Why the Kitchen is the Heart of a Home

A couple of weeks ago, my family and I ventured through IKEA to find furniture and decorations for our new home.  We were looking for anything that might save space, help our home look fancier, or just make our lives easier.

Section by section, we explored the model showrooms.  I wanted to see how their designers made really aesthetically pleasing and functional living spaces using their inventory.  Through our endeavor, we ended up getting picture frame shelves, a wine rack, a plastic bag container/dispenser, a list of items we plan on getting for our son's room, and some kitchen accessories.

Shopping there reminded me that there is nothing like being at home.  It's our safety zone, our hub of comfort, a place to relax and feel ourselves.  If my home was a living being, I'd say that its heart lies in the kitchen.

The kitchen is where meals are made.  It's the room that provides physical and nutritional nourishment.  It's the central point where our family regularly shares a meal together.  It's where traditions are passed down.  It's where a lot of memories are made (think holidays).   

So as we strolled through IKEA, I paid special attention to the kitchen showrooms.  I liked imagining what it would be like to have those kitchens in my own house.  I imagined my wife and I preparing meals together as our son played nearby.  Even though we didn't buy a whole new kitchen, (I imagine that would cost a pretty penny), we did buy a few items to help organize the kitchen while simultaneously making it look newer.  Our kitchen may not be an IKEA kitchen, but it doesn't need to be; it is the heart of our home.


by Victorya Piehl
Guest Author

I was thinking today about accomplishing large goals, and realized that it is often more possible than it seems at first. We are capable of so much, but often get intimidated by the sheer scale of our dreams or ideas. Taking small steps, over and over, will eventually lead you to your goal. Consider the Pyramids or the Great Wall of China- incomprehensibly massive, yet they were built one brick at a time. Given enough time, effort, and proper planning, crazy ideas can be made into reality, monumental tasks can be accomplished, and the impossible can be endured.

When a task or goal seems overwhelming, try breaking it up into smaller, more manageable pieces. This will give an idea of what it will actually take to accomplish, and it may suddenly seem much more doable. Still seems overwhelming? Break it down again, and again, into the smallest possible fragments. Usually, these small bits are much less frightening and seem easier to tackle, and it puts everything in perspective. Can you run a marathon right now? Probably not. But can you do the first 20-minute practice session of a beginner's running/walking program? It's much more likely that you can handle this first small step. Then, in a few days, do it again, increasing your training in small increments. Keep it up for several weeks, then months. Learn to run for 30 seconds, 5 minutes, a full mile, then a 5K, 10K, half-marathon- and if you don't give up, next thing you know, 26.2 will be checked off your bucket list!

Another way to break things down is to try focusing on one moment. Instead of thinking about years, break it down to months, weeks, days, hours, seconds- right now, in this instant, what step(s) can you take towards your goal? Even if you feel like you could not possibly accomplish the whole task, you can almost definitely take that one small step. Overwhelmed by college? Just attend your next class, or write one more sentence in that paper. Feel like your diet is too hard? Skip just this one snack, chew some gum, get through this afternoon, or make one healthy substitution for your craving right now. Can't get through this workout? Take one more step, do one more rep. Then do it again- a few seconds of effort, and few seconds of rest. Dealing with pain? Focus on your breath, just this one inhale and exhale. Learning algebra? Get one problem done, get a good grasp on this one concept, and return to it tomorrow. Let the small victories give you a sense of joy and accomplishment- you are progressing towards your goal! Celebrate every step forward, no matter how small.

But what happens when you come to a piece that cannot be broken down any more, and is seemingly impossible to overcome? Your muscles give out, you have a mental breakdown, your get an 'F', or find yourself backtracking; when this happens, find out why. Can you take a break or try again? What would it take to overcome that one thing? Is it something within your control (i.e. willpower), or outside of it (i.e. physical impossibility, other's choices, lack of funding). If the latter, can you take any steps to influence the outcome, such as getting help/advice from an outside party, modifying your approach, fundraising, practicing, waiting, etc? Sometimes obstacles can still be overcome, but it may take more strategizing to solve the tougher problems.

But it's also not helpful to be unrealistically optimistic- some things truly are impossible. When all else has failed and you absolutely cannot take one more step towards your goal, then the time comes to make a choice about whether this goal is still worth pursuing. Sometimes this will involve asking for input from others, modifying your goal, or even abandoning it all together and mourning the loss of your plans. Even then, keep your head up- failure is not the end, and with some hope and resilience, you can form a new plan. Though it may not be your original goal, you can still accomplish something great- and sometimes, unplanned changes lead to even more spectacular results.

Remember: You are stronger than you think you are, and there is always hope.

Victorya is a scholar of life and everything that relates to it.  Check out more of her insights and writings on her blog: Are.


