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And so it begins…
’Twas Three Weeks Before Christmas, and all through the house: lights are twinkling, trees are decorated, carols are on repeat, the table is set with Spode Christmas tree dishes, and my “most wonderful time of the year” has begun! I know it’s chaotic. I know it’s hectic. And I know it is a difficult time for many people – but for me it’s magic. I love the touchstone of Christmas, with the traditions and memories that bring me back home to myself year after year, and I love the quiet moments most of all; sitting by the tree with a cup of tea is just as special as an elaborate holiday party!

It comes as no surprise to family and friends that I’m not really a crafty gal, but decorating our Christmas trees (for hours…and hours!) is a creative joy for me, as well as a walk down memory lane. Sharing the Christmas spirit with my mother and grandmother is one of my earliest memories, and as I unwrap the carefully packed heirlooms of holidays past, memories and joy fill the room. My grandmother’s clothespin soldiers and pinecone skiers, and the beautiful ornaments my mom has passed on to me – these symbols envelop me with a spirit of timelessness and connection to generations and experiences that make me who I am today. A simple ritual of decorating the trees brings a range of emotions: laughter, tears, and – always – love. Love for my mother’s exquisitely chosen ornaments; love for my friends choices – who know me so well – I smile and chuckle at the fluffy bird from Heather, the toucan from Kim, Bert’s helicopter from Karen (and the rat for me!). I’m flooded with memories as I rediscover the ornaments found during my travels, handmade by my sons, and purchased from favorite shops (thank you Orchard Nursery and Filoli). Much thought is given to choosing the perfect spot for each of these treasures – the storage boxes are filled with much more than Christmas ornaments. Each piece holds a recollection or remembrance – and the act of decorating the trees is a gift to myself. I feel comfort and connection as I recall my special childhood under-the-tree memories—and those with my own kids through the years….and sometimes, my six-feet tall boys still join me under the tree. Magic.

I love the season so much, that I could think of no better celebration than a Christmas wedding…and that December 23rd (a few years ago…) was as festive as it gets! I still don’t know how my mom did it: red velvet bridesmaid dresses, red roses and pine sprigs, and silver Christmas tree forms with white orchids on the table. It was a Winter Wonderland. Filled with magic and love. And that, is what I wish for you this holiday season. In the midst of working, parenting, decorating, partying, shopping, and doing — find that moment of just being, whatever and wherever it may be. Wishing you magic and love. Happy Holidays!

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Cauliflower was reviled by many of us during childhood! The Paleo craze has many grown-ups now looking at the cruciferous vegetable in a new light, and cauliflower is enjoying its moment! Cauliflower rice and cauliflower mash are a terrific way to incorporate (sneaky) veggies in our diet – cauliflower rice made with coconut milk, and cauliflower mash with a little truffle…you’ll never know it’s good for you! But after the Thanksgiving holiday, my newest obsession was the discovery of cauliflower gratin!! – just as tasty as the potato version, with less starch.

Cauliflower is at its peak now, and is packed with phytonutrients, fiber, and vitamins C and K — throw in a little cheese (oh and some gluten free breadcrumbs-haha) and try one of these amazing recipes. I look forward to making a cauliflower gratin at Christmas…gratins are a dinner party host’s best friend, as you can make them ahead and bake as needed. Healthy, delicious, cheesy, and decadent. Yes, please!

Check out these recipes:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/cauliflower-gratin-recipe.html
http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1015968-roasted-cauliflower-gratin-with-tomatoes-and-goat-cheese
http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/cauliflower-gratin-recipe2.html

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Lisa Raja, Co-Founder, TRADEMOMS
Our Modern Woman Making Waves this month is Co-Founder of TRADEMOMS and mother of two, Lisa Raja, who had a vision of creating a global platform, that advocates for moms wanting to find a balance between family and career. I met Lisa back when she started her first business, Iniam, a successful boutique on College Avenue in Oakland where my friends and I loved to shop. Here she was able to showcase her talents within fashion and create a space and women’s community where we could also gather for fundraising and social events. Since then, she has taken on management roles within top Bay Area retail start-ups such as Cuyana, Joyus and Threadflip. I was happy to reconnect with her recently and it was no surprise to me when she told me about the new online space she had created specifically for women as they transition in and out of the workforce. Lisa realized the need for mother’s to be able to have a flourishing family life along with their part-time work schedules. Her mission was to create a community that empowers stay at home and working moms, by offering them the resources to connect with one-another and re-define the traditional corporate America mold. I encourage you to visit her innovative site, sign up and join in the movement. She also has a fabulous MILM (Mothers I’d Like to Meet) Series blog which you should not miss!

