Sugarland

December 29, 2011

Some time ago a friend and I were having an in depth phone conversation exploring the mysteries of life (or maybe we were talking about shoes – I don’t remember), but I do remember that in the middle of the conversation she bursts out, “I really like to give people candy.” Taking a moment to get my bearings on where she was going with this, she then explained that when she comes in contact with someone, she randomly pulls a piece of candy out of her pocket and gives it to them. I half mockingly asked, “So, in the middle of a conversation with someone, you reach into your candy-stuffed pockets and offer them some sugar for no good reason?” She answered in kind, “Oh, I don’t have to be in conversation with them. I give candy to gas station attendants, store clerks, the mailman – anyone I come in contact with who looks like they could use a little sweetness.” “And why do you do this?” I inquired. “Well, they don’t expect it, for one thing. And they really like it. Their faces light up – and it makes me feel good too.” We laughed saying that it was only a matter of time before random acts of sweetness swept the nation.

And that, my sweet friends, is the topic for this week’s post: putting random acts of sweetness into play to take us into the New Year.

In the south we have a familiar phrase, “Give me some sugar!” In this part of the world, people know that this means, “Give me a kiss”. You might hear it from your mom, grandpa, auntie, or friend but it’s a given that “sugar” (pronounced “sugah”) equals a little love. A little love and a little sweetness is something we can all use. And whether we give it or receive it, we do really like it. And it feels good, like my friend mentioned, to watch someone’s face light up after a sweet exchange. When you consider all the “light up the face” moments of the holiday season, it’s exciting to think about ways to carry that into the New Year!

So, consider this your “sweeten the new year” challenge: Try for one full week to share some “sugah” – 7 days & 7 ways.

Your random acts of sweetness might be like my friend who randomly pulls candy from her pocket. But if you don’t want to take the literal route, there are many other ways to imagine spreading a little sweetness. Whether it’s sugar kisses or wrapped candy kisses (unwrapped chocolate in the pocket can be kinda messy) enjoy sharing a little love with those you come in contact with every day. For one full week, let the sweetness flow to those around you – lead someone from humbug to happy.

You can try these 7 ways to light up faces all around you, or come up with 7 of your own:

Day 1:  Happy New Year Sugah! Find a stranger and give them a piece of wrapped candy with a Happy New Year greeting. Watch as the sweet surprise changes their expression.

Day 2:  I see you. Give someone (friend, family member or stranger) a heartfelt compliment. Notice what they’re saying, doing, wearing, etc. in the moment and let them know that you “see” them.

Day 3:  Public praise. Go somewhere that involves a service person that you normally tip. Add a note with their tip and mention how great the service was. And then tell the manager or other patrons.

Day 4:  Plethora of post-its. In your home or work, take at least 5 post-it notes, write positive messages or smiley faces on them and place them in strategic places where people will discover the pleasant surprises through the course of their day.

Day 5:  Sweet snail mail. Send someone a hand-written note telling them something special that you remember about the first time you met them. While you won’t get to experience seeing their reaction, you know how good it feels to receive personal mail amidst the junk and bills.

Day 6:  Electronic enthusiasm. Offer to take someone’s (friend, co worker or stranger) photograph using your camera phone and send it to them via email. Look for a moment that you think they’d like “captured”.

Day 7:  Rinse and repeat. Repeat your favorite random act of sweetness – often!

Consider what this challenge could do for you. What kind of sweetness would it add to your day? How about those with whom you share a little sugah? I’d love to hear about your sweet experiences. Please leave a comment…

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I Still Believe

December 22, 2011

Because I’m a fan of movies, particularly feel good movies with a message, this month’s resource is, you guessed it, a Christmas movie! This is a movie that you can watch at home, snuggled up by the fire, drinking your favorite yuletide beverage. Hot chocolate anyone?

There are many wonderful Christmas movies – perennial favorites like It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, and even cult classics like A Christmas Story top many people’s lists. Animated movies and television specials such as The Polar Express, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and A Charlie Brown Christmas amuse kids and adults alike every holiday season. Whose heart doesn’t melt when Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree springs to life?

My personal holiday favorite is Miracle on 34th Street. Have you watched it yet this season? It’s old-fashioned movie magic at its best. Edmund Gwenn plays a maybe crazy, maybe senile, maybe real Macy’s Santa who spreads a wave of love and good cheer throughout New York City. Winning the hearts and changing the minds of the main characters – a cynical, divorced, single mom and her too-serious little girl, “Kris” and his warm ways bid all to believe and imagine all the joys of Christmas. Watch this movie! This film is often shown colorized; the original is black and white. I suggest you watch the black and white version – the magic seems more vivid when you can create the colors in your imagination.

Here is part of one of my favorite scenes from the movie. Susan, a very somber little girl, finds it challenging to play and enjoy other children her own age. Kris shows Susan (and us) how to explore the imagination:

Kris:  No, to me the imagination is a place all by itself… a separate country. You’ve heard of the French or the British nation. Well, this is the Imagine nation. It’s a wonderful place.

How would you like to make snowballs in the summertime?

Or drive a big bus right down 10th Avenue?

How would you like to have a ship all to yourself… that makes daily trips to China and Australia?

How would you like to be the Statue of Liberty… in the morning and in the afternoon…  fly south with a flock of geese…

It’s very simple. Of course, it takes practice. The first thing you’ve got to learn is how to pretend.  