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Motivational Quotes of the Week

Motivation is the force that moves us forward towards our goals.  Sometimes the challenge is initially getting motivated.  Once we get started, the bigger challenge is staying motivated.  Here are some thoughts to help keep us motivated right now.  (Click to enlarge photos.) 

How do you stay motivated in your day to day adventures?  Let us know in the comments below.


How Our Past Experiences Prepare Us for the Present Moment

Sometimes I wake up in the morning fully ready for the day.  I wake up rejuvenated, excited, and ready knowing what to expect for the day.  Most of the time, I wake up not feeling 100% ready for what the day holds, although I should. 

I myself am guilty of constantly over thinking a situation, whether it is a day's schedule, a new project at work, or a problem that I need to solve.  When that happens, I get overwhelmed, stressed (sometimes a lot), and get stuck.  That's not where I want to or need to be.  It doesn't help myself or anyone else.

What empowers me in those situations is the thought that I'm as ready as I'll ever be for whatever is in front of me.  Unless I ever gain the superpower to freeze time for everyone but myself, there is no way I can prepare myself more.  Professional athletes condition and practice as much as they can before their big games.  During a game, they can't pause and practice, they must do the best with all the preparation they've already done. 

If you saw the movie Slumdog Millionaire, you saw how all of Jamal Malik's past life experiences prepared him to correctly answer the trivia questions on a game show.  The same applies to us.

All of my experiences in school (both as a student and a teacher) and outside of school have prepared me to be the best teacher presently possible.  My experience as a student in school helped shape my educational philosophy and teaching style.  My Sociology degree gave me a critical understanding of how education and socioeconomic status affect each other.  My relationships with my family, friends, past classmates, and everyone I ever interacted with in the past taught me how to interact with my students, their parents, and my colleagues.

Being a parent is the hardest role I've ever had.  It's a job that I don't think I could ever prepare enough for.  Even though parenting has existed as long as the existence of children, it's a craft that is constantly changing, varies from situation to situation, and (in my opinion) can never be perfected.  It's one of those jobs where I have to learn as I go. 

Even though I've never been a dad before, I'm as ready now as I'll ever be.  I have my own childhood experiences to draw from.  My dad has been an awesome role model for me and shown me what a good dad looks like.  All men I've encountered influence my view of manhood and "manliness," which inspires me to raise my son to be a responsible gentleman.  Talking with both women and men about their great fathers, absent fathers, distant fathers have been learning lessons for me.  Every conversation and interaction I've ever had about parenting, kids, fatherhood, motherhood, society, and even things that seem that they are unrelated has shaped and prepared me for every parent task I have before me.

Being reminded of all this, I can now say that I am ready. 

Why Creativity in Kids is an Unspoiled Treasure

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
- Pablo Picasso

I could be totally wrong, but I think that children are inherently born with a pure sense of creativity.  When I look at my one year old son, I see creativity.  He doesn't know the conventional way of doing most things, so he does things in his one year old childlike fashion.  He uses his colored plastic spoons and forks as light sabers.  Food sometimes turns into finger paint.  He loves slides and occasionally turns boxes, mattresses, his parents, or anything with an incline into a slide.  In his mind, everything is a toy.

My hope for him is that he holds on to as much of his creativity as he can as he gets older.  When kids grow up, they learn social norms about how we are supposed to do everything (Spoons and forks are for eating, not reenacting Star Wars Episode III).  They learn what the "box" is and are taught to think "inside the box" because we are socialized to think that's the way it is supposed to be.  Deviating from social norms are sometimes perceived as "weird," which pressures kids (and adults) to conform rather than be their unique creative selves. 

Although I want my son to coexist with social norms, I want him to feel free to be creative and push boundaries.  With an open mind, I want him to question everything.  Though any medium, I want him to be able to express himself.  I want him to be able to think of new powerful ideas and create new solutions to unforeseen problems that will exist in the future.  I want him to create wonders in this world. 

Probably most of all, I want my son to proudly be his creative and unique self throughout his whole life.

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Inspirational Quotes of the Week

Words have a way of affecting us.  They inspire us.  They make us believe in the hope of a better world and better tomorrow.  Here are some words to feed our inspiration. (Click photos to enlarge.)

How Healthy Eating Can Be Contagious

Like all parents, my wife and I wanted to give our one year old son the best start in life possible. When my wife was pregnant with him, she ate healthy, we read baby books, and even took an infant care class. We baby-proofed our home. I even practiced changing a diaper on a teddy bear. We bought every contraption and gadget that we thought we needed or would make our lives easier (we knew parenting would be hard no matter what).

Now a little over a year later, we still want the absolute best for our kid.  Right now, we have a twenty month old son who is currently running, climbing, and bouncing nonstop.  On top of that, since he is a fast growing little sprout, he is also eating nonstop. 

