Halloween spirit

Given the middle has a knack for holiday sweaters, last Friday night we had a sweater crafting party in preparation for Halloween. Given how much I love pumpkin everything (but also simply because I found a bright orange sweatshirt that would make it super easy to make…), I decided to run with a pumpkin. And naturally a goofy one.

pumpkin

Had I been smart, I would have printed the pumpkin and then traced it onto paper instead of trying to free-hand in (in part because I’m type A and want consistent, accurate measurements). That’s typically what the middle does and what I did for the one or two Christmas sweaters I crafted with her last winter. But thankfully the pumpkin was simple enough to create. I just traced out two eyes and the mouth on black felt.

felt

All it took was a little fabric glue and I was set. The result was lots of “that’s so cute!” at work. Perhaps because the pieces are larger (and because I only have three), it felt a bit more intact, for lack of a better word, than my other holiday sweaters. I suppose it’s true that less is more. Although not for the middle. Hopefully she blogs about her Halloween sweater, too. You can definitely tell she’s got a gift (or maybe it’s just patience, which I don’t possess a lot of while crafting) for making them!

sweatshirt

Now to get back to my pumpkin spice coffee…

Quick meals for fall

I didn’t think it was possible, but this week I didn’t make anything with pumpkin in it — despite it being the week of Halloween!

Part of it is because I didn’t spend quite the same amount of time that I normally do trying to find recipes for the week. I settled pretty quickly on a fast and easy chicken chili. Guilty confession: I primarily wanted to try it because it had cream cheese in it. A little strange and probably makes it unhealthy, but it was mighty good.

The big change is that I didn’t cook it in a crockpot since mine is relatively small. Even on the stove, though, it was still pretty quick and easy. I did mix up the bean selection since that’s how I make normally chili and also threw in crush red pepper along with a few other seasonings. Aside from that, I more or less followed the recipe as is. It’s definitely a good way to switch up typical white chicken chili, though I’ll probably have to try to limit how much frequently I make it…

Chili

In an attempt to balance that out just a tad, I’ve opted to eat a harvest cobb salad for dinners this week. There were some variations in what I put on the salad just based on availability in my kitchen and at the grocery store (so sadly no pears and goat cheese). I was primarily interested in trying the dressing since I love experimenting with new ones. It’s a little odd having a mayo based dressing, but I don’t know that you can go wrong with a dressing that incorporates apple cider vinegar. Especially in the fall.

Salad

Both recipes were definitely fitting with the weather (apparently) starting to transition to late fall/early winter this week. Let’s just hope my tough skin comes back out for a Nebraska winter or it could be a very, very long season.

Sauce and marinade marvels

You know it’s bad when you start plugging in the ingredients of your recipe into MyFitnessPal as you’re eating it just to see how much damage you did… But I could only resist pasta dishes for so long. This one pot red pepper and sausage alfredo tempted me too much (in part because the blogger’s recap reminded me of me and I could completely sympathize with her “is this recipe going to turn out??” concerns).

I should throw in the caveat right up front that I made a quite a few modifications. Like more than I normally do. I’m also afraid to call it a red pepper and sausage alfredo. I didn’t use the red pepper puree (used tomato paste instead) and used mozzarella cheese instead of the two listed on the recipe (minor oversight on my part). I also swapped out the spinach for kale and added mushrooms. That doesn’t quite outweigh the creamy goodness, but it’s a start.

And when it was all said and done? De-licious! It was comfort food and then some. (And by some I mean it was really, really hard to stop after one serving because my taste buds couldn’t get enough.)

pasta

Even the leftovers on this pasta dish are fantastic. The sauce stays creamy, the noodles didn’t dry out. and the red pepper flakes stand out even more. Dare I say the leftovers were just as good as the fresh-from-the-pot dish?

Despite the temptation, I knew I couldn’t eat it for lunch and dinner on Tuesday. Enter the skinny pineapple teriyaki pork chops.

