Thursday, June 30, 2011

Karyn Cooks: BBQ Chicken Salad

Back in the spring, I challenged myself to make some delicious salads. I haven't been much of a salad fan because when making salads on my own I always ended up with the boring standby of lettuce, tomato and cucumber. Needless to say, it was a hard salad to get excited about. So I thought about the kinds of salads I order when I go out. You know the salads that sound good and taste any better. I mastered three salads so far: BBQ Chicken, Chinese Chicken and a Popcorn Chicken Salad. To change it up even more, this next go-round I'm going to go for salmon, steak and shrimp salads. What can I say, I'm a carnivore! Anyway, I love the BBQ chicken salad. And with summer here, I thought this would be a great recipe to share because you probably have some barbeque chicken breast around and this would be good to use with leftover BBQ Chicken. Here are the ingredients. I'm not putting any measurements on this recipe because you can determine how much to add according to your own taste.

  • Chopped BBQ chicken (tossed lightly in your favorite BBQ sauce)

  • Green Onions

  • Diced tomatoes

  • Diced cucumber (or jicama)

  • Black beans (drained)

  • corn (if using frozen, thaw it. You could also roast it if you like)

  • Ranch dressing
Place all ingredients in a large bowl and toss. Delicious!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Keys to Happiness: Happiness is a Choice, Part 2

Forget your troubles come on get happy! For this six week series, we'll discover some of the keys to happiness!
Happiness can be an easy choice to make when viewed from a ‘micro,’ a day-by-day basis. But, what about overall, what about when we look at the big picture, the ‘macro’ level. It’s hard to be happy in the midst of a divorce or an illness or financial difficulties. How do you choose happiness in the face of those large obstacles?

First of all, I’m talking about an overall condition of happiness, not a fleeting mood. Being happy overall doesn’t mean feeling happy all of the time. You can have a happy marriage and still have arguments and moments of frustration with your spouse. It doesn’t mean you don’t have a happy marriage. It means you have a real marriage. This is the kind of happiness I’m talking about.

Here’s my definition of happiness. Happiness is having problems you can manage. People have called that definition pessimistic or depressing, but I call it realistic. If you ask the man or woman on the street if they are happy, they’ll have to think about it. If I asked YOU right now, what would be the first thing that popped into your mind? Usually, it’s something negative. It’s the fact that you can’t sell your house and it’s negatively affecting your finances or your job situation or that health concern.

The first thing to pop into your head is normally that thing you feel is preventing your happiness. “If only…,” you stop and think. “If only I could get out of this debt, then I’d be happy.” “If only my relationship would improve, then I could be happy.” “If this health crisis would work out, I could be happy.”

So we keep happiness at bay, while we wait for that perfect storm of perfect circumstances when everything is exactly as it should be. Most of the time, it never comes. In real life, there is always something that could be better or different. There are things that will change that we wish would stay the same and there are things that stay the same that we wish would change.

Happiness happens in spite of all of those things and it’s still a choice. You do your best to handle the bad while you appreciate and take pleasure in the things that are good. You live in the present and enjoy the moment without getting overwhelmed with thoughts of the future or focusing on the regrets of the past. You see the glass as half full instead of half empty or complaining that it isn’t a full glass.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

It Shouldn't Matter ... But It Does

A few weeks ago, as I was walking my dog, I approached two young men who had recently moved onto my street. One had on a white tank top and a pair of long baggy shorts that hung low revealing the gray plaid boxers he wore beneath them.

I didn’t know if I should have recoiled in horror or laughed out loud at what happened next. As I approached them, the young man’s shorts begin to slowly slide down the sides of his skinny frame. They glided passed his butt and down his thighs. They went as far as his knees before he casually pulled them up.

I had never seen this kid before. I didn’t know him. He didn’t know me. Yet, he felt perfectly comfortable revealing his undergarments in their entirety right in front of me, a stranger, and anyone else who happened to be passing by.

To me, it wasn’t cool. It wasn’t cute and it definitely wasn’t sexy! In my eyes, he looked foolish and sad. While volunteering at a local job readiness program, I’d met countless men like him. Men in their teens and 20’s (sometimes older) who didn’t own a decent pair of pants and in some cases didn’t know what size they actually wore.

Unable to find work, the frustration these men feel is real. They would say to me, “What I wear shouldn’t matter.” Maybe it wouldn’t in a perfect world; but this is not a perfect world. We live on Earth and not in Utopia.

All of us are guilty of pre-judging someone … especially based on appearance. It might not be fair but it’s true. Until we as a people learn to judge people solely by the content of their character, we’ll have to deal with this unpleasant reality. How we look matters. How we carry ourselves makes a difference.

I’m not saying that we should all run out and get break the bank on designer clothes but we should take pride in our appearance and realize when it does play a role. If my new neighbor and those looking for work must wear their pants low and expose their underwear (and I personally wish they wouldn’t), they should recognize that there is a time and place for that outfit and it isn’t on the job or at a job interview. They will be pre-judged.