For the past twenty months, we've been making sure he eats as healthy as possible.  As a newborn, he wasn't formula fed.  We made our own baby food from fresh fruits and vegetables every day.  (It was actually quite laborious, but it was fun for me.)  When he did eat baby food from a jar (which was quite rare), we made sure that it was organic and didn't have a long list of preservatives or unknown chemicals on the label.  Now to enhance his potential of living a healthy and happy life, we made sure that we feed him the healthiest food we can afford.

That means that we feed him as much fresh fruits and vegetables in every meal as possible.  In doing so, we consciously avoid frozen and canned food.  Even though we still depend on them, we try to consume as less of them as possible.  Our son hasn't eaten any fast food or tasted a sip of soda.  If something comes in whole grain (pasta, bread, pizza dough, crackers, etc.), we get it in whole grain. 

I don't want to be a hypocrite, so I lead by example and do as I say to my son.  If I want him to eat healthy, I have to eat healthy myself.  It would be unethical for me to tell him to not eat fast food while I myself was chowing down on a Big Mac.  So as a result, the whole family has been eating pretty healthy.  This is actually the healthiest period of time I've ever had. 

Another cool unexpected surprise is that my son absolutely loves eating fresh food. He doesn't seem to stop eating strawberries, blueberries, mangoes, roasted zucchini, or freshly made omelets.  Sometimes when we're short on time and resources, we've had to resort to using frozen vegetables, but he doesn't like it that much.  There is something about the flavor or texture that he doesn't enjoy as much as something straight from the market. 

Hopefully his love for fresh and healthy food lasts as long as possible.

How Art Walks are Inspiring

I love art walks.  That's actually an understatement: I absolutely love art walks!  They're a unique opportunity to stroll around an arts community and be amazed with different artists' creativity and skills.  The combination of walking through various art galleries, accompanied with music, food, and good company is a recipe for a great experience.  Best of all, they're FREE.

Last night I went with family and friends to the Downtown Fullerton Art Walk.  It's held on the first Friday of every month.  I myself was inspired by all the art that I saw and the passionate talent of the artists.  There was a visual artist who donated all of the proceeds from her paintings to charity.  There was a studio who made vintage look really classy.  I saw photography that showed life from various angles (as all photography does).  Even looking at tattoo designs was an artistic experience.  Everywhere we looked, I saw creativity in the photographs, paintings, sculpture, and even the culinary art (also known as free cupcakes). 

Being in that environment made me want to bring out more in me.  It showed me that I barely started to touch the potential of my creativity.  Creativity doesn't mean making something different; it's creating something as original and authentic as possible.  It's spawned by thoughts, emotions, ideas, and real life experiences.  Walking though downtown made me want to create more beautiful art; it also helped me see life as a little more beautiful itself.

Okay With Being Wrong (note to self)

Maybe I was wrong all along.
What if life really IS simple?

I've thought about it too much. 
I've assumed that it was more complex and complicated than it actually was. 

What is life is better than I previously believed?
Maybe people are kinder than I think of them to be. 
Maybe this world is more loving than what on television I see. 
Maybe everyone isn't as selfish and destructive as I paint them to be. 
Life possibly isn't a cruel rigged game stacked against me...

This time,
if I'm wrong, 
I'll actually be fine with it.


Pushing Harder (a poem)

"Defeat" after "Defeat,"
I am still going to push...
There will be temptation to give in,
      but I will just give more. 

I'm pushing not because I can,
      but because I need to. 

I'm needed to be 
      the strongest,
      most bold,
      and relentlessly committed
            to succeed. 

Morning Mentality (a free verse poem)

Good merry morning!
It's the burst of a new day. 
Coffee is brewing like new ideas (and vice versa)
This can only be the stage of something truly great. =)

Here to start new again,
time to renew again;
this day overflows with possibilities. 

Too much I want to (and need to) do in so little time;
too few moments are actually seized. 

Oh well, it's time to try again. 

Why Does My Kid Love Grass So Much?

I don't know what it is about grass that my one year old son absolutely loves. Every time we walk anywhere, he excitedly walks off the sidewalk to walk, jump, or simply stand on the grass. It's as of the grass has a magnetic pull on him. Sometimes this silly kid even dances on it; other times he just likes the feeling of his feet on it. This left me pondering.

Maybe we as human beings innately need a connection to nature. As our world becomes more industrialized and digital, we have been getting less opportunities to be out in the sunshine and enjoy the natural world. This is possibly why people  go camping in the forest, swim at the beach,  and hike up a mountain for recreation. 

Maybe that's why my little one loves digging his feet (and sometimes hands) into the Earth's green carpet. I don't know for sure, but each time he plays is a beautiful reminder to me to pause and enjoy nature. 

Let Love Rule... (a poem)

Let love rule!
Let it spill like a flood
and soak deep into the soil
of every place across this world. 

Let it shine brighter and lighter
than the sun or 
any bulb that has or ever can be made.

Let it roar louder than thunder
and be heard like 
a concert all over the world. 

Let it be
the solution,
the final answer,
the be all and end all,
over and over,
and again and again.