Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is upon us, and I don’t know about you, but I ALWAYS overeat. It feels almost mandatory - if you don’t completely gorge yourself, you’re poo-pooing the whole idea of the holiday. 

Every year I sit at the dinner table, my hands intertwined with those of my loved ones, and I take a moment to give thanks for the bounty before us, making a silent promise to eat only until I’m no longer hungry, that I’ll use reason, restraint this year.

I shouldn’t make promises I can’t keep!

Knowing that I faithfully misplace all self-control on that annual Thursday in November (and that it most likely won’t change in the foreseeable future), I’ve been preparing some strategies to mitigate the damage I’m inevitably going to do at the turkey table.

GIVE THANKS FOR MORE THAN THE FOOD.

If you don’t practice this tradition already, then I invite you to take a few minutes before diving into the Durkee onion-topped green bean casserole to go around the table and allow everyone to share both what they were grateful for last year, and what they look forward to for the year ahead. Acknowledging the Good in our lives shifts the focus off the food and onto our family and friends, reminding us of the true essence of the holiday: sharing what we have with those closest to us, and being grateful for those precious people in our lives that provide us food, shelter, warmth and love everyday, unconditionally.

Once the food is on your plate, consider practicing a little “portion control” (knowing that half the fun is helping yourself to “seconds”), and slow down by chewing each bite 30-40 times. Conscious chewing heightens flavors, improves digestion, and gives the body the time it needs to recognize that it’s full. Enjoy your Thanksgiving meal, don’t inhale it!

(doesn't this looks delicious...and reasonable?)

PLAN AN ACTIVE POST-THANKSGIVING WEEKEND.

My favorite part of Thanksgiving is picking out our Christmas tree on Friday and decorating it over the weekend. Knowing that I have an egregious amount of excess calories to burn off, I love the manual labor Christmas decorating demands. So I jump in with both feet and mildly annoy my family with an inordinate amount of holiday spirit, understanding that even though we all might prefer to lay around like sea lions watching bad movies, we will be happier and healthier if we put our heads down and string the Christmas lights up.

If Christmas ain’t your thing, then perhaps take a long weekend walk at your nearby park or nature reserve, a stroll on the beach, or an adventurous bike ride. Take your kids to a bouncy house (and bounce with them) or head to your local museum and soak in some culture.

Whatever you decide to do, make it active, social and fun. And although Thanksgiving leftovers will and should be consumed throughout the weekend, be sure that Sunday is devoted to getting your diet back on track. Remember, Christmas is just around the corner, with a Mavericks-worthy wave of holiday temptation to drown in.

WEBMD: 10 TIPS FOR A THINNER THANKSGIVING

GREATIST: HEALTHIER THANKSGIVING RECIPES

GIVE BACK.

One of my most enduring childhood memories is the first time my mother took me to volunteer at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving. I remember being nervous, surrounded by life-worn strangers on a cold Colorado afternoon, and I wrung my hands with worry that I wasn’t going to live up to the job, uncertain of what was expected of me.

But as I helped pass out Thanksgiving dinner, a feeling welled up in me I had never experienced as a relatively self-absorbed 10-year old. The expressions of gratitude by the guests, the energy of kindness permeating the room, the palpable spirit of the holiday evoked in me a sense of CONNECTION – connection to the grateful and smiling faces, to my compassionate community, to something much greater than myself.

The act of giving helps us appreciate just how good we have it, and you receive so much more than you give when you open your hand to someone who needs help.

So this Thanksgiving, why not choose to Give Back? Go to VOLUNTEERMATCH or IDEALIST to find volunteer opportunities in your area. Get your family and friends involved and make it an annual tradition.

In a nutshell: GIVING = GRATITUDE.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and Gobble Gobble…don't forget to chew!

Xoxoxo - Lara

Christmas in Chicago

This year was technically our first Christmas in Chicago; last year we were poised to host our Pittsburgh relatives at our new Chi-Town condo, but a family illness prevented them from traveling. So we piled all our presents into the FJ Cruiser and hightailed it to the 'Burgh. Our cousins were so grateful that they made my kids this amazing construction paper Christmas tree (my husband's family is Jewish but gracefully tolerate my hysterical obsession with all things Kris Kringle)...

Fast forward a year and here's the Real Thing, decorated with the help of my children. What an incredibly fun and wondrous tradition - I skipped the tree thing for almost 10 years, and now that I have 2 little rug rats, I've recommenced all those special and dearly missed Christmas rituals. 

We got a white Christmas this year, or should I say a White December - it snowed all month long and I can't tell you how inconvenient it made my workout schedule! I didn't run outside for 3 weeks, and lots of time was spent indoors making Santa-shaped cookies with sprinkles.

And eating them. 

But instead of feeling Scrooge-y about consuming more sugar / burning less calories, I allowed myself to indulge just a little. I snuggled with the kids, watched nostalgic holiday movies, stayed up late with the husband drinking apple cider gin cocktails, and wrapped presents, humming with the buzz of Christmas spirit (the gin helped).

On Christmas Day, I spent the morning watching my kids open their presents, reminiscing about my magical Christmas mornings as a child. Every year my brother and I would sneak upstairs to open our stockings and overload on chocolates before the sun was up. My mom and dad would put on Christmas choral music and we'd spend the day together opening presents, eating a salty-sweet breakfast, and deciding on which movie we should go see in the late afternoon. My parents really knew how to do Christmas, and I aspire every year to recreate that same sense of delight for my children.

The weather opened up on the 26th and the temperature climbed into the 30's. So I put on my running shoes and got outside, looping 6 miles to my favorite park and back. It was a difficult distance after such a long break, but I feel a sense of accomplishment for getting out there and getting it done.

All in all, our Christmas was perfect. I allowed myself to take a break and enjoy this most precious time of year, I felt a deeper appreciation for my family and for those traditions we carry through the generations, and I offered up gratitude for the childhood memories my family so lovingly helped to create during Christmases past. I hope you, too, enjoyed your holiday season. Now time to turn your thoughts toward 2014! - Xoxoxo Lara

Bathtime!!

This post is dedicated to all the hard-working moms and dads out there who, despite your best efforts, may resort to what I call the "2nd nanny", the television. Or the iPad. Or the smart phone. It puts children into "zombie mode" which is AWESOME, but probably not the best state of being in the long term. 

When the snow is falling and my kids have already watched The Nightmare Before Christmas all the way through (and then the opening song a second time), when leaving the tv on would be so EASY to do, I yell, "BATHTIME in mommy's tub tonight!!" and the kids come running!

Bathtime is a mega multi-tasker: 1. Kids get clean; 2. Bubbles = hours of entertainment; 3. Submerged bath toy scavenger hunt = 10 more minutes of entertainment; 4. Kids tend to get along swimmingly in the tub (warm water = comfort & contentment); 5. You get to hang out in the bathroom and read a magazine while your little fishies splash about happily (warning = guard your valuables, water spray imminent).

Suave Kids 3-in-1 Wash (watermelon a favorite) makes major suds so no need to buy additional bubble bath.

And did I mention mommy's bathtub has jets? INSTANT BUBBLE TSUNAMI.

So next time you're burnt out on craft-making and cookie-baking and book-reading and monster-trucking and tea-partying, next time it's cold outside and there's no chance of park-playing or bike-riding, get your little guppies out of their clothes and into the bubbles. Then close the toilet lid, sit your weary limbs down and say a little prayer of gratitude for the next few minutes of exuberance (them) and bliss (you)...