Continuous Improvement

We always need to hone how we approach our life. Do we go to work each day and hope that everything will be exactly the same? I hope not. I hope we each have a bit of us that strives for continuous improvement. I hope we ask ourselves: How are we doing? Are we succeeding or failing? Where did you own it? Where did you lead?

Each and every day we are training for our next day, week, month, year. Our current stamina helps us to be able to go into the next day, and the one after that. We build our learning from one day, and it helps us in that next tough meeting, presentation, or dilemma we are trying to solve. I am a fan of continuous improvement. I think it is the way we learn more about ourselves. If we were not on the track to grow, learn more about ourselves, and be better, than what is ultimately the point? We should all want to be better. Better at work, better with our significant other, better with our families. We all have something to learn, and these learnings help us to grow into ourselves.

There are times when I do not want my life to change. I like where I am at and change just feels like my comfort level, and day-to-day will be grossly different. Sometimes though different might just take us to the next level and we are better for it. What we know changes. We have to get to know new people, projects, and problems to solve. Maybe the newer folks are not as fun, or the problems cause us to want to pull our hair out, but in the end if we are growing and learning it brings us to a better place. Sometimes it is just hard to see that better place. Through it all, we grow — whether by learning new skills, or more patience.

Thus continuous improvement. It brings a smile to my face that we each have an opportunity to work hard each day and be better. To learn more. To be better. Bring it. Learn more. Be a better you.

Sugar, layaway, and freedom as a kid

My mom did not drink Tab (that I can remember). Tab was too expensive. My mom drank Faygo. The cheap woman’s soda. A bottle was about 10 cents. She could purchase more bottles if she purchased Faygo. Besides, it was basically carbonated sugar-water of sorts. With such high amounts of sugar, why would it matter what it tasted like? As someone who no longer drinks soda, I can only imagine what my future kids will think of me. Hardcore? Mean? Boring? I will not let them drink that syrupy substance that has so much sugar they will bounce off the walls. Hell no. I have gone from being a child who hated her vegetables, to being a hardcore vegetable addict. Not only for the taste, but for the nutrition. Probably more for the nutrition and what that means for my health and energy.

I think we had Kool-Aid, but from what I can remember, it was “fake.” Some other knockoff brand. From what I can remember it still tasted fine. Again, it was just drinking sugar-water. Along with those frozen Fla-Vor-Ice quasi popsicles. They were basically sugar-water. No wonder we loved them. Sugar was few and far between in our house!

I really doubt my mom worried too much about us. She was too busy (when I was really young — before she got sick) trying to make sure we were fed, and that she made it to one of her many jobs on time. If she was not working, she was planning many months in advance how to get us Christmas presents via the longest ever layaway plan. This was before credit cards were so common and that is how you eventually owned products. She was the queen of figuring that out. Going each week to a list of grocery stores to get the best deal, and to a few other stores (such as Target) to pay that week’s installment of layaway. Her Friday nights were a scavenger hunt of sorts from store to store in order to get the best sales and purchase price. Sometimes she had us in tow. It was exhausting. These days we go to different stores not for the deals, but because of the assortment. You know those items that you can only get at Trader Joe’s!

In the summer she spent her spare moments not figuring out her layaway plans, but taking care of our vegetable and flower gardens. While I will never know, I think it was her favorite time of year. She was working with her hands, out in the sun, and most likely it was therapeutic for her. Any of her other waking hours were spent helping us with homework, and giving whatever time was left to her church. Thus why this line resonated with me from this Today.com Parenting blog:

“She said get the hell outside, and we did. We made up games and rode our bikes and choreographed dance routines and drank out of the hose when we got thirsty. I swear, my mom did not know where we actually were half the time.”

We did just the same. I do not remember telling her where I was going or what I was doing. I never really got into too much trouble. I was either on my paper route, riding around, at a friend’s or neighbor’s house, or snuggled somewhere with a book. Harmless. Today I bet life and freedom is not so easy to come by. Thank you, Mom, for the freedom.

Pick You.

If you want something in your life, go get it.

Chris knows how relentless I am. If I decide that I want something, I will do whatever I can to get it. Always. Which is why I love Seth Godin’s blog titled: “‘Pick yourself’ and taking responsibility.” Where he talks about taking responsibility for what you want:

“If you want to be responsible for making music, make music. If you want to be responsible for writing, speaking, making change happen, go do that. Waiting to get picked is a form of hiding, not realism.”