Good advice is a gift — what is the best advice you’ve been given?

My dad is the most positive person I know. There is no downside in his eyes. He is especially positive when things are not so rosey. THAT has always struck a chord with me. He always says “Lis, be positive”. Goodness, it used to annoy me as I wasn’t always able to embrace his positivity. Over time, I can wholeheartedly say that walking through life wearing his positive goggles has truly shaped how I approach life. Yes, there are days where the world seems it’s going to explode, but I think learning to maintain a positive outlook on life has helped me rebound with strength and optimism. I am forever indebted to my father for that.

What is on the top of your bucket list?

My life dream is to open schools in Africa and India. Schools that will teach women a trade that will empower them to help support their families as well as schools that will provide an education for children that would otherwise not have access to a formal education. On a lighter note, but very much on my bucket list, I would do anything to step onto a Miami beach feeling like a rockstar in a white bikini.

Who would you invite to your ideal Girl’s Night?

Oprah. So not gonna happen but can you imagine how great it would be? Amazing conversation, giggles, and a therapy session! Of course, I’d invite all my closest girl friends. I’m a girl’s girl, so the more girlfriends I can gather together, the better.

What is your go-to piece of clothing?

That’s easy. My black blazer. It’s that one piece that I default to when I am in a hurry, don’t know what to wear and need to look pulled together. I am a “classic with a twist kind of girl” and love a crisp background that gives me the option to play with jewelry and fun shoes. My blazer sets the tone for that. I can wear and re-wear it, styling it differently each time.

What do you sing when you are alone in your car?

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a songbird. Truth be told, I don’t think I should be singing anywhere, even alone in the car. Although I don’t sing much, I do a lot of dancing while in the car. Yup, I’m one of ‘those’ people. Old school R&B and 90s hip hop really gets me grooving!

What was the best compliment you have received?

I’ve often been told that I give incredible hugs. Maybe it’s my southern roots, but I’m a hugger — warm and tight.

How has your life been different than you imagined?

I grew up in a conservative family in Houston and I never ever thought I would live anywhere but Houston. I am super close to my family and truthfully, I never thought I would leave. After vacationing in San Francisco, Labor Day weekend 1999, I fell in love with the city and decided to move shortly thereafter. I arrived in SF without a job, friends or even a place to stay. Till this day I am not sure how my parents allowed it. Houston is a city I love and proud to be from, but after sixteen years in the Bay Area, this is my home and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Who is your celebrity crush?

Oh geez! Hmmmmm. Male celebrity crush has to be Matthew Mcconaughey. Swoon. My female celebrity crush — J.LO! It’s almost a crime to age that beautifully.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

CAKE and as much Real Housewives of anywhere that I can watch. And if I could eat cake while watching the housewives, in bed, at night after my husband falls asleep (we don’t share the same passion for the housewives so it’s best if he’s sleeping) — well, then I’d be in heaven.

What is your favorite museum?

Hands down, The Louvre. Paris is my birth city and in part why I am partial to it. However, the history, the architecture, the range of art and artists are all reasons why I love it. Being inside is where all the action is, but it’s also awe inspiring to admire it from the outside, especially at night.

What is the first thing you notice when you meet someone?

Goodness this is going to sound so hokey pokey, but I am really sensitive to a person’s vibe. Either the vibe is inviting and warm and I want to know more or the vibe is off and I just move on.

 

ABOUT TRADEMOMS:
“As mothers make the decision to step away from their careers to spend more time with their families, they often become burdened with thought of becoming less marketable or having their resumes become obsolete. With TRADEMOMS it is possible for moms to continue to use and sharpen their skills, by either selling or engaging in trade, while getting the things they want or need. TRADEMOMS is a community driven marketplace that gives moms a platform to trade or sell/purchase services and products with one another.”

