A Festive Fourth

This weekend in the US we’re celebrating the Fourth of July, or Independence Day, so today I thought I’d share some patriotic red, white and blue sweets and treats recipe inspiration to give your holiday celebrations a little color whether you’re staying home with family, sharing treats around the neighborhood, or out having a little community time for the first time in a while.

Cakes and Cupcakes:

Red, white and blue flag cake

Red, white and blue firecracker cake

Red, white and blue poke cake

Red, white and blue cake pops

Red, white and blue frosted cupcakes

Berry angel delight

Star spangled cupcakes

Mini chocolate flag cupcakes

Fireworks push-it-up cakes

Fruited cheesecake flag

Red velvet fireworks cake

Red, white and blue sprinkle-filled cupcakes

Pies and Tarts:

American flag pie

Flag cobbler

Berries and creme tart

Three berry tart with cream cheese filling

Berry slab pie with cream cheese filling

Three berry trifle

Berry lush

Raspberry watermelon terrine with blueberry sauce

Fruit flag tart

Cookies, Bars and More: 

Red, white and blue sugar swirl cookies

Red, white and blue blondies

Berries and creme sandwich cookies

Patriotic chocolate covered bananas

Stars and stripes gelatin

Red, white and blue daiquiris

Red, white and blue sprinkle stars on star cookies

What are your favorite red, white and blue patriotic desserts?

Independence Inspired Success

This coming weekend here in the US we’re celebrating the Fourth of July, or Independence Day, the day that congress declared independence from Great Britain. With all the talk that’s already been happening around the holiday I thought today I’d share some success insights based on this holiday.

It started with courage. It wasn’t easy at the time to choose to leave the safety of Britain, it wasn’t easy to start over in a completely foreign place without any of the resources that you’re used to having access to, it wasn’t easy to figure out a completely new place and the nature-based challenges that came along with it. So it took great courage for not only the first couple groups of people to head over to the US, but also for all people through Independence Day and the American Revolutionary War to choose this new and developing nation.

It continued with teamwork. The only reason the signers of the Declaration of Independence were able to do so, is because they had the foundation from the people who originally colonized the US, as well as the support of all who were alive and part of the revolution in the 1770’s. Each of the men who put pen to paper, each of the men and women who fought in one way or another to make that independence a reality, to the children who were given the opportunity to live in “the land of the free, and the home of the brave,” are all part of this team and the motivation behind these people coming together to take a stand.

It is still a work in progress. Any good victory starts with one step of success. Independence Day was one of the steps in the long journey of the US, a journey we’re still on today. No, we’re not still working on our independence, but we sure have a ton of kinks we’re still working on as we develop our nation, just like other nations around the world who have been around for much longer than the US.

So as we continue to navigate 2020 it’s more important than ever to look back at 1776 and the first Independence Day, and remember what it was that helped it succeed, because those same things can help us succeed in bringing this country to the next peak on its journey.

Crazy for Quesadillas

Tuesday is Cinco de Mayo, it’s a day to celebrate the Mexican Army’s victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla, on May 5, 1862.  There are many people in the US who have roots in Mexico, or just love all things Mexican, so it’s something that many celebrate with food and parties.  While the parties will be small or virtual this year, we can all still have our own celebration.  On my Creativity blog I’ve shared a bunch of posts about the holiday and will be sharing another over the next few days, but today I thought we’d take a look at some quesadilla recipes as a way we could celebrate (along with some alcoholic beverages of course!)

Black bean and corn 

Cheesy chicken and bean

Shrimp quesadilla

Greek quesadilla

Enchilada quesadilla

Corn and crab

Quesadilla pie

Chicken chile

Quick bean

Hawaiian quesadillas

Chipotle chicken

Buffalo chicken

Chicken pesto

Bacon guacamole

Smoked turkey

Pork mole

Zucchini quesadillas

Prosciutto and mushroom

Chorizo and red pepper

Chicken and mushroom

Southwest quesadilla with cilantro lime sour cream

Steak quesadilla

S’more quesadilla

What are your favorite fillers for quesadillas?

A Chinese New Year Success

This past weekend was the start of the celebration of the Chinese New Year. If you’re not familiar with the holiday, it begins 15 days of celebrations of the Spring Festival and Lantern Festival, both ways of bringing in the new year. Each year is represented by an animal, and this year is the rat. So today I thought we’d see what lessons we can learn from this celebration, from another new year and from the rat.