I’ll even take it a step further. Our outlook about ourselves change when our appearance changes. After battling a long illness, many female patients on the road to recovery will ask for a tube of lipstick. They start to care about their appearance again. Since they have begun to feel better, they want to look better too.

People who work from home are often advised to ‘dress’ for work. Maybe they don’t have to adhere to a strict dress code but they should at least get out of their PJs! Why? Appearance affects mood and dressing for work helps make a mental distinction between the personal and the professional, between work and home.

The outside doesn’t matter nearly as much as who we are on the inside; but that doesn’t mean that the outside doesn’t matter at all.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Keys to Happiness: It's a Choice, Part 1

Forget your troubles come on get happy! For this six week series, we'll discover some of the keys to happiness!

My mornings run pretty smoothly. Since it’s just me and the dog, there isn’t a lot that can get in my way in the morning. I get up work out, walk the dog, get dressed and head out the door. However, there are times when everything does not go as smoothly as planned.
A few months ago, I had a particularly bad start, Murphy and his darned law must have been hovering over my shoulder. I walked the dog and as I was picking up after him, I stepped in something that another pet owner had left behind (gross!). After I handled the messy shoes, I went to fix my morning coffee and knocked the entire travel mug over sending coffee spilling all over the counter top and the floor. Well, now I’m running late; so it’s inevitable that I would run into traffic!
As I sat in traffic, I called my boss and let her know I was running late. Next, I put on some music and called a friend who I knew was also on her way to work. We agreed that days that start off that bad have to get better. We didn’t project that the day was going to get worse.
When I got to work, I decided to be grateful that I got there in one piece. With the day I was having, it could have been worse.
Finally, when I walked through those doors, I visualized putting the bad things behind me and leaving them out there in the parking lot. Our moods are close to us, so close in fact, that it can be hard to change them, but it’s worth the effort. I ended up having a good day that day and I think it’s because I made the choice to have a better day.
So here are some tips for choosing happiness.
1. Realize that bad days and silly circumstances happen. Take a deep breath and move on. I was on a schedule and I didn’t have time to curse the dog that left the package or to cry over spilled coffee. When I felt the frustration creeping in, I actually said to myself “Crap happens. Deal with it. Keep it moving!”
2. Prepare for it. In the car, I called my boss and informed her I’d be late. I also called another co-worker and told her I’d be a minute or two late for our meeting. By making those quick calls, I alleviated a lot of worry and stress.
3. Find the humor in it. Can you believe I actually stepped in poop while going to pick up some poop? My friend and I had a good laugh about it on the phone.
4. Resist the urge to make things worse. “Why do these things always happen to me?” “Nothing ever goes right!” This is going to be a terrible day!” All of those kinds of statements just make a bad situation that much worse.
5. Use some mood changers. No not drugs and alcohol! LOL! By playing music I enjoyed in the car and calling an even-tempered friend, I diffused what could have been a bad situation.
You have a choice and you can choose to be happy. Sometimes you might choose to feel frustration or anger or sadness. That’s fine … as long as you recognize that the choice is yours!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Beam Me Up Scotty!

I remember watching Star Trek as a child. The relationship between Spock and Kirk was an interesting one. As a Vulcan (half Vulcan to be correct), Dr. Spock could be completely logical. His worldview didn’t include emotion or feeling or desire - all of the things that seemed to fuel Captain Kirk.

It’s easy to forget that people are not computers. We are motivated by emotion. Our responses are often based on our feelings. We follow our instincts. We need more than reason and logic to get by.

Recently, I read an article about declining morale in the American workplace. Since the recession began, employees have often been blindsided by layoffs and firings; living on less in the wake of salary freezes and decreases in benefits (or higher benefit prices); grieving the loss of co-workers while absorbing their workloads.

What I found incredible were the comments of a few business owners and managers. They said that these employees should stop whining and be ‘grateful’ that they have a job and a paycheck. That’s the Vulcan response. Logically, a job and a paycheck should be enough.

We all need to recognize our humanity. Employers aren’t hiring robots or Vulcans. They are hiring good old human beings who have good and bad days, likes and dislikes. And it goes beyond the workplace. Kids have tantrums. Adults gripe, sulk or get angry. Spouses, friends and family members disagree and hurt each other’s feelings. None of us are perfect. None of us are cold, calculating machines. Heck, we are who we are and that’s what makes life interesting.

Personally, I wouldn’t want to be cold, calculating and completely logical. I like my quirks, my moods and my emotions. I can be angry, depressed or disappointed but I can also be happy, content and hopeful. You cannot have one without the other and I gladly endure the bad stuff because the good stuff is right there with it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Keys to Happiness: No Catastrophizing

Forget your troubles come on get happy! For this six week series, we'll discover some of the keys to happiness!