And the next time Homer says, “What kind of animal are you?” Tell him you’re a monkey.

Susan:  I don’t know how to be a monkey.

Kris:  Sure you do. Here, I’ll show you. Now just bend your body over a little.

Let your arms hang loose, see? Now put your right hand up here… under here.

Now scratch yourself, see? That’s right. Put your tongue under your lips, over your teeth.

Susan:  Like this?

Kris:  That’s right. Now scratch yourself and chatter, see?

Bla bla bla! Eeek! Eeek erp!

Faith is believing in things… when common sense tells you not to.

I still believe. Do you?!

Is common sense getting in your way this season? What kinds of things do you do to keep your child-like wonder? I’d love to hear your favorite Santa stories – from times past or something that happened yesterday. 

 

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We all know the familiar carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” – you may be humming it at this very moment! This holiday classic is the basis for this month’s creativity prompt. 

Just like the melody we all know by heart, the directions are easy to follow:

Every day for 12 days, you will follow the lines of the song, but rather than the quirky and utterly space consuming gifts (like 8 maids-a-milking!), you will make note of simple, positive things you notice about yourself each day – big and small.

Storage suggestion: write each day’s “gifts” on a small slip of paper, fold and place in a jar or box until January. Here are some examples of gifts starting with Day One of  The Twelve Days of Christmas:

Day One: “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…” This is where you take note of just 1 positive act, thought, or idea you had that day. It could be something as simple as, “I remembered to say ‘Thank you’ to the grocery clerk after he chased me to deliver the bag I left behind,” or “I gave up that prime parking space to the mom with the car full of weary little shoppers.”

Day Two: “On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…” Following the familiar theme, this day you record 2 items. Maybe today was a day you made the choice not to cave to the perfection pressure and you bought store-bought cookies for an event rather than adding one more stressor to your plate by making homemade fudge! Perhaps you sent a card to an old friend or distant relative just to make their holiday a little brighter.

Day Three: “On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…” You’re rolling now—hopefully you’re starting to notice the little things that mean a lot throughout your days. Today’s list of 3 might include things like: made myself some delicious hot chocolate; told someone “I love you”; dropped some coins in a red bucket and told the bell ringer, “Merry Christmas” rather than ignoring them.

Keep on going for the next 9 days. By day 12, you guessed it! You’ll have 78 positive things that are all about your goodness – things that you’ve noticed about yourself during this somewhat hectic holiday season. Remember, the items on your list can be creatively simple or deep and meaningful. Once you’ve completed your The Twelve Days of Christmas, put the slips of paper away until January.

Once the holiday frenzy has passed and the blueness of winter is knocking at your door, look over your little gifts from The Twelve Days of Christmas. To make the experience more delicious, I suggest that you open each day’s “gifts” (slips of paper) for twelve consecutive days, keeping the spirit of gift giving and the joy of receiving gifts alive into your new year.

Feel free to share with me and other sweet readers what you noticed on any one of the given 12 days.  We’d love to hear about it!

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Chipotle & Rosemary Nuts

December 8, 2011

Chipotle & Rosemary Nuts

Takes care of 8-10 names on your gift-giving list!

Ingredients

Vegetable oil
3 cups whole roasted unsalted cashews (14 ounces)
2 cups whole walnut halves (7 ounces)
2 cups whole pecan halves (7 ounces)
½ cup whole almonds (3 ounces)
⅓ cup pure maple syrup
¼ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
2 teaspoons ground chipotle powder
4 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves, divided
Kosher salt

Directions

Brush a sheet pan generously with vegetable oil.

Combine cashews, walnuts, pecans, almonds, 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, maple syrup, brown sugar, orange juice, and chipotle powder on the sheet pan. Toss to coat the nuts evenly.

Add 2 tablespoons of the rosemary and 2 teaspoons of salt and toss again. Spread nuts in one layer.

Roast nuts for 25 minutes, stirring twice with a large metal spatula, until the nuts are glazed and golden brown.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle with 2 more teaspoons of salt and the remaining 2 tablespoons of rosemary. Toss well and set aside at room temperature, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking as they cool.

Taste for seasoning. Serve warm or cool completely before storing in airtight containers at room temperature or filling gift bags.

Mexican Hot Chocolate

Serves 4-6 ready to relax holiday shoppers

Ingredients

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate or Mexican chocolate tablets
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons instant espresso granules (Café Bustello or similar brand)
1 ¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon chile powder
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
4 cups milk
½ teaspoon almond extract
Cinnamon sticks, for garnish (optional)
Sweetened whipped cream (optional)

Directions

Combine chocolate, sugar, espresso granules, cinnamon, salt, orange zest and 1 1/2 cups water and mix in a medium saucepan over low heat. Stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.

Stir in milk and almond extract; reheat but do not boil. Remove saucepan from stove; whisk hot chocolate until foamy.

Pour into mugs. Garnish with cinnamon sticks, whipped cream, and chocolate curls, if desired.

Directions for gifting:

Place the following ingredients in a clear glass jar or even a decorative Ziploc baggie:

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate or Mexican chocolate tablets
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons instant espresso granules
1 ¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon chile powder
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

Include the following directions attached on a decorative tag:

To enjoy this festive holiday beverage, simply pour dry ingredients into a saucepan, add 1 ½ cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer 5 minutes. Then slowly add 4 cups of milk and ½ teaspoon of almond extract. Garnish with whipped cream and enjoy!

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