[Insert typical statement about me not following the recipe...] My modifications this time were primarily due to poor planning. I discovered I didn’t have soy sauce (at least not half a cup’s worth) for the marinade. So I did what I do best — made my own concoction based on previous recipes. What was left of the soy sauce was thrown in with the brown sugar, garlic, honey, dijon mustard and worcestershire sauce.

I did stop by the grocery store on the way back home to pick up soy sauce to add to the marinade, but really I don’t know that it would have made a whole lot of difference. Despite outward appearances, it was amazing. It helped that I put the pineapple in the marinade and cooked that for a bit before putting it on top of the pork chops. There’s just something about grilled (or I guess sautéed, in this case) pineapple that I love.

Porkchops

I can’t take credit for the rice. Since it was BodyCombat night, I knew I wouldn’t want to spend too much time cooking or I wouldn’t eat until after eight. This steamers bag seemed to do the trick…

Easy fall baking

You’d think at some point I’d stop giving into fall baked goods… Not so much. If anything, I find myself getting more excited about trying fall dishes.

My weekend started with a low-fat pumpkin sheet cake. Not only is it simple, but it’s incredibly delicious. For the life of me (and by that I mean I visited three stores before calling it quits), I couldn’t find pumpkin spice jello mix. Instead I opted to use what was left of my cheesecake mix and added in some pumpkin pie flavoring. It seemed to do the trick.

I was a little nervous about storing it since the frosting is made with whipped cream and almond milk. Playing it safe, I decided to keep it in the fridge. It makes it a surprisingly good pumpkin bar. The frosting isn’t quite as thick as I’d like, but I’m guessing it’s because I didn’t use a whole jello packet. (Part of it isn’t frosted since the middle isn’t a huge fan of frosting, and goodness knows I don’t need to eat this entire thing by myself.)

pumpkin cake

Although I love the pumpkin treats, I figured I would need a slightly healthier snack option this week. Enter the cinnamon apple chips. It turned out to be another super easy yet delicious recipe. I’d probably prefer to make it on a colder day so it’s more comforting to have the oven on for that long, but the way it made my house smell was worth it. I came in from walking Hurley and it smelled like I had an apple pie in the oven. It’s like having a double win since this is a much healthier option compared to apple pie.

apple chips

It’s a good thing the weather is holding up for me to get Hurley out on long walks or all this fall food would really be taking its toll on me…

My intentional focus

I realized the other day that, although I talked about intentional living being a main purpose of my blog, I think that was the first time I’ve really mentioned it for those who were with me pre-#intentionalblogging challenge.

To be honest, it’s a newer theme emerging in my life that (spoiler alert) will likely become my word for 2015 (it seems a little too early to think about that, but I’m sure it will be here before we know it). It keeps showing up in all that I do, and that now includes my blog.

It started about a month ago when I came across this article about finding your life purpose. I’ll confess I didn’t read the entire thing or care for portions of it, but this particular statement has honestly stuck with me ever since:

So when people say, “What should I do with my life?” or “What is my life purpose?” what they’re actually asking is: “What can I do with my time that is important?”

Finally! A more practical and less daunting way to look at it! And it couldn’t be more true. Really I’m trying to decide what I can do with my free time that’s meaningful. I also appreciate what Jon Acuff wrote in his book Start, “…I’m not a fan of ‘finding your purpose.’ I’m a fan of ‘living with purpose.'” Seems to be a much more useful way to spend my time.

That same sentiment showed up a few days later when I was at the kick-off for the leadership institute. During our three days there and also the conference call I mentioned last week, we continually talked about being intentional in our professional and personal lives. Does what you do and say match what you’re about? Do we spend time doing the things that matter? (Obviously it was stated a bit more eloquently and with lots of research and examples to back it up…)

I’ve loved daring myself this year. Here it is, the middle of October, and I still can’t fully wrap my mind around how much life has changed this year. Some changes were gradual and some literally happened overnight (Hurley, for example). It’s been a period of growth, adjustment, excitement and, quite honestly, some exhaustion.