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I’ve been thinking lately about the concept of the ‘comfort zone’, and the advice we often receive to “step out of it!” Sometimes our reluctance to change a routine or habit can get in the way of moving forward to create positive change — but comfort is also a place of stability, ease, and understanding, and can be a source of strength for us and for others. How then, do we challenge ourselves to stretch the boundaries ? Two recent (and minor) changes in my surroundings have reminded me that simple adjustments are an easy start. The first nudge out of my routine was the addition of multiple stop signs in the immediate area around my home. I was personally thrilled, as I live on a relatively busy street and have long wished for traffic to be slowed…but what a ruckus it caused in the community! Everyone was buzzing about the new traffic stops, and how they didn’t like them — including me, as I continued to feel startled by this altered driving pattern. Seems silly…A few weeks later, I’m used to the new stops, and don’t think twice.

I had a similar reaction to the most recent iPhone update, which forced a change from the ingrained finger-swipe-to-the-right to a button press (why, Apple, why?). It took a few weeks for the new motion to become second nature, and was a real reminder of how deeply rooted routines can be. So while I embrace comfort and the feeling of fulfillment it brings- I want to continue to look for ways to challenge the habits that rule the everyday. Research shows that to build new neural pathways in our brains we need to switch things up, so I am committed to trying a few new things to interrupt some familiar patterns. Here are a few suggestions to ‘switch it up’ in your own life, and create some new neural pathways!

· Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand.

· Turn off lights in your home with your non-dominant hand

· Change a familiar route to a less traveled one… and don’t always rely on GPS

· Read a magazine you never thought you would pick up. (popular mechanics?)

· Try a new form of exercise (make it really different) Exercise at a different time of day. Don’t bring your cell phone. 😉

 

 

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I first met local designer Lesley Evers when she brought her beautiful dresses to a fundraiser at the Junior League of San Francisco. Classic and feminine, with a playful nod to the 60s and 70s, Lesley’s dresses are chic (and flatter women of all ages, shapes, and sizes). She soon opened her flagship store on College Avenue in Oakland — perfectly located near Market Hall — and I can’t stay away. I love her California-cool style, with pieces as versatile and vibrant as the designer herself. Lesley designs many of her own textiles, and her artistic flair (she’s also a talented painter) is evident in her designs. Bonus: it’s all made in Oakland! Stop by and visit her in Rockridge, or at her other boutiques located in Burlingame and Corte Madera.

 
Good advice is a gift — what is the best advice you’ve been given?

From my dad- he always said that there are no mistakes when you are creating something, it’s a process. Figure out how to turn what appears to be a mistake into an opportunity. Learn to see things differently. Really it’s just a good life lesson.

What is on the top of your bucket list?

A safari in Africa. I love animals and I love beautiful landscape. But for now– I just want to go to Yellow Stone Park next summer.

Who would you invite to your ideal Girl’s Night?

My best friends from Penn, or from Elementary school. I’m attached to both.

What is your go-to piece of clothing?

My Stella top from my line. I wear one almost every day.

What do you sing when you are alone in your car?

I don’t listen to music in the car. I listen to NPR. Or nothing. I actually enjoy the peace and quiet when I’m driving. I listen to music in my studio when I’m working, but not in the car. And I don’t know the words to songs. My husband makes fun of me for that.

What was the best compliment you have received?

Something like- “your dresses make me feel so pretty when I wear them.”

How has your life been different than you imagined?

Everything is just a little harder than I expected. I’m an optimist and never think about how difficult reality is. Other than that I really haven’t had any major surprises so far.

What is your most-used word? (And what word do you wish everyone would stop using?)

Lately I’ve caught myself saying SUPER all the time. I don’t know why and I need to stop.

Who is your celebrity crush?

Eddie Redmayne

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Dulce de leche ice cream, but it gives me a stomach ache

What is your favorite museum?

I’ll say the Guggenheim since I’m a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright. Museums that are on my list to visit: Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain and the new Aspen Museum because it looks fantastic! (and my college roommate is the Director).

What is the first thing you notice when you meet someone?

Smile, warmth and connection. That’s kind of one thing– I just needed three works to describe it.

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