. It actually took me away to two special places. Watermelon isn’t something we have in our house very often, but when i was growing up every summer get together at my Aunt Margaret’s included at least one huge watermelon.

As I cut up my smaller version I was taken back to that picnic table and front yard swing in central Illinois. All of us gathered around with sticky fingers and pink stains on our shirts.

The fresh green mint added more than a little color to the salad too. As I chopped the leaves and tossed them in my senses went farther from home. A Caribbean cruise we took in college and the mojitoes we drank as we set sail from Miami . . .

Life might not allow me to hop a flight or wander in the sun right now, but my bowl will take me far away for at least my lunch hour. watermelon start

Summer Watermelon Salad – serves 2 to 4 people (we ate it as a main dish)

1/2 medium watermelon, diced 1x1in

1/2 medium red onion, sliced thin

1/2 cup good feta, crumbled

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

2 Tbsp good olive oil

juice of 1/2 lime

1 tsp lime zest

pinch of salt

1. In a large bowl toss the watermelon, onion, mint, and feta.

2. In a small bowl whisk the olive oil, lime juice, zest, and salt.

3. Pour the lime dressing over the salad. Toss and enjoy!

watermelon finish

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