All of these things are fantastic. I’ve said yes to opportunities that I would normally shy away from, both personally and professionally. While all of that has been wonderful, I also feel like I’m reaching a point where I can focus on being more intentional than daring. Instead of being involved a little bit in a lot of things, I want to reserve it and spend my time and energy on the things I love.

Some of that will require some introspection. I need to figure out what I find to be important in my life before I can fully dedicate my time, energy and efforts to those things. Plus it expands beyond activities. It also impacts my choices, attitudes, communication, etc. Is what I’m doing and saying matching the type of person that I want to be? Or is there a disconnect?

Deep stuff. But that’s why I give myself a whole year to focus on it (though I seem to be starting this intentional thing a bit early).

Transition to fall (food)

Although I’m still in denial about the fact that soon I have to put away my sandals and wear a jacket, I generally love this time of year. I love the colors, the anticipation of the holiday season and, naturally, the food.

Before I fully made that transition, I wanted to try a recipe that seemed to be a bit more summery. On Thursday evening I made lemon raspberry muffins. I was surprised by how thick the dough was, and I actually contemplated making it into bread instead of muffins. But, since I wanted them for the car ride back to South Dakota the next day, I stuck with muffins.

They weren’t as moist as I thought they’d be, but still delicious. The middle thinks adding butter would do the trick, so I may try that next time. And I would likely add a bit more lemon, though that could just be my taste. Otherwise the raspberries were perfect. Definitely a great snack at work in the morning and for the afternoon car ride.

muffins

Speaking of muffins, last week on instagram one of the regulars from my kickboxing class in Columbia commented on my pumpkin muffin photo that she adds pumpkin to chili. Hello! I’d recently seen something on pinterest, too, so I knew I had to try it this week.

It was hard to narrow down which recipe to use as a base, but ultimately I settled on this one. I went with the ground turkey and also added a few more types of beans, since the middle’s six-bean chili is top notch. I didn’t include the chili sauce, primarily because I hadn’t done it before and I always picture using that with shrimp. I thought I’d keep it simple and just stick with what I knew I liked (pumpkin).

After throwing it all together, my house smelled so fantastic. I probably could have let it simmer a bit longer, but I couldn’t help myself. It looked too delicious.

chili

It’s almost hard to explain what it tastes like. I think it’s moreso that I smell the pumpkin, as it doesn’t have that strong of a flavor in the chili. The best way I can think to describe it is it’d be like eating a bowl of chili in a Starbucks after they’ve whipped up a pumpkin spice latte. So essentially heaven for me. I’m definitely going to enjoy my leftovers this week.

You’d think after awhile I’d be over my pumpkin fix between my coffees, muffins and chili. Not so much, as you’ll find out later this week…

Blogging briefs

I’ve been torn about how much to blog about my #intentionalblogging challenge. It’s been helpful, though I’m not sure how interesting it is for my readers (not that blogging for 21 straight days would have been all that interesting either…). I figured a middle ground would be to write a brief synopsis of what I’ve done and discovered throughout this process.

Day 2: Subject, Theme & Objective

For this we were supposed to drill down our subject (what you blog about), theme (your specific area of focus) and objective (what you want to accomplish). This is something I’ve struggled with for awhile and will probably continue to do so. I’d say I primarily blog about my life as a twentysomething and what I’m doing (DIY projects, 30 Before 30, reading, cooking) to enhance it and/or find more meaning. Worded like that, it seems like an incredibly tall order. It also doesn’t seem very specific, but I think I’m able to strike a good balance in the range of topics I cover and how I present it.

The objective is admittedly a bit selfish. I’m a firm subscriber to the belief that “I never know what I think about something until I write about it.” My journal allows my to have a more stream-of-conscious, emotional outpouring of what I’m going through at that particular time. With blogging, though, I’m able to distill information and see the bigger picture. What did I take from a particular book or article? What goals am I working on and why? What lessons have I learned?