Somehow halfway through college I stopped deciding that anyone else was going to determine my future. Only I could do that. I stopped holding my thoughts and words inside. I started speaking out loud, and sometimes it came out with fire, and anger, and zeal. Over time I have honed that voice. Sometimes it is strong, loud, and abrupt, and other times it is soft, gentle, and emphatic. It depends on the situation. I know I will continue to hone and balance what I want with the fervor of getting my voice out. It is not always easy, and it does not always come out with poise. What matters first is that it is spoken.

Now that I know what it feels like to pick me, all I can want for others is that you pick you. It matters. Whether you are a mom, or a sister, or an amazing employee, others will always find ways to run you over, take advantage, and get what they want. You are the only one that can pick you. You are the only one that can truly take a stand. You do so by taking a stand for you. You cannot wait for others to step up and pick you. You have to pick you. Set aside time for you. Get a babysitter, take a day off, say no. Do it so you have a chance to put yourself first. I guarantee that you will feel the difference.

Pick you.

Lollipop of mediocrity…

Mediocrity. It is not a word I think much about, as I am not much for being mediocre. I am all about driving excellence, doing your best thinking, pushing the envelope, and iterating over time to hone a craft, project, or outcome. I have extremely high expectations for myself, and those in my life. I am not looking to surround myself with mediocrity. So when I came across this Fast Company article this week, and read a quote I had never heard before about Gap’s new CEO, Art Peck, I had to smile:

“The 59-year-old hates classic rock (because “it’s stuck in time”) and has a quote next to his bed framed by his wife: ‘Beware the lollipop of mediocrity. Lick it once and you suck forever’.”

After a quick Google search I found the quote is from Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys. It is a quote that helps to visualize mediocrity. In a lot of ways it is a good mantra to never settle, to always push, to create new ways of looking and thinking about our lives each day. Whether you are a firefighter, a school teacher, a boss, or you are in a job you hate, you always have a choice of whether you are going to come to work each day and be mediocre. What is the point of life if not to change, learn, and grow? How can you do that when you do not try to be a better person, friend, employee, or family member?

While I do not plan to frame this quote by my bed, it is a great reminder to continue to push myself (yes, I know I am already relentless). To never settle, to ask questions, dig deeper, and live my life to the fullest. I already have a very full life, but whenever the naysayers want to talk me down and bring me back to mediocrity, I will be reminded to stay away from the lollipop.

Never settle.

Random recipe: Chocolate Chess Pie

My mom was not always the most amazing cook or baker, but somehow I have childhood nostalgia for a few recipes we made as kids. My mom’s recipes had a bit of an early burial. After college my sister purchased a used laptop. This was back in the day when a laptop was as thick as a brick, and cell phones were used in cars for emergencies and also looked like bricks. Not long after she purchased the laptop she decided to transfer all of my mom’s recipes over to the laptop and get rid of the paper versions. Made sense at the time right? Not until the laptop died and she lost everything on the hard drive. This was before we had a zillion ways to back up a computer.

It was a sad day. Over the years I have thought about that laptop and all the recipes we lost. I still have some of my mom’s cookbooks, but the recipes on index cards, worn and used are long gone. A few of the recipes I remember and have not tried to recreate, but there was one particular recipe that I have tried countless times to recreate with no success. I have tried to remember the ingredients and put together what I think were the amounts, and I have tried to find a recipe on the Internet with similar ingredients, with no luck. I have had runny finished products, nasty tasting ones, and ones that were just boring. Chris has given up on me finding it. I am relentless. I will try until I find it.

Recently I found this version on Design Sponge. Still not my absolute favorite but it gets closer to the real deal. We were lazy and purchased a pie crust rather than making it from scratch. For the full recipe click the link below (pie crust included). We also just used ice cream rather than their whip cream. To me a good Chocolate Chess Pie should be served warm with cold ice cream to make the pie congeal. A bit like a warm brownie and ice cream. If you have your own version, let me know – I will try it!

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Chess Pie (From Design Sponge)

Pie Filling

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted butter
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 1 (5-ounce) can evaporated milk

In a medium bowl, stir together both sugars, the cornmeal, nutmeg and cocoa powder, mixing until completely combined. Stir in the vanilla, butter, eggs and evaporated milk and mix until fully incorporated. When ready to bake, position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pour the filling into the unbaked pie shell. Place on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Remove the pie and cool for at least one hour. Serve with ice cream.