History shares that the rat is the first of the 12 zodiac animals. While we may not all see it this way, one of the reasons the rat was chosen in the first place is because in Chinese culture rats were seen as a symbol or sign of wealth, because of their ability to reproduce. Both of these are good insights about success, because sometimes it does matter where you are when it comes to time or position, and being first does often give you some benefits that aren’t available to those who come along later. The saying ‘first come, first serve’ is a famous line that speaks to this. The ability to multiply or grow is also a huge aspect of success, you really can’t be successful if you’re not growing or multiplying.

Another important thing to remember about success that the Chinese New Year festival speaks to, is that sometimes it takes time. Yes, there’s one official Chinese New Year day each year, but with that one day comes 14 more after and several before that encourage preparing, thinking, praying, celebrating, and family time. Sometimes success can be achieved in a day or a short time, but more often than not it’s a multi-day or multi-year process. These extra days means those who celebrate the Chinese New Year aren’t pushing things, they’re letting the celebrations unfold in a natural, unhurried way.

Finally, it’s really hard to miss all the decorations for Chinese New Year because they’re all in bright cheerful lights and colors like red and gold. Yes, success is usually directly connected with hard work which isn’t always fun or cheerful, but even if you only celebrate at the end when you’ve achieved victory or your goal, there should be some celebration. One of the reasons I think some struggle with success is because it’s not as bright, cheerful and motivating as it could be, or all that gets lost in the background as you work forward.

So go ahead, take time to celebrate your successes, give your successes the true time they need to grow and develop, and always build on your success and the success of others.

The Gift of Love

There are so many things we could pull from this time of year to talk about regarding success. Like how businesses get people to buy stuff this time of year under the guise of giving gifts and getting great deals. Or how we talk about and celebrate the holidays for a month or more before we get to the actual holiday, allowing for sufficient time for planning, gathering and gift-purchasing. Or we could talk about how the holidays encourage people to spend time in community and do good for others (and it actually happens). Or we could talk about how the holidays allow many of us to end the year on a positive note, something that may not ring true for the rest of the year.

But today I want to talk about the success of getting love and community into our lives and into the lives of others. Whether you celebrate Christmas (religious), Christmas (secular), Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, this time of year is one of celebration and gathering together. We each celebrate something a little different, but with each holiday we’re invited to turn on or light some lights and gather together to celebrate. For several thousand years we’ve been celebrating Christmas (religious) and Hanukkah, Christmas (secular) for the past several hundred, and Kwanzaa for the last 50 or so years, taking time to set aside any differences or struggles we may have, remembering the good times and making new memories together. Anything that gets people of all cultures and backgrounds to stop and be more considerate of others year in and year out is worth talking about.

I’m willing to take on all the commercialization, crowded roads, spending, and some extra stress because more people are polite, more people are helpful, and more people show how they care unlike other times of the year. The time we take to purchase exactly the right gift for someone, make someone’s favorite foods (including special cookies), and lengths we travel to be together are all evidence of the fact that we do care about each other, even if we aren’t always willing to admit it. We may wrap our love up in the activities and actions of the season, but when all the trappings and trimmings are removed, when we stop moving and eating and sit, when the gifts are all unwrapped, what it comes down to is love for each other.

With the holiday season in full gear, I encourage you to make time to think about love and let that be the best gift you give or get this holiday season.

Be A Light

One of the things I talk about every December is the topic of light. It’s fascinating that we use light in so many of our celebrations. From candles for birthdays, to fireworks for the Fourth of July, to the lights in a jack-o-lantern, to lights on homes and trees for Christmas, to the lights of the Menorah for Hanukkah, to the Las Posadas celebration, and Kwanzaa’s lights, it’s clear we love to celebrate with light. And of course we can’t forget how we use light to illuminate our worlds and push back the darkness no matter how low the sun is or late the night is.

The other day I was shocked when I read that we’re heading to a new decade in less than two weeks. I have been anticipating and aware of the new year coming up, as it follows Christmas each year and means that the celebrations are over but the winter weather sticks around for a few more months, but for some reason it didn’t occur to me that with this new year was a big change with the calendar, and that’s to a new decade. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to celebrate and move into a new decade after this past one. This decade probably wasn’t the hardest one we’ve ever had, but there’s something about going into a new decade that is even more refreshing and exciting than going into a new year usually is.