Through all of that, I hope to connect with and inspire others. Maybe not through specific actions, goals or advice, but rather through the encouragement to think about the big picture. What does “the good life” encompass? I’m also a firm believer that well done is better than well said. I don’t just want to talk about great plans I have for my life. I want to actually show people how I’ve been able to move forward, overcome obstacles and what my sources of inspiration were throughout the process. I guess it’s my small way of dabbling into life coaching, blog style.

Day 3: Finding my Voice

This was another one of those exercises where I read the challenge and I wanted to blow it off. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Is the message/voice I’m hoping to portray actually coming across as that? My response rate (nerd alert) wasn’t terribly high so I probably didn’t get the full impact of it, but I still appreciate the concept. I was supposed to ask five people to describe me and/or my writing, then write something that embodies what people have said.

Like I said, my response rate was low. But given those responses and also conversations I’ve had throughout the years with people about my blog, it seems to be a genuine depiction of who I am. I talk about the things I love and the things that inspire me with humor and (supposedly) a natural flow of conversation. And really, that’s what I strive to do.

I want my blog to be a conversation. Unbeknownst to me until I was part of the leadership institute, one of the things I value in my own life is approachability. On a professional or personal level (so whether we’re talking evaluation concepts or DIY projects) I want people to see me as approachable. That’s something I hope my blog embodies — a sense of genuine conversation and connection. Hopefully the actual writing portrays that, but if not, I feel like I’m on the right track now that I’ve discovered more clearly what I want my blog and message to be about.

Day 4: Why Blog? 

I lucked out in some ways because the launch of my blog was part of a Juneathon challenge. For thirty days I was supposed to run (or do some form of physical activity, since running wasn’t — and still isn’t — my thing) and then blog about it. That’s probably how I started to develop the mindset that a blog was a way to hold myself accountable.

As that wrapped up, the blog became a way to capture that transition from school to the “real world.” Without school and extra-curricular activities dominating my life, where was I going to focus my energy? What were my hobbies and interests? Based on other books and blogs I’ve read about the twentysomething experience, I’m not alone in that search and that identity struggle. Blogging was a way to feel like I had a roadmap and was making progress in something.

Now I think I blog to promote intentional living — striving to find that myself and encouraging others to do the same. How am I going about creating the type of life that I want? What does the good life mean to me? It also captures the ups and downs of that search. I’m not an expert and don’t claim to have all the answers. My blog helps keep me humble and, as I discovered through the day 3 activity, allows me to relate to others.

Like I said, it’s a tall order, but that’s where my interests seem to fall and writing about those topics comes naturally to me. And let me tell you, it’s a heck of a lot easier and more fun to write this than research papers (though I suppose I still do a variation of those from time to time…).

Day 5: Break from Writing

This was very needed, especially given I was in the car for a good four hours. We were also challenged to post comments on five other blogs. Connecting with the blogging community is a bit outside of my comfort zone, so this was a good challenge. I probably didn’t total five comments, but I did visit a dozen or so new blogs.

Day 6: Blog a List

That will be forthcoming. I’ll confess I’m cheating a bit with the list, but it very much holds true to what I blog about and has been a staple feature for about a year now. (Any guesses on what this list is?!)

This #intentionalblogging challenge has definitely been a bit more challenging than I envisioned, but it’s also been incredibly helpful. Lots of introspection, primarily done during the writing of this very post (so maybe it is a good thing I decided to create a brief synopsis of how the challenge has been going). One week down, two more to go!

Dog walking

In retrospect, I should have posted this for Thankful Thursday. (Note to self: don’t forget that’s a blog series…)

I’ll probably talk more about this later, but another exciting thing about this year is that I’m participating in the Great Plains Public Health Leadership Institute. We had our kick-off a couple weeks ago and the other day we had a conference call that addressed mission, vision and values – both personal and organizational.

To start off the conversation about what drives us, we listened to a few “This I Believe” audioclips from NPR. The second story is one I fell in love with: Time to Walk the Dog. I primarily loved it because it pointed out two truths for me. First, dog walking really isn’t walking. Most days my “walk” with Hurley is simply meandering for blocks on end so he can smell every yard and stare down any squirrel, rabbit and critter that falls within his eyesight (and that happens way more frequently than I’d like…). I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who experiences that.