Catastrophizing? Think of a small snowball at the top of a mountain. As it rolls down, it picks up more snow and gets bigger. As it rolls, it also gets faster as it picks up momentum. Soon the snowball is huge as it barreling towards the bottom of the mountain at a break-neck pace.
Now, imagine a bad day at work. Your boss is not happy with something you submitted. It wasn't what he was looking for at all. You leave the meeting, shaken. Even though he sat down with you, told you what was wrong, how to fix it and gave you a few days to get it together, you are lost in thought as you drive home.
What will happen if you can't fix the report. What if you lose your job? In this economy, what will happen if you can't find another one? You only have so much in savings and your whole household budget is based on two incomes. Money is already a stressor at home. By your calculations, your saving will be depleted in three months.
What then? You might lose your house. Maybe you'll lose your marriage. As you pull into the driveway, you imagine you and the kids checking into a homeless shelter.
That's catastrophizing. A bad report (a snowball) spiraled into divorce and homelessness (a major snow boulder!). Catastrophizing is how we use our vivid imaginations to make bad things worse ... and before they even happen.
The best way to handle catastrophizing is to place your focus back on the original problem. The commute home from work would have been better spent reviewing the boss's suggestions. What can you do differently? Is there anyone who can help? Can you shift your schedule around so you can go in earlier or stay later? What can you do the next time to make sure you understand exactly what he's looking for. These are the kinds of questions that will empower you and not derail you.
If you find that snowball getting bigger, stop and question it. What are the chances of you really losing your job over this? Will your spouse really leave you? Do you think you'll actually end up in a homeless shelter?
Think of your imagination as you would electricity. It can illuminate a city or power an electric chair. The electircity hasn't changed. It's the application that is dramatically different. Let your imagination be a tool for good, a tool that empowers and motivates. Let it light up your life.
And by all means, keep your snowballs small!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Seizing the Day ... for Couples

A commenter recently asked me an interesting question. She asked, "Any suggestions for your readers who try to seize the day, but their partners don't? How can they make changes in their relationship with the person they love if that person refuses to move forward?"

I would say to seize it anyway. It could be that your partner doesn't think that seizing the day would be worth the effort. Maybe he (or she) thinks enjoyment takes time away from meaningful work. But do what you need to do for you and it's entirely possible that your spouse may come around.

Once he sees how the benefits of seizing and enjoying the day are working for you, he may be willing to give it a try. Like it or not, people are always watching us. Living our truth is the best proof. If you talk about seizing the day but spend that day griping and complaining then those actions, and not your words, will be what people see. If your partner sees you enjoying yourself and really living your words, they might decide to join in.

Involve them in your activities. Find things that you both enjoy and can indulge in together. It's hard to get a guy to go to a chick flick. While that might be your idea of fun, to him, it would be more akin to a seizure than actually seizing the day! LOL! Share in an experience that both of you want to experience together.

Consider his concerns. Maybe he thinks that seizing the day is too time-consuming or expensive. Show him how to seize a few hours instead of a whole day or how to seize the day on a budget.

But. ...

If he doesn't join you, that doesn't mean that you should give up on seizing the day for yourself. Don't let someone else's sour attitude sour yours. Find some ways to seize the day on your own or with other friends or family. Of course we want to experience the best things in life with our partners, but just because they aren't on board doesn't mean you need to jump ship. Your happiness and your peace of mind (and even your health) are at stake and you shouldn't sacrifice those for anyone.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Keys to Happiness: Realistic Expectations

Forget your troubles come on get happy! For this six week series, we'll discover some of the keys to happiness!

Several years after I had graduated from college, I was part of a career fair where I discussed a career in radio. When I asked the teens what kind of radio career they wanted, many had the same answer. They wanted to dee jay at a top station in New York.
When I pressed them further, I found their career plans to be rather straight-forward. Attend college. Work at the college radio station. Graduate. Move to New York City and be the morning drive deejay at a popular radio station.
Truthfully, I told them they'd have to work up to working in New York - the number one radio market in the country. Truthfully, they'd have to start in smaller markets, gain experience and hone their crafts before making it to The Big Time.
Some were discouraged, thinking that all that work sounded hard and not much fun. Others were determined they'd be the exception.
My intent was not to discourage, dissuade or detour anyone but to create realistic expectations. Realistic expectations are an antidote to frustration. Truthfully, most success takes time and realistic expectations allow you to buckle down for a long ride.
They also give you milestones you can get excited about. These smaller, more achievable goals make happiness and excitement possible. Happiness comes in savoring the steps and small victories on the pathway to success.
Whether your goal is losing weight, saving money, going back to school, getting married, going on the trip of a lifetime, or dominating the airwaves in the Big Apple, the first key to your success and happiness around that subject is to set realistic expectations.
Ask any overnight success and he'll tell you that success happened over many nights!