This holiday season I’ve been lighting more candles than I often do, there’s something about the light of a candle that’s both soothing and inspiring. I may be a night person but I can’t imagine being without the light, or choosing to not be a person of light. I donate regularly to charity and non-profit organizations, and this year on Giving Tuesday I was thankful to be able to donate to some organizations that are really shining light in some dark places in the world, including one that supports children and their families with cancer (Jesse Rees Foundation), one that works with in-need children and families in Guatemala (Integral Heart Foundation), and several that work with veterans (Warrior Canine Connection, Travis Mills Foundation). With technology today we’re able to see first hand the great work these types of organizations are doing through posted pictures and videos on social media and in newsletters, and you can’t help tearing up watching some of the videos that shows the incredible difference these organizations and others are making in the lives of people who were lost and without hope, and now thanks to connecting with them and supporting them in the unique ways that they do, the lives of many families are greatly improved and they have hope again.

Life rarely changes in one day, often it takes many years to change, halt or improve, especially if you’re dealing with something like trying to change a country’s future, curbing addiction or addressing the world’s climate issues. But lately I’ve been seeing some more lights and more signs of hope than I have in the past. Light is a choice. No, every day won’t be filled with light and happiness, there are some really tough things that we’ll have to face in our life and others will have to face in their lives. But when you can, choose to light a candle, turn on a light, help a neighbor or coworker or stranger, share a positive social post, volunteer with organizations doing great things, or do something that makes you or someone else happy.

Even the smallest light can be seen when it appears in the darkness. When that one small light joins with other lights it has the power to banish all the darkness in the area. This winter solstice, on the day of the year that the darkness arrives the earliest and sticks around the longest, I encourage you to be a light today, this holiday season and in the new decade.

A Little Holiday Community

If there’s one thing that the holidays are all about, it’s community. The holidays bring us together in ways that we’re not during the rest of the year, encouraging us to spend time with those we love and those who matter to us, and taking time out of our daily lives to celebrate together. Community is everywhere this time of year, from the people standing outside stores with their bells asking for donations, to sending of cards and messages that have pictures of families and groups on them, to working together to decorate both inside and out, to gathering in homes and restaurants to eat and enjoy each other’s company.

If community is so very obvious this time of year, does that mean it’s not something that exists during the rest of the year? No, it’s just not as obvious as it is during the holiday season, with the exception of other specific holidays throughout the year (4th of July, Mother’s Day, Halloween etc.). Community is bringing up the neighbor’s trash cans for them, calling for help when something doesn’t look right, holding the door for someone, and most importantly building relationships (however casual) with those you live near and work with.

Community isn’t necessarily about knowing each other’s secrets, having the type of relationship where you exchange gifts or celebrate each other’s birthdays, but about being assured that someone will miss you if you’re not seen for a while, and that others are glad you’re part of this world and part of their lives.

Yes, we’re naturally part of a community by where we work or live, but what we do with that, and if we do anything with that, is up to each of us. Community can be as insubstantial as we want it to be, or be one of the best things about where we live and/or work. This holiday season I encourage you to give community a try and see if contributing to your community improves your life as much as it does those you connect with on a regular basis.

A Little Christmas Magic

A song that always catches my attention in the holiday season is A Baby Changes Everything sung by Faith Hill. Hearing this song again the other day got me thinking about parenting and having children. For most it’s an equally exciting day when their child is born as it was for Mary and everyone else when Jesus was born in the Biblical Christmas story. For others, in this day and age the ability to have a child isn’t as significant as it was back in Biblical times or back when the first stories about Santa circulated. In some circles and families there’s certainly pressure to have a child, but most are not under that pressure and can choose whether they want to bring a child into this world or if their time and efforts are better off with other pursuits. Finally, unfortunately there are some people who have children and aren’t as excited or changed by the process as they should be (including those families you wonder why they chose to have kids).

But then I got to thinking about some of the less-traditional ways that a child changes things. For those who can’t have children, adopting a child from a less-than-ideal situation is a huge blessing for both the child and new family. For families who lose one or both of a child’s parents while the child is still young, the child can be what keeps them going and helps them work through the grieving process. For those whose children have grown older and don’t have grandchildren or don’t frequently see them, working with children as a career or volunteer activity can be a great way to keep that child-inspired zest for life spark alive. And for those who see a cute child in the store or out and about, it’s a reminder to smile and love life. Whether they played an active roll in bringing them into the world or not, sometimes a child can be the one thing someone needed in their life or just that day.