But the other truth is that sometimes that’s the beauty of walking my dog. It forces me to stop. With just a simple walk, Hurley has the ability to bring me back down to Earth, if you will. I love how the author describes it:

Walking the dog makes me lighten up and pay attention, not to what’s in my own head but to the unexpected small delights of the actual world. The dog gets me out of the four walls—work, clock, computer, phone—and into the land of smells and colors and serendipities. He reminds me of everything I can’t control and don’t need to.

My walk with Hurley is one of the few times where I don’t have to do or be anything. In fact, there’s not really anything I can do when I’m away from those four walls. There no crisis to be solved (save for the occasional bee sting…), no one to call and nothing to google. It’s one of those times when you realize you’re not carrying the weight of the world, that it’s going to keep on spinning regardless of what I do.

This has been particularly true with our new walking spot. Tired of walking the same 2-mile route in my neighborhood (plus someone’s allergies prevent him from getting to go to the dog park as frequently…), I decided to walk around Holmes Lake with Hurley. I can’t get enough of this place. Most days there aren’t too many people on the trail and you can only hear the wind and the water when you’re on certain portions of the path. Especially now that the leaves are changing colors, it’s gorgeous.

holmes

Granted, my perspective on dog walking may change once winter rears it’s ugly head. For the time being, though, it’s been a good way to regroup and get away from the daily grind of email, phone calls and google searches. Plus I’ve got fantastic company.

Like I said, it should have been a Thankful Thursday post…

Plan P(umpkin)

It’s a good thing I (unintentionally) had a backup plan.

The other night I decided to try a new recipe that I didn’t think was all that risky. Perhaps I should have been nervous about a hasbrown, spinach and tomato pie, but I love all of those things. I thought it would almost be like a caprese bake with hashbrowns. Or like a skillet with different toppings.

Wrong.

And I can tell you where it went wrong, too. First, the amount of egg was ridiculous. I get that that’s what you need to make it all stick together so it’s like a pie (at least that’s what I do with spaghetti pie)…but four eggs? It was overkill. And that was after I doubled the amount of hashbrowns in the recipe. I can only imagine how much the eggs would dominate if I’d only used two cups.

The other mistake (at least from my perspective) was nutmeg. It seemed a little strange for a seasoning but I thought I’d give it a shot, especially since it wasn’t a ton. I probably could have tolerated it had it not been for the egg overload. Two bites in and I’d had enough.

hashbrown

Feeling hungry and frustrated at 8 p.m. on Monday night, I turned to something I knew I loved: whole wheat pumpkin muffins. Who needs dinner when you can have two muffins and greek yogurt?

pumpkin muffins

I was thankful I made those suckers on Sunday evening. They were the perfect snack (or dinner in my case) for fall, although I do love all things pumpkin. The chocolate chips definitely add to it. One slightly bad thing is that they started to turn yesterday, so they’re only good for about three days (thankfully I handed some off to the middle). Had I not doubled the recipe, though (I didn’t want to have half a can of pumpkin leftover), it would have been perfect.

At least once recipe turned out well for me this week!

About DakotaLizzie

My fears were correct in that I apparently didn’t fully understand the #intentionalblogging challenge. Instead of blogging for 21 straight days, participants are challenged to focus on one specific thing on their blog each day to enhance it. Day 1 focused on the about me page.

My initial reaction this morning was, “eh, who cares?”

But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. I thought about the 171 (now 172) followers and the fact that I only know maybe two dozen of them in real life. It makes sense if I’m bearing my soul on my blog, I may as well give a little background and biographical information.

Enter the About DakotaLizzie page. It’s very much still a work in progress, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. The theme I’ve selected in wordpress isn’t making it easy to make the page link clearly accessible (like scroll to the very bottom of the page and in the right corner you’ll see a drop down menu that will allow you to get there…). Regardless, it’s there and I’m feeling really good about it.

If I’m going to be intentional about my blogging, it may as well be about the whole thing, right?

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