Yes, children have their moments where we wonder what someone was thinking when they had them, or why they can’t just appear grown, or how soon they’ll get through this phase. Working through these tough times with a child can teach us many things that we can apply to other areas of our lives such as working with difficult people or coworkers, managing expectations, conflict resolution, and lessons on patience in general. I’ve found that these moments are fewer and farther between than some may think, and that more often than not kids are a blessing.

If you learn anything from kids at this time of year, learn the value of believing in the magic. We don’t often see the magic as adults because we pick out details like the amount of work or where the dirt shows up or managing schedules, but if we stop and listen and look around, hopefully we too can find some of that magic for ourselves this season and beyond. What magic will you welcome into your life this holiday season?

Taking a (Holiday) Break

Success is a combination of many things. Part of it is ideas, part of it is following direction, part of it is taking initiative, part of it is reaching goals, part of it is about your team or support system, part of it is about getting things done, and there’s another part that we don’t always remember as being influential in our success journey, and that’s knowing when to stop and when to take a break.

The holiday season both adds a lot of stuff to our plates and gives us the opportunity and encouragement to take a step back and relax a little. I’ve noticed more this holiday season than ever that people aren’t sending a lot of emails and messages over the weekend, but instead are doing other things like going places with families, doing holiday things at home or just plain taking a break and watching holiday movies.

Sometimes the only thing you can do in both life and for success is keep pushing forward and keep taking action, or else you’ll end up under a pile of stuff deeper than some people’s email inboxes and you’ll never be able to get out. But it’s not healthy or sustainable or smart to live or work this way forever. Our bodies and brains aren’t designed to be “on” all day every day. They need the recharging as much as everyone around us needs us to take a step back occasionally and take time off.

Maybe you can’t get away for an extended vacation in the near future or can’t spend lots on gifts this year, but you should be able to give yourself and those in your life the gift of a break. Try to take at least almost the whole day, one day a week off, or even all or most of two days each week off and do things that aren’t work related, and especially are fun, seasonal or relaxing. You’ll find that you’re more motivated during the rest of the week to get stuff done, and more prepared to move into the new year that is almost here.

What are you doing to relax and enjoy life this holiday season?

A Season of Good Tidings

Today is one of the last “titled” holiday shopping/spending days of the year, today is Giving Tuesday. The numbers so far are saying that it’s been a great past week for stores and lots of people were shopping both in store and online. I have hopes that the non-profits will get a good fraction of what was spent in stores over the past week, having seen quite a few emails already indicating organizations have match-donations in place, and last year having raised over 1 billion. But I think we all need a reminder from time to time though that this month is about more than finishing another calendar year and taking advantage of great deals, and take time to not just remember but appreciate and apply the sentiments behind Christmas (both secular and religious) and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

For people around the globe this month is supposed to be something special, a reminder that there is still good in the world, that we haven’t forgotten our fellow mankind, that peace can be a reality, that the light can beat the darkness, that maybe we can finally have some victories over the things that hold us back. Over the past week I’ve been a bit surprised and pleased by something, and I wanted to share it with you today, as we begin this holiday season.

On Wednesday before the Thanksgiving holiday I made a phone call to a government office and spoke with a very pleasant lady who was also very helpful at the end of the day no less. On Thursday I met some extended family for the first time and we had a fantastic time. On Friday while shopping all of the employees I encountered were not only helpful but had a very positive attitude. Also while shopping the majority of people I encountered were not only polite but also relaxed and patient, and even some who had holiday cheer.

Why share all this? Because for the first time in a long time, I have hope that maybe we’re making a difference in the world and people are getting the message that it really doesn’t pay to be a Scrooge or a Grinch, and that it’s much better to live your life with consideration and care for others, working together to make the world a better place. Some of the interactions I had with people this past week were a great reminder that it really doesn’t take much to make life a little easier, just a smile, kind word, willingness to help and/or positive attitude.

So as we head into this holiday season, I would encourage you to be of holiday cheer; to embody the things we’re taught in the Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and both Christmas stories; and to let this be the most wonderful time of the year.